The Essential 55

The Essential 55, by Ron Clark

When Ron Clark walked into his fifth-grade class in rural North Carolina, he was confronted with a tremendous challenge. The children had little interest in learning, and were sorely lacking in guidance. How would he transform a group of apathetic kids into disciplined, thoughtful, and curious students? He quickly realized that they needed to learn some basic rules. Clark compiled a list of 55 lessons, and soon, his fifth-grade students-who once struggled to read at the third-grade level-were reading at the sixth-grade level . . . and loving it. What’s more, they were gaining something crucial-self-respect. Those 55 lessons evolved into what Clark calls The Essential 55-guidelines for living and interacting with others The Essential 55 will prepare parents and educators to teach students the rules for life-everything from knowing how to say thank you, to acing an interview.


An eReader is a great product for any language teacher or student to own and the reading experience is more more enjoyable than most people might expect. They use actual ink particles to create crisp, print-like text similar to what you see in a physical book. The screen is viewable in direct sunlight, it requires no power to maintain a static image, and it is usable in either portrait or landscape orientation. You can easily flip the page of the book with a swipe of your finger or by pressing a button, and there is generally a table of contents so you can skip around in the book if you want to. Since it only uses power when you flip a page or change the screen, eReaders do not have to be charged frequently and they can often go an entire month before they need to be charged.

The reason that I recommend an eReader for anyone teaching or learning a foreign language is that many models today come equipped with a built-in dictionary. Some eReaders can be purchased with specific dictionaries pre-installed, while others allow you to download and install a dictionary for the language(s) of your choice. The advantage of having a built-in dictionary is that while reading a book in a language other than English, you can translate a word you do not know almost instantly simply by double-clicking the word in the book.

Sony and Amazon are two of the major competing companies in the eReader market that have the built-in dictionary function. I have heard that Amazon still has a lot of kinks to work out with their dictionaries and in some languages (ie. German) they only have an English-German dictionary available and not the other way around. Many people also report having problems trying to use a dictionary because the language of the book is set to English and when that is the case, the Kindle will always default to the English dictionary and it is impossible to change it. See the Kindle Blog for further information about this. Personally, as an owner of a Sony eReader, I highly recommend their products, especially now that they have a new and improved model out on the market. It is a bit more expensive than the cheapest Kindle, but I think it’s worth it and I have never had a problem using their dictionaries.

See below for a list of the features of both company’s newest models to help you make a final decision.

Sony eReader PRS-T1 – $130

  • Size of screen: 6 inches
  • Weight: 5.9 ounces
  • Storage: 2 GB of internal storage (1.3 GB available to use) plus microSD expansion of up to 32GB
  • Interface: touch screen and five buttons
  • Charging time: 2 hours
  • Supported e-book formats: EPUB, PDF, TXT
  • Supported audio formats: MP3, AAC
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, simple web browser
  • Computer software: Sony eBook Library
  • Dictionaries: American English, British English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Dutch (all pre-installed)
  • Additional features: can download eBooks from public libraries

Amazon Kindle – $80

  • Size of screen: 6 inches
  • Weight: 5.98 ounces
  • Storage: 2GB of internal storage (1.25GB available to use)
  • Interface: 5-way button controller
  • Charging time: 3 hours
  • Supported e-book formats: Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC
  • Supported audio formats:
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, simple web browser
  • Computer software: Sony eBook Library
  • Dictionaries: British English (pre-installed), French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, and Croatian (available for download)
  • Other: advertisements are displayed on the screen when you’re not reading

The dictionary is a great feature, but even if one is not available in your desired language, you can still download and read books in that language, as long as the language uses a Latin character set. Ironically, Amazon is the best place to download books in other languages from, and in order to read them on a Sony eReader they must be converted from MOBI to EPUB format. Usually to find books in the other language you have to go to the Amazon site for the country where they speak your language. For example. for German books you would go to instead of also has a large selection of books in other languages. You just have to change which country you are from on the “Manage My Kindle” page and then you should be able to download books from that site. Then afterwards when you want to buy from you have to change your country setting back to the United States.

A good conversion and library management program that works no matter which eReader you have is Calibre. Calibre is free and open source eBook computer software that organizes, saves and manages e-books. It supports a variety of formats and it will convert e-books between differing formats (while still conforming to Digital Rights Management restrictions).

Krashen’s German Lessons

Stephen Krashen says:

“We acquire language in only one way, when we understand messages, that is when we obtain “comprehensible input.”  Thus, we acquire when we understand what people tell us or what we read, when we are absorbed in the message.  More precisely, we acquire when we understand messages containing aspects of language that we are developmentally ready to acquire but have not yet acquired.”

In the very old but still very insightful video below, he demonstrates in German why comprehensible input is better for learning a language than total immersion.

Babel No More

Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners, by Michael Erard

If you’ve ever tried to learn another language, you know how much time, energy, and brain power is required. Imagine a person who can pick up languages very easily. Someone who can navigate our world’s multilingual hullaballoo. Who can leap language barriers with a single bound. Who can learn without effort and remember indelibly. Such people aren’t parrots. They’re not computers. They’re language superlearners.

Michael Erard searched for these people, and when he found them — in history books and living among us — he tried to make sense of their linguistic feats and their mental powers. His book answers the age-old question, What are the upper limits of the human ability to learn, remember, and use languages?

Rick Steves on the Value of Travel

After spending 4 months a year for the last 30 years living out of a suitcase, Rick Steves reflects on the value of thoughtful travel. Sharing lessons learned from Iran to El Salvador and from India to Denmark, Steves tells why spending all that time and money away from home has broadened his perspective, enriched his life, and made it clear to him, as he says in his talk, “Fear is for people who don’t get out very much.”