Ideas needed for English skills course

Aug 16, 2011

Hi everyone,

The company I work for has asked me to provide some sort of training course to improve written and oral skills for staff whose first language is not English. It needs to involve as much interaction from the user as possible: for example, typing a sentence so that it can be checked for spelling and grammar, or (not sure if this is possible) checking that a sentence or word is pronounced properly by the user.

Has anyone produced a similar course / exam on this subject? Can anyone suggest different ways to check a user's written and oral skills using Articulate?

Any suggestions would be much appreciated


5 Replies
Jeanette Brooks

Hi Hannah - neat project! There are a lot of cool ways you can incorporate visual cues, audio, and video in Articulate Studio, and that opens up some cool opportunities for teaching language.

Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

  • Scenarios could be helpful... you could present a scenario that shows people conversing, and have learners identify strong/weak verbal skills. Maybe show them some before/after examples that demonstrate "how to say it" and "how not to say it."
  • You could build an interaction in Quizmaker where the learner has multiple videos or multiple audio clips that represent the correct way to express a concept, definition, etc. Have them view or listen, and then choose the most appropriate one.
  • Provide a fill-in-the-blank question where you supply a phrase with a missing word, and have the learner type the word that's missing.
  • Use a matching drag-and-drop question to split several sentences into pairs of fragments. Have learners match them up properly.
  • Provide a video or audio clip and have learners listen and then identify the missing word in a transcript you show them afterward.
  • Provide an "edit this email" activity by showing a poorly constructed email and then giving them an Essay question where they can rewrite. Though you wouldn't be able to grade this within Quizmaker because it's so subjective, you could have them print their results at the end of the quiz and share it with a manager or supervisor.
  • Use a web object to contain an online tool such as Vocaroo, where learners can record their own speaking, and then send the recording to a manager or colleague for feedback.
  • You could also provide a Glossary as a tab on your player, so that learners could easily look things up anytime during the course.
Joseph Flanagan

I think the tricky thing here is determining exactly what your company wants to improve. Saying things like "grammar" or "pronunciation" is a little bit vague (and one that people in charge might not have thought about too much). It might help if you asked them exactly what language deficiencies have caused problems for the company, and then design the learning so that employees learn how to avoid those kinds of problems. Is the problem pragmatics? (That is, a comment is phrased in a way that would be normal in one cultural context but would be construed as impolite in another?). In such a case, scenarios would be useful. (I can image video, or pictures with texts, and ask the learner to choose a particular answer and then provide feedback). Are words commonly confused? In such cases, you design a quiz where the learner listens to both words, and then has to select the correct one. If spelling is the problem, is this caused by language transfer (that is, they are adopting sound-spelling conventions of their own language to English? If that is the case (and if spell checks aren't the answer), then you could produce lessons that try to unravel mysteries of English sound to spelling correspondences. 

Generally, the major issue is trying to make the objectives a bit more specific than "improve their English" and then design your courses around those objectives. Find out exactly what is happening that has led you to being asked to produce a course that improves the language skills of non-native speakers. The fact is that native speakers may have problems with grammar, or spelling, or pronounce words in such a way that people with different accents may have trouble understanding them. 

Hannah Hawkins

Hi Joseph,

I agree with what you're saying: at this stage, the company has only really asked what sort of training can be produced online and I'm hoping to get more specific information soon before beginning any design work.

You raised some valid points though and I now have an idea of what needs to be taken into account before starting the project, so thank you for the feedback

Susan Wilson

Hi Hannah,

Joseph is right on target.  Improving written and oral skills is a huge task, and in my experience most companies do not understand how long this will take to bear results.  So getting a specific, well defined and reasonable list of objectives is critical. Some other things to think about:

What is the range of their current skill level?  Are you dealing with a wide range of levels?  What is appropriate for one level won't be for others.

What are the job requirements?  Are they dealing with customers or other employees?  What are the language requirements and vocabulary specific to  the job?  You will need to target any training to the job requirements in order to show measurable or observable improvement. 

Take a look at what is already available online for ESL training that is free.  You may be able  to build on that.  YouTube has many, many ESL lessons developed by experienced ESL instructors.    BBC is also a good resource but there are many others available. 

You could also have students record their voices/pronunciation of target vocabulary or phrases using one of the free recording programs, such as Audacity, and submit that as part of their lessons, or compare it to a target recording, trying to get their pronunciation and intonation as close as possible to the target. . 

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