Effective ways of learning a foreign language right in your home!

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In recent years, with the pace of studying and working picking up tremendously, there is a decline in the number of literature students in Singapore.

This may imply a loss of creative culture in the country since literature is the inspiration behind the endeavour to explore human nature , and to understand life itself.

Regardless of the causes behind the diminishing number of enrollment in literature lessons, it is important that students recognise the importance of self-expression using the written word. At this point in time, it is hard to foresee if the passion in literature will be re-ignited but a weakening interest in the creative arts is apparent.

Moving along the same line of thought, it can be observed that there are also not many students taking up foreign language in their schools. Only one student in my class of fifteen raised her hand when I asked if any of them had taken up a foreign language in the school. Another one or two have indicated interest in this pursuit but has not enrolled themselves in these lessons.

Unlike literature studies, learning a foreign language is a longer journey, and it involves a longer investment since learning a new language is more sophisticated than literature in terms of its linguistic and grammatical syntax, as well as the fact that foreign language learners have to continuously expose themselves to the new language.

There are some who have advocated immersing oneself in the country to expedite learning. That is a feasible way (if affordability, accessibility and feasibility are not serious issues) but there are other ways to learn. Accessing online learning platforms, enrolling in an online course, having formal lessons in one’s country, as well as forming study groups are some great ways to learn a foreign language.

If you are someone who will like to learn in the comforts of your own hometown, here are some effective ways where you are able to do that.

Attend formal lessons: Now , some may argue that this is not necessary since the internet provides much learning content in almost every common foreign language. While this is true, what beginners of a foreign language should be looking for are structures.

Beginners should look for teachers who are able to give a structure to their learning.

This is something that is almost non-existent in an online platform, unless learners subscribe to online learning platforms such as LearningPod101.com. Of course, the lesson notes that you received from these lessons are also invaluable.

Purchase Textbooks that are used in formal language schools: It’s almost impossible to learn a foreign language without some textbooks to give one the foundations. Do visit your bookshop frequently to note any updates to the titles.

I am currently learning Japanese and one title I will recommend is “Mina No Nihongo” . It comes in two books (which constitutes one set of four ) with its own set of vocabulary lists, sentence structures, conversations in writing, and numerous practices and exercises in each chapter.

Leverage on mobile technology: With the rapid development of mobile technology, our mobile phone is currently much more than a communication device. It is also a learning device, specifically the learning of foreign language in this context.

There are tons of foreign language apps in Apple Play Store and I will personally recommend “”.

If you are interested in some interested features of the app, they are here. Have fun learning a foreign language!

Watch dramas and movies of that language: It’s important that we keep in constant contact with the foreign language that we are learning.

And one of the best ways is to watch programmes in that language, as what we learn in textbooks may not be the equivalent of what is spoken by the native speakers in their daily lives.

Once we have gained a certain level of proficiency, I suggest reading literature of that specific foreign language we are learning.

Learning content compilation: With the increasing amount of learning content, it’s inevitable that our learning content gets increasing complex and sophisticated. We are looking at everything from vocabulary to grammar to sentence expressions to commonly used phrases. I personally  form a list of vocabulary (which I find it to be the most important since we require a vast range of vocabulary words to form sentences, alongside verbs) and a verb list, and my valued textbooks as well as learning materials.

Putting in an effort to revise these list of vocabulary words and verbs regularly is very useful in learning the language. Writing short sentences and paragraphs are equally effective. This is especially so if you are crafting sentences around your daily living since by doing so, you are inadvertently using commonly used sentences.

To wrap it all up, I will say that it’s possible for almost everyone to learn a foreign language in their own homes. However, this should be complemented with external formal lessons since pronunciation will probably be an issue in any form of independent foreign language learning.

Have fun learning a foreign language! And do not forget to communicate with your foreign friends speaking the same language!

Patrick Tay is an English Language and Life Skills Training Specialist  who is based in Singapore. He has been teaching communication studies and international issues in polytechnics and writes regularly on various issues of interest in education, media, business and international affairs at patricktay.wordpress.com. He can be contacted at teachingwithart@gmail.com .

The Art of Thinking in Reading

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Humans thrive on information.

