I wasn’t able to post here during the holidays, but I was somewhat active on Twitter. Here are a few links that I shared that may be of interest to you, rewritten a bit for context and easier clicking.
This is part of how I use Wikipedia (and part of why the kneejerk brainwashing of students against it is wrong):
You heard about the possible closure of Delicious by Yahoo and then the backpedaling, right? You’d better read this on Yahoo’s “Delicious isn’t dead” statement (basically, the Delicious team was laid off, so plan ahead. The worst part is that either the service will degrade or everyone will scatter to a different service. And I DO NOT LIKE Diigo and its toolbars and disguised links. Hat-tip to @immlass). http://pinboard.in/ (run by some of Delicious’ original people, I think) is on my radar (one-time low fee, like Metafilter.com) to replace Delicious if needed, as is http://xmarks.com. Pinboard connects to Twitter, Instapaper, & Google Reader, so it may be worth $10 (1-time, not/year). Not to mention that actually having a tiny fee may keep it alive and answerable to its users–remember paying for stuff that you liked and valued?
November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s an international event in which people of all kinds attempt to write 50,000 words’ worth of a novel. If that sparks all kinds of questions in your mind, check out What is NaNoWriMo? and How NaNoWriMo Works. The goal is not to turn out a perfectly formed, exactly 50,000-word short novel that is publishable and beautiful and perfect (although all of these folks managed to turn their NaNos into something that DID get published!). It’s just to get people writing and, even better, writing more than they probably ever thought they could. We all know how thrilled students are when they achieve something significant like their first letter, essay, speech, or phone call in English. Imagine writing your first novel…
I’ve tried it once before and didn’t get too far, but I met some really great people–one of the keys to the thing is that having other people around you at write-ins and so on really helps you push forward! I’m still friends with some of the people I met. Yesterday, I went to a pre-kickoff “meet’n'greet” event in San Jose. There were tons of people there, and it was pretty exciting.
“But wait,” you may be thinking, “I don’t even live in North America!” No problem–there are groups all over the place. Check out NaNo Near You for groups in Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, Ireland, Japan, Spain, etc. etc.–there are about 500 chapters around the world.
My crazy idea is actually to write something that’s for English learners. I really like some of the extensive readers on the market, but there aren’t enough out there (particularly original ones rather than re-writes). There’s also not enough that’s in American English. I think I’d like to take a stab at it. I’m pretty sure that even if I manage 50,000 words, many of them won’t be usable. However, that’s better than just continuing to do nothing but think about it. It’s the same principle as when we encourage students to stop thinking everything over and just speak. I don’t know if I can pull it off, but I’m planning to give it a good try!
I wonder if anyone at the Office of Letters and Light (the people behind NaNoWriMo) is interested in hosting a similar, flexible-goal version of NaNoWriMo for language learners … L2NoWriMo sounds good to me.
Anyway, if you’re doing it too, let me know!
P. S. This is my 100th post! I wanted it to be on something more serious, but I’m serious about both ER and writing. So this will do! Oddly enough, it comes just after my 100th post over at Readable Blog.
If you’re looking to spruce up your Halloween or autumn lesson plans, OpenClipArt.org has you covered. Check out their fall and Halloween clip art packages. As always, the images are completely free to use, and most of the images at the site are large (great for printing), easily resized, and unique to the site (because they were uploaded by the original artists). There’s more if you search for relevant keywords, too.
Check out my previous post, A Visual Feast, for more information about using the site.
Thanks to the recommendation of author and Twitterati star Mayumi Ishihara, my Twitter account for English learners (@readable) was featured in a Japanese business magazine. I think it’s still on the stands in Japan–look for the 9/21 issue of 日経ビジネス Associe. On page 98, Ms. Ishihara introduces a few Twitter accounts and hashtags that can be useful to Japanese learners of English. She’s the author of a recent popular book on using Twitter to practice actually using English, so I was really pleased that she liked my account enough to recommend it to others. I enjoy being in touch with international English learners via Twitter–as a US-based teacher (at the moment), it’s an interesting way to get in touch with the concerns of learners in EFL situations.
I recommend a good learner’s dictionary (or two), not just for your students but also for you, the instructor. Naturally, you already know the meanings of almost all words that students are likely to ask you about, but the problem is that on-the-spot definitions (and even written ones) sometimes come out in the vein of “Well, it’s a sensation that…uh, a feeling that you get–well, most people get they’re frightened –oh, do you know frightened? I mean scared…and…”
There’s a reason for the profession of lexicography and the existence of special dictionaries! When I use the definitions in learners’ dictionaries to define words that are a little hard to explain, I find that students often understand the words much faster–I neither spend a lot of time confusing them nor do they have to resort to their L1 dictionaries (and they don’t get confused by the circular explanations, academic vocabulary, and obsolete historical definitions in regular English dictionaries).
