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EFl/ESL Flash Cards and Teaching Ideas

13 Qualities of Good Flash Cards to Teach English (ESL and EFL)

The Perfect Flash Cards to Teach English (EFL and ESL)

The Perfect Flash Cards to Teach English (EFL and ESL)

Most English teachers use flash cards extensively in class when teaching children and even lower level adult students. Unfortunately,  teachers are often stuck with whatever materials their school bought or made. If you could design the perfect set of flash cards to teach English, what would it look like?

After years of using sub-optimal flash cards, I hired artists and had my own custom cards made. Here is what I think good English flash cards are  about.

1. Free Flash Cards are definitely the best price.

Why pay for images or buy expensive sets if you can get free flash cards to teach English here. Sign up to my newsletter and you will have a new set delivered to you about every ten days.

2. Good flash cards are in color.

It costs a little more to print color images but they are much more memorable and interesting for your students.

3. Flash card images should be professionally illustrated.

Using free clipart images to make your own flash cards takes a huge amount of time and you will only end up with many mismatched images of different illustration styles. It looks much more professional to have a single style for all your cards and the quality of illustration should be good. Teachers and students will be looking at those images for countless hours so get something pleasing to the eye.

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Myth: Children Learn Languages Faster than Adults.

Children Don't Learn Languages Faster

Children Don't Learn Languages Faster

Do children really learn English faster or better than adults? The answer depends. Children who move to a new country do pick up the language faster than their parents, however it is important to examine the real reasons behind their rapid language learning.

English as a Foreign Language (EFL)

First off, to any EFL teacher (teaching English in a non-English speaking country), it is obvious that adults learn English much faster. Look at any textbook series and you will find that adults can cover similar language targets in 3 to 6 months that children cover over six years or more.



Adult EFL students learn faster than EFL children for many reasons.

* Adults are motivated to learn and are probably paying for the lessons with their own money.
* Many are studying for the purpose of improving employment opportunities or to travel.
* Adults can already read so they can progress much faster. While children are learning the alphabet, adults can already read complex dialogues.
* Older students can understand grammar and apply rules to targets they haven’t covered before. Younger children do not formulate rules, they indirectly learn the language through lots of exposure.
* Mature students are interested in a broader range of topics so they are more interested in reading about and discussing current events, hobbies, movies or learning about foreign cultures.

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What is Wrong with Phonics

The problems of phonics

The Problems of Phonics

In a previous post I outlined some reasons why basic phonics instruction is essential for EFL (English as a Foreign Language) children. However, I also believe that too much phonics is an inefficient use of limited class time. Here are some reasons why excessive phonics training is unnecessary.

The English language is not phonetically regular.

Many teachers treat phoneme-grapheme correspondences as an infallible law similar to music or mathematics. The problem is that there are so many exceptions to every phonics rule without much reason. These exceptions are usually brushed over as sight words or ignored altogether.

Take a look at some of these word pairs to see what I mean.

  • have – gave
  • love – cove
  • come – home
  • chocolate – late

Basically the above rule is that a final ‘e’ or magic ‘e’ makes the previous vowel long… except when it doesn’t. I have read that only about 65% of the English language if phonetically regular.

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Why Phonics Skills are Essential to Learning to Read

Phonics is Essential for EFL students learning English

Phonics is Essential for EFL students learning English

Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language where you don’t know the writing system? Think of Korean, Arabic or Chinese. Everything looks like a big mess and you have absolutely no idea how to decipher the language.

Then try a Latin based language with characters and sounds similar to English. Maybe try Italian, French or even Hungarian. It is much easier because you have some knowledge of how to decode the letters into sounds. There will be many characters and combinations that you don’t know or are unsure of but you will likely still have a good approximation of what sounds the letters represent, even if you don’t know the meaning.

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Phonics Video – Animated Song to Teach Children Basic Phonics Sounds

Here is an animated song to teach children the basic phonic’s sounds. This is a great first step at phonics awareness and a start to reading. Great for EFL and ESL students as well us younger native English speakers.

The Four Secrets to Learning a Foreign Language

The Four Secrets to Learning English

The Four Secrets to Learning English

There are basic best practices in learning just about anything. If you want to lose weight, you should burn more calories than you consume. If you want to save money you need to spend less money than you earn. If you want to maximize the effectiveness of your English classes, here are four key components to think about.

Comprehensible Input

In order for learning to take place, language targets have to be a level appropriate for learners. The key is to use English that is just beyond your students ability to challenge them to push forward and learn new things. Stephen Krashen calls this idea ‘Comprehensible Input’ while Vygotsky called it the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ (ZPD). You may have also heard it as ‘Language Plus One’ (L+1). Basically, it is what students know now plus a little more.

