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English and new skills

January 16, 2008

Hello again,

New technology has had a big impact on how we use English. Yet many people do not combine language and technology to best effect. I remember an international ...

...meeting some years ago when all the presenters used PowerPoint. Very few used it well and even native speakers displayed poor language skills in this medium. Email, real-time chat and virtual meetings are now all part of everyday business life and these need careful preparation and proper understanding of what works and what does not.

With PowerPoint the danger is to be seduced by all the fancy effects: words spinning and flying; colour; clip art, sound effects. Yet if the title that flies in is incorrectly spelt the impact is spoilt. Getting basics right is more important than dazzling the audience with fireworks. Students need to understand how to keep messages brief and accurate; when to use charts and diagrams; how to select appropriate visuals and how to ensure that slides are visible and not too crowded.

Email is another minefield as everyone seems tempted to be over familiar. This being so, the sender needs to understand when an email is appropriate and when a letter of a phone call would be better. The choices are not always mutually exclusive as an email can be used as a cover now for a formal letter sent as an attachment.

Virtual conferences are more complex than conference calls. Turn-taking, body language, keeping interventions brief: these are key points for a successful virtual meeting. They are suitable for discussing one or two fairly simple issues but nothing too time-consuming or complex.

As teachers of English, we need a much broader understanding of the means of communication than ever before and to able to guide our students to use these tools effectively.

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  1. sami Says:

    I'm currently studying to become an ESL teacher and I was wondering if you had any advice as to what you think about computer/internet games to help students learn english, and which types of games worked best for you. Also, I was wondering what you thought about teaching (7-12 grades) the lingustic (IPA) alphabet, or if it would just make things more complicated? Thanks for your time!

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:

    Sami, I have not used computer or Internet games but word games could be useful.

    And the IPA is such a useful tool that I think your young students would benefit greatly from it. I have taught it to teenagers and used lots of games to make it fun.

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