“Now You’re Speaking My Language”: Teaching English as a Second Language in the U.S. and Abroad

January 31, 2014

Teaching-American-English-wordleThe English language, according to Wikipedia, is the third-most-common native language in the world after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish and is the most widely learned second language. Not only is it widely used in technology and entertainment, it is also an official language of the European Union, many British Commonwealth countries and the United Nations, as well as in many international organizations.

The U.S. Department of State recognizes that promoting the learning and teaching of English as a foreign or second language both within the United States and around the world is an essential step towards increasing cultural understanding between the people of the U.S. and other countries.  The Department of State created the Office of English Language Programs, under the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, to encourage English language education for non-native English speakers.

As a former Business English professor for Spanish Masters of Marketing graduate students in Spain and a volunteer tutor for young Hispanic ESL (English as a Second Language) students in the United States, I had a hard time finding resources for my students or connecting with other teachers with whom I could exchange best practices and ideas for lesson plans that took into account the cultural differences of non-native speakers,” says Michele Bartram, Government Book Talk Editor and Promotions and Ecommerce Manager for GPO’s U.S. Government Online Bookstore.

English Teaching Forum, the quarterly journal for professionals teaching ESL or EFL English as a Foreign or Second Language, published by the U.S. State Department's Office of English Language ProgramsFortunately, the State Department’s Office of English Language Programs publishes the English Teaching Forum, a quarterly journal that serves as a resource for professionals teaching English as a foreign or second language all over the globe. This publication connects teachers of English as a second language across the many countries in which they are teaching by allowing them to submit articles and share their experiences working towards their common goal of helping others learn the English language worldwide. In fact, the majority of articles featured in the English Teaching Forum are authored by English language classroom teachers. Each new issue of the journal has a distribution of over 85,000 copies across more than 130 countries!

Teachers of English as a second language will find a number of useful articles in the pages of the English Teaching Forum. Topics covered in this quarterly publication include classroom language learning activities, teaching methods and tools, informational articles on potential teaching topics related to American culture, and understanding the needs of the diverse group of students that these teachers encounter.

In the most recent issue of the English Teaching Forum (Volume 51, Number 4, 2013), “Raising Cultural Awareness in the English Language Classroom” tackles the question of how to introduce American sociocultural elements into the language curriculum to enhance the students’ ability to grasp the cultural nuances of the language. It has been said that students cannot master a foreign language without understanding the cultural context in which the language is spoken, and in this article, author Jerrold Frank explores this theory and suggests methods of introducing cultural lessons to language students.

Another particularly interesting feature from English Teaching Forum can be found in Volume 50, Number 1, 2012, in the article “A Call to Service”  by William P. Ancker, which introduces an interview with Dr. James Alatis, a leader in the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) community. The interview with Dr. Alatis, originally conducted in 2004 but reprinted in this issue in honor of the English Teaching Forum’s 50th anniversary, follows this introduction.

The journal even includes classroom exercises and printables, such as this fun quiz displaying the confusion caused by English-language homophones–words that are spelled differently but are pronounced similarly (like there and their).

ETF_Lighter-Side_Homophones-QuizImage: Speak and Spell Quiz from English Teaching Forum 2012, Volume 50, Number 3. See answers at bottom of the post.

If you are a teacher or a student of English as a foreign or second language, or even if you just find language and learning to be topics of interest to you, US-State-Department-American-English-Mobile-Appthe English Teaching Forum is a worthwhile publication to explore!

For more resources for teachers of American English, visit the State Department’s American English website, including downloading their new American English Mobile App for both teachers and students.

How do I subscribe to English Teaching Forum: A Journal for the Teacher of English Outside the United States?

About the Authors: Stephanie Jaeger is Sales & Marketing Coordinator for GPO’s Sales & Marketing Division that markets GPO’s publishing services to the Federal sector. Government Book Talk Editor Michele Bartram is Promotions and Ecommerce Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.

Answers to The Lighter Side “Speak and Spell” homophones quiz from above:

Answers-to-Homophones-Quiz 


Quiz: Are you smarter than an 8th grade Civics student?

September 20, 2012

Flash cards. They may bring back memories of studying for a big exam like the SAT or GRE, or they may remind you of elementary school when they were used as a great way to learn your numbers and letters.

But did you know that the US Government Printing Office produces flash cards for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Office of Citizenship under the Department of Homeland Security?

This week marked an important milestone for all U.S. citizens as the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States of America.

September 17 is now commemorated annually as Constitution & Citizenship Day, a time to reflect on the rights, honors and privileges of being a U.S. citizen, so I thought it was a perfect time to introduce our readers to the Civics Flash Cards.

Civics Flash Cards are one of the most popular products sold in the US Government Bookstore as a tried and true way for immigrants and to learn about U.S. history and government while preparing for the United States naturalization test.  These easy-to-use flash cards (available in English and now also in Spanish) contain each of the 100 civics questions and answers contained on the United States naturalization test, and are updated when there is a change of leadership in the White House or Congress.

The Civics Flash Cards also feature interesting historical photos and relevant captions, thus providing additional civic learning opportunities, making them ideal not only for use as an instructional tool for U.S. citizenship preparation, but also in standard American social studies classes or home schooling. For example, one card contains a picture of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, while another shows Hiram Revels of Mississippi, the first African American U.S. Senator, elected in 1870.

A description of the Spanish version of the Civics Flash Cards:

Recién actualizadas para 2012, las Tarjetas Flash de Educación Cívica en Español ayudarán a a los inmigrantes a aprender sobre la historia de los EE.UU. y del gobierno mientras se preparan para el exámen de naturalización. Estas tarjetas de memoria fáciciles de utilizar contienen cada una de las 100 preguntas y respuestas cívicas (sobre la historia y el gobierno) del exámen de naturalización estadounidense, y conllevan fotos históricas y leyendas pertinentes a que proporcionen el aprendizaje cívico adicional.

Failing grade in civics for American kids… and maybe their parents?

In 2010, The Department of Education administered the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP test, known as the nation’s report card, to 27,000 4th-, 8th- and 12th-grade students throughout the United States.

The New York Times reported that the civics examination results were dismal, as “fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights… and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

Of the high school students who took the NAEP, 75% “were unable to demonstrate skills like identifying the effect of United States foreign policy on other nations or naming a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.”

Reading through the flash cards, it makes me wonder how many native U.S. citizens— parents and children— could correctly pass the test given to immigrants aspiring to become citizens?

See how you compare to these 8th and 12th graders on these questions constructed from information on the Civics Flash Cards

(Hint: I provide the correct answers at the end of this post ;-) since they are trickier than one would think!)


Another question


And finally, some geography:

HOW CAN YOU OBTAIN a copy of the Civics Flash Cards for the Naturalization Test, either the English Version or the Spanish Version?

You may also be interested in our other Constitution and Citizenship products, such as the pocket edition of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Click here to shop our entire Citizenship Collection.

Correct Answers to the Flash Card Poll Questions:

1)      Which of these does NOT represent one of the powers of the Federal Government under our Constitution? To provide protection & safety such as police and fire services is a function of state and local governments.

2)      Which of these are responsibilities that are only for United States Citizens?  Only citizens may vote in a Federal election, serve on a jury, or run for Federal office such as U.S. Senate or House of Representatives and for most state and local offices. Unfortunately, everyone has to pay Federal taxes, citizen or not!

3)      Which of these states does NOT border Canada? Of all of these, only Wisconsin does not share a border with Canada. All the international border states with our northern neighbor are (east to west): Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania (border on Lake Erie), Ohio (also border on Lake Erie), Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Alaska.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


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