The /r/ and phonemes

I’ve posted a new page about the English /r/ phoneme, with some info and some resources for language teachers:

And here are a couple of articles about the English <th> sounds, which are really two distinct sounds or phonemes. There’s a page about the phonemes themselves, and another page about distinguishing the two sounds – different words and spelling patterns for the two sounds. phonemes_in_spelling


APA guide

The APA is in its 6th edition, which came out in 2009, and is the standard citation and referencing format for social sciences like psychology, linguistics, and education, and sometimes in other fields like nursing, public health, and business research. The APA uses parenthetical in-text citations to cite sources within the body of a paper, and end references with full bibliographic information at the end of a paper. The APA prioritizes authors and dates in the in-text citations and references, since social science researchers and scholars place more value on these kinds of information. Depending on the research field, readers would expect a number of sources that are not more than five years old, and the bulk of them not more than twenty years old (though some older, important research can of course be cited as well).

There are a number of style guides on the web, where the APA format for each type of source is broken up into multiple pages. I’ve tried to put together a fairly comprehensive guide to APA format for my students to use, and I’ve tried to cover all that a student might want to cite in an academic paper. I’ve also added things like dealing with East Asian author names, certain Dutch & German author names, sources in foreign languages, secondary citations, and other quirky source types. Check it out on my wiki:

And there is a brief introduction to APA here:

And a brief overview of various major citation systems here:

Invention activities

At an education conference a few years ago, I attended a very interesting workshop on invention activities. These are a type of discovery learning activity, and probably a number of discovery activities could be considered invention activities. In IAs, students work in groups and have to “invent” something, be it an invention or a procedure, and in doing so, they discover a principle or concept that the teacher intends to then teach (the target concept). This was developed by college science and math teachers to teach concepts that students find difficult to learn, or difficult to retain in subsequent semesters.

The presenters (Taylor, Spiegelman & Smith, 2010) presented a zoo exhibit activity for teaching an important cell biology concept. I have adapted this as a communicative activity, which you can use as a non-science communicative activity, in which students discuss and describe procedures and materials in designing a zoo exhibit for squirrels and mice. The CLT and biology versions are like so.

  1. CLT version. Students are given a handout with pictures of squirrels, mice, their weights and sizes, and diagrams of exhibit cages to design. Each cage has two chambers. They are to design original ways of (1) allowing squirrels to go back and forth between both chambers while confining the mice to one chamber; and (2) allowing mice to go back and forth while confining squirrels to one chamber. They cannot use restraints, electronic or high-tech solutions, or anything that would harm the animals. They discuss these in groups, and present their best, most clever solutions to the class.
  2. Biology version. They go through the above procedures, and this then forms the basis for the following lesson on cell membrane permeability – how cell membranes allow certain molecules to pass through, while keeping out others. This serves as a symbolic or analogical IA for the target concept, and students were found to learn and retain the concepts better than through other learning methods (Taylor et al., 2010).

This activity is described in detail at the following page on my website.

More about invention activities for math & science education

A typical IA looks like this. In a statistics class, students need to learn the concept of variance. For the activity, students are given data about the performance reliability and accuracy of two or three machines, such as a baseball pitching machine for baseball practice (Roll et al. 2009; Schwartz & Martin, 2004). Averages alone are not enough to gauge reliability, so they must deduce the concept of statistical variance as they try to find a way to quantify reliability. In this case, the IA leads directly to the target concept.

In the zoo activity for biology, the activity serves as a memorable analogy for the target concept of cell membrane functions. Invention activities are described a bit more here on my website, and for science teaching, see Taylor’s website from the University of British Columbia.


  1. Roll, I., Aleven, V., & Koedinger, K. R. (2009). Helping students know ‘further’ – increasing the flexibility of students’ knowledge using symbolic invention tasks. In N. A. Taatgen, & H. van Rijn (Eds.), Proceedings of the 31st annual conference of the cognitive science society. (pp. 1169-74). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. 2009.
  2. Schwartz, D. L, & Martin, T. (2004). Inventing to prepare for future learning: The hidden efficiency of encouraging original student production in statistics instruction. Cognition Instruction, 22, 129–184.
  3. Taylor, J. L, Smith, K. M., van Stolk, A.P. & Spiegelman, G. B. (2010). Using invention to change how students tackle problems. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 9, 504-512.
  4. Taylor, J. L., Spiegelman, G. B., & Smith, K.M. (2010). Invention Activities for Small Group Learning in First Year Biology. Presentation at ISSOTL Conference, Liverpool, UK, 19 Oct. 2010.


Happy new year…

Gosh, it’s been a while, eh? I got so busy with my writing class, grading, family, etc. that I didn’t have time to blog. The main news is my website, which got a makeover a while ago, and now I’m gradually adding new contents on applied linguistics and language teaching. It’s now a wiki, running on wiki software, so it’s better organized, better designed, and easier to manage. It’s called the English Wiki:

Now I want to start making some Youtube videos later, which will complement the wiki site. I’m open to suggestions for video topics – leave them below, or on my Facebook page:

CLT & EFL in East Asian: Rationales for communicative teaching

The community of language teaching professionals, educators, and linguists need to convey to the public, parents, school systems, and education ministries of the governments the need for communicatively oriented language teaching in East Asia.

