0 Packing Your Suitcase
What should you have in your suitcase when you want to study English? In this introductory chapter, you will find some suggestions on how to study and what sorts of tools you can use.
You do not need to buy any books: all the necessary materials can be found online, either here in Muikku or at the numerous websites created for learning English. Some students get a grammar book – any upper secondary school grammar will do if you want to use one.
Photo: Flickr / comedy_nose
You will need to use a dictionary. In fact, you need to learn to use two kinds of dictionaries: one from your mother tongue to English and back, for example a Finnish-English-Finnish dictionary if you are a Finnish native speaker, and the other an English-English dictionary. Online dictionaries are good because they can be updated faster and because they also have audio clips so you can work on your pronunciation.
Here are some resources:
Finnish – English - Finnish
English – English
Studying New Words
When you study new words, think of what helps you remember them best. Most young students learn long lists easily but many adults have a harder time learning that way. Writing the word, using it in a context, and saying it out loud – using it in some way – can help you remember words and phrases better. What type of a learner are you? You can take an online learning styles test and see what way of learning might be the best one for you.
Since you also need to learn to speak and pronounce words, it is useful to study pronunciation at the same time as you learn the meaning of the word. You need to have at least some knowledge of the IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is used to describe pronunciation in writing. Use the audio clips in the online dictionaries. It is important that you actually say the word out loud, in your normal speaking voice, when you practice. In addition, practice pronunciation by repeating what you hear and reading texts out loud. You will learn to speak only by speaking.
To add one more dictionary to your resources – solely for pronunciation purposes – take a look at this talking dictionary
Listening Skills and Recordings
How do you develop your listening skills? The answer is simple: by listening and by speaking. If you know how to pronounce a word, you can also understand it when you hear it. Listen to all sorts of ways of speaking English: different accents and dialects as well as all sorts of speakers in all sorts of communication situations. Listen to various types of programs. You can start by listening to or watching video clips on subjects that really interest you and then move on to more general topics.
There are some listening and speaking exercises in this course so you can start by using those. There are also many websites where you can practice these skills. Some of the online sites are interactive.
The course includes some spoken language exercises where you need to make recordings. Here are some online tools you can use to record the exercises.
ocenaudio (an instructional video by Otavan opisto)
Of course, you can also use the Windows recorder or something similar on your computer.
When you make the recordings, make sure that you speak loud enough for the teacher to hear every word. In addition, read the instructions for the spoken language / oral skills exercise carefully so that you know how long the recording needs to be.
Read this poem out loud and then listen to it to see how well you managed.
Mysteries of Anatomy
Where can a man buy a cap for his knee,
Or the key to a lock of his hair?
Can his eyes be called an academy
Because there are pupils there?
Is the crown of your head where jewels are found?
Who travels the bridge of your nose?
If you wanted to shingle the roof of your mouth,
Would you use the nails on your toes?
Can you sit in the shade of the palm of your hand,
Or beat on the drum of your ear?
Can the calf in your leg eat the corn off your toe?
Then why not grow corn on the ear?
Can the crook in your elbow be sent to jail?
If so, just what did he do?
How can you sharpen your shoulder blades?
I'll be darned if I know - do you?
Since you are packing your suitcase and getting ready to "move abroad" in this course, you can review some basic vocabulary by checking out this interactive packing list that includes many commonly packed items:
Learning new words and spelling can be done using the good old pen and paper method, and flashcards might be a good learning tool for you. You can also create - and share if you like - your own flashcards and quizzes on this website:
QUIZLET - make flashcards
Tips on Writing
This course and all other English courses include several written tasks. Many of them include using online materials as your sources. It is extremely important that
- you always list all of your sources
- you don’t plagiarize: use your own words.
- if you quote someone or something, you must indicate it clearly and cite the source.
You need to aim at writing grammatically correct texts but that is not all: you also need to focus on the content of your texts. It needs to be appropriate for that particular exercise and there needs to be enough of it. Many of the exercises in this course state the minimum and maximum number of words for an acceptable piece of text. Follow those guidelines the best you can. Remember that you can assume a “role” for the whole course - nothing that you write about yourself and your activities has to be true.
It’s good to keep in mind that all native speakers don’t always spell words correctly or use correct grammar either! That’s what we all do when we use our mother tongue. Moreover, languages change and develop all the time. New words and phrases are created constantly and others become old-fashioned and eventually go out of use. As individuals, we can be very creative with our language use and sometimes choose to use or pronounce a word in a funny or weird way. Here’s an example of a well-known old poem in which the rules of spelling, grammar and pronunciation are broken to achieve a humorous effect:
Spring is sprung, the grass is ris.
I wonders where the birdies is.
They say the birds is on the wing.
Ain't that absurd?
I always thought the wing was on the bird.
The language used in the poem would not be called “proper English” and that’s what makes it funny. However, if you do not know what rules have been broken, you miss the whole point. When you do your exercises, keep in mind the point: you are doing school exercises to practice and show your English language skills and knowledge and one of your goals might be to pass the national exam. There’s a time and place for everything. You do not have to be dry and boring in the spoken and written texts that you will produce - please don’t be - but you need to do them so that you will demonstrate your reading and listening comprehension, writing, spelling, grammar, pronunciation and speaking skills as well as your knowledge of some aspects of life in the English-speaking countries of the world.
Photo: Roy Tait
In every English course you need to keep a learner diary – IN ENGLISH. It is an excellent learning tool as such, but it will also help you work on your writing skills. As a general rule, please write a minimum of one entry per lesson.
What should you write in your learner diary? Here are some topics you can cover:
- you can start by going over the material in this introductory lesson and explaining what kind of a learner you are, what you are good at, and what you need to practice much more
- what your goals are for the course and/or a particular lesson
- analyzing your own strengths and weaknesses as a learner
- analyzing what was easy or difficult in the lesson
- possible problems: not understanding the instructions, technical difficulties etc.
- your level of motivation and interest and how that affects your learning
- making or not making progress
- success and achievements
- feedback on materials (at the end of the course)
You don’t need to write about everything in every entry but choose what is relevant and what will benefit you. If you have questions about some exercise or something else, email your teacher directly.
Once you have completed ALL of the exercises you can send in your evaluation request. You will get some feedback and your grade within two weeks from the request.
Your teacher will not grade your course until all of the exercises have been completed. However, you can always email your teacher if you have some questions about the exercises or if you don’t quite know what to do or how to do something. Don’t be too shy - there’s no harm in asking!
You can find the criteria for all foreign language course evaluations/grades explained in Finnish here.
Photo: Flickr / JayD Photography
Answer these questions, submit your answers in the box below and copy your answers into your learner diary:
- Have you used any online English materials before (dictionaries, pronunciation help, exercises etc.)? If yes, describe what you have used and how.
- What type of learner are you?
- How do you learn new words? How do you practice your spoken language skills?
© Otavan Opisto / Heli Viitanen, Miia Sivén
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