IATEFL 2015: Recent corpus tools for your students

Jane Templeton’s talk 1 illustrated corpus use by using the wordandphrase tool 2. (Lizzie Pinard has a write-up of the talk 3). I have described using this and other tools on this blog, and there is a nice round-up of corpus tools written by Steve Neufield 4 that looks at just the word, ozdic, word neighbors, netspeak, and stringnet.

This post reports on some more recent tools you may not be aware of (but posted sometime ago in G+ CL community so do check that if you want the skinny early on:\) – WriteAway, Linggle, Skell, Netcollo.

I list them in the order I think students will find easy to use and useful.

1. WriteAway – this tool auto-completes words to help highlight typical structures, so for example it gives two common patterns for Jane’s example of weakness as weakness of something and weakness in something. The first example in pattern one includes the collocation overcomes.

WriteAway-weakness
WriteAway screenshot for word weakness

 

2. Linggle – one could follow-up with a search on Linggle which is basically a souped up version of just the word and uses a 1 trillion word Web based corpus as opposed to the much smaller BNC that just the word uses

It is interesting that overcome weakness is not listed:

Linggle screenshot for verb + weakness
Linggle screenshot for verb + weakness (click image to see results)

but a search for overcome followed by a noun shows that it occurs less than 1% in web pages:

linggle-overcome_n
Linggle screenshot for overcome + noun (click image to see results)

 

3. SkeLL from Sketch Engine is neat for its word-sketch feature so a look at weakness brings up a nice set of collocations and colligations in one screen:

Skell-weakness-wordsketch
SkeLL wordsketch for weakness (click image to see results)

 

4. NetCollo corpus tool can compare BNC, a medical corpus and a law corpus, this is useful if you are looking at academic language in medicine and law. For example using the example of weakness we see that it is much more common in BNC:

netcollo-weakness
NetCollo result for weakness (click image to see results)

and we can see that the collocation with overcome only appears once in the Medical corpus.

As ever do try these tools out yourself and then show not tell, as Jane says, your students as and when the need arises in class. By the way do check out the integrative rationale for corpus use by Anna Frankenberg-Garcia5.

Thanks for reading.

References:

1. IATEFL 2015 video – Bringing corpus research into the language classroom

2. Word and phrase.info tool

3. IATEFL 2015 Bringing corpus research into the language classroom – Jane Templeton

4. Teacher Development: Five ways to introduce concordances to your students

5. Integrating corpora with everyday language teaching

IATEFL 2015: Testing times all-round

I think Geoff Jordan1 has already outlined the general concerns about the lack of adequate examination of issues in testing at IATEFL 2015, mainly based  on Jeremy Harmer’s presentation2.

One key area that this presentation overlooked is that of high-stakes testing, although Harmer may well have felt that passing a music exam on the tuba was very important for him it does not really compare to test taking candidates whose scores can mean getting a place at university, gaining employment or passing immigration requirements.

The Pearson academic test which Harmer was promoting is used in such high-stake situations. So glossing over this massive issue was telling. The example of brain surgery in the talk was not comparable as medical education is a long process, and the airline pilots case ignores that such tests cover more or less the whole of a pilot’s syllabus something language tests are rarely able to do.

The lack of critical discussion of automated scoring was another key area. One would be none the wiser from Harmer’s talk that automated scoring is the site of great debate and controversy. For example there’s the Human Readers movement3 which campaigns for the dropping of automated scoring for high-stakes testing.

Further some researchers in the field such as Xiaoming Xi4 claim that automated scoring systems are not ready for high-stakes decision making. She lists two main reasons – they can’t score for “coherence, logic or content like human raters” and the “vulnerability to cheating and test scheming”.

In addition Harmer claimed that “algorithms that are built into the software will grade and evaluate what you say more reliably and as accurately as any human being can.” This confuses the consistency of automated scoring with validity and accuracy, plus such scoring is dependent on human raters in any case.

Controversies such as tests being used to evaluate teachers in the US adds to paint a very contested picture of this area.

It is evident as Harmer says that testing is not going away and that teachers will need to engage with the issues so it was a missed opportunity to help teachers do this instead of simply pushing the onus onto the audience.

