When Pronunciation Isn’t Enough: Teaching Comprehension

Today we conclude our language learning video series with Voxy’s Chief Education Officer, Dr. Katharine Nielson, who has been answering all your nitty-gritty questions about how people learn languages.

One of the most common language learning exercises is to read a text-based resource, but as instructors we often make the mistake of focusing primarily on pronunciation. While this is a valuable skill for language learners, the most important thing is that students truly understand what they’re reading. In this video, Dr. Nielson offers guidance on what types of questions to ask learners of different proficiency levels, and ways to help learners fully engage with the material that will actually help them improve.

Dr. Katharine B. Neilson, PhD, is Voxy's Chief Education Officer.

Dr. Katharine B. Neilson, PhD, is Voxy’s Chief Education Officer.


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!

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!


3 Alternatives for Looking Up Words

Certain theories of psycholinguistics postulate that we store words in our minds much like dictionaries do. Linguists refer to this as a “mental lexicon.” There are some obvious parallels between our mental lexicons and the everyday dictionaries we are so accustomed to using. One is the fact that the words in our mental dictionaries are not stored at random.

We recognize words based on what they mean (the definition), other words that mean the same thing (synonyms), words that mean the opposite (antonyms), the function of the word (part of speech), as well as how a word is said (its pronunciation). All of these same pieces can be found in a traditional dictionary.

Where our minds differ (and what cannot be found in traditional dictionaries), however, are associations. One theory describes words as points connected with each other in our brains. Some believe that words are retrieved from our mental dictionaries through “spreading activation.” What this means is that we chronicle words via related or similar concepts.

While there are many different interpretations as to what kind of associations occur in our minds exactly, it is very likely that each one of us has an individual and unique representation of a given word based on our own life experiences and observations.

Given that associations are a plausible way by which words are stored and retrieved in our minds, it could be said that being exposed to such representations is also a helpful way of acquiring new word meanings. A learner may be more likely to remember a word when presented with a stimuli of various words related to a particular word’s meaning.

That being said, I would like to share a few non-traditional and alternative online dictionary options that may help facilitate your language (and particularly vocabulary) learning endeavors!

1) Wordnik

Wordnik is a dictionary community. It has some features that are not ordinarily available in standard dictionaries.

These include:
- Examples of sentences using the word embedded within a relevant and recently generated content (with a link for you to see that context)
- A list of words found in the same context
- A list of rhyming words (same terminal sound)
- A tag feature : user generated categorization of words (to get an idea of some of their associations, which could be similar to yours!), as well as tagging by Wordnik
- A reverse dictionary showing words that contain the target word in their definitions
- Lists (such as vocabulary lists) made by users that contain the given word
- When you scroll to the very bottom, you can also find visuals and sounds

2) Snappy Words

Snappy Words calls itself a “free visual online dictionary” where searching a word gives rise to a dynamic diagram.

Its features include:
- An interactive concept map that features color coded parts of speech as well as draws associations between words and concepts using parameters such as ‘is a word for,’ ‘is a kind of,’ ‘pertains to,’ etc
- The ability to search both one word items as well as two word items such as ‘lexical entry’or ‘Columbia University’

3) Panlexicon

This simple interface allows you to search a word which will then yield a list of other words related to it (as deemed by the Panlexicon algorithm). The cool thing about this search method is that once you search a given word, you can select another from the provided list and in turn narrow down your search for similar words related to both of those words.

Militza Petranovic
Militza is a Pedagogy and Research intern at Voxy. She is currently finishing up her master’s degree in Applied Linguistics at Columbia University’s Teachers College and received her bachelor’s degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California – Santa Cruz in 2012. Militza is interested in researching all aspects of how web technology can help facilitate learning, particularly language learning.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook:

lengua 2

Twisted tongues

Tongue twisters are sentences that repeat the same phonetic sound at the beginning of each word over and over. They usually rhyme and this makes them easier to memorize and remember.

These tricky little things are a great and fun way to practice the English you have learned with Voxy and to improve your pronunciation. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what the words mean, focus on they way you are saying them. Tongue twisters can be very difficult and almost everyone makes mistakes saying them, so it’s ok if you can’t do it the first time. Keep trying until you get it!

To master a tongue twister, you need to begin slowly. Say the words one by one and try to pronounce them as clearly as possible. Once you feel comfortable with the sounds you are producing, try to say the sentence a little bit faster. And then faster, faster, faster! Remember that you have to say the tongue twister many times!

Let’s begin with some easy ones

  • I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. (Check your pronunciation here.)
  • Knife and a fork, bottle and a cork, that is the way you spell New York. (Check your pronunciation here.)
  • Four furious friends fought for the phone. (Check your pronunciation here.)

These are a little bit harder, give them a try!

  • Can you can a can as a canner can can a can? (Check your pronunciation here.)
  • Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair, Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he? (Check your pronunciation here.)
  • If two witches would watch two watches, which witch would watch which watch? (Check your pronunciation here.)

Alright, these are a even harder. You can do it!

  • When a doctor doctors a doctor, does the doctor doing the doctoring doctor as the doctor being doctored wants to be doctored or does the doctor doing the doctoring doctor as he wants to doctor? (Check your pronunciation here.)
  • I wish to wish the wish you wish to wish, but if you wish the wish the witch wishes, I won’t wish the wish you wish to wish. (Check your pronunciation here.)

Now that you are a tongue twister expert, try the hardest one in the English language:

  • The sixth sick sheikh’s sixth sheep’s sick.

Tricky, right?  Even English native speakers have a hard time, so don’t be discouraged! If you don’t believe us, check out this video!

All audio clips: Download-ESL


Mariana Aguilar Ramírez
Mariana is a Pedagogy and Research summer associate at Voxy completing her Master’s degree in Learning, Media and Technology at UMass Amherst with a Fulbright- García Robles grant. She is passionate about instructional design, educational technology and has been teaching ESL in Mexico for many years. She has studied foreign languages all her life and is now tackling German. She loves to travel and spends a lot of time in the kitchen perfecting her ice-cream making skills.