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LEARNING ESP ON THE INTERNET: ATTITUDES AND DIFFICULTIES
Law University of Lithuania
Computers have become indispensable in the contemporary world as the powerful means for communication and education. Learners interest to learning languages has been enforced by the availability of the Internet, which provides easy access to every possible kind of information and serves as an effective tool to facilitate learning.
The concept of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has been associated with the use of the Internet and implies the interactive use of the World Wide Web for education. The Internet presents a reliable and continuously updated source both of general and specific interest materials that are invaluable to learners.
The increasing emphasis and promotion of autonomous learning of foreign languages and the widening role of online technologies have lately become the major features in language teaching in tertiary institutions. Interestingly, these two features have the potential to be implemented in a complementary way.
This article aims at discussing and researching learners attitude to ICT and application of the selected Internet websites in the ESP classes as contributing factors to developing autonomous learners.
2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE
2.1 SEARCHING THE INTERNET FOR AUTHENTIC MATERIALS
Web is a collection of a vast number of reference materials, which could be assessed and selectedthrough using common search engines or directories, for example,http://www.google.com, http://www.yahoo.com, http://www.excite.com, http://www.about.com, http://www.ask.com. The first one is thought to be the most thorough and effective and, according to many users, helps find the most relevant information.
Having found the relevant websites, it is necessary to evaluate information, in particular source accuracy (i.e. authority, objectivity and coverage), appropriateness (for learners needs), and appeal (easy to use, interesting to read) (Opalka, 2002). Some teachers think that access to the Internet materials needs to be controlled in order to prevent students downloading undesirable material. A multiitude of information on the web poses requirements to its users who must be able to search for necessary information effectively. Before students acquire some experience in sorting out information, teachers guidance in selecting appropriate materials is necessary. Otherwise learners might be overwhelmed by the amount of information and its linguistic difficulty.
2.2 GUIDELINES FOR ENGLISH TEACHING / LEARNING ON THE WEB
A few common guidelines for teaching English on the Internet emerge from the investigation of the experiences of teachers around the world. The guidelines were designed by Warschauer (1997) to help teachers implement computer-based activities in second language classroom, and a brief summary is presented below.
Whatever reasons teachers have for teaching language via the web, the first important point is to clarify the goals for using the Internet, e.g. teach writing, revise vocabulary or grammar, prepare projects, solve WebQuests, gain email connections, etc. It is extremely vital to remember that little is usually gained by just adding random online activities into a classroom (Warschauer, 1997).
The second important point is integration of online activities into the course curriculum rather than adding these on top of the rest of the classroom activites in a disconnected fashion (Warschauer, 1997).
The third problem that teachers often encounter is that there are a number of complexities in introducing the web-based activities. A few to be mentioned are basic computer illiteracy of ESL students, malfunction of hardware & software, slow loading of websites and time-consuming tasks. Therefore, Warschauer recommends that teachers have to provide support, i.e. personal help to learners during activites, assigning students to work in pairs or groups, create detailed handouts. These measures should prevent students from being overwhelmed by encountered difficulties and discouraged.
The concept of learner-centeredness requires to involve learners in making decisions in network-based activities. This implies asking learners opinions about the process of implementing hi-technology and involving them in determining the class directions.
Nevertheless, teachers contributions remain important for coordinating group planning, focusing learners attention on linguistic aspects of computer-mediated texts, in helping students gain linguistic awareness of genres & discourses, in assisting learners in developing individual learning strategies, and creating an appropriate atmosphere for language learning. To fully exploit these opportunities, the teacher must learn to become a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage (Warschauer, 1997).
Summing up the guidelines, teachers have to be creative and find their own ways of applying the web-based activites.
2.3 INTEGRATING THE INTERNET READING MATERIALS INTO ENGLISH CLASSES
There are three different approaches teacher-centered, teacher-facilitated and learner-centered - to integrating the web-based reading materials into the foreign language curriculum (Brandl, 2002). The basic points of these approaches are outlined below.
In teacher-determined lessons, the reading activities are designed and materials are selected by teachers. Reading is done individually outside of class at the learners own pace. Classroom time can be spent more effectively getting students involved in communicative language learning activities. This approach lends itself for all levels of instruction. The development of such reading lessons may be time consuming and cumbersome for teachers.
