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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Interactive Lessons Based on Original Video

What Is Real English®? How Does It Work?
How Is It Created?

Real English® is the organization and exploitation of spontaneous speech for learning English as a second or foreign language. It has existed in the form of CD-ROMs and is currently available in the form of DVDs with workbooks & an instructor's guide and most notably, two web sites: our traditional site and a new mobile site for all smartphones and tablets.

The natural and unrehearsed language is collected in the form of filmed street interviews. We have so far filmed in 5 countries were English is spoken as a native language, especially the US and UK.

Students who take the necessary time (5 to 10 minutes) to discover how the Real English learning site works, tend to come back regularly. It is not a site for truly advanced students who already have extensive experience interacting with native speakers of English. In fact, Real English prepares beginners and intermediate students for the exact same experience.

Typical interviewee (individual frames) - Heather's interview
The videos are engaging on a personal level which is difficult to explain.  Learners seem to enter into the interviewees' personalities and experience their feelings. This might be due, in part, to the fact that we are very selective about which interviewees are chosen for the final edits which are used for the lessons.

The exercises about the videos are not designed for testing students. Beginners and all students in the wide Intermediate range seem to feel good about understanding people who speak naturally. The Lessons are designed to make it easy for them to understand the spontaneous speech. In other words, Real English presents us with hundreds of people speaking normally, which seems fast to all learners. They're simply not used to it, and Real English represents an interesting way to make progress in this real world of the spoken word.

Both American and British English,
without forgetting our many Irish
interviewees in addition to
non-native speakers of English
Let's begin by defining a couple of key terms which I use when speaking about the video and its interactive environment.

A Real English® lesson is a collection of interactive exercises for a main video. An exercise is based on a small portion of a main video. For example, a typical main video might be 4 or 5 minutes long, but the exercise includes a video extracted from the main clip which lasts only 5 to 30 seconds, allowing us to concentrate on a limited number of lexical items at a time.
You can follow the explanations right here, or better yet, refer to this typical online exercise used here as an example, at the same time.

This is Joe, the first interviewee in Lesson 29, a relatively "upper" intermediate clip. Joe’s interview is 32 seconds long. However, a total of 6 exercise pages (including 19 questions) are necessary to cover the essential vocabulary and grammar he uses during those 32 seconds. Click on play:

Like many of the interviewees who make it to the final cut, he's a friendly, conversational type of guy. His answer to the question "What do you like to do for fun?", which is also the title of this lesson, takes him a long time, i.e., 32 seconds, providing us with interesting vocabulary and new grammar to exploit in the upcoming exercises immediately after this one.

Note that the audio file beneath the video provides us with a 4-second audio "helper file" (explanatory images are also "helper files"):

Audio files like this one are used in most exercises, for a great variety of reasons. In this particular case, it is used to provide a summary of what Joe said in the video, i.e., a short summary of his much longer, "conversational" reply.

By this time, a student who has arrived at lesson 29 has learned to listen to these files because they often contain clues for helping him find the answer to a quiz.

In this particular case, we listen to the teacher after clicking on the play button: "He likes hiking in the mountains, going to the movies, and socializing", which is also one of the 3 choices in the MC quiz. You can listen to Joe's
"long answer" in the video above and compare it to the audio-only summary.

We often give the answer away, so to speak, in the form of this audio clue. Once again, the  objective is to give the student good reason to listen as much as possible, regardless of his final score, which is a meaningless objective when compared to the process of listening and learning. We also want him to get the answer right thanks to his own efforts, by giving him lots of opportunities to figure it out on his own, which also seems to improve motivation.

An interesting detail on the same exercise page: Look at the pictures next to each possible answer to the MC quiz. I photoshop such pictures, replacing the original head with the interviewee's head, simply to put the interviewee in context whenever possible, in an effort to perfect the illustration of the meaning of the corresponding text

(We met Joe on W. 57th Street in New York City, not while hiking in the mountains).

Let's have a look at Joe's final appearance, in Exercise 5.
Once again, we give away the answer in this exercise, in the spoken form only, of course.

There are 6 basic types of exercises in Real English®. This is my favorite, a hybrid quiz. It starts off as a typing exercise. If the typed answer is wrong x times in a row, the exercise transforms itself into an easier multiple-choice quiz. I specified just one time wrong for this question, but sometimes I have good reasons to let the students try 4 times or more before it transforms itself into a Multiple Choice.

I think the advantage of this type of quiz is obvious. Any student who makes an effort is never lost.
I am trying to keep this post short, for the same reason I like to keep the exercise videos short: to maintain interest to the very end! However, you can have a look online to see other typical and very useful techniques used throughout the lessons:

  • Lessons for real beginners: simplicity in the combination of video with
    audio, pictures, the record-compare applet, and the quiz itself.

  • Grammar in context. We never ignore grammar, but we don't often begin with it either. When the video contains a noteworthy grammar point that comes as a surprise to us, it is at least illustrated. In other cases, there are even grammar exercises based on what the video has suggested.Course organization is turned upside down to a certain extent. Despite our outline of essential items to include in Real English® - following our list of questions each time we go out filming - the spontaneous speech actually gathered in our street interviews ultimately determines what is covered in Real English®.

    Note: Java is necessary for the record-compare applet found on all the exercise pages, enabling the students to repeat what they hear in the lessons, and then to compare their pronunciation to native-speaker sources (both from the videos and the audio-only files). However, w
    hen you arrive at any exercise, you will see an unnecessary Windows message implying that Java could be dangerous for your computer. This is not true. It is safe  and must be regularly updated, just like Windows itself.
    Questions and comments most welcome!

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1 comment:

  1. Hi! I do believe that we learn to speak English based from what we hear. That's why children easily learn from songs and cartoons. I love these interactive lessons. It's very engaging to the students. Keep up the good work!