Listening skills: Real English, native and non-native speakers.

30th December 2019

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).

Unknown vocabulary.

Dialects, slang words, expressions, idioms … figurative not literal language.

Cultural references (subjects only known by local people)

This blog will feature various videos of people speaking English. I have suggested a number of teaching sites and videos on a former blog: https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2019/01/23/listening-skills-tips-and-links/

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):

Native speakers in central London:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjEkotGQxzA

Image result for piccadilly circus people 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.

Street trader – London

Image result for london market trader"

Next up, a street-market trader. Here, the trader has to project his voice, to attract customers. It’s a mixture of commerce and performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw94R0P2dOs

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.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKr6Cj-Xr9g

Image result for rea; craft beers sai gon beer"

It’s Beer o’ clock !

I have a friend in the UK who likes, no … who LOVES beer. His passion is to review beers from around the world, and today, he tries Sai Gon Red.

What does he think of it ?

Pay attention to his body language, facial expression and intonation.

Listen out for adverbs (β€œI quite like the idea of drinking VN beer …”)

New vocabulary:

the channel – his personal YouTube. A TV station. In the USA, there are hundreds of TV channels.

regular – normal

aroma – smell of food or drink. Positive, a great smell.

head – the top of the beer

haze – fog, mist, not clear

carbonation – addition of CO2 to make it fizzy (like Cola) 

awful – very bad, terrible, horrible

suggestion – a little idea, a little bit of something

whatsoever– adverb (England have no chance of winning whatsoever)

Expressions:

‘coming in at’ – when he tells us the alcohol percentage. This expression can be used for any measurement – the new iPhone X comes in at 25m VND.

‘More than likely’ – very probably.

‘A tiny pinch of’ – a very small amount of something.

‘Let’s dive in’ – let start, let’s do it !

‘Oh, blimey’ – oi troi oi ! Oh, dear, OMG !

‘comes through’ – can see or sense something.

‘I’m gonna have trouble finishing it’ – it won’t be easy to drink it all.

‘I think we’ll call it quits there’ – time to stop.

‘I’m gonna give that one outter ten’ – I rate that one star out of a maximum of ten.

‘I’m afraid’ – I’m sorry (We have no more milk, I’m afraid).

Break down the speech into metaphors, expressions and new vocabulary (head, aroma)

Metaphor / Expressions / Vocabulary / phrasal verbs

Reported Speech

Direct speech: β€œIt’s a false carbonated beer.” (it is a = present tense)

Reported speech The man said itΒ was a false carbonated beer. (was = past)

For reported or indirect speech, we put the verb into the past tense. No speech marks.

Now lets go to the other side of the pond (across the Atlantic from the UK to the USA) and listen to some examples of American English:

Teaching Scenarios (USA)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7vmzvUTwag

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)

Image result for sitcome friends"

http://www.videosinlevels.com/people-do-chandler/

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:

Image result for what to eat in berlin"

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.

New Vocabulary (Berlin 5 food):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aE6hW9Z09w

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:

Image result for friendly australian people"

Again, let’s take it easy to begin with, learn some Aussie (Australian) expressions and listen to the local accent:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDWsVXurkj8

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 ?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QCgqQdmr0M

The clip is called ‘Australian Hero’ so that should give you an idea.

Image result for australian news hero"

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):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Qw_9HIU850

Listen for expressions, adverbs & adjectives

(He starts by saying he had some camera problems):

β€œHopefully I’ve got that all sorted now and I can give you a decent tour of the …um, the apartment.

β€œIt’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.

β€œAh, 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):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGRXSpNMD4M

How long do they work in Germany ? How many breaks does the man have ?

You may start to notice slight mistakes in grammar and syntax (word order) yet the meaning should be very clear. Remember – you are not expected to be perfect, so never be discouraged.

The boot’s on the other foot

We’ve had native speakers talking about Vietnam. Now let’s have Vietnamese talking English

These young Vietnamese are offering advice to travellers about taxis and scams in Sai Gon:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyyQjZZRGaQ

Image result for avoid taxi scam in hcm"

New vocabulary:

tips– a piece of advice 

dishonest– not truthful 

options– choices 

to notice– to see

taxi stand– where taxis wait 

in my experience– what I have seen 

fake– not real

recommend– to say something is good 

convince– make people believe

What should a tourist be careful of in Sai Gon ?

