Saturday, 25 February 2017

How to Learn Any Language in 6 Months

On Friday, I posted the first half of a lesson about learning English quickly. The key word here was "quickly." I didn't mean it to come across like clickbait or spam, and I would never make silly promises to my students. What I wanted was for them to discuss whether or not it's possible to fastrack language acquisition.

Today, I'm bringing you the second half of that lesson. Up to this point, the students have been discussing learning English, and they've even suggested methods for international students to learn Chinese. Now it's time for them to watch a TED Talk by Chris Lonsdale, which is filled with ways to speed up language learning.

First, here's the PPT. This contains the whole lesson. When it comes to the blank slide, start the video - I'll put the YouTube link below.

How to learn any language in 6 months from David Wills

Obviously, this is for Chinese (or Taiwanese) learners. The PPT is bilingual, as my students for this lesson had a low level of English but I still thought it would be useful for them to consider these questions and watch this video. Feel free to edit out the Chinese or even input whatever is the L1 of your students.

Importantly, don't forget to leave time for the final question. I believe the most important questions you can ever ask your students are: "How do you feel?" and "What do you think about that?"

Click here for more ESL or IELTS -style questions on Chris Lonsdale's TEDx Talk.

Friday, 24 February 2017

How to Learn English Quickly!

I've just finished my first week of classes for the spring semester, and I'll share a successful one with you. It should take 45 minutes, and is intended for intermediate level students, although it could also be done with pre-intermediates, given a little patience and explanation.

How to Learn English Quickly! from David Wills

The whole class is actually contained within the above PPT. It's very simple and explanatory.

I used this as a 45 minute lesson, but at my school we teach two lessons together as a 90 minute class. I'll post part two tomorrow. It links very directly from the end of this lesson.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Difficulties Chinese Speakers Have Learning English

This week I will begin to tackle some pronunciation problems my Chinese students have in learning English. I’ll just address the most common problems, and I’ll mention some of those below. In a future post, I will give some useful ways to help students rectify these mistakes.


Ship or Sheep?

One big problem most Chinese English learners have is with the vowel sounds /ɪ/ and /iː/. For example, in the words “ship” /ʃɪp/ and “sheep” /ʃiːp/.

Don’t Cut the Cat!

Sometimes learners have trouble with the vowels /ʌ/ and /æ/, which may get confused. In short words like “cat” or “cut”, “hat” or “hut,” “cap” or “cup,” there may arise some confusion.


This is the Biggest Problem!

Even the best Chinese students I’ve taught have typically been unable to make the sounds /ð/ and /θ/. Thus, the words “this” and thin” (/ðɪs/ and /θɪn/) because “ziss” or “diss” and “sin.” Of course, these are incredibly common in English, so practicing them from a young age to ensure proper pronunciation is important.

/v/ is Very Difficult

Many Chinese learners have difficulty with the /v/ sound, typically replacing it with /w/. So they might say “English is wery difficult.”

Faulty Final Consonants

Recently I was doing a choral drilling exercise and noted to my horror, that not a single student could say the word “book.” Instead, they all listened to me and then chanted, “book-uh!” Adding an additional vowel sound to some words that should end in a consonant is quite common; as is dropping the final consonant altogether. For example, I’ve heard “wife” pronounced as /waɪfuː/ and /waɪ/.

Consonant Clusters

Chinese students sometimes have difficulties with consonant clusters, and may insert a slight vowel sound between two consonants. For example, “spoon” may be pronounced as /sɪpuːn/. Pluralizing a word ending in a consonant is also troublesome for the same reason, and you may hear “dogs” pronounced /dɒgəz/ (or even following the faulty final consonant rule from above /dɒgəzə/.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

World Festivals ESL Lesson

This week is my first week back in the classroom after a long winter holiday. A few weeks ago it was Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), so I want my students talking about festivals. During the first week of lesson, I prefer that the work isn't too taxing, and that it contains lots of opportunity for the students to talking in English among themselves.

I began by describing my holiday (I use a PPT, but that's private so I won't share it here) and then have students talk to each other about their own holidays. A good idea is run the activity like this:

  1. put students into groups of four
  2. students share their holiday experiences
  3. one student then leaves each group and moves to another group
  4. that student then tells other students about their previous group's experiences
  5. if you want, ask students at random to tell the class what the "most interesting" thing they heard was
After that, I'll ask students to brainstorm world holidays in pairs, then note some on the blackboard - usually you can expect to hear Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.

Then I'll show my students this PPT:

After which, I'll ask them to discuss what festival they thought looks most interesting, exciting, or strange. For higher levels, I ask more questions, like what they think might happen at each festival.

Then we watch this video on Mexico's Day of the Dead:

Then, students tell me about Spring Festival. (My students are Chinese, so obviously they can do this quite easily. You'll want to change this to a local festival where you teach.)

