Friday, 31 July 2009

Top language teaching blogs to follow has just published a top 100 blog list, and the top 10 blogs to read if you are teaching a language are:

Overall Top 100 | Language Learning | Language Technology | Language Professionals

1. Listen to English
Podcast and blog for learners of English. Topics include current events, items of interest and cultural quirks.
2. Inglês Online
Tips, experiences and websites for people learning or teaching English.
3. Grammar Girl
Blog with quick and dirty tips for better writing.
4. Angela Maiers
Putting Learners and Learning First
5. todo ele 2.0
Spanish as a second language, resources, lessons
6. Better at English
Real English for real people
7. English Spark
Putting a spark in the English learning community with tools to learn, share, collaborate and connect.
8. Confessions of a Comunity College Dean
Education and teaching blog
9. Kalinago English
Teaching EFL Teachers How To Teach Speaking
10. Tecla SAP
Blog created to help English learners with their studies focused on common difficulties that Portuguese speakers have when learning English.

Congratulations to one and all. I like competitions like this, because it's lovely to see bloggers you follow get the appreciation they deserve, and exciting to discover new ones. Spanish, anyone?

See Lexophiles, the blog project run by Andreas Schroeter, Thomas Schroeter, and Patrick Uecker, the managing directors of, the language learning networking site based in Hamburg that ran the competition.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

A networking natural: Karenne Sylvester

I first heard of Karenne Sylvester through my colleagues on the Board at MELTA, coming back from an InterELTA meeting. "She's really active and savvy", they said, "and she could write a blog for all of us ELTAs." Unfortunately, setting up anything like that is a major challenge in many ways, and we really wanted to do something downhome and local first. But at least the discussion introduced us properly to her blog.

And what a blog it is. Frankly, she is already doing far more than providing a blog to an institution. She is an institution.

Based in the Stuttgart area, she divides her attentions between teaching on the one hand, and mentoring and training other trainers on the other, which she has built into being a one-woman networking hub. She's also the originator of the 27 hour day, as you can tell from her two blog setup, her network of EFL bloggers on the social networking site Ning, her activities across the blogosphere and world of Twitter, and her covert allusions to deadlines and projects.

She's on top of things and has everyone's attention thanks to her very punchy sense of humor, and what she calls her "rants". A refreshing brand of tough love. No tired old stuff here.

Friends, you can do no better than to join her network.

On Twitter:
For teachers:
Her other activities and products: "About"
Her social network for ELT bloggers BELTfree explained here.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Applications for spaced repetition flashcards

There seem to be (at least) three major good online flashcard providers on the market for EFL. They all work using the system of building your memory by review based on spaced repetition.

Phase 6:
This service has been around since 2002, and it's probably the most professional. It is basically an empty tool that lets you create your own content. Available for Mac OSX and Windows, but the Mac version is in Beta. The blurb says content includes English for ESL, Spanish, other languages and academic vocabulary and terminology (science, law, medicine, economics)

Their blog says that they have introduced "The “i-tunes of education” concept:
"As of June 2009, we’ve got the following (publishers) on board: Diesterweg Verlag, Klett Verlag, Cornelsen Verlag, Langenscheid Verlag, Springer Verlag, C.C.Buchner Verlag, Mentor Verlag, and Martin’s Little Helper."
This service is free and Open Source. Very friendly video introduction. Available for Windows and Mac OSX, for jailbroken iPhones and the iPod Touch. This is primarily for writing up your own vocab, but it seems to be geared to content sharing communities, so for example teachers can push contents to students.
I've seen this recommended on Das Englisch Forum.

This service was developed by a father-daughter team, and it now seems to be used with PONS content. Besides serving Mac, Windows and Linus, it has a mobile app, but only for phones running Java MIDP 2.0. The focus seems to be on ready content that you can buy in small topical modules, geared to content at German schools. You can add your own content, as with the others, too. A USP seems to be the colorful skins you can put on your learning environment, which appeals to the kids.

Do any of you have experience using any of these, or other similar flashcard applications? Thanks for sharing tips!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Personal learning environment (PLE)

A buzzword is making the rounds in education, namely the Personal Learning Environment (PLE). Basically it describes the digital tools you use to gather information, to connect with others and to produce content of your own as you engage in learning. It is sometimes mentioned in connection with a Personal Learning Network (PLN), which describes the people you interact with in learning and who enable you to make progress. Chris Duke (an educational technologist and instructional designer with over 15 years of professional experience in education) has developed a model as part of a survey which I think provides key insight into how technologies are being used today. Have a look at his diagram:
Chart by Chris Duke,

1. As you can see, Chris Duke uses Microsoft Office products, Blogger et al. to generate content.

2. He manages his information by surfing using Firefox and Google (both of which provide tools to help you categorize that information). I'm not familiar with the ATM or the Z or the blue logos - do you recognize any of them?

3. He connects with others mostly through Facebook, as well as through GoogleMail and Second Life (the eye). And he is an instructor in Second Life, so he has placed the logo close to the field for generating content.

Now, at the hub of all of this are his GoogleReader RSS feeds - the feeds of things he publishes, the feeds of blogs his contacts publish and the information he collects and organizes. And he also uses Twitter, which works very much the same way. These three functions seem to merge into one at the center.

My PLE chart looks quite similar:

1. For content generation, I'd add the audiovisual iMac tools I use, as well as WordPress and Drupal (the content management system we use at Spotlight). I create content in Moodle, too, (e.g. tests, discussion points for the forums, assignments) but Moodle is more about organizing and managing information and contacts in a specific course. (What I sorely lack are slidemaking and photoediting skills.)

2. I'd add Delicious ( to the list of applications I use to organize my information (I don't really share links using Delicious, though you can). I use Moodle to manage courses, so that, too, would go under managing information. I'm not sure what the CMS system is called that we have at MELTA (our teachers' organisation), where I organize membership data. (I'd say that organizing information, or using these tools really effectively, is my weakest point.)

3. I'd add a few sites to the social networking list, especially Ning, which allows you to network with people who share your interests. Social networking has replaced email as my preferred mode of communicating. (Networking is time consuming and sometimes a little confusing, but as I am an interpersonal learner, it's proving to be my richest resource.)

It's really quite difficult to compartmentalize each of these applications, because when it comes down to it, most of them cross over into other categories. E.g., I find that I process information by reviewing it, so I learn by creating a mashup of the input I find on the Internet. This is called "remixing", and while it's making traditional publishers uncomfortable, it's standard practice in blogging and YouTubing (if that verb doesn't exist yet, it should). Also, any information you put out on the Web can attract people to your social network and be food for collaborative thought. Still, I really like Chris Duke's analytical and thought-provoking model.

Go visit his site if you are interested in taking part in his survey.

And write to us here at Ask Auntie Web: Which tools do you use?

PS: I've just seen the slideshow by Steve Wheeler from the Faculty of Education at the University of Plymouth (aka Timbuckteeth on Twitter, great person to follow) here, and he slices self-organized learning into "Personal space" and "Community space":

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Kevin Spacey tweets with David Letterman

This one is especially for John and a couple of other people I know:

Media Futurist featured on Tech Crunch and initially saw it via Heike Philp. Kevin Spacey on Twitter.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Young Learners: Unravelling how children become bilingual so easily

We recently had an enquiry on this blog from Kira into how to teach children English. There is some GOOD news and some BAD news. First the GOOD news: Babies being raised bilingually by simply speaking to them in two languages can learn two languages in the time it takes to learn one. The brain tunes out the sounds that don't fit. More still, being bilingual seems to make the brain more flexible:
"The researchers tested 44 12-month-olds to see how they recognized three-syllable patterns — nonsense words, just to test sound learning. Sure enough, gaze-tracking showed the bilingual babies learned two kinds of patterns at the same time — like lo-ba-lo or lo-lo-ba — while the one-language babies learned only one, concluded Agnes Melinda Kovacs of Italy's International School for Advanced Studies."
The BAD news? "While new language learning is easiest by age 7, the ability markedly declines after puberty." Meh.