This concept is integral to effective language acquisition. If English targets are too easy then students do not learn anything new. If targets are too difficult then students will not comprehend anything and will just get demotivated. Finding the right level for each class is essential. Read more »

8 Common Errors of English Teachers

Common Mistakes of English Teachers

Common Errors of English Teachers

Most English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers start teaching with very little training and end up just making it up as they go. I know, I was there before. I made all the common mistakes and I didn’t even know I was teaching ineffective classes until I started studying more about teaching and had a chance to visit classes of more experienced teachers. Not only novices make these mistakes, many long term teachers haven’t really had the opportunity to observe quality English classes and have less than optimal lessons. Here are some activities and practices that I believe to be ineffective.

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The Two Biggest Mistakes of English Teachers

The Two Biggest Mistakes of English Teachers

The Two Biggest Mistakes of English Teachers

Learning a foreign language is easy. All you need is lots of repetition of language at a level appropriate to your understanding. These two key factors; repetition and comprehensible language, are so important to language acquisition that they are also the greatest mistakes that foreign language teachers make.

English Teacher Mistake 1 – Teaching at a Wrong Level

It can be difficult to teach at appropriate levels for students. This is particularly troublesome in mixed level classes. Teaching at too high a level will make lessons too difficult to understand. Novice teachers naturally start speaking to students as if they were native speakers. It takes skill and experience to accurately judge the level of students. Read more »

Are Textbooks Effective in English Classes?

Are Textbooks Effective in English Classes?

Are Textbooks Effective in English Classes?

I have personally shifted out of using textbooks in most of my classes, from children to adults. There are many reasons for this which I will mention in this article and in future posts. Textbooks have been the central focus of education for so long that even experienced teachers have trouble imagining any other way of planning a lesson. This is the age of the internet, global communications, inexpensive video and mass collaboration, there has to be a better way to teach. In fact, I know there is a more effective way to get your EFL students speaking English with more confidence.

Most teachers have never created their own complete teaching curriculum with original teaching materials, so for many a non-textbook approach simply translates as having no plan. However, I am certainly not advocating no curriculum. I am just suggesting that there are other approaches to teaching any age of students than the traditional textbook-based lesson style. I know of several teachers who have taken the time to create their own comprehensive curricula suitable to their personal teaching styles and I assure you they would never go back to textbook lessons. However, that is best saved for a another article.

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EFL and ESL are Not the Same

EFL and ESL are NOT the Same

EFL and ESL are NOT the Same

English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) are not the same. Many schools, teachers, authors and other professionals use these words interchangeably, which wouldn’t be such a problem if it were merely a lexical error. The real problem stems from the fact that most teachers continue to adhere to ESL approaches within EFL environments. This is especially noticeable in Asia, where I feel the deployment of inappropriate ESL techniques play a key factor in the general lack of English acquisition, particularly amongst children. Despite the increasing use and popularity of the term EFL, and a heightened awareness amongst teachers of the way in which it differs from ESL, language lessons have not changed much to meet the needs of students who are learning English as a Foreign Language.

What are the differences between ESL and EFL?

English as a Second Language refers to those studying the language in an English speaking country. Anyone living in an English speaking environment will be immersed in English, regardless of whether or not they study in a formal classroom setting. Television, school, books, newspapers, movies, daily conversation, everything is in English. This is important for two reasons. First of all, they have the advantage of considerably greater exposure to English in their daily life, which can amount to 60 or more hours in an average week. This comes though natural interaction with friends, colleagues, teachers, service workers, casual conversations in social settings and, in the case of home-stay students, communicating with family members. Then there is the more indirect exposure acquired from television, radio, reading menus and timetables, or simply over-hearing the conversations of native speakers. Students are learning, using and reviewing huge amounts of English everyday, and doing so in way that is totally natural rather than being artificially created in the classroom.

This leads us to the second major advantage that ESL students have over their EFL counterparts. If they also study in an ESL classroom, they can use this time to “fine tune” their English skills. They can ask grammar or vocabulary questions about English they have picked up elsewhere. Students can get clarification on grammar, vocabulary or expressions they didn’t understand. They also benefit more from deeper examinations of grammar and language usage. This is basis for most English textbook series where language targets are taught on a one per lesson basis, in a linear fashion. This works very well in an ESL environment because students benefit from having real opportunities to review and implement the English they have learned, outside of the classroom.

The importance of students having a real need to communicate in their daily lives should not be underestimated. For ESL students, it is not simply some esoteric subject they have to read in a textbook. Living in a country where you don’t speak the local language is extremely difficult. Even simple interactions like taking public transportation and shopping can be very frustrating. ESL students are impelled to gain at least a cursory understanding of English, just to make their lives bearable. Motivated students always learn much more.

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