The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

Recommended Brain Workout: Flex Your Multilingual “Muscles”

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¿Hablas español? Parlez-vous français? 你会说中文吗?
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If you answered, “sí,” “oui,” or “会” and you’re watching this in English,
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chances are you belong to the world’s bilingual and multilingual majority.
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And besides having an easier time traveling
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or watching movies without subtitles,
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knowing two or more languages means that your brain
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may actually look and work differently than those of your monolingual friends.
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So what does it really mean to know a language?
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Language ability is typically measured in two active parts, speaking and writing,
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and two passive parts, listening and reading.
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While a balanced bilingual has near equal
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abilities across the board in two languages,
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most bilinguals around the world know and use their languages
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in varying proportions.
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And depending on their situation and how they acquired each language,
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they can be classified into three general types.
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For example, let’s take Gabriella,
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whose family immigrates to the US from Peru when she’s two-years old.
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As a compound bilingual,
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Gabriella develops two linguistic codes simultaneously,
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with a single set of concepts,
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learning both English and Spanish
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as she begins to process the world around her.
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Her teenage brother, on the other hand, might be a coordinate bilingual,
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working with two sets of concepts,
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learning English in school,
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while continuing to speak Spanish at home and with friends.
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Finally, Gabriella’s parents are likely to be subordinate bilinguals
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who learn a secondary language
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by filtering it through their primary language.
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Because all types of bilingual people can become fully proficient in a language
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regardless of accent or pronunciation,
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the difference may not be apparent to a casual observer.
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But recent advances in brain imaging technology
1:58
have given neurolinguists a glimpse
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into how specific aspects of language learning affect the bilingual brain.
2:05
It’s well known that the brain’s left hemisphere is more dominant
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and analytical in logical processes,
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while the right hemisphere is more active in emotional and social ones,
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though this is a matter of degree, not an absolute split.
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The fact that language involves both types of functions
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while lateralization develops gradually with age,
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has lead to the critical period hypothesis.
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According to this theory,
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children learn languages more easily
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because the plasticity of their developing brains
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lets them use both hemispheres in language acquisition,
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while in most adults, language is lateralized to one hemisphere,
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usually the left.
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If this is true, learning a language in childhood
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may give you a more holistic grasp of its social and emotional contexts.
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Conversely, recent research showed
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that people who learned a second language in adulthood
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exhibit less emotional bias and a more rational approach
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when confronting problems in the second language
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than in their native one.
3:05
But regardless of when you acquire additional languages,
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being multilingual gives your brain some remarkable advantages.
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Some of these are even visible,
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such as higher density of the grey matter
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that contains most of your brain’s neurons and synapses,
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and more activity in certain regions when engaging a second language.
3:23
The heightened workout a bilingual brain receives throughout its life
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can also help delay the onset of diseases, like Alzheimer’s and dementia
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by as much as five years.
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The idea of major cognitive benefits to bilingualism
3:35
may seem intuitive now,
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but it would have surprised earlier experts.
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Before the 1960s, bilingualism was considered a handicap
3:44
that slowed a child’s development
3:45
by forcing them to spend too much energy distinguishing between languages,
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a view based largely on flawed studies.
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And while a more recent study did show
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that reaction times and errors increase for some bilingual students
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in cross-language tests,
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it also showed that the effort and attention needed
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to switch between languages triggered more activity in,
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and potentially strengthened, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
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This is the part of the brain that plays a large role
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in executive function, problem solving, switching between tasks,
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and focusing while filtering out irrelevant information.
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So, while bilingualism may not necessarily make you smarter,
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it does make your brain more healthy, complex and actively engaged,
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and even if you didn’t have the good fortune
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of learning a second language as a child,
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it’s never too late to do yourself a favor
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and make the linguistic leap from, “Hello,”
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to, “Hola,” “Bonjour” or “你好’s”
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because when it comes to our brains a little exercise can go a long way.

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 1►LISTEN▼, 1►TO DO, 2►READ, 3►SPEAK▼, 4►WRITE

An Anti-creativity List for 2015

From the Harvard Business Review

Five years ago I published a version of this tongue-in-cheek checklist on HBR.org that highlighted how organizations kill creativity. It really touched a nerve​—​people flooded the post with No.examples from their own organizations of how their managers and colleagues stifled innovation. Even clichés like “We’ve always done it this way” seemed to be alive and well back then. Given all the talk in recent years about unleashing creativity in organizations, I wondered whether the same creativity killers are still at work today.  So, I’m posting a slightly edited version of the original video to ask viewers around the world  what’s changed. What happens in your organization today that shuts down creative thinking? Please post your examples of anti-creativity in the comments section. Thanks, and enjoy.

Filed under: 3►STYLE, 8►BUSINESS, ■ About Organisational Cultures, ■ Creativity, ■ Dream Jobs, ■ Harvard Business Review, ■ Podcasts

To Add on Your e-Shelves: WhyEnglishMatters Documentary Series

Business Growth

English helps drive business growth.

