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German Study Sheds Light on Who Studies Abroad


It will come as no surprise that most students who manage to study abroad are not underpriviledged. However, while finances may have been seen as the main determiner for whether someone is able to study abroad, a new German study suggests that the reality of the situation is more complex than that. In a nutshell, the study found that students who studied a foreign language as a kid or who participated in exchange programs were more likely to see the benefit of doing post secondary studies abroad.

Read more in the Times Higher Education

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Corpus Curiosities: The Things we Used to Say


Used to and would are dynamic verbs that can be used to talk about ‘past habits’. In a new song called “Hotline Bling”, does the singer say …

  1. “You used to call me on my cell phone.”


  1. “You would call me on my cell phone.”

If you chose option “a”, you are right. However, is there any difference between them?

The Past

Modal verbs have many characteristics that distinguish them from other types of verbs. Most modals (such as “would” for the sake of this post) can be used in association with the past, as well as being used to talk about hypothetical situations with a present or future time reference. But let’s stick to the past.

Used to, according to the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, is a semi-modal (also called a “periphrastic modal” or “quasi-modal” because it functions like a modal verb and can usually be paraphrased with a modal”).

The Classroom

When teaching a lesson on past habits, ‘Used to’ is preferable to ‘would’. Because most coursebooks only deal with ‘used to’, I believed it meant that this structure was more frequent. This is also reflected in the classroom, when we expect our students to spend the entire production stage of a lesson talking about past habits only using ‘used to’. This reminds me of a conversation I had with Luke Meddings and Ken Lackman at a TESL Toronto conference, when we talked about the irrational desire to control the language our students use in class. How can one only use ‘used to’ when talking about past habits? “We can also use would”, someone would say.

What does Corpora tells us?

‘Would’ is used three times more often than ‘used to’ when describing past habits. But why do coursebooks almost never discuss this? Why do we limit the language students can use in the classroom?

‘Used to’ is a conversation starter. We normally switch to would when we continue describing the past habit in question.

“She used to call me on my cell phone. We would talk for hours. We would talk about all kinds of things …”

So, should we sing the above song lyric as: “You would call me on my cell phone”?



“Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA).” Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). Web. 31 Oct. 2015.

Biber, D., Conrad, S., & Leech, G. N. (2002). Longman student grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow, Essex: Longman.

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Oxford Dictionaries Announces the Word of the Year… but it is Not a Word!

wordofthe year

Yes, pictures tell no lies: what you see above is the “face with tears of joy” emoji and it was chosen as the word of the year for 2015. This emoji is obviously not a word, but it was chosen because the good people at Oxford felt that it best reflected the ethos, mood and preoccupations of 2015. Apparently this was the most popular of all emojis this year (in our opinion, proof that everyone feels the need to be overenthusiastic in social media… the smiley face is just insulting nowadays), making up 20% of emojis used in the UK and 17% in the US.

While undoubtedly popular, an emoji is not a word and call us purists, but we think this is all very silly. Anywa, it is interesting and could be a fun debate over the water cooler. Acutal words or terms that made it into the short list were: sharing economy, they, on fleek, ad blocker, refugee, Brexil, dark web and lumbersexual.

If you are unsure about any of the meanings, would like to read more about why Oxford chose this emoji as their word of the year, would like to watch some slightly odd videos, take an emoji quiz or learn about the history of the emoji, visit their site.

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10% Increase in International Students Studying in Canada between 2013 and 2014

On November 24th, the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) released its annual report on the state of international education in Canada. It found that 2014 saw an 83% increase in international students over the past deacae and a 10% increase over the past year. We were not surprised to see the largest nationality group, but we were suprised to see the two fastest growing nationality groups as well as the province that is growing fastest in attracting international students. Would you be surprised? Can you guess?

To find out (and more), visit CBIE’s website.

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Internationalization and Self-Ghettoisation


The point has been made that many students tend to ghetto-ise themselves, especially when it comes to Chinese studying in the USA. An interesting acticle looking at ways of diffusing this problem, including strategies for success, proactive language practice and fostering belonging can be found in the Academica Forum. We recommend a read.

Integration can keep international students out of “ghettos”.

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Could There Be Too Much Gamification?


In an interesting article in the Chronical of Higher Education, contributor Kentaro Toyama argues that there should be limits to the extent gamification is used in higher education. First, he acknowledges that education has always had some game elements – marks being one of them. He also sees advantages to the “ramped up” gamification that is happening now. However, he makes the argument that not everything should be gamified as it is important for students to develop intrinsic motivation. He makes the very interesting point that gamification proponents argue that this is what today’s “digital native” students are used to and therefore they must be given it in higher education lest they become bored. The author argues that this is similar to being addicted to meth – users find life off meth boring. However, in the case of meth addicts, our reaction is to get them off meth, not to enable them through further supply. The author asks why we do not have the same response to our digital-loving students.


Read the acticle and continue the discussion with your friends and colleagues!

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UK Slipping Slightly in its Position as a Destination for International Students

The UK has been, and still is, the first destination for international students learning English. However, as with many things in life, the devil is in the details. What is interesting is that the UK leads for short-term stays. Not surprisingly, most of the students are European, but this presents a problem for the UK as there has not been much growth in the European market. When you look at long-term study stints, the US becomes the most popular destination; this can be attributed to the strength of pathways programs. The UK is also losing market share to Canada and Australia, which have both been growing for the past few years.

If you are a geeky, ESL-admin type such as ourselves, check out English UK’s report (there are some nice infographics too).

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Literacy Test for New Teachers


Starting in 2016, all new graduates in Australia intending to become primary or secondary school teachers will have to sit a literacy and numeracy test. To pass, test-writers will have to show that they are in the top 30 percentile of the general population. The test covers reading comprehension, grammar and syntax, punctuation, spelling, word usage and text organization. There are critics of the new test, of course. Some argue that it puts potential teachers with dyslexia or who have English as a Second Language will be at a disadvantage while others argue that rather than this new test, teachers should just write the IELTS exam.

Want to be sure that you would make the grade? Check out some of the sample questions here.

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Basket Weaving has been Eclipsed: Welcome to Circus Studies!


While there is no obvious connection to ESL, we couldn’t help but be captivated by an article in University Affairs about how “Circus Studies” is actually a thing and there is some effort being made now to study the positive effects of circus training for battling childhood obesity. It may not come as a surprise, but Quebec (home of Cirque du Solei and the Bloc Quebequois) is the hub of circus studies.

Intrigued? Read more on University Affairs.