7 reasons why you and your students will love LyricsTraining

Have you tried LyricsTraining? I have and I loved it. And so my students.

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A small group of students played LyricsTraining (we used TV as the screen)

I bet many of us (English teachers) have tried this method (and your students once in a while would ask you to do that too): teach English through (English) songs by asking them to listen to a song and fill in the gaps of the song’s lyrics. Most of the time we prepared the song, lyrics, and worksheet by ourselves (yep, browsed, copy-pasted, edited, and printed it). With LyricsTraining, you do not need to do all that. Just prepare your computer and internet, and you’re ready to go.

Here’s 7 reasons why you and your students will love LyricsTraining:

  1. The website provides the latest songs and lyrics, things your students (or maybe yourself if you love (pop) music!) would love. You can search for your (or your students’) favorite songs, singers, bands, or lyrics in the Search box on top of the site.
  2. Songs and lyrics are categorized into 3 levels of difficulty: Easy, Medium, Hard. It makes it easier for students to choose what level they want to play. I guess lyrics levels are made based on the song tempo and vocabulary in the lyrics. The faster the tempo and the more advanced the vocabulary, the higher the level is.
  3. Aside from point 2, there are also 3 game modes you can choose for each song: Beginner, Intermediate, Expert. In Beginner mode, players only need to fill in 10% of the blanks, while in Intermediate they have to fill in 25% of the blanks. Expert mode means players have to fill in all the lyrics by themselves (no clues given).
  4. Just like karaoke, scores are provided at the end of the game. How do we get high scores? Type as fast as you can and choose the highest level and mode! This feature is great if you want to make students compete against each other.
  5. Here’s another interesting feature of this site. If you stop and can’t listen to the lyrics, the lyrics bar (the green highlight with arrows pointing down) will also stop and wait for you!
  6. Also, if you’re stuck and want to give up, you can choose to skip a word by pressing the Tab button on your keyboard. For more shortcuts you can click ‘Help’ at the bottom right of the video.
  7. Don’t feel like typing the lyrics? Go for a karaoke instead! Choose ‘Karaoke’ when you open a video and you can watch it with its full lyrics. You and your students can sing the song together.

Skills practiced and tips for maximizing LyricsTraining:

  1. Students can practice listening in a more challenging way.
  2. They can also practice (or test?) their vocabulary.
  3. Besides listening and vocabulary, we can also use LyricsTraining to teach grammar, idiomatic expressions, and slang. Before we play a song, it’s much better to prepare points students are about to practice in the song, choose the right song to do that, and prepare a follow-up activity afterwards. It gives them a sense of purpose and the practice will be more efficient and systematic.
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P!nk’s Raise Your Glass – as innocent as the song might be, it does contain some ‘bad’ words you don’t want your students to pick up

Some cautions!

However, though, I have some concerns and teachers need to be cautious before using LyricsTraining in their class, especially because of these reasons:

  1. Be very careful in choosing songs. Many of them use inappropriate language that might not be suitable for younger learners (or in fact, all learners). Other issue is although the lyrics might not be blatantly inappropriate, some (or many?) contain sexual implication.
  2. Even if the lyrics are fine, you still need to check the music videos, especially if they contain sexual imagery and nudity.

Well, I hope this post is useful. Ready to sing along? Happy playing!

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Using text message (sms) as homework assignment in an ESP class

Maximizing potential with minimum resource.

Around two months ago I had my first meeting for an English for Specific Purpose (ESP) class that was specifically made for cashiers and shop attendants at a supermarket in Kuta, Badung. This surely wasn’t my first ESP class. That’s why I was partly worried that I would make the same mistake I did before with my other classes. I’ve been teaching English for the past five years and ESP has been one of the most frequent types of class I teach. Before deciding in using text message as homework assignment, I’d like to share my initial thoughts on previous mistakes I made:

My ESP students are of course mostly adults with very little (if not zero) exposure to English. Part of the problem why employers send them to an English class is because of this lack of exposure, but at the same time being enrolled in the class does not solve the problem. Why? Because they are engaged with English ONLY when they are in the classroom, in which only three times a week, 90 minutes for each meeting – that, if they’re lucky. Most of the time they prefer working than being in my English class thus making it to the 90 minutes a week can be considered an achievement.

