Category Archives: ESL

Language Affects Taste

According to Popular Science magazine, studies have shown that taste can be influenced by a number of unexpected factors.
Apparently, “people praise food with a descriptive name more than the same food with a lacklustre name. For example: Succulent Italian Seafood Filet vs. Seafood Filet.” Page 28,
Popular Science, March 2014, Volume 284, No. 3.

Grammar as an enabling skill

“Though a skill in its own right, grammar can also be regarded as a necessary “master” skill that enables competence to develop in the areas of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. When grammar is incorrect or misunderstood in any of these areas, communication may be disrupted, as the following examples illustrate.
Listening. A teacher who says, “Please bring me the books,” only to have a student bring her just one book because the student did not hear the plural -s or understand what it means. In this case, a better understanding of the underlying grammar would have improved the student’s listening ability.
Speaking. An applicant is asked, “How long have you been working at your current job?” The applicant replies, “I worked there for two years.” The interviewer wonders: Is the applicant still working there or not? In this situation, knowledge of the present perfect would have enabled the student to reply more accurately.
Reading. Trying to follow the directions for assembling a bookcase, a student reads Slide the bookcase close to the wall after tightening all of the pieces. Not knowing that after signals the first of the two actions in the sentence, the student performs the actions in reverse order.
Writing. An automotive tech student writes I check the brakes. The supervisor is confused: Did the student already check the brakes? Is he going to check the brakes? If the student had written checked on the report, there would have been no ambiguity.

  • These examples illustrate the role of grammar as the foundation upon which all the other skills are built. Efficient communication cannot take place without correct grammar.”

    Taken from: Grammar Matters: pages 2-3 Teaching Grammar in Adult ESL Programs by K. Lynn Savage with Gretchen Bitterlin and Donna Price. Cambridge University Press New York, NY 2010.

  • Transliteration

    Which one would you say is the correct spelling?



    Transliteration is the term used to describe the process of representing words or letters of one system of writing in a second, different system (e.g. Arabic to English).  The name محمد is a good example. The issue here is that, in Arabic, vowels are rarely written. They are often understood from context. Hence, the name Mohammad is actually represented with its four consonants and written as: MHMD (محمد). This practice leads to different ways of pronouncing the same word in different dialects. So, when the word is transliterated into English, it is represented with different vowels depending on which dialect or language it was originally taken from. Persians (Afghans, Iranians and Tajiks) usually spell it as Mohammad while Arabs pronounce the first vowel more deeply and thus spell the word as Muhammad.  Turks (and people in the Balkans) pronounce the final d as a t which leads to spellings such as Muhamet or Muhammet. 

    When using transliterated words, a good strategy is to go on a search engine, type your best guess and then limit the search to your target geographic area. If you see only a few hits, your spelling is perhaps not the most common one.

    If you simply want to find the accepted spelling of a word, just type each spelling in the search box and see which one yields the most number of results. Mao Zedong gives 1,940,000 hits on Google whereas Mao Tse-tung gives you only 827,000.

    Hand Clenching Helps Recall

    Recent research suggests that (in right-handed people) clenching your right hand might help you form stronger memories and clenching your left will help recall memories.

    According to Dr. popper and her colleagues “unilateral hand clenching increases neural activity in the frontal lobe” and thus helps with memory forming and retrieval.

    I asked Dr. popper if the same or the opposite sequence of clenching works for left-handed people. Her response:

    There is some research showing that non-right-handers are not the opposite of right-handers. In fact, there is some possibility that clenching the same as righties would be harmful to non-righties memories, and no idea what would happen for opposite hand clenching. An educated guess would suggest there would not be help for memory.

    Read the full article: “Getting a Grip on Memory: Unilateral Hand Clenching Alters Episodic Recall



    Tom Is Stompin’ No More

    Canadian country-folk singer and songwriter Stompin’ Tom Connors passed away yesterday, March 6, 2013, at the age of 77 of what has been described as “natural causes”.

    Tom asked for the following letter to be published after his death:

    Hello friends,

    I want all my fans, past, present, or future, to know that without you, there would have not been any Stompin’ Tom.

    It was a long hard bumpy road, but this great country kept me inspired with its beauty, character, and spirit, driving me to keep marching on and devoted to sing about its people and places that make Canada the greatest country in the world.

    I must now pass the torch, to all of you, to help keep the Maple Leaf flying high, and be the Patriot Canada needs now and in the future.

    I humbly thank you all, one last time, for allowing me in your homes, I hope I continue to bring a little bit of cheer into your lives from the work I have done.


    Your Friend always,

    Stompin’ Tom Connors

    A biography of Stompin’ Tom Connors as well as his famous “Hockey Song” are featured in O Canada.


    Cultural Awareness & ESL Students

    In a recent article in Guardian, Diane Schmitt, an EAP professor at Nottingham Trent University, criticizes university admission systems for what she calls a lack of “any direct method for determining whether or not prospective students’ previous experience of educational practice or culture has prepared them for the approaches to study required of students in British universities.”

    Read the full artice: UK universities failing to bridge culture gap for foreign students

    The Colour of Beauty

    Chapter 3 of Reel Canada focuses on racism and discrimination. It opens with a reading passage about Jane Elliott’s controversioal experiment in Iowa in 1968; looks at hate crime statistics in Canada; features the documentary (see below), The Colour of Beauty, about the obstacles on the way of a black fashion model in New York, as well as a listening comprehension exercise on the play, Les Mains Noirs (Black Hands) about Marie Joseph Angelique, a slave in 19th century Montreal. There is also a writing exercise based on Howard Griffin’s book, Black Like Me.

    Colour of Beauty ,The by Elizabeth St. Philip, National Film Board of Canada