The story so far … we have two young Asian cousins who are about to meet each other, after a long time. Boram, a caring, thoughtful young music student, is going to the train station to meet Leon, also a musician, who is travelling to Seoul but doesn’t know the city. Despite having a busy schedule, Boram insists upon meeting Leon and making sure he is safe.
After his journey, Boram feels certain Leon must be hungry and in need of coffee. She decides to take him to a great cafe near the station. They can talk and get to know each other.
Boram pays for the drinks, and they go to find a table:
Here, there are introducing themselves. The conversation may go something like this:
Boram: How was the journey ? Are you tired ?
Leon: No, I’m Ok, thanks. This coffee looks great. Wow, how long has it been ?
Boram: Hhmmm, let me think … it must be six years since we last meet. How are your parents ?
Leon: Both very well, thank you, and they send you a little present. So, mum says you play piano ?
Boram: Violin. I play in the university orchestra. You’ve grown so much !
Leon: Of course, I’m not ten anymore haha. You play ? Can I hear you sometime ?
Boram: Actually, I’m playing this afternoon. If you like, I can take you and introduce you to some of my friends.
Leon: That would be cool. You are so kind. I insist on buying you lunch to say thank you.
That was a fairly natural exchange of pleasantries. They both appear nice people, and very polite. However, it is not very exciting or interesting. So, let’s make Leon less grateful and more self-centred:
Boram: How was the journey ? Are you tired ?
Leon: Oh, man … it was like … boring, you know. No hot girls on the train.
Boram: Oh. Sorry. How is your coffee ?
Leon: It’s terrible, We have much better in Busan. This place is lame. Don;t you know any cooler joints ? You look a bit boring. Mum says you’re a musician ?
Boram: Yes, I play vio…..
Leon: I’m a musician, I play bass in a radicle hip-hop, thrash-metal band.
Boram: I’d love to hear your band.
Leon: Ha ! I don’t think so. We don’t make music for little girls. This is real music.
Boram: Oh, well, would you like to hear my orchestra play ?
Boram: Great ! We are playi …
Leon: No, idiot, I’m joking, I can’t listen to that old crap ! Hey, can you give me some money ?
What do you think of Leon now ? Not so nice, hey ? See how he interrupts Boram, mocks her music and then demands money ? He’s a ‘nasty piece of work.’
Let’s turn the tables. How about if Boram, despite looking angelic and ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt- in-her-mouth’ appearance, is in reality arrogant, impatient and thoughtless.
Leon: It is so nice of you to meet me. I haven’t been to Seoul before on my own.
Boram: I had no choice. My mum made me, I don’t want to waste my time here.
Leon: And thank you for buying the coffee. I was really tired.
Boram: Mum gave me the money. Come on, drink it then I can go. I’ve got more important things to do.
Leon: Oh, I don’t want to keep you if you’re busy …
Boram: ‘Busy’ ? I have rehearsals in two hours and I have to go all the way across the city to meet you. Ridiculous, a grown man like you needs me to hold his hand.
Leon: Really, if you need to go, it’s ….
Boram: Well, if you say it’s Ok, I’ll go. You know the way ? If not just ask someone or, I don’t know, get a taxi. Do you have my phone number ?
Leon: No, what is i… ?
Boram: Oh, it doesn’t matter, I’m to busy to pick up. I gotta go.
That should change our perception of Boram. Not so friendly now, is she ?
Try writing short dialogues for different situations:
1: Leon really wants to see the top museums
2: Boram wants Leon to meet her friend, she thinks they would be good together
3: Leon is having an interview for a job and he is very nervous. Boram supports him.
4: Boram wants to take Leon shopping for new clothes. Leon likes his clothes and they have a playful argument.
5: They discover they really don’t like each other but they have to stay together because they are family.
And now … what to do if you’re stuck at home, self-isolating, and have lots of time to kill. My internet friend, Rachel Kim, from South Korea has a tip about a new craze sweeping her homeland:Dalgona coffee:
This is the eve on a new IELTS class, utilising a new text book, and the first lesson is …listening. When I ask students (and they make the effort to reply) what is the hardest part of learning English, understanding the spoken word is invariably top of the list.
As with all skills, practice is the obvious answer, starting slowly, then building up and improving. Naturally, language skills are integrated; a knowledge of ‘chunking’ – or linking words together and natural contractions will be extremely beneficial. Likewise, the more vocabulary the student knows, the more chance they have of understanding what is being said.
The key problems are straightforward:
Speed of conversation.
Chunking, contractions, natural speech patterns (which differ markedly from the written word).
Accents (both native and non-native).
Dialects, slang words, expressions, idioms … figurative not literal language.
Cultural references (subjects only known by local people)
Now I will concentrate on ‘real-world’ examples, videos aimed at native speakers, not for English students.
I choose these videos to illustrate the whole world of spoken English; no disrespect is intended to anyone who speaks in a non-standard way, or is struggling with pronunciation. On the contrary, anyone who can converse in a second language has my utmost respect … it is a skill unavailable to the writer of this blog 😦
And now, without further ado, lets’s kick off with my hometown. Here’s some native Londoners having a chat (talking):
The subject of this video – which has useful captions, or subtitles, in English – is ‘which possession would you never lend to another person ?’ You will also be able to see some famous London landmarks.
TIPS: watch the video is short sections – maybe just in ten-second sections – repeat and repeat until you feel familiar with the words and are able to repeat them.