A vast majority of companies with adequate English proficiency believe they are more competitive globally because of their employees’ proficiency, according to an ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs survey of 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries. 

The Need for English is Growing

The need for English is growing.

According to an ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs survey of 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries, the demand for employees who are proficient in English will continue to grow.

 

English Proficiency Opens Doors

English proficiency opens doors.

With a solid understanding of English, your employees may build better relationships internationally.

English is the Language of the Internet

English Is the Language of the Internet

The Internet connects people all over the globe and accounts for a greater share of the world GDP than agriculture or energy. Used by more than a quarter of all Internet users, English is the single most used language on the Web.

English as a Common Language Drives Efficiency

English as a common language drives efficiency.

ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs surveyed 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries. They described the role English plays in the efficiency — and therefore the cost effectiveness — of their staff. Communication, collaboration and productivity are all at stake.

English Skills Can Pave the Way to Global Expansion

Explore the Impact of English Proficiency on Global Business

In today’s global marketplace, English is the universal language of business. In our exclusive whitepaper, 66% of companies reported that the lack of an English-proficient workforce posed a challenge for global expansion. Alternatively, 94% of companies with adequate English proficiency have found that English has made them more competitive globally. Putting English proficiency first drives global growth and leads to business success in new markets.

Filed under: 1►LISTEN▼, 8►BUSINESS, ■ Global Issues, ■ Technology & Our Generation

To Learn More, This High-Schooler Left The Classroom

To listen to the interview below, follow this NPR link.

Boy surrounded by the wonder of learning.
 Like a lot of students, 17-year-old Nick Bain says he really likes his school, but sometimes it can feel like a chore.

“It just feels a little bit like you just have to keep doing one thing after another, but without a whole lot of thinking about an education in general,” says Nick.

So one day he decided to write down what he was doing every 15 minutes at the Colorado Academy in Denver.

And in his seven-hour school day, Nick says there were only “2 1/2 to three hours that you actually really do need to be in class,” to get instructions from the teacher. The rest of the time was spent at lunch, getting books from his locker or reading.

“It occurred to me that maybe the way school is now is not the perfect way,” he says.

Motivation As A Powerful Force

Nick saw a TED Talk by education researcher Sugata Mitra about his famous experiment in India. It showed how children living in Indian slums could teach themselves to use a computer.

“It’s just incredible that that sort of intrinsic motivation exists,” Nick says. “It seems like a really, really powerful force.”

That led him to come up with his own unusual experiment in learning. He would spend the final trimester of his junior year learning on his own.

With enough convincing, he got his school and parents to sign off on the plan.

He’d take the same tests and write the same essays as other students, but wouldn’t attend class. He’d be graded on a pass/fail basis. It would be a self-taught and self-paced journey.

Nick would take seven courses, instead of the normal four, including calculus, Advanced Placement physics and advanced French.

He also designed some of his own courses: In one, he worked with local scientists on a climate change project; in another, he built a one-seat model aircraft.

He journaled along the way.

Nick’s Journal — March 24, 2015

“I’m again feeling that I’m not efficient enough, but maybe efficiency isn’t the most important thing. I definitely feel like I’m learning. But there isn’t that sense of constant urgency that causes one to save time in all sorts of ways when one is under the gun. But what that also means is that I can walk through the park, for example, to the gardens without feeling constant anxiousness about things.”

Thinking In French

Nick experimented with different ways to learn. First he tried to learn a bit of a subject every day. That didn’t go so well. Then he asked, “What if I spent 10 hours a day on one subject?”

Eventually, he found that being steeped in one subject all day led to more learning.

He figured that out one day at the Denver Botanic Gardens while reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days — in French.

“I’d been reading it, and reading, and I wasn’t really liking it because I wasn’t understanding some things,” he recalls. And then by the end of the day, “I realized I was reading the French as fast as the English.”

He discovered his learning wasn’t more efficient on his own because he was spending every waking hour learning. His mother, Lisa Bain, said this last trimester was the hardest she’s ever seen Nick work.

“It was hard to get him to relax,” she says. “It’s important to have downtime, and school sometimes allows you to have the downtime. But when you are self-directed, there’s no time that’s not something you could be doing.”

Nick’s Journal — March 6, 2015

“Noticed that I’m actually under a lot of pressure. Thought flexibility would make things less of a strain, but actually causes more of a strain. Constantly thinking: Is what I’m doing right now the best possible use of my time, and that seems to make me highly inefficient, actually. So it’s a lot harder than I thought, and less efficient than I thought. Realizing that I don’t ever feel finished with something, that there is always something I can be doing.”

Learning More Deeply

At the same time, Nick said his learning was more satisfying outside of school. It had more purpose and he was learning more deeply.

As the days passed, he started to relax into the joy of learning. He realized he wasn’t feeling that anxiousness he felt in school with a conveyor belt of assignments coming at him.

And because Nick was on a pass/fail system, he didn’t worry about the best way to get a good grade. Instead, he realized he was working hard at something because he wanted to.

Nick’s Journal — March 18, 2015

“I’ve been hesitating to note this (because of the possibility that it might not hold true), but I feel exactly as Nate Newman said he felt at Stanford: ‘This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.’ It’s always risky to say things like that because they may turn out differently with time. But I have never been so enthralled by learning, ever. I wish only that I could do it for years and years.”

The Value Of School

Nick is heading back to class for his senior year this fall, but that’s not because the experiment was a failure. In fact, he kept up with his classmates, passing his exams and classes. But one of the unexpected results of the experiment, he says, is that now he can see his school — and teachers — in a different light. He appreciates the role teachers play as curators of the best material.

“[There are] some huge benefits to learning with people that I really missed and I’m going to be glad to go back to,” he says.

“The greatest thing is really this,” he says of his experience: “I can be 45 years old, or 27, any age, or doing anything and become an expert on anything.”

“It makes me really excited for the rest of my life, I guess, because I know that it doesn’t have to stop when I stop school.”

Nick’s Journal — June 2, 2015

“Today was the last day of school. It did not feel like the last day of school. It was very strange. I rode my bicycle home, ate some fruit (it was a half-day), and wrote a 3 page essay on Kant and Voltaire. I think I would have laughed at myself pretty hard at doing something like this last year at this time.

“I think today is probably an appropriate time to end this log. Maybe I’ll sporadically note developments and general time usage over the next few weeks — at least some data would probably be helpful, I think. Otherwise, I don’t think I should even try to describe in a few broad statements the effect of these past months. Neatly summing it up here would not capture the magnitude of its value.”

Filed under: ■ NPR, ■ School

What’s going on under the skin?

This TED-ed series called Getting Under Our Skin is looking at this very topic. Browse through the selection of videos below to learn more about what may interest you. Enjoy the summer, stand up straight, be healthy and get savvier every day!

Filed under: 1►LISTEN▼, ■ Biology, ■ TED

TED’s 30th anniversary + TOP 10 moments for women in TED

The article below was published on Glamour, March 5th 2014. Here it goes:

Today, TED announced that Charmian Gooch, an anti-corruption activist who cofounded the watchdog organization Global Witness, is this year’s winner of the $1 million TED Prize. (Gooch will explain on March 18 how, specifically, she will use the money to make her “wish” for the world a reality.) You can watch her incredible TED talk—and read through her detailed annotations—on ted.com. But that’s just one of many TED talks given by women that have inspired us. To celebrate Gooch’s win, and TED’s 30th anniversary (yes, TED turns 30 this year!), we asked Anna Verghese, deputy director of the TED Prize, to curate the top 10 moments for women in TED that we all need to see.

TED-Prize-Charmian-Gooch-Anna-Verghese
2014 TED Prize Winner Charmian Gooch (left), and TED Prize Deputy Director Anna Verghese (right)

“There are now more than 1,700 TED talks—”ideas worth spreading”—available online, many of them by badass women,” Verghese told Glamour. “I’m honored to make recommendations of just 10 of the many talks, from scientists to artists, writers to leaders, that have made me feel smarter and more prepared to take on the world in just 18 minutes or less.” Watch a few to get through the afternoon slump at work, or take ’em all in later. We guarantee you’ll be inspired!

Sheryl Sandberg: Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders 


“This is the talk that preceded [Lean In],” says Verghese. “[It’s] a great, unconventional, persuasive take on the way that women take themselves out of the running for leadership positions.”

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story


“The young Nigerian author gives a beautiful, elegant, and at times hilarious talk about the danger of believing a single, narrow story about anything or anyone,” says Verghese. “My favorite anecdote: When she arrived at college in the U.S., her roommate asked to hear some of her ‘tribal music.’ Chimamanda pulled out a Mariah Carey CD.”

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are


“An essential talk for all young women! Cuddy is a psychologist and Harvard Business School professor who explains how our posture and body language shape not only how others see us but how we see ourselves,” says Verghese.

Leymah Gbowee: Unlock the Intelligence, Passion, Greatness of Girls

“The Nobel Prize winner from Liberia shares powerful stories about the unlocked potential of girls worldwide, who are still far from [being] treated as equal citizens,” says Verghese.

Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

“This blockbuster talk came out of one of our TEDx events in Houston,” says Verghese. “Brené’s take on vulnerability—and why it’s essential to our relationships and to our success—has won her millions of fans worldwide.”

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius


“The author of Eat, Pray, Love offers unconventional advice on how to nurture your own creativity,” says Verghese. “Her advice: Take some pressure off yourself, but never stop creating.”

Courtney Martin: Reinventing Feminism


“A beautifully heartfelt talk, she describes the three paradoxes that define her generation’s question to define the term [feminism] for themselves,” says Verghese.

Angela Patton: A Father-Daughter Dance…in Prison


“The is the amazing and moving story of a group of preteen girls who organized a father-daughter dance in the prison where their fathers were incarcerated,” says Verghese. “I wept.”

Jill Bolte Taylor: My Stroke of Insight 


“Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroscientist who observed her own stroke as it was happening. This is one of the most popular TED talks of all time,” says Verghese.

Cynthia Breazeal: The Rise of Personal Robots

This MIT professor “talks about her love of robots—which began when she saw Star Wars as a girl (R2D2!)—and new kind of intelligent, personal robots she designs,” says Verghese.

Did any of your favorite TED talks by women not make this list? Do you love one of the talks Verghese selected? Share your top picks in the comments below!
Photos: James Duncan Davidson (Gooch); Mike Femia (Verghese); videos courtesy of TED

Filed under: ■ Conference Speakers, ■ GLOBAL, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, ■ Women

Teacher’s Homework – [1.] A Matter of Taste

Saltwater Taffy

Oh, yes, believe it or not, teachers also have homework, and yes, it is homework they mostly give themselves after getting inspiration from their students. My homework today is, as the title hints, a matter of taste, and I would like  to start with one of the five, namely the sweet taste. This post comes with a warning for all of you out there with a sweet tooth.

It all started from the innocent little word chew, plural chews, the category of sweets which includes candy like Toffee and the traditionally American Saltwater Taffy. I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew with my topic, so I’ll reveal the red thread that led me to the “candy store online archives”, on the world wide web.

Without further ado, let’s click to find out:

Kitchen Utensils 1

1. Why is it called Saltwater Taffy?

2. How is Saltwater Taffy made?

Kitchen Utensils 2

3. Which utensils are essential for baking something sweet in my own kitchen?  

4. Where can I listen to and learn from great cooks about the art of baking?

Kitchen Utensils 3

5. How about an apple cake?   Sounds easy when you hear Deb Perelman pull up her sleeves and get on to baking it on this BBC podcastDeb's Apple Cake

6. Who is Deb Perelman and what connects her to the Smitten Kitchen?

7. Where can I find some pics of the best British sweets? The Telegraph has the answer

8. What about some traditional American treats? Or top 10 desserts?

9. Mmm… and Polish ones? Polish Krowki - Milk Toffee Candy

10. …Or RomanianSavarina

Oh, my, and this is just the beginning…  The rest coming up soon!

Adios, everyone!

Filed under: 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ BBC, ■ Cooking, ■ England, ■ Podcasts, ■ Poland, ■ Radio Shows, ■ Romania, ■ Taste, ■ The Telegraph, ■ USA, ►12.OFF THE MAP▼

Last Classes, New Ideas :)

Happy summer holiday 2013!!!

Happy summer holiday 2013!!!

Hello!

This school year is rapidly drawing to a close, so I will take this opportunity to wish you all a very peaceful summer and to reassure you that the ELB is going to still benefit from new thoughts in the summer, just like before. After all, life’s lessons never seem to go on holiday like we do. They are always there, for us to take our pick and share. 🙂

I am writing this post below, to share some thoughts with you, yes, as I have been known to do,  on prejudice and intolerance, the lack of which will help us maintain and cultivate broad-mindedness. Or open-mindedness, if you will. 🙂 Now, what is different about this post is that, in truth, it hasn’t happened yet, by which I mean that the activities I will describe and the links I am about to recommend below are going to be put to work with the students in one of my adult learners groups later today for the first time. Imagine their surprise when I will disclose to them the existence of this article at the end of the class. 🙂 I will be back with impressions in a little while, so hang on.

“Things Should Be as I Think

or

I Know Best About This (Whatever This Might Be)”

 

The first two activities I have come up with sprang from a dialog I witnessed at a class one week ago between two of my students. The general topic of the dialogue was good manners around the world, and the more specific aspect discussed was ways of spending Christmas in Poland. I was surprised to discover how certain one of these students was about THE way of spending Christmas in Poland, the one and only PROPER way. The discussion turned out to be very insightful, as it showed that even open-minded people can have strict ideas and views on certain topics. There is, or there may be prejudice, my dears, even in areas we least expect it to appear. The good part is that once exposed hovering around some ideas in our minds, it can easily go out in a splash, like a candle blown out by a kid at bedtime.

ACTIVITY 1

Imagine:

– that you were offered an all-inclusive opportunity to travel to an area in your country or to an area that you have never visited beforein a poor country. What would you choose and why? 

– that you were living in a slum (a poor urban area in a big city, sometimes found in  developing countries). How would you feel? What would your celebrations/ anniversaries look like? Would you miss anything?

– that you are a CNN reporter who is given an assignment to interview one of the following people: a trainer from India, an Australian writer or a famous person in your country. Who would you choose to interview and why?