This is why the internet is an immediate attraction with people globally as with its emergence, there also arises an easy access to information from numerous sources, with viewpoints more varied and diverse than what traditional media is able to offer.

Reading has always been one of the favourite past time of humans and it still remains to be so. What has changed are our reading habits.

“Where ,once, we have read for depth, now we read for breadth (which probably explains the decline of the encyclopaedia. Of course, there is now Wikipedia).”

In addition, we are now more selective in what we read than before, opting for news feed from online social media than reading hard copies of newspapers and magazines. Nevertheless, newspapers and news magazine still has their place for providing the depth that most online information lacks.

Regardless of our current reading habits and preferences, an inevitable fact remains: we are looking for more information now than before – even in the face of information overload. While some have argued that information overload will put some readers off from acquiring more information or risk getting confused from various information, this has not happened.

“In fact, on the contrary, something interesting has happened: our neural pathways have adapted to this new way of acquiring information.”

We can see it happening in schools and in the workplace. Students and working professionals are now being selective about what they read without being taught about it in lessons. So what do they read? Yes, they read what interest them. It is human nature to read what sustains our interest. This often spills over into whatever we see, hear, do and engage in.

Some websites already have interfaces that employ cookies to track the websites we visit, as well as product and services that we view previously. This practice is prevalent in both commercial enterprises and institutions of public service such as public libraries.

What this implies is that we are getting more of what we want instead of what we are able to explore. Eli Pariser said it best in this TED video.

“If we were to look at the news articles that we read on a continuous basis, we often find that the article content is often repetitive, and just phrased and worded in a different ways. So, continuous reading of such materials merely deepens our understanding and strengthens our beliefs in the stand made in the article. However, this may not substantiate the arguments made.”

So, in present times, we really need to take a step back and question the very premise that everything we read is useful.  This is crucial not just in educational institutions but also in the workplace.

In the absence of clear thinking, we run the risks of groupthink and skewed thinking. Every article is written with a certain intent and goal in mind, to persuade the readers to its point of view, including this post. Please think deeply about what this post is trying to telling you as this is why this post is written.

We live in a time when we read articles in their entirety and with such a fast speed that it’s inadvertent that the mind absorbs the information rapidly without much contemplative processing. This is fine when reading a novel since its content seeks to broaden your scope and understanding of the narrative tale.

However, it is a different story when reading factual news, commentaries, non-fiction materials as well as research findings. Such materials have direct influence on our lives and hence, we need to be mindful of every argument being made.

“There is a certain truth in the saying that what we read, we become.  And there is almost a complete truth to the saying that what we think, we become. “

It’s precisely because of this that we should always think when reading before taking in what we read. It seems that most of us do not have this habitual tendency.

What does it mean?

“It means having the foresight of our prior beliefs, then taking the initiative to compare what we know and believe with what is being read, and having the awareness and possessing the courage to disagree with any arguments made while still having the open-mindedness to examine any contradictory arguments that are made.”

Besides assessing the validity of the arguments, we also need to do associative thinking when reading such that creative ideas can emerge. This is true both in education and in business.

Such is the art of thinking.

There are now universities who have integrated this cross-disciplinary approach in some of their modules but this is not prevalent at this point in time for this approach to be instrumental in shaping our reading habits for the better.

“Learners and business professionals need to understand the mechanics behind associative thinking, such that more innovations can be discovered to better society and to further the positive progress of the world. “

So, the next time we flip through or scroll through any new information, let us ask ourselves the reasons why we disagree with some arguments that are put forward, and what connections we can make between the disparate elements of different disciplines and topics.

Only then will we be better learners, and not merely an information sponge.

Patrick Tay is an English Language and Life Skills Training Specialist who is based in Singapore. He has been teaching communication studies and international issues in polytechnics and writes regularly on various issues of interest in education, media, business and global issues at patricktay.wordpress.com. He can be contacted at teachingwitheart@gmail.com

Introducing “HelloTalk” (Foreign Language learning tool)

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It was through a leisurely chat that I am encouraged to try out the latest offerings of HelloTalk. Now, this is not a pitch or a typical salesman’s  spiel but I feel compelled to talk about it after trying out this mobile phone app for a few weeks because to me, it’s just amazingly great!

“HelloTalk” is a foreign language learning exchange application whereby users are able to learn a foreign language while mentoring their language partners on language(s) that they are proficient in. For example, if you are proficient in English and wish to learn the Japanese language, you can download the app and register as a member, then find people who are interested in English and who also wish to teach others Japanese. In this instance, a good recommendation will be native speakers based in Japan. However, there are instances where these native speakers may be based in other countries, of which you are also able to learn from.

The app allows users to search for other members in terms of proximity and specification of cities, so there is flexibility in choosing one’s language partners.

So, what’s so special about this app?

Interactive and great learning interfaces!

When I first navigate through the app’s interfaces, I find the features rather complex and sophisticated. However, after dabbling with it for a while, I find this mobile phone app highly usable.

Some interesting and recommended features include:

  • Embedded audio voice recording: Users are able to exchange audio recordings with each other and this is very useful in learning pronunciation of words and phrases. Of course, mobile phones and messaging systems such as WhatsApp already have a in-build audio system but an embedded one makes all the difference since it allows users to record and sent them to their language partners on the go! You can even record your own voice and upload it in the introductory section of your personal profile.
  • Integrated Translation engine: HelloTalk has an integrated translation engine to translate languages. This proves to be very convenient as users are able to easily “copy and paste” responses from their language partners into this search engine and translate them. Of course, as in all translation engines, an algorithm-based translation system can’t be compared to a human translator in terms of linguistic fluency and accuracy but it still works great!
  • “Language Correction” system: HelloTalk also has a correction system in place,  with functions as such as “strikethrough” (as seen in Microsoft Word, but no “double strikethrough”..)  and a “comments” section for language partners to pen down their thoughts to guide their counterparts.
  • “Starred” for further reference: There is also a function whereby users are able to make a mark on their language partners’ specific responses in order to refer to them later. This function is somewhat similar to what’s available on LINE messaging system, with the added functionality of being able to note what you have corrected for others and many more. 
  • Unique set of emoticons: Although this does not account for much in terms of increasing the efficiency or effectiveness of language learning, I feel that I have to mention it as they are fun to use! 🙂 If only LinkedIn allows the use of emoticons..or did I miss something?

Anyways, I hope that you enjoy using them and here’s wishing you a happy and fulfilling learning journey in learning a foreign language!

Patrick Tay is a Communications and Life Skills Training Specialist who is based in Singapore. He has been teaching communication studies and international issues in polytechnics and writes regularly on various issues of interest in education, media, business and global issues at patricktay.wordpress.com. He can be contacted at teachingwitheart@gmail.com

What Panda Pop taught me about life

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With the gradual receptiveness and acceptance of gaming into the main education realm, more and more educators are turning to games to guide and nurture students. It’s rather ironic that what seems to be a fertile ground for distractions among people from all walks of life are now transforming into the playing fields of learning.

Nevertheless, there are some games that are educational, there are some that are entertaining, there are some that are insightful and there are some which people use to while away their time. I believe that educators are looking for games that are somewhat of a hybrid of the first three.

“Most people tend to look for games that are entertaining. If we were to look deeper at the aspects of game design for well-designed games, we will be able to see that the basic rules of life are already embedded in such games and this is probably why we are drawn to it in the first place (with the exception of, well, when we are bored with nothing to indulge in). This often happens at the subconscious level.”

Having said this, below are some rules/ insights of life which I have observed in Panda Pop:

1. Life is a journey of chance: There are a lot of surprises in life. We never know when we will chance upon a great childhood friend whom we have lost touch with. We will also never know when the next job opportunity will arrive. Even in the event that we do a job search and secure a job interview, not to sound too grim, but we might not get the job. The only control that we have is simply to seize any opportunity that we have, and that’s about it.

“This is also why, when we are playing Panda Pop, we get all excited because other than the current coloured ball that we have (besides knowing the colour of the next ball), we have no idea what comes next. And the colours of the last few balls are crucial to progressing to the next level.  It’s this feel of exhilaration that endears us to Panda Pop, because we look forward to such pleasant surprises as well. Much as most would like to attribute hard work to success (which is very, very true), luck has a huge part to play when determining the level of success one has.”

