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."