Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How English Teachers Can Learn EFL Student Names

Learning Names in English as a Foreign Language

Names are an integral part of any language.

Many first and last names cross linguistic and national boundaries, but many others are unique, indigenous to one language, culture, country or region. (such as the late Idi Amin, pictured)

It’s always an important skill to be able to learn, remember and recall the names of key people in your environment wherever you might now live (or plan to live), from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Remember, you can use images of famous people or their occupations to help you associate people whose names you want to recall. The process will effectively operate no matter what types of names you’ll need to recall. You just need to be as imaginative (and outrageous) as possible in forming your name to face associations to make them more effective.

English as a Second Language Names

But wait, you’re a teacher (or learner) of English as a foreign or second language, so something more practical like memorizing a quick 100 new words of foreign vocabulary or the names of a new class of forty or more students is a snap, right? It is for people like Enrique. “Everyone has the potential to be a genius”, he says. Adding, “Your brain is an incredible computer you can learn to manage”. So who’s Enrique?

Enrique Ortega Salinas

Formerly listed in the Guinness Book of Records with 320 numbers memorized in one view and 52 playing cards memorized in 49 seconds, Uruguay-born writer Enrique Ortega Salinas travels extensively throughout Latin America training others to accomplish seemingly amazing feats of mnemonic manipulation.

Enrique often memorizes 60 to 100 or more first and last names of his seminar attendees at once, and suggests that you “begin to memorize first and last names by associating images with prominent physical or personality characteristics of people you meet with those names”. Other association types might include using images of famous people or their occupations. We’ve worked together on various occasions for going on two years now. We’re applying his world-record-breaking memorization techniques for English and foreign language teaching and learning. Here’s a snippet of how we met.

Passing from one to the other of us lined up side by side, Guinness Book of Records memorization record holder Enrique Ortega Salinas came face to face with me. I was about number 17 out of around thirty people.

“What’s your last name?” He asked me in a low key voice.

“It’s LYNCH. You know like when they hang someone?”
I pantomimed a noose-tightening gesture to illustrate.

“Oh, like linchar?” (It’s the equivalent word in Spanish.)

“That’s right.” I responded.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a university English as a foreign language professor.”

“And what’s your first name?”

“It’s Larry.”

“Hmmm.” He thought a moment or two before responding.

“I picture your students pulling you by the tie. They want to lynch you and you’re yelling at them in English.”

I laughed a little and responded, “I hope not.”

Enrique moved on to the next person. He was in the process of memorizing the last and first names of everyone at his demonstration session. He continued until he’d reached everyone. Then a few minutes later, he went back and calmly recited each of our names in turn. There were no mistakes.

Memorizing Vocabulary and Name Lists

Fortunately for us mere English language teaching mortals, he shares some of his techniques for rapidly internalizing lists of unrelated words or foreign vocabulary including first and last names. From a phone book or from asking around, find out the most common first and last names in the foreign language you’re learning. For your EFL learners create puzzles and word searches containing commonly used first and last names. Personally, I like to use word search and cross word puzzles of famous people with common first names like Danny (Devito), Ray (Charles) Robert (Deniro), Julia (Roberts), Pamela Sue (Anderson), Josephine (Baker) – you get the picture.

In the continuing installment, we’ll delve into the all-important aspect of learning new and often strange sounding names with unique spellings. Good techniques for English as a foreign language teachers as well as EFL and ESL learners too.

See you then.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 125 countries worldwide. Get your FREE, pdf format report on CD or via e-mail, "Creative, Dynamic Ways to Motivate and Teach English as a Foreign Language to Diverse Groups of Reluctant Learners" by requesting the title at:

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