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Twitter for English Language Learners (and Teachers)

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At CATESOL this past weekend, @blythe_musteric gave a great presentation about how teachers could use Twitter. Later, there was the very first CATESOL tweetup (a meeting of Twitter-users, often at an event), featuring @blythe_musteric, @pearsonlongman, @rogerdupuy, @joemcveigh, @leejeylee, @compellingtalks, @ohsanderella, @talkclouds (me), and possibly other people I’m forgetting.

During @blythe_musteric’s session and later during the tweetup, I mentioned that, particularly in Japan and Korea, English-language learners are using Twitter as a self-study tool. I have another Twitter account, @readable, which is for ELLs. I use it to post relatively simple tweets on topics of interest to English learners, links to news posts, and links to self-study tools. Eventually, I started seeing posts from my readers using the hashtags #twinglish (Twitter+English), #eigodewa (“as for English…?”), #engtwit (English+Twitter), and #kor_eng (Korean+English). Putting a hashmark (#) in front of a word makes it clickable; when you click on it you see everyone’s tweets using that hashtag, I was impressed by how many users there were experimenting with English and chatting with each other in a second language.

Some of my followers’ (connected users) responses about why they are using Twitter in English (minor mistakes corrected for one user by request; others exactly as written):

@[anonymous]: 1) Expect to meet people from all over the world and share ideas or talk with freely 2) Need to practice English regularly
@oxwinter: That’s because… I learned English at school, but few opportunities to use it here, Japan. Twitter gives us that opportunity.
@akaSEANJUNG: in ma case.. it’s just 4 fun. tryin to not to forget how 2 use…too.
@noelsora: It’s a good tool for driving me to to think in English.

As I mentioned at the conference, I also discovered some Japanese ELT professionals, including teachers and publishers. In particular, @MakotoIshiwata and @mayumi_ishihara do a good job using Twitter with ELLs. @Makoto_Ishiwata is actually Mr. Makoto Ishiwata, the president of Kaplan Japan. He’s written a great short post about how Japanese learners of English can benefit from using Twitter: “Suggestion: three easy steps for the Japanese to start tweeting in English.” He writes about the difference it made for him years ago when he began to think in English, and feels that Twitter can help Japanese English learners, who study English at school in an artificial way, start really thinking and communicating in English. He says that “Twitter is easy to use. The limit of 140 words is a great plus for English learners too because they don’t have to think too seriously before typing. Above all, we can share what we tweet. We can start communicating with each other. We can make new friends, including people from abroad, when we tweet in English.” (Actually, a lot of that goes for teachers, too…) Check out his post.

@mayumi_ishihara is Ms. Mayumi Ishihara, an English teacher and author. I’ve seen one of her previous books, 『英語で日記を書いてみる』Try Writing a Diary in English!, at my local Kinokuniya. She has a new book coming out in May, 『Twitterで英語をつぶやいてみる』Try Tweeting in English on Twitter! (Oh, Japanese book prices…it’s only ¥735–about $7.80 US–and it’s 200 pages!).

Both of them regularly interact with their followers in English, and their/our followers interact with each other, too. I don’t think Twitter is perfect for learning English–for one thing, there are certain grammatical structures that I just don’t even use because they take up too much room. I’m not sure if @mayumi_ishihara will address this in her book, but I hope so. [EDIT: Another drawback is that many of the English-teaching accounts that post vocabulary and so on are regularly sharing information that is archaic, useless, or downright incorrect or ungrammatical.] You also have to deal with learning abbreviations such as w/o, b/c, wknd, and so on. There are also some differences in Twitter culture between most of the fluent English-using Twittersphere and the English-learning Twittersphere: #twinglish users usually use RT in replies, not just retweets (like forwards), leaving a truncated piece of the original tweet at the end of their reply; they’re generally not familiar with things like Follow Friday/#FF; they often send a reply to thank people not just for following them but even for responding to them; and so on.