Oops, but this is "Ask Auntie Web", right? So here is some more GOOD news: You can acheive similar success teaching elementary school children and even adults (!) by using "Motherese", the slow exaggeration of sounds that parents use with babies - and a computer:

"Japanese college students who'd had little exposure to spoken English underwent 12 sessions listening to exaggerated "Ls" and "Rs" while watching the computerized instructor's face pronounce English words. Brain scans — a hair dryer-looking device called MEG, for magnetoencephalography — that measure millisecond-by-millisecond activity showed the students could better distinguish between those alien English sounds. And they pronounced them better, too, the team reported in the journal NeuroImage.

"It's our very first, preliminary crude attempt but the gains were phenomenal," says Kuhl."

Thank you to Brooke Shanley-Hurtado (spkspanglish), who teaches elementary and middle school bilingual classes in Chicago, for this tip! Her blog SpkSpanglish is here.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Alex Case's TEFLtastic

One of the really great blogs to follow is TEFLtastic by Alex Case, an experienced teacher-trainer and editor of with, I'd wager, a preference for Paul Simon and the number 15 ("15 ways...") who has worked all over the world (Turkey, Thailand, Greece, Spain, Italy, UK, Japan), now in Korea. A great mentor and motivator.
Recently he has begun publishing a lot of worksheets to print out, including these topics:
  • medical English
  • business/ ESP games
  • telephoning games
  • technical English/ numbers games
  • English for artists (!)
  • EFL exams
  • travel
  • writing games
  • vocab games
  • social English
  • videos/ films
  • songs
  • culture
He has listed them all very neatly for you and me here to download and print out. With all this great free materials production going on, can you please tell me what we still need coursebooks for?? And how do writers survive, pray tell?

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Newbie in Second Life

Shelly Terrell very kindly arranged a tour of Second Life's EduNation for a group of relative and total newbies last night. I went along, having missed the one she and Barbara Sakamoto had arranged the week before.

The way into Second Life is to create an avatar, which most people make to look like themselves at their very best ;). To do this, go to, and you will be guided through the process. Your avatar comes with "inventory", which includes everything from the body and clothes to any external things, like a house or a boat. The inventory is stored in files which you open and attach to your avatar. But just getting your avatar sorted out can take some time, and I was frankly pretty hopeless. Once you've got your basic avatar set up, you save it and its outfit like any set of files - and then you're ready to start out. You move using the arrows on your keyboard and, as you have probably heard, you can fly. Oh, and you can teleport to locations given on a map by coordinates.

One of the slightly disconcerting things about moving around in Second Life (SLife) to me was that I was looking at the world through the eyes of my avatar, so I didn't see what she looked like from the front - and she wasn't wearing anything under her sweater... *blush*. It was only when another avatar gave "me" a once-over that I "flicked the switch" and noticed my mistake.

So I was more than relieved to be in the company of Shelly, who has been a great all-round mentor and very patiently and kindly explained things not once but again and again as needed. I can warmly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the potential of SLife to follow her on Twitter and find out when she's ready to do another one. Or perhaps one of the other teachers in this steadily growing support network will arrange one.

How did the appointment work? SLife has a messaging service integrated into the interface which allows the organizer of an event to send out invitations including the coordinates of the destination. This includes a file that automatically opens in your iCal or Outlook Calendar and asks whether you want to save it. I found this very sophisticated and nice. At the arranged time you simply open that file which includes the link to the meeting point and click on a button and boom! your avatar teleports there.

Why am I trying out SLife? Well, I'd like to understand more about the quality of the learning experience using tech tools. Second Life requires a combination of written and oral skills (you speak into a headset or your laptop microphone and send instant messages on screen), and the more you move your avatar through its paces, the more you feel that you are actually a part of the world. SLife provides a platform that you can ad lib in, be it outdoors on a (virtual) beach or in an elegant villa. You can use regular presentation tools there, too, so it seems that anything you can do in a virtual classroom you can do in SLife, with the advantage that SLife is more attractive. It has its own rules of social interaction as you move around the vitual world, but once you "get" the culture ... and stop running into people and walls ... it's pretty much like the real world: being polite, allowing personal space, taking turns, making gifts.