In teacher-facilitated lessons, a particular topic and a set of goals are determined. Learners have to explore a variety of pre-selected resources and perform some tasks. Task types usually include comparisons, gathering factual information, descriptions, and short summaries. The outcome of any assignment is clearly defined, but open-ended. The approach in exploring information on the web may have additional potential to enhance students reading skills. Learners may encounter some difficulties in navigation, linguistic complexity and cognitive overload while processing the reading materials. The role of teachers is to help learners from getting lost, overwhelmed or discouraged.
In learner-determined lessons, the learners themselves determine the topics, reading materials, and the way of exploring them. Students formulate the goals, identify the web-based resources, decide on the process and outcome. In other words, learners are self-directed and autonomous. Examples of possible assignments are mini-projects, presentations, essays, etc. Documentation may comprise a diary, a poster, or a portfolio.
2.4 INTERNET FOR SELF-STUDY OF GRAMMAR AND VOCABULARY
The Internet can serve as a teaching medium, which not only contains texts but also pictures, quizzes, crosswords, mazes, sounds, music and films. The web-assisted lessons may supplement learning grammar and vocabulary at learners own pace as a self-study activity. There are a number of free (of charge) websites that provide such an opportunity to learners. Learners may practise grammatical structures, improve their listening and reading comprehension, build up their vocabulary. Another aspect of using the Web is exploiting the potential of communication tools such as email, chat groups, discussion groups, pals clubs, videoconferencing, etc., to conduct acrivities which require collaboration (Krajka & Grudzinska, 2002).
2.5 HOT POTATOES PROGRAM
The design of the Hot Potatoes program allows teachers to make interactive web-based exercises. Teachers can use the programs templates to create various exercises on the Internet pages which then are uploaded to a server where students can access them. Hot Potatoes software allows to create six different types of web-based exercises to form a sequence of tasks. Programs types are referred as modules or potatoes. Students can correct their own work based on the clues and teachers feedback.
An extensive summary of the types of exercises that can be created within each module as well as links to a variety of online interactive examples are presented in the reference (Winke & MacGregor, 2001). The possible types of exercises include: multiple-choice quizzes, text-entry quizzes, jumbled-word quizzes (open-ended), crossword puzzles, fill-in-blank exercises, and matching exercises. Accoding to the software makers, a multiple choice quiz allows to create as many choices as one thinks is necessary, while a text-entry quiz allows students to type the answer in a text-field, rather than choosing from a list of options. Both these quizzes can have an unlimited number of correct answers. A jumbled-word quiz is designed for the creation of scrambled sentences, paragraphs, etc. Learners task is to drag and drop the sentence fragments and put them in in the right order. A crossword quiz can be used to design crossword puzzles with different layouts and optional clues for each word. A fill-in-the-blank exercise allows to use a text of any kind and then choose the words to fill in. A matching exercise allows to create tasks based on two columns of items. Insertion of images and pictures makes tasks more attractive to learners.
Designers of Hot Potatoes are very enthusiastic about a multitude of task-based activities that teachers can design for their students. It is a valuable, free and easy-to-use tool for creating on-line interactive language learning exercises that can be used in or out of the clasroom.
The only drawback is that all the activities are to be prepared by teachers, i.e. teacher-centered. In order to reverse to learner-centeredness, I suggest that teachers ask learners to prepare the exercises for their peers. Intensive learning will take place during stage of designing exercises (in pairs) and doing exercises (by different pairs).
WebQuests are inquiry-based activities designed for the purpose of integration the Internet into the classroom. WebQuests focus on using information (not looking for it) and supporting learners thinking at the level of analysis, synthesis and evaluation. WebQuests develop problem-solving skills and promote learning through analysis of complex concepts. This is why WebQuests can be effectively used for a content-based approach to English for Specific Purposes (ESP) instruction (Marco, 2002).
A WebQuest must have the following steps: 1) an introduction, i.e. explanation of activities and background information, 2) a task that is feasible and interesting, 3) a set of information sources needed to complete the task, 4) some guidelines on how to organize the information, 5) a conclusion that closes the quest (Dodge, 1995). WebQuests might be short-term, in which the main goal for students is to make sense of new information, and long-term, which involve students in deeper analysis and content transformation (Dodge, 1999).