One could turn to the following internet sources to get engaged:

Language Testing Bytes – Podcasts on testing compiled by Glen Fulcher.

Thinking about tests and testing: a short primer in “assessment literacy” – A pdf of some useful basics on assessment.

Assessment is – ITDI blog with straight and useful talk from the chalkface, they have some other issues on this also worth checking.

Finally for a bit of fun and look away if you are sensitive to male body parts:

Thanks for reading (and watching).

References:

1. IATEFL post mortem part 2

2. IATEFL 2015 video – An uncertain and approximate business? Why teachers should love testing

3. Human readers research findings

4. LTJ 27 3 Automated scoring transcript

Grassroots language technology: Glenys Hanson, esl-exos.info

“Grassroots entrepreneurship” was listed as one of four characteristics that ELTJam says1 one can use to understand the current so called ed-tech movement and/or revolution. The others being money, disruption, polarisation/controversy.

Amongst the examples they gave of such entrepreneurship initiatives was Marie Goodwin2, a teacher who wanted a platform to help kids with reading3. The grassroots language technology series is trying to show that many teachers are doing similar, probably much smaller and mostly non-commercial, projects.

Our next person in the series is Glenys Hanson,  @GlenysHanson, who I first met on an online pronunciation course. Many thanks to Glenys for sharing her experiences.

1. Can you share a bit about your background?

Glenys: I’m from Wales but I’ve been living in France for nearly 50 years. I was an English as a foreign language teacher at the Centre de linguistique appliqué, Université de Franche-Comté, from 1977 to 2010. I started making sites and interactive exercises while I was there. Starting in 2001, I created what became English Online France, a site of resources for people learning English and their teachers. It still exists with most of the content I created but the presentation has changed.

For the university, I also ran about a dozen distance learning courses on the learning management system, Moodle. These were at “licence” and “masters” level and though they included interactive exercises much of the course work was different kinds of tasks. Half the students were in Africa so they were not blended courses.

I also made a large bilingual site for the association Une Education Pour Demain but their current site is not the one I created. My most recent site is Glenys Hanson’s Blog.

2. What motivated you to set up your online exercises site?

Glenys: I’d originally put my exercises on the English Online France site but by now many of them look very old-fashioned and I feel they need pedagogical updating too. As I’ve retired, I no longer have admin access to my former workplace site so decided to put the revamped versions on my own site: ESL EXOS.

The reason I decided to put learning exercises on line was that I couldn’t find any on the Internet to give my students the kind of practice I felt they needed outside of class. These days it is possible to find a few learning exercises but still not very many. There are, of course, thousands of tests, quizzes and games for English learners but hardly any exercises aiming to help students to discover for themselves how the language functions. Many (?most) teachers don’t even realise that there is a difference between testing and learning exercises.

3. What kind of time commitment is required to design the exercises?

Glenys: People who ask this question seldom go on to make on-line exercises. What great footballer started out by asking “What kind of time commitment is required to learn football?” Either you’re bitten by the bug and just love doing it or you don’t do it at all.

If you want a figure, I’ve read that it takes about 10h of development (pedagogical inspiration, technical realisation plus testing) to create a set of exercises that will take 1h for a student to do. Of course, that hour can be done by hundreds and even thousands of students over and over again.

In fact, learning to use an authoring program such as Hot Potatoes or TexToys is quite quick. It can take less than an hour for a newbie to make a simple MCQ or Cloze exercise. There are other authoring programs, usually Flash based, but they limit you to the question types the creators have determined on. “Out of the box” Hot Potatoes exercises look boring and old-fashioned, but the code can be “hacked” to produce an infinite variety of exercises types and graphic styles.

4. To what extent would you recommend other teachers to try to develop similar language tools?

Glenys: First teachers should determine whether or not they really need to. If they can find exercises that already exist on the Internet that suit the needs of their students, they can simply provide their students with lists of links. There’s no point in duplicating work that exists and is freely available. In the past, I created some listening and reading exercises but I haven’t revised them to put them on ESL EXOS because there’s a lot of good stuff already out there.

Another reason for teachers to create their own exercises is because they need to track and grade their students’ work. Systems like Moodle come with their own built in quiz tools. Moodle’s is very good but if the teacher ever decides to leave Moodle they can’t take the quizzes with them. Hot Potatoes creates web pages which can easily be moved around different types of site. They can also be integrated into Moodle in a way that allows students’ work to be tracked and graded. I’m not sure to what extent this is possible on other LMSs.

The third thing I would recommend is to start on this sort of stuff as young as possible: like learning to drive, it’s a doddle when you’re 15, it’s not when you’re 50. I had no choice – it just wasn’t around when I was young.

5. Do you recommend/know of other non-commercial language tech sites?

Glenys: Not sure what you mean by “language tech sites”. I know of a number of sites created by people who started out as language teachers and who have gone into the technical side of things in different ways.

  • Martin Holmes started out as an English teacher and went on to create Textoys and, with Stewart Arniel, Hot Potatoes. Martin and Stewart are no longer developing Hot Potatoes, but Stan Bogdanov, also an English teacher, is. On his site you can find his Hot Potatoes add-ons. He hosts those created by Michael Rottmeier and Agnès Simonet as well. Stan is also in the process of making versions of Hot Potaotes that will work on mobile devices. At the moment, some do and some don’t.
  • Michael Marzio’s Real English site of videoed street interviews accompanied by interactive exercises is free but funded by ads. A wonderful site!
  • Todd Beuckens’ ELLLO site of short videos of young people discussing a wide range of subjects.
  • Deborah Delin’s Strivney is a Moodle site for children learning English. As well as hundreds of Hot Potatoes exercises, she’s made some amazing Flash ones too. Log in to see, for example: Beginners English – A Rod.
  • Ángel Terán not a language teacher but his LyricsTraining site is a great tool for language learning. It’s a commercial company but free to use on line.
  • Max Bury creates software and has a lot of stimulating blog posts about learning.

References:

1. IATEFL2015 video: An engaged tone: how ELT might handle the ‘EdTech revolution’

2. ELT Entrepreneur – Marie Goodwyn

3. Bright-Stream

Grassroots language technology: Mike Boyle, easytweets.net

Mike Boyle, @heyboyle, talks about why he has decided to learn to code and take on technology projects to help language learners. A huge thanks to Mike for taking the time to respond, you can read about Paul Raine chatting grassroots language tech if you haven’t already. If you are someone or know someone developing their own language technology please do get in touch.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Mike: I’ve been in English education my whole adult life: first as an EFL teacher in Japan and New York, later as an editor at OUP and CUP, then most recently as a freelance editor and author. I’m part of the English File author team and have had a hand in lots of other big coursebooks, as well as cool digital products like Newsmart.

Before I started the Web Development Immersive course at General Assembly, I thought I also had a solid background in technology. I’d been exposed to computers at a young age and had played with Logo and Basic as a kid, and I knew how to use Dropbox and my iPhone, so I was tech-savvy, right? After just a couple of days it was clear that there was a whole universe of tech that I knew nothing about.

2. What initially made you want to get into coding?

Mike: I had felt for a long time that there were a lot of cool things that could be done online to help people learn new languages. I was always surprised or puzzled that a lot of the language-learning tech coming out didn’t take advantage of all of the possibilities out there.

So my initial motivation was to learn the basics of development so that I could start my own language learning company. I wanted to know just enough to be able to hire “real” developers without seeming like a total fool. A few weeks into it, I realized that I actually really really loved coding and wanted to dive much deeper into that world. So although I still want to be an edtech entrepreneur in the future, what I want to do for now is continue learning and building more things myself.

3. What are the ideas you are developing at the moment?

Mike: Right now I’m working on easytweets.net, a site for learners that filters real Tweets based on the user’s interests and ability level. It uses the Cambridge English Profile vocabulary list and a custom algorithm to analyze tweets and group them into three levels: easy (A1/A2), medium (B1/B2), and difficult (C1/C2). The beta is actually working pretty well, and I encourage everyone to check it out and send me suggestions at eesytweets@gmail.com.

4. What ideas do you have for the  future?

Mike: The biggest problem for most learners is that they spend thousands upon thousands of hours in the classroom, but only the tiniest fraction of that time is spent actually using the language to communicate. I think we can do better. We live in a world where almost all of our students have a device in their pocket that could connect them in seconds with someone who not only speaks the language they want to learn, but also has something in common with them. It’s a very complicated challenge but my ultimate goal is to solve it.