SLife has places for you to practice, called "sandboxes", where you can set up things like houses or presentations for a limited duration without needing any special rights. On the surface SLife may look like a free-for-all, but in dedicated spaces and on properties that belong to people there are scheduled events and of course rules of civilized behavior. But being open to the web, it's full of anarchic and archaic surprises. It's a playground for adults, too, which means that you are bound to encounter sex if you gatecrash other people's parties. But if you arrange a meeting at a house you can agree with the other residents to - um - "behave". There are also protected spaces in SLife reserved for children that adults can't get to unless they have special permission, e.g. they are teachers. Did I mention the dragon slayer and the dragon yet? Or the guy with the guns? Hey, this is the Internet. You need to relax and take it in stride.

Yesterday Shelly took us to the EduNation "sandbox" and gave us gift packages with all sorts of clothes and things. My package contained a boat, which I promptly landed on people in the middle of the beach. In real life I'd be sued by the families of the deceased. My SLife social abilities are in their infancy, so I wasn't even able to offer anyone a ride in the boat. Live and learn. While I was trying to unpack my new gifts, including an "I voted for Obama" t-shirt, people were admiring Shelly's cat and Aniya's dog, and then suddenly someone suggested we go to the pet shop. So off we went! Pets can be bought for Linden dollars, and real transactions mean real money. I forgot what a cat or a dog costs. After that our adventures included going to a beach, where Carollain (spelling?) aka Brooke gave me some great bikinis and a cocktail. I set out to try windsurfing on my own but couldn't click things into action. Perhaps I was stealing something, I really wouldn't know. So I gave up and went back to the group, where I found Shelly had got a sailboat on the water and we all set sail with her. A silent stranger from France joined us on the boat and we had a trilingual text message conversation. And then Anyia, I think it was, had the idea that we could go for a balloon ride. The balloon navigated us around on its own and gave us a tour of the entire area, with its beautiful houses. I'm surely leaving out all sorts of information here, things I couldn't really register, like where we actually were, because I was just following dumbly. But there will be more visits to come, and next time things will be easier.

I think you're not supposed to disclose people's real names in Second Life, so while I'd like to share the "link love" (so you can find the people involved) I'm going to be cautious and not drop names. Suffice it to say that yesterday's trip included a large group of teachers, including Shelly from Stuttgart, Aniya from Italy, Brooke from Illinois, Burcu from Istanbul, Tyler from Missouri, Michael from New Zealand, Pascal from Manchester and Marisa from Athens. If you want to find their blogs, just ask on Twitter. You'll find me at

SLife is free for starters. Aniya (aka The English Teacher), also a great mentor, explained that if you do decide to wade into SLife to set up classes, you can buy or rent a property and set up a virtual school. Or you can get together with others and rent space on a property for an event or seminar. Sounds interesting, doesn't it?

Friday, 17 July 2009

New tools for teaching

Just one little tweet for Larry Ferlazzo, but a great leap for EFL teacherkind:
There is a great new wiki set up by Joyce Valenza, a Library Information Specialist in Pennsylvania, containing a wonderful collection of links to tools currently available for free to use in education. This is clearly not the first, many people have put together great collections, but this is the one I find most accessible to a relative beginner.

It's all here, from tools for photo editing and podcasting and getting your ideas organized and visualized to building social networks. This latter point is really the one I would most warmly recommend you start looking into. I sometimes worry that my dear colleagues are missing the boat. This wiki, with its inviting front page, might just do the trick.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Free Moodle orientation course

If you want to learn how to use Moodle in a well thought out distance course, two FREE courses are provided by Stuart Mealor, Managing Director of HRDNZ in New Zealand. He's also a Moodle Partner and Moodle Certification Manager. The same website also provides a series of teacher training courses called MoodleBites for a fee. These are the two blurbs:

Course 1: Understanding Moodle FREE introduction

This is a free course we created to help explain Moodle in 'context'; as a piece of technology, as a philosophy, and as a teachers tool.
This is a prerequisite self-paced course that can be taken at any time before starting the full MoodleBites course and explores: Moodle history and development, Moodle history and development, Moodle fundamentals, and comparing Moodle with other Course Management Systems

MoodleBites is unique in three respects:

1. It has a focus on how to use Moodle features in teaching.
2. Throughout the course indicators are provided to the Moodle Course Creator Certificate (MCCC) Skills Sets - so the course is ideal for MTC candidates.
3. The course development team is international and MoodleBites has been written to be accessible for speakers of English as a second or other language.

