How important is vocab in ESL?

by Marcus A.K.A The Slacker on May 23, 2014

Lynch deals with student’s flaggin enthusiasm for the vocab strategy in his ESL classroom…

As an English teacher you have to deal with a lot of nonsense. The funniest thing I’ve ever heard, though, was a student who said he was giving up the course because there was too much vocabulary. To give up a language course because there’s too much vocab is like giving up a Maths course because there’s too many numbers.

Language consists of words, and if you don’t know those words then you don’t know the language. Despite this, however, students simply don’t realise that their problem with English is intimately related with their limited vocabulary. This lack of realisation is because contemporary education has over complicated the learning process and become obsessed with the experience learners have while they’re learning. This erroneous trend means that everyone believes they must following method x or y, or playing, or being interactive or whatever. No one wants to believe that it is simply a question of lack of data – in this case, vocabulary – and that all they need to do is to memorise words to input that data.

• Listening exercises are good – but the biggest problem caused with listening is that you simply don’t know a percentage of the words you’re listening to.

• Speaking exercises are good – but if you simply don’t know the words for what you want to say then you will never speak well.

• Telephoning in another language is always difficult but no amount of telephone classes will help you if you don’t understand a certain percentage of the words you hear or know the words for what you want to say.

There are many important aspects to learning a language – fluency, reading, listening etc… but you will find again and again that these seemingly complex problems are simply caused by a lack of vocabulary.

When arriving at a new company or school, we make vocabulary our absolute top priority. It is both an academic issue and a matter of conscience. I am passionate about the career and future of my students and that’s why I can not let them (students who need English for their career) lead their professional lives without the minimum vocabulary requirement for operational efficiency in English. That minimum is 2000 words, and if I know you don’t have that vocabulary level but I start introducing games and random activities into the classes to make them ‘fun’, then I am not doing my job properly. My job is to advance your career and assist you in functioning more efficiently in linguistic situations. If you want fun – then go to the fuc*ing zoo! Work hard – play hard: fun is a privilege for those that reach the required level.

I’m not obsessed with vocab and I’m not a ball breaker. And that is the irony. I love fun. Once I know my students have reached the 2000 word level (and have mastered the tenses) then the nature of the classes fundamentally changes. We can do multi-media classes, we can do role-play, we can do anything the students want. Therefore, I humbly ask you – if you are bored or frustrated – to stick with the program, reach the required level and then you can direct the course.

Big hug,


ESL class – Breaking bad – Using series in class

by Marcus A.K.A The Slacker on October 11, 2013

Life’s all about caring and sharing (apparently)… so I thought I’d share my slide from an ESL class on Breaking bad. It is designed for a HD screen so it wil look weird on a mobile or diddy computer. Enjoy.

bitch breaking

A crazy but effective method for ESL error correction! Sonic punishment!

by Marcus A.K.A The Slacker on April 17, 2013

How and why this crazy idea occurred to me I don’t know, but it was probably the sheer frustration of hearing the same student errors repeated again and again.

So I decided to sing.

That’s right… when my favourite student eliminated the pronoun I suddenly decided to sing in a mock opera voice… “You have eliminated the pronoun again… this is an error… please put the pronoun back in.”

I have an awful voice (all the better for this novel ESL error correction technique) and the effect was immediate. The student looked at me in horror and immediately put his hands over his ears. He was in some kind of TEFL nightmare. After performing the same error correcting trick a few times, the student developed such a mortal fear of my singing that he was soon inserting the pronoun.

Just to clarify the methodology of the ESL correction trick… you must give them the explanation in song. Singing a random song – while punishing – doesn’t quite have that surreal, brainwashing edge.

Business English podcast 8: Dropbox and entrepreneurship

by Lynch A.K.A 'The Regulator' on August 5, 2012

Short bio of Dropbox founder
Podcast from Dropbox founder, Drew Houston
Get Dropbox
Wiki English
Wiki Spanish
Great article on Dropbox rejecting Setve Jobs offer.

This is a fantastic ESL listening exercise and an interesting business English podcast on the history of Dropbox. The original audio can be downloaded from the Stanford university website.

Most of the worlds’ great businesses start with a problem and the founder of that business formulating a soloution to that problem. In this podcast from the Stanford entrepreneurship program we hear from Drew Houston all about the problem that lead him to start up Dropbox: dependence on flash drives, mailing yourself files and other types of file saving and transportantion problems. After forgetting his flash drive one day, Drew suddenely started to write code and design a service that would allow you access to your files from multiple computers. Dropbox was born.

Interesting as that all is however, we always have an agenda in this school for every audio and business English podcast we download and that’s – what can we learn from it?

Despite promising at the beginning of the podcast that he’s going to tell us what he wished he’d known when he started up he doesn’t really do that.

Instead he tells a number of interesting and amusing anecdotes which, if you’re on the ball, you can extract lessons from.

The founder of Dropbox - Drew Houston - talks in this podcast about the founding and growth of Dropbox.

Personally, I very much related to his tales of disasters with Adwords. My God, if you don’t know what you’re doing with adwords you can end up throwing money away. He tells a story of spending 500 euros on adwords to get a 100 euros worth of business. But that wasn’t the main lesson we can learn.

What we need to note is the effect that a semmingly silly video can have. Drew uploded a very simple video of him explaining dropbox and a vaguely funny menu and overnight their beta waiting list went from 5000 to 75000.

