A compilation of videos about Viet Nam for use in class. Some clips are made by westerners, other by Vietnamese speaking English. The clips can be used for listening practice, learning vocabulary, pronunciation, or just to learn more about the country.
I agree totally // I agree to an extent // I’m not sure I totally agree // That has not been my experience // She is spot on ! // She is over-simplifying // There’s an element of truth in what she says // She’s talking nonsense !
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.
Tonight is what we call a ‘mixed bag’; the lesson includes speaking, reading, listening and grammar. It’s Monday; students will be arriving after work, tired, maybe not entirely motivated, maybe not entirely in the mood for a three-hour lesson, maybe committed to watching the clock move it’s intractable hands from 6 to 9. IELTS is a hard course, it requires work, energy, motivation. The teacher’s thankless task is to bring the book alive, motivate the unmotivated and ignore, rise above, the veiled insults and sarcasm that is prevalent in most classes. But, enough, time to put noses to grindstones and upload tonight’s plan.
The first 15 / 20 minutes or so are a French farce of people coming and going, greeting each other, moving chairs, chatting on phones. I do a short warm up exercise, introducing vocabulary or phrases. It provides useful expressions for punctual students, whereas latecomers will not have missed any book work. Tonight it’s going to be common fixed expressions and in which situation they can be used:
This one’s on me Let me thinkabout it It doesn’t matter Thanks for coming
I don’t believe a word of it I’ll be with you in a minute As I was saying It was lovely to see you I don’t get the point I see what you mean
You look great today I’ll be making a move then Just looking, thanks
Match the phrase(s) with the situation
You meet an old friend
You are asked a question but need time to consider
Someone tells you a story – you think it is false.
Friends drinking in a pub / bar
You go into a shop but not necessarily to buy anything
A customer arrives but you are busy
You don’t understand what someone is trying to prove
You understand what someone thinks (but not necessarily agree with)
There is a small problem / Someone upsets you but you want to make it OK
To continue with a conversation that was interrupted.
These fixed phrases are so important in making students sound like natural speakers, which will result in higher IELTS scores.
The next section will be expressing likes, dislikes or having no strong feeling either way. A good activity will involve different skills being used, so here I will play three songs, in English naturally, but from different countries, and with different accents. I want to elicit the students’ opinions of the music and how much they can understand. First, the presentation, new vocabulary:
Like: I absolutely love … I’m crazy about … I (really) like I’m into I’m a big fan of … I’m quite keen on I haven’t heard (seen/read) this before, but I think it’s great
No strong opinion: I don’t mind I have mixed feelings about …. It’s OK I don’t really have any strong views / feelings either way
Dislike: I hate I detest I can’t stand I don’t really like I think it’s awful I’m not a big fan of … I’m not that keen on …
Secondly, we could play a ‘word bomb’. In this activity, a generic word is boarded, in this case, ‘music’. The students shout out as many words they can, a word-association game. Once the board is full, or the students have no more ideas, we can expand; types of musical genres, instruments, musical terminology, ways of listening to music, of buying music, musicians, bands, solo artists, people who work in the industry. This type of game is good as there are few ‘wrong’ answers and the speed can encourage shyer students to speak and participate (note comparative of shy can be shier or shyer).
First, from Australia, we have Kylie Minogue. The lyrics start at 00.30
The students will play the role of examiner and candidate. One will ask questions and the other will be expected to answer in an IELTS-style manner, ie, long sentences, discourse markers, good grammar and syntax, appropriate intonation, eye contact and body language.
I have already given the students tips of ‘buying time’ or filling up ‘dead air’ by employing expressions such as:
That’s a good / interesting question
Let me think …
Well, I would say …
How can I put it … ?
Of course, these mustn’t be over-used. Students will also be encouraged to stretch their vocabulary, and self-check:
Is that the right word ?
By which I mean …
Have I used that in the correct sense ?
After this it’s time to hit the books. As mentioned, the tasks are varied and I want to pace them so that all students feel they have understood before moving on to a new subject. Tonight we also have the three ways of pronouncing the -ed form of regular verbs:
Pronunciation of -ed past tense verbs
Words have 3 end sounds:
If the word ends with:
ch / f / k / p / s / sh / thi The sound is ‘t’ look = ‘lookt’
t /or / d/ The sound is ‘id’ visit – ‘visitid’
Other sounds are ‘d’ bang = ‘bangd’
What is the correct pronunciation for these regular verbs ?
Look = Looked / laugh = laughed / end =
beg = / visit = kiss =
brush = / breath = love =
Read these sentences:
He cleared up the mess / He rolled up the newspaper / I have visited Hue
No Homework ! That sounded good / Teacher shouted, ‘No way !’
We all worked hard today / Tom talked so much / The students played many games and laughed till their sides burst.
To end, I like to expose the students to short video clips using a variety of Englishes (as there is so much variance even in the same city with slang, pronunciation, argot, accent, dialect, local words etc). To make it more relevant, I look for a Vietnam-related theme. One of my favourites is this chap, a serious beer enthusiast, who has just discovered a beer from Vietnam, Sai Gon Red.
I want the students to hear a different accent from mine (I aim for a standard British variety), learn some new vocabulary and also watch the para-linguistics: the expressions, intonation, body language. As my beer-drinking friend has just discovered, to paraphrase The Smiths, “some beers are better than others.”