Friday, October 16, 2020

Halloween Traditions

This video explores the historical roots of the modern American Halloween festival .

This is quite interesting if you want to know more about the American culture and its European influences. What we see today on Halloween seems far removed from the suggested origins of the festival, so it may take discussion or explanation to link the two.

The speaker in the video talks quite quickly so if you need to slow it down remember to adjust the playback speed, by clicking the button at the top right of the screen. There are subtitles throughout, as well as vocabulary items displyed in the top left corner of the screen. In other words there's a lot going on at once, so pausing may be necessary, regardless of your students' level of English.

Some of the vocabulary is beyond the pre-intermediate EFL level. Taking everything into account I would suggest this as a listening task for intermediate learners interested in English based culture. The video could then lead to a discussion of Halloween or other current festivals from the students' own perspectives. If they discuss the historical roots of these festivals, use of tenses could become the target for feedback.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Tenses and Time References at The Hairdresser's

The following short diary account focuses on tenses and time references. 

It's aimed at pre-intermediate EFL students and could be used as a model for their own short writing or speaking practice. It's an opportunity to match tenses to time references while describing activities that relate to simple every day activities.

Today 1. I  had my hair cut.  2. It's been about six months since the last time. That time 3. I went to my regular barber, but this time 4. I tried a new one nearer to where 5. I live and on my daily walking route.


  1. the act, the haircut is over - today is not over. 
  2. it has been - from past to present, using since
  3. six months ago - past definite time reference 
  4. this time = hair cut today - is over
  5. unchanging / generally true 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Learn British Slang with Anne-Marie

This YouTube video shows British singer / songwriter Anne-Marie explaining some common British slang.

She explains the terms and gives examples of how these words and phrases may be used. Intermediate or higher levels of English language learners (EFL / ESL) who are looking to develop vocabulary and listening skills may appreciate this unscripted material. This is also useful for those studying British accents. Anne-Marie is from Essex, a county in Southern England.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Ricky Gervais Explains British Slang

This video shows British comedian Ricky Gervais explaining some common British slang to an American audience. Parental guidance is recommended.

He gives some context and examples of how these words and phrases may be used. Intermediate or higher levels of English language learners (EFL / ESL) who are looking to develop vocabulary and listening skills may appreciate this unscripted material.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Learn English with Friends - Second Conditional Sentences

This English language educational video is suitable for intermediate level EFL/ESL adult learners and shows a short clip from the American television series Friends.

The friends ask and answer a hypothetical or imaginary question, "What would you do if you were omnipotent for a day?"

This is a type 2 conditional sentence in question form, featuring the standard structure of two reversible clauses:

(if + past) + (would + bare infinitive)

The question and answer revolve around the word 'omnipotent', which means, 'having unlimited power, able to do anything'.

As usual Joey, the last speaker, misunderstands, confusing 'omnipotent' with 'impotent'. Impotent means, 'unable to achieve an erection', which is why he refers to 'little Joey' being dead.

The clip ends with Joey thinking his friend Ross is impotent because 'omnipotent' sounds a little like 'I'm impotent'. He expresses sympathy and explains that he thought it was just a hypothetical question, which was in fact how the conversation started.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Learn English with The Big Bang Theory – Second Conditional Sentences

These screenshots were taken from an English language educational video which showed a number of 2nd conditional sentences in a series of short, unconnected clips from the American television comedy series The Big Bang Theory. (The video has since been removed from YouTube so the original post has been edited)

The key sentences from each clip appear as subtitles.

Second conditional, or type 2 conditional, sentences are complex language structures that follow specific grammar rules. As complete sentences they refer to imagined or hypothetical present or future situations in which one part of the sentence is dependent on the other, i.e. one occurs as a condition of the other. The regular structure of these sentences includes the two interchangeable clauses:

(If + past) + (would + bare infinitive)

A classic example of this is:

If I won the lottery I would buy a house.


I would buy a house if I won the lottery.

Ordinarily the second conditional sentence structure and its uses would be taught to intermediate level EFL/ESL students. However these screenshots may be good for revision, or discussion and conversation development exercises for upper intermediate to advanced level students.  

Some of the examples highlight variations of the standard language structure.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Change from a Fail to a Pass!

Ever wished that changing from a fail to a pass was as simple as taking 4 little baby steps? 

