English Corner – Utilization, Not Memorization

Many English language learners and students are taught from a young age to memorize, repeat, and regurgitate what they have been assigned by their teachers. When it comes to the main focus of English as a Second Language, there is a tendency for educators in this field to focus on having memorization be the main focal point of an English student’s language base when it should not be this way. Instead of memorization and repetition, we should instead focus on helping English language learners with utilization, which means putting the English grammar and vocabulary they have acquired for actual use.

While learning different types of English vocabulary and understanding English grammar rules are very important parts for a beginner student to master, instead of focusing on fill-in-the-blank, matching, and multiple choice questions, teachers should instead focus on putting the English student in situations where they need to use this vocabulary or remember these grammar rules so they’ll better be able to retain the knowledge they have gained. Relying too heavily upon vocabulary sheets or grammar rules sheets for too long will disengage the students from enjoying the process of mastering a foreign language.

A good lesson should encompass grammar and vocabulary together, but for which leads to a chance for the students in the class to be put in activities or lessons where they need to use what they have learned right away so they retain it better. There are numerous examples out there on how to achieve this kind of lesson plan but a good one would involve speaking and writing parts, so students not only engage with the material alone but also with each other or in small groups. English does not have to be boring but a strict curriculum with the same activities over and over again will not help students to improve their retention of the language.

Students have the responsibility to study the grammar and vocabulary that the teacher has assigned in class, but it is the teacher’s responsibility to mix the subject matter up enough so that the students will have enough chances to let the material sink in over time so that they can absorb it better. In addition to speaking and writing exercises, utilizing listening and reading activities are crucial too. To break up the monotony of continuous vocabulary and grammar exercises, a good English teacher will mix it up in different ways to make the class more fun and interactive.

In my experiences as an English as a Second Language teacher, I have noticed a deficit in some cases where the students are able to do well on grammar and vocabulary assignments but struggle greatly when it comes to utilizing these lessons to improve their speaking and writing capabilities. By incorporating related speaking and writing activities to supplement the new material, students will better able to progress in these areas as well. Going through the textbook, doing the same kind of activities over and over again is no recipe for a proficient English learner.

When it comes to speaking, if you are doing a unit on types of food and drinks, it’s good to do an activity where students ask each other questions and get answers from their classmates. They could ask, “what is your favorite food?”, “what do you like to eat for breakfast / lunch / dinner?”, “What supermarket do you go to?”, “Do you like to cook? why or why not?” These question and answer activities are extremely effective in keeping the students engaged and allow them to put their grammar and vocabulary knowledge to good use by actually applying it in a real-life situation.

For grammar retention, writing sentences and even essays are a key aspect to utilizing the grammar lessons that they have learned in the past and applying them in the present. For example, if you introduce an essay topic or question such as “Where do you see yourself in ten years?, what will you be doing with your life, and what would you like to do?”, this essay assignment is a great way to jog the student’s memory so that they remember how to use verb tenses such as the ‘simple future tense’ or the ‘future progressive tense.’ Letting students use the future tense to describe their future selves is a great way in engaging them honestly and utilizing their understanding of English grammar by putting it into the written form.

Your English students will also be more engaged when they can utilize their base grammar and vocabulary knowledge to both read and listen. Having high levels of comprehension in these two areas is crucial in becoming a proficient learner of this language. For Reading, it’s important to incorporate different forms of reading for your class such as poetry, short stories, interesting magazine articles, and relevant newspaper articles.

For example, if your class is learning about how to describe weather in English, it would be good to share the newspaper section, which covers the weather specifically, and have the students describe the weather in different cities and towns from reading the descriptions in the newspaper. Having the students read newspaper articles about current events and other news will help satisfy their curiosity about English-speaking cultures and countries. There are numerous speaking and reading activities that can be done together to utilize what the student has learned to be put to good use.

Lastly, being able to utilize listening to music, audiobook passages, or news reports will do a great job in allowing the students to hear the grammar and vocabulary necessary to further their comprehension. You can get very creative with listening lessons and add on speaking and writing components to give your students more chances to utilize their English language skills in different ways. Testing the students without multiple choice, matching, or fill-in-the-blank activities can be done by assessing their comprehension of listening passages. Listening and repetition is also another way to help students retain their vocabulary and grammar knowledge.

A huge reason why English as a Second Language students struggle with retaining their knowledge of the language is that they are simply not utilizing it enough. Teachers should be aware that endless vocabulary and grammar lessons that are based around memorization and repetition are not helping their students but hurting them instead. In addition, focusing only on teaching to the test is a recipe for disaster and students will not enjoy actually learning the language if the teacher is not utilizing creative lesson planning, fun activities, and group cooperation when it comes to improving their students’ English skills.

In order for students to keep their English skills going into the future, teachers should focus on speaking, writing, listening, and reading lessons so that students will not only utilize the language in various ways but to also remember and use it years into the future long after they finish working with that teacher.

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English Corner – The Active Voice

Every writer has a voice but it’s important to be able to distinguish which is the correct voice to use depending upon the context. There are two main voices in English writing to be aware of: the active voice and the passive voice. In this ‘English Corner’ blog post, we will be focusing specifically on how to use the active voice in your writing, which means that the subject of the sentence is actually creating the action and not the other way around.

The ‘active voice’ adds more impact to your writing, which is why most writers use the active voice instead of the passive voice. Overall, I would argue that the active voice is more important than the passive voice yet you should know how to use both effectively as an English writer.

