Six most frequent collocations in English

Photo from Morguefile.comI found this list in the October 2008 English Language Teaching Journal. It’s based on the ten million word spoken section of the British National Corpus. The research was done by Dongkwang Shin and Paul Nation, two experts in applied linguistics from Victoria University in Wellington. To know all the ins-and-outs of how they got the list I’d recommend reading the article. For those of you who, like me, just want the top six here they are.

1.  you know – 27348 occurences

2. I think (that) – 25862 occurences

3. a bit – 7766 occurances

4. always used to / never used to – 7663 occurences

5. as well – 5754 occurences

6. a lot of – 5750 occurences

I personally think that this list is much more interesting and potentially useful than the six most frequent words in English. As a materials writer, it makes me think of what to include in low level texts and listening comprehension activities. As a teacher, it makes me think about what to point out to my students and encourage them to remember. As an English speaker, I find it interesting to think we use “used to” so much.

I had toyed with trying to come up with a short text which included all these collocations, but I thought I’d leave that to someone else on the comments below. Go for it!

Published in: on February 27, 2009 at 3:33 pm  Comments (9)  
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Six most frequent words in English

Here they are, according to Wordcount which is based on the British National Corpus.

1. the

2. of

3. and

4. to

5. a

6. in

Does this leave you a little bit…cold? Expecting more? Wondering… so what? Feeling like the most interesting thing in today’s list is the image?

Me too, sometimes. 

Actually, I think that more useful and interesting would be the six most frequent collocations, which I have managed to get a hold of and will post tomorrow. The whole frequency fashion is quite curious actually. I’m also working on a more critical piece about it which I will also post shortly.

Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 3:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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Six places for English teachers to get published

There comes a time in many an English teacher’s career when they decide they want to turn to writing. Maybe it’s an urge to share some of the things they’ve learned over the years in the class. Maybe it’s seen as a way to get ahead at work. Maybe it’s seen as a way of making extra money. Actually, a lot of English teachers I know secretly harbour a desire to write a great novel (but who doesn’t?). And above all, it’s a boost for one’s ego to get published somewhere. For all of you wishing to get started in the glamourous world of ELT writing, here are my six recommendations. All of these places accept submissions from teachers, just like yourselves…


1. English Teaching Professional. One of the best known magazines for English Teachers with a worldwide circulation, ETp is a good bet. However, be aware that waiting lists can be long (up to a year). You could write an article, or submit some of your best ideas to their It works in Practice section. ETp’s style is informal and accessible, so don’t send your MA dissertation here.

Ego boost factor: High. Your article will be in colour, nicely designed, and with a photo and bio of you at the end. People all over the world would read your stuff. You may share content credits with very well known people in the field.


2. Voices. This is the IATEFL newsletter. You’d have to be a member of IATEFL to get a copy, but this publication is much more widely read than you might expect, and articles from it are quoted in other places. Here the style can be completely informal or quite formal indeed, but they are often short pieces. Voices has a very international makeup of contibutors. This is a place to submit an article, rather than a teaching tip (or make your teaching tip into a whole article, I’ve seen that done several times).

Ego boost factor: Medium. No colour inside and the design isn’t as nice as ETp, but your photo and mini bio would appear at the end. And you would probably find that you are being read in the most unusual places.


3. Modern English Teacher. A bit like English Teaching Professional (MET is a sister title, according to their website), this is another glossy magazine for teachers. It has several different sections including a big one on practical ideas which would be a logical place for many teachers to start. I don’t see this magazine around quite as much as English Teaching Professional, but it’s been  going on for 30 years. 

Ego boost factor: Medium to high. Design is slightly classier than ETp but not as colourful. I personally think ETp is better edited, but that’s just my opinion!


4. Onestopenglish. Web publishing doesn’t have quite the same feeling as seeing your name in print on the page, but the big difference is the number of people who will read your stuff. If you want to aim high, go for Onestopenglish. They scout writers through the Lesson Share competition. If you are a fantastically witty writer, submit an anecdote to the anecdote competition. Fancy yourself as a methodologist? Enter the methodology competition and get a chance to win a trip to IATEFL as well as getting published. Each of these could lead to paid writing work with the site. 