The advantages of WebQuests are numerous: fostering cooperative learning, engaging students in performimg real world tasks, using authentic online materials, promoting learner motivation, developing reading skills such as scanning, skimming, paraphrasing, summarising, organising, analysing as well as problem solving skills (Marco, 2002).
There are a number of WebQuests online, and some of the websites are quoted in the Appendix.
2.7 COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION
Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is a term which refers to human communication via computers. A distinction can be made between synchronous CMC, where interaction takes place in real time, and asynchronous CMC, where participants are not necessarily online simultaneously (Simpson, 2002). Synchronous CMC includes online chat, audio, and video conferencing, while asynchronous CMC email, mailing lists, discussion forums. In the former, learners must be online at the same time, which may cause some technological and logistical difficulties. The latter is thought to be an effective way for key-pal exchanges.
Valuable qualities of such communication are learner collaboration and autonomy because of an automatically diminished role of teachers during online exchanges.
2.8 FOSTERING LEARNER AUTONOMY THROUGH ICT
A majority of students are enthusiastic about using the Web for learning English. The Internet-assisted instruction fosters learner independence through such activities as 1) interpersonal exchanges, 2) information collection & analysis and 3) webpublishing (Krajka & Grudzinska, 2002).
The first type of activities, i.e. interpersonal exchanges engage learners in real life communication with partners via email. Emailing is an easy and effective way of communication between students all over the world. Partners can be found through a number of websites (Appendix).
Information collection and analysis involves using search engines, critical evaluation, organization and presentation of the chosen online materials, as well as collaboration with other students by sharing the information and discussing it. Information search is part of an inquiry-oriented activity (WebQuest), which has been described in a previous section.
Webpublishing is another activity for developing learner autonomy. It involves creating a website for a class and publishing learners written texts, taken pictures, etc. Webpublishing gives students opportunity to make decisions - to choose their own materials for publication, share ideas with partners and get satisfaction for having performed real-life tasks.
The integration of learner autonomy into digital communication is demonstrated by the Global Classroom Project (Tretyakov, 2002) developed by the European University Language Centre in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, the USA. A unique virtual classroom with instruction over the Internet was created. Face-to-face classroom teaching is increasingly making way to the virtual class, and student-teacher and student-student interaction occurs via Internet through conferencing software, email and other electronic media (Tretyakov, 2002). Such a computer-based learning / teaching is intended for students at intermediate or upper-intermediate level.
2.9 STUDENTS PERCEPTIONS OF LANGUAGE LEARNING ON THE WEB
There is not much published research about student perceptions on language learning in a technological environment. That is why such publications seem very timely.
The recently published study aimed at determining students perceptions on the role of the instructor in technology-enhanced language learning, the accessibility and relevance of technological components and the effects of the technology on the foreign language learning experiences (Stepp-Greany, 2002). Students attributed an important role to instructors and perceived that cultural knowledge, listening and reading skills were enhanced, but were divided in their perceptions about the learning and interest values. In the researchers opinion, the findings have several limitations due to the self-reported and descriptive rather than statistical data.
Data collected in another recent study revealed that students had an overall positive attitude to using the teacher-selected websites for learning English (Kung & Chuo, 2002). The investigation aimed at familiarising students with ESL resources on the World Wide Web. The learners deemed it appropriate to learn English through teacher-recommended ESL websites. However, learners seemed reluctant to use ESL websites for independent learning unless they were assigned to do so. The main reported reason for not accessing websites was a lack of time and more convenient media like TV, newspapers, books, to learn English.
3 RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
3.1 BACKGROUND INFORMATION
The overall goal of this study was to investigate respondents attitudes to the use of the high-tech in the ESP classroom and assess their short-term experience in using selected websites with the long-term purpose of developing autonomous learners.
Before presenting our findings, it is worthwhile to refer to the European Unions statistics on the Internet users in the Eastern Europe (http://www.bbc.co.uk/in depth). The number of the Internet users in each country is given per 1,000 population: 7 in Lithuania, 6 in Latvia and Romania, 10 in Poland, 12 in Czech Republic and Hungary, 17 in Slovakia, 30 in Estonia and Slovenia. The average number of Internet users in the countries of the European Union is 50 per 1,000 population. This implies that Eastern European countries have not attained the European standard yet.