I don’t think the differences between other modes or registers of English and Twitter constitute a deal-breaker. Every mode and medium is different, and I’ve noticed that many ELL twitterers use it to share other recommendations for input, such as TV shows, books, and websites. No one is trying to learn English solely from Twitter that I’ve heard of. [EDIT: And the problem with the useless, archaic, and ungrammatical/incorrect teaching accounts is also quite true for many textbooks and commercial texts sold overseas and in the US, as well. It’s not just an online problem.] Learners in countries such as Korea often feel starved for spontaneous, unstructured English input, and Twitter provides that, even if it’s not perfect. It may require access to a phone or computer, which is a time-and-money barrier that makes it somewhat less useful for the average ELL in the USA, but for East Asian learners with extensive access to sophisticated cell phones, it’s a cheaper and more flexible alternative or supplement to expensive English lessons.

I’ve had some great conversations with my followers. We’ve discovered cultural misconceptions about beer and weather, made jokes with each other, commiserated about everything from procrastination to language study, and helped each other with grammar and vocabulary (since I’m studying Japanese myself).


[EDIT: Overall, I think Twitter is a useful additional tool for English learners, particularly EFL learners and others with limited access to spontaneous English interaction, authentic English input, and an English-understanding audience. It contributes to learner autonomy, lowers the affective barrier, and promotes the idea of English as a tool for communication rather than an abstract object of study--goals that many teachers struggle with even partially achieving.]

What do you think?

CATESOL Handouts; Conference Survey

My handouts from CATESOL 2010 and one prior conference are now available under the Resources tab at the top of each page. If you spot any problems or broken links, please let me know!

Don’t forget to fill out the conference evaluation form if you went. As far as I know, there were no paper evaluation forms, or if there were, they weren’t widely available. I’ll be writing more about my thoughts on the conference later. The major upside was that every concurrent session I went to was extremely valuable except one, and that was a session I wasn’t too sure about–and it was probably very valuable if you were the target audience. No fault of the presenter’s. I think that’s the best track record out of any conference I’ve been to, including TESOL. (Usually, it’s a mixed bag.) There were definitely some downsides, though.

By the way, I’m working on an informal study about conferences (questions about costs, travel, speakers, inclusion of “NNESTs,” integration of technology, and so on. If you have any suggestions about what I should ask, let me know! I hope you’ll fill it out (it’ll be a Google form) once it’s done.

Hi, CATESOL visitors!

If you came to my segment of the Internet Fair and are looking for an online version of the handout, I’ll upload that and any further thoughts on Sunday, if I can. For now, the basic links I used are here: A Visual Feast

A previous post on the subject is Free Illustrations.

The blog for learners that I mentioned is Readable Blog.

Thank you for coming to my session and checking out my blog!

CATESOL 2010 Sessions

Here are some sessions at the 2010 CATESOL conference in Santa Clara, starting tomorrow (well, the general conference starts Friday), that are being presented by “friends and family” of Talk to the Clouds (and got in touch with me via Twitter):

F R I D A Y

Effective Methods for Error Correction and Offering Feedback
C. Chang, University of Iowa
8:00-8:45 a.m. Great America Ballroom K
This paper will discuss error correction and offering feedback to students in ESL/EFL classrooms. The speakers will first review research on error correction and feedback. Then they will suggest several strategies based on their learning experience to help both teachers and students communicate their needs in the ESL/EFL classroom.

Rapport, Resourcing and Real-time: Social Network Applications for Success
R. Dupuy, UC Irvine
8:00-8:45 a.m. Great America Meeting Room 3
Learn how certain digital social networking tools 1) encourage rapport in English, 2) aid teachers in the resourcing of digital content for the development of curricula and 3) enable teachers to deliver this valuable and relevant curricula in real-time classroom contexts.

Electronic Village Internet Fair
10:00 – 11:30 am
Great American Ballroom J
10:00 – 10:15 C. Bauler – Using online forums to increase interaction in the ESL classroom
10:20 – 10:35 M. Azimi – Vocabulary “Stuck” on the Web
10:40– 10:55 J. Wu – From YouTube to YouThink
11:00– 11:15 K. Johnson – Animate Your Class With Animoto
11:20 – 11:30 C. Ryan – A Visual Feast: Tips & Tricks with Image Sites (that’s me!)

