Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Conditionals: Review

In this 8-minute video, teacher Brian Rhodes reviews the three most frequent types of conditional sentences.

In the following short video from Real English, you can hear native speakers responding to the question, "What would you do if you had ten million dollars (or pounds)?" This is the second (nonpast unreal) conditional.

The last video features clips of song lyrics that use the conditional. It includes all kinds of music: new, old, country, etc.

Reported Speech and Quoted Speech

Jennifer Lebedev explains about reported speech in this 10-minute introductory lesson:

In the second of the series, Jennifer discusses the changes we make when turning quoted speech into reported speech. The video is about eleven minutes long.

In the third lesson in the series, Jennifer talks about the "sequence-of-tenses rule"--how verbs change when we report someone else's speech.

Monday, November 23, 2009

If the World Were a Village of 100 People (Unreal Conditionals)

This video is one of many that try to make world population statistics more meaningful by imagining that the entire population of the world is one village of 100 people.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gerunds and Gerund Phrases

A gerund is the -ing form of a verb that functions as a noun in a sentence: as the subject, direct object, or object of a preposition. Like infinitives, gerunds are verbals.

"Yossarian the Grammarian", aka Mr. Thoth, explains gerunds and gerund phrases in this video:

In the next video, gerund phrases tell you what you see as you listen to an old rock and roll song about a Honda motorcycle.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Harder They Come (Jimmy Cliff)

Jimmy Cliff, reggae musician from Jamaica, wrote and originally recorded this classic song in 1972. Notice the "double comparative."

Oh, yeah, well, they tell me of a pie up in the sky
Waiting for me when I die
But between the day you're born and when you die
They never seem to hear even your cry

So as sure as the sun will shine
I'm gonna get my share now, what's mine
And then the harder they come
The harder they'll fall
One and all
Ooh, the harder they come
The harder they'll fall
One and all

Well the oppressors are trying to keep me down
Trying to drive me underground
And they think that they have got the battle won
I say, forgive them Lord, they know not what they've done


And I keep on fighting for the things I want
Though I know that when you're dead you can't
But I'd rather be a free man in my grave
Than living as a puppet or a slave


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Comparatives and Superlatives

Listen to native English speakers from the United States, Scotland, and England being interviewed about what they think is the biggest city and the most beautiful language. This video was filmed by Mike Marzio of the Marzio School in France.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Modals (review)

John of LearnAmericanEnglish explains the basics in this video:

In the next video, John focuses on progressive modals:

In the following video, John explains about passive modals:

Below, John talks about using be able to with modals.

Adjective Clauses (review)

Here is a very simple explanation of the basics of adjective clauses:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Adverb Clauses

Here is a very simple explanation of some of the types of adverb clauses in English:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lessons on the Passive Voice

To review what you learned today about the passive voice, watch this video by Jennifer Lebedev, aka "JenniferESL":

In this second video, Jennifer shows you how to make a passive sentence using an indirect object, rather than a direct object. (In the sentence, Michael made his wife a birthday cake, his wife is the indirect object; a birthday cake is the direct object.)

Smart Teaching Online reviews the same information in a simpler way in this video:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Danger of a Single Story

Listen to Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie's speech at TED in July of this year. Adichie's thesis is that we tend to stereotype other people if we know only one story (aspect) about them, so it is important to learn many different stories about others. She ends her speech with these words: "Stories have been used to dispossess and malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity."

Adichie tells several stories in her TED speech. You can go directly to those narratives from here by clicking on the Open interactive transcript link to the right of the words About this talk. When you click anywhere in the transcript, the video will begin again at that part of the speech.

Try clicking on the following:
1. The beginning: "I'm a storyteller...." The narrative begins with "I grew up on a university campus in eastern Nigeria."
2. "I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family...." The narrative begins with "So the year I turned eight, we got a new houseboy."
3. "But I must quickly add that I too am just as guilty...." The narrative begins with "A few years ago, I visited Mexico...."
4. "I recently spoke at a university...."

There are many other small anecdotes throughout the entire speech. Perhaps you will have time to listen to all of it at home.

As you listen, observe the use of the various verb tenses and aspects.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An example of a narrative speech

Watch this short TED video in which William Kamkwamba narrates the extraordinary story of how he brought power to his village in Malawi. Notice William's use of simple past and past perfect. (William is not a native speaker of English, and he makes a few mistakes in tense. Can you find them?) Also, observe his use of time expressions ("Before that time," "that day", "then", "right now", "today", "one year," "in 2001", and "within five months". Use the subtitles if you need to. (Note: If you want to read the interactive transcript of William's talk, you must go to

Friday, October 2, 2009

Using Verb Forms in the Real World

Notice how the present and past tenses, simple, progressive, and perfect aspects, and modal auxiliaries combine to create meaning in the following excerpt from today's Washington Post.

Dark blue: present simple
Light blue: present progressive
Purple: present perfect
Dark green: past simple
Light green: Past progressive
Orange: future
Brown: modal auxiliary

'You Just Turn Your Head and Wait'
With Suicides, Train Engineers Long Haunted by Horror, Helplessness

By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009

Bruce Evans has learned to look away. Hoping to keep his mind free of yet another image that will linger for a lifetime, he has learned to avert his eyes as his train barrels down on a person on the tracks. In 20 years at the controls of Amtrak locomotives, Evans has watched a dozen fatalities unfold in agonizing close-up.

"After the first time you strike somebody, you just turn your head and wait for the impact," said Evans, an engineer based out of Washington's Union Station.