2. A choice between sheer, dogged tenaciousness and playing smart: In the game, one can progress through the games with assistance by using “special tools” offered by the game, or one can simply plough through the stages without using any form of help. There’s no right or wrong answers. It’s just your preference. I am a player who prefer the latter and without any assistance,  I have reached level 327 (If you are worry about reaching the end of the game, don’t worry, there are tons of level more!).

“This design aspect of the game relates closely to life, where one can work hard towards a certain goal, or one can work smart. How one turns out in life doesn’t depend on the routes one chooses but by one’s effort, and to a certain extent, luck (however, it’s true that we make our own luck).   Gamers understand this and they choose their own path in the game. It’s this open option that makes gaming experiences so enticing.”

3. Humans aspire to progressing and ascension: Most games with progressive stages will usually entice gamers more than the rest. This is because it reminds us of making progress in life as well. Making our way through the stages thereby becomes a form of achievements, especially among the gaming community. Some may argue that this is a form of escapism since it’s never that easy in real life. However, one cannot deny the fact that taking the easier route through game progressing will instil in gamers a sense of confidence that they will often need in real life. This is probably the reason why teens around the worlds are glued to games, and why gaming tournaments are all the rage among teens globally. Collaboration and competitiveness, when blended in the right proportions, are omnipotent to human development.

“Similarly, in Panda Pop, the fact that the stages are laid out progressively, and in intervals of tens for a change in backdrop, is endearing to gamers as they are able to see their progressions, and mark their achievements on Facebook, which brings us to the next point.”

4. All humans aspire to be recognised, and some are competitive: One of the reasons why Facebook is popular globally is because it provides a convenient and accessible online platform for us to post posts on our interests and what we want others to know. It’s a form of online image management.

“This is why it’s ingenious that game designers tagged their games to Facebook applications such that gamers are able to post their game progress for their friends to see. And at times, in games such as Panda Pop, gamers are able to compete with their peers through progression through the levels, while still collaborating by sending one another “lives” to continue playing.”

5. Some things are just worth waiting for: Gamers also understand that most of our lives are spent in boredom, such as waiting in queues during supermarket shopping, waiting for public transport (for those who take them), waiting for a parking space, waiting for any services rendered over a customer service counter..so gamers design something that engages you. In “Google Play” store, there’s even a category for gamers called “Games for Commuters”.

“Panda Pop works the same way, granting a life to the gamers every 30 minutes or so. Gamers are entitled to accumulating a total of five “lives” at any one time. Doing so has the benefit of enabling gamers to play continuously for quite a while, while still also enabling them to rest (thereby staying away from gaming addiction and fatigue), stay engaged to their daily work (which often needs doing!) while still keeping them attracted to the game. There’s something about interim rest that is crucial to sustaining continued gamer interests.This is crucial in game design in games such as Pando Pop since such games does not have any interesting storyline to engage the gamers.”

It’s interesting to note that what were mentioned above apply to other games such as “Candy Crush”, and other great games as well. However, I take better to Panda Pop since, well, I just love popping bubbles. 🙂

Patrick Tay is an English Language and Life Skills Training Specialist who is based in Singapore. He has been teaching communication studies and international issues in polytechnics and writes regularly on various issues of interest in education, media, business and global issues at patricktay.wordpress.com. He can be contacted at teachingwitheart@gmail.com

3 reasons why watching movies is not a form of escapism

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1. Movies reflect human nature.

While the world currently focuses predominantly on business (a profession not suited for everyone), movies enable viewers to reflect on themselves, enabling them to understand more about the intricacies of life itself. Philosophy and psychology somehow fulfill the same purpose but movies is a more accessible medium, as long as one has a basic understanding of how cinematography and editing work, both of which can be learnt through watching movies rather than having to read up on abstract theories and ideas.  In fact, movies is the easiest medium for one who is curious and eager to learn about life while broadening one’s imagination.