First and foremost are the facts that traditional language instruction have failed the students. Teaching to tests has failed the students, and the tests themselves are poor measures of real English proficiency. The Korean College Scholastic Aptitude Test, or suneung and the TOEFL and TOEIC are not adequate measures of real English ability. Teaching to these tests simply makes students memorize information that they cannot use. The test-oriented teaching methods fail students most of all when they find themselves unable to cope with college courses taught in English at East Asian universities; when they cannot cope with academic texts – research journals, books, and textbooks in English – that are necessary for college courses; when they cannot cope with English texts or media or real life situations requiring English in their later careers and professional situations. CLT, especially a cognitively oriented variety, can better prepare them for even receptive uses of English (reading, comprehension skills) in life, for the following reasons.

One of the greatest obstacles of a second language is the lack of mental efficiency, the amount of extra processing time and effort it takes, in doing any kind of task in an L2 – be it a production task (writing, speaking) or a receptive task (reading, listening). The learner must use more conscious working memory to process both the language and the contents conveyed by the language, which can be slow and tiring. Only hundreds of hours of meaningful practice can help to alleviate this burden. Only with meaningful exposure, practice and use can the learner develop some degree of automaticity in the L2. Meaningful use of the L2 can be accomplished with communicative tasks in the classroom; it cannot be accomplished with behavioristic learning methods and rote studying methods (i.e., large scale memorization and traditional teaching/learning methods).

A goal of a cognitively oriented CLT, as I envision it, is also learner empowerment and autonomy – teaching the learner to learn on his/her own outside the classroom by engaging with authentic materials, e.g., books, online materials and media in the L2. Learners can get far more meaningful exposure to the L2 through authentic materials, more than in the limited classroom time that they would have. This would be better for developing authenticity and intrinsic motivation for learning the L2, especially if they have the freedom to choose their learning materials.

If students want to do better on language tests, it is best if they not study for the tests, I would argue. That is, if they study too hard for the tests, they are less likely to do well. If they want to develop real English skills, confidence, and a genuine understanding of English, then it is best if they do not study specifically for these tests, but for the sake of English for their own enjoyment and learning (not just learning English, but learning other things through English media). Self-empowered study can boost their mental efficiency and lower their sense of stress, and the burden and stress of L2 processing, and they can boost their confidence by learning from authentic materials.

Next time I will explore more rationales for CLT in East Asia.

CLT & EFL in East Asian: Goals and benefits of language learning

The dilemma of teachers wanting to promote communicative competence in the L2 is that students’ and parents’ goals may not agree with this. In fact, the whole system may be resisting this. So how can teachers press on with their desired goal? We don’t have to sacrifice this goal, but we can cast this into a larger cognitive framework, which includes: [1] cognitive rationales for language learning, and [2] cognitively oriented goals in language learning that can supplement the goal of communicative competence. I will come back to rationales later as a selling point for CLT, especially a cognitively oriented CLT. In this post, I will say more about other valid goals that teachers can invoke, that will complement and enhance the competence goal. Even if students are not interested in competence, these other goals can help promote competence, motivation, or other important life skills.

College and career preparation. If students understand that they need English for college courses and for on-the-job purposes in their future careers, this might help them to engage in English learning. This has to be presented not in a condescending or preachy manner, but through activities that pertain to college contexts, their major fields of study, or future job and workplace situations.

Developing learning strategies. Students have often been taught English poorly here, and need to learn better learning strategies, not only for English but for other skill areas as well. They need to understand that a heavy emphasis on brute-force rote memorization of vocabulary and grammar rules will not work. The Oxford inventory (by Rebecca Oxford) of L2 learning styles can be a good start for discussion. Teachers need not administer it, but use this as the basis for discussion of better learning strategies. This leads to the next point.

Empowering learners to learn independently. Many learners are still dependent on college or hagwon classes (private cram schools or language schools in Korea) for learning, when they can learn more on their own; and they still depend on commercially produced textbooks, grammar books, or vocab books that are boring and that rely on ALM, PPP, or GTM approaches. From intermediate levels, they should start learning on their own, outside of the classroom. At intermediate and especially at advanced levels, they can learn more outside of class than in class. This involves teaching them to learn on their own by exposing themselves and engaging with authentic materials, such as books, online videos, popular music, and TV shows. This can be far more motivating than classroom learning. Some of the strategies in Oxford’s inventory pertain to independent learning. This is especially helpful in places like Korea where English is entirely a foreign language.

Critical thinking skills. Students can be taught about critical thinking skills in the L2, and the fact that they gain important academic and life skills like this, I would surmise, will in the long run help their motivation or appreciation for English. This can include understanding logical fallacies, constructing persuasive and logical arguments in writing and in presentations, reading between the lines and inferencing skills, constructing counter-arguments, and being responsible citizens who possess (I think Carl Sagan coined this term) “baloney detectors” to detect bogus arguments in politics or elsewhere. Likewise, students can be taught to question assumptions, e.g., learning to recognize and question sexist influences and messages in advertising that objectify men and women (I once did this in an ESL writing class in the US).

The above points lead to matters of social and cultural awareness, which I will discuss next time. These are selling points to students, which can help them appreciate their English classes, and these types of lessons can get them more into communicating in English, when the lessons deal with interesting issues and skills that generalize to their lives outside of the classroom.