Listen and Write is a site which offers spoken texts at various levels, many of them from VOA Special English, so they are very clear and don’t use much difficult vocabulary. You select a text and listen to it. At any time, you can start typing what you hear in the box. The program checks each word individually, and it won’t let you proceed if the word is not correct. There is a “Hint” button, but when I tried it out, it didn’t just give me a hint; it provided the whole word. Therefore, before you hit the “Hint” button, give it your best shot–what have you got to lose?
“TED: Ideas Worth Spreading” is a fabulous site that features talks by a variety of people on many different subjects. You can search the site by theme, by title, or by speaker. I just listened to an amazing talk by Jill Bolte Taylor called “My Stroke of Insight”. Dr. Taylor is a brain scientist who suffered a stroke. She describes her experience in detail in the talk. It’s absolutely fascinating! The talks are not long–this one was about 18 minutes–and transcripts are available at a click of the mouse.
Joining the TED community is easy and simple. After you provide your name, country, and email address, you can listen to the many talks available, “join the conversation” by posting comments, and, if you want, create a public profile page where you can save your favorite talks and express your own thoughts. However, just the opportunity to listen to the many talks is a huge benefit for English language learners the world over!
Update, June 2009: TED talks are now captioned in English and (for some talks) in other languages as well, and the interactive transcript button allows you to click on any word in the transcript and start the video from that point!
Chinswing is a global voiceboard–a site where registered members can post comments to threaded discussions and a variety of topics. You can listen to the discussions without registering, but if you want to contribute to a discussion, you must register. (Registration is free and is very easy to do.) Most discussions are in English, but there are some in other languages, like Japanese and Spanish. The discussions are sorted into categories (“channels”) such as “Health and Wellbeing” and “Society and Culture.” Within each category you will find sub-categories. For example, under “Society and Culture,” you can choose “Current Events and News,” “Education,” “Global Issues,” “Language,” etc. The main page tells you how many threads exist for a given category; for instance, there are 24 threads under “Books and Literature” but only two under “Theater” (category: “Entertainment & Arts”).
I started a couple of threads for my beginning Listening Speaking class at the Maryland English Institute, and I was pleased to find that English language learners from several countries found my threads and posted contributions. One of them is “What’s your favorite…?” and the other is “I have a cell phone.” For more advanced students, there are plenty of interesting-looking threads to choose from. Many of these have been inactive for months, but as soon as someone posts on them, they will appear on the start page under “Listen to the Latest,” and those who contributed to them earlier will get an email informing them that there is a new post (unless they have disabled this).
What is nice about Chinswing is that you can think about your post for as long as you want before you record it. You can even write it out and read it, if you want to. You can preview it before approving it, so if you made a mistake and want to correct it, you can re-record it. When you are satisfied, you can approve it and it will be posted immediately on the thread.
You can also upload a small photo of yourself from your computer to your Chinswing profile so that when people listen to your contribution, they can see what you look like. This is optional. You can also use your real name or a pseudonym.
Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing is a great site for advanced students who are curious about grammar. The site owner, Mignon Fogarty, has created podcasts about a variety of grammar topics and accompanied them with the full text on site, so you can read along as you listen. A lot of topics concern punctuation, such as comma splices and hyphens, or tricky word pairs, such as effect and affect. Advanced students can improve their listening and hone their grammar/writing skills at the same time!
This site was created by Mike Marzio, who has an English school in France. Twenty years ago, Mike was frustrated because his students had limited opportunities to listen to native speakers speaking English informally, so he and his friends began recording short interviews with native speakers of English in various countries. Now you can access videos of the interviews, which have been categorized into five levels (beginning, intermediate I, intermediate II, intermediate III, and advanced). Each level has about fifteen interviews. Some of the videos are also available with captions here. You can also sign up for a free introductory subscription to Real English Online, which has lessons with exercises to accompany some of the videos. (In order to access lessons for all the videos, you need a paid subscription.). Mike adds new material all the time. This is a great opportunity to listen to native speakers speaking naturally in different English dialects.
Note: You will need Real Player to listen and watch most of the interviews, although some of them are viewable with Windows Media Player and Quicktime. Links to free downloads are available on the site.
Keeping a double-entry reading journal is a great way to improve your reading skills while increasing fluency and accuracy in your writing. When I have my students keep these journals, I collect and respond to their entries, correcting their grammar and spelling and answering their questions; but even if you don’t have anyone respond to your entries, this is a great way to improve your English.
Here’s what to do:
- As you read, mark any passages (of any length) which interest you, puzzle you, please you, or displease you in some way. Copy them out word for word. This forces you to slow down and notice the details you normally don’t pay attention to when you are reading, such as punctuation, capitalization, grammatical structure, and spelling.
- Beneath the copied passage, write your comments, questions, interpretations, thoughts, or ideas about the passage. What you write can be either longer or shorter than the passage you copied. This develops your writing fluency and forces you to express your thoughts about what you read.
- You can either hand-write your journal or type it on a computer, but don’t photocopy or scan the text you select. The act of copying, while tedious, will actually help improve your writing, while scanning or photocopying will have no effect on your writing.
That’s all there is to it!
Tip: Remember that different kinds of writing (academic papers or articles, newspaper articles, fiction, poetry…) have different rules. In particular, modern fiction (both novels and short stories) tolerates a lot of rule-breaking, such as sentence fragments. Dialog is written to reflect the way characters actually speak, which may be ungrammatical, and writers sometimes misspell words to represent regional pronunciations. If you need to write for academic or professional purposes, it is probably wiser to choose passages without much dialog!
“Absolutely Intercultural!” is a wonderful ESL podcast created by Anne Fox and Laurent Borgmann. Winner of Edublogs’ 2006 Award for Best Audio and/or Video Blog, “Absolutely Intercultural!” has been on the web since March 2006. Topics include things like how holidays are celebrated in various countries, how music can connect people of different cultures, cultural aspects of blogs, and much, much more. Everyone is sure to find something that will interest him or her. Each podcast is accompanied by a text post summarizing the topics discussed on the show, but there are no transcripts, so understanding the shows will be challenging for those with less than intermediate proficiency in listening.
You can subscribe to the show through iTunes or RSS feed (you’ll need an account with an aggregator such as Bloglines, Google, My Yahoo (In Yahoo Services, choose Feed Alerts), or Live Bookmarks, but these are free) or simply check it out at your leisure on the web. New shows are posted every other Friday.