2.  Movies inspire.

While it’s true that not all movies inspire, it’s undeniable that at least some do. Think “A Beautiful Mind” and “October Sky”. Humans live and thrive on hope, and movies give one the encouragement and aspiration to excel in one’s endeavours. Of course, there are films with darker and more solemn themes but on the whole, it teaches us to both enjoy and cherish life, and live it fully by persevering and pursuing our dreams. While some might argue that movies exist merely to remove boredom of our existence, I beg to differ. I believe that movies exist to widen our horizons and give us the courage to dream, to explore beyond the dimensions of our existence, sometimes taking us to a world of fantasy, and sometimes putting us in the shoes of a protagonist from another culture – thereby revealing to us the multi-faceted aspects of life.

3. Movies  develop critical thinking.

There’s a reason why movie quotes are highly popular. This is because it makes one think about life even after the movies have ended. It’s true that some movies have boring one-liner dialogues but for every such movie, there is a remarkable one waiting for us to discover. Forrest Gump‘s ‘Life is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you are going to get” is a classic. The same goes for Spiderman’s “With great power comes great responsibility”. Hence, contrary to some common misconception that movie-goers are whiling away their time by watching movies, there are – in fact- many intellectuals among movie-goers, especially those who fall in love with art-house films.

Patrick Tay is an English Language and Life Skills Training Specialist who is based in Singapore. He has been teaching communication studies and international issues in polytechnics and writes regularly on various issues of interest in education, media, business and global issues at patricktay.wordpress.com. He can be contacted at teachingwitheart@gmail.com

 

3 reasons why giving individual feedback to students is important

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1.  Giving individual feedback to students saves them during tests and exams

Giving individual feedback regularly to students will enable them to make attitudinal and habitual changes, which will in turn help them increase their learning enthusiasm towards studying. Over time, they often improve in the subject(s) you are teaching.

When exams approach, they are often more readily prepared for these assessments, as compared to situations whereby they are not receiving any feedback from their teachers.

The types of individual feedback to be given to students varies but it should include the following:

  • Positive attitudes to learning (to be inculcated)
  • Disruptive behaviours in class (to be refrained)
  • Improvements on their assignments or areas to improve on
  • Communication skills with their teammates and classmates (to be improved)
  • Enquiries for any drastic drop in grades or interest in lessons
  • Enquiries about any factors that are affecting their learning

“When feedback is given to students on a consistent basis, the rapport between the students and their teachers also improve, which will in turn enable the students to learn better.”

2. Giving feedback builds strong rapport between students and their teachers

As mentioned in the previous point, giving feedback to students individually and consistently throughout the semesters enables great rapport to be established and sustained between students and their teachers. This is because the very act of giving individual feedback to students by teachers shows that the latter care for their students.

“The very act of showing care towards students’ academic performance by concerned teachers is a primary determining factor in enhancing students’ learning in the classrooms, and may well be instrumental in having greatly engaged student and fantastic learning experiences.

Doing so also increases the possibility of students providing constructive feedback to their teachers, such that their teachers are able to improve their teaching methods and techniques as well.”

3. Giving individual feedback to students enables teachers to understand their students’ learning styles after receiving their responses.

When giving feedback, it’s very important that teachers ask the students if they have interpreted their observations of them correctly to avoid miscommunications, which is common.

For instance, a teacher may provide feedback to a student about his or her ability to focus, since the student is always typing away at her laptop in class when lessons are in session. However, what is happening is that the student learns by typing the main points mentioned in class into a Word document on the laptop. Without asking for the student’s response and without looking at what the student is working on on his or her laptop, the teacher has created a miscommunication, which will probably damage the goodwill between them. If the teacher had asked the students for the reasons for their actions, a lot of misunderstanding can be avoided, with the teacher being more aware of the student’s learning style as well.

A great solution is for teachers to always ask why, when in doubt about their students’ behaviour – thereby giving students a chance to provide a rationale to justify their behaviours.

 

Author’s background: Patrick Tay is an English Writing Specialist who lectures in various polytechnics in Singapore, and coaches students in English as a private tutor. His professional services can be found here

3 reasons why setting DEFINITE goals DON’T work

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1. The only constant in life is change.

There are changes in our lives all the time.