5. What kind of time commitment is needed to develop programs?

Mike: Coding is really really REALLY hard. If you want to build a dynamic site that actually allows users to submit, save, and retrieve information, there are many many long hours that go into that. Unexpected problems can crop up anywhere and nothing is as straightforward as it seems. The average consumer is very spoiled and assumes that websites “just work,” when in fact those “simple” sites are the result of dozens or hundreds (or thousands!) of engineers working 12-hour days for years. The course has definitely given me a lot of sympathy for broken sites!

And during the course I also encountered some people who said, “Well, I read ‘HTML for Dummies.’ I know all of that.” Or people who had set up their blog on WordPress and were pretty sure they were already 95% of the way to making websites from scratch. But that’s just not the case.

It’s true that with a little knowledge you can write a little HTML form and view it on your web browser in a few minutes. But how do you put that form on the actual Internet so that other people can fill it out? And then what happens when your user hits submit? How do you capture that input? There’s no HTML for that. It happens on a server, so you have to write a server, and that means you need to learn another language like Ruby or Python, and you need to learn what SQL is so you can save and retrieve that info, and that means you need to learn what a database really is.

I had always assumed that databases were just really big Excel files but they are nothing like that at all. And then how do you make sure that your user doesn’t user your HTML form to inject viruses and malicious code into your site? And what if you want to have more than one page on your site? Or — even more difficult — what if you want your users to do all kinds of actions without ever leaving the current page?

So the list of things to learn is really endless, and the commitment is huge. But it’s amazing fun. There’s a really interesting challenge at every turn.

5. To what extent, if any, would there be positive aspects for people in ELT to seriously consider developing their own digital tools?

Mike: I think that everyone in ELT should get into this. Our students are living their lives online so we need to give them better ways to learn in that world. Knowing a little code or a lot of code can help you build your own things, or work more effectively with the people you hire/work with who build those things. Just knowing what’s easy to do and what’s hard to do is incredibly valuable.

6. What advice would you give for anyone interested in starting to code?

Mike: Definitely dive into it and start trying to build the things you imagine. I made the choice to go to General Assembly and I would definitely recommend that to anyone who is willing to completely give up three months of their life to do it. But you can learn to code on your own. Even at General Assembly the real emphasis was on learning how to learn — teaching yourself and developing your own problem-solving skills.

I would start learning with HTML and CSS, then move to JavaScript and Ruby. There are great free or cheap tutorial sites like codecademy.com, codeschool.com, learncodethehardway.org, and teamtreehouse.com.  But by far, the most important website for people learning code is google. Learning how to read error messages and google them is a vitally important skill. The next most important site is a Q&A site for coders called stackoverflow.com

When you want to build a real website, you’ll need to learn how to use the command line/terminal on your computer, which sounds terrifying but is actually great fun. Spend a day at http://cli.learncodethehardway.org/ and you’ll get the hang of it. You’ll also need a text editor (not MS Word) to write your code in. Two of the most popular free ones are Sublime Text (http://www.sublimetext.com/) and Atom (https://atom.io/). And then finally when you want to actually put your website online, there are free or cheap sites like www.bitballoon.com (for simple HTML/CSS/Javascript sites) and www.heroku.com (for larger more complex sites).

What is the ideal title for a talk/poster at IATEFL and TESOL 2015?

Although a lot of criticism can be made of mainstream teaching conferences they are not going away (yet?). As a way to get ready for the IATEFL 2015 conference I thought it interesting to see what kind of titles were most common.

Professional development in the classroom – this is the ideal title if you want to present at IATEFL and TESOL 2015.

Of the 680 titles (including talks, posters, forums) at IATEFL 2015 and of the 1092 titles at TESOL 2015, the top 2 word bundles are:
professional development (16, 15)
in the (26, 42)
the classroom (11, 15)

Furthermore in + elt/tesol, in a are also common bundles.

If you want to aim for only IATEFL then use how to  bundle in your title as this tops IATEFL 2015 with 28. instances

By contrast if you want to target TESOL then use strategies for bundle that has 16 instances.

