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Ashley Dresser: The Morale of Making a Mistake or an Error

Achieving oral proficiency in a foreign language can often feel like an insurmountable challenge. And sometimes, no matter how fast you ride your horse toward it, it still remains a distant speck on the horizon. My adult English learners frequently express their frustration with this feeling, so I always have a lesson ready to help them take ownership over their speaking journey. I call this lesson “The Morale of Making a Mistake or an Error,” and its objective is to teach adult learners the basics of error analysis. As a result, they become better equipped to measure their own progress and they learn not to sweat the small stuff.

From day one of their speaking practice, my adult learners must be able to classify any deviation from correct grammar as either a mistake or an error and maintain two respective lists in their notebooks. A mistake is a grammatical correction that they already know, but they just didn’t apply it correctly in conversation at the time. An error is much more important because it tends to be unrecognizable to the learner; errors represent a lack of knowledge of the correct language rules and a gap in understanding that the teacher and learner must work together to address.

These distinctions are particularly effective for intermediate to advanced students where the learner typically experiences a feeling of “leveling off” in their progress, or they feel like they are making the same mistakes over and over again. It becomes more difficult for them to identify notable day-to-day improvement, and they are often discouraged by repetitive, minor errors, which are usually caused by interference from their mother tongue.

In these moments of frustration, I ask my adult learners to take out their error analysis lists and tell me which one is shorter: the mistakes or the errors. The number of mistakes almost always outweighs the number of errors, and in some cases, they even find that one of their previous errors could now be better classified as a mistake. Their faces light up at this hint of progress and I remind them then that even native speakers make frequent mistakes and they certainly don’t give up speaking!

The power of providing students with consistent visual measurements of progress is one of the great advantages of the online language-learning environment. Through historical feedback, skill scores and word performance percentages, students now have a much more precise picture of their language evolution. Tiny victories can suddenly become major motivators when mapped out in greater detail, and students are very much empowered by this new level of control and autonomy in their learning process. By teaching students to pinpoint their more serious errors as well as to recognize and celebrate their small advances, we are creating a more effective learning environment.

The power of providing students with consistent visual measurements of progress is one of the great advantages of the online language-learning environment. Unlike traditional classrooms, Voxy students have immediate access to data showing their daily progress in core skills like grammar and reading, which allow them to identify and react to weak areas more quickly; and they’re able to monitor the frequency of their study habits to make sure they’re reaching their established goals. The Voxy Proficiency Assessment (VPA®) also personalizes their online course to meet their current proficiency level, so that learners can speed up or slow down their language studies based on their performance and progress rather than the fixed pace of a traditional classroom experience. By teaching students to pinpoint their weak areas, to celebrate even the smallest advances and to become more autonomous learners overall, we are creating a more innovative and effective learning environment.

Ashley Dresser is a Voxy tutor.

Ashley Dresser is a Voxy tutor.


Idioms of the Week: Money

Learning English as a second language is hard enough, but it can be especially difficult when you run into idioms in casual conversation that don’t mean what they seem. In this weekly series, we’re breaking down common English expressions that are used in everyday conversation, so you’ll be able to expand your language skills and have fun with new English phrases.

Today, we’re keeping to the theme of money, so you’ll be able to clear up your confusion over which expressions actually refer to situations involving the bank!

1. a dime a dozen (noun phrase): used to describe something very common or easily acquired

Ex. Romantic movies are a dime a dozen in movie theaters now, each one with predictable plotlines and happy endings.

2. from rags to riches (noun phrase): a situation where a person rises from poverty to wealth

Ex. Samantha went from rags to riches overnight when she won the multimillion dollar lottery.

3. on the other side of the coin (noun phrase): a different and opposite view of a situation previously talked about

Ex. The house has a beautiful backyard, but on the other side of the coin, it is in the middle of nowhere.

4. a penny for your thoughts (noun phrase): to ask what someone is thinking about, or ask for someone’s opinion

Ex. Penny for your thoughts?” Jack asked Jen when he noticed she was silent for the entire meeting.

