Good pronunciation resources are hard to find. I’ve previously written about Rachel’s English, an excellent resource for the mechanics of pronunciation including sounds, mouth positions, and sound charts. But sometimes students just want to know how to pronounce a certain word. Enter Forvo.com.
Of course, students could reference any good dictionary (paper or online) for an explanation of how to pronounce a word, but online dictionaries often require a subscription to hear pronunciations. Forvo makes its audio available for free. Users can also create an account and upload their own pronunciations of words, which is how it has grown to almost 80,000 English pronunciations. (Many other languages are also available.)
Like many other web 2.0 websites, a community has grown around the process of expanding the website. Other examples of this phenomenon include Wikipedia, on which groups of users debate and define editorial policies and solicit help from each other; and Flickr, which allows users to tag photos so that all pictures uploaded to the site are easily searchable.
Forvo incorporates both of these features. Users can posts words they would like to hear pronounced. Pronunciations can also be voted on so that if there are multiple pronunciations available, the best pronunciation appears at the top of the list. Pronunciations can also be tagged so that users can find interesting groups of words such as nouns, past tense verbs, mathematical terms, male names, and many others.
Words have been pronounced in British, American, and other English accents. For each word, you can view the biography of the user who pronounced it to find out where they are from. If you find a user you particularly enjoy, you can follow their RSS feed to find out when they have added pronunciations.
Because of all of these features, the website can be a bit overwhelming at first. But once you get used to the layout, the site is a very useful resource. Students can use it to listen to assigned vocabulary words or to explore pronunciations of new words.
Teachers can create an account and upload their own pronunciations for students, which would make them very easy for students to find if they search for their teacher or for a tag their teachers use, such as the name of a textbook, course, or school. Once they become accustomed to the site, students might also be interested in uploading pronunciations in their native languages, thereby expanding this resource for language learners around the world.
As a visual language learner myself, I really like the way Visual Thesaurus.com works. Enter a word and synonyms, antonyms, and other related words appear on spokes around a hub. Lines show relationships between the words (red dotted lines indicate antonyms, gray dotted lines indicate when a word is an attribute of another, is similar to another, is a type of another word, etc.) and definitions, color coded according to part-of-speech, fill a column to the right.
Thesauruses are very useful tools, but displaying results visually makes it even more so. Other online thesauruses like Thesaurus.com organize search results in a more conventional way that is reminiscent of paper-bound versions: Columns of words are grouped by part-of-speech and meaning. Why not display these relationships in a way that makes their relationship intuitive and more immediately obvious? Thesaurus.com is also cluttered with lots of banner advertising and, interestingly, a link to Visual Thesaurus.com at the bottom.
In fact, I had thought I had seen visual thesaurus-style search results somewhere else on Google, but all I’ve been able to find is a now-defunct Google module that seems to have been the basis for Visual Thesaurus.com. Surely other applications could also benefit from a similarly visual approach, but I don’t know of many.
Visual Thesaurus.com is not free, but keep reading. A subscription to the online edition is available for $2.95 per month or $19.95 per year while a desktop version is available for $39.95. I’m not sure I use a thesaurus often enough to justify the expense, though it would be a nice resource to make available to students (group and institutional subscriptions are also available).
In my experience, after the three free searches non-subscribers are allowed, I can close the window and get three more free searches immediately. Aren’t you glad you kept reading? Although opening and reopening the search window is inconvenient, it seems to have slaked my appetite for synonyms so far. You’ll have to decide whether you want to pay for greater convenience, but Visual Thesaurus.com is a useful tool either way.
I don’t recall how I came across Rachel’s English but I was instantly impressed and have yet to explore its entire depth.
The first thing I found was the list of sounds represented by the phonetic alphabet. There is also a sound chart that lists every sound a letter can represent. Both of these have links to YouTube videos like the one above, which detail how to pronounce the sound. I especially like the portion of the video that compares pictures of Rachel in profile as she pronounces the sounds with her teeth, tongue, and other relevant anatomical features drawn over top (for example, see the 3:50 mark in the above video.) These photos are also available in the mouth positions section. There are also other interesting exercises and a blog.
In addition to being a useful pronunciation resource, a lot of attention is paid to linking everything from various sections appropriately. It doesn’t matter if you are looking through the sound chart or pictures of mouth positions; you can always link to the relevant YouTube video for a quick 5-10 minute tutorial on a given sound.
This is a useful site for students to work through on their own. Perhaps more importantly it could be something teachers recommend to students to supplement classroom instruction. If students are having trouble articulating a particular sound, email them a link to the video, then suggest they follow up with one of the exercises. Working through some of these clear and informative tutorials might be just the extra help they need.
About a year and a half ago, I posted some links to online resources for royalty-free photos. Lately, I’ve been reading Presentation Zen (an excellent book and blog for improving your presentation skills) and thought I’d share some additional resources found therein. If you need photos for your website, newsletter, or classroom, you can use these resources to find lots of images you can use without fear of violating copyright law. (Of course, I’m not a lawyer, so read the fine print.)
