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Elizabeth Claire's E-News

February 2013 E-News from Elizabeth Claire

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Contents of the February E-News:

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in Simple English

Random observations on learning a new language.

Contents of February's E-NEWS


Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in Simple English

Thousands of American high school students memorize this short, best speech by Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg. Why not your advanced ESL students?

Give your high school and adult students a challenge that will take advantage of their rote learning skills, increase their vocabulary, polish their pronunciation, enhance their self esteem, teach them history, and be a lifelong jewel.

It becomes much easier when they know the meaning of each phrase and understand each word. Have students first read the "translation" in simple English so they understand the purpose of the speech. Then go over the actual speech using the Word Help to clarify meanings of individual words.

Even if some students succeed in memorizing only the first line, it will serve them well.

Click here for Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

At the website, you'll also find the teacher's guide to this month's Easy English NEWS if you haven't received your copy. Click here


Random observations on learning a new language.

I've learned from experience over the years, both in my own efforts to learn French, Japanese, Mandarin, and Spanish at one time or another, and in teaching many hundreds of newcomers to speak English, that multiple factors determine retention of learned language.

My first instructor was my Slovak grandfather, who taught me to say, Dedko, ja ta lubim. Prosimte, daimi patak. (although I was six, and he didn't teach me to spell) Which means, Grandpa, I love you. Please give me a nickel.

Since this was how I earned my ice cream and comic book money, I was eager to learn and retain that, and other Slovak expressions in the "translation, listen, and repeat (and get nickel)" manner. My grandmother taught me Slovak songs, with gestures and curtseys, and great praise for my performances in front of her and her friends. In spite of my high motivation, the lessons were limited.

A smile on an admired teacher's face makes any lesson more memorable. A personal look in the eye, a word of praise...This worked even when the lesson was one of those now referred to as boring lessons: This is a paper. Is this a pen? No it isn't a pen, it's a paper in Japanese, the excitement of learning an exotic language (for me) plus the teacher's smile made Kore wa kami desu. Pen desu ka? No, so ja arimasen. Kore wa kami desu. very interesting. Ah, that smile! And the dozens upon dozens of repetitions. But one can hardly have much of a conversation saying, "Excuse me, is this a pen or a paper?"

There are short lessons taught at TESOL conferences that I still remember...40 years later (although I can't spell them) Like Hoova paiva, Hoova paiva...Hello in Norwegian...or was it Finnish? (I clearly remember the demonstration, with charming home-made papier-mache puppets greeting each other repeatedly in a short short dialog.) We listened and repeated...a technique that has gone out of fashion...It works best when the learner knows the meaning of what is being repeated, and sees a purpose for using it later in life. I'm still ready to greet my first Norwegian if one ever crosses my path.

Another memorable lesson by Betty Segal demonstrated James Asher's Total Physical Response Activities: In 50 minutes, she taught us to respond to about 25 oral commands in Hebrew, almost effortlessly, and if someone were to give those commands today, I'm sure my body would be able to follow them...however, I can not say them on my own, as the short demo didn't aim for oral mastery, just the aural/behavioral competence. This demonstration made me a convert...Low anxiety, high amounts of language..made comprehensible and learned by total engagement of the whole body...

Alas, the lesson in Mandarin Chinese taught at the famous Gattegno Institute using Cuisenaire rods to "teach little vocabulary, much language" fell flat. There was a great deal of anxiety in the Silent Way, as the instructor went too fast, and refused to repeat her utterances. After a weekend, I learned to say only the very first lesson's first sentence, but have had no opportunity to use it, nor can any Mandarin speaker figure out why I am saying Eetiou hai mutiou. (I've had to explain that I am saying This is one black rod.) And the person looks at me with wonder as to why on earth I should say that.

