A major issue I encounter with ESL students is pronunciation and associated features such as intonation, stress, rhythm and pacing. Therefore, I decided to select some English-language poems for practice in class, while online students can find a multitude of YouTube videos of poems being recited by professional actors. I shall add some links at the end of the blog.
Now, without further ado, poetry.
Let’s take a look at the first poem, ‘Dreams’ from 1922.
Recite the poem slowly and clearly. In the first line, stress ‘fast‘ and ‘dreams‘.
Secondly, listen for the rhyming pattern in lines 2 & 4: ‘die’ rhymes with ‘fly’, while verse 2 rhymes ‘go’ with ‘snow.’
Regarding ‘colour’, which tone of voice to use, decide if this is a positive or negative poem. Discuss in class what you think and give reasons.
Remember, art (painting, cinema, literature etc) is subjective; each person is allowed to have their own opinion. Develop speaking skills to enable you to support your views (give reasons).
Who, or why, or which, or what, Is the Akond of SWAT?
Is he tall or short, or dark or fair? Does he sit on a stool or a sofa or a chair, or SQUAT, The Akond of Swat?
Is he wise or foolish, young or old? Does he drink his soup and his coffee cold, or HOT, The Akond of Swat?
Does he sing or whistle, jabber or talk, And when riding abroad does he gallop or walk or TROT, The Akond of Swat?
Does he wear a turban, a fez, or a hat? Does he sleep on a mattress, a bed, or a mat, or COT, The Akond of Swat?
A great poem to demonstrate rhythm as well as ‘floating opposites’ e.g. young & old, hot & cold, not forgetting synonyms such as talk & jabber. Now, for really advanced beatniks, try the beginning of the famous, indeed infamous, poem ‘Howl’
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz, …
The poem, along with a recitation by the poet, may be accessed here:
A personal blog for one of my special students, my Princess, but one which will, hopefully, be of use to princesses everywhere.
We like to encourage students to imitate the speech patterns of native-speakers by which I mean the way we link words together, form contractions (‘I’d’ instead of ‘I would’ etc), and use paralinguistics to convey meaning (intonation, stress, body language).
However, students need individual assistance so while my Princess has remarkable lexical resources, as well as the ability to tell an anecdote or two, she could improve aspects of her pronunciation.
Therefore, I have prepared some clips for princesses the world over to use for speaking practice … and so, without further ado, princesses prepare to sound like a Queen
“Isn’t it a pleasure to study and practice what you have learned?”
The Analects, Chapter I
From my visit to Ha Noi, 2014.
Students come to this temple, which was built in 1070, to bring good luck and success in exams. The temple, an oasis of calm in the bustling metropolis of the nation’s capital, has been rebuilt and restored several times over the centuries.
Furthermore, she loves to wear Givenchy perfume but I prefer to spend my hard-earned* on Dior.
In the modern parlance, ‘Did you see what I did there ?’ I followed four auxiliary verbs (‘hate,’ ‘love,’ ‘like’ & ‘prefer’) with infinite verbs. I sense that I’ve already lost the interest of 90% of my readers with these grammar terms, but hold your horses and I’ll explain, I’ll ‘cut the crap‘, if you will.
OK, breaks down like this: an auxiliary verb is a ‘helping’ verb; we need more information to understand what the speaker means e.g.
I want … (what do you want ?) // He needs … (what does he need ?) // She loves … // We want … etc
An infinite verb simply means a verb in no tense (past, present or future). It is simply formed thus:
to + base verb
Examples: to eat / to go / to study / to procrastinate
Infinite has no tense, by which I mean it is incorrect to say,
“Last night I to see a film,” (past tense)
“She to go home,” (present) or
“Tomorrow he will to take a test.” (future tense).
We can combine an auxiliaryverb with an infiniteverb, as demonstrated in the heading and subsequent paragraph.
Occasionally, a student may question my use of grammar, or mention that they have been told a different rule, to wit, last night a student informed me that, according to a different teacher, auxiliary verbs such as ‘like,’ ‘love.’ ‘hate,’ HAVE TO BE followed by a continuous verb:
I hate shopping NOT I hate to shop
He loves watching films NOT He loves to watch films
We like drinking wine after work NOT We like to drink wine after work
To Quote Dr Johnson:
“I refute it thus,” :
I like to play guitar / I hate to hear karaoke / I love to listen to my friend Pete’s online radio show
We can use hate, like, love and prefer with an –ing form or with a to-infinitive:
I hate to see food being thrown away.
I love going to the cinema.
I prefer listening to the news on radio than watching it on TV.
He prefers not to wear a tie to work.
In American English, the forms with to-infinitive are much more common than the –ing form.
There is a very small difference in meaning between the two forms. The -ing form emphasises the action or experience. The to-infinitive gives more emphasis to the results of the action or event. We often use the –ing form to suggest enjoyment (or lack of it), and the to-infinitive form to express habits or preferences.
So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth.