Another obvious but fundamental lesson you can learn is the importance of bringing customers in off the street to use your product, observe them using it, and then make the necessary changes. In this podcast Drew tells a great story of early tests they did where users had to rate the usability of Dropbox from zero to five and every single one gave it a zero.

Now, imagine your average person recieving that news – that your product is rubbish – almost everyone would throw in the towell. But not the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur starts trying to undertsand the usability problems one by one and starts ticking them off.

Well, whatever this audio lacks in public speaking skills and solid business advice it makes up for in overall appeal. At the end of the day it tells a great story of a young man with an idea taking on the world. That is inspiring and inspiration is worth a hundred lessons in business strategy, and we think you’ll be able to produce an interesting ESL liatening exercise from it.


Business English Podcast 7: The wine industry

by Lynch A.K.A 'The Regulator' on August 5, 2012

Original BBC podcast
Decline of French wine
Podcast on Argentinian wine
Argentiniean wine producer from the podcast
Article on Chinese victory

Today’s business English audio is based on Peter Day’s world of Business and a podcast called ‘The new world of wine. It is about new wine producing countries so if you don’t know the word ‘vine’ – vid – you should take note – it is the plant which produces grapes and therefore the plant that produces the wine. But before we talk about vines or wines, I would like to tell you the type of story that neither Chinese business nor the Chinese government wants you to hear. But it’s a true story, so I’ll tell you.

Last summer I was doing some work in the house and I went to buy two items (articulos) from the local Chinese shop: a brush to clean the toilet and a hammer (martillo) to fix a bed. As soon as I put the brush in the toilet and started cleaning it broke into two parts, and when I tried to use the hammer the head fell off. While I understand that a store where everything costs two euros is not a probable source of quality goods, it wasn’t a good moment for my relationship with Chinese manufacturing and only increase my perception that China is cheap – but low quality.

This perception is shared by many, but it maybe about to change. Not only are new brands and goods emerging from China that are of equal quality to western ones, but there are a host of new companies entering the luxury goods market. In fact, you may be surprised to know that the recent winner of the world’s most prestigious wine of the year award was… a Chinese wine. And not a rice wine or any other oriental specialisation – but a traditional grape wine competing against the best French ones. Its name – the Jia Bei Lan 2009 Cabernet blend.

The test that decides the competition was carried out by a jury of five internationally recognised experts, and the great thing is that it’s a blind test. In other words, they don’t know where the wine is from, that they’re drinking.

Interestingly, the Chinese have a long tradition of making wine, though it is perhaps a little sweet for the western palette as it is often made from plums. In recent years, however, the Chinese have imported French grapes and expertise and decided that anything the French can do – they can do better. And they are now making some of the finest wines in the world.
The Chinese aren’t just making it, though, the market for imported wine in China is growing exponentially. Two years ago the Chinese imported 120 million cases of wine, last year 220 million and in five years it is estimated the figure will be 500 million.

China isn’t the only country upsetting the market dominance of the French, Argentina is not only recognised now as one of the world’s quality producers but also one of the biggest. It is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world and no company represents this better than Catena wines.

The story of Catena is the story of one businessman’s passion and drive. After doing a sabbatical at Berkeley university in 1985, the young Argentinian heir (heredero) to the Catena vineyard in Mendoza, was inspired by the Californians’ determination to match the French winemakers for quality (it seems we all like to bash the French!). He went back to Argentina determined to make his vineyard world famous and produce some of the best wine in the world.

For ten years he experimented, perfected, nurtured and tended his vines… eventually realising that growing them at high altitude would give his vines an advantage over the French. Catena is now a world class brand is the wine industry.

Over the next few years the story of Catena and Jia Bei Lan is likely to be repeated. Although wine is a luxury item we associate locations such as France and Italy, the vine is a strong plant which can grow in many areas. Therefore, although 60 million French would disagree, it is possible to create fine wine anywhere and they may have to accept that their market dominance will soon be over.


Business English podcast 6: Why the Germans are better than us!

August 5, 2012

German business ettiquette NY times comparison of German and American economy Original podcast frm BBC Hi, this week’s business English podcast is from our friends in London. The BBC. The program is part of the Global Business Series and it is great for an advanced ESL class. This audio is presented by Peter Day and […]

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Business English podcast 5: Nokia and the mobile industry

August 5, 2012

Nokia history Nokia podcasting app for phone. Original businessweek podcast 2012 news – Nokia no longer number 1 Today’s Business English podcast is based on a Businessweek magazine article called ‘Stephen Elop’s Nokia Adventure.’ But first … some interesting things about Nokia ou will learn in this ESL class. Nokia is a Finnish company that […]

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Business English Listening 4: The pharmaceutical industry

August 5, 2012

In today’s podcast for business English, we’re going to talk about the problems facing the pharmaceutical industry. You can download the original audio file from the BBC and all our ESL teaching friends can create a cool class with it. Audio on the future of the industry (old but good) BBC Podcast on problems faced […]

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Business English podcast 3: Dog TV and Cable television

August 5, 2012

DOG TV Pet business in the US: PODCAST IN ENGLISH Today’s class for ESL teachers is based on a Businessweek article called ‘Barking mad.’ When you listen to this business English podcast you might start questioning your comprehension because the subject is so crazy. Well, guess what everybody? This week sees the launch of Dog.TV […]

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Business English Podcast 2: The new banks

August 5, 2012

Hi, welcome to class 2 of ingocio – the audio course that teaches you both business English as well as the latest trends in companies and organisations around the world. Today we’re going to do a listening exercise on four banks that have been created since the financial crisis destroyed people’s trust in the traditional […]

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