5. my two cents (noun phrase): to give one’s opinion

Ex. Anna put her two cents worth in about the new color scheme for the office.

6. to cost an arm and a leg (verb phrase): used to describe something very expensive

Ex. The designer purse cost an arm and a leg.

7. to be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth (verb phrase): used negatively to describe someone who has come from generations of wealth

Ex. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, so he doesn’t have to worry about working full-time after college graduation.

8. saving for a rainy day (verb phrase): to keep money for the future, especially for an emergency

Ex. Every month, they transferred a set amount of money into their savings account to save for a rainy day.  

9. money talks (noun phrase): used negatively to describe how money can be used to influence one’s actions or make things happen

Ex. There is no clearer evidence that money talks than how congressional representatives’ opinions are easily swayed by the small fee of $30,000.

10. penny pinching (noun phrase): the practice of trying to spend as little money as possible

Ex. After John had to unexpectedly repair the leaking pipes in his attic, he resorted to penny pinching to save for his new winter coat.

Try using these idioms the next time you practice your English skills. You’ll find yourself using them more naturally in conversation in no time!


10 Words for…Basic Medicine

Working in the healthcare industry can be immensely rewarding, but navigating day-to-day language barriers can be a challenge. With medical practices varying from country to country, aligning with rich cultural traditions, it can be hard to keep up. That’s why we’re here to help! This blog series will explore the top 10 useful words for specific industries, so you can learn the English you can actually use in the real world. This week, we’re looking at some basic concepts and vocabulary words in the medical industry.

1. allergy (noun): a damaging immune response by the body to a substance to which it has become hypersensitive

Ex. Jane discovered she had an allergy to almonds after she broke out in hives.

2. insurance (noun): an arrangement where a government or company provides guaranteed compensation for illness in return for payment

Ex. John’s insurance company paid for the entire medical procedure.

3. outbreak (noun): the sudden start of something bad (especially a disease or violence)

Ex. There was a cholera outbreak in the country due to poor sanitation conditions and contaminated water.

4. prescription (noun): instruction written by a medical practitioner that authorizes dosage of a specific medicine

Ex. The doctor gave Susan a prescription for pills to relieve her back pain.

5. medical history (noun): record of past events and circumstances that are or may be relevant to a patient’s current state of health

Ex. At his doctor’s appointment, John mentioned he had a medical history of diabetes in his family.

6. co-pay (noun): a separate payment made by a patient for health services in addition to money covered by one’s insurance

Ex. Although John’s insurance covered his medical procedure, he still had to pay a co-pay to his doctor for her time.

7. dosage (noun): the amount of a medicine, drug, or vitamin that should be taken at one time or regularly during a period of time

Ex. The doctor increased her dosage of the medication after she reported feeling intense pain.

8. infection (noun): a disease caused by bacteria entering the body

Ex. Melanie caught a throat infection from drinking contaminated water.

9. diagnose (verb): to identify an illness by examining a patient’s symptoms

Ex. He diagnosed the boy’s red rashes and itchiness as chicken pox.

10. hospice (noun): a facility or program providing medical care to the terminally ill

Ex. When Jill was diagnosed with cancer, she entered a hospice program to get the treatment she needed.

For additional practice with industry-specific terms in English, check out the Unit Catalog in your Voxy course for more work-related materials!

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Rebecca Wagoner: What I’ve (Unexpectedly) Learned from Teaching ESL

I was originally hesitant to enter the world of online education, concerned that I wouldn’t be able to sufficiently connect with my students, but I’m now three years in and have found the opposite to be true.

Working from an online platform has given me access to teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) learners from at least 50 countries. I’ve worked with a woman from Iraqi Kurdistan living in the UK, a Syrian refugee living in Saudi Arabia, pharmacists from Egypt who live in the U.S. and wait years before their professional certification can be transferred; and students from India, China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Haiti who moved to the United States to be with their significant others.