It is, take a look at this -

Change from Fail to Pass in 4 Baby Steps Tank Top
Change from Fail to Pass in 4 Baby Steps Tank Top
by TonyShellDesigns

If you like word games, pick two words that have the same number of letters as each other then try to change one word into the other by changing only one letter at a time. Each new, transition word must be a real word, spelled correctly. 

Go on. try it. It's a great way to develop vocabulary. Start with four letter words then as you get more adventurous move up to five letters, and so on. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Gold - Mining Ideas

This post offers a simple technique for developing basic, initial themes and ideas into more concrete forms such as podcasts, YouTube videos, essays, novels or other word-based media. 

Developing a theme or basic idea into something more concrete and interesting is not always easy. The starting point for an idea can come from almost anywhere. It could be something that you read, something someone says, a picture you see, a movie you watch, in fact almost anything. I have used a painting I really like, "the Woman in Gold" by Gustav Klimt and focused on the theme of 'gold' as my initial idea to explore for this post. 

As we use words to explicitly communicate our ideas we can start to explore by brainstorming and writing down, or recording in some other way, simple, one word ideas that we associate with our chosen themes or initial ideas. You can see the words I have associated with my gold theme, written on the painting above. 

Once these simple seeds are sown they need to grow. Thinking about their meanings, what that looks like in reality, the environment that these things exist in, and so on, helps us find connections between them. Using our experience and our imagination can help these word seeds grow.

Think about the connections these seed words have with the theme word, in my case 'gold' and write some simple sentences about them. For example, Gold has value. People desire gold. Possession of gold is a status symbol. The sight of gold stimulates greed. Possession of gold increases cases of theft. Hunger for gold might lead to death.

Relationships between the theme word and the seed words might be expressions of cause or effect, opposites, sub categories of one another, and so on. As these sentences find connections with each other they might form more complex ideas expressed in more complex sentences. For example ideas from the first three sentences I wrote above could be combined as one: People desire gold because it has value and suggests status. While ideas from the last three sentences above could produce: The sight of gold stimulates greed in others which may lead to theft and even death. Reason and cause and effect relationships bring together the ideas from the simpler statements.

I could then develop the idea expressed in the sentence, 'People desire gold because it has value and suggests status.' as a positive argument for the ownership of gold, while developing the idea of the sentence, 'The sight of gold stimulates greed in others which may lead to theft and even death.' as a negative or opposite argument for owning gold.

Although not perfect, these could become firm foundations for writing an argumentative essay, preparing for a debate, exploring viewpoints or asking interview questions.

So by starting with a theme, associating simple ideas to that, building simple sentences which lead to more complex statements we can gradually build content for any number of communication projects for podcast, video, blog and more.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Jordan Peterson - A Guide to Speaking

In this video, A Guide to Speaking, Jordan Peterson explains his approach to speaking to larger audiences, as in giving lectures or presentations. He seems to be talking from his own experience as both a lecturer and a public speaker, so many of his suggestions aim at performances at the higher, more advanced levels and so may not be achievable for very young or inexperienced speakers. Nonetheless it is good to know how to eventually reach high levels of performance whatever your current speaking level.  

I have identified the main points he presents in the order they are presented in the video, but added my own thoughts and explanations to elaborate.

1. Know the subject / build a reservoir of knowledge.
If possible, subject knowledge should be learnt in different ways, whether through reading, listening, discussion, observation, experience, research, tests etc. The more breadth and depth you have the more you will understand how things fit together and how best to structure it for it to make sense for any particular purpose or audience. This will gain you credibility as a speaker.

2. Select a dozen (multiple) stories to engage your audience. Stories get your message across to the audience in a way that they can connect with. People prefer to hear stories and anecdotes over listening to hard facts and figures. 

3. Organize your speech around solving a problem.
If you can solve people's problems in a way they can understand and appreciate, they will listen. The three most quoted reasons for giving presentations are: to inform, to persuade and to entertain. With these in mind you might inform your audience how to solve their problem, persuade them that this is the best or only solution, or entertain them well enough that they want to try your solution.

4. Arrange your stories as a journey for your audience to follow.
The dozen stories you select are there to elaborate on or illustrate the key facts of the presentation and may create an even larger story, as a meaningful anthology.

5. Talk about what you know or have experienced.
Along with solving the audience's problem you build credibility in their eyes as you talk about your involvement and experience in the subject. You are not simply passing on knowledge, you are offering insights, shortcuts, recommendations etc

6. Speak to the audience and observe their feedback.
Speaking to actual individuals in the audience rather than the whole group not only provides you with feedback but also helps them to feel engaged. You are the only speaker during the presentation but non-verbal communication is taking place all the time. Observe individual's responses and react positively to that.

