Archive for the 'ESL Links' Category

Bumpkin Country


The Dowbrigade uses an icebreaking exercise with groups of recently arrived students in which one of the categories for discussion is “One thing you really want to do before you leave Boston”. When our turn came we always list visiting the Harbor Islands, something we have yet to do 37 years after we first came to live in the Boston area. This may be our chance.

from the Boston Globe

Bumpkin Island

Take the ferry to Bumpkin Island this weekend, and you may come across a woman lurking in the underbrush, wearing burlap covered with leaves. Don’t be alarmed: She’s not a kook. She’s an artist.

So are the men in kimonos staging lectures and the folks who may invite you to chat with them via tin-can telephone.

About 40 artists have spread out across the Boston Harbor Island for Labor Day weekend as part of a special event called the Bumpkin Island Art Encampment, featuring 10 art installations, sculptures, and performances.

It’s free and open to the public today through Monday; ferries are available to the island from various locations.

Some of the artists are exploring the idea of home. With “Survival Kit,” Gabe Moylan and Rachel Roberts are trying to create a space of domestic tranquility using only a Federal Emergency Management Association survival kit and what is available on the island.

Other pieces have been sparked by 19th century history. “Astrodime Transit Authority,” the tin-can project, commemorates the 150th anniversary of the first official use of the trans-Atlantic cable – an 1858 telegram to President James Buchanan from Britain’s Queen Victoria.

At low tide, when it’s possible to wade to the mainland, a group plans to set up a tin-can call from Bumpkin Island to nearby Hull. They will invite visitors to join in a reenactment, playing an extended game of telephone.

Scary scary costumes


Can you spot the real Dowbrigade? On Halloween (which would have been game 7 of the World Series that wasn’t) we were confronted, at the ungodly hour of 9 AM, by an apparition that would curdle the hair of any sane teacher – a dozen Dowbrigades! Luckily the Dowbrigade has little of either hair or sanity these days….

Here’s the on-line album of photos by Koji

Calling Adam Curry


adamandmeGod help us, we’re going back to England. Back to the Olde Sod, back to that deranged and diseased island which has spawned the best and the worst of modern culture, from Pink Floyd to Princess Diana.

Our track record on Her Majesty’s turf is mixed. The last time we were there we were busted for smoking a chillum huddled under an azalea bush in the Queens Garden across from Buckingham Palace while waiting for the changing of the guard, and given 48 hours to leave the country. It was a perfectly innocent difference of opinion – we though we were invisible, crouched as we were between a bench and and the bush, but the bobbies though otherwise. That was 36 years ago, and we haven’t been back since.

The first time we visited the Merry Olde , ahhh, that was a different story. The Dowbrigade was, at that time, a seventeen-year-old smartass (hard to believe, huh?), fresh off the plane after being deported from Israel, our true Motherland, by the Mossad, for hanging with the wrong people, basically Palestinian intellectuals. That, and having close Israeli associates arrested for some obscure drug and military intelligence conspiracy which we obviously knew nothing about. We were, after all, just a 17-year-old American schmuck.

But when we landed in London, we had in our pocket the address and phone number of a 22-year-old secretary named Yvonne Bley, who lived with her cats in an apartment in Belsize Park. She took us in, all the way in, and it was cold outside. It was early December, winter was in the air, we wandered the heath or stayed at her place in front of the fireplace listening to Astral Weeks and Atom Heart Mother, just released. But wandering down that particular memory lane would quickly lead to diminishing returns, as we know our saintly wife Norma Yvonne is a regular reader.

At any rate, we are off to London again in three days, and don’t know a soul in the entire British Empire, except for Adam Curry, who we hung out with at BloggerCon in Cambridge, like, four years ago. Adam Curry, who probably meets a few hundred people a week like me, and who is currently in California or Calcutta, and who. like most famous people, is unreachable by email. So we don’t have much hope of getting a guided tour of Shakespeare’s haunts from old Adam, despite his best intentions at the time. Besides, Adam Curry is decidedly Big Time, and the Dowbrigade most decidedly is not.

