Top Gear is a famous British show about cars, motoring, driving and crashing !
Here is an opportunity to hear British English being spoken at a natural pace, and to learn new expressions and colloquialisms (everyday spoken words, not usually found in student text books).
Top Gear Vietnam
The chaps arrive in Vietnam are are given a challenge … to buy a car for 15 million Dong. That sounds a lot of money, but it is nowhere near enough to buy a car, not even an old, second-hand one. Instead they decide they can only afford motorbikes.
The following clips are provided not only for listening practice but also for speaking: try to copy, to imitate, the speakers. Listen out for the intonation, stress and rhythm of these native-speakers.
And now, without further ado, the first clip:
Every Christmas, The Queen addresses the nation (make a ten-minute TV appearance). This clip has subtitles so you will be able to follow what Her Majesty says, looking up any new words.
For pronunciation practice, I suggest listening to very short extracts and trying to copy the voice. The Queen, naturally, speaks Queen’s English (the most prestigious form of standard English).
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch
Do you know this actor ? How much can you understand ?
This includes the famous opening lines from Richard III
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York
The phrase ‘winter of our discontent’ or ‘winter of discontent’ has entered the language and is frequently quoted in newspapers, blogs and everyday conversation.
In the quote, Richard is referring to the new king, Edward IV, from the York dynasty. He plays with the words ‘son’ and ‘sun’, comparing the new king with the spring sun chasing away the misery and despair of an English winter.
Taiwan has featured in many online news clips recently. Here are some which caught my eye (made me notice) and which, furthermore, will be useful for students to practice listening to ‘real-world’ English speaking; the rhythms, stresses and intonations of everyday speech.
As with other blogs, I will drop in certain phrases or expressions, which I will highlight. In addition, there will be a lot of new vocabulary in the listening clips. Watch them in short sections, writing down any new words or phrases.
Feel free to ask me to explain anything you can’t understand
Additionally, I’d like to share a blog from my online friend, Silk Chatters, who is based in the USA, and writes extremely interesting articles. One such article, a blog which caught my eye, is about being critical when listening to news reports. Silk ends her blog with:
Question what you read and hear, and avoid a steady diet of one type of information, it’s as bad for the mind as eating only one type of food is for the body.
I know she will be delighted if you read and ‘like’ her blog.
In the UK, we pride ourselves on having a free press – newspapers, TV and other media are able to write what they want without fear of persecution (there are exceptions, naturally, but that is outside the scope of this blog).
However, newspaper readers generally know the political views of the paper they’re reading. In the USA I believe I’m right in saying that many TV news stations report the news according to their political opinions … or of those who own the station. For example, Fox News is seen as Republican (right-wing), while CNN is viewed as Democrat (left-wing).
Readers in the USA, please correct me if I am mistaken.
Therefore, when you see or read news, remember to ask questions and try to check the facts for yourself. A sophisticated readership will necessitate more sophisticated journalism … ideally … and what can be more ideal than the search for truth ?
The Corona Virus, COVID 19, continues to spread, and there are opposing theories as to its origins. The consensus is that it started in Wuhan Province, Mainland China. Taiwan, which is so close, has relatively few cases (at time of writing, 388 cases with 6 deaths compared to the official figures for China 82, 052 and 3, 339).
Relations between China and Taiwan are contentious (if you don’t know the history, the internet will help to fill you in – give you information)
Taiwan, whose capital is Taipei, “Shall be a democratic republic of the people, to be governed by the people and for the people.” Tsai Ing-wen is the President, and she features in our first clip: A YouTuber called Potter King met Tsai Ing-wen, and angered China by addressing her as ‘President’.
‘The Guardian’ is seen as a liberal, left-leaning paper, and is probably more for the educated reader than mass circulation. As such, the language will be challenging but rewarding for English-language students.
In the interests of fairness, I will show the WHO reaction to the above interview, which was somewhat awkward or embarrassing, to say the least.
Notice all the discourse markers– expressions that don’t add any information, but allow him to think while he keeps talking (examples: all right, yeah,) and expressions (it hit the $300 mark – means the price was $300).
Present perfect, past continuous and questions. Listen for adverbs
Mark: Have you been to Germany ?
Amy: No, not yet. Have you ?
Mary: Yes, twice. I have (I’ve) visited Berlin and Munich.
Amy: Which did you like best ?
Mary:Well, Munich is very clean, elegant and stylish, but quite expensive.
Amy: And Berlin, the capital ?
Mary: I was working there for six months. It was really cool.
They continue after eating a big piece of pie.
Amy: Sounds like you had lots of fun !
