Developing students’ intercultural competence: An introductory lesson plan

June 9th, 2014 | Posted by Merica McNeil in culture | professional development | resources | Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Developing students’ intercultural competence: An introductory lesson plan)

cultural icerberg

Want to talk about culture with your students, but not sure how to break the ice? As a starting point, it can be helpful to find out about their ideas regarding culture and the basis for these ideas. For example, what experiences have they had encountering other cultures? What challenges did they have? How did they deal with these challenges? What were the results? If they knew then what they know now, would they have dealt with the situation differently? If so, how? Discussing questions such as these, especially involving critical incidents, can help set the stage for starting to develop intercultural competence.

Since I had attended CERCLL’s Language Teacher Symposium led by Dr. Carmen King de Ramírez on March 8 on cultural intelligence activities (see details), I knew it was important to engage students in the discussion and find out the origins of their beliefs about other cultures. For example, are their beliefs based on their own experiences or from what they have heard others say about another culture? Carmen kept workshop participants engaged by providing a variety of practical activities that can be used to increase students’ cultural intelligence. She explained and demonstrated a variety of activities, and she also provided a packet of handouts to help teachers be able to implement activities in their classes.

When a colleague was looking for somebody to guest teach a lesson on the link between language and culture, I jumped at the opportunity. Instead of lecturing this class of university students on the chapter on this topic in their course textbook (Basics of Language for Language Learners), their teacher and I decided it would be more appropriate to help this group of students activate their background knowledge of culture based on their experiences. My lesson plan and Powerpoint are attached. Feel free to adapt them to suit your needs.


Powerpoint: Language_and_Culture


Culicover, P. & Hume, E. (2010). Basics of language for language learners. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Press.


Penston, J. (n.d.). Visualising the iceberg model of culture. Retrieved from  James Penstone / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Symposium on Indigenous Knowledge and Digital Literacies

November 5th, 2013 | Posted by jtparry in culture | resources - (Comments Off on Symposium on Indigenous Knowledge and Digital Literacies)

This coming weekend (November 10–11), CERCLL is sponsoring The Tucson Symposium on Indigenous Knowledge and Digital Literacies. This event is funded by the National Science Foundation’s “Cyberlearning: Transforming Education” program, and involves a partnership with the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI) and members of four southwest indigenous communities. The central goal of this symposium is to work with members from small communities as co-researchers investigating the viability of digital games, in this case using ARIS software, as a vehicle for learning both language and culture in a place-based approach. The indigenous communities involved share a common language family: Yuman. These mutually intelligible, but highly endangered, languages are still spoken to varying degrees. Community language educators from the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation, Ft. Mojave, Hualapai and Maricopa will be attending as will some of the teachers and high school students from Aha Macav Academy, a charter school which serves indigenous students. The presenters at the symposium include organizers, Drs. Jonathon Reinhardt (University of Arizona, specialist in second language learning through digital technologies), and Susan Penfield (former NSF Program Officer for Documenting Endangered Languages) along with Drs. Chris Holden (University of New Mexico, educational gaming), Steven Thorne (Portland State University, location-based language learning ), Sara Tolbert (University of Arizona, indigenous science education) and Ofelia Zepeda (Chair, University of Arizona Linguistics Department and member of the Tohono O’odham community, indigenous to Tucson).

Two concepts have guided the planning for this symposium/workshop: ‘think tank’ and ‘hands-on’. The schedule begins with learning to play a previously constructed game, “Desert Chef Apprentice’ on the UA campus, which requires digitally ‘gathering’ the raw materials for desert-based foods and processing them. After a working lunch discussion, we will visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to gather environmentally-based examples for use during Day 2, where participants will be building their own games in a computer lab.

As co-researchers, all of the participants, presenters and visitors, will be engaged in raising questions about the viability of such digital games for community-based language / culture education. We will want to question how the game might be re-imagined to include more cultural/ecological knowledge, more game elements, more language, and more fun. The discussions will introduce some concepts on game-mediated language pedagogy and location-based game design.