The first one was sitting on a quiet stretch of rail near Weldon, N.C., a man ignoring Evans's frantic horn blasts, waiting for a locomotive roaring at 75 mph to end his despair. "When I looked in the mirror, he was tumbling in the air, just flying," Evans said. "I can see it as clearly as if it was happening in front of me right now."

Colorfast mental snapshots of horror, a sense of overwhelming helplessness, sympathy and sometimes anger -- these are the aftershocks that engineers and subway train operators report from their special perch as unwilling agents of sudden death. Eight people have jumped in front of Metro trains in 2009, the most in recent years, and inches from each of those horrific scenes, barely mentioned in the news, sits a traumatized driver who will be forever entangled with a stranger's demise. It is an intimacy none of them sought.

"It's such a mixture of both anger and compassion, I don't know where one ends and the other starts," said Evans, who estimates that about half of his fatal strikes were suicides. "They're doing this to you, too. It's a hard thing to take home."

According to a British study, 16 percent of train operators involved in fatal incidents develop post-traumatic stress. For some, getting right back behind the controls is the best way to shake off the shadows of violence. For others, years of counseling are needed before they can return to everything they love about driving a train.

Some never do.

"Everyone reacts differently," Evans, 61, said. He told of a colleague who struck a mother and her four children on the tracks near Providence, R.I., a murder-suicide. "He never worked again."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Song: "I Will Survive"

A man leaves his girlfriend or wife; she is devastated at first, but after a while, she becomes stronger and learns how to get along in life without him. Then he comes back, expecting her to take him back--but she doesn't want him anymore. Gloria Gaynor made this song popular in the 1970s, but it's still a great song! Read the lyrics, paying attention to the different verb tenses.

At first I was afraid
I was petrified
Kept thinking I could never live
Without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights
Thinking how you did me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along

And so you're back
From outer space
I just walked in to find you here
With that sad look upon your face
I should have changed that stupid lock
I should have made you leave your key
If I'd have known for just one second
You'd be back to bother me

Go on, now go
Walk out the door
Just turn around now
'Cause you're not welcome anymore
Weren't you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye
Did you think I'd crumble?
Did you think I'd lay down and die?
Oh no, not I--

I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love
I know I'll stay alive
I've got all my life to live
I've got all my love to give
And I'll survive
I will survive, hey hey

It took all the strength I had
Not to fall apart
Kept trying hard to mend
The pieces of my broken heart
And I spent oh so many nights
Just feeling sorry for myself
I used to cry
But now I hold my head up high

And you see me
Somebody new
I'm not that chained-up little person
Still in love with you
And so you felt like dropping in
And just expect me to be free
But now I'm saving all my loving
For someone who's loving me

Go on, now go
Walk out the door
Just turn around now
'Cause you're not welcome anymore
Weren't you the one who tried to break me with goodbye
Did you think I'd crumble?
Did you think I'd lay down and die?
Oh no, not I--

I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love
I know I'll stay alive
I've got all my life to live
I've got all my love to give
And I'll survive
I will survive, oh

Go on, now go
Walk out the door
Just turn around now
'Cause you're not welcome anymore
Weren't you the one who tried to break me with goodbye
Did you think I'd crumble?
Did you think I'd lay down and die?
Oh no, not I--

I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love
I know I'll stay alive
I've got all my life to live
I've got all my love to give
And I'll survive
I will survive
I will survive...


Now watch the video of Gloria Gaynor singing "I Will Survive."

The Difference Between WILL + V and BE GOING + TO V

Briefly, we use will and be going interchangeably when we make predictions, like "What is the weather going to be like tomorrow?" = "What will the weather be like tomorrow?" There is no difference in meaning when we make predictions.

On the other hand, when we speak of things we plan to do (we have a prior intention to do something, or we have already decided to do something), we do not use will; we use be going. For example, "What is Christopher going to do when he graduates?" asks about Christopher's intention or plan.

Finally, when we decide on the spur of the moment to do something (like helping someone), we use will, but never be going. For example, if the telephone rings and you are closest to it, you may tell others in the room, "I'll get it."

Watch the video by RebeccaESL to review these concepts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Verb Forms for Present Time

On Tuesday, we talked about time frames; actions, events, and facts; and how speakers view actions and events (as being in progress or as being habitual). Canadian ESL teacher Rebecca explains these concepts again in the following video. After you watch the video, please leave a comment or a question.

Present Simple and Present Progressive

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Parts of Speech

There are different kinds of words in a sentence; we call them parts of speech. Each part of speech has a different role in an English sentence.

  1. Nouns are the names of people, places, things, or ideas. (Ex.: woman, country, pencil, thought)
  2. Pronouns replace nouns. (Ex.: I, us, this, one, everybody)
  3. Verbs express actions or states of being. (Ex.: run, learn, appear)
  4. Adjectives modify nouns. (Ex.: high, Italian, interesting)
  5. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, or whole sentences. (Ex.: suddenly, tomorrow, very, moreover)
  6. Prepositions show relationships between nouns. (Ex.: to, over, instead of)
  7. Conjunctions connect words, phrases, or clauses in a sentence. (and, or, because, unless)
  8. Interjections (also known as exclamations) express emotion. They are usually not part of the sentence structure. (Ex.: oh, yuck)
Watch this short video by Paige Carrera to see some more examples. (Ms. Carrera is a certified tutor in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.) Can you point out her mistake? Which kind of word is not in the sample sentence? (Leave a comment on the blog.)