7. Provide meaningful facts.
Select facts that help solve the problem and achieve the goal of the speech then elaborate on those facts with the stories you choose.

8. Allow the story to unfold, like a novel, an adventure.
The process should be an adventure for you as well as your audience. Having in-depth knowledge of your subject and a well-prepared framework to place your facts upon allows some flexibility in the story telling. Presenting around a framework rather than to a script can be an exhilarating experience that provides new insights for the speaker as well as the audience. 

9. Think on your feet.
The opportunity to explore ideas as you encounter them has the potential for disaster as well as far greater engagement. The speaker who knows their material inside out might be prepared to try this approach. The audience will be more engaged as they feel greater levels of excitement from you and become part of the adventure as you discover and explain new connections and insights.

10. Don't use notes. 
"You'll never do anything spectacular if you use notes." Remember that this advice comes from a high level speaker and everyone has to start somewhere. Nonetheless, when I give advice to novice speakers I encourage them to not memorize the speech word for word, or rely too heavily on  notes. Key words and a structure in note form can act as a guide while allowing a much more natural delivery with far higher levels of engagement with the audience.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Improving Written Content - Transmission Model of Communication

Our ability to create better web content that reaches a larger audience partly depends on a better understanding of the communication process. This post introduces the Transmission Model of Communication which contains a number of key components and shows how they interact with each other:
Link to image source

Important components of this communication model are: 
  • Noise; interference with effective transmission and reception of a message.
    • For example;
      • physical noise or external noise is the barrier caused by environmental distractions such as loud noises from construction works, weak wifi signals and distracting on-screen adverts. Obstacles that we notice through our five senses can get in the way of communication.
      • physiological noise is the barrier caused by biological influences that distract us from communicating competently such as feeling exhausted, being really hungry, or having a runny nose and a cough. When our bodies are not working properly our communication can suffer.
      • psychological noise is the barrier caused by bias and assumptions we hold such as assuming that someone is unsophisticated because of the town, county, or state they live in; or people from a foreign country are unable to communicate in our own language. Our resulting behaviours toward them may negatively impact communication.
      • semantic noise is the barrier caused by word choices and word meaning such as with the word pants. In American English pants means an outer garment covering each leg separately and usually extending from the waist to the ankle, while in British English pants means men's underpants. People understand words and phrases differently for many reasons and this hinders communication.
  • Sender; the initiator and encoder of a message
  • Receiver; the one that receives and decodes the message
  • Message; the verbal and nonverbal components conveying an idea that are sent to the receiver by the sender.
  • Encode; the sender translates their idea into a message which best represents it 
  • Decode; the receiver translates the sender's message into something the receiver understands.
  • Channel; the medium through which the message travels such as through oral communication (radio, television, phone, in person) or written communication (letters, email, text messages)
  • Feedback; the receiver's verbal and nonverbal responses to a message.
  • Context; the interrelated conditions in which the message exists or occursits environment or setting
Source of terms (adapted)

Let's consider how the components in the diagram above relate to each other in terms of creating written content for a blog. 

In writing blog posts the sender (writer) attempts to communicate their thoughts by packaging (encoding) them as a message for the receiver. The message may include both verbal (words) and non-verbal (without words) elements. In blogging terms these might appear as blocks of writing (verbal) and photographs or diagrams (non-verbal). Our choice of font, size and colours, spacing, underlining or bolding are also considered non-verbal elements of communication as they create meaning for the reader (receiver), but are not the words themselves. 

The message, or the idea we write about and post, is influenced by the context in which it is formed and sent. As the context of the message is its setting, the context may include issues such as:
  1. the relationship between the readers and the writer
  2. the intended purpose of the message 
  3. the content of previous posts 
  4. the readers' understanding of those posts 
  5. the amount of time between posts 
  6. the order in which posts are posted
When sending a written blog post, the channel is the written electronic channel where the message is delivered via the internet. Content producers need to ask themselves whether or not their content is best transmitted through a particular channel. Internet delivered channels also include video, as in vlogs, or audio as in podcasts. It's important to recognize that these channels transmit entirely different forms of message when compared to written posts. Video relies on spoken words as well as a variety of non-verbal elementswhile audio focuses on the spoken words as well as a limited range of the non-verbal elements (paralinguistic), which include pace, tone of voice, accent etc. Paralinguistic features are connected to words, but are not the actual words themselves.