I make a point of introducing learners’ dictionaries to my students and owning multiple levels of them. I tell my students that sometimes I use them myself to give definitions, because the dictionaries’ explanations are shorter, simpler, and focus on the useful/common meanings of a word. (I also spend time demonstrating how a good learner’s dictionary can save students from other dictionaries’ pitfalls, as the entries should include connotations like “disapproving”, and other features like collocations.) Anyway, I think they understand why I sometimes use these definitions with them. It would certainly be less than ideal if they thought I had to look up English words in the dictionary, but I don’t think any of them have wound up with that impression.
I think it’s useful to look at the different varieties out there to see which ones you prefer. They all have different features and different styles of defining words. Cobuild started out strong (as it was corpus-based) but has fallen behind the others in features and usability; I prefer Longman and Oxford. There’s also a recent Merriam-Webster dictionary, in “essential” and advanced, which I haven’t looked at. They produced the excellent guide to English usage that was recommended by Language Log, though, so it might be excellent. There’s a Cambridge set, as well.
Anyway, you can make use of these definitions online, too, if you’re chatting with students, blogging, or just testing out the dictionaries.
One word I had to define recently was “trawl” (the verb), because I linked some learners to “Japanese Power Blogger Trawls Seoul for Hidden Gems”. Interestingly, at least one of the dictionaries’ definitions precluded the usage in that headline–so it’s good to try several tricky or multifaceted words to find a dictionary that makes sense to you.
(P. S. I think there are some other learners’ dictionaries that I’m not familiar with. If you know of any that you particularly like, please recommend them in the comments!)
The summer was just packed–unfortunately, not in the ironic Calvin and Hobbes sense. Between flying to the middle of the country to help my parents with my dad’s knee surgery, getting my new computer in working order after my laptop was stolen, and job-hunting, I haven’t been able to finish any of the posts I’ve started in my head.
Anyway, I’ve updated the links in the sidebar with a few more good ones. Check out Throw Grammar from the Train, Seoul Sub→Urban, and Japan without the sugar–and yes, I’ve purposefully not linked them here in the post, because there are a lot of great blogs over there that are worth a look!
The writer of Throw Grammar from the Train did a nice piece for the Boston Globe–you can read it at “Un-Rules.” If you have a family member who does the “Ohhh no! It’s the English teacher! I’d better watch my grammar!” thing around you, or who irritates you by sending you links to ill-informed rants by famous peevologists, you can blow that person’s mind by sending along this article. It’s unusually well-grounded for a mainstream publication.
Coming up (I think) is a post on the body half of the mind-body equation. Teachers sometimes let health drop to to the bottom of our long list of priorities. If you have any thoughts on it you’d like me to address, let me know here or on Twitter!
Here are a few things that make my life a little easier. I hope they help you, too. All of these tips are very easy to follow. You don’t need any particular tech skill level to implement them.
Install Adblock Plus. Sorry, as long as legitimate websites use pop-unders, flashing banners, expanding ads, and animations, I’ll use an adblocker. Unfair? Well, they can use unintrusive ads like Google’s text ads, and I’ll leave them alone. If you’re using it and a website that should work looks really strange, click the red ABP stop sign and disable it, then reload. You can also use it to right-click and block individual images, which is sometimes useful.
Block the Delete Goes Back Action: Annoyed by accidentally hitting “delete” and Firefox going back a page and losing everything you’d typed into a blog comment form, etc.? It’s simple to turn off. (If you want a keystroke to go back and forward, use command/ctrl left and right.)
How to tab into pull-down menus and more (OS X): I was used to being able to do this, but it’s not on by default. Using keyboard shortcuts instead of clicking around makes you a more efficient tech user, you know (more on that in the future).
Delete useless search engines in the search window (answers.com? honestly!), and change the order so the ones you like to use are at the top. Add ones you use often (I often use wikipedia.jp), and add some that can’t be found through the Add Search Engines option at the bottom (click the little magnifying glass)–Mycroft Project has things like ALC’s Eijiro on the Web, a powerful Japanese/English dictionary.
Click on View at the top; make sure Status Bar is turned on (putting your over links will usually show where they take you in the status bar at the bottom), and check, uncheck, and customize the Toolbars and Sidebar until they’re the way you like in terms of functions and screen “real estate.” You can also right-click on the toolbar and drag things around to access some of these features.