Course 2: Moodle, Web 2.0 and social-networking

Since the beginning of 2007 I've been working on how to use Moodle in a Web2.0 / social-networking context.
This course explores how to use how popular technologies with Moodle ...such as Skype, Yahoo Messenger and Flickr (photo sharing), social bookmarking (, Furl, Spurl, etc.), Blogs (internal and external), RSS (in and out), Podcasting, tagging, and more.

The course also explores how to creatively use existing Moodle functionality in a Web 2.0 / social-networking way.

The aim is to develop a 'course' that is 'owned and managed' by the Learner, in which they can create their own space, sharing their content, controlling access, and linking to their wider personal web experience and presence. It is hoped this will help develop the learners Moodle skills, and also blur the boundary between 'learning content in Moodle', and 'social networking on the internet'. Some key criteria within this project are:

* Techniques used will not require administrator access - everything can be done by Teachers and Students
* A focus on Integrating popular applications external to Moodle
* Creating a flexible and dynamic space - or PLE (Personal Learning Environment)

I've signed up, and if you like come and join me. Contact course owner Stuart Mealor by e-mail: stuart (at) hrdnz (dot) com

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Scholarship for Cert IBET

An email arrived from Eric Baber, Joint Coordinator of BESIG, reminding members that the deadline for the Cert IBET course scholarship is this Friday, 17 July. The new Cert IBET aims to meet the needs of business English trainers to enhance their skills and expertise, to increase their employability prospects in the sector, and improve their ability to deliver a quality product to potential clients. The Certificate is awarded jointly by Trinity College London and English UK. For details on the online course delivered by The Consultants-E, which will give you practice in using ICT and is a way into blended learning courses, as well as the scholarship, please visit

Teens, Twitter and Facebook

Vivienne Arnold has sent a link to a great article by Kevin Anderson in the Guardian PDA blog that summarizes research on how teens are using Twitter and Facebook, including the study by 15-year-old Matthew Robson that has been making waves.
Kevin Anderson: Twitter and teens: Challenging the idea of the young digital native, Guardian, 14 July 2009.

In brief: Matthew Robson provided a large number of anecdotes showing that while teens and young adults use social networking sites extensively, relatively few of them are using Twitter. This confirms other research showing that about 99% of 18-24 year olds have profiles on social networks, but only 22% use Twitter. Most of Twitter's 10m or so users are over 35. For more on Matthew Robson see Eamonn Fitzgerald, Spotlight Online, 14 July 2009

Now Kevin Anderson says that looking more closely at the way the generations are using social networking in fact challenges the whole concept of the "digital native". The same people who have general literacy problems also have digital literacy problems, and will use technology in a very limited way, while the older generation is more likely to embrace new media trends these days. Issues of cost and technical complexity are just as vexing to the younger generation. They shun Twitter because updating the microblogging service from their phones (their preferred networking device) costs more that IM (instant messaging). Older users, by contrast, tend to access social networking sites more frequently from their computers, so cost doesn't figure as prominently.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Nik's Daily English Activities

Nik Peachey runs a nice blog for learners of English to encourage learner autonomy, and it's called Nik's Daily English Activities. It's worth exploring this site as a teacher starting to use online resources and tools. Experiment with his tips yourself to get a feeling for what online learning is before you and your students start exploring media for tasks and projects.

In one entry this past May, he recommended that learners subscribe to a poem a day and record it as a daily pronunciation exercise. Learners can check the pronunciation of words and phrases on another website and then record the poems themselves using software they download to their computer. I think this is a lovely idea for a short daily practice session. Here is the post, with all of the links you need: Poems for pronunciation.

The idea of students recording their own voices goes back to language lab days, doesn't it? But these days students can expand on this activity. Once they feel comfortable recording themselves, they can go on and actually make a podcast themselves for others to listen to outside the language lab and even outside their course group - thanks to Web 2.0.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Flip video camera review

Here are a few comments about the Flip camera I bought a few days ago.

