To understand the English we use today, we need to understand how the language came about in our past.
It is a story of death and elitism but from these murky beginnings sprang the language we love today.
A thousand years ago, there were two main influences, the Normans from France and the Saxons who were a Germanic people. The meeting of these languages and cultures were to form the English language we speak today.
From the battle of the Hastings (1066) England was ruled by French speaking kings and the land was comprised of the aristocracy and those who they ruled, the poor serfs. French was the language of the aristocracy and by extension, the language of the law and commerce. Therefore, if you were ambitious and wanted to get ahead in these fields, French was the language you needed.
Today, the same is true. However, it is not French you need but rather the side of the English language which has evolved from French. This is what we call Formal English. It often looks similar to other Latin-based romance languages.
The Norman influence was set to dominate the language but the Saxon side (informal language, like phrasal verbs) was saved by the Black Death in the 1340’s as this killed a lot of people in built up areas (the cities were largely French speaking they were seats of Government and other institutions). Peasants living off the land and Saxon speakers were not killed in such quantities as they were living in isolated areas.
There is a very interesting idea here, that we have the Black Death to thank for the uniqueness of the English language today.
Today, English speakers naturally ‘switch’ their language depending on where they are or more accurately, in what situation they are in, formal or informal. What the native speaker does is use language in a particular context, depending where they are, who they are communicating with and what they are doing. That means that the speaker, in any given situation, does not sound too formal or informal but rather just right. This is what we focus on in Englishour.
Context will dictate how we speak:
For example on the telephone:
|Could I speak to John please?||Is John there?|
|This is he||That’s me|
|Thank you very much. Goodbye.||Cheers. Take it easy!|
We can apply this to many different situations. Like in the office:
|To whom should I send this?||Who should I send this to?|
|Are you attending the party?||You’re coming to the bash I hope?|
|A preposition at the end of a sentence signals informality|
‘Bash is an informal version of party. It would be unsuitable in a formal context.
|I love this music||I’m really into this music|
|Phrasal verbs are often the informal equivalent.|
|The economic situation in the aeronautical industry is improving||The air industry is looking up|
So, we see that spoken English uses short forms more. And idioms and prepositions.
|He told me the gossip||He dished up the dirt|
|You’re guessing and you have no idea||You’re clutching at straws|
|I stopped smoking||I gave up smoking|
|Let’s continue||Let’s press on|
|He gave me €2 and it was not enough for me and I wasn’t happy.||He fobbed me off with €2|
|I am beginning to like this product||I’m getting into this product|
|They loved it||They lapped it up|
|He ate everything||He polished it off|
|I am visiting him for a short time later||I’m popping in later|
|They all entered at the same time||They all piled in|
|It will not happen due to unforeseen circumstances||It’s fallen through|
|I have an excellent relationship with him||We get on|
|I am leaving||I’m off|
|He is pretending to be sick||He’s putting it on|
|They made a careless mistake||They slipped up|
Of course, both sides are equally important for learners to focus on. The formal language promotes accuracy and allows understanding in reading and listening in formal situations. The informal side is wonderful because it is so rich in connotation and it can express so much using so few words! We need a strong foundation in formal language of course but by bridging the gap between ‘translation’ and ‘spoken English’ we can start switching between the two.
So switching means that the learner can CHOOSE whether to say
I’m leaving, which may be appropriate in one circumstance or,
The key is to explore options of the same message. Learn how to say the same thing in different ways and base your choice on your surroundings.
John Ryan 2018
Please click on the link below to read Edition 1 of Newshour.
Accuracy is obviously an important part of speaking a language. A lot of English teachers would say that not making mistakes is important but at the same time students shouldn’t worry too much about it as long as their mistakes don’t affect understanding. Students though don’t really accept this idea (they want to speak correctly!) and I think rightly so.
People care about the impression they make when communicating
After all, people worry about the impressions they make. Whether it’s a good impression in a first meeting or the impression you give people generally, we have an image of ourselves which we want to portray. And this image is generally positive. We want to be seen as educated, dynamic and/or successful people, not as someone who makes mistakes. The result of this in the English classroom students often say ‘please correct me’ to the teacher.
