Buena suerte en junio con el KET…

Recientemente, tuve el placer de visitar unas escuelas en Madrid que usan ExamSpeak para ayudar a preparar a los estudiantes para el examen KET. A todos los estudiantes que estan preparando el examen KET para junio: ¡mucha suerte!

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IATEFL for Beginners

Though I’ve been teaching for quite a few years in Europe I’ve never really taken advantage of any of the strong circles of fellow teachers working around the continent. The Annual IATEFL Conference is a place where they all get together to exchange ideas and learn about what’s happening in the English Language Teaching world.  This year it’s being held in Glasgow (which has been surprisingly warm and sunny).

There’s much more to it than I had thought and if you are an English language teacher you should absolutely go to your boss’s office and start asking about how you can go next year to represent your school.

Lots of cool, curious teachers and teacher support have come over to be curious and show support for what we are doing at ExamSpeak.  For Paul and I who are representing, it’s been amazing getting face-to-face feedback.

It was wonderful seeing the people spread far beyond our expectations.  Absolutely brilliant PhDs languishing, clever recruiters, weary, bleary, cheery stand manners, teachers who have become everything to stay away from classroom teacher wages all wishing to be back, people who see it as a lifestyle, people aspiring to better posts, people trying to write better blog posts, friends, rivals, great friends, name droppers, show stoppers for fanboys.  There are writers.  And guys like our excellent neighbours helping each other help teachers and schools all over.

And we feel quite pleased indeed with how ExamSpeak’s features have been received by IATEFL members.  So here’s our little emotional tribute to IATEFLers everywhere:

IATEFL is… just what it says.

International. Turkey. China. England. Ireland. Dubai. Well over 150 rejected stereotypes even Nepal.

Association. Being here it’s easy to see how we all depend on each other for everything from students to tools to theory.

Teachers. Everything facilitates or directs the teaching of learners.

English. The exquisitely respected way of thinking which hope everyone will be happier knowing.

Foreign.  In spite of how we may want to be able to understand everything there is nothing more everyone seems to treasure than being foreign, unique or indescribable without a story.

Language.  The great mystery we all get around to talking about after ticking the boxes: Life described.




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IATEFL next week

Really looking forward to IATEFL in Glasgow next week…

Come to stand 3 to see our award winning product and to pick up you free teacher’s licence for ExamSpeak.

You can follow the proceedings online at:


plus we’ll be tweeting updates.

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How many words do you need to understand English…

I recently came across an interesting info-graphic showing the most commonly spoken English words based on frequency.

Did you know that 360 words make up 75% of spoken English ?


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The Noticing Hypothesis

Just like the big academic journals for medical doctors, academic journals exist for English teachers too. Here’s an sample Phonological Awareness and Speech Comprehensibility by John Levis and H.S. Venkatagiri.

It may not be light or photocopy-friendly “Ship or Sheep” but if you want to know your business there’s nothing better than going to source. As a teacher I’m sure you share their observations.

Basically they explain something that you have already probably experienced as as a teacher. That’s this: One thing that may help make comprehensibility come about easier and earlier is a greater explicit knowledge of the features of speech.

Their study which is incredibly well-constructed shows that comprehensibility was higher for native English speakers listening to learners who knew about phonology.

To see if they really knew their stuff, the researchers Venkatagiri and Levis (one of the principle guys behind the U. of Iowa “phonetics” site) prepared a series of 12 tests of “phonological manipulation”- which as you can imagine involves messing around with the sounds in words. This sorted those who had studied phonology explicitly from those who hadn’t. It also revealed that those who had a greater awareness, were more able to manipulate sounds and sound symbols both in writing and speech.

They believe this backs another researchers findings, a certain R. Schmidt who posited a theory of noticing. He thought that… well… here’s a giant quote that says it as well as Venkatagiri could say it

Schmidt (1990) has proposed the ‘noticing hypothesis’, which claims that conscious awareness (noticing) is essential for the development of L2 (and, presumably, L1) profi- ciency. Schmidt has argued that ‘what learners notice in input is what becomes intake for learning’ (Schmidt, 1995: 20). Schmidt and Frota (1986) have also emphasised that ‘noticing the gap’ learners’ awareness of the disparity between the input and their current interlanguage (the developing system of knowledge of the target language) – enhances learning. While it is not clear that this kind of noticing is always amenable to formal instruction (Lightbown, 2000), studies on form-focused instruction find that learners who have such instruction usually outperform those who have meaning-only instruction (Spada, 1997).

The interactive feedback that is given to learners using ExamSpeak is intended to help learners to focus on form and take advantage of their experience with the media to show them what the “Examiner” notices.  They are some of the same things we as teachers notice in class.  But with lots of students you can’t stop and show them all.  This is how applications like this can help learners focus on what must be skipped in lessons for practical reasons.