However, in pouring over our stats and log files, we couldn’t help but notice that we get a fair number of hits from England. Should any readers, bloggers or interested third parties know anyone around London or have 411 about London, we will be stuck there teaching the American Legal System to European lawyers for most of July. Tips would be great; what not to miss, places to hang out, how to meet bloggers or new media people, how to recreate our reality in an alternate universe.

We will have private digs in a swanky section of town, near something called Imperial College, and constant internet access, so whatever happens, you can follow the story line right here.

Don’t Quit the Day Job


Haven’t been posting much lately, as a result of real, interesting work in our non-blogging existence, lack of any specific focus for our spleen or wit, and general indolence.

However, any readers interested in the application of technology to higher education may want to take a look at a mashup we created with our Nikon hand-held still camera, Final Cut Express and a fantastic beta site called Atlas, which allows you to tap into the Google mapping APIs through a super-simple, almost fool-proof interface (hey, even we figured it out our first time through).

It allows users to creat custom Google maps, of any dimension or variety, and place pins (many different colors and shapes provided) wherever. You can also select the size and content of the info window which pops up at that point, which can include text, images or even video. You can also control other aspects of the map.

So far we have used it to show our students Shopping Venues around town, movie theaters with showtimes, and now, a video tour of Harvard Square. If we could request one additional feature, it would be the ability to design and upload our own icons….

Atlas by Faneuil Media

English as an Insulting Language


say the fastest ways to learn a foreign language are to fall in love
or get sent to jail. Groundbreaking media like this are bound to put the
Dowbrigade out of business, one way or another, sooner or later. This
bizarre English language instruction, called Zuiikin Gals II, features
sexy doll-like Japanese babes repeatedly chanting heart-warming English
phrases like
"This is all your
fault" and "I can’t stand the sight of you". We can’t wait to use this
material with our students.

from YouTube

Can’t Stand the Sight of You


japinlis.jpg width=”228″ height=”169″ align=”left”>They
say the fastest ways to learn a foreign language are to fall in love
or get sent to jail. Groundbreaking media like this are bound to put the
Dowbrigade out of business, one way or another, sooner or later. This
bizarre English language instruction, called Zuiikin Gals II, features
sexy doll-like Japanese babes repeatedly chanting heart-warming English
phrases like
"This is all your
fault" and "I can’t stand the sight of you". We can’t wait to use this
material with our students.

from YouTube

Fetus Eating Sect in South China


of English to Speakers of Other Languages are known for xeno-philiac
eccentricity and bizarre, unstable behavior,
but this is mostly due to the weird and exotic locals in which we often end up plying our trade.

Be that as it may, this story goes beyond the pale. Even a twisted and cynical fan of the outre like the Dowbrigade has certain standards. They may be low, but they are there. Of course, they don’t prevent us from reporting that a TESOL teacher in Guandong
has penetrated a semi-secret sect of – Fetus Eating!

Recently a Guangdong Factory
Owner from Taiwan was discovered partaking in an
appalling new trend; eating babies.  For 4000 yuan
a person can order 7-month-old baby stewed for 8 hours with Chinese herbs. This dish is thought to boost the “yang” (as in yin and yang).

The Factory Owner who was interviewed for the story is 62 years old and was having trouble keeping up with his 19 year old wife in the bed room until he found this miracle stew. He says that he depends on the soup to “keep it up” each night for his randy bride.

The restaurant in Foshan, (Guangdong Province, Southern China) code names the dish “ribs”. The chef collects girl babies from the surrounding poor
villagers; sometimes an aborted foetus, sometimes a still born, sometimes the unwanted (and unlawful) second baby. The restaurant pays depending on the size of the baby. Sometimes they would pay a full-term mother 2000 Yuan for her live baby.

Only fresh babies are used, no frozen babies.

from China and Beyond: TESOL Around the World

Editors note: As of this morning the original link has been taken down. We have no information regarding the involvement ot the Chinese government in this emerging scandal. Thanks to Google, however, here is a link to their cached version….