Serendipity in South Korea

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.

Anyway, Ms Rachel made a video about trying to understand English spoken with a thick Korean accent. Starts at (0:46): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVJQK0t8m9s&list=PL97HViQblvdEM3zsauRxnIg1baFTNmsDM&index=19&t=2s

Image result for rachel Kim youtuber"

Thank you, Ms Rachel. Good luck with your channel

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, some useful phrases are:

I’m very sorry, could you repeat, please.

Would you mind speaking a little slower, please.

Excuse me, could you speak slower – my English is not good.

Now let’s really mix it up.

This one is very advanced. We have a man from the Indian sub-continent, speaking about life in Australia:

Image result for cost of living in australia"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdwiCxe8spI

Is this more of a challenge for you ? What are the problems with the accent ?

Adult Class, level 3 (class 2): expanding vocabulary.

30th August for 5th September 2019. AEF listening and grammar review.

Last week saw a lot of new vocabulary and some opportunities to practise using then in sentences. Now we need to reinforce these words, make them a part of their everyday lexicon.

From the warm up exercise, we used:

charismatic / contestants / convinced / empty-handed / entrepreneur / I’m out / in return / intimidating / represent / stain

Related image
From ‘The Social Network’.

From watching the Vietnamese beer review, we learnt more expressions:

Let’s dive in = let’s go, let’s start !

more than likely = everyday expression meaning very possible

whatsoever – used to strengthen a sentence (“The beer has no taste whatsoever.”)

head = the white foam on top of a beer

aroma – the smell, usually for wine or coffee

Quick warm up game: use those words in a sentence. Try to use extended sentences including clauses.

For example: As it’s the rainy season, it will more than likely rain tomorrow.

Now for a relative pronoun and supporting clause:

The young blonde entrepreneur, who was convinced his idea was genius, left the meeting empty-handed.

Students can work together to come up with three sentences including one with a supporting clause.

Quick grammar review – there were some concerns about using past simple and present continuous n the same sentence:

Were you wearing the new tie when you met the manager ?

Here, everything is in the past tense (were / met) BUT we use the continuous ‘wearing’ because we were doing something at that time. Furthermore, we only use one past tense verb (here ‘were’ serves as the first past tense verb).

Try these:

Did you go (swim) this morning ?

We ate pancakes and John was (talk) all the time

I saw a film and my girlfriend went (shop)

When did you start (learn) Mandarin ?

Then we covered some personality adjectives in an activity but time was against us, and we’ll carry on at the start of this lesson. I have five friends and the students have to guess their personality and occupation. Naturally, they don’t know them, so they have to use phrases such as:

In my opinion / for me / I feel that / he appears to be / I get the impression that he … / he looks like

Mark
David
Gavin
Richard
Simon

Personality adjectives: Positive – mature / reliable / dependable / confident / life and soul (of the party) / generous

Negative – over -confident (hubris) / aloof / arrogant / mean (nasty or not generous) / awkward / bossy.

Occupations: estate agent

Image result for estate agent

consultant (here the lady, who is of Asian origin, is a recruitment consultant).

Image result for consultant

plumber

Image result for plumber

therapist

Related image

bouncer

Image result for bouncer

Speaking practice. The handout is dialogue used in a coffee shop, which means I get to use one of my favourite clips, from ‘Twin Peaks’ :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxwcQ1dapw8

Related image
Agent Cooper in ‘Twin Peaks’.

To, to set the scene, maybe we need some background ambience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOdLmxy06H0

Here’s a great chance to use words such as ‘aroma’, atmosphere’, ‘crowded’, ‘comfortable’, ‘free wifi’, and then types of coffee

And them onto today’s set lesson. If time allows, we can use some left-over activities from last week, namely the desert survivial:

Two teams, both have a number of items to help them survive in the desert after a plane crash. From the list of 18, they have to choose just 5. They must learn and practice negotiation language such as:

I see your point

I respectfully disagree

That’s an interesting choice, however …

You’re argument is not without value, having said that …

Activity – small talk. A list of general topics and the students have to try to keep the conversation going as long as possible. As with all speaking exercises, give examples or models first:

What do you do ? // I’m a student . // Really ? Where do you study ? What do you study ? How do you find you class ? What do you like best about your university ? What are the biggest challenges ?

