Rogers is in Qatar

'Cause the world needed another ELT blog

Revisiting Listenings

May 30, 2011 by · No Comments · Activities / TEFL, English Language

I keep going back to an activity that Phil Warwick demonstrated during an in-house training session when we were working together at Brno English Centre in the Czech Republic.  For this activity, you make cards with words or phrases from a listening, the students put the cards face up and as they listen to the recording, they try to grab the card (before their partner gets it) when they hear it on the recording.

I really like this activity for a number of reasons:

  1. My students, both in the Czech Republic and in the Middle East, really get into this activity due to the element of competition.
  2. It was / is an activity that is easy to expand on and get the students to use the vocabulary written on the cards in follow-up activities (more on this below).
  3. It is ‘different’ from most activities in coursebooks, teacher resource books, and my usual repertoire of vocabulary practice activities so it helps to break the monotony of the classroom and mix things up a bit.
  4. It is an activity which can be used to ‘revisit’ listenings from the coursebook that were done in class earlier in the year.

It’s the last point about ‘revisiting’ listenings that interests me: in particular because most teachers (myself included) never go back to listenings or readings in a coursebook once they’ve completed the activities in the book.  Of course, there are undoubtedly benefits to doing listenings again with a class, if for nothing else but vocabulary review.  The only problem is coming up with activities to keep the students engaged the second time around.

So I’ve been working on a list of activities that can be used with different listenings.

With pre-printed cards

1.            Text grab (mentioned above): put words in alphabetical order, listen and grab, listen and put cards back in alphabetical order, use cards to retell listening

2.            Text grab variation 2 sets of cards: nouns and prepositions (or any divided lexical chunks).  Give out nouns, put nouns in alphabetical order, listen and grab, listen again and put cards in order, hand out other sets of cards, try to match cards, listen and check, use cards to retell listening and/or make own sentences.  (e.g.  “in the / kitchen”).

With blank cards

3.            Give out longer slips of paper:  tell students topic of listening, students try to predict what nouns the speaker will use in the listening.  Get students to write nouns in the middle of the slip of paper.  Listen, 1 point for each word that was predicted correctly.  Listen again and add the prepositions to slips of paper.  Use paper to make own sentences.

With whole tapescript (1 longer listening / or two or more shorter listenings)

4.            Blank out / erase words from tapescript.  Students listen and complete text.

5.            Divide tapescript into sections.  Let students erase words for the other groups to listen and complete.

6.            Give students different tapescripts or different parts of same tapescript.  Students write questions for the other groups to answer while listening.

7.            Give students different tapescripts: students write statements for other group to mark true or false.

Getting Fancy

8.            Use software (such as audacity) to rerecord the recording with missing words, or get students to rerecord the listening.

That’s my list so far—any other ideas out there?

Working at a university in Qatar

March 5, 2011 by · No Comments · Activities / TEFL, Life in Qatar

Since I’ve arrived,  much to my own chagrin,  I have been reporting how few hours I actually have to teach every week.  The first semester I taught 16 contact hours a week (50 minutes = 1 hour), and in the spring semester I’m on 14 contact hours a week.

When you compare this with the 25 or so contact hours that is the norm in language schools, and also take into account that I only am required to teach 32 weeks out of the year (but am paid for the full year), then it makes this seem like a pretty good gig to have.

At the end of the first semester,  all of the first year teachers had individual meetings with the director of the English department here just to have an informal chat about how things were going and how happy we were/are with the work environment.  Aside from a few issues with the visa process (I felt that the university should have given more assistance in stages of the process), I reported that I am very happy with the job.  And I am.  Despite horror stories that can be read on ESL cafe, I’ve found the students here to be motivated and willing to work, but are largely victims of an inadequate secondary school education.  My colleagues on the whole are very qualified and very professional and, besides the dietary restrictions during Ramadan and the heat in summer, I’ve found Qatar to be a very low-stress place to live.  It may not be the most exciting place, but the weather is perfect 6 months out of the year, I have plenty of things to do to keep myself busy, and I am able to save some money.

Some of my old colleagues from Brno English Centre have asked me what are the differences teaching here than in the Czech Republic.  The thing that strikes me about working here in Qatar is that what you do in the classroom seems secondary to the administrative side of the job.

When I worked in the Czech Republic, the students were seen as our clients and, if you kept those punters happy, a lot of the other stuff didn’t really matter.

But at times here it seems that following set procedures ( e.g. keeping on top of the paperwork turning in grades on time, not being late to meetings, not making any mistakes in the paperwork, scholarly activities, etc)  carries much more weight.

So while I spend fewer hours in the classroom, I do spend more time involved in other aspects of the job.  In short,  working here involves a different kind of professionalism.

ESL Jargon

March 2, 2011 by · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

I came across this funny list of EFL terminology and definitions via a link on TEFLtastic.  I thought it is well worth putting up here (in the hopes of making sure it stays alive).

Simon Barne, DOS, Indonesia

ESL Jargon

Teflese is the jargon spoken by all DOSes, DELTA-holders, TEFL trainers and even ordinary teachers.

This is a simple glossary. I have not included terms like inductive learning or procedural syllabus, as it would be far too boring and also I have no idea what they mean.

accuracy
Terribly old-fashioned concept, in which students worry their pretty little heads about boring grammar, etc. Not nearly as important as fluency.

authentic materials
An article or poem that the teacher raves on about and the students can’t understand.

CELTA
Basic four-week TEFL qualification.
Impossible to fail unless you’re really thick.

communicative approach
Prevalent EFL orthodoxy, in which students chat, play games, have fun and produce lamentable English.

contract
Satirical composition that the school owner rewrites whenever the fancy takes him.

Cuisenaire rods
Little ludicrous bits of wood which your more demented colleagues may use for a range of pointless demonstrations in class. Worth borrowing if your lesson is being observed.

DELTA
Advanced qualification for misguided sad gits who want to make a “career” out of teaching English.

DOS
Director Of Studies. Pronounced “doss”, an informal British word that means: “an easy task giving the opportunity for idling”.

drilling
Useful tool for humiliating uppity students.

eliciting
This is the difficult art of using suitable cues, pictures and increasingly desperate gestures in order to allow students to contribute language they don’t actually know and thus feel included and motivated. This indispensable teaching technique is particularly effective with beginners. See also explaining.

errors
As anyone with a DELTA can tell you, not the same as mistakes (which see).

explaining
This is not a TEFL term and its use will, quite rightly, get you thrown off Diploma courses. See also eliciting.

feedback
By the teacher: telling the students that their pathetic mangling of the English language was brilliant, excellent, a great improvement, etc., but there are one or two teensy-weensy little areas that might need extra practice.
By students: reporting back from a Find Someone Who with enthralling revelations such as “We found that Ari and Ria have never been water skiing; WawanDani and Sri think Titanic is a good film; and all the class want to go home.”

filler
Something meant to fill an unavoidable gap in the planned part of the lesson. Typically a filler lasts 90 minutes.

fluency
The ability to produce gibberish at speed. Far more important than accuracy.

functions
Things like agreeing, suggesting, offering and insulting. DOSes like them and they’re a lot easier to teach than grammar. For example,”Do you like hospital food?” is the second person interrogative form of the present simple of the transitive verb “like” with the uncountable noun “food” as an object. In functional terms, it is either asking someone their opinion or warning them to shut their gob.

grammar
The G word. Once taught only by unimaginative fascists, but now possibly coming back into vogue.

hot correction
Pointing out a mistake immediately, instead of meaning to do so later and forgetting all about it.

jazz chants
Singing like an idiot and encouraging students to do the same. This is known to work especially well with Japanese and Taiwanese students.

jigsaw activities
Activities where students have differing and incomplete information, which they need to pool. For example, one has a map that shows only a garage, a hospital and a post office, while the other has a map that shows only a library, a school and a restaurant. This information gap is meant to reflect a real-life reason for communication. As in real life, students efficiently bridge the gap by showing each other their maps.

