In the last post, I talked about sentence stress. Here's a nice example of a short listening with nice and clearly stressed content words.
Ok, I admit I do have a soft spot for Leo and I think his Oscar acceptance speech where he talks about climate change was great.
Here's what to do: Listen and try to note down all the important information. You can repeat this as many times as you like. (There might be some vocabulary you don't know, just leave that out or write what you think you heard.)
Then download the transcript I've written and check.
When you are listening to English-speakers, do you ever feel like they are eating their words? That's because of sentence stress.
English is different from many other languages (such as French, Turkish, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese and Japanese), because in a sentence, the words which contain the meaning of the sentence are stressed (emphasised with a slightly louder and longer accent) and the other words often become very short and almost disappear.
Understanding sentence stress can really help you with your listening skills.
Look at this - can you understand the meaning?
dfkjh leaving fdiusj office now cxzqwui qwsghj meet xcvb gkjhkl cinema zxdfg half zptwx hour.
Now here's the whole sentence:
I'm leaving the office now, shall we meet at the cinema in half an hour?
You probably understood the meaning, just from the words in bold. When the sentence is spoken, it's these words will be stressed.
Which means that when you listen to English, you should be able to understand the meaning by listening for the stressed words. Many of my students get frustrated that they can't understand every word (often because the speaker is "eating" a lot of the unstressed words), but actually it doesn't matter. If you can understand the stressed words, which are the easiest ones to hear, you will understand the meaning.
This is also how native English-speakers understand English. Our ears hear the stressed words and our brains recreate the whole sentence.
My top tip for listening? Relax, let your ears pick out the stressed word.
Here's another song, with a different kind of exercise to do this time:
1. Watch the first video and describe what is happening in the video. Use this as an opportunity to activate as much vocabulary as possible (and look up some new vocabulary if you need to.)
2. Now watch the second video and compare.
A leading British supermarket, Tesco, has declared it will no longer sell curved croissants, only straight croissants. The reason? Tesco's customers have problems spreading butter and jam onto the curved croissants.
Anyone who lives in France will find this very bizarre. For a start, why would you spread butter on something that is already made of about 50% butter? And secondly, you don't actually need to spread jam on it. A good croissant can be eaten on its own, or dipped in some coffee or hot chocolate. If you really need some sugar, you can break pieces off and dip them into the jam.
Interestingly, in France, by law, a straight croissant must be made from all butter, not margarine or any other fat, whereas curved croissants can contain fats other than butter. So straight croissants are actually the posher and more expensive croissants. I wonder if Tesco's customers are aware of that!
Read more about the croissant debate here.
Today's song is an old one (even older than I am!) but the lyrics are timeless: A father trying to give advice to his son.
Download the worksheet for the lyrics and some questions. And please feel free to let me know if there's a song you would like to see on the blog!
Being a perfectionist can be a good thing, but if you are trying to learn a language, it is very unhelpful.
Perfectionists get frustrated that they can't learn to speak a language perfectly in record time. They tend to get annoyed with themselves for forgetting vocabulary or for not understanding every word of a text or a film. And speaking is very stressful, as they know that what they are saying is not perfect.
Learning a language takes time. You won't speak perfect English 3 months after you start studying. And you will make plenty of mistakes, have some embarrassing misunderstandings and make a fool of yourself when you talk about the taxi screwdriver (instead of the taxi driver. Yes, this is a real mistake.)
There is a theory of language learning which says that if you are anxious or stressed, you actually learn less than if you are relaxed. Your perfectionism is making it more difficult for you to learn.
So if you are a perfectionist, what can you do?
Before you read the article, here is the title with some vocabulary:
Long lunch: Spanish civil servant skips work for years without anyone noticing
Long lunch is just like it says, when you take a long time for your lunch break and enjoy a good lunch. In the UK, people very often eat sandwiches or a packed lunch at their desk. In other countries, this would be unthinkable. I don't know anyone in France who would ever do this.
A civil servant is someone who works for the government.
skip work is when you don't go to work. You can skip anything that you have planned to do - work, school, a class, going to the gym...
Now read the article and then try the vocabulary exercise below.
Match the words from the article with the definition:
Vocabulary practice - answer the questions
1. Where is bullying often a problem?
2. What age do people usually retire in your country?
3. Which department usually hires people and deals with the payroll?
4. What happens if someone is sidelined at work?
A song about the subjunctive and second conditionals doesn't sound too fun, but actually it's a great song by Beyoncé, if i were a boy.
Why do we say if i were a boy and not if i was a boy?
This is an example of the subjunctive. The subjunctive is used for unreal situations, and as they are unreal, there is no time. We don't use the subjunctive a lot in English (luckily for anyone learning English) and if I were is probably the most common.
If I were is a past subjunctive. Usually you don't notice the past subjunctive as it is the same as the past simple - if I won the lottery, won is actually a subjunctive here. You notice the verb be, because the subjunctive of be is were for every person.
Anyway, here's Beyoncé and a gap-fill exercise to go with the song. And if you want to know more about the present subjunctive, keep reading below the video.
Advanced grammar: the present subjunctive.
The present subjunctive is rare in conversation. It's quite formal and you'll see it more in writing.
The present subjunctive is the infinitive without to. You can often find it after verbs such as insist, suggest, recommend:
I insisted he try some of the chocolate cake.
I suggest you listen to this song.
The doctor recommended he not play sport for a month.
We also use it after certain adjectives like vital, essential, important.
It's essential that everyone arrive on time for the exam.
It's important that you be ready when the lawyer arrives.
Some common phrases are also examples of the subjunctive:
Rest in peace.
The good news - you don't really need to know the present subjunctive. Most English-speaking people don't even use it correctly. But next time you read a strange sentence like it's essential that the car be waiting at the airport, you'll know it's not a mistake!
I'm a huge fan of TED talks and for anyone trying to improve their English listening and vocabulary, TED is a great resource. Every talk has subtitles available in many different languages, and each talk also has an interactive transcript.
What's the best way to use TED talks to improve your English? Here are the steps to follow:
If you'd like to try my method, here is an absolutely beautiful TED talk about animals with some amazing photographs, by wildlife photographer Frans Lanting. It is also a chance to hear excellent English being spoken by a non-native speaker. (He is from the Netherlands.)
My blog has changed! If you're looking for my English-practice exercises, they're all still here, just look in the archives.
Catherine: blogging about learning, language, culture, France and more...