Ego boost factor: High. This site gets 400,000 visits or so a month. I haven’t been to a country and given a talk to teachers who don’t know Onestopenglish. It’s pretty motivating to think that your stuff could be read by tens or hundreds of thousands.


5. Humanising Language Teaching. The Pilgrims webzine started by Mario Rinvolucri is one of the oldest on the web. It’s been going for quite a while, and is read by an awful lot of people. They are also very open to new articles and submissions but be warned you may have to wait a while before it’s published. There also seems to be a rather flexible publication schedule, if your article is to appear in the November issue that could mean beginning or end of November or beginning of December even. Have patience.

Ego boost factor: Medium to high. The layout isn’t particularly interesting and sometimes looks all squashed together but your article will be read by many, and some gurus perhaps as well. 

6. Local newsletter or magazine. Even though I left this to last, it’s probably the first port of call, try a local magazine. Or the newsletter of your local teaching organisation.

Ego boost factor: Will vary. Some of these publications are very good-looking and well-edited indeed and may in fact bring more kudos than one of the bigger magazines above.

I realise there are probably more, and I’ve restricted myself as usual to only six. There were two notable omissions, English Language Teaching Journal (ELTJ) or TESOL Quarterly. These two publications are much more for the academically minded. The selection process is harder, and you will have to wait probably at least a year before your article is published. But the ego boost factor is probably very high if you work at a university, as appearing in either of these two might help you up that particular ladder. 

For more tips on getting into writing, check out the Onestopenglish’s section on Author of the month where authors share advice on how they got into it. My one piece of advice I’ll reprint here is “Don’t lord it over colleagues”. Walking around saying “As a published author…” won’t win you many friends. 

Good luck with it!

Published in: on February 24, 2009 at 9:10 am  Comments (5)  

Philip Kerr’s Six Inspirations to become a teacher

philip-january-2007This list was supplied to me by Philip Kerr, teacher, trainer and materials writer. I had the pleasure and honour of working on the Straightforward course with Philip and have always immensely enjoyed his talks and articles for teachers. In fact, I wish he’d write more! Anyway, he supplies here a very interesting list of things that inspired people to become teachers. Food for thought… 

In January of this year, I moderated an online discussion organised by SEETA, the South-East European Teachers’ Association, the subject of which was ‘who or what has inspired you most in your work as a teacher?’ The topic of the discussion itself was in part inspired by own mid-life need for an inspirational shot in the arm. If I learnt one thing from the experience, it was to revise my profound suspicion of online discussions. Here is what people said … in order of frequency.

1 Other teachers

The most frequent postings concerned teachers (mostly from high school) as role models. The inspirational qualities included patience, treating students as equals, approachability, dedication and a sense of fun. One comment that particularly struck me (as a writer of coursebooks) was a description of one inspiring teacher as ‘fun and different … she didn’t use coursebooks’.

As a follow-up, I asked my teenage daughter if she had any teachers who might inspire their students to become teachers. Her response was a bemused smile – parents ask such dumb questions sometimes.

2 The English language and cultural icons

With my native-speaker-tinted spectacles, it had never crossed my mind that anyone might actually be inspired by the language itself. One participant talked about the endless joy of learning a language; others talked about an obsessive interest in the language. I realise now that I should have been aware of this long ago: as an itinerant teacher trainer, I know that many people are much less interested in what I’m saying than how I say it.

Closely related to the language interest is an interest in the culture of the English-speaking world, especially pop singers. One participant’s path to becoming an English teacher began with a compulsive desire to understand the lyrics of a Tina Turner song. Others cited Duran Duran (Lady Di’s favourite band) and George Michael. Is there a new generation of young teachers out there inspired by Britney or the Pussycat Dolls?

