Monday, July 27, 2009

The End of the Line

You may have noticed my Twitter comment a few weeks ago about a movie by the above name. I also ran into an article in The Guardian, entitled The End of the Line, regarding the disappearance of the semi-colon. Apparently, the French continue to be very upset about the bad influence of English on their language. In fact, last year they pondered and fretted over the possible elimination of their beloved semi-colon, blaming its waning use on English-speakers.

Personally, I like the semi-colon and always teach students how they can use it in their writing. It can act as a long comma, especially in wordy lists, or a short period to connect two ideas that shouldn't be too far away from each other nor too close. I think a semi-colon offers writers another tool for creating connections and coherence in their expositions. Nevertheless, I wouldn't engage in a battle over it. There are so many bigger issues to debate. For example, is 'I should of done it' acceptable English yet?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Academic Word List

The Academic Word List contains 570 words that occur in high frequency in academic literature. To support TOEFL vocabulary development, I have created some vocabulary builders at ECEnglish/Learning. There are also several links to vocabulary-building activities at my own site (scroll the blog directory on this page).

In addition, you should check out these excellent links: Academic Vocabulary Exercises and Using English for Academic Purposes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Learning English from the Beatles

Even though the Beatles no longer exist as a group, their music lives on. I have always used Beatles' songs in my Cambridge classes. Happily, this spring I had two students who were big fans, so they were great supporters of song clozes in the classroom.

Students: If you want to know about the history of the Beatles before you sing, look at the above link and print out the song cloze sheet below.

Teachers: If you want to make this into a full lesson rather than use it only as a warm-up or cool-down activity in class, you can preface or follow up the song activity with reading, discussion, and vocabulary-building.

Here is the song cloze sheet. Try to fill in the blanks by listening a few times to the following video. Double-check the words you chose to fill in the blanks with these song lyrics. Finally, sing along with the YouTube video of 'When I'm 64'. I guarantee you'll enjoy learning to listen, read, and pronounce English this way.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Funny Message

Last month I traveled to Switzerland where I met up with several former students. At the hotel in Zurich, I received the following typed message from the clerk at the front desk:

"Mrs. Hofer call me and she leave a massage for you: Friday 19th
2009 around 7pm is the Meetingpoint Bahnhof ok. Mrs. Hofer reserved a restaurant."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Improving Your Speech Through Songs

Many students are too shy to sing a song for 'fun' in class. To overcome that initial reluctance to sing, I always explain that I do songs for pronunciation. I don't care at all whether a student sings in tune or out of tune. In fact, I demonstrate how students can simply say the words (as if reciting a poem) along with the singer, and don't have to carry a tune at all. I do expect their lips to move.

Song clozes challenge my students to actually hear the lyrics (= the words to a song) and to teach them the rhythm and stress patterns of individual words as well as how words are linked together in phrases and sentences.

One of the big 'hits' with Cambridge students this spring was an oldie by Kenny Rogers called 'The Gambler', a thirty-year-old country-western hit. If you want to try doing this song as practice, print out this cloze sheet and then listen to the following YouTube video link. It usually takes two or three 'listens' to get all the words. The complete song lyrics are here.

Some of my students drove to and from Las Vegas singing this song, and found a slot machine called 'The Gambler' with a photo of Kenny Rogers on it. Have fun! Think about the lyrics - maybe there's an ace that you can keep, too!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

In with 'hopefully' and out with 'it is a hope'

Here is an amusing review by Roy Blount about a few books on the use of English. The main point of the review is that the English language is changing and apparently not to everyone's liking, including perhaps his. English, I suspect, is evolving faster than any other language in the world because it has invaded just about every language niche imaginable.

Blount focuses on the question of whether or not the 'fuddy duddies' like me who remember that there was a difference between 'who' and 'whom' should enforce proper English rules or openly embrace the current trends in English.

Interestingly, when I looked up 'hopefully' online, I discovered that back in the 18th century, it was used the way we use it now (see Webster's definition). Sounds like a fashion trend....

Yesterday, in the teachers' room, some of us were reflecting on the wording of the Declaration of Independence (a reading of it was aired on National Public Radio in honor of July 4th), and one of them wondered what we would say today to a student who used an expression like 'a more perfect union.' Can something be 'more' perfect than perfect?

Language is - bottom-line - for communication. As long as our listeners or readers get a general meaning from our spoken or written "utterances", I guess we can feel assured that the words and phrasings we've used 'work.' Is there some grand book of acceptable usage in the Temple of English? Thankfully, no. So, writers and speakers around the world can hopefully continue to play and create with this captivating language.