Mary: Oh, yes ! The food was cheap and the people were incredibly friendly.
Amy: How about the weather ? I have heard it can be cold.
Mary: It was terrible ! Every day it rained cats and dogs.
Amy: You must have been so glad to get back to Vietnam. (glad = happy)
Mary: Yes, but I miss the German trains and buses; they were so reliable.
How different is England to Germany ?
This is an interesting question because, despite both being Northern European countries with similar climates and a shared language root, both nations have very strong national identities.
Historically, there is an obvious difference; the two World Wars. This originated from economic conflicts to actual conflicts which consequently altered the map of Europe.
There are many cultural differences, the English see the Germans as very efficient, hard-working, punctual albeit lacking any sense of humour.
Putting myself in their shoes, and based on my experiences of Germany, we Brits are seen as aloof and isolated, preferring tea-breaks to solid work.
These factors notwithstanding, the two countries have a lot in common; protestant religion, not Catholic (mostly), a love of both football and beer. Even our Royal Family has German blood.
Now with Brexit, it will be interesting to see what develops over the next generation. We can only speculate whether the nations move closer together or further apart.
Can I get a bus to the city centre from here ? Is it possible ?
Can you hit the lights, please ? request – turn on/off the lights
Who’s that ? It could be Peter. Speculation
You have to get over 60% or Thay Paul will KYA (kick your ass !) Obligation
Oh, you must see the new Iron Man film. Suggestion
Will you help me with my tieng Viet ? Request
May I go to the party ? Permission
You musn’t use your phone when riding a motorbike. Obligation
You ought to stop drinking so much coffee. Suggestion
You should all read English books. Suggestion
….. I use my mobile phone in class ? Asking permission
You ………. answer all three questions. Obligation
It’s too heavy; …… you help me lift it ?
Don’t wait too long – he ……. not come.
… I buy an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy ?
This activity makes students speak English to each other, exchanging information and giving them practice in taking down facts such as dates, phone numbers etc.
Arrange class into small groups and give them each an information sheet. They take turns reading aloud to their group, using natural rhythms and intonations.
It’s highly probable that other students will not understand all, so they must use some of the following phrases:
I’m sorry, could you repeat that, please.
I didn’t catch your phone number.
Would you mind speaking slower, please.
How do you spell that ?
Let me confirm, your name is …
Hello, I’m calling from Los Angles and I want to know what time does your office open ? I’m arriving on the 10th July so can you meet me at the airport ? My cell is 555 – 0743 – 9291. Also, can you recommend a good hotel downtown ?
Hi, this is Mr Muller from the Berlin office. We are waiting for your design for the Audi components. Could you email them as soon as possible. We have an important presentation on the 12th so we need them.
Hello, I’m looking for … Mr nnngggg yyyyyuun ?? Sorry, I cannot pronounce Vietnamese. This is Jack Ginsberg from the Beijing factory. We cannot meet your order by the deadline. We need at least three more days. Sorry for the inconvenience.
London calling, this is Mr Thompson for Mr Thanh. We need to rearrange the time of our conference Skype call. We must bring it forward to 11 o’clock your time. Hope that is not an issue. Any problems, give me a bell on my office number or drop me an email.
My doctor told me to cut down on fast food and to cut out alcohol completely. I also have to hit the gym, go swimming and take up a sport. I tried jogging but I gave up, it was too damn hot. My girlfriend is always on at me to loose weight.
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.
Shakespeare ‘As You Like It’ Act 2, Scene 7
Just A Minute
Can you speak for a minute without deviation, hesitation or repetition ?
Students work in pairs, using a stopwatch. One student has to speak for one minute on a subject but must not repeat information, take too long to answer or to speak about different subjects.
school or work / local food / Asian women / great things about your city / bad things in your city / your family / your hometown/ free time
I agree totally / I agree to an extent // I disagree // I disagree strongly
She makes a good point // She misses the point
She is spot on // She is way off // In my experience …
wierd = unusual / strange
Now, your turn. Do you agree with these statements:
Learning English is so important if you want a good job.
People who drink and drive should go to prison.
An African football team will win the World Cup before 2040.
Nobody should have to work more than 25 hours a week.
Men and women should earn the same money for doing the same job.
New Vocabulary / expressions
looking up = getting better (things are looking up).
Since we got a new manager, things are looking up.
Match the basic words on the left with words on the right, then complete the sentences with the right-hand words:
interesting // intelligent
on time // fascinating
forgetful // miserable
tired // punctual
smart (clever) // exhausted
unhappy // absent-minded
John forgot his keys again; he’s so _________
The documentary about ocean life was __________
Tony has been very ____________ since his girlfriend left him.
