Monday, November 30, 2009

Girl, 13, gets perfect TOEFL score

The Korea Herald reports that Kim Hyun-soo got a perfect score on the iBT TOEFL. This speaks to much more than Kim's English ability as most 13-year-old native speakers of English would not be able to deal with the cognitive academic aspects of the test.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

New Scale for Graded Readers

The indefatigable Rob Waring has been hard at work with the Extensive Reading Foundation to set up a publisher-independent scale which has recently been published on the foundation's website.

There is a detailed table that shows how each publisher's own levels relate to this scale with helpful links to every series of graded readers known to mankind.

In the Humber library, we have always used David Hill's EPER scale, and will continue to do so, but if I were setting up a new program, I'd probably switch to the new scale for its increased breath and detail and since you have to pay for EPER stuff.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A mere puff

Do people hear with their skin as well as with their ears? Henry Fountain has an article in the New York Times describing some research suggesting that indeed we do.
The researchers had subjects listen to spoken syllables while hooked up to a device that would simultaneously blow a tiny puff of air onto the skin of their hand or neck. The syllables included “ba” and “pa,” which produce a brief puff from the mouth when spoken, and “da” and “ta,” which don’t produce puffs. They found that when listeners heard “da” or “ta” while a puff of air was blown onto their skin, they perceived the sound as “ba” or “pa.”
The problem with this is that syllable initial voiceless consonants, including /p/ and /t/ are aspirated; that is, they produce a brief puff of air, whereas voiced consonants, including /b/ and /d/ are unaspirated. The error appears to be Fountain's; the abstract in the original paper gets it right.

[The article has since been corrected.]

Monday, November 23, 2009

More on imperatives

Over the weekend, I commented that most of the ten commandments were not in the imperative mood. In particular, I said thou shalt not is in the indicative mood. I've had a number of people query this, so I'd like to explain more.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ben Yagoda on Language

Having just written a post questioning the value of taking on a century-old usage book, I turn to a number of columns written by author, critic, and teacher Ben Yagoda, one of which is more than twenty years old.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jan Freeman's new book

I may be betraying my lack of education, but I'd never heard of Ambrose Bierce before Jan Freeman offered to send me her book, Ambrose Bierce's Write it Right: The Celebrated Cynic's Language Peeves Deciphered, Appraised, and Annotated for 21st-Century Readers. Or at least I thought I hadn't heard of him. Doing some background reading, I found that I'd actually read some of his short stories in high school or perhaps university. It made me feel somewhat better that only one person in the office here had heard of him at all.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Conrad Black, English teacher

Conrad Black seems to have discovered the joys of being an English teacher. I'm a little curious, though about his "commending Hemingway's Snows of Kilimanjaro as illustrative of the virtues of short, simple sentences." I assume he doesn't have sentences like the following in mind:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Award-winning students

Most of the students who pass though our English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program end up doing very well in the college. This was highlighted in October when the awards and scholarships were handed out for the school of liberal arts and sciences. Here at Humber, LAS services students in every program and includes some of the most language-dependent courses. Despite this, former EAP students took home many awards:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Subtitles for ELLs

Holger Mitterer and James M. McQueen have published a paper in PLoS ONE suggesting that if you're a learner of English, you should watch TV with English subtitles turned on. I regularly assign graded readers to students, and I suggest to those who read poorly (i.e., are slow and/or inaccurate at decoding individual words), and those with difficult-to-understand accents that they chose a reader that comes with a CD. I think this is basically the same process. In these learners, there's either no link between phonology and meaning & orthography (spelling), or the phonological representation is faulty. This paper shows that there are benefits to linking them together.

Monday, November 09, 2009

100 things restaurant staffers should never do

One of the most e-mailed stories at the NY Times this week is "100 things restaurant staffers should never do" by Bruce Buschel. This may seem a little glib, but as I was reading it, I was thinking: what a great exercise for language teachers! How many of these can you apply to your teaching situation?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

There aren't much data

When asked by the New York Times why some people get a sore arm at the site of a flu vaccine injection while others do not, Dr. E. Yoko Furuya, assistant director of epidemiology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center replied, “The short answer is that we don’t know for sure... There aren’t much data out there on this topic.”

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Subordinate clauses

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language sets out the language in piercing detail, but I often find it overwhelming and need to step back and bring together what I've read in a way that displays the basic relationships minus overmany particulars. Recently, my attention has been on subordinate clauses. Five years ago I would have said I had a good understanding of subordinate clauses, but how wrong I was. The more I delved into it, the more I found and the more lost I felt.

In the following taxonomy/tree diagram/organizational chart, or what-have-you, I've attempted to illustrate the relationships between all these various subordinate clauses. As time allows I'll add example sentences to illustrate each.

PS, If somebody can conjure an elegant way to allow telescoping of the various daughter levels (click-to-expand kind of thing) along with links to example sentences, please let me know.