In this research, two methods of gathering information were used. One method was an administered survey questionnaire, and another method was individual interviews during teachers weekly counseling hours.
The respondents were requested to fill in the questionnaire on their habits of using the Internet (after Kung & Chuo, 2002). There were 6 questions to this survey followed by suggested multiple-choice answers. Although respondents were asked to either comment or volunteer their own opinions or suggestions, but there were none. There were 42 respondents to this survey, who were the day-time students of the Law University of Lithuania. Respondents had 50 hours of ESP instruction in the autumn term and used special websites to practise their language skills. The findings were gathered in the spring term. The data are presented in percentage and described in the following section.
3.2 SURVEY DATA
1st question. Where do you access the Internet?
The column chart 1 indicates the most frequent locations where the learners access the Internet. It can be seen that only 29% of respondents own home computers and have access to the Internet in the comfort of their own homes. Majority of students over 90% - get online through the University computer facilities. 26% of learners visit either Internet Cafes or friends houses to get online. Only 5% of students have the Internet access at work. It is noteworthy that these students work in their spare time to supplement their income. It can be seen from the data that the same students use different access to the Internet, which explains why the total percentage exceeds 100%.
2nd question. How many times per week do you get online?
Data on how frequently learners get online are shown in the second chart. The same number of respondents 26% - get online once or twice a week, and 24% - every day. Other students use the Net between 3, 4 or 5 times per week 7%, 5% and 12%, respectively. This information is interrelated with the next question on the time spent online each time the learners log in.
3rd question. How many hours do you spend online each time?
The findings are shown in the column chart 3. Over 52% of respondents spend 2 hours, and 26% - 1 hour online. Only 9% and 12% of learners work longer 3 or 5 hours, respectively. There is a straightforward interpretation of these data. Learners have specific aims for logging in, and they stay on just as long as they need to do their assignments.
4th question. What do you use the Internet for?
As can be seen from the 4th bar chart, the basic activity learners perform on the Net is searching for information with the aim of preparing assignments 86%, writing emails 71%, reading newspapers 52%. Some students enjoy playing games online (17 %). Respondents have not mentioned any other activities that they might be involved in on the web, let alone using it for improving their language skills.
5th question. Do you use special English websites to learn English?
Learners attitudes to learning English through Information Communication Technology vary. The responses to this question are presented in the 5th pie chart. Slightly more than half of the respondents (52%) confirmed, and slightly less than half (48%) denied using the Internet websites for improving their language skills. This response, to put it mildly, has been rather unexpected. It is noteworthy that I have specially designed a number of English-Lithuanian / Lithuanian English Vocabulary Quizzes websites (http://iteslj.org/v/lt) for my students to revise law-related vocabulary. These quizzes are interchangeable, and either English-Lithuanian or Lithuanian-English version can be practised. During autumn term learners practised doing these exercises in the classroom with the aim of consolidating learnt ESP vocabulary. It should be mentioned that since September 2002 we have got computers and access to the Internet in the English classroom. Apart from using various EFL websites for perfecting language skills, a multitude of websites was used by students for searching for materials (e.g. for presentations or projects on professional themes). Moreover, my students (working in pairs) have used Charles Kellys Quiz generator software (http://a4esl.org/c)
to generate ESP quizzes in the classroom for other pairs to solve. The data for the ESP quizzes were prepared at home and consisted of law terms and their definitions in English one correct definition for each term and a variety of distractors. Majority of learners chose the quiz formats to be printed out to paper. Only one student had his quiz uploaded on the Internet TESL Journal page.
The survey questionnaire was administered six weeks after the end of the autumn term. To my great surprise, when answering this questionnaire, some learners must have forgotten using websites for revising law-related vocabulary last term. Otherwise it is hard to explain respondents responses given in the 5th pie chart. When I asked students why they had failed admitting learning English at the specially designed websites, their answer was straightforward - learners have not used the websites outside the classroom hours!
6th question. What is your opinion on using the Net for learning English ( useless, boring, useful, interesting, other)?