Tweet and Retweet: Using Twitter for Professional Teacher Development
B. Musteric, Ovient International
3:00-4:30 p.m. Great America Ballroom K
Grow your professional network with Twitter. In this workshop, participants will learn how to connect, engage, and collaborate with other teachers from around the world using Twitter. The presenter will demonstrate how to create an account, grow a network of teachers, and use best practices for engaging with others.
(I’m planning to go to this to support the speaker, but if I can’t, I hope to at least come in at the end! Please go if you are curious about Twitter and why it’s so popular with British and EFL teachers!)

Passion and Persistence: Self-Published ESL Authors Tell Their Stories
E. Weal, Sequoia Adult School; E. Roth, American Language Institute, USC; D. Asitimbay, ELI, UC San Diego
10:00-11:30 a.m. Convention Center 209
What motivates ESL teachers to become authors? Why do many of these authors self-publish? What’s their likelihood of success? In this panel discussion, three authors of ESL books will share the pleasures and perils of self-publishing as well as offer tips for those contemplating writing and publishing an ESL text.
(I’d love to go to this, but of course, it’s during my session!)

S A T U R D AY

Informational Interviews: A Practical, Illuminating Speaking Assignment
E. Roth, University of Southern California
8:00-8:45 a.m. Hyatt Mendocino
Informational interviews allow university ESL students to develop their oral skills, expand a vocational vocabulary, and share interview experiences. ESL teachers can provide practical assistance by adding this complicated oral skills assignment, but instructors must carefully scaffold the assignment for maximum effectiveness.

Create Dynamic and Interactive Lessons Using a Smart Board
F. Wentworth, Jefferson Adult Division; J. Wu, San Mateo Adult School
8:00-9:30 a.m. Great America Ballroom J
Many schools have Smart Boards but teachers have not received proper training in how to use them effectively. In this workshop, participants will see how to create lessons from materials they already have.

Principles to Practice in Teaching Reading
Jennifer Bixby, Freelance Writer and Editor; J. McVeigh, Independent Consultant
8:00-8:45 a.m. Hyatt Stevens Creek
How can current principles in reading instruction be applied to activities in the ESL classroom? The presenters will give an overview of current reading theory and demonstrate practical classroom application. Participants will look at sample activities and evaluate their effectiveness in teaching reading strategies.

Critical Pedagogy in TESOL: Rising Perspectives in Global Context
W. Campbell, University of Southern California
4:15-5:00 Hyatt Napa I
Review of articles to explore Critical Pedagogy (CP) and its perspectives as they are manifesting in TESOL. Demographic data of contributing voices is considered while exploring what it means to be a TESOL educator in light of the political dimension of ELT in context of global power relations.

The complete program is available at the CATESOL 2010 site as PDFs. Don’t forget to check the file with the changes and cancellations if you’re planning in advance.

Take a look at my CATESOL Food and Shopping Suggestions post too, if you like!

If you’re going, I hope you have a great time! Hope to see you there. If you’d like to come to my session and can’t, I’ll be adding a new section here for conference handouts and content. However, you’ve actually already seen some of the suggestions here before, if you’re a loyal reader.

CATESOL 2010 Food & Shopping Suggestions

I’m looking forward to CATESOL 2010 in Santa Clara! Some of you will be arriving soon; I’ll only be there starting on Friday, but I thought I’d post some suggestions on where to eat in the area. If you aren’t familiar with the area, it looks like there’s nothing nearby–just corporate offices for Yahoo!, Namco Bandai, and so on. There are places to eat, though, and while I’m not familiar with many of them, I’ve put some of them on a map. (I do spend time in this area, because Mission College is right there, but I live 25 minutes away, so I rarely eat there.) I’m sure the convention committee has made something as well, but I know some people are staying in Fremont and so on, so I thought I’d put together something quickly. (Update: Here’s the official CATESOL 2010 restaurant guide PDF.)