Since I’m a believer (not Belieber, mind you) in the notion that language is acquired, not learned, then if I continued this practice (to have students only learn while they are in the classroom) I would contradict my own belief. I thought I had to find a way where students can at least be aware that unless they take control over their own learning and be actively involved in it, they can achieve the expected outcome. Thus: homework, something that reminds them of the English class they are taking, at home. However, the problem with traditional homework is that oftentimes it is boring and time consuming.

My original plan was: to ‘move’ the class to social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, after a very short survey, I found out that none of them were active users of both (only one is familiar with Facebook, but not an active user). It was my failure to realize that students’ social and economic background also plays an important role to this condition. Having this fact, I quickly figured out an alternative: text message, since all of them have mobile phones (these days no doubt it is more like a necessity than luxury).

So here’s how I did my text message homework assignment, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Skills practiced through the assignment:

  1. Writing,
  2. Spelling and grammar/ accuracy,
  3. Vocabulary,
  4. Familiarity with common English expressions.

When it was done:

The homework was given on the second meeting (on Friday), coinciding with the beginning of the end of the week. I thought this would be a good reminder of the English class, at home, during the weekend. Students were free to choose to send the text message either on Saturday or Sunday. The task was checked and discussed in the next meeting, at the beginning of the next week (on Monday).

What the students were asked to do:

They were asked to send a simple text message to me (their teacher), saying “selamat berakhir pekan” (weekend greetings). I did not elicit how to say it in English nor what should they say. I only wrote the Indonesian phrase above on the board. My purpose was to let them initiate their own thoughts. They were free, tho, to ask their friends, relatives, or anyone, or find help in books or on the internet.

What the results were:

Out of total 11 students, 10 did their homework: 7 sent it to me on Saturday, 3 on Sunday. Here are the texts (with no editing):

  1. “happy lastweek mrs mino…. from ngurah”
  2. “Good Afternoon, Miss NENO. Happy last weekend for today. From KADEK SRI PURNAMA”
  3. “good afternoon ms. neno,,, it’s my homework, happy weekend ms. neno. thank’s before. from: sriwasih”
  4. “Happy weekend” [Mrs. Budani]
  5. “Hai,, good evening mrs neno, happy weekend,have a nice holiday for tomorrow.. thanks for teach me, you^re awesome, thanks so much, yulia purnamasari”
  6. “Have a nice weekend,to mrs neno,from suli.See you”
  7.  ”She you weken ms.Neno” [Tri]
  8. “happy weekend miss neno.” [Erna]
  9. “Morning miss neno. . . Happy niCe weekend. . .” [Selvi]
  10. “good morning Ms NENO,this nengah adi,have a nice weekend”

What I did in the next meeting:

The text message assignment was a good instrument to introduce them to these topics:

  1. Greetings,
  2. Titles and how to address people,
  3. How to actually say “selamat berakhir pekan” in English and other related expressions,
  4. Farewell,
  5. The correct spelling and pronunciation of all the above.

These five were the main topics, but I also touched a little on capitalization and punctuation (but didn’t over-emphasize them, since I realized their focus was more on the communicative function of the language). All the above points are useful for their everyday speaking practice at work, with both customers and coworkers. Teaching materials they can relate to is important in an ESP and/ or adult class. Please note that during the discussion of their homework, I wasn’t being judgmental in any way in order to show them they were allowed to make mistakes and obliged to learn from them.

What I learned from this activity:

This is definitely one of my favorite activities that I will continue using and modifying for my future classes. Like any other class activity, it has some advantages and disadvantages. I will start with the disadvantages.

The shortfalls:

  1. Skills practiced were limited to only writing and grammar,
  2. Text message character limit (up to only 160 characters) limited students to do longer task,
  3. Teachers should have lots of ideas for topic (repetition can lead to boredom).

The positive sides:

  1. It was a good tool to measure students’ basic knowledge,
  2. The task could fill the gap between the class and their everyday life – that learning does not take place only in the classroom,
  3. It was a good way to introduce topics that were presented in the next meeting,
  4. The task was time efficient, considerably cheap, and fun.

I could say that this assignment was a part of my experiment in making my class more engaging and effective. I would be very happy to receive any comment or input on any aspect of this experiment from you. Thank you and I hope you can find it useful.

Photo credit: mobighar.com.