We notice their errors in class, but the learner deserves the opportunity to have individual attention to their speaking.

Eventually they will need to notice what we notice too.



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¿Sabía usted que ExamSpeak está disponible en español?

¿Sabía usted que ExamSpeak está disponible en español?

ExamSpeak lo prepara para su prueba de Inglés oral permitiéndole experimentar el examen – antes de hacerlo

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Sapevate che ExamSpeak è ora disponibile in italiano?

Sapevate che ExamSpeak è ora disponibile in italiano?

ExamSpeak vi prepara per la prova di inglese dandovi l’opportunità d’ esercitare l’esame prima di sostenerlo.

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IELTS Speaking

Chris Brown (Teacher Support Coordinator) had an interesting poll result in his Cambridge ESOL Teacher Support Ezine recently. When asked ‘What is the most difficult area to teach?’ The answer was…speaking. Speaking came in at 25%, compared to Reading (the ‘easiest’) at 6% and Vocabulary at 11%.

Speaking seems to ‘scare’ teachers in a way that speaking tests, such as IELTS Speaking, scare learners. In my experience, when helping learners with exam preparation for IELTS, regardless of their nationality or gender, they always found IELTS speaking the most daunting. Now a poll suggests that teachers find teaching speaking the most difficult. My own theory is that teachers are a lot better at teaching speaking than they think. Perhaps it seems more difficult because they feel more exposed; perhaps they question their own clarity of speech and their own accents. In the same way students feel exposed during a speaking test. They are face to face with the examiner; they have to say something…

As ever, my solution for learners taking the IELTS speaking test or other speaking components of EFL exams, is to put all your effort into preparation and mock tests, then on the day, relax, be yourself, and speak freely!

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For Yoshi and Speaking Up

Twitter is a great place to find out about the big trends in your profession.  It’s also a good place to find out about the tiny changes which together make up the big picture of our world today.

We’ve been following the big writers and thinkers in English teaching and educational technology.  And we also follow a handful of learners and schools who for one reason or another strike our fancy.  Finding out what is important to them is really what our priority should be.

Today two big trendsetters and writers for English language teaching, Scott Thornbury and Sean Banville (who you should definitely be following), both got a new follower: @4423nakahira aka “yoshi”
His profile…

I’m studying English. Follow me and correct my tweet frankly.

…invites anyone interested to follow his tweets and correct his tweets “frankly”.

There are two English errors which caught the attention of Sean andScott: The first one is when he says “correct my tweet” which should be “tweets” because in English when we generalize, we pluralize; the second is his soon-to-be famous use of frankly.  Frankly usually means honestly- but it implies additionally a warning that  something which the speaker will say is going to be uncomfortable for the listener.

The listener in this case are two of the world’s most popular English teachers  and this kind of little error is one which won’t make us feel uncomfortable but might make him feel uncomfortable. But not Yoshi.  And that’s what we love about good learners like him.

He’s too brave to feel uncomfortable.  He’s ready to make a mistake and just wants the correction.  He knows he’s going to improve if and only if he speaks up and tries.  In his profile picture he seems happy and very open.  He seems not at all like the stereotype that many English speakers have of Japanese people being reserved and obsessed with respect and embarrassment.  He’s willing to make mistakes and so he’s ready learn.

ExamSpeak is perfect for people who aren’t quite as brave as Yoshi. But its features,which spot and then help the learner spot their errors, would be a help for someone courageous and open like him, too.

ExamSpeak gives you a place to speak up and try your grammar and spoken English privately and make specific improvements.  If Yoshi is lucky he’ll get to travel abroad, work with good teachers and then, I think, he’ll be a very successful learner.  He’ll take a lot of chances and make a lot of “the right mistakes”.  He made the right one today: he took the chance to speak up and Sean and Scott have both decided to “correct his tweet”.   Speak up and make the right kind of mistake.

We like learners that here and so we’re going to follow him, too.  If you know another interesting learner with a Twitter account let us know we’ll follow them and give access them to ExamSpeak, too.  Everybody deserves the chance to speak up.
P.S. Yoshi might be a girl, but we had to take a chance here- I’m sure she’ll correct us if need be. ; )

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What if I don’t understand the question?

Did you know that you can gain marks in your English speaking test by asking for help?

When you have a conversation in your native language, you don’t always understand everything or hear everything correctly first time. When this happens, you simply ask for help.

Sorry could you repeat that please?

I’m sorry,I don’t understand.

The same is true when you are learning English. If you don’t understand, ask for help – this shows you can communicate in English.

See the quotation below from the CUP Key English Test handbook for teachers

‘Candidates are given credit for being able to ask for repetition or clarification where necessary’.

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