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Posts Tagged ‘English’

Beren on MTV!

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

It often comes up in lessons that Beren is in a band. (Check out this one about touring or this one about recording at home.) Her band plays really loud, broken garage rock and is called Eat Skull. Unless you’re into garage rock or live in Portland, you probably haven’t heard of them. But that might change soon.

A couple of months ago MTV came to our hometown of Portland, Oregon, to make a video about the music scene here. Beren and her band are featured in it. They’re playing at a house party which happens a lot in Portland.

Until this happened, Amanda was the most famous member of the English, baby! cast. She acts in commercials, but she’s going to have to step it up and get a role on a sitcom or something if she wants to compete.

At one point, a drunk person falls into Beren’s drums. Oh, and here’s a bit of interesting trivia. Beren is commonly mistaken for Kathy Foster of the Thermals when she goes out in Portland. Kathy’s featured in the video as well. Do you see a resemblance? I think it’s kind of a stretch. They used to have the same hair cut but it looks like Kathy cut hers.

Obama Gets It and Gets It

Friday, July 11th, 2008

I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to hear a high-level U.S. politician speak of our need as Americans to learn a second language. If you didn’t catch the clip of Obama’s speech that many people are talking about, watch it and see a man who understands how important it is for us to think beyond our borders and realize our world is much bigger than our one great nation. He gets it.

Immediately following his speech, a large group of people twisted his words and claimed that Obama thinks Americans should learn Spanish instead of immigrants living in our country learning English. They say how wrong he is and use it as political propaganda. He gets it again.

Today our country has walls on our borders, fingerprint machines in our airports, and people who still believe 9/11 was an attack by Iraq. The higher we build our fences, the further we distance ourselves from the other 6.3 billion people who share our planet. We’ve been fortunate to have a prosperous 200 or so years, but that won’t continue without joining the global party, something a number of other countries seem to understand so much better than we do.

Of course immigrants should learn English if they are living in the U.S. During my three years living in Japan I would have never assumed that people should be speaking my language. Obama is simply saying that the bigger issue here is that we should be learning languages ourselves.

While English, baby! won’t necessarily help Americans learn English, we hope it helps people see the importance of connecting with other cultures. Watching the millions of young people from around the world come to our site with their open minds and enthusiasm for a second, third or fourth language is inspiring. Their attitude is what will bring us together as a planet for a bright global future. They get it.

Enchanted Chinese Video Spreads Youthful Olympic Vitality!

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Although there’s been some press about how inhospitable to tourists Beijing will be during the Olympics, this video, in complete saccharine madness, argues otherwise.

Since we’re taking a trip to Beijing in about a month, it was cool to see all the sites in this video (Apparently all the singers are famous people too. Did you see Jackie Chan?). But I also laughed at several parts, just because the song is so long and there are so many huge smiles in it and there are, like, several beautiful women telling me their doors are always open…it just got kind of silly.

But when I looked at the comments, everyone was taking the video totally seriously!

When I pointed out what I thought was one of the funniest quotes to Jewel, our resident Mandarin speaker, she was able to explain why I thought the video was funny even though it’s not supposed to be. Here’s the line:

The flowing enchantment and charms are filled with youthful spirit and vitality.

Apparently, that’s relatively normal speech in China. While in recent decades the English style has become as concise as possible, Chinese writers (and weird promotional video makers) embrace flowery language.

This gives me even more reason to learn Mandarin. When I first started writing I was drawn to the flowery style. Now I like being economical with words, but it took some getting used to. Maybe I find my way back to the sinuous delights of language wrought with sonorous hues, or something like that.

But anyway, I suppose the tendency to be over the top with language might help explain this highly exuberant video. I can’t wait to get over there and see the enthusiasm first hand. I want to learn the “Beijing welcomes you” part and sing it to people when they ask how I like the city.

Things I Learned on the Globalization and Language Quorum

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

I gotta say, the Freakonomics commenters are definitely some of the sharpest on the Net. A lot of the responses to the quorum on globalization and Language that we got to participate in were as interesting as the official post! Here are some things I learned from the 80-some posts that are up so far.

Even though as John mentioned in his contribution to the post, there isn’t a country that has volunteered to change its language to English for economic reasons, a commenter named Ari Fromm says there’s an industry that has done so.

English is currently mandatory for ALL air traffic control worldwide. That’s a pretty strong indication of what the universal language of the world is……

It’s clear that with the rise of English, multi-lingualism is on the rise as well. But what’s the most bilingual continent? According to a commenter named Bjog, it’s Africa, which makes sense when you think about it.

Every African is minimally bilingual–more than any other people on the planet. Every African speaks their native language, the language of nearby ethnic communities, plus the language in which their country was colonized–any of the Europhone languages.

The Koreans are hedging their bets when it comes global super powers. Alan says:

…note that there are 100,000 Korean students at Chinese universities and 100,000 Korean students at American universites.

Finally, people seem really preoccupied with this notion that English is going to morph and change into pidgin or creole English. Probably half the posts on the quorum are about this idea. It seems intuitive and it’s not new to us, but a commenter named Neil Wilson has a suggestion to the contrary.

