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Personalizing the phrasebook
 

Personalizing the phrasebook

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Personal Phrasebooks draw on the PLE concept to focus the student’s learning on phrases (rather than at the level of words or grammar). It is a very practical tool to solve everyday linguistic ...

Personal Phrasebooks draw on the PLE concept to focus the student’s learning on phrases (rather than at the level of words or grammar). It is a very practical tool to solve everyday linguistic problems. However, it is also an approach (like PLEs) that requires a certain level of learner autonomy. Teachers can suggest and encourage, but the PPB needs to be student driven if it is to become part of their out-of-class learning and included in everyday life.

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    Personalizing the phrasebook Personalizing the phrasebook Document Transcript

    • Personalizing the Phrasebook I have been focusing on working with phrases with my students (and also in my own Chinese learning), and in both cases I have realized that phrasebooks can offer some support with language learning. The significance of phrases Phrases are especially important in language learning because they increase fluency for both native speakers and language learners alike. This is because there is a limit to the length of sentences we can create without using pre-constructed phrases as shortcuts; phrases reduce the cognitive load and so speed up our talking. Personally, I find some peace of mind when using phrases in a foreign language, because I know that they will be grammatically correct without my needing to think about it. Learners tend to gain new phrases through repeated use (presumably in real-life situations, but also in simulations/role-plays and any related class-work), just as native speakers do. But how can learners find the right phrases when they need them? Two classic solutions are the travel phrasebook and the business writing guide (book). Both are kept to hand: in the traveler’s pocket or on the office desk; and both are organized according to themes or situations. These reference books are very useful and with web and mobile phrasebooks appearing, they will become easier to use exactly when needed. The need for a “personal” phrasebook However, published phrasebooks are very general and will often not respond to the specific need of a particular learner. When I went to the post office in China last month I found my travel phrasebook useful for considering initial requests, but preparation in lesson was what enabled me to have a more complete list of phrases for my exact situation. I found that I needed my own Personal Phrasebook (PPB), tailored precisely to me and my needs. A student’s “email phrasebook” One of my students, Michal, wanted help in using English at work – especially when writing emails. I’ve noticed from my own use of English at work that there are a lot of phrases that I use again and again, so I suggested she keep a notebook with useful phrases that she can use when
    • emailing. Essentially it is her own, personal phrasebook that she creates uses and expands according to her needs as they arise (see screenshot below). The phrases are organized into sections in a similar way to a phrasebook with situations and tasks as headings. The new phrases are added in three main ways… 1. Michal shows me emails she has written and we check them (for accuracy, lexis and appropriateness) and identify good phrases for the phrasebook 2. Michal explains what she wants to say and we jointly create some text and extract good phrases from it 3. Michal shows me emails she receives and we consider any questions or doubts she has. We then copy good phrases into the phrasebook. Perhaps it is worth considering what a “good phrase” actually is. Obviously this is highly subjective, but I would include the following attributes… • simple – the construction is within easy reach of the student so it is easy to remember • appropriate – the phrase is appropriate to the (business) situation at hand • flexible – some phrases can be used in a wider range of situations. Such phrases are more useful and they are probably easier to learn (because they are naturally repeated more often) Personal phrasebooks as a process So in part, Michal needs a PPB so that she can more easily organize the content and make it easier to find when she needs it. Perhaps an electronic/online phrasebook with a good index or search function would suffice. However, a PPB is more than just a reference source; it is also the content, medium and activity through which the learner learns the phrases and language. It is also an ongoing reference source for future occurrences of similar situations. Put another way, the student writes his/her own phrasebook, and that very task is part of the learning process. As the PPB grows it becomes a more useful reference source and Michal will find herself looking up phrases more often than she creates content for the PPB.
    • PLEs and PPBs PPBs share ground with PLEs; consider Cann’s definition of a PLE… a system that helps learners take control of and manage their own learning. This includes providing support for learners to set their own learning goals, manage their learning, manage both content and process, and communicate with others in the process of learning. PPBs seem to me to be a component of a learner’s broader PLE. As such, a PPB is a concept that encompasses resources, tools, activities, goals and outputs: it is not just a tool or a place, but an approach to learning. Format As with PLEs, PPBs can make use of many different formats or tools. For example word documents, Google Docs, paper-based notebooks and text programs on cell phones. The important issues are that it is both easy to add to and edit and then easy to access for reference when it is needed. These details will depend on each person’s situation – Michal’s phrasebook is to help her when writing emails and so it doesn’t really need to be accessible on her phone, nor offline; and so hers is in Google Docs. Other learners may need to have access when offline or when on the move, so they may choose other tools. Teacher’s role My role with Michal has been mainly to suggest creating a PPB, encourage its use and help identify suitable phrases to put in it. As a native speaker, students will find me especially useful for checking the correctness and suitability of the phrases. But learners can also check phrases themselves to see how often they are used in the way the learner wants to: Google searches can give a good indication as to whether a phrase/word is commonly used and what context they are usually used in. If Michal’s native language were German she could use Linguee.de to look up a phrase in German for an equivalent phrase in English and then select from the results. There are also other tools that can be used to suggest phrases and explore their suitability and contexts; my
    • recent blog post on phrase-based dictionaries describes a few. These tools can also be explored in lesson to help the learner develop more autonomy in creating their PPB. Conclusion Personal Phrasebooks draw on the PLE concept to focus the student’s learning on phrases (rather than at the level of words or grammar). It is a very practical tool to solve everyday linguistic problems. However, it is also an approach (like PLEs) that requires a certain level of learner autonomy. Teachers can suggest and encourage, but the PPB needs to be student driven if it is to become part of their out-of-class learning and included in everyday life. Learners need to become good at both ‘noticing’ phrases that they would be able to use themselves and also at ‘noticing’ gaps in their language knowledge, so that they seek out a phrase or structure to fill the gap. There are online tools that can help learners decide on a phrase’s applicability to their situation. However, it seems that the teacher will also have a role to play in helping the learner gain these skills to learn more autonomously out-of-class. http://www.avatarlanguages.com/blog/ppb/