L1 interference
First language interference.
The reason you give for your students speaking such dreadful English.

language aims
Something you need to write out at length on a lesson plan.

lesson plan
An over-ambitious document that you give your DOS before an observed lesson.

mingling
Pointless activity that uses up loads of time and keeps DOSes happy.

mistakes
In linguistics, quite distinct from errors (q.v.).

needs analysis
Pointless ritual you are meant to do when starting a new class, especially a company class. The students haven’t a clue what they need – and will usually answer, “Grammar. And speaking. Oh, and writing.” But it looks good and keeps your DOShappy.

noticing
Vogue word in EFL theory. In EFL practice, what teachers can’t help doing when (say) Irma comes into class wearing an extremely tight school uniform.

overteaching

Very dangerous thing to do. Point this out to your DOS when he asks why you did not cover some crucial point in an observed lesson.

pairwork
Activities where students gossip animatedly in their native language and the teacher can’t work out what anyone is saying.

peer correction
Getting mouthy South American students with abysmal pronunciation to “correct” the errors of their grammatically perfect Japanese partners, giving you the welcome opportunity of putting your feet up for a few minutes. An invaluable tool.

phonetic symbols
Those squiggles on the wall chart that neither students nor teachers understand.

PPP
Presentation, Practice, Production. Old-fashioned methodology, where you teach the students something like “be going to” for future plans, then they practise simple sentences (controlled practice), then they start using it all the time (free practice). The only problem with PPP is that it doesn’t work.

prep
Lesson preparation. Fresh off the CELTA this takes about 2 hours; after six months of teaching, 10 minutes; after 2 years of teaching, 0 minutes.

pron
Pronunciation, a seemingly inherited ability unaffected by years of English lessons and/or residence in an English-speaking country.

realia
Things you can lug into the classroom to impress your DOS. For instance, if you are teaching the names of parts of a bicycle, you wheel in your old bike. Only done by teachers fresh off the CELTA.

recent research suggests
Key phrase used in English teaching journals to justify the writer’s latest barmy idea. (The research is never cited.)

role play
Good time-consuming skive.

senior teacher
The lance-corporal of the TEFL platoon. Earns fractionally more money in return for numerous thankless tasks like doing placement interviews, relabelling cassettes, laminating games, attending extra meetings and nodding sympathetically while teachers whine about the timetable.

Silent Way
Barmy methodology, where the teacher rarely opens his mouth.
Potentially useful ploy if you haven’t a clue what to say.

STT
Student Talking Time.
Allowing your students to rabbit on interminably in excruciating pidgin English is a very good thing and should be encouraged.

student-centred learning
Good phrase to use when you’re trying to explain why you were out of your classroom having a fag, chatting up the front desk staff, etc.

study centre
Ill-lit cupboard with a few ancient books that nobody borrows, some dog-eared magazines with the pictures missing, and possibly a computer used by the school caretakers to look at pornography.

Suggestopaedia
Barmy methodology, where students lounge about listening to baroque music.
Possibly worth trying, if you happen to like baroque music.

task-based learning
Brilliant skive. You and the students just piss about, writing a brochure or drawing pictures or building a website, and you never have to teach them grammar or anything. They just magically absorb English. Highly recommended, if you can get away with it.

teacher-induced error
This is when, in ignorance or drunkenness, you tell the class something like, “Use will for plans and be going to for spontaneous decisions.” It instantly becomes the one grammatical commandment they will never ever forget.

TOEFL
Bizarre American exam, in which candidates listen to robots intoning things such as, “Wow, I sure hope my meticulously assembled entomology collection has not gotten misplaced by the faculty janitors.” A deep-voiced robot then asks, “What does the woman mean?”

Total Physical Response
Barmy methodology, where the students act out instructions from the teacher. Still in vogue, so worth droning on about if you want to look keen.

translation
Despicable practice abhorred by keen teachers and craved by all students.

TTT
Teacher Talking Time.
What the students think they’ve paid for, but DOSes don’t like. This is very naughty and is to be avoided at all costs, except, of course, when giving instructions in a very slow, patronizing way with unnatural rising intonation and vigorous hand movements.

Vulcan mind meld
As practised by Mr Spock on Star Trek. Not actually part of current EFL methodology, but probably the only way you’ll ever get your students to learn English.

workshops
Ordeals arranged by sadistic DOSes to sabotage the teachers’ mornings off.

zero conditional
A structure taught for no very good reason at a low level. Useful if you want to say conversation-stopping things like, “If you heat water to 100°, it boils.”