A different teacher at the same institute a few months later, in a different language, Italian, and with a bigger smile, was more effective, and I felt smarter. However, I don't remember the content at all, as it was also about rods, which were not very interesting, even when in action as "Mr. Green" and "Miss Pink." My conclusion was that nouns are far more interesting to learners than grammatical structures,...just as they are for toddlers learning language. And that grammatical structures aren't that memorable when taught aurally/orally. A big insight from Gettegno, however was to get out of the way of the learner...give time, don't supply answers.

I was intrigued in observing language teaching via the"Community Learning" system developed by Charles Curran. In this method, people thought of what they wanted to express or to ask another student, and were taught by a bilingual translator how to say that in English while the whole community (class) eavesdropped. Motivation was high, as contribution of individuals was personal and immediately useful, and a community spirit developed..

However, in taking a one-day course using the same technique to learn an obscure African language I would never have a chance to use, and which had not a single cognate with English...Maybe it was back pain I was experiencing, but even good manners could not compel me to sit through learning to speak in a language I would never again encounter. Or perhaps it was because there was no smile. So without motivation, I did not retain a single word in that language, or even remember what language it was that was being taught.

I did later use an adaptation of the Community Language Learning method when I had a group of 15 Russian speakers all at different levels...it worked beautifully. We spent the first 20 minutes of each lesson with conversation activity I called "What's new?" The students could answer this common question and tell about things that were happening in their lives, and in English, which they had a strong motivation to learn. I didn't have to be bilingual (My Russian was limited to dosvidanya.) because either I could figure out what a person wanted to say through her or his gestures and one word utterances, or the more advanced speakers could supply the translation for the beginners. I wrote their utterances (after cleaning up the grammar) on lage chart paper for the class to read and copy. As day followed day, it became like a soap opera, with all of us interested in knowing "what's new?" and the development of the mini dramas in people's lives...buying a car, getting a dog, finding a job, returning a product, problems with the landlord, worrying about a child...Students generated the content for the first 20 minutes. During the remaining time, I worked with small groups at different ability levels to ensure all were challenged and making progress at their best rate.


Contents of Easy English NEWS for February 2013

Will the U.S. Have a New Immigration Law?

Flu Season

Events in February covered in Easy English NEWS:
    • African-American History Month
    • Lunar New Year
    • Groundhog Day
    • Valentine's Day
    • Susan B. Anthony's Birthday
    • Super Bowl Sunday
    • Presidents Day
    • George Washington/Abraham Lincoln
    • Mardi Gras
    • Ash Wednesday
Dr. Ali: Your Health: I Believe in Miracles (and how to help the body have "miraculous" healings)

Ask a Speech Coach: The difference between /y/ and/j/ as in yellow jello.

America the Beautiful: Orlando, Florida and Disney World

Heroes and History: Reconstruction

Movie Review: "Lincoln"

Plus our regular features: This Is Your Page (readers' stories),  Funny Stuff, Idioms, the Crossword Puzzle, Let's Talk About It, and Word Help.

For February's Cloze exercises, click here.

For February's Short Answer tests, click here

Click here for the FREE 24-page generic "How To" with 9 reproducible graphic organizers.

Elizabeth Claire books on Kindle:

  • ESL Teacher's Activities Kit Part One ($0.99)
  • ESL Teacher's Activities Kit Part Two ($0.99)
  • ESL Teacher's Activities Kit Part Three ($0.99)
  • Kristina, 1904, the Greenhorn Girl ($4)
  • Voices of Our New Neighbors Volume One ($0.99)
  • Voices of our New Neighbors Volume Two ($0.99)
  • Voices of our new Neighbors Volume Three ($0.99)
  • English Language Learners in the Mainstream Class (from Classroom Teacher's ESL Survival Guide) ($3.99)
  • What's So Funny? An International Student's Introduction to American Humor. ($0.99)
  • Phonics for English Language Learners? What the ESL Teacher Needs to Know $0.99)
Click here to go to the Amazon Kindle Store at my website

Carry on your good work!

Elizabeth Claire

© Elizabeth Claire 2013.
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