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Utah-based Website Teaching English to the World
Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab, a free educational Website based in Utah, has provided free listening materials for second language learners since 1998. Now, this site is opening new learning opportunities for many new immigrants to the US.
Randall realized a need for online language-learning materials while teaching intercultural studies and English overseas. “I first came up with the idea of a listening Website while I was working in Japan in the 1990s,” says Randall. “During that time period, most Websites were limited to only text, and few resources were available for students to improve their listening skills outside of the classroom. Because most English language instruction in many countries is still done in the native language of the teacher, students’ oral skills lag far behind.” Randall continues: “I always wanted to provide authentic examples of language that, unlike many traditional textbooks, weren’t predigested for students. No one wants to sound like a scripted textbook.”
As reflective of this same desire, teachers like Hector Mejia in Mexico City and Cristina Bordianu of Bucharest, Romania, represent users who have introduced Randall’s site to their students, either for in-class activities or for self-access learning. Because the main emphasis of the site focuses on conversational English, Hector points out that the
materials “can show people how Americans really speak, which helps them improve their understanding of English.” Christina echoes this sentiment when she says that her students are enthusiastic to hear authentic language in situations similar to real ones.
Listening activities are divided by level of difficulty (Easy, Medium, and Difficult), and each listening activity contains pre-listening discussion questions, a listening task with multiple-choice questions for checking understanding, and follow-up discussion questions to expand and recycle the vocabulary and ideas found in the conversation. Topics range from everyday language such as ordering at a restaurant and visiting a dentist to more advanced subjects like environmental protection and investing.
A transcript of the conversation also accompanies the activity. Randall says that many of his listening activities are based on his students’ experiences including one man who received the most shocking haircut of his life after he became tongue-tied in a Salt Lake barber’s chair.
Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab targets the needs of language learners in non-English speaking countries, and it has found a very significant audience in the US, where immigrants and international visitors make up a large segment of the population. Randall points out that while many non-native speakers find themselves within the borders of the United States, their presence does not guarantee constant exposure to the language due to work, family, and even legal status, and many people feel very isolated. In fact, with a large and growing population of immigrants in many parts, being able to use such free sites at home can provide an avenue for learning English that puts language instruction within the financial reach of anyone who has access to a computer.
Randall’s own grandmother came from Mexico to Texas in 1913 and lived her whole life here without learning much English. “My site really could have benefited her. She definitely didn’t have money to attend a language school, but now, the Internet really extends our learning opportunities, and many people still don’t know such online resources exist. Yet, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve talked with Spanish speakers in Salt Lake City alone who feel frustrated because they can’t speak English. And when I tell them they can learning English online---for free, they are elated.” Who wouldn’t be?
In addition to his original listening lab, Randall has also authored several other free sites including http://www.dailyesl.com (everyday English topics), http://www.ezslang.com (idioms and slang), http://www.trainyouraccent.com (pronunciation training), and http://www.tips4students.com (preparation for study abroad), all designed to help language learners improve their speaking and listening skills. He also has a blog at http://esl-lab.blogspot.com which allows visitors to share ideas on language and culture. Randall has enjoyed presenting at language conferences around the world on educational technology and his Websites, and on one such occassion, he was pleasantly surprised to see a teacher using his site with her students when visiting a language center in Trujillo, Peru.
So, what does the future hold for language students? Will the Internet replace traditional classroom learning in the USA and abroad? “I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” says Randall. “Face-to-face interaction is still more effective, but the Internet and even mobile phones will play a major part in disseminating content to support learning, particularly for students who don’t have access or the resources to attend classes. So, if I can help language learners get out and become more involved in our community, then that is one step towards improving their lives and fostering understanding between cultures.”
Randall says that the things that keep him motivated to create more listening materials are the comments he receives from his visitors. One email message from Hiro Kaminishi from Japan, sums things up: “This site is really like a treasure box for me. Thank you.” If you don’t have access to English any other way, then ESL Websites like these become a real lifeline and boon to learners here and abroad.
Contact Randall at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on his sites or to schedule a presentation on educational technology or language learning at a conference or at your organization. Read more at http://www.esl-
Randall Davis, P. O. Box 866, American Fork, Utah 84003 USA
Photos and a text file of this information can be provided on request for reprinting in other publications.
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