Also, here is a link to the original Chinese language source (scroll down about 60%) with EXTREMEMLY GROSS PHOTOS. You have been warned….

So What’s Up in San Francisco?


It looks like the Dowbrigade won’t be making his big
presentation next week to the 40th annual National
Teachers of English as a Second Language conference
in St. Petersburg (Florida not Russia).
to take Norma Yvonne as a well-earned reward for putting up with our
cantankerous whining during our recent illness.

Deterred by the slow pace of recovery from major surgery,
we refrained from buying tickets until it was too late.  Norma,
noting that the tickets were now almost as expensive as tickets to Ecuador,
declared she’d rather go there, later. Even though our part of the trip
was on the office dime, we didn’t want to travel alone. Bad things happened
the last time we tried to travel alone.

But since we spent all that time on our presentation,
and now won’t be there to present it, we figure we should at least milk
it for a Sunday Morning blog posting. The title is "Four Levels of Involvement:
Using Blogs in the Language Classroom."

The motivation behind the project was to share the wisdom
we have accrued, such as it is, during the past three years, 10 semesters,
18 groups of students while trying to apply our avocation and passion,
blogging, to our day job vocation, refining the English of foreign college
students. What works. What doesn’t. What to watch out for. What to take
advantage of.

The basic idea is that there are four levels of involvement
or interaction that teachers and implement if they want to introduce
blogging in class:

  • The first level just involves exposing students to blogs.  Take
    them on a tour of the Blogosphere.  Discuss what are the distinguishing
    characteristics of blogs? What are the common elements? What are
    the factors that distinguish one from the other? Help them create a
    list of criteria by which to evaluate them. Show them how to find blogs
    blog postings on specific topics, or from a specific area. Then have
    them select one blog to read every day for a week or two, and give
    a report back to the class, describing and evaluating that blog. Or
    an essay. Or fill in a worksheet.

  • At the second level, you do all of the above, but then
    you get the students to interact with the blog.  Of course, interactivity
    is built into the ‘sphere.  Have them comment on a certain number
    of posting each week.  Have them join some long comments trails
    which really constitute an on-line discussion. Show them that some
    blogs have provisions for emailing the author. Have them write
    to bloggers, for example Americans blogging from their home countries,
    and encourage

  • The third level is when the teacher creates a class
    blog, and each student is expected to post something on a regular
    basis. After some experience with the first two levels, the students
    and decide what their blog should be called, what it should look
    like, and whether it should be public or private. The class is responsible
    for the design and contents of the blog, and can
    add pictures,
    or even

  • The fourth level involves helping each student to start
    his or her own blog. After a review of many different blogs,
    a few oral or written reports, and a brainstorming session on finding
    individual voice, each student will get their own blog on an institutional
    server or one of the free blogging services. The teacher must work
    individually with the students in an on-line multimedia lab and mentor
    them through the
    technical and aesthetic decisions involved in creating a blog.

The bottom line, and the punch line in our presentation,
is that the point of diminishing returns, the point where the technology
starts getting in the way of the language instruction instead of facilitating
it, is somewhere between level 2 and level 3.

Trying to turn your students into bloggers is questionable
from many points of view: teaching methodology, time management, the
aforementioned aesthetics. Not everyone is meant to be a blogger. The
students are there to perfect their English, not find a path to self-expression.

Our experience is that at level 3, about one-third of
the kids really get into it, one third muddle through, and the rest are
lost. In a field where the Watchword is "No Paying Student Left Behind"
these are not good odds. At level 4 you are lucky to find one or two
in each class with the inclination and ability to become bloggers. As
satisfying as those few cases may be to the instructor, they cannot
justify the disservice to majority who are there for other reasons.