Qatar University Laptops

March 2, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

On my first day at work in August, I was pleasantly surprised to be given a very nice laptop for work, a Lenovo t400, which sells for about $1700 on amazon–easily the most expensive computer I’ve ever had.

The University decided that all QU computers needed to be updated from Microsoft Office 2007, which the notebooks were running, to Microsoft Office 2010.

So instead of having tech support come around with an installation cd, they decided to just buy new laptops instead.

Don’t get me wrong:  I like getting new things for free, and the new laptop has a much longer battery life so thats good.  And it’s true that some of the faculty had laptops that were older and definitely needed replacing, but still…

I don’t know what has become of my old laptop.  Considering how recycling in non-existent in this country, and the general excess of the gulf region, I would say that they probably just got thrown away, but I can only hope that our 6 month old laptops have been given to a charitable organization.

Egyptesol / Cairo

March 2, 2011 by · No Comments · Activities / TEFL, Non-TEFL, Travels

I had the pleasure (and the funding) to present at Egyptesol in Cairo last December.  I did on workshop titled Getting More out of Oral Feedback.  This was my first time presenting at a big, international conference and my first time in Egypt, so I was pretty excited about the whole experience.149339_1627798088795_1051830954_1733768_7801234_n

When I arrived at the conference site early, I was pretty happy to see that my session was going to be held in a small-ish room, with seating for approximately 30 people.   When the time for my presentation came around, I found that I had filled the place and then some:  there were probably 60-70 people in the room.  Those not seated were standing in the aisles as well as in front of the door, next to the projector screen, etc etc.

But everything worked out—the session was very well received.  Some of the audience members even commented that giving oral feedback to the students is a relatively new thing in Egypt.  There were a few questions about giving feedback to young learners that I was quick to admit that I wasn’t qualified to answer, but luckily some audience members had a lot of experience teaching children so were able to offer some suggestions and add to the discussion.

What was really nice was that the conference was over two days, but also that I had enough funding to spend an additional day in Cairo exploring the city.

63654_1627751767637_1051830954_1733602_5599365_n

Much like the conference, Cairo is very, very crowded, but really is a place full of life that seems far more ‘real’ than the ultra-modern areas of Doha. If you don’t like bumping into / accidentally touching other people, however, then Cairo is probably not the place for you.

Also, the driving in Cairo is absolute madness.  I had thought that things couldn’t get much worse than Doha—oh no.  I don’t think I saw a car in Cairo that didn’t show signs of multiple crashes.

I’m certainly glad I got to visit Egypt when I did.  Even when I was there in December, people were talking about Mubarak’s retirement and his likely successor—and whether or not his son would be accepted—which I guess we know the answer to now.

But it was on my flight home that I started thinking how lucky not only to have a good job that allows me to save money, but also to be able to fly around the world and attend conferences and stay in 5* hotels on my employer’s dime.

All in all, not a bad gig to have.

Let’s hope it lasts.

Online Corpora: a list

February 1, 2011 by · 1 Comment · English Language

Recently,  when reading metafilter, one of my favorite websites, one of the other language nerds posted an impressive list of online corpora, which I thought I’d share here (largely so I’ll be able to find it in the future).

Does anyone else have any more to add?