It would be incredible if Vietnamese students could be __________
ubiquitous = everywhere. In Viet Nam, coffee shops are ubiquitous.
incessant = never ending. The karaoke noise is incessant.
rewarding = doing something that makes you feel better about yourself. Nursing doesn’t pay much but it is tremendously rewarding.
Use these new adjectives with some of these nouns:
coffee shops / motorbikes / Vietjet / construction work / German trains
charity work / AI (artificial intelligence) / swimming / British weather
Meaning, pronunciation, structure
What is happening here?
I am thinking about a holiday.
Meaning: Am I having a holiday ? Where will I go ? Is it certain ? Alone / with friends ?
Pronunciation: In speech, we would contract “I am” to I’m and link “abouta“
Structure: What tense is being used … why ? Will it happen ?
Try these: Make as many questions / possibilities as possible
He’s having his car repaired
She having a dress made
He looked at a new apartment
My cousin will be applying for universities
I’m not sure about taking the new job.
stories that maybe aren’t true but people believe them
[urban = city // rural = countryside // haunted = a place with ghosts ]
Ten scary Vietnamese urban legends:
Project: Do you know any of these tales / legends ?
Do you know any other Vietnamese legends ?
Have you even been to the places in HCM City ?
Painting by Ferdinand keller ‘Scheherazade und Sultan Schariar’ (1880).
The main frame story concerns Shahryār ruling in “India and China”. He is shocked to learn that his brother’s wife is unfaithful; discovering that his own wife’s infidelity has been even more flagrant, he has her killed.
In his bitterness and grief, he decides that all women are the same. Shahryār begins to marry a succession of virgins only to execute each one the next morning, before she has a chance to dishonour him.
Eventually the vizier, whose duty it is to provide them, cannot find any more virgins. Scheherazade the vizier’s daughter, offers herself as the next bride and her father reluctantly agrees.
On the night of their marriage, Scheherazade begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it. The king, curious about how the story ends, is thus forced to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins (and only begins) a new one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion of this tale, postpones her execution once again. This goes on for 1,001 nights.
This is quite a long introduction; how could you reduce it to three sentences ?
A good way to keep a conversation going (to continue speaking) is by asking questions.
Look at this picture, then try to ask questions using:
who / where / when / why / how / what / do \ did / which whose ?
Who are they ?
Where do you think they are ?
How do they know each other ?
Be creative ! Make up a story about them; are any of them boyfriend/girlfriend ? How did they meet ? What do they have in common ?
who = people (Who is the pretty lady ?)
where = places (Where were you born ?)
which = things (Which motorbike is more reliable ?)
whose = possessives (Whose iPhone is this ?)
The Asian lady, whose name is Zhi, is studying Law.
Zhi, who was born in China, has lived in London for one year.
Ask each other about their day or their weekend
How was your day ? How was your weekend ?
good. On the other hand …
Today was so-so because ……….. However ……….
terrible ! Despite that
horrible / awful / dreadful
boring / tedious
My weekend was …
Today was terrible because I overslept and had no coffee. However in the evening, I have football on TV so I feel very happy.
Notice how the passage mixes past tense (‘was terrible’) with present (‘I have’ …. ‘I feel.’)
How was your day ? (use past tense)
Today, I was very happy at work because I got my salary as well as a bonus (extra money).
When do you get your salary ? When do you get paid ?
Salary = career, professional job – usually once a month
Paid – for a job, can be daily, weekly, monthly – low-income job
Building longer sentences:
Relative pronouns – who (person), which (thing), where (place).
Adverbs – add information
Opinions – I feel, I believe, in my opinion, from my point of view.
Turn and link – but, although, however, having said that
I teach at public school which can be extremely tiring because there are many students who, I feel, do not want to learn. Having said that, there are also many wonderfully gifted students who make me feel happy.
(I have taught in two different public schools. As in the above Google Images stock photo, we had a blackboard and chalk, fans, not air-con, and windows open onto the street or the quad where students would play sports or keep fit or synchronised shouting. However, my classes were seldom as organised as this, and I often had forty-plus students. )
Make long sentences by answering these questions:
What are you working on at the moment ?
Do you enjoy your latest project ?
Would you like to work abroad ?
Is it good to have a car in a city ?
Can you live without a motorbike in Sai Gon ?
How important is the internet in your life ?
Try to make a short presentation on a subject of your choice.
Include adverbs and adjectives, new vocabulary, idioms, phrasal verbs – parts of English that you have learnt so far.
