Sunday, 17 January 2010

Use iGoogle as your home page

Today's idea is a simple one. The idea is that one of the best ways to learn a language is to surround yourself by it. For example, one very good way to learn a language is to go and live in the country where it is spoken. You will learn in the classroom of course, but the really intelligent learners also learn out side the classroom.

Learning from what is around you
How can they do this? They look and they listen to see how the language is used. "There's a signpost. What does it say?"

Can you learn anything from this signpost? Yes. You can learn that the words "speed" and "limit" are used together. That's an important lesson.

How about the online world?
What happens if you cannot go and live in the country where the language is spoken? Can you still use this way of learning? Yes, of course. All you need is a little imagination. What you need to do is think about how you can use your computer to get the experience of living in an English speaking country.

What do you always see when you go to the internet?
The answer to this question is your home page. This is what mine looks like:

What this is is iGoogle. On this page I can see lots of things in English I can look at and learn from just as if I was living in England. It's in fact quite like the apps on an iPhone. I've got one of those too but iGoogle is completely free.

A video tutorial
If you are interested in this way of learning have a look at this video tutorial where I explain a bit more. Even if you aren't, listen anyway as it will be good listening practice.

How to set up iGoogle
 I will write next time on how to set up iGoogle. For now, here is a very brief description:

1. go to Google
2. click sign in in the top right corner
3. either enter your Gmail account details
   or create a Gmail account - you can use any other email address to do this
4. click iGoogle
5. follow the instructions on the page

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Saturday, 16 January 2010

How to really learn vocabulary online 1

There are lots of good places to learn vocabulary online and you will find some of them here on the right. Before you go there and click on the exercises, may I give you a short lesson in vocabulary learning? This is important because you need to use the exercises in the right way. You can click the button and not learn.

You learn vocabulary by using it
You do not really learn a word if you see it one time. What you do there is learn what a word means. This is not the same as knowing how to use the word. You learn how to use a word by using it many times. Opinions differ, but experts would say you need to use a word at least 5/6 times to really learn it.

image courtesy of

How can you use a word?
Using a word can include:

  1. saying it
  2. hearing it
  3. writing it
  4. reading it
Later on I shall be showing you intelligent ways of doing this. For now, I want to leave you with this one, fairly simple, idea. If you understand this properly, your language learning will become much more efficient.

Where can you do this online?
One problem with online learning is that there are not many places which help you learn in this way. One goal of this site is to show places where you can really learn well.

A suggestion: Splendid Speaking - Daily Vocabulary exercise
One of my favourite sites is Splendid Speaking. It's a very large site with many excellent things on it. For now, I just want to show you their Daily Vocabulary exercise.

6 reasons to go there
  1. it's a daily exercise
  2. you get language used in context 
  3. you don't just learn words, you get phrases too
  4. you can do 2 exercises on each phrase
  5. the last exercise asks you to use the phrase for yourself
  6. you can get a worksheet at the end of the week to practise again
And, oh yes, it's completely free

Friday, 15 January 2010

Lesson 1 - What is communication?

This is the first lesson on how to learn online. You will find a task for you to do at the end of this post. It may look boring but it is an important language learning task. 

Using a  dictionary
You will also see that some words are linked. Click on the link and you will find a dictionary: looking at words is also learning. Even if you know the words, look anyway. Learning how to use a dictionary is an important skill for the independent learner.

  1. See how the words are used in the examples
  2. Listen to the pronunciation
  3. Don't just look at the meaning

How to learn online
If you want to learn a language online by yourself, you are almost half way to learning it. I say this for a very simple reason:
if you have motivation (or a reason) to learn, you can learn
in contrast

if you lose motivation, you are probably going to stop learning
Some good news
You're here: that tells me you have motivation and so you have a chance of learning. There's a good chance you're probably here by choice. That's the best kind of motivation to have.

Some bad news
But it's only a chance. There's still the danger that you lose motivation. This is the downside of learning by yourself: it's easy to lose motivation - there isn't a teacher there to help you.

The help - more good news
I'm a teacher, I think I can help you. What I am going to ask you to do is think about how you are going to learn a language. I believe you need to do this teacher thing because you are going to become your own teacher.

Language is communication
To help you, I am going to tell you that language is communication. This is slightly too simple, but I think most language professionals would agree with this idea.

The task
Your first task is to answer this question:

"What is communication?"

An answer
You will find an answer as a comment to this post. Don't look now. Think. If you can, talk to someone about it. It really does help to try and find your own answers. One reason for this is that you will need to talk and use the language and using the language is the best way of learning it.

You can learn to communicate by talking about communication.

Another task
Do you agree with my answer? Leave me a comment and tell me what you think communication is. Do you have any good words you want to share? You should find lots in the dictionary.

Another, another task
This is a thinking task. How are you going to communicate online? This is the important question. I have ideas I want to share. If you want my help, ask.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

My mission statement

I already have two other blogs. A third?

Who is this blog for?
Well, in a way this is the one I care most about. The one I always meant to write. It's for students who want to improve their English, but either don't have a teacher or are looking for ways to do more outside the classroom.

Please note. Most of the ideas you find here will be using IT. My experience is that it either turns you on or off. Try. If you don't like, move on. Different people learn in different ways.

What's the idea?
Well there are three in fact.

1. A little but often
Sometimes doing something for a short time is more effective than a long activity that sends you to sleep. There are two conditions for this to work. You need to be regular and you need to be interested in what you are doing.

2. Quality before quantity
Sometimes learners confuse these two ideas. If I had to choose, I would go for quality every time.

3. Variety is the spice of life
This is also personal, and learning does tend to be a very personal issue. I am one of those easily bored types. I may be quick, but I can't do the same thing for too long. So the third idea is to give you a variety of different exercises - just to keep you stimulated.

What will you find here?
Daily activities using ICT and the internet. I expect you to work daily. Just don't expect me to post daily.