  • CHAINS: Characterising Individual Speakers CHAINS is a research project funded by Science Foundation Ireland from April 2005 to March 2009. Its goal is to advance the science of speaker identification by investigating those characteristics of a persons speech that make them unique.
  • The Blog Authorship Corpus The Blog Authorship Corpus consists of the collected posts of 19,320 bloggers gathered from blogger.com in August 2004. The corpus incorporates a total of 681,288 posts and over 140 million words – or approximately 35 posts and 7250 words per person.
  • Old Bailey Corpus The proceedings of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court, were published from 1674 to 1913 and constitute a large body of texts from the beginning of Late Modern English. The Proceedings contain over 200,000 trials, totalling ca. 134 million words and its verbatim passages are arguably as near as we can get to the spoken word of the period. The material thus offers the rare opportunity of analyzing everyday language in a period that has been neglected both with regard to the compilation of primary linguistic data and the description of the structure, variability, and change of English.
  • CoRD | Corpus of Early English Medical Writing (CEEM) The Corpus of Early English Medical Writing is a corpus of English vernacular medical writing. Consisting of three diachronically divided subcorpora, the corpus covers the entire history of medical writing in English from the earliest manuscripts to the beginning of modern clinical medicine.
  • The York-Toronto-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English Prose (YCOE) The York-Toronto-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English Prose (YCOE) is a 1.5 million word syntactically-annotated corpus of Old English prose texts. As a sister corpus to the Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Middle English (PPCME2), it uses the same form of annotation and is accessed by the same search engine, CorpusSearch. The YCOE was created with a grant from the English Arts and Humanities Research Board (B/RG/AN5907/APN9528). The corpus itself (the annotated text files) is distributed by the Oxford Text Archive and can be obtained from them free of charge for non-commercial use.
  • ARCHER Corpus (The University of Manchester) ARCHER is a multi-genre corpus of British and American English covering the period 1650-1990, first constructed by Douglas Biber and Edward Finegan in the 1990s. It is managed as an ongoing project by a consortium of participants at fourteen universities in seven countries.
  • Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English The Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English is based on a large body of recordings of naturally occurring spoken interaction from all over the United States. The Santa Barbara Corpus represents a wide variety of people of different regional origins, ages, occupations, genders, and ethnic and social backgrounds. The predominant form of language use represented is face-to-face conversation, but the corpus also documents many other ways that that people use language in their everyday lives: telephone conversations, card games, food preparation, on-the-job talk, classroom lectures, sermons, story-telling, town hall meetings, tour-guide spiels, and more.
  • The Newcastle Electronic Corpus of Tyneside English (NECTE) The Newcastle Electronic Corpus of Tyneside English (NECTE) is a corpus of dialect speech from Tyneside in North-East England. It is based on two pre-existing corpora, one of them collected in the late 1960s by the Tyneside Linguistic Survey (TLS) project, and the other in 1994 by the Phonological Variation and Change in Contemporary Spoken English (PVC) project. NECTE amalgamates the TLS and PVC materials into a single Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)-conformant XML-encoded corpus and makes them available in a variety of aligned formats: digitized audio, standard orthographic transcription, phonetic transcription, and part-of-speech tagged. This website describes the NECTE corpus in detail, and makes it available to academic researchers, educationalists, the media in non-commercial applications, and organisations such as language societies and individuals with a serious interest in historical dialect materials.
  • The Limerick Corpus of Irish English The Limerick Corpus of Irish English (L-CIE) has been developed by the University of Limerick in conjunction with Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. This one-million word spoken corpus of Irish English discourse includes conversations recorded in a wide variety of mostly informal settings throughout Ireland. The corpus is a collection of naturally occurring spoken data from everyday Irish contexts. There are currently 375 transcripts (totaling over 1,000,000 words) available at this site.
  • American National Corpus The American National Corpus (ANC) project is creating a massive electronic collection of American English, including texts of all genres and transcripts of spoken data produced from 1990 onward. The ANC will provide the most comprehensive picture of American English ever created, and will serve as a resource for education, linguistic and lexicographic research, and technology development.
  • Great Britain (ICE-GB) @ ICE-corpora.net The British component of ICE is based at the Survey of English Usage, University College London. The British ICE corpus (ICE-GB) was released in 1998 and is now available. The corpus is POS-tagged and parsed.
  • WebCorp: The Web as Corpus WebCorp LSE is a fully-tailored linguistic search engine to cache and process large sections of the web.
  • WaCKy “We are a community of linguists and information technology specialists who got together to develop a set of tools (and interfaces to existing tools) that will allow linguists to crawl a section of the web, process the data, index and search them. We try to keep everything very laid-back and flexible (minimal constraint on data representation, programming language, etc.) to make it easier for people with different backgrounds and goals to use our resources and/or contribute to the project. We built a few corpora you can download, and in the near future we’ll have a web interface for direct online use of the corpora.
  • VISL – Corpus Eye VISL’s grammatical and NLP research are both largely corpus based. On the one hand, VISL develops taggers, parsers and computational lexica based on corpus data, on the other hand these tools – once functional – are used for the grammatical annotation of large running text corpora, often with or for external partners (project list 1999-2009. The main methodological approach for automatic corpus annotation is Constraint Grammar (CG), a word based annotation method.
