Learning English on Your Own


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EFS 689E: Learning English on Your Own

Week 3: Pronunciation, Speaking, Writing, and Grammar

I. Review from last week (including material we didn't have time to cover). Discuss your experience with listening materials

Advice for selecting listening materials; most of this applies to reading as well.

EFS project with TED: Hopefully, we'll have more here soon...

Reading basics (similar to listening)

            A. Bottom up/top-down/interactive skill development

            B. Importance of vocabulary - How many words do you know? How many words do native English speakers know? What do you know when you know a word? What is the role of phrases? How can you best learn and recall vocabulary?

            C. Importance of speed (but be careful of "speed reading" claims): Activity: timed reading exercise

            D. Developing skills and strategies: pre-reading, skimming, scanning, etc.; Intensive vs. extensive: the pleasure principle (read what you like, but select the right level (consider young adult literature).

Reading assistance on the web: 

            - article on the value of extensive over intensive reading           

            -  reading comprehension strategies

            - and timed reading exercises--good practice

Help with finding the right level of materials: Google News or many other sites for news material; for academic material.  You can also use blogs or anything else that appeals to you.

  1. After identifying the material, copy it into a word document for a word count

  2. Then go to for a word frequency count. Try to find material that is not too far beyond your level (has too many unknown words). I recommend the BNC 20 or classic version first, but you could try the BNL list as well.

II. Discussion of your independent project

III. Pronunciation on your own: before we begin, how would you try to improve your pronunciation?

            A. Listening and repeating: how to make it work best
                    1. Focus on meaning as you speak; talk about something familiar
                    2. Get rhythm & intonation, not just words

            B. Pronunciation practice online: 

            C. The English sound system - an overview

            1. Basic sounds (phonemes):

            2. Rhythm:

            3. Stress:

            4. Intonation:

            5. Linking:

            6. Reduced forms:

                    7. Try sound discrimination practice for pronunciation at

                    8. Overview of English sounds in different dialects at

            D. Developing an English persona
                 Value of role play: you can be yourself (as an English speaker!) or make up a character.
                    1. Name
                    2. Where you live: describe your house
                    3. What you do: describe your job
                    4. Other biographical information: family, hobbies, secrets
                Note: this works well for online forums and virtual worlds (e.g.,

            E. Pronunciation and listening: noticing what you write/say and noticing the difference between that and what the speaker said.

                    1. Written dictation, followed by
                    2. Oral dictation: record it for best results

IV. Speaking

            A. Methods
                1. Observing interactions: eavesdropping, movies, other videos
                2. Practicing monologues (see E below)
                3. Engaging people in conversations: friends, neighbors; meeting new people

            B. CD-ROM Software:
                - see Fry's;;
   - TRACI Talk: The Mystery in Green Library Call #ZMS 561 - practice conversation while solving a mystery.

            C. Dialogues at;

            D. Online chatting at Dave's ESL Cafe or EnglishBaby; explore a chatbot at

            E. Recording yourself: Windows sound recorder, Audacity, mobile phone, mp3 player, etc. Review your recordings and re-record once or twice.
                1. Keep an audio journal or diary, describing thoughts and experiences
                2. Practice telling stories, especially interesting or funny ones
                3. Practice presenting opinions
                4. Practice descriptions of your job, research, etc.
                5. Practice responding to the interview questions at, or to the many questions at
[e.g., Annoying Things]

            F. Online learning with a live tutor (not free):

V. Grammar: note, begin by knowing something about where you need grammar help, what your goals are

            A. Grammar reference:

            B. Learn from quizzes: Internet TESL Journal:

            C. Grammar and vocabulary: words that go together. 
                    1.Google: Search for words & phrases in context.
                        Use quotes (" ") around phrases for exact matches; also
                    2. Edict Web Concordancer:

VI. Writing resources

            A. Methods
                1. Post to discussion lists at
Dave's ESL Cafe or EnglishBaby
  2. Keep an English journal or blog;; post to social network like
                3. Write to friends and colleagues or find a "keypal" (check discussion lists; search for friends at

            B. University of Wisconsin's Writer's Handbook

            C. Advice on proofreading (final editing)

            D. Online textbook in English for academic purposes

            E. Other links from the Advanced Graduate Writing website

            F. Email language exchanges: Interpals (




1) FOR THE INDIVIDUAL MEETING - Come prepared to discuss your previous project. Also, be sure to review the class notes so that you can a) tell me what was most interesting or useful and b) ask questions about anything that wasn't clear. Decide whether to continue or try something new.

2) FOR MONDAY JULY 30 - Write a report on the individual assignment you committed to in the individual meeting (As Yoda says, "try not, do!"). Email it to me by 10:00 PM Monday July 30. As before, the report should state:

3) FOR THE NEXT CLASS - Briefly explore at least 3 of the sites above, in whatever skill area you think will help you most: come prepared to discuss your experiences in class (you may also include this in your report if you wish).


Last modified July 24, 2012, by Phil Hubbard