To break up the speaking, we can use so real life listening. One popular clip is the foodie Mark Wiens eating eggs in HCM City:Β https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crPVJ3CXs1g&list=PL97HViQblvdEM3zsauRxnIg1baFTNmsDM&index=20&t=1s

Or how to stay safe in HCM – advise from locals (in English but with accents and some grammatical errors) 

Image result for petty crime in hcm
Back of the bike tours – advise for travellers in Viet Nam

And that more than likely, should be enough work in spades !

Adult Class, Level 3 (class 2): Happy talking, talking ….

29th August 2019

The lesson plans are set in stone, so I have to adhere to them; there will be a grammar review, a double page of listening, and then a handout for the students to practise speaking … but that’s not enough for the three hours, so I’ve decided to make as many speaking activities as possible.

Unfortunately, I’ll also have to show the presentation about classroom rules, as I’ve had some issues with ADULTS … yes, adults, disrupting the class, being disrespectful and basically trying the zen-like patience of the writer of this blog. Said writer has been working every day for nearly three weeks and my patience was never ‘zen-like’ at the best of times.

Image result for classroom rules no chatting

This problem is widespread in Vietnam; I’ve seen it at all centres, and all ages. It is quite hard for a teacher to accept the rudeness and disrespect engendered by such behaviour. So … what to do …

First, a quiet word with the student – to explain what is wrong and WHY.

Secondly, move the student to a new chair. If the student refuses, then it is time for the third move.

Last resort – abandon the lesson. Tell the school office that the student is violating THEIR rules, disrespecting the teacher and other (paying) students and that I will not be able to continue teaching with the student in the class. My feeling is that the Vietnamese will support each other, especially one who is a paying customer, so I will simply leave the room … and everyone will have wasted their time and money. To quote Brad Pitt in ‘Inglorious…’, I might get chewed out, but it won’t be the first time, sure as hell won’t be the last.

Image result for Brad Pitt inglorious

However, this happy pic does lead into a plethora of speaking activities I have planned – idea being, if they’re are speaking English, that won’t have time to speak Vietnamese (yeah, right !)

First Activity – a vocabulary building game. I give students a sheet with several new words and several definitions. They have to match them together, then make sentences from them.

Second Activity – Desert Survival. Two teams, both have a number of items to help them survive in the desert after a plane crash. From the list of 18, they have to choose just 5. They must learn and practice negotiation language such as:

I see your point

I respectfully disagree

That’s an interesting choice, however …

You’re argument is not without value, having said that …

Third Activity – eyewitness. Work in pairs. One student looks at a photo or picture of a man committing a crime. After two minutes, the other students plays the role of a police officer, trying to gather information, for example age-range, clothing, distinctive markings, behaviour etc.

Fourth Activity – small talk. A list of general topics and the students have to try to keep the conversation going as long as possible. As with all speaking exercises, give examples or models first:

What do you do ? // I’m a student . // Really ? Where do you study ? What do you study ? How do you find you class ? What do you like best about your university ? What are the biggest challenges ?

Fifth activity – Friends – I show five male friends and the students has to guess their personalities and occupations. Here I’ll board some new adjectives and jobs, as well as encouraging the students to use opinion phrases – after all, they don’t know my friends – they are basing their answers merely on looks.

To break up the speaking (which some will do, some will half-heartedly attempt, some will ostentatiously NOT do), we can use so real life listening. One popular clip is the foodie Mark Wiens eating eggs in HCM City:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crPVJ3CXs1g&list=PL97HViQblvdEM3zsauRxnIg1baFTNmsDM&index=20&t=1s

Or maybe a review of a local beer ?

Image result for horrible beer face

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKr6Cj-Xr9g

Or how to stay safe in HCM – advise from locals (in English but with accents and some grammatical errors)

Image result for petty crime in hcm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-j0FfVIKJnw