The Loony English Language


Some of the oddities of the English language:

  • There are no eggs in eggplants, no ham in hamburger and neither apple or pine in pineapple.
  • English muffins weren’t invented in England or French Fries in France.
  • Quicksand works slowly
  • Boxing Rings are square
  • A guinea pig is not from Guinea nor is it a pig.
  • And why do writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese so one moose, two meese? Sorry but no!
  • Why can you make amends but not one amend?
  • If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
  • If vegetarians eat vegetables what does a humanitarian eat?
  • How come a slim chance and a fat chance mean the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?
  • Why do you ship something by lorry, send cargo by ship or have a nose that runs and feet that smell?
  • Why is it that when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible?



Introducing the phonemic chart

Although the teacher is central in introducing the phonemic chart, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the student cannot be encouraged to be pro-active in independent learning of the sounds.  A little bit of teacher-guidance to encourage the students to develop familiarity with the chart in a way that is non-threatening can empower the student and facilitate autonomous learning to reinforce classroom activities.   Adrian Underhill suggests a two-stage process of introducing, then integrating the chart, while moving from teacher-led instruction (model, drill) to autonomous controlled practice. The following (taken from British Council East Asia Digital Blog) is an example:

1.)    Target: distinguishing between two sounds in isolation: /ɪ/ and /e/

  • Stage: introducing the chart
  • Teacher models each sound several times, one at a time, pointing to it on the chart. Learners listen and repeat each time.
    Teacher points to each sound to prompt learners to speak.
    Teacher models each sound again and learners point to the sound on the chart.
    Learners point to each sound to prompt teacher to speak (to clarify their understanding and receive sufficient modeling).
    Learners pronounce each sound and teacher indicates what they said using a pointer (e.g. teacher points to the boundaries of the two sounds if they produce an utterance bordering on correct pronunciation, or a non-native English sound).
    Learners repeat this activity with each other in pairs / groups.

2.)    Target: distinguishing between similar vowel and consonant sounds at word level: “chair, share, chore, shore, cheer, shear”

  • Stage: integrating the chart
  • Teacher writes all words on board and asks learners how they think they’re pronounced.
    Teacher points out each individual sound in the first word, chair: /ʧ –  e –  ə/, showing formation of diphthong /eə/ from two vowel sounds.
    Teacher points again to each individual sound in succession, pausing to hear students’ pronunciation.
    Teacher repeats procedure for targeted sounds (consonant or vowel) until all the phonemes in each word have been elicited in this manner (e.g. share: /ʃ – e – ə /, chore: /ʧ – ɔ:/, shore: /ʃ – ɔ:/, etc.)
    In pairs, learners point out different sound sequences for the words on the board, using the chart and eliciting the correct word pronunciation from their partner.
    Teacher points to a word on the board, a learner pronounces it and teacher traces the sounds (correct or not) produced by that student on the chart. Learners correct themselves if needed.
    A learner selects a word on the board, another pronounces it and a third student traces the sounds on the chart with a pointer, in place of the teacher.

3.)    Target: word level pronunciation for new target vocabulary: “thunder”

  • Stage: integrating the chart
  • Learner selects an unknown word from a new text and writes it on the board. e.g. thunder
    Teacher asks each learner how they think it is pronounced, one at a time.
    Whole class listens to the different opinions and decides on correct pronunciation.
    Teacher confirms, improves or corrects pronunciation by pointing out correct sequence of sounds on the chart, pausing on each sound to elicit it.
    Learners repeat each sound slowly at first and then at normal pace.
    Teacher says whole word to confirm pronunciation and learners repeat.
    Learners work in pairs, pointing to each target word, while eliciting the correct word pronunciation from their partner or tracing the correct sound sequence on the chart.


Random spelling tips


  • facial, racial, glacial, residential, marital, partial, influential, special
  • When do we spell the suffix cial and when is it spelt tial?
  • Answer: cial after a vowel and tial after a consonant

BUT…there are exceptions (surprise surprise!) – financial, spatial, commercial,  provincial, initial and finally controversial (there are probably more lurking around somewhere but you get the general idea)

  • f/ph/gh??
  • Generally f is found in shorter words (one or maximum 2 syllables) ie: fox, fate, food, fabric etc
  • In words of 3 syllables or more f becomes ph (originally Greek) ie: geography, atmosphere, physician, amphibian etc
  • ph (sounded as f) occurs only in a very few words ie: enough, tough, laugh, trough, rough, cough

BUT…there are exceptions: feminine, felony, fabulous, furniture etc..