If you have time and comfortable shoes, you should be able to walk safely to most of the more distant ones on the map. You can use Google’s “Walking” option to get directions, and don’t forget to use Street View to get an image of the area. Read on after the map for better suggestions if you have a car or are willing to try to use buses and light rail.



View CATESOL 2010 Food in a larger map

This is not the most culinarily exciting area of the South Bay. If you have access to a car, even driving 5-15 minutes will put you in a much better location. Here are a few suggestions if you have access to a car or can figure out the light rail and bus system (I’m not sure if Google’s public transportation directions work for VTA, but they may):

  • Maru Ichi, real Japanese ramen specializing in a “black garlic” broth (click for map) and lots of other restaurants and businesses, from a Chinese bookstore and a Chinese vegan restaurant to a Japanese cook-it-yourself chain. Highly recommended. Less than 10 minutes by car. (On the other side of the overpass is the McCarthy Ranch shopping center, which includes typical American restaurant chains, Borders, etc.)
  • El Camino Real’s Korean-American neighborhood (San Francisco Chronicle article) won’t impress anyone from L.A., but has lots of good places to eat, including the pricey meat-extravaganza Palace Buffet (lines during peak hours) and a nice supermarket, Hankook, which has a couple of places to get a snack inside, and a separate building several blocks away known as a “food court.” A very simple drive, about 12 minutes away; no highway (map).
  • San Jose’s Japantown is one of only three remaining in the US; the others are in San Francisco and L.A.This one is small and more functional, but there are still good restaurants, a couple of nice grocery stores, and some really good places to shop. There’s even a traditional tofu maker. Oddly, there’s also an Ethiopian restaurant here, Rehoboth, with a good reputation. About 15 minutes away by car, and I know you can take light rail here because I’ve seen the stop! (Map.) N.B.: On Sunday, they’re having a festival, so it’ll be a good time to come but a bad time to try to park.
  • The Mitsuwa shopping center is worth the 15-to-20-minute drive to reach a mini-complex consisting of the large Japanese supermarket, Mitsuwa, which has a ramen shop, a fast-service restaurant, an anime toy store, and a wagashi (traditional sweets) shop inside. Attached to it outside are a Taiwanese noodle and dumpling shop, another ramen restaurant, a very good sushi restaurant (Tomi), and an excellent Japanese bakery and coffee shop, Clover, that serves Japanese-style “Western food” dinners. Across from Mitsuwa, in the parking lot, is Kinokuniya, a Japanese book/music/magazine/stationery store that sells English and Japanese books, including books on learning Japanese and learning English, art books, origami paper, etc. (Map. You can take 101 for a short amount of the route if you want, but it’s not worth the hassle to me. Also, I think there’s one bus that’s a straight shot here.)
  • Book Buyers, the secondhand book shop I mentioned in this post , often has some ESL books. It’s about 15 minutes away, too. There’s an independent new book shop next door, Books Inc. There are lots of other great bookstores in the South Bay, but Book Buyers stands out because of the ESL stock (which varies, of course). There are various places to eat in downtown Mountain View; just check Yelp. Free parking lots are on various side streets.Map.)
  • If you’re staying as far afield as Fremont or Milpitas, which I know some people are, you can check out my Yelp reviews. (As you can probably tell, I do most of my Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, etc. dining out in my own town, and don’t drive to San Jose for it…)

If you have a recommendation of your own to share, or if you have a question, please leave a comment!

P. S. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter! Currently, a Tweetup is planned for Friday at 6 PM, at the Evolution bar in the Hyatt.

The Twitter Divide

(Note: This post contains lots of speculation and generalizations based on some extremely subjective observations, without any hard data to back it up. I’m not claiming I’m right about any of this! I’d love to get different points of view, so please comment. Thanks!)



 

I’m on Twitter as talkclouds. Since I’m currently working as a private instructor/editor, it’s been invaluable for staying connected. The e-mail groups that I joined as part of my various professional organizations are mostly dormant, and conferences are infrequent. Twitter lets me ask questions, discuss issues, and (best of all) share resources. In the last couple of days, I’ve found out about an event in San Francisco with the Japanese ambassador, two open-source textbook websites (more on that soon!), a JapaneseEnglish iPhone app, a new Pearson Longman site for teachers, an article on teaching English in Taiwan, where I could watch part of a Pecha Kucha session at the IATEFL conference in the UK live online, etc.