For homework, I give students a week or two to research and write a short report on a world festival that interests them.

Monday, 13 February 2017

First Week Teacher Tips

Next Monday is my first week back at  school after a long winter holiday. For me, the first week is a time of excitement. I've always got a lot of energy after a long break and I'm eager to run some great classes. I make sure that the first week of any semester is fun and communicative, with no textbook work or weak lessons to slow it down. Remember that your students may not be as excited to get back in the classroom as you are...

With that in mind, here as some tips for getting back into the swing of things:

  1. Don't push the students too hard. Remember that many of them won't have done much studying over the holidays and their English skills will be rusty. 
  2. Don't push yourself too hard. You may feel as excited as I am to be back in the classroom, but you'll get a sore throat from talking too much, and you don't want to burn out too early in the semester. 
  3. Check books and class lists. If your school is like mine (or any other in China) you'll not get the materials you need until the last minute. During the first week, before you're settled in and doing normal classes, make sure you have everything that you need - and make sure the students have their books, too.
  4. Review the last semester. Take time to briefly review the highs and lows (but don't focus on the lows). For example, this year I'll tell my students the good news that they don't need to spend so many lessons doing writing because they excelled in it last semester. 
  5. Build rapport by sharing your experiences. Every holiday, I go someplace interesting and take lots of pictures on my blog. I show the pictures to my students and tell them a little story. Don't get too self-indulgent, but letting them into your life a little will break down some walls. 
  6. Make it fun. Have a music lesson or a lesson where students act. Make it different from their other classes. Have them mingle and chat. Let them use English in a relaxed environment. 
  7. Get to know the students. If you're teaching a new class, let the students introduce themselves to you. Take an interest in their lives, and try to learn their names as quickly as possible. If I can do that with 200 students, you can too! 

Ok, I'd better get back to planning some lessons. If you, like me, start back this week or next, I hope it goes well. If you have any advice, put it below in the comments. 

Friday, 10 February 2017

Process Writing

What is Process Writing?

For some people, writing is a simple thing. You probably wrote an e-mail or a social media post today, and you didn’t put much thought into it. Yet some thought did go into it… On some level, you considered what you needed to say and how to say it, then you wrote it and at least considered revising what you wrote. This, essentially, is process writing.
In the classroom, it means treating the whole process of writing as important and worthy of a creative approach. It means not just giving your students a task to do and expecting them to do it, but guiding them through each stage. Many students dread writing as it can be boring, yet process writing makes it interactive, communicative, and interesting.

Why Use Process Writing

As mentioned above, it can be a fun and communicative process. Students can get valuable speaking practice at the earliest stages of process writing.
But that’s not the point, exactly. If in a writing class you aim to improve students’ writing, and in process writing you can do so more effectively. Research suggests that simply correcting an essay doesn’t result in students’ improving their writing skills. However, feedback between drafts can be extremely useful.
Process writing considers what the students say as important, and doesn’t focus too much on how it is said – ie grammar and vocabulary. However, by using this method it is reasonable to expect students’ language to improve.

What are the Processes?

The processes are:
·         Pre-writing
·         Focusing ideas
·         Evaluating, structuring, and editing
Let’s look at them in more detail:


This stage involves brainstorming and generating ideas. This can be the fun, communicative stage. Teachers should set activities that allow the students to think about the topic and come up with content. Usually, learners think too much about language and their writing will have relatively few ideas. Circumvent this by developing useful activities.

Focusing Ideas

This is where the students shape their ideas prior to writing. Normally, you might think this is also a time when students work alone, but this can be done in pairs or small groups, too. Here you should have activities that encourage students to write without thinking too much about accuracy, and more about ideas.

Evaluating, Structuring, and Editing

In this part you want your students taking the ideas from earlier and starting to piece them together logically. This can involve them ordering their notes, or someone else’s notes into a coherent structure. Students should also get involved in both self-editing and peer-editing.


Feedback is obviously very important in writing lessons, but the traditional method of correcting essays may not be the most useful. Peer-checking and self-editing between drafts is considered a better and more effective way of resolving errors. In addition, it is useful for the teacher to give students some marking that requires them to implement changes themselves. Perhaps take one student’s essay (make it anonymous) and then mark and rewrite the essay. Have students look over the corrections and rewriting to note the differences.

Potential Problems

Some students will want more direct feedback and believe that writing lessons should involve more writing and less planning. Some learners are only interested in improving their language accuracy, and feel that process writing doesn’t give them enough focus on language use.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

IELTS Speaking Practice - Musical Instrument

It's been a while since I last posted anything here because I'm on holiday during January and February. However, at my other website, for IELTS practice, I recently posted a lesson for students interested in the topic of musical instruments.

One of my readers requested I post a video along with the lesson, which I just added today. This is more a resource for students than teachers, but perhaps some of you teachers can make use of this in your classes.