Examples – family / music / films / motorbikes / your childhood / myths of your home country
Irregular verbs are all different. A lot of common verbs are irregular:
have /had // do / did // say / said // be / was/were// go / went // get / got // make / made // take / took
Here are 7 verbs in the PRESENT.
Choose the correct verb AND use it in the correct tense.
teach / live / go / see / drink / am / have
Ms Ha (1) …….. drinking tea yesterday
when she (2) ……. an idea.
I haven’t (3) …….. my neighbours how to drink tea. I am sure they will be happy.
They have not (4) …… to the UK yet.
I have (5) …. in many cities in England.
Now I am in Viet Nam. I have (6) …. many wonderful sights,
but I have never (7) …… a cup of good, English tea.
Grammar – verb practice
Here’s the 15 most common:
infinite / present / past /past participle (verb 3)
1 to be / / am // was /been
you are / / were / been
2 to have / / have / had / had
3 to do // do / did /done
4 to say // say / said / said
5 to go //go / went / gone
6 to get // get / got / gotten
7 to make //make / made / made
8 to know // know / knew /known
9 to think // think / thought / thought
10 to take // take / took / taken
11 to see // see / saw / seen
12 to come // come / came / come
13 to want // want / wanted /wanted
14 to use // use / used / used
15 to find // find / found / found
Grammar: must or have to ? mustn’t or don’t have to
must or have to ? don’t have to or mustn’t
have to = other people tell you // must = your decision
don’t have to = not necessary // mustn’t = is forbidden
You have to have a degree in order to be an engineer
I must stop eating at Lotteria (an Asian fast-food chain like McDonalds) !
You don’t have to bring any beer to the party.
You mustn’t run a red light or use your mobile phone on your motorbike.
The new James Bond film may be sold out.We ______ buy tickets NOW !
I hate parties ! Do I _____ go ?
You _______ eat too much popcorn; it’s bad for you.
You ________ be over 18 to see this film
You don’t ____ bring your passport to get intoa cinema in Viet Nam.
Answers: must / have to / mustn’t / have to / have to
Grammar: Phrasal verbs
Phrasal Verbsand collocations
up with / the fire out / up / on a happy face
it in your own words / up or shut up !/ it away / it another way
well soon / over it ! / on with it / away with murder / on the bus
back to work ! / with the program (US) / some fresh air
Complete the sentences:
She looks so sweet but she never does her job ! She gets …….. at work,
Come on, cheer up ! Put ……. and smile.
If you are so good, you do it ! Put ………..
We are all going to work on the new project together, so get …….. or get a new job !
She is not the thinnest lady in the world. OK, let me put ………. she’s fat !
Stop playing and do your homework. Get ……….
His Thai girlfriend left him. He needs to get ……….
she gets away with murder (is allowed to do bad things) // put on a happy face // put up or shut up (don’t just talk about it – do it OR stop talking) // get with the program (do what everyone wants to do) // put it another way (to say something differently) // get back to work // get over it (stop being sad, and forget the past).
Linking words: and / as well as / and also / along with
These link positives sentences:
I like tea as well as coffee He plays football and also badminton.
How are they dressed ? How do they look (emotions) ?
Tesco Lotus is quite cheap and also has a great choice.
but / however / having said that / on the other hand
These link positives to negatives / negatives to positives:
Jet Mart is convenient. Having said that, it is (it’s) extremely expensive.
Czech beer is fantastic quality, however it’s not easy to find in Sai Gon.
‘therefore’ is a conclusion word:
The Spanish supplier is reasonable (so-so) quality, but more expensive. Therefore, we will use the German supplier in future.
These can be a great way to encourage students to speak and build longer sentences and therefore become more confident in speaking and using English.
Describe what you see in this photo. Use as many adjectives as you can.
Subject first – Do not use a pronoun (he / she / they) Say what you see.
Where are they ? What are they doing ? What do they look like ?
How are they dressed ? How do they look (emotions) ?
What do you think they are talking about ?
I see two young ladies … now try to add more adjectives:
I see two beautiful young Asian ladies. One has very long, straight brown hair. Her friend has medium brown hair, a little wavy.
The lady on the left has a white dress with flowers. The lady on the right wears a blue cotton dress.
Now what are they doing – use continuous verbs – verb + ing
They are talking, laughing and drinking coffee. They are in a nice coffee shop. I see some bags, one yellow, one orange, so I think they like shopping.
Now – your turn. Describe these photos:
I would normally read this aloud and then ask the students the questions. You can alter the speed, the natural chunking sounds, etc, to suit the ability of your class.