Last week, I listed the top 5 technologies that you should be using if you are an ESL teacher in 2010. Today, I present the list of the next 5 technologies I need to explore and possibly add to my bag of tricks. If you have experience with them, leave your opinions, suggestions, and tips in the comments. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the (near) future:
1. Google Wave – Occasionally billed as the Future Of Email, Wave combines email, IM, and the collaborative parts of Google Docs. Watch the full Google demo video or the lower resolution abridged version to get the idea. This is one of those really cool technologies that leaves you asking, “So what do I do with it?” I hope to have answers to that question soon.
2. Zorap– Like Wave, Zorap combines several disparate elements into one collaborative space. From what I’ve seen, a space can be set up for many users quickly and easily. That space can then be used for audio, video, and text conversations and files and documents can be shared to the group. See the demo for more. For a free application, it integrates a surprising number of interesting options for remote learning.
3. Ning– A social network akin to Facebook, but it’s not Facebook. There are many existing nings for topic areas such as The English Companion Ning (“Where English teachers go to help each other”) and Classroom 2.0 (“the social network for those interested in Web 2.0 and Social Media in education”). Plus, you can create a Ning for a topic that you like or a specific group of people, like the students in your class. Because it’s a closed system, Ning may be more useful to anyone who can’t (or doesn’t want to) use Facebook or other social networks with their students.
4. Screenr– A free, web-based screen recorder. Just drag a frame over the part of your screen you want to capture and Screenr will record a video of what happens inside that frame until you tell it to stop. Great for creating demonstration videos or capturing a presentation.
5. Prezi– When I first saw Prezi, I thought it was just another slide sharing application. Since then, I’ve seen some slick, remotely controlled presentations that use Prezi to great effect. One of the best features is the ability to smoothly zoom in and out on portions of the presentation. One large document can contain everything from headings to footnotes with each part zooming and snapping into place on the screen as it is selected. This works equally well if the presenter is guiding the presentation or if an individual wants to explore it on his own. For example, take a look at this Grammar Review Prezi. You can use the arrows to go forward and back within the presentation, but you can also take control by zooming in and out, dragging the page around, and clicking on the text to zoom to a specific point. Once you get used to this style of navigation (or, rather, every style of navigation simultaneously) many interesting ways to structure and organize information become possible.
Bonus: Sikuli– I’ve used applications with macros before, but Sikuli’s approach is unique because it can create a macro for any application using your computers GUI. Think that sounds geeky? Then the demonstration video might also be a little intimidating. The gist of it is, you can automate almost any multi-step task on your computer, just by writing a simple script for Sikuli to follow. While I can’t think of any tasks that are repetitive enough that I’d actually save time by learning how to use Sikuli (and, frankly, I’d rather play Bejeweled myself, thank you very much), the potential of this application is intriguing.
An idea I’ve been thinking about for a while recently came across my Twitter feed: The Reverse of Homework. A little digging brought me to the original article (edit: no longer freely available) referenced in the tweet. Essentially, the idea is to take the lecture portion of a class and put it online. Class time can then be used for problems and activities that had been relegated to homework. While not everything in an ESL context can be put online, there are some areas where this strategy can be used.
In my own intermittent attempts in grammar classes, I’ve run into some of the issues described in the article, most of which had to do with students’ adjustment from the traditional homework paradigm. But the benefits included students being able to review the material as much or as little as they chose (which may also constitute an “issue”) and having much more class time to answer the most difficult, challenging and interesting questions which students often run into by themselves at home and then forget to ask the next day.
Another benefit is that this approach can accommodate multiple learning styles. When I was in college, I had trouble doing the background reading for lectures, but found it easy to read the material after the lecture. Similarly, in language classes, I would rather build my knowledge by attempting things and making mistakes because I have to find the reason for learning a particular structure or set of vocabulary before I am motivated to study it. My teaching often reflects my own learning style, but I recognize that not everyone prefers to learn the way I do. Reversing homework allows students to prepare for the activities by listening to the lecture in advance or to attempt the activities and then go back and use the lecture as a resource.
The biggest downside is that it can take a long time to develop and adapt lectures to an online format. But, if they are developed in a modular way, components can be shared and reused, eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel each time a course is taught. By combining original resources with preexisting resources, students may be given a wide variety of options which they can use to meet their goals and the goals of the course.
Sing, floss, stretch. But trust me on the sunscreen.
I wrote recently about the elective class that I am developing and teaching on popular music. I’m covering a decade per week and a song per day. Within each song, I highlight an interesting grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation point.
Developing this class has meant combing through many online resources including lists of Billboard number one hit songs on Wikipedia and best-of-the-decade lists such as AOL’s radio blog, which is a good place to start because you can listen to most of the songs on the list. I’ve also found that the website sing365.com tends to have the least errors of all of the lyrics websites that are returned in Google searches.
I intend to post the list of songs I’ve used at the end of the quarter (I might even link to the Google Docs spreadsheet that I used to record all of the songs I considered for each decade) but for now I thought I would post the following music video, which I plan to use tomorrow, the last day before Thanksgiving break.