Kamus dan pentingnya belajar mandiri

I often say to my students: “I am not a 70 kg walking dictionary. Go get yourself a dictionary! Download one on your cellphone!” – @me_nulis, seorang guru sebuah SMA di Surabaya

Belakangan ini ada satu hal lucu yang cukup menggelitik benak saya. Sewaktu saya SMA, teman-teman sekolah menyadari saya memiliki kemampuan bahasa Inggris yang “agak sedikit” lebih dibanding anak-anak di sekeliling saya. Pada saat itu, melihat kenyataan ini banyak dari mereka memanfaatkan saya sebagai “kamus berjalan”. Tentu Anda tahu kan apa yang dimaksud dengan “kamus berjalan”? Tidak lain tidak bukan adalah seseorang (yang mungkin teman Anda sendiri) yang memiliki vocabulary (perbendaharaan) yang lebih baik dari Anda, yang maka dari itu bisa Anda tanya-tanya kapan saja di mana saja (selagi Anda bisa menghubunginya). Dulu saya menikmati saja dijadikan “kamus berjalan” karena perasaan bangga, tapi sekarang? Sebagai seorang guru bahasa Inggris full time, hal terakhir yang saya inginkan dari orang lain adalah bertanya tentang arti suatu kata. Saya selalu berusaha menghindarinya. Apakah saya sombong?

Bisakah Anda bayangkan jika saya secara terbuka mengumumkan bahwa Anda bisa bertanya tentang arti kata kapan saja di mana saja Anda mau? Mungkin saya akan melayani beribu pertanyaan tiap harinya (well, mungkin angka tadi agak sedikit berlebihan). Bagaimana nasib kamus, thesaurus, Google, dan internet pada umumnya? Belakangan ini saya mendapat pertanyaan tentang arti kata bukan dari murid-murid saya saja, tapi juga dari orang-orang yang kebetulan mengetahui saya adalah seorang guru bahasa Inggris. Kebanyakan via SMS, BBM, bahkan telepon. Beberapa di antara pertanyaan mereka adalah kata-kata yang “sederhana” yang dapat dengan mudah ditemukan di dalam kamus. Beberapa kali saya mencoba menyarankan untuk mencarinya di kamus terlebih dahulu, namun sepertinya mereka tidak paham pesan yang ingin saya sampaikan: saya memilih memberikan mereka kail terlebih dahulu, bukan ikannya.

Kenapa banyak dari kita memilih “kamus berjalan” daripada kamus aslinya? Karena kita ingin segala sesuatu yang praktis, mudah, instan. Sayangnya hingga saat ini saya belum menemukan kamus yang dapat diajak “bicara” di mana kita bisa menanyakan arti sebuah kata hanya dengan mengatakannya (seperti halnya atasan tempat saya dulu bekerja yang biasanya meneriakkan pertanyaannya pada saya dari ruangannya di sebelah meja, “Retno, arti kata ini apa ya?!”). Bisa jadi sebuah robot pemandu bahasa Inggris atau English assistant akan diciptakan beberapa tahun dari sekarang, tapi untuk saat ini kemandirian kita dalam mengoptimalkan fungsi kamus, teknologi, dan internet yang akan menolong kita di saat kita “kepepet”, tidak ada “kamus berjalan” atau seorang pun yang bisa dimintai tolong. Topik kamus dan kemandirian ini yang juga menjadi bahasan di akun Twitter @ActiveEnglish_ yang saya administrasi kemarin.

Saya tidak terlalu setuju dikatakan “guru idealis” karena panggilan itu saya anggap kuno. Idealis atau tidak, a teacher must do what she/ he must do. Susah membayangkan guru yang seperti apa itu? Saya juga pecinta popular culture dan seorang Gleek (pecinta serial Glee). Guru yang menjalankan tugas sebagaimana dia seharusnya bisa dilihat dari guru-guru karakter protagonis dalam Glee, seperti William “Will” Schuester dan Emma Pillsbury. Entah darimana datangnya, mereka selalu terdorong untuk menjadi “the good educator” dengan memberi contoh yang baik dan mendukung murid-murid mereka dalam melakukan hal-hal baik. Dalam hal ini, jika saya terus-menerus memberikan jawaban dari apa yang mereka tanyakan, mereka akan terus bergantung pada saya dan bukan ini tujuan dari pembelajaran dan pendidikan. Pendidikan harusnya mengajarkan seseorang menjadi mandiri, walaupun ada proses pembimbingan terlebih dahulu.