I usually go shopping once a week. I sometimes go to Big C but I like shopping at Mega Market. CitiMart is good but it’s a long way from my house. Mega Market is quite near my house so it’s easy to get there. It’s a big supermarket and it has everything I need, which is great. The best thing is that it’s not expensive so I can save money.
How often do I go shopping ? Where do I like shopping ? Why ?
What is the best thing about Mega Market ? Why don’t I go to Citimart ?
Come is where you are NOW: Come here ! Go is for somewhere else: Go away !
I am in Vietnam so – I will goto Thailand, then comeback to Sai Gon.
Always ‘go to’ EXCEPT go home / go shopping / go swimming / go fishing
Kitchen items: What is it for ?
Look how native-speakers link words together:
What is a knife for ? What’s aknife for ? / Sounds like, ‘Whatsa kinffor ?’
A knife is for cutting meat and fish and also vegetables as well as fruit and, not forgetting, bread.
What is a spoon for ? Whatsa spoon for ?
A spoon’s for eating as well as stirring drinks and not forgetting cooking.
What are they for ? They are / they’re scissors (sis zerss) a pair of scissors
Many people over the years have tried to buy the Mask of Tutankhamen from the Egyptian Museum, but unsurprisingly the authorities here believe it is priceless so they won’t sell it
Ebenezer Scrooge was such a stingy man, so much so that in English, we sometimes use the word Scrooge to describe people with this characteristic (who are like this). A miser is someone who hates spending any money.
He spent a lot of money on what he thought was a gold watch but when he had it valued, it turned out to be worthless.
I sometimes disagree with stall holders, so I haggle which sometimes gets the price down
Big companies like Pepsi make a killing. They should put their prices down. I sometimes like to splash out on new clothes, but not very often
When I was a student I didn’t have enough money to live on so I took out an overdraft at the bank. I paid it all off in the end (finally)
The men were sent to prison for forgery, that is, making counterfeit money
This dialogue has a lot of expressions and phrases.
Joe Hi Bill. Why so glum ? You look down in the dumps.
Bill Oh, just worrying about money. The cost of living keeps going up …
Joe And our wages stay the same. Tell me about it. I’ve had to economise.
Bill Same here; no more beer or Highlands coffee. I feel so stingy !
Joe I always haggle at the market now, try to get the price down. I hate being ripped off.
Bill I’m worried about paying off my overdraft. The interest alone is crippling me.
Joe We should invest in land. My friend sold some land recently and made a killing.
Bill But we’ll need money to invest in the first place. Then there’s always bills.
Joe Yes, my bike’s in the shop, so I’m having to use Grabbike and that ain’t cheap !
2. This is to practice wedding and money phrases.
Tom Congratulations ! You’re finally tying the knot and getting spliced.
Bob Yeah, it’s time to settle down. I’ve taken out a mortage and a loan for the wedding.
Tom It must be costing you an arm and a leg: catering, hall, flowers, photos, invitations.
Bob Absolutely, I’ve withdrawn all my saving and gone into the red. I hate being overdrawn; the interest is sky-high. And, not forgetting, the honeymoon.
Tom You can put down a deposit and pay later. Cheer up ! Don’t be a Scrooge
Bob That’s easy for you to say. I’m gonna be broke and in debt … until I retire !
Use more interesting adverbs and linking words e.g.
although / as well as / somewhat / therefore
Rearrange these basic sentences to make more interesting ones (we use ‘one’ as a pronoun for the noun instead of repeating ourselves)
I went to the market today. I bought fish and chicken and vegetables.
Today I bought fish, chicken as well as vegetables in the market.
Last night I stayed at home because it was raining.
It was raining last night therefore I stayed at home.
I saw the new action film. It was a little boring.
Peter was tired but he met his friends for a drink.
Sophie studied very hard. She passed her test.
For western people, Thailand is cheap. Vietnam is cheaper.
To help you improve your speaking skills, here is a small project:
Write a short piece about something you love or adore.
Start with an introduction
Say why you like it
Maybe tell some history or an anecdote (a short, personal story)
Give some examples
End with a short conclusion
I love all types of music, but one of my favourites is Jazz. It can be exciting, or slow, but it’s always different.
Unlike other types of music, Jazz is spontaneous. This means that you never hear the same song the same way; each performance is different.
Jazz started in New Orleans but moved up to Chicago, New York and even west to California. The first records were made in 1917 and the first true Jazz genius was Louis Armstrong. If you want to hear jazz, you should listen to his records from the 1920s.
You may know some famous Jazz artists such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane or Charlie Parker. I can recommend these musicians to you as first-rate examples of Jazz.
I hope this has made you curious about Jazz, and that you go online to listen for yourself. Who knows, maybe you too will learn to love Jazz.