Responses to this question are shown in the 6th bar chart and are overwhelmingly either interesting (75%) or useful ( 64 %). Only one learner put it as boring, and none thought it useless.
Such priorities are promising for the future use of the Web in English class for interactive activities.
3.3 ENCOUNTERED DIFFICULTIES AND PROBLEMS
Discussing learners attitudes to working online one cannot forget an important factor for its success, i.e. students experience with using computers. Some learners lack common computer skills or even are computer illiterate.
Another problem that students face is inability to evaluate information they find, basically because of reading comprehension problems. The linguistic complexity of some professional materials makes them struggle through texts and discourages from further reading. Students rely on a bilingual computer dictionary a lot, which prolongs search for appropriate information, and final outcome is not always satisfactory.
As has been pointed out before, the vast majority of respondents report getting online through the University computer centre. All learners admit spending a lot of time on the Internet, either writing email messages, searching for information or preparing assignments (term- or exam- papers) in other subjects. A significant point is that 48% of students (Chart 5) did not visit any ESL websites for the purpose of learning English outside classroom hours after they had been introduced to the learning online in English classes. This proves a point that learners are relatively immature, not keen on learning indepently and apt to carry out teachers assignments.
Respondents had opportunity to revise their ESP vocabulary through the use of specially designed bilingual English-Lithuanian and Lithuanian-English law-related vocabulary quizzes (http://iteslj.org/v/lt and http://www.aitech.ac.jp/~iteslj/v/lt/gk-law-all.html). Understandably, it is impossible for learners to be able to activate professional vocabulary just by doing such type of exercises. It is thought that ESP vocabulary is best learnt through the context, and all language skills should be involved, i.e. reading, speaking, listening and writing, in order to activate it. Actually that is how ESP lessons are structured contextual learning of professional vocabulary and its communicative activation
The acquisition of ESP vocabulary is assessed by administering regular progress tests. Cheating can be easily avoided through the common testing procedures, e.g. by administering a few versions within the group. As a rule, students perform well in vocabulary tests. Strictly speaking, however, there is no evidence that target vocabulary was consolidated by means of ICT.
Weekly individual counseling (3 hours a week) allows me to talk to each student individually and get information from each learner during face-to-face communication. Majority of students claim they learn vocabulary by revising bilingual lists of terms in their notebooks. Only a few respondents use special websites for revision basically because of some disadvantages of using the Internet. Among the drawbacks of learning on the Net learners usually mention a few things that annoy them, i.e. slow uploading of the Internet connections in the day time, activities on ESL websites are time consuming, and various distractions (e.g. flashes of advertising).
The major potential advantage of using computers in the ESP classes is a vast variety of interactive activities that allow to foster independent learning.
General respondents attitude towards learning English on the web has been positive, but learners are reluctant to learn ESP on the web in their spare time.
The basic difficulty that respondents encounter using the Internet for preparing creative assignments is linguistic complexity of materials and inability to assess materials impartially.
The important factors for successful work online are learners command of computer skills, experience in assessing information on websites and good reading comprehension skills in English.
Brandl, K. Integrating Internet-Based Reading Materials into the Foreign Language Curriculum: From Teacher- to Student- Centred Approaches. September 2002. Language Learning & Technology, 6(3), pp. 87 107.
Davies, G. ICT and Modern Foreign Languages: Learning Opportunities and Training Needs. http://www.ict4lt.org, revised 30 November 2002.
Davies, G. Lessons from the Past, Lessons for the Future: 20 Years of CALL. http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/websites.htm
Dodge, B. WebQuests: A Technique for Internet-Based Learning. 1995. Distance Educator, 1(2), pp. 10 13.
Dodge, B. WebQuest taskonomy: A Taxonomy of Tasks. 1999.
Egbert, J., Paulus, T.M., Nakamichi, Y. The Impact of CALL Instruction on Classroom Computer Use: A Foundation for Rethinking Technology in Teacher Education. September 2002. Language Learning & Technology, 6(3), pp. 108 126.
Felix, U. 2001. Beyond Babel: Language Learning Online. Melbourne. Australia. p. 357.
Kavaliauskiene, G. 2003. Bilingual Vocabulary Quizzes. The Internet TESL Journal. (http://iteslj.org/v/lt) and http://www.aitech.ac.jp/~iteslj/v/lt/gk-law-all.html).