Sangat disayangkan ketika saya bekerja di sebuah lembaga kursus bahasa Inggris beberapa tahun lalu, banyak anak-anak muda (baca: ABG) tidak mengenal dan tidak mengetahui cara menggunakan kamus (dalam bentuk buku). Murid-murid saya yang lebih tua, dengan modus operandi yang agak sedikit berbeda (namun secara umum perilaku yang sama), sedikit banyak juga menganggap tidak penting bagi mereka untuk memiliki kamus. Sekali lagi saya tekankan, ini adalah cara belajar yang tidak benar, dan saya tidak merekomendasikan Anda untuk melakukannya. Jika memang Anda “malas” membawa kamus dalam bentuk buku ke sana ke mari karena ukuran dan beratnya, masih banyak sumber lain yang tidak kalah bagusnya, seperti kamus elektronik, aplikasi kamus di smartphone dan laptop, Google, dan kamus online. Untuk tips menggunakan kamus bahasa Inggris, bisa Anda baca di halaman ini: Tips menggunakan kamus bahasa Inggris.

Biasanya ketika saya mengajar, hal pertama yang saya rekomendasikan pada murid saya di pertemuan pertama adalah membeli kamus dalam bentuk buku, jika mereka mampu. Kebanyakan dari mereka adalah pengguna smartphone. Jadi kalaupun mereka “tidak mampu” membeli kamus, saya langsung sarankan untuk mengunduh aplikasi kamus bahasa Inggris di smartphone mereka. Karena tentu saya tidak akan ada di samping mereka untuk mereka tanya-tanya sepanjang hari kan? Dalam membiasakan diri menggunakan kamus, saya tidak membedakan umur. Murid saya yang termuda yang sudah menggunakan kamus adalah kelas 4 SD. Jika menurut Anda kamus “biasa” terlalu “berat” untuk anak-anak, saya rekomendasikan (jika Anda kebetulan adalah orangtua) untuk menyediakan (beli atau pinjam) kamus untuk anak-anak yang bergambar. Sudah ada banyak kamus semacam ini di pasaran dan toko buku. Seharusnya tidak terlalu sulit untuk dicari.

Kunci sukses adalah semua hal yang berkebalikan dengan “malas” dan “kemalasan”. Jika hingga saat ini Anda masih sepenuhnya memanfaatkan “kamus berjalan” alih-alih kamus asli, berarti Anda masih membiarkan kemalasan menguasai Anda. Artinya? Anda masih jauh dari kesuksesan menguasai bahasa Inggris. Ini beberapa tahapan yang bisa Anda lakukan ketika terjebak dalam kata sulit dalam bahasa Inggris. Pertama, carilah di kamus yang Anda punya. Ke dua, jika tidak menemukannya di kamus, carilah di Google. Jika penjelasan di Google dalam bahasa Inggris juga, terjemahkanlah dengan Google Terjemahan. Masih stuck? Coba cari sinonim katanya di Thesaurus.com. Penjelasan masih dalam bahasa Inggris? Ulangi tahap ke dua. Masih tidak ada penjelasan? Mungkin itu slang. Jika demikian carilah artinya di Urban Dictionary. Pilih arti dengan vote paling banyak. “Banyak jalan menuju Roma.” Jika sudah benar-benar mentok, barulah tanyakan pada ahlinya.

Percayalah, proses pencarian arti dengan keringat dan darah sendiri itu “worth it“. At the end of the day, Anda pasti akan merasa puas dengan diri Anda sendiri. Pengetahuan Anda meningkat, dan alih-alih menjadi murid, seiring dengan waktu Anda bisa menjadi guru bagi orang lain, karena sekarang Anda tahu dari mana para guru mendapatkan jawaban dari pertanyaan yang biasanya sering ditanyakan ke mereka. Intinya adalah berusaha mencari tahu (memancing) dulu sebelum benar-benar mendapatkan jawabannya (ikannya). Kebiasaan mencari atau meneliti (research) ini pun bisa diterapkan di bidang lain, bukan hanya pada saat Anda melatih vocabulary saja. Tak kalah penting, di mana pun Anda berada, praktek ini bisa dilakukan berulang-ulang. Jadi Anda tidak perlu melulu bergantung pada “kamus berjalan” kan? Sudah siap jadi pembelajar mandiri? Ayo dimulai dari sekarang!