As a ‘think-tank’, the symposium will build on the knowledge and experiences of all of the participants, and will let things emerge naturally. To the extent possible, activities will be participant-driven as the vision for this is that all attendees are equal partners in this effort. This two-day initial gathering will be followed by a workshop offered at AILDI, 2014, by the symposium participants.  This workshop will be an opportunity to share their experience, new games and new ideas about incorporating place-based content in language-learning situations.

Ten Online Tools for Language Learning, Pt. II

May 16th, 2013 | Posted by jtparry in resources - (Comments Off on Ten Online Tools for Language Learning, Pt. II)

Do you feel like exploring some online language tools over the summer to practice your own language skills, or want some ideas for the future? Here are five more tools, as a continuation of the first part of ten online tools for language learning:

6. Listen and Write

This site features a tool for transcribing various audio sources, including speech and songs from mp3s and YouTube video. Listen and Write currently has audio in 22 different languages which is broken down into over 20 proficiency levels. There are a variety of search options—you can search by proficiency level, language, category, or user channel. For the transcription, there are three different modes: full mode (requiring the entire sentence), quick mode (you only need to enter the first letter of each word), and blank mode (you fill out some of the words in blanks). The site gathers statistics about your activity, and lets you review what you have studied and see problem areas. Here is a screenshot from the transcription page:

You can also add to the site by submitting audio through your own mp3s, by linking to online mp3s, or by using YouTube videos. You need to submit a transcript of the audio so that it can be transcribed. Listen and Write also has a few beta tools, including a level test for English and a program for learning numbers.

7. Text 2 Mind Map

This is a free site for creating mind maps. It is very simple to use: Just use tabs to create a hierarchy of terms in the text box on the left, and click “Draw Mind Map”. Your terms will appear mapped out in different colors, and you can use the mouse to adjust the positioning of any box within the mind map. This works for any language. There is also a tab under the text box for options, where you can change the font, colors, line scheme, etc. See below for an example:

On the site there is also an option to download your mind map as an image or PDF. In sum, Text 2 Mind Map is a quick way to organize L2 concepts and vocabulary into groupings such as semantic fields and differing verb conjugations. There are many possibilities.

8. Lang-8
On Lang-8 you can create a free account to engage in language exchanges that focus fully on writing. In other words, you can post a piece of your writing in an L2 on the site, and native speakers of that L2 can use site annotation tools to correct it. These annotations make the corrections easy to follow, and there is room for comments. You can do the same for learners of your L1, and make friends in this way as on social networks. There are also a few additional features that are available through a paid premium account, including downloadable entries, prioritization of posts, and customizable URLs. Here is a sample screenshot from the site:

Lang-8 offers a convenient way to receive feedback on your writing and to think critically about language as you correct others. Although native intuition may not always be what you are looking for or may be too subjective, this is a great place to feel more in touch with the actual usage of your L2 and learn how to say utterances that you may not encounter in formal settings.

9. RhinoSpike
This free site has a similar premise to Lang-8, only it works to improve L2 listening. The site is simple: First, you provide texts in an L2. These audio requests go into a queue, and wait for native speakers of your L2 to correct the text if needed and then read it for you. You can also read texts in your L1, and your own requests move up the queue as you read for other language learners. Alternately, you can do the opposite, and submit audio or video, such as from youTube, that you want native speakers to transcribe. A sample audio request is shown in the screenshot below:

Due to the nature of RhinoSpike, you can choose texts to be recorded that are at your proficiency level and that match your interests. As shown in the screenshot above, there is also space for giving instructions to the recorder. In addition, this site can be used to have problem words or sentences pronounced for you. Thus this site gives users freedom and flexibility for practicing language listening.

10. Diigo

Diigo is a cloud-based bookmarking tool which offers a wide range of capabilities. It is used to bookmark webpages or images and store them for offline viewing or share them. In addition, Diigo allows users to annotate web pages with highlighting and sticky notes, and organize these pages in an online library. There are a few different ways you can integrate this tool into your browser, including as a bookmarklet or actual toolbar. The basic version of Diigo is free, although there are some premium capabilities available as well. Below is a screenshot that illustrates Diigo:

The screenshot above shows one usage for Diigo in language learning—you can access web pages and save them into your library. Then you can access tools to highlight words you do not know, and add sticky notes with definitions or encyclopedia entries. In this way Diigo could be used like hypermedia glossing, as one possible way of using it. Although Diigo is no doubt very useful, there are many other options available. If you are just looking for a simple way to save pages and annotate them, you may want to try tools such as Scrapbook, which is a free plugin for Mozilla Firefox that allows you to easily create folders and organize files that you have annotated with less to worry about.