Look at the written word. It seems to me that there were far more changes to the English language between Jefferson’s words in 1776 and Lincoln’s words in 1863 than between Lincoln and Obama. This is true even though it has been 7 score and 4 years (It hasn’t been 5 years yet.)

English is far more stable today than it ever has been.

Thou art quite right, sir. ‘Tis sooth that our English tongue hath been a changling historickly.

Though were English to change as rapidly as everyone suspects, would the result be horrible and Orwellian? A commenter named Ramon Cashon says, “Yes!”

Think of the users’ manual of a Japanese or Chinese product and apply that to the spoken word. THAT is the English language that will gain dominance… if you can still call it a language at that stage.

At least information about any language is available now. It didn’t occur me to that it’s easier to pick up a local tongue of another locality than ever before until this comment from Tieler:

You can’t go to your local library or bookstore and buy books on Kurdish, but go online and there is a wealth of resources for grammar, vocabulary, online dictionaries, and so on.

All in all, it’s great to see how much interest there is in this topic. And I can’t wait to see if I’m speaking pidgin, Mandarin or the Queen’s English in five years.

Teach English, Then Improve the News

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

I was surprised to read an article titled “Switch to Espanol” in the Washington Post yesterday that claimed it might be “time for our political leaders to turn off the English-language TV and encourage good citizens to learn Spanish.”

Joe Mathews, the author, says that all 3 presidential candidates and the governor of California are wrong for believing that English should be the official language of the U.S. Why? Because the quality of Spanish local news is higher than English local news in Los Angeles.

Joe is obviously missing the point. Obama, Clinton, McCain, and Schwarzenegger all agree that it’s necessary for the residents of our country to learn English so that our country functions in a more efficient and unified manner. For us to tackle our immigration issues, English must be the official language and we must do everything we can to support those who are learning it. The better non-native English speakers living in the U.S. are at speaking the language, the more they can contribute not only to our country, but to the well-being of their own families.

I’m all for trying to improve the quality of local news content. And the next language I learn will be Spanish. But we absolutely cannot confuse that topic with one much more important and pressing for us as a nation – helping people assimilate into our country, culture, and language.

ESL and Social Networking: Get the Most from ESL Students' Free Time

Friday, May 9th, 2008

ESL students spend a lot of time online and it can be a great opportunity for them to meet native English speakers. I mean, 85% of American college students are on Facebook and the majority are active members. Our ESL/EFL students could be meeting a lot of Americans online.

But more than the obvious social benefits, social networking can improve students’ English. Just look around English, baby! and you can see how social networking lets learners experiment with language in a friendly, communicative setting. Still, not many people are convinced that social networking can or should be integrated into the classroom. It’s a nice extracurricular activity, but most teachers can’t see the teaching potential.

Well, the truth is social networking is great reading and writing practice! And I am going to take advantage of that in my ESL class. I am integrating social networking sites into a reading strategies lesson. One important reading strategy is inference. Inference means interpreting beyond what is actually written and making bigger conclusions. Look around any social networking site and you’ll find there is a lot to infer. People say one thing, but they mean another. My students are going to use this handout that I found online. The handout wasn’t developed to be used with social networking profiles, but it helps students separate what people say from what they mean. And it seems to fit perfectly with the activity. Students will write a few quotes from a profile and say what they think they mean on the handout. Then, they will write a paragraph about what they think about the person.

Here is an example of inference from lastbreath. His profile was the first one I read today. He says, “: romantic dinner” He means, “I like romance. I want romance.” He says, “: romantic and romantic comedy” He means, “I am a good boyfriend and I really want romance ,” and maybe, “I want a girlfriend.” You could even infer things from his screen name.

The point is that as teachers we need to monopolize on our students’ free time. They spend a lot of time online and an English social networking site will really help their English. It will improve their reading skills and maybe it will make it easier for them to make inferences.

This is just one idea. And we need to think of more ideas because online social networking is a great way for ESL students to practice reading and writing.

Plurals at the Food Cart

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Almost every day I eat at the same Thai food cart a few blocks from the English, baby! office in downtown Portland. It’s called Thai Basil and they know me now and give me free spring rolls and tea.

As I wait for my food to be prepared, I often find myself staring at the menu between spacing out and sending text messages. The specials change daily on a white board next to the window, and for this reason, I always come back to the office with a black smudge on my forefinger.

I never realized how tricky it would be to figure out what foods you pluralize on a menu in English. But every day I erase the ‘s’ on words like “pumpkins,” “brocolis,” and “shrimps.”

I’d mention it to the very nice woman who runs the cart (or her foxy granddaughter, but that’s another story), but I can’t figure out what the rule is for things like this. It seems arbitrary. I mean, “brocolis” is never correct, but “pumpkins” is a word if you’re talking about multiple pumpkins, but I seriously doubt there’s more than one pumpkin in their pumpkin curry. Then again, there probably isn’t more than a whole bell pepper in it either, but it is proper to say that a dish has “bell peppers” and not “bell pepper.”

If anyone can make any sense of out this and tell me what the rule is, I will relay it to Thai Basil.

Photos: Taken on my cell phone today, post erasure.