  • TIME Magazine Corpus of American English This website allows you to quickly and easily search more than 100 million words of text of American English from 1923 to the present, as found in TIME magazine. You can see how words, phrases and grammatical constructions have increased or decreased in frequency and see how words have changed meaning over time.
  • Regex Dictionary by Lou Hevly The Regex Dictionary is a searchable online dictionary, based on The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition, that returns matches based on strings —defined here as a series of characters and metacharacters— rather than on whole words, while optionally grouping results by their part of speech.
  • Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English >> ELI Corpora & UM ACL The Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE) is a collection of nearly 1.8 million words of transcribed speech (almost 200 hours of recordings) from the University of Michigan (U-M) in Ann Arbor, created by researchers and students at the U-M English Language Institute (ELI). MICASE contains data from a wide range of speech events (including lectures, classroom discussions, lab sections, seminars, and advising sessions) and locations across the university.
  • LDC – Linguistic Data Consortium New Corpora at the LDC include: Indian Language Part-of-Speech Tagset: Bengali ~100K words of manually annotated Bengali text Message Understanding Conference 7 Timed (MUC7_T) ~ timed annotation for named entities Asian Elephant Vocalizations ~57.5 hours of audio recordings of vocalizations by Asian Elephants NIST 2005 Open Machine Translation (OpenMT) Evaluation ~ source data, reference translations, and scoring software used in the NIST 2005 OpenMT evaluation TRECVID 2006 Keyframes & Transcripts ~keyframes extracted from English, Chinese, and Arabic broadcast programming
  • Linas’ collection of NLP data Here is a collection of linguistic data, including a collection of parsed texts from Voice of America, Project Gutenberg, the simple English Wikipedia, and a portion of the full English Wikipedia. This data is the result of many CPU-years worth of number-crunching, and is meant to provide pre-digested input for higher order linguistic processing. Two types of data are provided: parsed and tagged texts, and large SQL tables of statistical correlations. The texts were dependency parsed with a combination of RelEx and Link Grammar, and are marked with both dependencies (subject, object, prepositional relations, etc.), with features (part-of-speech tags, verb-tense and noun-number tags, etc., with Link Grammar linkage relations, and with phrasal constituency structure.
  • LexChecker LexChecker is a web-based corpus query tool that shows how English words are used. Users submit a word into the query box (like a Google search) and LexChecker returns a list of the patterns in which the word is typically used. Each pattern listed for a word is linked to sentences from the British National Corpus (BNC) that show the word occurring in that pattern. The patterns are what we have dubbed ‘hybrid n-grams’. These are a uniquely useful form of corpus search result. They can consist of a string of words such as keep a close eye on or gain the upper hand. Or they could contain substitutable slots marked by specific parts of speech, for example run the risk of [v-ing] or stand [noun] in good stead or [verb] a storm of protest (as in raise/spark/cause/create/unleash a storm of protest).
  • Forensic Linguistics Institute (FLI) Corpus of Texts Appeals, Blackmail and Extortion, Confessions, Death Row Final Statements, Declarations of War, Last Wills and Testaments, Miscellaneous, Statements by Police, Suicide Notes
  • David Lee’s Corpus-based Linguistics LINKS “These annotated links (c. 1,000 of them) are meant mainly for linguists and language teachers who work with corpora, not computational linguists/NLP (natural language processing) people, so although the language-engineering-type links here are fairly extensive, they are not exhaustive…”
  • CORPORA List The CORPORA list is open for information and questions about text corpora such as availability, aspects of compiling and using corpora, software, tagging, parsing, bibliography, conferences etc. The list is also open for all types of discussion with a bearing on corpora.
  • Corpora for Language Learning and Teaching
  • [bnc] British National Corpus The British National Corpus (BNC) is a 100 million word collection of samples of written and spoken language from a wide range of sources, designed to represent a wide cross-section of current British English, both spoken and written.
  • AUE: The alt.usage.english Home Page This is the web site of the alt.usage.english newsgroup. Contains audio archive.
  • Project We Say Tomato
  • Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) COHA allows you to quickly and easily search more than 400 million words of text of American English from 1810 to 2009 (see details on corpus composition). You can see how words, phrases and grammatical constructions have increased or decreased in frequency, how words have changed meaning over time, and how stylistic changes have taken place in the language.
  • Speech Accent Archive The speech accent archive uniformly presents a large set of speech samples from a variety of language backgrounds. Native and non-native speakers of English read the same paragraph and are carefully transcribed. The archive is used by people who wish to compare and analyze the accents of different English speakers.
  • IDEA – The International Dialects Of English Archive IDEA was created in 1997 as a free, online archive of primary source dialect and accent recordings for the performing arts. Its founder and director is Paul Meier, author of the best-selling Accents and Dialects for Stage and Screen, a leading dialect coach for theatre and film, and a specialist in accent reduction.
  • American Rhetoric: The Power of Oratory in the United States Database of and index to 5000+ full text, audio and video versions of public speeches, sermons, legal proceedings, lectures, debates, interviews, other recorded media events, and a declaration or two.
  • The AMI Meeting Corpus The AMI Meeting Corpus is a multi-modal data set consisting of 100 hours of meeting recordings