For the teacher there is a little bit of a dilemma here. On one hand they want to correct the learner to promote accuracy in the language. On the other hand they don’t want to undermine the learner’s confidence and correct too much. Correct to a point and let the other stuff go. Tomorrow is another day.
So as teachers, we don’t want to correct students every time we hear a mistake. But there are times we most certainly do correct. And one of those times is when we hear the habitual mistake. These are mistakes which are engrained into learners (often) of particular nationalities. They are mistakes which the same (nationality) learners make again and again.
Here are a few examples of common mistakes:
The last week I went to Cork. This is a common habit with the words next and last. Basically, there is no the when next or last refers to now. Last week I went to Cork is correct.
One means not two…
I want one coffee please. Here, the problem is one. In English, one means ‘not two’. What that means is that you only say ‘one’ when the listener is expecting you to say ‘two’ (or ‘three’ etc). Imagine you have been in a bar with your friend for a couple of hours ordering and drinking beer. Every time you order another round you ask for ‘two beers’. Your friend now however, doesn’t want another beer. You decide to have one more for the road. You call the barman over. What does he expect you to say? Two beers! Of course, as this is what you have been ordering all night. But you ask for ‘one beer’. One means not two, and in this case it’s correct. Usually you ask for a beer. Therefore the correct version of the sentence above is I want a beer please.
He’s 19 years. Here, you have an option. You can either say he’s 19 years old, or just simply, he’s 19.
Thanks for all. This is not correct. It should be ‘thanks for everything’. The word all is a modifier used before nouns to mean everything. But it is not a noun itself. All the money, all the world, all Dublin…is correct. Without the noun, you need to say everyone or everything etc.
Active voice or passive voice?
I cut my hair. Although this is possible it probably isn’t correct. Here you should use the passive form to have/get something done. The idea is that there are things we don’t do ourselves but rather we pay someone to do them for us. Perhaps we don’t do it because we are lazy (I get my grass cut every week) or we don’t have time (I have the dog walked in the evening) or we don’t have the necessary skill to do it (I’m getting my car serviced tomorrow.
I want that he comes to the party. When you want a person to do something the structure is want+person+to+verb…I want him to pay me. She wants me to help her. Therefore, the correct version of the sentence above is I want him to come to the party.
Next week I will come back to Italy. Here, the problem is come. Basically you always come here and go there (except on the phone!). Come is to where you are and go is to all other places. When in Ireland, Italy is there, and so the sentence should read next week I’m going back to Italy. I have also changed the tense to the present continuous as it is a planned arrangement (I have the ticket).
So what mistakes should teachers correct?
The great thing about correcting the habitual mistake is that it opens doors which have some very interesting language items to explore on the other side. Open the door, take some steps (how many according to the level you are teaching) and then go back and move on. This makes for an interesting and dynamic class.
Another error to correct is when the learner makes a mistake using the target language being dealt with in the class. If the class has a grammar theme, for example future forms, the teacher should be dealing with issues which arise around this area of grammar. Again, level plays a key role in what to correct and how far to go with it.
With these errors in mind, how should we as teachers go about correcting them?
There are of course a variety of ways. Some teachers can correct as they hear them and some will gather them for a language focus session at the end of the class. Some teachers will advocate peer correction and some will create a task around them for the next session. All ways are valid. The important thing is that the teacher promotes understanding in the learner. They must present the language in context and show the learner why one form is used and another is not. The key then is once the learner has understanding the teacher then facilitates the learner to use the target language as much as possible through tasks, eliciting or homework. The key to language learning is production on the learner’s part.
In my experience of observing teachers, I have found that the most successful ones are the teachers who ‘sit’ on the target language. How long you sit and how deep you dig depends on the learner’s level. In the classroom, the teacher is the filter. Some things pass and others are stopped and dealt with. Through the teacher, the learner can develop their communication skills to the point where they are making language choices which are appropriate to the situation within which they are communicating.
After all, this is what the learners want isn’t it?
By John Ryan
Understanding phrasal verbs with ‘out’
‘Out’ means ‘outside’. There is a journey from inside to outside, a journey which takes you into the light, or into the darkness.
Let’s say you have a problem, like a maths problem. The solution is hidden deep in the problem. Your job is to work it out. Here, the image is slowly removing the answer from a dark hidden place into the light. When you’ve worked it out, the solution is there, in the light. You can see it!