An additional benefit from watching real-life videos is that you will pick up many expressions that you will simply not find in text books. Remember, many speaking tests give extra points for ‘natural language’. For example, the trader uses the phrase, “On and off,” meaning he has been doing the job but not continuously. Let’s say I have been teaching for ten years, but during that time, I took some long breaks, to study, to travel etc. I would say,”I’ve been teaching for ten years, on and off.“
You will also notice how ‘real’ people often deviate from standard English. In this clip, the man says, “Me and my wife have been ….” though the ‘correct’, the standard form would be, “My wife and I have been …”. This merely illustrates that text guides are just that … a GUIDE … they are not real life. To learn English, to really learn, you must immerse yourself in videos, music, films and, dare I repeat myself (yes, I dare) PRACTICE.
British English speaker, Asian theme: east meets west
This is a favourite clip of mine, a British beer enthusiast trying a Vietnamese beer. This clip introduces new vocabulary relevant to beer (‘head’, ‘aroma’, ‘carbonated’, as well as some good expressions such as, “More than likely,” and, “Let’s dive in.”
I’ll ease you in softly; this first clip is designed for English learners, and has a variety of different scenes, actors and situations, all intended to prepare you for the variety of American accents … and in such a big continent, there are a wide variety of accents.
Is this easy to understand ? Do you notice any differences between the London accent and the USA accent ?
Same tip, watch as much as you can, pause, try to copy, say the words, then continue. When you feel confident, turn off the captions and see how much you are able to understand. Do not expect to understand everything. Maybe you will only understand half, but see how this figure increases with practice.
TV show, American accent.
This is from a USA sit-com called ‘Friends’ (1994 – 2004)
In this short clip, some friends are joking about the way one of them speaks, putting the stress on the ‘wrong’ word in a sentence. Again it has captions, so listen and … practice !
But now, time to turn it up a notch (make it harder). This clip is advanced, the speaker is very enthusiastic, very quick. and uses a lot of everyday phrases you will – more than likely – not know. Therefore, a quick pre-teaching session:
recommend– to suggest something good / something YOU think others will like
aside from– something else, apart from
staple food– food that can be part of every meal (rice, bread, potatoes)
drowned– totally covered in a liquid or sauce
popular– something many people like (negative form is ‘unpopular’)
original– the first of something. Adverb is originally.
mix– adding two or more things together. Mixed is the past tense.
tons of– lots of (slang, common) e.g. Ha Noi has tons of coffee shops
amazing– adjective means really great, very special.
districts– areas of a city (Quan)
snack– eating food to stop you getting too hungry. Verb – snacking.
super– common adverb to mean very, very much e.g. Sai Gon is super hot.
This video exemplifies all the problems students have listening to English: the vocabulary, the accent, the linking together and the sheer speed of speech. Don’t worry … apply the same principles; watch in small sections, read the captions, repeat and repeat until you feel comfortable. Remember – you don’t have to understand every word, just enough to follow what he is saying.
And now, let’s go to a land down under and listen to some different forms of English. This time, Australian:
Again, let’s take it easy to begin with, learn some Aussie (Australian) expressions and listen to the local accent:
This lists ten expressions that you may have heard in films or TV shows. But now it’s time to put them into practice. Here’s a genuine news story. Without using text or captions, how much can you understand ?
The clip is called ‘Australian Hero’ so that should give you an idea.
Bringing It All Back Home – an Australian in Vietnam
This ex-pat (someone who has emigrated from country and now lives and works in another) from down under (Australia) is going to show us where he lives in Sai Gon, District 3 (near the city centre) (0:22 – 0:45):
(He starts by saying he had some camera problems):
“Hopefully I’ve got that all sorted now and I can give you a decent tour of the …um, the apartment.
“It’s a really nice er, street here, sort of early morning and it’s quite a hustle and bustle. Here we got office workers coming out to eat and what have you.
“Ah, I’ll just take you into the er, where is this ? This is the actual building, here, and er … and this is where I actually, er … down, gotta (got to) go through this alley, it’s very congested … and this is how I get to where I live.”
And now the fun begins !
Quite possibly, the majority of my students will be using English as a lingua franca with other non-native speakers. I therefore encourage them to use the standard form, in order for them to be (hopefully) understood. I encourage slow and clear enunciation, avoidance of contractions and figurative language. Here, English is functional, precise communication is the aim.
We refer to this as a form of code-switching: basically changing the language to suit the occasion, something we all do naturally (for the most part). Namely, we change our vocabulary, syntax and accent(s) depending on whom we are addressing, be it a parent or younger brother, a police officer or a troublesome telesales caller, our manager, our colleague, our first-day intern.
Our first non-native speaker is from Germany. I had some students who worked here in Vietnam for a German company, so I felt it relevant they familiarise themselves with English through a German filter.
On a cultural note, many Germans have English as a second language, so travelling there only speaking English shouldn’t pose such a problem. UK and Germany have something of a ‘love-hate relationship’, with Britons seeing Germans as lacking in humour and having a very limited diet (potatoes, sauerkraut and sausage). Having said that, we secretly admire, if not envy, their efficiency and technological expertise, not to mention their success on the football field.
Working life in Germany:
In this clip, a worker is describing a typical German schedule (01.26 – 02.07):
During one evening class, a student asked me for some advice; his manager is Korean and when the manager speaks to my student, in English, my poor student is unable to understand what is being said. Obviously, there is little I can do about the manager’s English, but I gave the student some useful phrases that are polite and should stop the Korean from ‘losing face’, and I’ll add these after the video.
Serendipity is a word for luck or coincidence. Just two days after this conversation, I was surfing on YouTube when I came across this perfect video from my new YouTube chum (friend), Ms Rachel Kim. Ms Rachel is very friendly and sweet, so I recommend you visit her channel, like and subscribe. I’m sure it will make her very happy.