ACTIVITY 2

Use the words below to frame or express your own idea about your outlook on the world, on personal success, values and lifestyle:

passion           (a sense of)  purpose             humour              the voice within                   generations                

inhibitions                failures                 disabilities                         problems                          

(passing on) legacies                  (ways of )speaking                  sensitivity (to various issues)                   

Would you cross out any of these words as unnecessary? How about adding anything else to the ones you selected? Explain.

ACTIVITY 3

Watch the recently published TED video below (one of the 29,409 vids currently on the TEDx Youtube channel), in which the stand-up Indian comedian from Bangalore, Sandeep Rao, uses the concepts in Activity 2 above, to shape his own view of life and living. 

Do his views differ from yours? In what ways?

ACTIVITY 4

This is another video to watch and analyse, which is the second part in a CNN series called Talk Asia. It is a very special video to me, because it is a brief, 9-minute guided tour of the Indian universe described in one of my favourite books, Shantaram, a tour given by the author himself, the Australian-born,  controversial and very charming Gregory David Roberts.

There are a zillion questions I could think of asking after watching this video, but the ones that I would probably go for at my class, a few hours from now, are:

  • Can Christians, Muslims and Hindus celebrate together? Can people, in other words, celebrate together if their beliefs, background, and outlooks are very different?
  • Would you like to be able to be “adopted” by a society that is very different from the one you were born in?
  • Do you think you would be able to “adopt” someone who comes from a society very different from yours? How would you welcome them into your world as you know it?
  • How long do you think a society can last? Can societies disappear completely or do they change into something else? What can they change into, if they do and how are these changes possible?

* * * 

Enjoy and be back for extras!

Good day to you all!

 Alina Alens

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 1►LISTEN▼, 1►TO DO, 2►READ, 3►SPEAK▼, 4►LIFE, ■ Celebrations, ■ Christmas, ■ Compassion, ■ Empathy, ■ Gregory David Roberts, ■ Inspiration, ■ Meet my friends, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ The Path of Metaphor, ■ The Voice Within, ■ Travel, ■ Voice Matters, ■ Writers, ►META PHORS▼

Cars, Cars, Cars – A Beginner’s Guide (1)

Who, me?My dears, yours truly (drum roll) is currently studying for her driving license. The theoretical exam is right around the corner, coming up next week as a matter of fact (OMG!!!), so fingers crossed and God bless your English teacher! 🙂

As preparation for the exam, the English version of it, since I am currently stationed in Poland :), I am studying the English version of the Driving manual (which would make a story in itself, and possibly another blog post in the future – oh, and, yes, I haven’t finished reading it yet!!!), as well as investigating the topic of cars on my beloved TED. Feel free to join me in my “car universe discovery”  journey. Playlists on Ted have become increasingly popular, so here’s my very own playlist on cars. Well, I’ve always said I would have loved to work as a curator, so here’s my chance. Hope it brings you as much insight as I hope it has brought to me!

Alina’s TED Playlist:

Cars and their Universe,

a Third Degree Encounter

1. The magic of motion… Let’s start with Newton’s fundamental laws of motion (1687):

The Law of Inertia
Force = Mass x Accelleration
The Action/ Reaction Pair

Here’s the brilliant clip of  Newton’s 3 Laws with a Bicycle, by Joshua Manley:

Tip for teachers: you can use this and other lesson videos like this in class in a variety of ways (do check the activities suggested on TED under these three headings: Watch, Think, Dig Deeper, and investigate the “flipping” function provided).

2. Bill Ford: A future beyond traffic gridlock (2011)

Who is Bill Ford?

Bill Ford is a car guy — his great-grandfather was Henry Ford, and he grew up inside the massive Ford Motor Co. So when he worries about cars’ impact on the environment, and about our growing global gridlock problem, it’s worth a listen. His vision for the future of mobility includes “smart roads,” even smarter public transport and going green like never before. [Read more]

His talk makes you think about:

  1. A change of perspective: What if all we do is sell more cars and trucks?
  2. Passions: automobiles (heritage insights + the belief that with mobility comes freedom and progress) & the environment (literary heritage insights + personal beliefs)
  3. The business world dilemma in the past: Environmental friendliness + technology =”Environmental wackos”. Is there still a conflict? 😀
  4. The origins of what we now call “sustainability“. 
  5. Reducing and one day eliminating CO2 emissions
  6. The freedom of mobility now threatened by the population reaching its highest limits of growth (Today there are about 6.8 billion people; the global population is estimated to go up to 9 billion in our lifetime – by 2044. There are about 800 million cars on the roads worldwide. By 2050 that number is going to grow to about between 2 & 4 billion cars. In the years to come 75% of the population will live in cities,  and 50 of those cities will be of 10 million people or more.)
  7. The result: a global gridlock that will stifle economic growth and our ability to deliver food and health care particularly to people that live in city centres. And our quality of life is going to be severely compromised.
  8. The time we spend stuck in traffick jams & the commuting time will change. 
  9. “The mobility model we have today will not work tomorrow.”
  10. If we make no changes today, what is tomorrow going to look like?
  11. Possible solutions: no silver bullets, but a global network of interconnected solutions; not only building smart cars, but also smart roads, smart parking, smart public transportation system and more.
  12. No-compromise sustainable mobility” (“We need an integrated system that uses real-time data to optimise personal mobility on a massive scale without hassle or compromises for travellers.”)
  13. The future: On NY’s 34 street gridlock will soon be replaced with a connected system of vehicle-specific corridors; the system called Octopus in Hong Kong (tying together all the transportation assets into a single payment system).
  14. The idea of “talking cars” that will help create a smart vehicle network. The potential of a connected car network is almost limitless. Just imagine: your car could book you a parking spot before reaching a destination. 
  15. “We need all of you“: people from all walks of life, leading thinkers, not just inventors, we need policy makers, and government officials + an infrastructure that’s designed to support this flexible future.
  16. Bottom line: we need to get going, and we need to get going today
  17. “I believe we’re at our best when we’re confronted with big issues.”

3. Chris Gerdes, The Future Race Car – 150 mph, and no driver (2012)

Who is Chris Gerdes?

It’s 2012. And many of us no doubt imagined that flying cars would be all the rage by now. While that hasn’t happened yet, some major driving innovations are on their way down the pipeline.

In a new TEDTalk, Chris Gerdes of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (awesomely abbreviated as CARS) explains that he and his team are busy at work developing the motor vehicles of the future. One of their starting points? Studying the brainwaves of the best motorists in the world — professional race car drivers. The idea is to combine computer technology with human intuition and skill behind the wheel. [Read more]

His talk makes you think about: 5 fascinating carsFive cars we may be seeing a lot more of in the future. Sure, they don’t fly. But, hey, many allow you to sit back and enjoy the ride without having to do a thing.

  1. Shelley, the autonomous race carShelley, the autonomous race car
    Nascar and Formula One racing are popular for a reason — professional race car drivers are masters at estimating the friction between the tire and the road, and instinctively being able to use the throttle and brakes to steer. Gerdes and his team have created a race car that can do these same things — without a driver. Nicknamed “Shelley,” their race car can drive itself at 150 mph while avoiding every possible accident thanks to an onboard computer. Shelley has taken high-speed spins around Thunderhill Raceway Park and navigated the 153 turns of Pike’s Peak hill climb route. As Gerdes explained to CBS News, Shelley’s algorithms could someday be in your car, helping you avoid collisions.Google's self-driving carGoogle’s self-driving car
    It’s amazing to imagine a car that can make every split-second decision for you, even delivering you home safely when you’re too tired to drive. Google’s DARPA Challenge-winning self-driving car has attracted a lot of attention. Developed by a team led by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun (watch hismoving TEDTalk here), these cars use intelligent driving software, proximity sensors and extensive GPS data to figure out how to get from one point to another. What happens if the driver actually wants to do something? They can just tap the wheel or brakes and take back control. In May, the state of Nevada granted Google the first license for a car that drives itself, reports Time. Meaning that — head to Vegas, and you could potentially see the car being tested on the roads.GM's EN-VGM’s Electric Networked-Vehicle
    This two-person vehicle looks something like a cross between a Mini and a Segway. Why would someone create such a thing? According to GM, by the year 2030, urban areas will house 60 percent of the world’s 8 million people — and standard cars might no longer be an option. The balancing EN-V car could help solve problems like traffic congestion and parking scarcity. Bonus: they are electric, and could also boost air quality while helping to lower oil reliance.P1

    P1, the car that can’t spin out
    Developed by students in Gerdes’ lab, this electric, steer-by-wire vehicle allows for each wheel to be tuned independently, maximizing performance while minimizing wear on tires. “We believe P1 to be the world’s first autonomously drifting car,” says Gerdes, explaining that the vehicle helped develop the racing algorithms used for Shelley. “It’s a concept we call ‘envelope control.’ Under envelope control, the driver can do absolutely anything, including drift — but cannot spin the car.”

    Nissan Pivo 2

    Nissan’s PIVO 2 commuter car
    A three-person commuter car, this Nissan concept looks like something straight out of the Pokémon universe with its bubble-like body. The small car uses a robotic interface, reminiscent of a video game, that both interacts with the driver and scans the environment for information. But the best part? This car spins and can drive sideways thanks to “by-wire” technology rather than traditional mechanics.

4. Jennifer Healey: If cars could talk, accidents might be avoidable (2013)

Who is Jeniffer Healey?