3 Students

No one has been inspired to become a teacher by their students, for the obvious reason that you don’t have any students until you become a teacher. But having taken the step of becoming a teacher, many testified to finding an on-going motivation through their relationships with both individual students and whole classes. This is also, of course, the ‘correct’ answer to the question of who inspires you.

4 Trainers and training

Four-week certificate courses or longer diplomas often work their magic, and MAs have been known to do the trick, too. This business is not short of ‘gurus’ and Super Mario, (aka ‘Mario Rinvoludicrous’, with 19 hits on a Yahoo search) duly got a mention. Starting 11 May, Mario will be moderating another SEETA discussion on the following topic ‘What have you always thought is absurd in EFL thinking?’ Should be fun …

5 Family

Teaching often seems to run in families – both my sisters are university teachers – so I wasn’t surprised to read stories of being inspired by older siblings and, less commonly, parents. In my own family, however, it doesn’t look as though there will be much generational continuity: maybe it’s a recessive gene.

6 A higher calling

Given the atrocious salaries (or wages in the case of many language school teachers), a higher calling is not perhaps too surprising. One teacher described her work as ‘a form of social and political action and as a way of giving something back to the community’. Another felt called to the profession by God. Sobering thoughts.

I must take this opportunity to thank everyone who took part in the discussion (especially Melania in Romania; Zarina in Bulgaria; Aneta and Suzana in Macedonia; Natasha, Lora, Vesna and Isidora in Serbia). Thanks, too, to all those who were prepared to write their narratives (especially a group of teachers at St James Academy in Seville).

This makes me wonder about my own inspirations. What inspired YOU? Post a comment, if you feel so inclined…


Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 8:47 pm  Comments (8)  
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Alex Case’s Six things about teaching as a foreigner in Asia

When I first started blogging people told me to go and look at several sites, including TEFLtastic, the blog run by Alex Case. Alex gave me some advice about getting started in the blogosphere. I suggested a while back that he contribute something to this blog. Since a lot of Alex’s work brings him into contact with British or North Americans going to Asia, I asked him for some advice for new teachers . He came back to me with the following six pieces of advice for those choosing to move “out East”…

… meaning here East and Southeast Asia. I have loved most of my seven years living and teaching in Thailand, Japan and Korea most of the time, and 90% of people find something to love about Japan for at least the first 6 months, but living long term in Asia isn’t for everyone and it certainly isn’t an extended Thai beach holiday. You may also find that understanding what is really going on in Thailand could mean that even Thai beach holidays are never the same again!

1. Teaching style

If you are already a teacher or can already guess what your teaching style will be like, there are certain approaches that will be a struggle to make work in the typical Asian classroom. For example, debates and other kinds of lessons on controversial issues will be unlikely to produce a lot of speaking from the majority of students, and the same problem is common with topics that rely on the students’ knowledge of the outside world or willingness to speak out. These kinds of things are, strangely, what many students expect to be doing in English classes and so they will be appreciated if you can somehow make them work (or even sometimes if you don’t, but you aren’t likely to be happy with the uncomfortable silences and lack of learning).    

One thing I still haven’t been able to adapt to the usual Asian pattern is my apparent deep psychological need to link smoothly between one part of the lesson and another, e.g. going from a chat to the grammar point without any clear transition. This is guaranteed to throw most of my classes here for at least the first month. Another thing is using new games and variations all the time, whereas in an Asian primary school or kindergarten teachers can get away with playing identical games and singing identical songs every day for years.    

2. Personality

One type of person who does well in the stereotypical Asian classroom is the kind of character who can come into a house party with no atmosphere and get everyone going with their jokes, friendly banter and general energy level. Another, by contrast, is the “good listener” who finds ways to get the students doing all the talking (however difficult that might be) and finds that the quietness of the students lets them express their own personality in the classroom more than they might be able to in other countries.

Another vital aspect of the personality of someone who successfully deals with living in Asia is an ability to deal with the unexpected. If you plan a day out and everything you planned proves to be impossible, do you think “Well, at least I saw something new (even if it was the scummy parts of town)” or can you hardly contain your frustration? Being the first kind of person will help no end with Thai bus “timetables”, approaching a language that never matches your expectations, or cross-cultural dating.