That leads to me my next question, which is — is it just me, or are UK-based teachers more with it when it comes to twenty-first century communication tools like Twitter and Pecha Kucha*? It’s frustrated me for a long time that technology seems more alien to English teachers than to, say, librarians–ALA (American Library Association) conference websites are usually more advanced than TESOL/affiliate conference websites, there are librarians all over Twitter, and so on. Meanwhile, CALL and TELL are basically niches, and even many of their advocates focus mainly on twentieth-century “language lab”-style stuff.

At any rate, I thought it was English teachers as a whole that were behind, but when my Twitter list exploded with #iatefl tags (see above), I realized that might not be the case. (Putting a # in front of a word in a post/”tweet” makes it into a “hashtag,” which makes it a clickable, searchable term collecting all the tweets on that particular topic/at that particular venue/etc.) So many people were tweeting from the conference, whereas TESOL’s conference just a couple of weeks before in Boston hardly even registered on my Twitter radar. One person I chatted with, who was at both TESOL and IATEFL, indicated that not only were there very few “tweechers” (Twittering teachers) at TESOL, but mentions of it were not received with favor or interest.

(Alternatively, is it not a North America/UK divide, but an ESL/EFL divide? If IATEFL is really focused on EFL, as the name indicates, and is not a general UK-based ELT association–I confess I don’t know–then that might be part of the difference. Most of TESOL’s membership is composed of ESL instructors, and many of them teach composition rather than or in addition to communication-oriented English classes. The former generally have less in common with EFL instructors than the latter. I’ve noticed a relative lack of interest in using technology other than basic computer applications among many composition instructors.)

I don’t mean to suggest that everyone should get on Twitter.** It’s not for everyone; lots of people will just find it annoying even after putting in the time needed to get used to it and learn its culture. (After all, I’ve tried Second Life twice and just can’t get into it.) But I think more people need to try it out–after all, teachers also need support and “personal learning networks.” Twitter is great for that. It’s also very casual; there’s not a lot of Twitter etiquette*** to worry about. You can follow (add) and unfollow (remove) people freely, and you don’t need to worry about catching every tweet.

My Twitter stream is like a magic cafe filled with English teachers from all over the world, plus some international journalists, cultural critics, general educators, linguists, and so on, all chatting to each other and to me. No one is making speeches, since it’s not a lecture hall–although someone may hand me a paper to read later. If I pop in, I can catch all kinds of interesting things and share my own thoughts (and due to the magic properties of the cafe, I can rewind a bit too). I have three other accounts–one for my personal life, one for English learners, and one where I post local news and events for my area. I just think the people in these “cafes” would be bored or confused by each other, so I’ve kept them mostly separate. Most people don’t go quite that far, although a lot of people have both professional and personal accounts. Fortunately, many Twitter clients and apps (small programs that just run Twitter) make handling multiple accounts easy.

CATESOL is in a few days, and I would love to propose a tweetup (a meetup organized through Twitter)–however, I’ve only heard from two other people who are going. I wonder if there are enough of us for a tweetup. You would think California would be cutting edge, right? So far that hasn’t really been my experience.

Any theories on what’s up? Am I and the other people I talked to just wrong and just not hooked into the North American ESL twitter community? Anyone want to talk about how it is in other places and disciplines?


* Pecha Kucha is not especially high-tech, nor are unconferences, but you could argue that both are part of the spirit of TED Talks and other tech-communication related innovations, and Pecha Kucha first came to the attention of many outside Japan though Wired magazine.
** I included this digression because I knew some people were going to think “What is the point of Twitter, anyway?” — as I did before I started using it and, to a certain extent, while I only had my personal account and didn’t have my @talkclouds account.
*** Previous link deleted due to a malware report [on the site I linked to, not here] by Google.