Jennifer Healey imagines a future where computers and smartphones are capable of being sensitive to human emotions and where cars are able to talk to each other, and thus keep their drivers away from accidents. A scientist at Intel Corporation Research Labs, she researches devices and systems that would allow for these major innovations. [Read more]

Her talk makes you think about:

  1. Computer vision giving you the bird’s eye view
  2. Position data (GPS) sharing/ cars “talking” (so that we would be surrounded by what she calls “a sea of gossip“, with cars “talking behind your back”)
  3. Adding robots to assist you while driving: stereo cameras, GPS, two-dimensional range finders (common in backup systems),  a discrete short-range communication radio plus many more.
  4. TMI (too much information, or, to quote Jennifer Healey, “too much chatter“), hence the Q: How do we prioritise? A: According to her, that is where the predictive model comes to our rescue.
  5. Q: How can we best alert everyone (if there’s a problem, like a driver driving off-course)? A: The combined ability of the car + driver.
  6. Driver state modeling
  7. Being able to calculate the safest route for everyone – is this a dream about to come true?
  8. A question of privacy: to let or not to let your car gossip about you? That is Jennifer Healey’s question. 🙂

5. Elon Musk: The mind behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity … in conversation with Chris Anderson (2013)

Who is Elon Musk?

Entrepreneur Elon Musk is a man with many plans. The founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX sits down with TED curator Chris Anderson to share details about his visionary projects, which include a mass-marketed electric car, a solar energy leasing company and a fully reusable rocket. [Read more]

His talk makes you think about:

  1. Why build an all-electric car?
  2. What is innovative about the process of building the Tesla Model S car?
  3. What is the most surprising thing about the experience of driving the car?
  4. Can the Tesla become a mass-market vehicle?
  5. Will there be a nationwide network of charging stations for the car that would be fast? 
  6. What’s unusual about the company Solar City?
  7. Can you buy/ lease a solar system?
  8. How do you, the company benefit?
  9. How soon will we go solar?
  10. Why on Earth would someone build a space company (SpaceX)?
  11. What is the big innovation lying ahead?
  12. What is it about you, how have you done this?

* * *

Now this is what I call really, really cool. 🙂

A big “Wow!” to end this first part of Cars, Cars, Cars – A Beginner’s Guide. 

So long!

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 1►LISTEN▼, 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ Driving

ELT Workshops to Remember – Whether in English or a Language You Do Not Yet Master

Teachers of English anywhere in the world are fortunate to have access to many training sessions, conferences and workshops. They may be organised and supported by renowned ELT publishing houses, by local training institutions and sometimes by local schools and centres. In this post I would like to focus on answering the question: what makes a good ELT workshop?, and challenge other ELT professionals to join the discussion.

Two things that first come to mind are the applicability of the content presented and the trainers’ charismatic presence, both of which have managed, time and time again, to anchor relevant pieces of information to my long-term memory.

Let’s look at some examples.  Earlier this year, close to 6 months ago, to be precise, I attended coursebook writer Leslie Anne Hendra’s workshop, Shaking Up Grammar – A Goals- and Context-based Approach.  The quality that I noticed and appreciated about her right away was her ability to deliver a wide range of ELT ideas in a very natural, logical, and, for this very reason, a very accessible way. Listening to her was entertaining, yet not overbearing, and the pacing of her discourse was very well-timed. I still remember tidbits from her speech like:

“context is king, queen, and the whole royal family”, “the importance of re-contextualising” into pretty much anything you want (as long as these re-contextualisations serve the purpose of what you planned to teach), some examples of “voice savers”, the idea that “not every use is functional” and that we should strive to look for what is “real” when teaching, because what is real always has the strongest impact. I also enjoyed hearing her say something along the lines of: “I’d like to see the passive return to conversation.” I see the passive here as only one possible example of many others it could be replaced by. It is all up to the teacher or the aware English language speakers to decide. 

Whenever I have the opportunity to attend workshops like Ms Leslie Anne Hendra’s, I am reminded of the worthiness of learning from people who have decided not only to constantly turn their experience into an advantage at their jobs on a daily basis,  but who are also willing to share their knowledge with others and take the time to record the best of that experience in writing, in the form of articles, coursebooks or other ELT materials for future use. In an era in which the future of English language bears the brunt of so much misuse and linguistic over- and under-evaluation in the street as well as in the classroom, I read such fortunate encounters like the one provided by Mrs Hendra’s workshop as a positive sign that things are heading toward a bright rather than a dark future for language teaching in general and for English language in particular.

A more recent example is the series of 3 workshops organised in Krakow on November 17 by PASE under the heading of   Kapelusze Lektora, for teachers of English and other subjects. I decided to attend these workshops in spite of the fact that they were going to be delivered in Polish, a language I do understand, but am, however, far from having mastered yet.