If I can be forgiven even grosser generalisations than in the rest of this post, it is probably also relevant to talk about the personalities of the people you will teach and meet. Kids will generally be well behaved (except maybe when the local teacher leaves), but very young kids will be incredibly indulged. Students might have problems mixing with the other gender and speaking out in front of the whole class. Status and losing face will be more important than in a Northern European class, and they are likely to be happier with silence than you are.

3. Appearance

If you got into English teaching in order to avoid a shirt and tie, Asia may not be for you. Although there are schools where you can dress down a little, I still wear a suit because I know adult and teenage students will be more likely to accept my game-filled classes if I look like a “serious teacher” for the important first few classes. Ditto for piercings in places that have become totally standard in Europe but are still the sign of a dropout from society in most of Asia, and tattoos that will get you banned from almost all gyms, swimming pools and hot springs in Japan and should be neither visible nor mentioned by teachers who have them almost anywhere in Asia.

A less easily understandable part of appearance is the obsession with teachers “looking like a native speaker”, meaning the prejudice against black or Asian teachers. Even for white teachers, anti-Americanism, nationalist history classes, resentment of people with local girlfriends etc can be a first ever introduction to racism from the other side. I see that as a positive experience, but not all do!

4. Distance and travel

This mainly means your willingness to be many hours away from home by plane and to cope with many hours of time difference when you want to phone home. Unlike some places, there will be absolutely no popping back home or people visiting you during their long weekends. You may also experience the third trip home in a year proving impossible for reasons of time, tiredness or expense- however important it is. Add to this the Asian culture of putting work before family and not even taking the holidays that are due to you, and you can find an attitude to requests for extra leave from “You want to fly home in the middle of the year for your cousin’s wedding? A close cousin, you say? Sure, how long do you want? How about forever?!” to the guilt tripping of “Sure. Don’t worry, we will all fill in for you somehow. Maybe we can get my wife out of the hospital a little early and get her to sit in reception so I can teach” (exaggerating a little).

So, lack of opportunities to go home or even phone home when you need to obviously suck. At least you can fly to lots of other interesting Asian countries on your holidays cheaply and easily, though, hey? Well, yes, but not as much as you’d think. Flying from Japan to Thailand is sometimes more expensive than flying from the UK, and if your holidays are the same as the rest of the country (common), there might be not a single seat available anyway. Domestic travel is usually cheap, comfortable and/ or varied though!

 A third factor connected to distance and travel is some very long commutes in the Asian megacities.

 5. Language learning

If you thought learning Spanish verb tables was a load on the memory, try learning the 2000 kanji needed to read a Japanese newspaper. If you like a challenge, it is certainly that! Ditto for trying to pick up tonal languages for the unmusical like myself. However, reaching a basic day to day survival level is often fairly easy (and easier than languages with cases like German and Greek), and going further can be fascinating for the few who really get into it. Imagine your French teacher saying “I’ve decided to switch to teaching you the Russian alphabet for a while for a bit of change”. If you would’ve suddenly perked up, Asian languages are for you. If you would’ve groaned at the prospect of starting again from zero, Rumanian might be a better choice than Chinese.

6. Blending in

You can’t, unless you look East or Southeast Asian- in which case see above for the racism thing plus having people speak to you in a language you can’t understand all the time. Not being able to blend in means not just being stared at in the street or on the train, but also that there is no chance of being accepted as an equal part of the local society however long you stay there and however well you speak the language and act like a local. This isn’t a problem for me as I didn’t leave my small hometown to find somewhere else I could be like everyone else and I enjoy being a star for a day as the only foreign face in a kindergarten out in the sticks. You might also decide you don’t want to be just like everyone else when you see how the locals are treated by their mothers in law and bosses!

Published in: on February 18, 2009 at 10:27 am  Comments (1)  
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