Learning English Through Downton Abbey


Recently, an EFL school in Japan began offering a class based entirely on Downton Abbey, which just began airing in that country. Students watch episodes, study scripts and role play scenes, doing their best to match the accents. The course was an instant hit and the school had to open more classes. Even more impressive is that some students travel as far as 600 miles round-trip to take the class!

A couple of universities in the US are also offering short courses based on Downton Abbey to teach Americans about British history and cuture.

Read more in The Mirror.

Pathways to Education: Continued Success in Helping Disadvantaged Youth


Several years ago, we learned of the fine work Pathways to Education has done to support Toronto’s disadvantaged youth –  encouraging them to stay in school and to progress on to post-secondary education. A recent report by the C.D. Howe Institute states that Pathways to Education has had a significant effect on high-school graduation rates and postsecondary enrolment. There are currently 11 sites being operated by Pathways to Education; In the Regent Park public housing site, high school graduation has increased by 15% and postsecondary enrolment has increased by 19%. The report states:

The Pathways to Education program is a prominent example of a community-driven, comprehensive youth-support program developed to improve academic outcomes among those entering high school from disadvantaged backgrounds. The program includes mentoring, tutoring, counselling, postsecondary transition assistance, and immediate and long-term incentives for students to excel. After starting at Regent Park in Toronto in 2001/2002, the program has expanded across Canada.  In addition to three expansion sites in Toronto, the program has been introduced to locations in Halifax, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, Montreal (two locations), Ottawa, Shawinigan, and Sherbrooke, as well as Aboriginal focused programs in Mashteuiatsh and Winnipeg.

English Central is very happy to be supporting this fantiastic program through a significant book donation. Please visit the Pathways to Education website to learn more about this program, some of its success stories, how to volunteer or to make a donation of your own.

Badges? We All Need Stinkin’ Badges!

digital badges

We have blogged about digital badges in the past… this relatively new phenomenon is a way for people to demonstrate their achievements and abilities online. Badges continue to gain traction in the educational field, with not just students earning badges to demonstrate coursework and skills learned, but also for educators to demonstrate ongoing professional development.

Purdue University has just launched Passport, a new application that makes it easy to create, issue and share badges. According to an article in Campus Technology, a few educational institutions are starting to use badges to recognize professional development amongst faculty. While it is too early to demonstrate the effectiveness, early reports show promising results.

Read more in Campus Technology.

Disturbing Trend: Students Finding Sugar Daddies to Help Pay for Post-Secondary Education


While this is not related specifically to teaching ESL or ESL students, we were very disturbed to read that there is a growing trend amongst post-secondary students to rent themselves out for “dates” with wealthy older men for money… to help cover their tuition. The website SeekingArrangement.com – which aims to connect “Sugar Babies” with “Sugar Daddies” – has seen a 42% increase in students using the site in the past year. There are 1.4 billion students worldwide advertising themselves on the site as “Sugar Babies”.

Apparently a Sugar Baby typically receives a $2600 a month “allowance”, which would clearly go a long way to cover tuition costs. The site boasts that it helps students graduate “debt free”. They don’t boast about enabling prostitution.

We can’t avoid being judgemental about this. It is completely sickening. Knowledge is power though, and hopefully it will be a power for good if more educators are aware.

Read more in a Huffington Post article.

Amazon Releases Beta Version of new Kindle Textbook Creator


This could be a fun opportunity for any teachers who create their own classroom materials (which is most teachers, right?): Amazon has released a Beta version of it Kindle textbook Creator, which allows authors to convert PDFs into eBooks and include visual content like graphs and charts. The eBook created is supported across multiple platforms, including Kindle Fire, iOS, and Android devices. This may not be the best solution for language learning “workbooks”, but we’ll let you try it out and report back to us! Authors retain the rights for their content and can earn up to 70% in royalties.

Learn more anout KDP.

A Linguist’s Obsession with Food Gives Fascinating Insight

language of food

I recently stubled upon this book and while it’s not one we are stocking here at English Central, I thought I w0uld would share it because it is the kind of book that most English Language Teachers will appreciate. Here are some fascinating tidbits:

  • as far as restaurant menus go, every increase of a letter in the average length of words used to describe a dish represents a 69 cent increase in the cost of the dish. Also, for each positive but vague word like “tasty” that is used, the dish is typically 8 cents cheaper.
  • at one point, toasted bread was involved when people drank and made toasts

I haven’t read the book yet – it is now officially on my Christmas wish-list. However, I did find Dan Jurafsky’s blog, which has all sorts of fascinating posts on the language of food. I just read about the different marketing language used on bags of expensive potato chips versus the language used on cheap chips. Think about what the differences might be, then read the post.

Undoubtedly because I used to specialize in teaching pronunciation, I found the post prior to the potato chip one equally fascinating. In a discussion of ice cream flavours, Jurafsky touches on “sound symbolism” and words (in many languages, not just English) with front vowels (i, I and e) tend to suggest thin, light and small things. On the other hands, words with back vowels tend to sugegst large, thick or heavy things. Compare “teeny” to “huge” in English, “petit” to “grand” in French or “chico” to “gordo” in Spanish.

I love it when someone makes you consider things that you always lived with but never thought to consider before!

The Fluidity of Language: as Old Ones Disappear, New Ones Emerge


In a recent Garnet Education newsletter, they linked to an interesting article on the evolution of language. Many languages have disappeared in relatively recent history, and while we might assume that in many cases people are speaking English instead, this is not the case. The article looks at indigenous peoples in Australia and how many groups have evolved a language that is a mixture of native language with English. These “new” languages are almost incomprehensible to English speakers and highlight how creativee, fluid and complex language is. Read the full article… it is extremely interesting!

Teaching Evaluations: Consumer Satisfaction not the Same as Product Value


It would be difficult to imagine an educator who does not have an opinion on the subject of teacher evaluations. If you would like to consider a mathematical critique of teacher evaluations, you should read a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. This article considers a recent paper written by two University of California Berkeley professors titled “An Evaluation of Course Evaluations”. For an interesting read on the false security that numbers give, read the article.

Satisfaction Level Tied to Nationality


A recent survey of international students in the USA, the UK and Australia reveals that while students are mostly satisfied, students of certain nationalities tend to be less so. European students were the most satisfied, while students from Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia were the least satisfied.

Analysis also suggests that when there are large numbers of international students from one country on a campus, they tend to integrate into the general population less and, as a consequence, become more dissatisfied.

Read the article “Are International Students Satisfied?” in Inside Higher Ed

Revelation of TOEFL and TOEIC Fraud in the UK Puts ETS in the Doghouse


In February, a BBC news special for the show Panorama revealed “systematic fraud” at TOEIC test centres across the UK (incidents include “fake-sitters” writing the test on behalf of other people and an invigilator reading answers aloud to test-takers). Since then, the British government has removed TOEIC and TOEFL as approved tests for immigration purposes. A further move was recently taken, with approximately 60 higher education schools in the UK having their right to host foreign students suspended.

The government has also found that many students are working far more hours than their student visas allow.

The government has launched a criminal investigation into ETS Global.

Red more in the Times Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed.