ESL etc.

Global Issues and Activism in English Language Teaching

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Microsoft’s ESL Assistant

April 2nd, 2010 by Dave · 2 Comments

Now, I’m no great fan of Microsoft. I still (reluctantly) use Windows but I’ve long been a supporter of OpenOffice and other open source alternatives. I have also found that Microsoft Word’s grammar check does more harm than good for my students. That said, their new ESL Assistant looks promising.

It’s simple to use. Just copy and paste some text into the box, and it will highlight a number of potential problems. For each, you are presented samples of the word / phrase used in context (from a seemingly random website) along with a pie chart breaking down the relative frequency of each alternative. I used a sample of student writing, and found the suggestions to be mostly accurate.

I wouldn’t just give it to students as a failsafe tool, though. Instead, I’d like to go through an example of their writing as a class, to look at how some of the suggestions are misleading.

For example, the sample of writing I used contained the phrase “put on Internet”. While ESL Assistant highlighted this phrase, it also “recommended” it, in the sense that “put on Internet” was favored 51% to 49% over “put on the Internet”. In the examples, though, it’s clear that Internet is used as an adjective in the former, while it is a noun in the latter, and my student meant it as a noun. Reminding students to look at the part of speech of the examples could help them get even more out of this tool.

Another example was the phrase “try make a lot” for which ESL Assistant had a 99% recommendation for “try a lot”, as opposed to “try to make a lot”, which wasn’t suggested at all. Still, I think this is a neat resource for students. And, surprisingly, “trying make” and “trying to make” were split evenly, with millions of examples on each side. Yikes. This tool would definitely be improved if they restricted the sites it pulled examples from.

Thanks Larry

Tags: blog · ESL activity · grammar · software · writing

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