The first two levels work great, though.  All of
the students manage to find interesting and often bizarre blogs, and
the combination of following the site over time, worksheets and oral
reports with questions requires that students use all of their language
skills; listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Anyway, we think we shall start looking around for another
conference somewhere else where we could present the thing, later in
the year. As far as we know the bucks are still on the table. Maybe Thai
TESOL, we’ve
before. Wonder if Afghanistan has a TESOL affiliate up and running yet….

Meanwhile, as a kind of consolation prize, the Dowbrigade
Mother has contracted our services to drive her around the San Francisco
Bay area for a week, in two weeks.  We have only been there as a
grading slave for Educational Testing Services, locked in a hotel ballroom
an hour from downtown with 70,000 TOEFL essays from around the world,
so for all practical purposes we have never been to SF.

Perhaps some readers could suggest restaurants, museums,
free wi-fi hotspots, cool things to do, etc. What’s up in San Francisco?

Language Arts: Buzzwords


Tomorrow, we plan to introduce the following
paragraph in class as part of the language component of the Science and
Technology section we are currently teaching.

”Yo! It’s the buzzphrases, stupid. Is this
a no-brainer, or what? What we need is an in-your-face, wake-up-and-smell-the-java
look at why literally gazillions of us talkmeisters are talkin’ the talk
— big-time. I mean, get real. These words and phrases and attitudes
are eating us for breakfast. We’re toast. And we’re eating their dust.
Or is it their shorts? Bottom line, we need to ask, What’s wrong with
this picture?"

Foreign students in American
universities are well aware of the differences between formal academic
English and the way real people talk in the course of their daily life.
Unfortunately, they are usually more familiar with the former than the
latter, having dedicated most of their time during the past few years
in acquiring the formal Academic English necessary for pursuing a degree
in an American university.

Of course, they hear these expressions on television
and from the painted pouty lips of their native born brethren, but their
dirty little secret is that they are largely ignorant of contemporary
slang and the newer idioms. Since they are accomplished students
of American fashion, culture and mannerisms, they manage to cover
their knowledge gaps with blank blinks from behind slick sunglasses,
and a knowing toss of an expensive coif.

However, they are always eager and interested to talk
about slang. We plan to send them out on the streets to determine working
definitions of the following expressions:


It’s the [blank], stupid.



, or what?






Talk the talk, walk the walk


I mean,

Get real

eating us for breakfast

You’re toast

Eat my dust (or is it shorts)

bottom line

What’s wrong with this picture?

Any suggested definitions or usage suggestions, readers?
We will include any suggestions on the class

Quotation from Slam
Dunk and
No-Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, and,
Like, Whatever

Cash for Class – Paying Students to Study


CHELSEA — The high school here will try a new way
this fall to make students show up for school: Pay them.

Under a privately funded program, students will get up to $125 a year for
perfect attendance all year, as long as they graduate. They have the chance
to get up to $500 for a four-year string of zero absences.

Educators across the state praised Chelsea for its boldness, but said they
worry about the message the 1,430-student school is sending by paying students
for something they should do anyway. By law, students must stay in school
until they are 16.

In neighboring Revere, officials considered giving $10 to high school students
to attend Saturday school. But Superintendent Paul Dakin said the recordkeeping
problems and philosophical questions doomed the idea.

Is this an idea worth considering? Although paying
for students to go to school may seem ridiculous and wrong-headed at
glance, on closer examination it can be seen to have numerous social
and economic benefits.

First of all, giving kids a cash bonus for perfect
attendance is hardly rewarding them for something they should do anyway.  All
kids are allowed to miss a certain number of sick days, families take
vacations, etc.  On the other hand, it is hard to justify denying
the bonus to a kid who just get sick through no fault of his or her own.
 So we would argue that it may make sense to straight out pay kids
an hourly wage to go to school.

It is in the interest of our economy to
have educated workers, and keeping more
produce more and better educated workers. Furthermore, Chelsea is one
of the poorest and most minority-heavy (Hispanic, mostly) districts
in the state, and Hispanics have the highest drop-out rate among ethnic
groups – over 50%. The schools lose these kids to the gangs, and in
cases to the necessity of supporting their families and sending money
back to extended family abroad. If paying them would keep them
in school, would that not lead to minority advancement, get more people
off of welfare, keep kids out of gangs, lower the crime rate and improve
the quality of community life?