We double l, f and s after a single short vowel at the end of a word ie:  call, tall, toss, miss, stiff (notable tiresome exceptions:) bus ,us, gas, of, this, yes

ck may only be used after a single (short) vowel at the end of a syllable or root word (ie: track, pick, wreckage, rocket)

When w comes before or the word is often pronounced /ɜː/ ie: wɜːm, wɜːth/ wɜːk  etc

Words ending in a single vowel or a single consonant always double the last consonant before adding the suffix ie: stop/stopped, swim/swimming/, flat, flatter etc.

When g is followed by i, e or y it is pronounced j, otherwise it is pronounced g as in gold ie: gentle, giant, gymnastic, good, gallon, guide, glass (exceptions include: get, give, gear, gift etc)

Drop the final e from a root word when the inflection starts with a vowel, but keep it before a consonant ie:  love, loving, lovely, drive, driving, driver,  grace, graceful etc.

ti, ci and si are three spellings most frequently used to pronounce sh at the beginning of all syllables except the first.

Almost no words in English end in v and none end in j (spiv being the exception!)

ous at the  end of a word often means ‘full of’ ie; gracious (full of grace), spacious (full of space), famous, furious, dangerous (you get the point)

er and or endings, most common everyday words end in er.  (If in doubt, use or when the meaning of the word is ‘one who’ or ‘that which’ (author, director, instructor, indicator, conveyor etc)

easy now isn’t it?





Learning Styles

Theories for learning TEFL methodology

By International Teacher Training Organization

  1. There are many theories on learning TEFL methodology. What we can conclude is that when we learn something, some sort of change has occurred within us. Also, we know that learning occurs through life and although it often takes place in a social context, it is a highly individualized process; we all have different learning styles. Theories on language learning and teaching evolve from the fields of psychology and linguistics.
  2. One of the most recognized theories on learning called Behaviorism is based partly on the conditioned-reflex experiments by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist. Part of the theory in practice consists of providing a stimulus to cause a given response in a repetitive manner. American B.F. Skinner used these experiments to help create a therapy of behavior modification called conditioning. The audio-lingual language learning approach came about as a result of this learning theory; it involved a lot of listen/repeat exercises, transformation drills, and positive reinforcement.
  3. Another relevant learning theory is known as Developmental Psychology, partially credited to Jean Piaget, who determined that learning takes place in four very predictable, sequential, innately determined stages. He made groundbreaking strides in early childhood development studies, and his experiments have been implemented with people of all ages. Some of his theories carry over into the realm of language learning and acquisition. He believed that language acquisition develops mainly from a combination or developmental readiness stages, social interaction, and an individual’s unique interpretation process.
  4. Piaget’s theories led to the beginning of the Cognitive Learning Theories which considered behaviorism way too simplistic in explaining human learning. These theories establish that human beings learn through experiences – a life-long series of trial and error. Interpretation of experiences can lead to understanding or insight. That is, a human being goes through progressive cognitive experiences acquiring knowledge along the way with which to diagnose and solve problems. This process of figuring things out is more than just responding to a stimulus. These principles led to more humanistic approaches in language learning.
  5. Whether one agrees with previous theories for learning TEFL methodology or not, the important implication in a course of EFL  is that students learn -and acquire- a given language by means of eclectic (combination) approaches. Also, they learn and acquire language without even being aware of the existence of learning principles embedded in different learning theories.
  6. As we learn relevant elements of the theories for learning TEFL methodology and methodology necessary to become a language teacher, each one of us will come to the realization that the combination of theoretical preparation and teaching experience is the key element that will produce a good English language teacher. The teacher will choose and work with whatever materials, techniques and steps that work well for the learner, regardless of the theory of learning.

Mixed Conditionals


Course materials usually teach that conditional sentences consist of two clauses – a MAIN (CONDITIONAL) clause containing a verb in a form with WILL or WOULD and a SUBORDINATE clause introduced by IF. Generally, the two clauses are separated by a comma if we begin with the IF clause.  We don’t use a comma when we begin with the conditional clause.