During the talk I had with the two trainers at the end of the workshops – which was in English, by the way -, they were curious to know how much I did understand of what they conveyed and which language I took notes in. To their surprise (and my own, truth be told), I confirmed that I did, in fact understand the gist of each of their workshops. I answered that I took notes in English for the most part, while also jotting down words that I wasn’t sure about or wanted to remember – thanks to the colleague next to me, kind enough to help me with their translation (like “nawyki”, “namowic/przekonac”, “moje przekonania”, “mozliwe do osiegniecia”, “miec wyplyw”, “zdolny” and a few others like “haki” 🙂 – the Polish version of the English “hooks”).

Obviously, I attributed my general understanding of the workshop content to that instinctive type of linguistic understanding that anyone aware of the language of his/her community can develop – after a long-enough time, but, apart from that, I had to reaffirm my belief that people who share similar values, guidelines and views on at least a few topics – like certain psychological approaches to teaching in the case of these workshops, are able to communicate and will reach common ground regardless of linguistic differences. Non-verbal language, the attitude and the “vibe” of the trainer may seem to be the main resorts in such cases, but, fortunately for me, they weren’t the only ones.

I enjoyed the two workshops led by Ms Magda Kidybinska. 

The content of the first reminded me of concepts like celebrating success (which was also discussed at the last workshop led by Ms Aldona Serewa), making the best of the student’s potential, activating leadership, demonstrating integrity, embracing  diversity, enjoying participation, striving for excellence, as well as learning from mistakes and acting in a sustainable manner, concepts I came across in the NGO called AIESEC, 

 which is the organisation that had originally sent me to Poland back in 2006, when I started my cooperation with the Jagiellonian Language Centre.

At the second workshop led by the same trainer I enjoyed the most the resources, tips and activities meant to involve our right brain hemisphere, the discussion on the meanings and understanding of naivete, and the borderline differences between extroverts and introverts or between objectivity and extreme creativity. Throughout the two workshops, the trainer won us over with her charisma and energy. I particularly appreciated her use  of intonation and voice dynamics when addressing us. These are two qualities that I have always appreciated in speakers – trainers and teachers included. 

 Impressive results can be achieved through big, as well as small steps. Kaizen, the Japanese technique of achieving great and lasting success through small, steady steps, inspired the first part of Ms Aldona Serewa’s workshop and led to a very enjoyable and relaxed delivery pace, that allowed for questions to be asked and discussed at any point for the duration of the workshop.

I appreciated the visual aids, case studies and references the trainer included in her workshop, that concluded the Kapelusze Lektora series of the day. I was particularly pleased with her comments on the issue of trust in language learning, and felt that they complemented the previous trainer’s ideas on the topic expressed earlier that day.

 The issue of trust is one of utmost importance, that needs to be approached by any teacher interested in creating a suitable rapport with his students, namely a rapport that fosters and encourages the students’ freedom of expressing ideas in a new language past mistakes and linguistic inaccuracies, or in simpler terms, past the fear of “getting it wrong”. 

Establishing trust, along with establishing mutual respect, should be one of the goals teachers set from the very beginning of the learning process. All the more so if the teacher is interested in pursuing creative paths like what I like to call the metaphor path and try to push the learning towards “aha” moments and long-term language acquisition.

To give an example mentioned by one of the speakers, there are situations in which a creative teacher may start working with a group of students who are not particularly creative and/or not particularly interested in any creative approaches to teaching, who rely mostly on structures and rules, and have a more or less difficult time accepting linguistic exceptions, not to mention anything else that falls out of the strict outlines of their books or courses.

With such students, who may even happen to be adults in positions of authority, CEOs and the like, who rely on their analytical, left brain hemisphere rather than the more creative right brain hemisphere, the teacher has to gradually build up a creativity platform for the students to use during classes, so that they gain a sense of comfort in being creative instead of being frustrated at not coming up with ideas or not really understanding what is expecting from them on a creative level.

The progression may involve strategies like a gradual change from closed, yes/no questions to more open ones, with suggested answers at first. The teacher may choose any strategy he or she considers suitable, including switching roles or hats – to use the workshop headline and inspiration 🙂 – from a facilitator or the students’ “best friend” to a more authoritarian figure of the person in the know, able, knowledgeable and competent to share knowledge in areas uncovered or less known by the students.

With practice, the search for the best teaching strategies as they pertain to individual groups will become shorter and easier. A useful piece of advice here may be: keep changing roles, robes or hats until you get the winning outfit. 🙂

All in all, the pairing of the two trainers was a very good choice, so I feel that congratulations are in order at this point. Apart from the ideas, theories and resources presented, the underlying concept guiding and motivating each of the three workshops was the basic idea of giving, the sharing of knowledge and the expectation of positive outcomes to the benefit of both teachers and students. Last but not least, my thanks go out to the Kliny English Courses director for supporting my, and two other colleagues’ participation in this workshop.  

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 1►LISTEN▼, 1►TO DO, ■ Conference Speakers, ■ Giving, ■ Inspiration, ■ Kapelusze Lektora, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ The Path of Metaphor, ►META PHORS▼

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