Having goals (or intentions) is important. It’s just that we should not make our goals too definite.

For example, while one of our goals may be to buy a car in six months’ time, there may be other priorities that come up such that we will direct our focus elsewhere out of necessity . For instance, maybe housing prices are better in half a year’s time, and we purchase a new home instead.

We may also want to join a gym club in a month’s time but soon learn that yoga and pilates are more suited for our body types.

Hence, too specific goals do not work most of the time.

We should have general goals, and choose to to go with the flow of life while adjusting our goals accordingly, which is what most successful businesses do.

As what Jon Acuff said in this book “Start”, we know where we start but we do not know where we finish when it comes to accomplishing our goals. Often enough, we end up not where we thought we are going, but somewhere even more fantastic.

2.  You can’t enjoy life’s journey when you are too focused on your goals.

Personally, I do not think that life wants you to go where you want to go. I think life wants you to enjoy the journey more than the destination (which is what you want to achieve).

It is not surprising to see many people defining happiness as a process, and not a destination. It is the same for life.

“The joys of life is savoured along the way, such as spending time with your friends and loved ones. It’s not as if someone reaches a place called Life’s Destination and say, “Oh wow!!  I have reached my goal. Now it’s time to be happy!!”. Nay, it’s not like that. “

In life, it’s human nature to want to achieve things for themselves but that’s not the primary purpose of life.

“Some people just have the knack for understanding life. For these individuals, they also have life goals that they wish to achieve. What makes them different from the rest is that after they have put in their best efforts,  they smile and just be – regardless of the outcome.”

3. Did you accomplish all your new year resolutions?

 If you have friends who have fulfilled all their new year resolutions every single year throughout their lives to date without fail, let me know. Because I have never met one.

One of the most common reasons people say that goal-setting does not work is because we lack passion. And they say that we must develop this passion to accomplish our goals. But think about it. The very fact that we lack passion for certain goals means that our values and beliefs are different from those required to pursue these goals.

Say, for example, buying a car. If we feel that cars are depreciating assets and that taking public transport is a better deal, then we will not be passionate in buying a car and hence this goal of buying a car will probably not be achieved. Do we really want to force ourselves to be more passionate about cars such that we can buy one? Will this really make us happy? Think about it.

We are better changing our goals such that it suits our values and beliefs better.

Then of course, there are other reasons.

Most of us would usually reason some of our goals away by saying that we have no time (because our priorities are not on achieving these goals, which means we know exactly what we want, which is great) or  we set too many goals (which means we know how to prioritise, which is also great).

But do you see the actual reason for our procrastination?

“The ones that we do not do are usually the ones we do not wish to do. Life is telling us something here. When we face resistance in ourselves like this, this means we are moving in the wrong direction. If these are the goals we really want to pursue, find a way around them. If not, drop them. “

For example, if we want to lose weight, we may have set the goal as joining a gym club and exercising 4 times a day. Now, gyms are popular outlets to exercise and we may have wrote it out of habit. But deep down inside, we know that we just want to do a brisk walk.

Then go for a brisk walk! Forget about the gym. We should listen to our bodies.

We know what we want, so don’t let goals stop us. We control our goals, not the other way round.

So ok, you might have a deadline for work. And there’s no way around it. Do you enjoy doing this? Yes, good for you. Then find a way to work around it.  No? Take a second to think about why this is so. Is it that you are someone who prefers  a more flexible working environment with increased autonomy? Or that this job is not for you? Either way, you got to make a change, right?

So, whenever we face resistance in doing what we set out to do, know that we should work on the goal in a way we are comfortable with, or drop the goal entirely for a totally new direction suited for us.

And do not work towards others’ expectations.

“I need to get rich.”

“I need to get a car.”

“I need to get a bigger house.”

“I need to get another house.”

Do you really want to do the above? If so, please do.

If not, are you then working towards what is expected of you by others and society rather than what you want? Don’t.

Work towards what you want and put in your best efforts, but let things that you work towards to come to you at their own time, and you will have a happier life!

Author’s background: Patrick Tay is an English Writing Specialist who lectures in various polytechnics in Singapore, and coaches students in English as a private tutor. His professional services can be found here.

 

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