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First Two Days of Classes

September 21, 2010 by · 2 Comments · Life in Qatar

My first two days of teaching in the Gulf turned out to be really, really relaxed.  It helps that we’re still in the middle of orientation week and the classes so far have consisted mostly of going over the syllabus and ‘getting to know you’ activities.

Despite this,  there were a few hiccups on the first day of class when, due to confusion on my part,  I managed to teach the wrong class (where the teacher who was supposed to be there was is anybody’s guess).

My supervisor was very understanding about this (and I get to keep my job) and I managed to find the correct room and group of students on the second day of class.

I was, however, a little disappointed with the (correct) classroom.  On the first day,  I was in one of the new buildings here on campus where the classrooms are actually painted in a type of paint that allows you to use whiteboard markers on the walls.  I cannot describe how awesome I found this to be;  the students seemed amused at my enthusiasm about this.  Unfortunately, I forgot to get a picture of the walls at the end of class.

My real class, however, is located in an older building.

IMG_0909

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this classroom–the lectern and overhead projector and sound and video all work perfectly–it’s just that I was spoiled on the first day by being able to write all over the walls.

So in my one class this semester (yes, one class) I have 10 students and, after hearing horror stories from some of the more experienced instructors in the department, I was expecting to have students who would be completely unwilling to do anything in class.  Instead, I had ten lovely students who seemed eager to speak and actually learn something.

It is apparent that these students haven’t been properly ‘trained’ and that everything I asked them to do in the classroom was new, including group- and pairwork, but they were open-minded and did what was asked of them.

All in all, not a bad start to the semester.

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Food and Drink in Doha

September 13, 2010 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

IMG_0874Much to the degree that the Qataris have embraced air-conditioning, they have also, to a shocking degree, taken to American fast food chains.

Inside Villagio mall, for example, you can find Mcdonalds, KFC (they even deliver), Hardees, Krispy Kreme, TGI Fridays, Macaroni Grill, Quiznos, Cold Stone Creamery, Baskin Robbings and on and on and on and on.

It seems the average price for a meal in the fast food places is around 20 riyals ($5.50)and a meal in places like TGI Fridays seems to run around 50 riyals ($13).  So I guess these prices are more or less in line with what you’d expect to pay back in the states.

I’ve also seen an Arby’s (for those who enjoy rubber sandwiches) an Applebee’s, a Cinnabon, Chillis and a few more that I can’t remember right now.  Basically, if it’s an American food chain, then you can probably find it here.

IMG_0876There are also lots and lots of other options here–a friend introduced me to a great, cheap Thai restaurant (called Thai Snack in Al Nasr near the Doha Clinic) and also there are lots of places serving, surprise, Arabic food.

Unlike the American chains, none of these serve alcohol (or pork for that matter).  The only places that serve alcohol are bars and lounges inside the big hotels.  In order to be admitted to these hotels, you have to be a member.  So in order to go to a terrible Irish bar inside the Sheraton me and a group of friends had to get membership cards (which cost about $10) valid for one year.

Alcohol is prohibitively expensive.  In the cheaper places (such as said Irish bar) a pint costs around 35 riyals / $10 / 200 kc.  In the more expensive spots it goes up to around 50 riyals.  Last year, I was appalled at being charged 100 kc for a beer in Prague (which is about 4-5 times the normal price), now that price seems pretty reasonable.

It is possible to get a license in order to buy alcohol to be consumed at home.  The catch is that there’s one store in Doha where you can buy alcohol and the license costs around 1500 riyals ($400).  There’s even talk of a pork store being opening in the near future, no word yet on how much a personal “pork license” is going to cost, though.

One month in Qatar

September 13, 2010 by · No Comments · Life in Qatar

4478087201_25cb4bf971As of today, I’ve officially been in Qatar for one month—and so far the whole experience has seemed like a long holiday—at times a really boring holiday where I feel trapped on the compound (see pictures below) at other times, when I’m able to get out and about, like a place where I’ll be happy to stay for the next few yearsdoha-west-bay.

This is, of course, easy to say considering I have yet to work a single day—classes start on the 19th of September—and am, in effect, getting paid to sit inside in the air-conditioning / lounge around the pool. On the whole, my experience with Qatar University has been very, very positive—everyone has been very friendly and helpful—in particular the other lecturers in the English department.

As described in another blog, I was met in the terminal upon arrival where I was escorted into an executive lounge area where I was given coffee and water and allowed to relax a bit after my 13 hour flight from Washington, DC while my visa was being processed. Once the visa was ready, I was led around the long line at immigration into the baggage claim area, where a driver was waiting to take me to my apartment.

IMG_0889While all the apartments in the compound have exactly the same layout,  some seem to be in a lot better shape than others.  I got pretty lucky I think (thanks to the apartment being previously occupied by a British couple who apparently took good care of it) as it seems some of the other apartments hadn’t been left in the cleanest of states.

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The next day, I was given a new laptop computer as well as an advance of a month’s salary (given to me in cash—easily the most cash I’ve ever had on me at one time) to help with the settling in expenses, and started the processing for my residence visa.

The residence visa was, in fact, a long, arduous process that took about three weeks from start to finish. There were times during this, for example during the medical exam process—that I think I would have gotten on a plane and come home if the option had been there (except it’s not possible to leave the country without permission), but on the whole I think the experience has been a kind of rite of passage / bonding experience with the other new staff members.

Since getting my residence permit, I’ve been able to get a Qatari driver’s license and rent a car IMG_0903 as well as set up my home internet / satellite / phone.  In the meantime,  I’ve been doing my best to get settled and have had the opportunity to get a bit of exercise walking around the compound in the evening.

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Getting More out of Oral Feedback

June 8, 2010 by · No Comments · Activities / TEFL

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about different ways of giving students oral feedback, in particular how feedback on content and feedback on form can be incorporated.

This recent interest stems from feedback I received from one of my observed lessons of Module 2 of the DELTA.  I did a lesson on circumlocution, where the students had to explain their ‘mystery item’ to the other students in the group using the various grammatical and lexical structures covered in the input stage.  In feedback,  I held up the ‘mystery items’ one by one and asked the students “who had this?”.

In feedback, my course tutor pointed out that I missed what appeared to her to be a natural opportunity to get more out of the feedback stage by asking “How do you know?” which would have resulted in the students using the target language again.  While this is a question that I think I would normally ask in my classes, it didn’t occur to me at all at the time–

This got me thinking as to what other questions we can ask students during feedback to make the feedback a bit more meaningful and productive.  Certainly, it depends on the task we are giving feedback to, but when learners are reporting back on what their partner(s) have said, there is always an opportunity to ask “And what about you?”

More recently, a more experienced colleague of mine was surprised that I found this area of feedback so interesting as, to him, it was fairly simple and straightforward and is something that teachers are already doing in their classes.

But I’m not sure I completely agree–while I do think I ask questions such as “what about you?” and “how do you know?” in my classes, it seems to me to be from ‘instinct’ rather than from any specific feedback I’ve had before or any methodology I’ve read.

I dunno.

I think there’s a lot going on here, but I’m not sure just yet what it is.

Does anyone have any other thoughts on this, or any techniques or tips to make feedback better?

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