If you’ve never explored the main preferences (look at the top under Firefox -> Preferences) or your add-ons’ preferences (Tools -> Add-ons, then highlight each one to see if it has preferences), it’s worth doing so.
Forget This Site: If you’re going to use Firefox in front of other people, such as in a conference presentation, and you recently read an article at the New York Times called “Sex Trafficking on the Rise in Asia,” or one of Zen Kimchi’s great “Food Porn” articles, you might not want it to flash across the address bar if you type in something else that has a few letters in common. Short of deleting your entire history, if you know there’s a specific site that should be removed, go to History at the top, then Show All History. Search for the site you need to remove. Right-click on the entry, and choose the last option, Forget About This Site. It won’t come up when you start typing in the address bar (so make sure you’ve bookmarked it if you need to go back!).
I am baffled as to why my post on Delicious isn’t coming up as a related post, but since it isn’t, I’ll link it here. I wrote a whole post on it, and it’s so worth using. It’s like a faithfully-following online filing cabinet, butler, secretary, genie, and Library of Alexandria. I love it.
This is just a brief note to call your attention–in case you’re not on Twitter or you missed it–to the new permanent page I’ve added here. The List of Free Journals collects a range of open-access scholarly journals on topics related to ELT/TESOL/TEFL/TESL/applied linguistics. I’ve actually added one two since I posted it to Twitter, so the list now stands at 27 28. (I’ll keep updating the page, though not this post.) Most are peer-reviewed; some are more practical (ITESLJ, in particular) but even the very academic ones may have useful ideas. Please check out the page, and comment here or contact me somehow if you have corrections or additions to the list. Thanks!
I plan to make a similar page for magazine-like sites, eventually, so if you have favorites, I’d be happy to know about them.
On Twitter, I followed a link to a blog post provocatively titled Are Expats More Creative? This post mentioned some research suggesting that people with deep experience abroad came back as more creative people–in a way measurable on tests of creativity–but it didn’t cite or link to the actual research. I was able to find a couple of papers by the researcher mentioned in the article, as well as a Youtube interview with him. It’s very interesting stuff, and while the studies are somewhat artificial, they’re very thought-provoking. It may be a good argument for teaching abroad and studying abroad, but the research team found that you can’t just travel abroad or live in an expat enclave/not get out into the culture or learn the language. You really need to have that integrative motivation to benefit.
To my surprise, a recent paper was downloadable for free, although it looked as though it would be behind a journal’s paywall. I don’t know if it’ll work outside of the US, but check the righthand column to see if you can download it.
If you’re traveling and using internet cafes, using library or school computer labs, using a computer in an adjunct office in a classroom, etc., you may be exposing your personal information to hackers or risking the chance of getting a virus on your USB stick.
Here are a few articles I’ve found that may be helpful. You don’t have to drive yourself crazy with these precautions, but follow as many as you reasonably can. I’ve found that most people don’t realize either how easy it is for even casual miscreants to swipe passwords from wifi networks (in certain situations), or that things such as keyloggers (which record everything you type–like your usernames and passwords) even exist.
- Given a choice, if a machine is running any browser other than IE, use the other browser (e.g. Firefox, Chrome, or Safari). For one thing, Internet Explorer tends to have the most security flaws at any given time, and Firefox, Chrome, and Safari tend to have fewer (see this page for a comparison of the up-to-date versions only. Never use a really old version of IE or any other browser, which is likely to have a variety of well-known security flaws. Another reason is that IE tends to be a popular target for people who want to exploit security weaknesses.
- Given a choice, if a computer lab or library lets you choose between Mac and Windows machines, and you can get your browsing or other work done on a Mac, choose the Macs. This is not necessarily because of any inherent properties of the Macs, but because the Windows machines (being more common) are more likely targets for casual hackers. (The only drawback is that in a few school and library labs, the Macs are poorly maintained because the lab staff doesn’t understand them, but you’ll soon realize if that’s the case.)
- If there’s a website that does not use https:// or SSL to log you in with your password, just don’t use it on a public machine or public wifi. If you really must use it–like a WordPress-based blog that you want to update from the road–look for solutions. (For example, you can add the Semisecure Login plugin to your WordPress installation, which adds some level of security.)
- If you use public computers frequently, consider keeping a USB drive that only has your own copy of Firefox and other Portable Apps on it (no personal information). (Or you may wish to consider a “secure USB drive” that is meant to resist having its data altered, to keep personal information safe and to avoid introducing malware back onto your own system.)
- Keep these suggestions in mind when borrowing friends’ computers, as well. Many people are surprisingly lax about updating their browsers, running and updating antivirus and antispyware, etc.
If you have other suggestions or further reading, please leave a comment!