In conclusion, there are many useful tools for online language learning. Some are already adapted to language learning and require little to no adaptation, whereas others are useful in general and offer promising applications to the language teaching context. It can be useful to explore and see the strengths and weaknesses of certain tools, as there are often many for certain areas. This post has given a little information about five such tools, and you are welcome to see the current list of annotated links collected by CERCLL here.

Ten Online Tools for Language Learning, Pt. I

March 22nd, 2013 | Posted by jtparry in resources - (Comments Off on Ten Online Tools for Language Learning, Pt. I)

There are numerous online tools that can be used in language learning and in second language (L2) classrooms; in fact, it is a focus of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) to find and adapt such tools. From among these many choices, the next two blog posts will introduce ten tools that are available online. These tools can be used in the language classroom to enhance learning, or they could be used by students to supplement their classroom experience. These ten tools come from an extensive list of language learning links that CERCLL has compiled, which you can find on the resource page (available here). Although the links on the resource page are annotated with a brief overview, these posts allow for greater description of a few of the tools. Here are the five of thee tools, with screenshots (Click the title to visit the link):

1. Lingro

This free online tool allows users to learn vocabulary within the context of reading. Currently on the site there are bilingual dictionaries for 11 different languages (in 22 combinations, most of which involve English as one of the languages). Using Lingro is very straightforward—simply find an online text and enter its URL where indicated on the Lingro homepage. Below is an example of this, using the Wikipedia article for Star Wars in French. By entering the URL for this page on Lingro, you can click any word in the text to get its translation. In this example I clicked on étoiles and a blue box popped up with the gender, definition, and part of speech:

Lingro also keeps track of words you have clicked on for your benefit and future study. On the website, you can review the words you have clicked on and create word lists with them. You can also view the sentential context for words that you have clicked on. Finally, you can create flashcards with these words. There is also a place on Lingro for users to help build the bilingual dictionaries, since the growth of the site is a collaborative effort.

 2. Italki

This site allows language learners to engage in a language exchange, in which two language learners mutually help each other by devoting time to practice each learner’s L2. These language exchanges can take place over Skype, e-mail, chat, or however the two parties decide. Italki offers a search tool for users to look up other users by the language that they speak and the language they are trying to learn. You can also search locations, genders, where speakers are from originally, or filter the results to display only those who are native speakers or have a photo. From this search, you are able to connect with those who match your interests and goals to set up a language exchange. It is also possible to set up a profile about yourself. Most parts of italki are free, but in addition to language exchanges there are also tutors from around the world who offer lessons for a charge. Here is a screenshot from italki:

This tool is very helpful, but it is important to plan for possible technical problems that may arise during these exchanges, and time zones may create difficulty in establishing synchronous (real-time) communication. There are many tools on the internet for finding language exchange partners, and it is worthwhile to explore the advantages and disadvantages of several. For example, some sites have different tools for finding users with similar interests, offer more or less free services, or list more speakers of a given L2. Other sites for exchanges include MyLanguageExchange, InterPals, The Mixxer, Conversation Exchange, SharedTalk, xlingo, and many others.

3. LyricsTraining

LyricsTraining is a unique site that offers over three thousand music videos with accompanying lyrics for purposes of practicing L2 listening. It has videos in 7 different languages, and these videos are rated according to the difficulty level of the lyrics. To use this tool, learners watch videos and need to provide all or part of the song lyrics as music videos play, depending on the game difficulty that they select. Their efforts are timed, and they cannot proceed through a song until they enter a lyric correctly; learners are given points based on their times. The words from these songs are stored in a word list for later reference. Here is an example screenshot (using the intermediate level game):

This tool is also built collaboratively, so that users can add music videos and timed lyrics to the site from YouTube. Once their contribution is reviewed, it is added to the site’s selection.