Active Voice Usage

Sentences written in an active voice flow better and are easier to understand. When you use the active voice, the emphasis is on the subject of the sentence, which is doing the action itself. This makes the sentence straightforward and concise. Examples are:

  • I really love this TV show.
  • Gorillas live in the jungle. 

Sentences that use a passive voice are often harder to understand. Passive voice can make a sentence awkward and vague. The emphasis of the sentence changes to the receiver of the action. Some examples are:

  • This TV show is loved by me.
  • The jungle is where the gorillas live.

Passive sentences usually have more words than active ones, which is one reason why the reader has to work harder to get the meaning of the sentence, and the sentence structure can seem disorderly. If you have a composition that is too difficult to understand, you may be able to change some passive sentences to active ones. Two examples are:

  • The electoral ballots were counted by the volunteers. (passive)
    The volunteers counted the electoral ballots. (active)
  • The flowers were stepped on by the dog. (passive)
    The dog stepped on the flowers. (active)

Active Voice Adds Impact to Your Writing

The active voice adds substantial impact to your sentence; however, you may sometimes want to use the passive voice to lessen the impact of your sentence.

  • Sometimes the active voice is used to deliberately obscure who is responsible for an action, like if a politician said, “Mistakes were made” or “Shots were fired.”
  • Businesses may use the passive voice to lessen their impact like “Your service will be shut off” which is passive, rather than “We are going to shut off your service.” which is active.
  • In crime reports, a policeman would write, “the bank was robbed” because he does not know who actually robbed the bank.
  • In a mystery novel, you may want to place the emphasis on what was taken, like “the jewels were taken” rather than focus on the unknown person who took them.

In most English sentences with an action verb, the subject performs the action denoted by the verb. These examples show that the subject is doing the verb’s action:

The boy must have eaten all of the hot dogs.

            The boy (subject) is doing the eating (verb).

Jennifer mailed him the love letter.

            Jennifer (subject) is doing the mailing (verb).

Colorful iguanas live in the Amazon rainforest.

            Iguanas (subject) are doing the living (verb).

Because the subject does or “acts upon” the verb in such sentences, the sentences are said to be in the active voice. As you go through an individual essay, article, or paper, please be sure to check that you are primarily using the active voice. The passive voice definitely has its place but if you are especially trying to be persuasive, make a congruent argument, or back up your hypothesis, then you should mainly be using the active voice in those types of writing. 

If you find that the ‘subject’ of your sentence is clearly not at the beginning and your action / object is taking its place, then your sentence is not an active one by a passive one instead. The active voice always places the subject within the first word or two at the beginning of the sentence so that the reader will be well aware of who is committing the action. Please keep in mind how to use the active voice in terms of the sentence structure, what the examples show above, and in which types of writing the active voice is mainly used. If you would like to take your English writing to the next level, you must first know what the active voice is and in a later ‘English Corner’ post, the passive voice will be discussed in terms of its usage and some examples.

Lastly, think of the ‘active voice’ and the ‘passive voice’ as the Yin and the Yang of English writing. Both have their separate and unique uses but you can’t only have one in your writing. You must be able to know how to use both because there cannot be one without the other. 

The Blog Turns One

This week officially marks a year of my blog’s existence and I have to say that it’s been a rewarding and fulfilling experience overall. It started over seventy-five posts ago with my first look into the increasing presence of smartphones in today’s society with “Smartphones: Man’s New Best Friend?” and has continued up through this September with pictures during my recent trip to Guatepe, Antioquia, Colombia.

Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about the writing process especially when it comes to topics like travel and self-development. While my writing and photography skills are still a work in progress, I believe that I am a better writer and photographer than I was a year ago. I have put a lot of time and effort into this blog over the past year and I am thankful to all of the readers, friends, and family who have supported it by reading the articles, leaving comments, and giving me constructive feedback.

I’ve been through some big life changes with moving home and then back to Colombia recently. This blog has changed to become more travel and culture focused since that’s where I am right now in my life but I hope to continue writing about self-development and even ESL topics. I’m quite proud of the work that has gone into this blog and hope that you as the reader have learned a lot or gained something from my writings. So far, I have had a couple of thousand unique visitors from many different countries along with thousands of individual views and that’s very exciting to see.

As this blog enters year two, I am hoping to invest more time and money into the layout and formatting as well as creating more content for the reader. The first year has been very rewarding for me and I hope to continue developing this blog and expanding the readership. As a writer who enjoys hearing constructive comments, feedback, and criticism, I hope that you will leave a comment telling me your thoughts and suggestions about the blog. I am open to any advice as long as its’ respectful and within reason. I will continue to have eight to ten posts per month in 2017 and will highlight more of my experiences of living, working in Colombia as well as some upcoming travels to different parts of South America.

If you’re new to this blog and don’t know much about me or my writings, I have organized an archives section which has the location of all seventy-five of my posts which have occurred in the past year. I also have a ‘Best Of’ Articles page where I highlight the ten blog posts that I like the most when it comes to culture, lifestyle, traveling, music/movies/books, and personal development. You can find the individual links to these ten top posts here: https://benjweinberg.com/best-of-articles/.

I am now one year into my blogging hobby and I am happy with the results so far. I hope that this website will continue to grow in terms of audience and expand in terms of its’ content. I want to say thank you to all the readers and supports of benjweinberg.com and I look forward to keeping in touch with you throughout the rest of the year and into 2017. Please feel free to leave a comment on this particular post if you would like to share your thoughts or express your opinion about the blog so far and where you might like to see it go in the next year. Cheers to the future and here’s hoping to a great 2nd year of this blog!