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.