4. Storybird

This site offers tools for creating digital stories while choosing from a large selection of beautiful illustrations. Using Storybird, teachers or learners can find meaningful artwork and create a story alongside the pictures. As you create a story, several additional images to choose from appear next to your story. Here is a glimpse of the site:

These stories can be private, browsed by others, or even embedded and shared over social networks. Storybird offers free basic accounts, and has options for educators. This site would especially work well for K-12 students, but it could also be motivating and serve to stimulate creativity and writing skills in older language learners.

5. Eyercize

Eyercize is a novel way for learners to improve their L2 reading speed and vocabulary recognition; it is a free online tool for practicing speed reading by using sample texts on the site or by copying and pasting other texts. The main feature on the site is a reading pacer, which can be used as a tachistoscope. This reading pacer includes a sidebar with several adjustable settings (so that readers can choose the WPM reading speed, the amount of highlighted words, the number of words surrounding those highlighted, font size, etc.). The tool further collects statistics about each reader’s performance. This is shown in the below screenshot:

In addition to the stand-alone reading pacer, there is also an Eyercize bookmarklet which learners can add to their browser’s toolbar, which allows you to select text on any webpage and then click the bookmark icon to open the speed reader.

In conclusion, it can be overwhelming to be bombarded with so many useful online tools for foreign language learning. This list has provided some choices in this area, and serves as both a springboard to a greater exploration of online tools and an idea-generator for L2 curriculum and independent learning. If these tools are implemented into curriculum, teachers should remember to control the use of the tools, and not let the tools do the teaching.

Hypermedia Annotations in Second Language Learning

January 21st, 2013 | Posted by jtparry in cercll project | cercll staff | culture | resources - (Comments Off on Hypermedia Annotations in Second Language Learning)

Within the sphere of second language teaching, technology has been rapidly growing and being implemented as a tool for motivation and efficiency in the hands of capable teachers. Among the countless online tools available, hypermedia annotations have been shown to be helpful for improving vocabulary learning and reading comprehension. Annotations, or glosses, are usually short definitions or explanations that accompany a text. These usually have appeared in the margins of books, within text, or at the bottom of the page. Hypermedia comes from the combination of hypertext (information given through links, as you would find on the internet) and multimedia. Thus hypermedia annotations are a computer form of traditional glosses, with clickable links.

There are several advantages to hypermedia glosses. They are quick and efficient, and allow readers to focus on comprehending a text or learning words more deeply. In a number of studies, students have commented on the enjoyability and usability of glosses—so they are also a good way to enhance motivation. Several students have also shown their affinity for L1 glosses over L2 glosses, particularly at lower proficiency levels. Possible disadvantages to glosses include that they may make students expend too little effort, not engage in deep learning, or simplify the meaning of words and passages. Although it would intuitively seem clear that glosses are effective, this issue is actually controversial within SLA studies. There are too many results to present generalizations, and an astounding amount of variables in past studies on hypermedia glosses.

CERCLL is currently developing texts with hypermedia annotations for Arabic, German, Turkish, and Portuguese using TIARA (The Interactive Annotated Reading Application) software, which was developed by the ARCLITE (Advanced Research in Curriculum for Language Instruction and Technology in Education) lab at BYU. This project is directed by Dr. Chantelle Warner, and more details about the project can be found here. This tool allows users to access a text and display all glosses or choose between text, image, audio, and video glosses on an interactive page. In addition, the glosses promote intercultural competence since they serve to explain words and phrases that are important to cultural understanding. Here is a screenshot of the application:

An example of an image annotation on TIARA

The current project with hypermedia annotations is an extension of a past CERCLL project, directed by Robert Ariew, which used different software to create materials for Arabic and Italian (click each language to view the resources).

This tool offers many possibilities, for either the classroom or individual language study. There are a number of other tools for hypermedia glosses, which present their own strengths and weaknesses. One free tool for hypermedia creation online is This site allows you to download free software to create your own hypermedia glosses, and it is definitely worth checking out!