english

What are the Rules for Speaking English?

We are starting to accept that humans learn everything by finding the rules or patterns that are always true. We learn the rules for driving a car, cooking food, starting a fire, writing an essay, getting dressed, taking a bath, playing chess… Some steps come before other steps and there is a fairly simple set of steps that has to be followed in order to experience success.

There are no exceptions to the pure rules of any activity. You can’t get in the bathtub before you take off your clothes. It doesn’t work.

(Image from The Merrill Family)

We have also begun to accept that overloading learners with endless details about a topic – let’s say Speaking English is NOT the way to teach effectively. The human brain wants to know ‘What are the patterns that are always true?’

Tell me the rules so I can start to play the game. I’ll get better at it by doing it not by reading about it.

The rules for speaking any language must be fairly simple, every toddler figures them out on their own. Like all pattern systems the rules for Speaking English are simple. There are only six of them. (Grammar isn’t one of them lol. We all uselanguage effectively before we are ever taught to mislabel the parts). I’ve posted this before but in the presence of the upcoming Killer ESL AssessmentWebinar, followers are asking for the free PDF again. English is Stupid, Students are Not is the speaking guide with the six simple (not easy) rules of English conversation with no exceptions. It’s the map for how speaking English works.

[English learners, if you can read this post you can teach yourself how to speak English quickly and confidently using this book as a guide. Click Here Download it. Read it. Play with it. Speaking English is simpler than they teach you in school.]

Enjoy your gift from me and Thompson Language Center in Niagara Falls, Canada.

Yours in ESL,

Judy Thompson

The Sh…t Has Hit the Fan in Education

Ontario College teachers are on strike and you can’t really blame them. Administration has been trimming the budget by hiring contract teachers at a fraction of the cost of full-time teachers with more money and job security and paying themselves the money they saved! 70% of college faculty members are paid $30,000 a year.

Ontario college presidents were back at the trough asking for another pay hike, this time an unprecedented 32 percent annual average increase, taking the highest salaries in the sector to $494,000—ahead even of some of Ontario’s university president salaries from the largest and top-ranking schools.

Both sides are completely missing the point. If administration took a 90% pay cut and all teachers were hired full time at a twice what they are getting paid now there would still be no job security!

Do yourself a favor, get a coffee and peer into Clayton Christensen’s crystal ball for an hour or so. College education as we know it is a sinking ship. (Administration isn’t helping by grabbing the treasure as it goes down). The content and delivery are not sustainable. Students actually have to get value, skills and be employable after investing in a degree – none of those things are integral now.

The point that everyone has missed so far is that the fundamental breakdown in ESL and education in general is teacher training. If a young teacher could even get hired with their crap degree they’d figure out fairly quickly they can’t make a difference for students. Teachers can only reteach the garbage they learned and fight for a bigger piece of the pie to do it. There is no job security. The system is going down because a better system has already arrived to replace it.

If the 500,000 students left in limbo by the strike in Canada spent the last four weeks online researching the latest and greatest in education the world has to offer, they probably wouldn’t ever go back to traditional school. In the very near future no one will.

If teachers spent the last four weeks re-educating themselves and setting up online, they’d be making more money with more job security than they will ever see from the college barons.

The sh…t has hit the fan. “How do you turn this bloody thing off?” You can’t. Thank goodness.

Until next time,

Judy Thompson

Students are Over-Tested, Teachers and Institutions are Under-Tested

We are forever developing more and more sophisticated tests to evaluate students’ English ability. Guess what? Learners are in English class because they don’t speak or write English. They will graduate unable to speak or write English and they are likely to be stuck in English class for many more years not becoming fluent in English. The likelihood of learners becoming fluent in English in English class is close to zero. It has been this way for hundreds of years. Learners don’t need any more testing but teachers and institutions do.

If you are an English teacher of long standing or a decision maker in an English teaching institution stop reading now unless you have a very thick skin. It’s not about you, it’s about our gross collective failure to teach English effectively. In spite of teachers and schools this is being changed by the internet – but that is another article.

Although teaching to the test is common worldwide, I suspect it is the worst in China. It’s where students memorize grammar and spelling in order to past tests and graduate with no authentic ability in the new language. One author doesn’t pull any punches in Teaching English in China is a Waste of Time. It’s not clear if it is students’ time or teachers’ that is wasted but I’m leaning towards both. Teach to the test is an earmark of mass miseducation that serves teachers and institutions but not students. Oh wait, that is worldwide too. Our poor results have nothing to do with students but are due to our having no idea of how to teach language and refusing to learn to do better. Before we check out the gloomy fate of traditional English programs let’s look at how wide and deep the English teaching/learning chasm has become.

Out of the mouths of babes, here is an article from the Japan Times you are going to hate. Junior high students rip elementary English as ‘useless’. In a left handed way it implies that Senior high students are happier with their English school but the opposite is true, they are less satisfied than the Juniors.

From India here is a short slide presentation you are also going to hate. How did Englishmen Cheat Indians on English Education. The author is correct in laying much of the blame for the state of English teaching at the feet of Oxford and Cambridge (not to discount the negative contribution of the entire ESL publishing industry). In collusion with badly educated teachers education systems have intellectually brutalized learners then turned around and blamed the victims (students) for the poor results for generations. Is it possible the problem isn’t the students at all?