These particular learners were conversationally advanced in English, hard-working, open-minded and friendly, but I noticed a particular level of loneliness in them because they didn’t feel connected to their new cities or the people around them. Some expressed intimidation of meeting native English speakers for fear of not being understood. Others found it difficult to break through the inevitable bubble that surrounds immigrant communities. Even after years of living abroad, I was sometimes the first native English speaker that my students had a meaningful conversation with.

Distance learning has played a huge role in helping overcome the feeling of isolation for new immigrants. Some of these individuals are working so hard to pass their English exams or receive American degrees that the only time they have to meet someone is once a week from home, making it a challenge to connect with their local communities. The core of the learning process in ESL is conversation, which results in a willingness to share personal anecdotes that are often more intimate than typical conversations. The one-on-one environment allows for empathy between strangers, giving way to a unique relationship that helps learners feel more culturally connected to where they live and essentially fit in.

Tutoring has given me a small window into my students’ lives and taught me to think twice when it comes to the people around me locally. I live in Miami, a city with a large immigrant community, and I don’t hear their stories. Through these connections online, I’m constantly reminded of how hard it is to be a foreigner—especially because of a division between locals and immigrants. ESL has the potential to help immigrants connect to a culture that could otherwise remain foreign to them. While distance learning helps connect individuals who never would have otherwise met, tutoring and conversation in general can play a significant role in helping immigrants feel at home.

Rebecca Wagoner is a Voxy tutor.

Rebecca Wagoner is a Voxy tutor.

San Diego Comic Con

Coffee Break: 10 Expressions About… The San Diego Comic-Con

Whether you’re on your coffee break at the office, talking with friends or reading the newspaper, we encounter situations every day where topic-specific vocabulary is used. And when you don’t know the language, it can be really difficult to participate in the conversation! When the topic switches to recent news events, it gets even more complicated…

From politics and sporting events to fashion and technology, this blog series will help you understand and convey ideas about a wide range of recent events using the right vocabulary.

Today, it’s all about the geeks! The biggest “Comic Con” of the year starts today in San Diego, and it’s an unmissable event that brings together all the latest and greatest from pop culture. We’ve prepared a list of words and expressions that you’ll probably hear in the upcoming days.

  1. pop culture (noun): modern popular culture transmitted via mass media and aimed particularly at younger people
    Ex: San Diego Comic-Con is arguably the biggest event in pop culture.

  2. exhibitor (noun): a person who displays items of interest at a convention
    Ex: Large groups of fans walk excitedly from one exhibitor’s booth to another.

  3. to unveil (verb): to show or announce publicly for the first time
    Ex: Marvel will unveil a 13-foot-tall bronze Captain America statue at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.

  4. buff (noun): a person who is very interested in a subject and knows a lot about it
    Ex: “Even if you’re not a science-fiction fan or a movie buff, there’s an incredible atmosphere at the convention,” argued the fan.

  5. collectibles (plural noun): items worth collecting
    Ex: It’s rumored that this year they’ll be giving away exclusive Pokemon collectibles to special attendees because of the new Pokemon Go app.

  6. panel (noun): a live or virtual discussion about a specific topic amongst a selected group of experts in front of a large audience
    Ex: The HBO Game of Thrones panel, which will include four experts discussing the show, is one of the most anticipated events at the Comic-Con.

  7. cosplay (noun): the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga and anime
    Ex: Game Of Thrones cosplays are really popular. Last year, a lot of fans dressed up like Khaleesi.

  8. overcrowding (noun): filled beyond what’s comfortable
    Ex: Because of the event’s popularity, attendees and vendors complained of overcrowding.

  9. fandom (noun): the fans of a particular person, team, fictional series, etc., regarded collectively as a community or subculture
    Ex: Dozens of different fandoms meet each year at the Comic-Con.

  10. attendee (noun): a person who attends an event
    Ex: Around 130,000 attendees are expected this weekend at the San Diego Comic-Con.

We realize that some of these words—like cosplay or fandom—are pretty specific, and you may not find them as useful in everyday conversation. But most of the words on this list—like panel, attendee and exhibitor—are much more common, and will be helpful to talk about all kinds of events or pop-culture trends. Try one out this week!