The song is actually a spoken word piece which has an interesting story. While not a traditional pop music video, I think the message is inspirational without being cheesy. Plus, there are lots and lots of examples of advice using the imperative. It might not get you through the last two weeks of the quarter, but it doesn’t hurt.
Think this image looks good? Click on it to see it actual size. Yikes!
I made a presentation at Ohio TESOL last week about how to make better PowerPoint presentations. I’m going to add the audio to my slides by the end of this week (currently, you can only view the original slides sans audio).
Overall, the presentation was very well received. In fact, I even inspired some people to overcome their fear and give PowerPoint a try. One such brave soul emailed me the following question about blurry images, which I think is worth sharing here. It’s a problem that many beginners face when adding images to PowerPoint presentations as well as print documents. You won’t be an expert until you can fix it. My response follows.
I loved your presentation last week on PowerPoint. Being technically challenged, pp has never been at the top of my list to try. But, after listening to you last Friday, I have put together a small presentation for a listening and speaking one class. My question is…After I paste and stretch photos from Flicker, they are blurry. I realize it is probably a simple click, but I cannot find it. Please help!
I’m glad you enjoyed my presentation and I’m glad you’re diving in and trying things out in PowerPoint. I think this is a really good way to learn this technology.
Stretching an image to 900% of its original size will result in a blurry or pixelated image.
The issue you’re dealing with is a common one. It has to do with the size and resolution of the original image you’re trying to add to your presentation. When you are in PowerPoint, double-click on the image you’re working with to pull up the “Format Picture” menu. Choose the “Size” tab at the top to see if you’ve stretched your image past it’s original size. If the height or width under “Scale” is more than 100%, you will probably experience some blurriness or you will start to see all of the pixels that make up the image. (To really see this, try using a really small image from a website and stretching it to fill your entire slide. It will get really, really blurry and pixely.)
Click on "all sizes" to find larger versions of images in Flickr.
So, that’s the problem, but what’s the solution? Well, you need to start with larger original images. Once you find an image in Flickr, you will see an “ALL SIZES” button right under the title of the picture. This will take you to the original picture and often give you several different size options. By choosing the original, you can usually find a version large enough that you will be able to stretch it to fill your slide. I suggest you double-check after you stretch it though (double-click again to pull up the Format Picture menu) because if it’s more than about 110% of the original size, your picture may look stretched when projected onto a screen even if you don’t notice any problems on your computer.
Something else to consider is the file size of the picture you use. If you just need a small picture, try to avoid using the largest size. Using larger pictures increases the size of the file for your final presentation. While finding room on a hard drive usually isn’t a problem for new computers, on some machines PowerPoint can get bogged down and run slowly if many large photos have to be loaded for every slide. So, if you only need a little picture in the corner, try using a smaller size image.
I hope that’s pretty clear. Give it a try and let me know if you’re still having trouble. Incidentally, I hope to upload an updated version of my presentation complete with audio in the next couple of days. Watch for it here: http://www.slideshare.net/eslchill
Another recent resource that came across the Twitter stream (thanks @NikPeachey!) is Vorbeo, a custom online poll generator.
The most amazing thing about this tool is how simple it is to use. The question, answers, and even the text for your “vote” button are customizable. But, the best part is that there is a live preview of your poll that changes as you customize your poll. When you’re finished, copy and paste the code generated by Vorbeo into your moodle or other web space. Easy!
Making a poll with Vorbeo.
Now, you can poll your students, students can poll each other, and students can even poll the general public, if they can put enough people in front of the poll.
As an edupunk who likes to tinker with code on occasion, I also appreciate that the code changes as the poll is customize. This is a great way to learn what each line of the code does. (Incidentally, if you’d like to learn more about HTML, CSS, XML, and other scripting languages, try w3schools.com which has many examples and tutorials with live previews.)
Update: As slickly as Vorbeo generates web polls, it appears that these polls are not compatible with WordPress blogs. Perhaps this is because WordPress already has it’s own polling feature using different technology or because it strips out HTML forms for security reasons. Either way, trying to post a Vorbeo poll to a WordPress blog will neuter it (see below). My other comments still apply, but check that Vorbeo is compatible with your application before counting on it in the classroom.
Do you like online polls?
Yes, the more the merrier! Yes, occasionally No, not really No, I never respond to them!
I came across Twurdy the other day and thought it was interesting enough to share. In fact, I came across it on a blog post by someone that was recommend via Follow Friday on Twitter. If I still had that electron trail, it would make an interesting story, but I don’t.
So, back to Twurdy. This search enging is Google-based, but it also analyzes search results for readability using a proprietary algorithm. The results are color-coded into the list of results. If an item is determined to be easy-to-read, it is light in color. Harder-to-read items are progressively darker in color.
Does it work? I haven’t used it enough to be sure yet. It’s certainly an intriguing idea, but the results will only be as good as the algorithm, the details of which are not shared on the Twurdy website. But it may be a useful for learners with limited ability to start with the easiest-to-read pages or, conversely, for students to analyze the differences between easy- and hard-to-read texts. I’m not suggesting students reverse-engineer the algorithm, but finding the features that make a page “hard-to-read” could start an interesting process that could aid students in their writing.