I am quite impressed with the quality of the video, but I'd recommend using a tripod because the camera is so small and light that it's quite difficult holding it steady when you're filming something.

I'm using a standard camera tripod at the moment, but Amazon offer a small tripod called a Gorillapod which looks very handy if you don't fancy humping larger tripods around with you.

The sound quality could be better. It's a shame that there isn't a microphone jack plug on the Flip because without an external microphone you are dependent on the Flip's... which could be better.

I bought a Flip Mino HD with 4 GB memory and a maximum recording time of 60 minutes which is fine for most of the things I want to do with it both in and outside the classroom.

There is another version, the Flip Ultra HD, which has a memory of 8 GB and allows you to record for up to two hours, but if you intend uploading a 8 GB video file to the Internet make sure you have a high speed connection, otherwise it could take week or so to upload a file of that size! As they say, bigger is not always better.

The Flip comes with some very basic video editing software which seems fine if you don't want to do anything fancy, but if you do want to do anything more than just basic editing, you'll have to look for some video editing software.

Finally, if you do decide to get a Flip make sure you have enough space on your hard disk for huge video files. It's probably best to use an external hard disk if you want to store lots of video files somewhere.

The Flip is so small that most folk don't seem to think you can actually be filming them, so it's a great little gadget for filming people who are camera/video shy.

If you are interested in getting some idea of what the camera can do, watch a clip of MELTA's tram party that I took with my Flip.

Overall, I'd give the Flip 7 out of 10 - it's really simple to use, easy to carry around, the built-in USB stick makes it kid's play to upload a video file to your PC or laptop and the quality of the video isn't bad for an HD video recorder costing less than €200.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The acronym SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. When you write any page for the Internet, be it a page on a website or a blogpost, you're writing in a language that is searchable for a target audience. Your text should therefore contain keywords that surfers in your target group would be looking for. While I am by no means an expert and have a long way to go before I do things just right, this is basic conventional wisdom:

You should follow these rules in general:
  1. Use the essential keywords 3 times in your text and once in the title. Using them more often will work against you.
  2. Make your page or blogpost title long and telling enough to be a searchable phrase by itself.
  3. The ideal amount of text is about 160 words, or between 100 and about 220 words.
  4. In addition, your content should change frequently; this makes a blog a good marketing tool.
  5. The more links you put in, the more Google will love you
Now, in addition to the text on the page, each page (including each blogpost) can contain meta tags, namely meta keywords and a meta description. This text is what a surfer finds in Google before the link to your page. You will see these when you change the view (Ansicht) on your browser to "sourcecode" ("Quelltext").
If you want to add meta tags you will need to install an SEO pack to your blog. My home blog uses WordPress, and I have a plugin called "All In One SEO Pack 1.5.7"
My (brand new) marketing page, entitled "Englischlernen mit Anne Hodgson"(, contains the following meta text:
  • "description" = "Anne Hodgson bietet Ihnen Business Englischtraining mit Spaß, Niveau und aktuellem Praxisbezug im Blended Learning Paket. Und bloggen Sie auf Englisch mit."
Most search engines use a maximum of 160 characters for the description.
  • "keywords" = "englischlernen, online, business english, blog, praxis"
The ideal number of keywords is about 6, and you should have no more than 10, so I could in fact add a few. And will people really look for "praxis"? Hmmm....

I don't know how this works for a blog using Blogger, such as this one. Do any of you readers use an SEO plugin for Blogger? Is there one? Your tips and advice would be very welcome.

Also, since (as I said above) I am a newcomer to web marketing using SEO, if you have any tricks to share I'd appreciate your insight.

Thank you very much to Shelly Terrell for suggesting this topic!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

A vision of students today

A short video of 2007 summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today - how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University For more information visit his blog at

For Prof. Wesch's more famous film, see John's post of Friday, 26 June 2009.

Video project: I am everyone

Found on
This wonderfully thought provoking video from Orange demonstrates the value of relationships and makes us think of the people who have had an impact on our lives.
Use it to create your own. Write your script, find images and music and use video editing software to put it all together.
Orange: I Am Everyone

Sheringdale Primary School 4C: I am who I am