What can we learn from this ? Well, teachers are only human (mostly) and can make mistakes. Non-native speaker teachers often teach from books that may simplify grammar and may therefore, inadvertently, be incorrect in their assertions. The books may be outdated; they may even be wrong.
Just because something is written in a book, doesn’t mean it’s true.
Check for yourself, be proactive in your learning; if you have internet access, check reputable websites.
Furthermore, even native-speakers can be wrong and I’ll be the first to admit this (even if I don’t have the wisdom of Socrates, not by a long chalk).
Due to the return of COVID to Sai Gon, schools and language centres have been closed down, and online classes have restarted.
A big shout out to the staff at my centre. Instead of taking things easy in the build up to Tet, and enjoying time with their family, they had to work all hours to prepare for the change to distance learning.
To make these lessons work, we need students, and their parents, to follow these simple rules:
Respect your teacher and your teacher will respect you
tôn trọng giáo viên của bạn
You HAVE TO turn on your camera. If your camera is not working, you HAVE TO inform the centre.
Answer your teacher when you are asked a question.
Please control your background noise. No music, computer games or talking. Try to find somewhere quiet for the class.
Let’s work together and make the best of this situation and hopefully, we can all meet at the school in the near future.
Compare these two photos; which class do you think was more dynamic ?
The basic lesson was the same: what are you doing now, add a connector (or discourse marker) and say what you want in the future.
Students are taught how to use vernacular language, practise changes in intonation and alterations in stress, as well as chunking (natural linking together of words).
The photos, as the saying goes, tell their own story.
Photo 1 is from a high-level IELTS class where I wanted to increase vocabulary, and encourage the students to use more intonation … or basically ANY intonation in their voice.
The topic went down like the proverbial Led Zeppelin (and I wasn’t feelin’ a Whole Lotta Love for the class). I managed to elicit some half-arsed replies before they returned to their mobiles (or cell phones if you’re in the USA) or their natural comatosed state.
On the other hand, take a gander (have a look) at the second photo; same basic lesson target, but my goodness, what a difference, and this from an intermediate class.
Both classes were small in size (about six students) and predominantly teenagers, so how do we account for the chasm between them ?
To use academic language (for one of my new IELTS students):
This would seem to suggest that it was the students, as opposed to the lesson, that was the issue.
Words such as ‘inspire’ or ‘motivate’ are synonymous with teaching. However, as someone who attempts to teach, I must add that a successful lesson relies on synergy; one cannot motivate those who actively resist being motivated.
Teachers only have so much energy, and they can’t afford to waste it on customers who shuffle into class, scowling, ignoring the teacher, sitting at the back clutching their bag, defensively, in front of them before becoming engrossed in their phones and ignoring any questions put to them. I’m not talking about children here, but young adults or adults, on a course that they chose, and need for their future.
I wish I were.
So, to my great students, who come to class willing to learn, to be active, to practice and are polite and respectful:
A major problem for students is pronunciation and also, in some classes, it can be rather tricky to get the students talking. Obviously, many learners are scared of mispronouncing and ‘losing face’ by their mistake.
This activity helps with both issues.
Arrange the class in small groups and hand each member an card. The students have to read out the information, while the other write down what they hear. Many of my students feel that work is something to be done as quickly as possible, but that will not work in this situation.
Instead, the other team members will need to check what is being said. This encourages slow, clear and careful pronunciation. To assist, use expressions such as:
Can you speak slower, please.
Would you mind speaking slower, please.
How do you spell that ?
Could you repeat that, please.
Sorry, I didn’t catch the phone number.
Let me confirm …
Is that ‘b’ as in blue or ‘p’ as in pink ?
Teachers: adapt to suit the level of your class. Add email address, specific requests etc
NB: all images are taken from Google searches, (including ‘royalty-free images’) and the information is purely fictitious. As I have readers from around the world, I wish to reflect this diversity in the photos.
These blogs are for education use, and are not monetised. No copyright infringement or personal offense is intended at all.
If I have included your image, please accept my sincere apologies, and I shall remove the picture.
A quick shout-out to a great student, Ms Linh. Very briefly, I teach a 90-minute speaking class; the work is prepared form me, I just have to deliver the lesson, and check for pronunciation, intonation and stress.
Now, although the students choose which lessons and subjects to attend, they can find the subject rather tedious, the work repetitive and therefore, they get bored and when students get bored, they may project their annoyances onto the teacher, such as mumbling or whispering a response, yawning and sighing (loudly), avoiding eye contact or outright refusing to answer.
I had such a situation last night, a miserable wet Monday. I’m supposed to make the students repeat the target language until they can pronounce it perfectly … but it just wasn’t happening.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink
Eventually, like pulling hen’s teeth, the class began talking more and trying to use the new expressions I had offered them.
At the end of the class, while some students couldn’t wait to split, one or two came up and were complimentary. The aforementioned Ms Linh said that although the subject was less than fascinating, she could see that I was really trying to make it interesting.
That was such a lovely thing to say, so now I say to you, Ms Linh: