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Dave’s ESL Cafe, www.eslcafe.com, was set up by, and continues to be managed by, a Los Angeles’ man called Dave Sperling. The site is free to use, and contains material for both students and teachers alike, as well as a job’s board. Through its development and growth, the site was funded entirely by Dave, although now he does allow sponsors on the site. There is a picture of Dave on the home page as well as sponsored announcements and sponsored links. The site’s title reads “Dave Sperling presents the One and Only Dave’s ESL Cafe.” The site’s slogan is “The Internet’s Meeting place for ESL + EFL teachers + students from around the World!” In my opinion, for a website aimed at ESL professionals and students wanting to improve their English skills, more care should have been taken with using capital letters. For a more professional and educated feel, the title should have all words beginning with capital letters, or only the first word capitalised, rather than what seems to be a random selection of words beginning with upper case letters.
At the top of the main page there are tabs for Home, Jobs, Stuff for Teachers, Stuff for Students, Stuff for Everyone, and a site search facility. Hovering over the tabs gives you a further list of options. I tried using the site search box and it re-routes to a Google search. The overall appearance of the site is bright and colourful, and there are lovely pictures of different destinations from all over the world. Images include those from China, Russia, Greece, France, Thailand and Vietnam.
Free to Use
All resources, ideas and forums are free to use.
Good Jobs Sections
Within the Jobs section, there are separate categories for jobs in Korea, China and International. There is also a section for job seekers to post resumes. It is free for job seekers to post, although there is a charge for potential employers to browse the resumes. There is a warning to teachers about scams when applying for work, which is good. You can use the jobs sections to find work all over the world.
Wide Range of Useful Material
Under Stuff for Teachers, there is a facility for teachers to submit ideas of activities and example lessons, which are all conveniently arranged under different topics, such as business English, listening, spelling, games, and so on.
Well Used Forums for Teachers and Students
It is interesting to browse posts made by others. It is good that you do not have to be a member to access posts. The forums are moderated, and teachers can discuss international jobs, Korean jobs, teacher training and general issues. For students, there are various headings where students can ask questions, express opinions and bounce their ideas around. This looks to be fairly frequently used by students, there are good reply rates and there are many diverse topics. It is a handy tool for teachers as they can see any common issues that students have and areas where there are particular problems. However, I think it would also be handy if within forums, all replies to a post could be seen on one page, or alternatively, an option to click and expand replies. Using the current system, you have to click into each individually.
Help Centre for Students
Under Stuff for Students, there is a help centre where students can ask for help on area of English language learning; looking through some of the posts there appears to be a good response to questions, with useful and correct answers. Different learners use this forum fairly regularly with a range of very specific questions. In my opinion, this is invaluable for teachers, as not only can they identify common problems that students may face, but they can also see the replies as posted by other teachers. A fresh and different perspective may assist teachers when answering similar questions in the classroom.
Good Contact Details
I do like that good contact details and means of contacting the site owner are provided; a mailing address, details for a Facebook page and an email contact form are all options.
Comprehensive Links to Other ESL Sites
The site provides an excellent list of links to other ESL websites, 3,014 to be precise.
There are some nice additional areas, which although not directly related to ESL, are interesting to look at, both for students and teachers. For example, the Today in History page, which is updated daily, is great.
The overall feel of the site is very much of a site that is actively maintained by a real person, rather than having been created and left.
The site’s bright colours give it a friendly and fun feel. The pictures are lovely, and include places from different parts of the world. Whilst I think some text can be difficult to read, due to the use of white text on a dark background, I think the overall layout is appealing.
Restricted Options for Payments
Payment options do not include methods such as Paypal, one must pay by Western Union or enter bank account / credit card details.
No Jobs Filter Facility and Few Initial Details
There are no facilities to filter jobs; apart from China and Korea, all other countries are grouped together and cannot be sorted. Additionally, I would find it more user-friendly if the job overviews contained basic details, such as salary and working hours. With the exception of job titles and company names, for more information I had to click into each post, which was frustrating. I would have liked to have been able to quickly glace some key details and then read further if I was interested.
Suggested Teaching Activities Could be Better Organised
There are 24 different categories under the heading of Idea Cookbook, but unfortunately within each there is no further breakdown. For example, anything related to business English will all be grouped together, and often from the submission title I do not think it is not always apparent at first glance what the activity actually relates to. A time-pressed teacher can potentially have to click through many different submissions to find something relevant for the area they are looking for. Although it could be organised better, it does, however, provide a very useful way for teachers to share ideas.
There are useful sections on grammar, idioms, slang, phrasal verbs and some fun quizzes for students. These are also useful for teachers interested in common topics to teach or refresh. Probably a small point, but something that I found a bit irritating is that when you take a test, results are expressed in a combined percentage and decimal figure; I did the quiz on dinosaurs and answered six out of seven questions correctly; my score was expressed as being 85.71%. In my opinion, a simple 6/7 would suffice. I think it would be useful for students to be able to click through the different grammar lessons within a topic, rather than having to keep returning to the main list, and also that before giving examples of phrasal verbs a basic explanation of what a phrasal verb is would be a good idea. I feel that some areas of the site lack adequate information.
Chat Facility Does Not Work
In Stuff for Everyone, my main complaint is that the chat facility does not work.
American English Bias
Whilst I appreciate the overall goals of the site, I would particularly like to see some references to the differences in linguistic use between the native speaking English countries. The website’s only focus is on American English. I am British, but I feel my colleagues from all over the world would agree that a mention of common differences, and how to teach these differences, would be very useful. I also feel this would benefit students, both by having resources on the site that acknowledge differences, and also by having teachers who have a greater understanding of the English language in a global perspective, and for when dealing with English speakers from a range of countries. With English spoken natively in the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, amongst others, and being used widely in many other countries, I feel to focus on one country’s use provides a very slanted and narrow view. An example of this on the site is in the slang section, where “ammunition” is given as another meaning for toilet paper, and an example sentence of “Help! We’re completely out of ammunition!” I personally have never heard this phrase before in my life, and would struggle to understand if it were said to me with no other clue as to meaning and context.
No Competition for Paid Resources
The bookstore link redirects to another site, there are no options for someone to choose between. When you click on the bookstore tab you are redirected to the website for Alta Books. I feel that there should be links to different suppliers, so you have an option to choose, or at least for the Alta Books website to open in a separate web page so that users have no doubt that they are being redirected to an external site. This is similar to the Pronunciation Power type, where you are relocated to another site, English Computerized Learning inc., which sells products to improve pronunciation. I would like to find some free pronunciation tips for students and ideas for teachers on how to help students with common pronunciation problems, as well as a selection of outlets for pronunciation tools.
The advertisements can be quite irritating and distracting, although like many sites, it is probably a necessary evil to keep the site running and, importantly for users, free.
Basic Language Errors
In some areas of the site, there are some basic errors, including incorrect use of capitals and plurals. I feel like these areas should be corrected for a more polished, professional and trustworthy feel.
No Translation Tool
I would like to see an embedded free translation facility, given that the site is for learners of English as well as teachers.
My overall thoughts about this site are mixed. There are many things I liked, and found easy to use, but there are also, in my opinion, many areas for improvement.
There are many good resources, but I think for people who are busy, as all teachers generally are, better organisation would be very useful and save valuable time. A plus point though is that you can easily gain opinions and ideas from other people.
Personally, I find the closed photo gallery rather pointless; it only contains personal albums belonging to the site owner. If a photo gallery is used, it would perhaps be better if it were open whereby teachers and students could post pictures, in particular those related to teaching and learning. Class photos and images of games, for example, would be interesting. I did not have the patience to sift through the podcasts, so I did not find this section useful at all, although other people may disagree.
I believe that when the site started it was perhaps fairly unique, in that it tried to gather resources into one convenient place, saving people from following link after link after an internet search. I feel now, however, that when compared to other ESL sites it is a little rough around the ages. That said, despite it seeming to lack a degree of organisation and professionalism, it remains a popular website for both teachers and students of ESL.
This is a guest review by an independent author. This review reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of BusyTeacher.org as a publication.