Jim and Mary are trying to work out their marriage problems. By talking through their problems they begin to see solutions.
Likewise, you can also figure something out. Again, figuring out a problem means thinking about it until the solution can be seen.
I couldn’t figure out how to open the door.
It took me ages to figure out the complicated bus timetable.
When you figure it out, you can see the light!
Another case is to find things out. This involves bringing information into the light.
Sometimes you can find out accidentally:
I just found out that Mary is going to have a baby!.
I went on the internet and found out that the company doesn’t exist!
For working out, figuring out and finding out, a solution sees the light.
To come out can simply mean ‘come outside’.
Are you coming out tonight? Possibly to the pub, or the cinema etc.
Come out also means to reveal that you are gay. The idea here is that it is a secret. When someone is secretly gay, they are ‘in the closet’. Then one day, they tell their friends or family or the world that they are in fact gay. This is when he/she comes out.
Elton John came out years ago.
Again, the secret reaches the light.
To make something out means to be able to see or hear something under difficult circumstances. It is often used with ‘can’. For example, if something is far away and you can see it or read it:
I can’t make it out. A car registration for example or a bus number.
I can’t make out the signature. Here, it’s not far away, the quality is bad.
You can also use it for things you can/can’t hear, usually because of the clarity of the sound.
I find heavy metal lyrics difficult to make out.
I couldn’t make out what he was saying because of the noise.
When you can make something out, there is the lightbulb moment of throwing light onto the unknown.
Sometimes friendships can fall into darkness:
People can fall out. It means that they are no longer friends. They usually fall out over something:
Myself and Peter fell out over the money he owes me
They fell out over a stupid argument
Here are some more verbs which mean ‘go into the darkness, away from the light’:
The first is literal. To blow out a candle or a flame.
He made a wish and blew out his birthday candles.
What do you do with a finished cigarette? You put it out. (extinguish it)
Or when the room is too hot, or your blood pressure is very low? What can happen? You can faint. Lose consciousness and fall onto the floor. You can pass out.
When you pass out, what do you see? Darkness!
As well as flammable material, people can burn out. This is due to excessive stress, usually in work:
He was a stock broker, but burnt out after five years.
When you burn out, you’re finished!
We often hear of governments trying to stamp out crime. (destroy it)
Sometimes, they will phase something out.
At the moment they are phasing out free medical care. (little by little it will be gone)
When you close the curtains, you block out the light. You can also block out sounds.
Some people try to block out bad memories.
Out can be also associated with negative experiences:
If you decide to stick it out, you decide to remain in a bad situation:
I hate my new job, but my friends have advised me to stick it out, at least for another month.
Sometimes, you can stop a negative experience:
We talked him out of doing it. We persuaded him not to do something we viewed as being bad.
He was going to sell the company, but we talked him out of it.
The purpose here is to show that there is a logic and a clear line of thought running through seemingly unrelated phrasal verbs. This logic is, I believe, contained in the preposition. If you can unlock the meaning of the prepositions, you can understand better the idiomatic side of the English language.
Learning a language can be frustrating
It is exciting to be able to speak another language. It can of course be frustrating too. Not being able to articulate what you want or how you feel or what your opinion is on something can feel terrible. Being with a group of native speakers and not being able to follow the group conversation can leave you feeling alone.
Many years ago, when I arrived in Spain for a year of teaching English, this was exactly how I felt. When I arrived, my Spanish was nil. I didn’t even know the word for ‘hello’. I had a little Spanish/English dictionary and a notebook, and I started to learn words and phrases, as I needed them. If I were going food shopping, for example, I would pre-learn the words which I anticipated I would need for my shopping expedition. Leaving my house, I would be repeating the words for ‘bread’ and tomato’ and ‘pork chop’ as I wandered down the foreign street surrounded by signs and people I didn’t understand.
New friends can appear in surprising places
I lived in a small flat with two Spanish guys who didn’t speak a word of English. It was perfect for me to immerse myself in Spanish. For the first couple of months we were like three mime artists in the kitchen, acting out what we were going to cook, flapping our arms to show the rent was due and whatever other messages they needed to pass to me or I to them. At that time, I used to go home for lunch every day and sitting opposite Miguel, I would have conversations with him in my broken language but I was only half sure what we were talking about. But every one seeped in somehow and slowly my brain was accepting this new form of communication.