Krajka, J. & Grudzinska, Z. Using the Internet in the Language Classroom to Foster Learner Independence Ideal and Reality. 2002. http://www.iatefl.org.pl/tdal/n/krajka.htm
Kung, S-C. & Chuo, T-W. Students Perceptions of English Learning Through ESL / EFL Websites. June 2002. TESL-EJ, 6(1), 12 pages.
Marco, M. J. L. Internet Content-Based Activities for ESP. July 2002. English Teaching Forum, 40(3), pp. 20 25.
Opalka, B. ICT as a Contributing Factor to Developing Learner Autonomy. 2002. http://iatefl.org.pl/tdal/n7opalka.htm
Simpson, J. Computer-Mediated Communication. 2002. ELT Journal, 56(4), pp. 414 415.
Stepp-Greany, J. Student Perceptions on Language Learning in a Technological Environment: Implications for the New Millennium. January 2002. Language Learning & Technology, 6(1), pp. 165 180.
Tretyakov, Y.P. Mutual Instruction in the Global Classroom. In the Internet-Based Journal ESP World, http://esp-world.com/issue 3.html
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Winke, P. & MacGregor, D. Hot Potatoes Version 5. Winter 2001. Language Learning Journal, No 24, pp. 30 33.
APPENDIX: USEFUL WEBSITES
This section contains the list of useful Internet websites for learners of English. Most of these sites are free of charge, although the situation on websites changes very fast. Some sites become commercial without giving warnings to potential users. A lot of advertising on sites is often distracting to learners, particularly to those with imperfect linguistic skills.
There are comments in brackets after each website either what activities are to be found there or who the site is suitable for. This list was compiled over a long period of time. Various search engines and resources have been used which makes it impossible to refer to where the authour has come across them for the first time. However, where possible, appropriate references have been made in this work.
http://www.eastment.com (General information on websites for learning English)
http://www.eascafe.com (Daves ESL cafe, various kinds of activities)
http://www.linguistic-funland.com (activities for fun-loving learners)
http://www.funny.com (activities for fun-loving learners)
http://www.humor.com (activities for fun-loving learners)
http://www.mrshowbiz.go.com (website about celebrities)
http://www.a4esl.org (grammar, vocabulary activities for ESL learners)
http://www.manythings.com (interesting things for ESL students)
http://web.uvic.ca/hrd/halfbaked (Hot Potatoes Website)
http://edweb.sdsu.edu/webquest/ (WebQuest collections page)
http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Bookstore/6687/Euthanasia (Compassion or Murder WebQuest)
http://www.nicenet.org (virtual classroom online)
http://www.anglo-polish.co.uk (for learners in Poland)
http://www.quinion.com/words (language pages)
http://www.britishcouncil.it/students/ (example of webpublishing)
http://www.edufind.com/english/grammar (basic grammar, plenty of free materials)
http://www.oup.co.uk/elt/magazine (SPECTRUM magazine for students and teachers)
http://www.angelfire.com/pq/pic (for lower level students matching pictures and words)
http://www.englishtown.com (activities for students)
http://www.onestopenglish.com (MacMillan / Heinemann editors site)
http://www.holidays.net (about celebrations and religious holidays)
http://www.geocities.com (about various countries)
http://esl.about.com (ESL activities & problems)
http://home.about.com/aboutuk (information about the UK)
http://www.giglepoetry.com (a wide selection of amusing and interesting poems)
http://poetry4kids.com (activities for young learners)
http://www.teach-nology.com/web_tools/scramble (word scrambler mixes up the letters of words you write in, for the students to re-order)
http://www.theeducatorsnetwork.com/utt/vocabuilder.htm (definition scrambler for higher-level students)
http://www.wordsmyth.net/live/home (Quizmaker website)
http://www.EnglishSuccess.com (Longman online English Courses, Commercial site)
http://www.comenius.com/fables (Fluency through fables)
http://www.esl-lab.com (Randalls ESL Cyber Listening interactive online activities)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish (website for learning English via news, entertainment, music, sport, etc.)
http://www.free-english.com (commercial site can only be used by subscription).
(25 March 2003)
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