It would certainly be cost-effective if it keeps
more kids off of the streets, lowers unemployment and the kind of drug
crime related activities kids get involved in when they aren’t in school.
It would give them a sense of self-respect, teach them to manage money,
get them used to the basic economic paradigm which is going to dominate
the rest of their lives, and allow them to be more active participants
in our wonderful consumer paradise. In a way, it is the same argument
as that if favor of allowing colleges to
in big-time
to keep them from turning pro at 18 or 19.

A good example of thinking outside the box…

from the Boston Globe

North Korea Goldmine for ESL


day now the
Dowbrigade may be looking for a new job as far off the beaten track as
possible.  We are keeping our eyes, and our options, open. The
following article makes North Korea sound like a promising possibility
– and that Kim looks like a real fun guy….

For decades after the 1950-53 Korean War, North Korea’s
government deemed English a language of the enemy and banned it almost

Now, years after the rest of Asia went through a craze for learning
English, North Korea has discovered the utility of the lingua franca
of international
affairs. But the pursuit of proficiency has been complicated by the
reclusive regime’s fear of opening the floodgates to Western influences.

Almost all English-language books, newspapers, advertisements,
movies, and songs are forbidden. Even T-shirts with English slogans are
not allowed. There are few native speakers available to serve as instructors.

‘There is a big drive now for learning and speaking
English. The Ministry of Education is really trying to promote it," said
the expatriate, who asked not to be quoted by name because of the North
Korean regime’s sensitivity about news coverage.

The biggest complaints of English students were the lack of native speakers
and the dearth of English-language materials.

Joo Song Ha, a former North Korean high school teacher who defected and
is a journalist in Seoul, the South Korean capital, said: ”Basically
what you’ll get is a teacher who doesn’t really speak English reading
from a textbook with pronunciation so bad that nobody could possibly
understand it."

from the Los
Angeles Times

Mea Culpa


Dowbrigade has just finished editing, or correcting, his last student
paper of the Summer One semester at a Major Boston University.
Somewhat ill-advisedly, we volunteered to teach the night section of
"Advanced Academic and Professional Writing."

like teaching the evening sections because, unlike the spoiled scions
of privileged prep school families who grace and dis=grace our day programs,
the evening students are there because they want to be, are paying their
own way,
and despite
the fact
many come to class straight from jobs in hospitals or donut joints, they
always have their homework done and pay attention in class.

However, these are "Advanced" students, which means
they are all advanced enough  to sling some serious bullshit
when they fire up the old word processor, but not advanced enough to
avoid making serious and repeated errors in each and every sentence.  Some
manage to average almost an error per word, and as a result their first
drafts are often a discouraging sea of red ink. We have had students
flee the classroom in tears after getting back their first essay.

Teacher confidentiality and good taste prevent me from
giving any actual examples, but what the hell is "Actually the humenity
already use divers sources but those are not effectually develops" supposed
to mean?

In addition, many of the kind of people who take classes
at night to "improve" themselves, have an axe to grind, a complex theory
to expound or a 247-page doctoral thesis on a Comparison of Patient Perceptions
of Single-Payer Health Care Delivery Systems in Three Countries which
she desperately needs edited (yes, you, Ofeelia).

This, then, is the reason our postings have been so
few and far between these past few weeks. It is not the additional
hours of class each week (on top of our regular teaching load), but
rather the stacks and piles of multi-page grist waiting for the old editing
mill. As readers may imagine, the Dowbrigade can be a tough critic, especially
when students ignore his sage advice, or when he goes off his medication.

Why do do we it? Quite simply, we haven’t figured out
how to make any money off of Blogging yet. At any rate, that’s all over
for a while, and next week we can go back to
if they’ll
have us.

Writing class web page