Unfortunately, in the Englishmen Cheat Indians PowerPoint the presentation devolves into a lame pitch for the author’s English program by the seventh slide. The author shoots himself in the foot at the end of his exposé by using the recently maligned Oxford as a reference lol. If his program is as bad as his English it should be avoided but he does get in some very valid points about the carnage that is the English teaching culture in India.

India clearly is being cheated by the English as the presentation suggests but this swindle has gone on for over 250 years! How has the worldwide travesty of just plain bad teaching sustained itself for centuries? The answer is in the question. ‘Sustained itself’.

The education industry with salaried, pensioned, teacher-minions sustains itself successfully by avoiding unbiased, third party tests. Institutions, teacher training, conferences, forums… are all parts of a self aggrandizing and self perpetuating culture. There is absolutely no accountability to parents, taxpayers, students… with the sleezy exception of the industry’s own self validating propaganda. Our failure to teach English effectively has continued unchecked for hundreds of years because there is no testing of teachers or schools.

I’m on a bit of a rant here so you can skip over the next few paragraphs unless you have also noticed the same things.

I was looking at the keynote speakers on the agenda at a recent national TESL Conference (TESOL, IATEFL… are in the same sinking boat). I couldn’t find a speaker without LinguisticResearch. PhD or Theory in their bio. Many had all four. Why?

  • Linguistics and Grammar are the undisputed roots of student failure.
  • The purpose of Research is to control and predict. We failed to produce results and don’t need any more research to predict the end of language education as we were taught it – we are living it.
  • PhD – please. We all drank the ‘higher education’ Kool-Aid. Hiring speakers who drank gallons more than we did is a last ditch attempt to legitimize the whole education culture we were born into that isn’t working. More of the wrong kind of education is not where the solution lies.
  • Theory is wordy, techno and distancing and looks like this: intercultural communicative competence, explore indigenization, futurology, English in multilingualism, comprehensive examination, adjunct professor… Is it useful in the classroom to learners? No.

The saving grace here is attendance at these professional conferences has dropped from thousands to hundreds. No kidding. Teachers looking for real solutions for teaching English effectively have learned they are are not going to find them at expensive, cushy, country-club, conferences. They are going to find solutions where students are finding them – on the internet.

The current English teaching paradigms are falling apart faster than gasoline evaporates. The internet is providing more effective, economical alternatives. Learners must beware of the online programs that simply digitize IPA and other bad approaches, but good systems are out there and students are finding them quickly because they are motivated.

Teacher training and administrations are like barges in a port; they can’t maneuver quickly enough to catch up to their competition. Their fate is sealed. I can’t think of a quicker way to sink traditional teaching than with programs like the Canadian Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA) that continues to over test learners and over tax teachers. Traditional English education is killing itself in front of our eyes. It’s too late for teacher or institution testing now, there is nothing anyone can do to save traditional ESL. Don’t despair. It’s not the end of the world it’s just change. In the field of teaching English, change is good. The real test of education is in learners’ ability to function confidently and successfully outside of the classroom.

Yours in ESL,

Teacher Judy

judy@thompsonlanguagecenter.com (905) 757-1257

Pronunciation Hack – Every Word is a Color

Can pronunciation be this simple? Yes it can.

If you have signed up for free gifts on the Thompson Language Center site you are familiar with the English Phonetic Alphabet (EPA) Vowel Chart. It’s the answer to confident speaking.

We’ll quickly look at the back-story then the solution. It was 1476 when William Caxton ruined English by writing it down without enough letters. There are 40+ sounds in English and only 26 letters in the ABC alphabet. He made a mess. English spelling has never made sense. Until now there hasn’t been an easy way to pronounce words from reading them.

Colors provide a bridge to speaking from written English. The 16 vowel sounds (that’s right, vowel sounds not vowel letters) are in the names of 16 ordinary colors. Students learn the color of words as they learn the spelling and meaning and the color holds the pronunciation for every word regardless of crazy English spelling. Imagine the correct pronunciation for every word, for all of time with no exception and no teacher.

After learning the colors with the vowel sounds they showcase I suggest you figure out the color of your name. It’s fun! JUdy is Blue. The stressed syllable determines the color of multi-syllable words. With this simple system the pronunciation of every word in English is one of the colors in the chart. Listen to the vowel sounds.

TEAcher is Green

ENGlish is Pink

pronunciAtion is Gray

You try it.

I’m often asked two questions:

1) “When is it appropriate to start teaching Pronunciation?”

A: Today.

2) “How do I teach Pronunciation to absolute beginners?”

A: Download the chart below.

Everything is a color and the letters of the alphabet are things. The letters of the alphabet are colors. Start pronunciation the very first day of school.

There’s one little caveat (warning or condition). This chart is Canadian and Z /zed/ is Red in Canada. In the United States Z /zEy/ is Green. If you’d like the American version of this chart email me and I’ll be happy to send it to you.

 

Yours in ESL,

Judy Thompson