Because of these differences between messages for different channels, the skills required to successfully present an idea in one form rather than another are very different. Some people are more naturally gifted writers rather than speakers, or vice versa. Some content is more effectively delivered via one channel over another. This may be influenced to some extent by the target audience (receiver) where preferences could be related to age, culture, preferred learning styles and so on. The choice of channel is often an overlooked aspect of the communication process.

In face-to-face spoken communication the sender-receiver interaction is often complex, with these two roles overlapping or switching between the people involved, and with both messages and feedback occurring at the same time. However, when sending written content via the internet there is usually a time lag between the writer posting the content (sender) and the reader (receiverreceiving it, reading it(decoding) and potentially commenting on it (giving feedback). Written comments can be either verbal (phrases and sentences) and/or non-verbal (emojis and emoticons). This slower pace means interaction is simpler with written blog content, and the sender/receiver roles more easily identified.

This post has introduced the basics of the Transmission Model of Communication. This model has helped me better understand the communication process and I hope that it benefits you too. I'll be writing more about improving written content, so drop by again soon.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Creating Content That Connects

The purpose of this post is to raise awareness of the basics of the communication process so that you have a clearer understanding of what is involved when producing and delivering web content.
Developing great content for your website, blog, or social media requires, amongst other things, a good understanding of the communication process. Even if you are an expert in your field, without well-developed communication skills your ideas may not be fully understood and appreciated. The many negative comments left at  this marketing video clip on Facebook show many readers are confused and frustrated by the content. There may be a great product to invest in but the comments suggest few are willing to pursue the opportunity.
In the posts you produce you are aiming to communicate information and ideas to your audience for a particular purpose so you need to be sure who they are and what that purpose is at the preparation stage. Consideration of audience and.purpose is an important starting point for any communication. Awareness of your target audience and your purpose in creating your web content determines the level and quantity of the content, as well as the style of language and other forms of communication you use. Your product or service knowledge helps create your content, but your awareness of your target audience and your purpose of communicating determines the how, what, where, when and why.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Learning through Gaming

In this video American researcher, James Gee makes two main points regarding the value of game playing in relation to learning, and infers a strong relationship between language learning and being part of the world in which that language is used.

The first main point regarding game playing and learning is that people who play games do not simply play the game and that's all they do. There's a social aspect beyond the game where learning through discussion takes place. Game players discuss the game, the concepts of the game, how to beat the game etc. It's through this discussion that learning takes place. Understanding of the game is enhanced through the discussion of game specific content and concepts, and ultimately through the use of associated language for explaining those concepts.

The second main point made in this video is that games are engaging. They draw people in and as a result they want to learn more. Subject specific language and concepts that are only offered in books have little relevance to many students without a context in which they make sense. Games can provide that context. The idea that by incorporating key subject language and concepts into well-designed, concept specific games, an invaluable context for learning is created.

A key idea that Gee offers near the end of the video is that language belongs to a world, whatever that world may look like. In terms of actual spoken and written languages of communication, such as English or Chinese, the idea that to try and learn without understanding the culture, without living in the world of the native speakers of the language, makes the task so abstract that for many people there is no buy-in. For example, without living in the world of Chinese native speakers the ideas that the Chinese language represents are easily lost to non-Chinese learners. People do not have the same reasons for saying things in their own cultures as the learner may have in their culture. Direct word-for-word translations do not translate concepts. So, immersion into the culture of the target language offers so many more opportunities for understanding why things are communicated, just as immersion into the worlds of games offer those learners insights into those concepts and language of those worlds. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Improving Wikipedia

How many teachers have warned their students about referring to or citing from Wikipedia due to its lack of reliability? A recent article spoke about one lecturer making Wikipedia a foundation for student development and study projects. The students develop existing pages on a chosen subject, by correcting or adding to existing information. Citations are added as they go, creating knowledge and awareness in the students, as well as reliable, citable sources for future visitors.

Me, Myself and I

Ever wondered when to use the words I or Me? This article in The Economist attempts to clarify the situation.

Teaching Observation and Improvement

It's easy for anyone to get stuck in a rut and continue doing things that have low value. Teachers benefit from peer observations and feedback as a way of raising awareness of their teaching practice. Having someone else appraise the effectiveness of what a teacher does can be a great eye-opener. The areas of practice referred to in this article may help fine-tune or remind teachers of better, more effective approaches to teaching.