In addition TESOL titles prefers to use language learners (14) while IATEFL prefers language learning(10). Do also make sure you give added value for TESOL since teaching and, and the are common bundles.

If you want you can download IATEFL 2015 and TESOL 2105 titles yourself to explore (there may be some errors in terms of duplicates and/or missing titles). I used AntConc to count the 2-gram bundles. All the bundles were taken from the top 20.

One could explore the top 20 keywords to add another perspective.  Or a count of titles over the years. A look at other major ELT conferences would also be interesting. Someone may also be interested in making a count of the gender of the presenters.

Thanks for reading.

Dictionnaire Cobra 2 – fast by name fast by nature

This post may be useful for people teaching TOEIC to French students – I know you are out there ;).

I have already mentioned the Cobra Dictionary and my use of it. To recap I used a gap fill activity (using the word bid) as a first stage, then a dictation activity as a second stage (where students needed to match the dictated English sentences to given French equivalents) and a reverse translation activity (students translated the given  French sentences to English and check with original English sentences) as a third stage.

A recent post on using translation over on LexicalLab reminded me to come up with a similar activity for my 2nd semester TOEIC students.

Looking at salient words in Unit 1 of the book Cambridge Target Score I chose the following:
applicants
contract
training
interview

as search words in the Cobra dictionary. I chose two examples for each keyword for a total of  eight sentences. I then made a simple gap fill for the English sentences as Handout 1:

1. Some of the conditions in the ————— are too stringent.

2. It is the second phase of a three-part —————.

3. How many —————s were there?

4. —————s should send their CV, a list of publications and a copy of their best papers.

5. The —————s lasted from 30 to 60 minutes, and questions examined :

6. After a brief —————, we look into whether we can offer you a job (depending on the vacancies we have).

7. A —————ing scheme.

8. To ————— teams.

applicant
contract
train
interview

And a separate file with French equivalents as Handout 2:

A) Les entretiens ont duré de trente à soixante minutes et les questions abordées étaient les suivantes :

B) Combien de candidats y avait-il?

C) Un programme de formation.

D) Il s'agit de la seconde partie d'un contrat qui comprend trois volets.

E) Certaines clauses du contrat sont trop strictes.

F) Entraîner des équipes.

G) Après un court entretien avec le candidat, la décision est prise de lui proposer ou non un poste (en fonction des postes vacants).

H) Les candidats sont priés d'envoyer leur CV, une liste de publications et une copie de leurs meilleurs articles scientifiques

This took me about 10-15mins to do.

Thanks for reading.

E-merging forum 5: Some related notes to opening plenary

Hmm this is going to be tough trying to blog fast enough about the E-merging Forum 5 due mainly to time zone differences. Luckily there are a bunch of bloggers doing that, a couple of official ones and some unofficial ones e.g. eltgeek, nastyageinrikhenglishclassroom07. Note there are a couple of other bloggers but could not locate their tagged posts.

So do check them.

I was able to catch a bit of the opening plenary talk by Herbert Puchta and one of his topics was about the best age to teach children a second language. This interested me as a parent of an almost 3yr old and from a paper I was reading on that very question.

The paper by Alison Wray called The puzzle of language learning: From child’s play to ‘linguaphobia’ describes some differences in second language learning between young children and adults.

Drawing from some case studies of children aged 5 to 10 she reports that successful language users of age 5 use language functionally to manipulate their environment. In particular they are not afraid to use formulaic phrases (e.g. right here, in the high school, when I come home) in random situations with no visible meaning.

This contrasts with older children in school settings from 11 onwards and adults who come to see language as something intellectual that needs analyzing. And when older children and adults try to use formulaic language they often can’t resist analyzing and breaking down the chunks and end up making mistakes.

According to Wray the implications are two-fold, one is that we should leave second language learning to when children are much older and only for those who show an interest and have the aptitude.

The second implication involves using formulaic language with young kids but restrain from providing explanations or analyzing the formulas.

Note that although Wray’s interest in the paper is in formulaic language the importance of highly trained teachers is noted, a key concern that was evident in what I was able to catch from Puchta’s talk.

The coming talks all look good, shame not going to be able to catch the live stream of Catherine Walter’s talk.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget you can follow live stream action and/or twitter action #emf5.