Then I got really lucky. One evening (still early in my time there) while waiting for a friend outside her school (she was teaching an English class) I was watching a television match in a shop window. There was another guy there also watching the match, and it turned out that he was waiting for his girlfriend who was inside and was one of my friend’s students. We started talking in the usual mime/stone age man-type language, and when they came out we all went for a beer together. This marked the beginning of my friendship with Emilio and Maria Jose.
Every Friday they invited me out with their large group of friends. I remember the first ten minutes always going well, everybody sober, talking slowly to me and me listening intently, trying to follow the conversation. Then the beers kept coming and the conversation got faster, the lights got brighter and everything became more garbled. People would look at me and see that I didn’t understand and would stop the group to bring me up to date but I hated that as I felt that I was ruining the dynamic of the group. I didn’t want them to stop just to keep me up to date.
Learning a language can be lonely
I felt lonely. I was surrounded by friends, but they were friends who I couldn’t really communicate with apart from smiles and a nodding of my head.
I returned to Ireland for Christmas and when I went back in early January and something strange happened to me. I started to understand! It was if my absence for a couple of weeks had given my brain the time to digest all the backlog of new language I had, and it was now able to run past my lips with a degree of fluidity. Words I heard or read began to have meaning and I felt that I was no longer a beginner, but someone on a (slightly) higher rung of the language ladder.
Breaking through this barrier felt so good! I still had many problems understanding and expressing myself of course, but this was peppered with the joy of catching a word, or a difficult expression which I actually understood! I began to feel that their language was now also becoming my language. It was something we shared rather than something that separated us.
Speaking another language feels wonderful
This experience informs what I do today in my English classes. I feel that the job of the English teacher is to empower the learner. To give the learner ‘bullets’ for their ‘language gun’. I know the joy of being able to express oneself beautifully in another language (or at least thinking I do) and to be able to understand subtlety coming from someone else’s lips. When that happens, all the frustration and loneliness suffered at the beginning becomes worth it.
Often students say that they feel that they have stopped learning. That they have reached a plateau or even worse have regressed and are now understanding less. This, unfortunately, is the game of learning a language. It’s swings and roundabouts, highs and lows. But like all the great things in life you have to work. You have to suffer before the good stuff comes. And it does come… just ask anyone who has done it!
By John Ryan
Englishour fun quiz
1.What is the only US state with one syllable?
2. How did Shakespeare’s character Romeo die?
3. In which county in Ireland are the Cliffs of Moher?
4. What is the only muscle in the human body that is only attached at one end?
5. When did Ireland join the European Economic Union? 1973, 1983 or 1993?
6. How many dots are there on five dice?
7. What is ornithology the study of?
8. What is the national airline of the Netherlands?
9. By landmass, what is the biggest country in Africa?
10. The spire in Dublin is in the Guinness book of world records. Why?
11. How many pubs in Dublin?
12. What is the Italian sauce with tomato, leek and minced meat?
13. In which year was John Lennon murdered?
14. Now that Pluto is no longer included, how many planets are there in the Solar System?
15. What animal does the word “pooch” refer to?
16. Who wrote the Sherlock Holmes novels?
17. What is the name of the king who was beheaded during the French Revolution?
18. Denver is the capital of which US state?
19. How many stars are there on the North Korean Flag?
20. What is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea?
21. Where does the Irish President live?
22. Was Trinity College founded in 1592, 1692 or 1792?
23. Which is the only American state to begin with the letter ‘P’?
24. Which planet is closest to the sun?
25. Which screenwriter has received the most Oscar nominations?
26. Charlie Chaplin insured which part of his body?
27. In the American TV series “Breaking Bad” what subject did the lead male teach?
28. What are the three primary colours?
29. What type of pie is typically left out for Santa on Christmas Eve?
30. Which colour belt comes after white in karate?
31. What is the main export out of Cuba?
32. Who was the president of the United States in 2000?
33. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. What is special about this sentence?
34. What was the first James Bond book?
35. What do a saxophone, a sandwich, a jacuzzi and a biro have in common?
That’s it! Good luck!