In casual conversation if is hardly pronounced and the vowel disappears entirely.  A phrase like if I were you is pronounced /faɪwəjuː/

This is when the time in the IF clause is different to time of the result.

PAST                                    PRESENT

If I had studied harder,   /    I would be at university
If he had been to  Cyprus, / he would’ve  known they drive on the left

PAST                                                       FUTURE

If I had got that job,                     /          I’d be starting tomorrow
If I had been born in England,   /         I wouldn’t have to go to the embassy
If she had saved some money,   /         She’d be joining us on the trip

PRESENT                                             PAST

If I spoke German,  /                               I would have gone to work in Berlin
If I lived in England,     /                         I would’ve gone to the Olympics
If I was a gardener,      /                          I would’ve bought a garden


Complete the following sentences with a future or present result:

If I had won the lottery, ……………………………………………….

If I had studied harder, ……………………………………………….

If I had learnt Spanish, ………………………………………………..

If I had been born in a different country, ………………………………….

Complete with a present result:

If I lived in Russia, …………………………………………

If I was taller, ……………………………………………….

If I was prettier, …………………………………………….

If I could cook, ………………………………………………

Write the following phrases onto flashcards and distribute them around the class.  Get the students to finish off their phrases with present or future results:

If Stalin hadn’t ruled Russia………………………

If I hadn’t learnt English…………………………..

If the Second World war hadn’t happened…………………….

If electricity hadn’t been discovered……………………………..

If the internet hadn’t been invented…………………………….

Choose an appropriate video clip from you tube (i.e. Mr Bean driving on the roof of his car or Mr Bean at the swimming pool).  Get the students to watch the video.  Each then has to write out the first part of a conditional sentence, either in the past or present eg:If Mr Bean was clever, If he wasn’t scared of heights, If he hadn’t gone to the swimming pool, if the lifeguard hadn’t stopped him etcThe other students then have to complete the sentences with mixed conditional phrases, so if the first part of the sentence is in the present tense, the second part needs to be in the past and vice versa.

Passive Tense

The passive tense offers you short-cuts when you don’t want to say (or you can’t say) who or what the subject of a sentence is. And they allow you to present information in a different way to the normal

S > V > O
Subject Verb Object

pattern.  When you make a sentence passive, you put the object first.

However, too many passive sentences – especially in writing – can be tedious. They can give the impression that there is no real subject or that nobody is taking responsibility.

So what is a passive sentence?

Active: The police questioned George. = S, V, O
Passive: George was questioned by the police. = O, V, S

The passive is formed by the relevant tense of ‘to be’ + the past participle. The subject is indicated by the use of ‘by’. It could of course be omitted (George was questioned) if it is obvious who is doing the questioning.

Some more examples:

Active: They are painting the house.
Passive: The house is being painted (by them).

Active: Then you add the eggs.
Passive: Then the eggs are added.

Active: They have cut my hair.
Passive: My hair has been cut.

Active: The army delivered food and blankets.
Passive: Food and blankets were delivered by the army.

Active: We will never know the answer.
Passive: The answer will never be known.

Note that in some of these examples the subject is deleted in the passive. ‘By’ is only needed if the identity of the subject is important:

My hair has been cut.
My hair has been cut by Anne for the first time.

Here are some other examples, this time using modals. Note here the use of the passive infinitive without ‘to’:

Active: We must do something.
Passive: Something must be done.

Active: We should change the programme.
Passive: The programme should be changed.

Active: We could easily alter the arrangements.
Passive: Arrangements could easily be altered.

With the verbs ‘need’, ‘have’ and the modal ‘ought to’, the infinitive does take ‘to’:

Active: We need to find a solution.
Passive: A solution needs to be found.

Active: He has to do it.
Pasisve: It has to be done.

Active: We ought to say something.
Passive: Something ought to be said.

When making sentences passive, it is also common to use the verb ‘to have’ followed by the noun and the participle:

I just had my hair cut.
I had my car serviced.
I had my heart checked.

You can also use ‘get’, ‘see’ and ‘find’ with passives in some situations:

I got my ears pierced.
I saw my future taken from me. (helpless, can’t stop it)
I found my bank account emptied. (surprised discovery)

Look out also for passive constructions using ‘being’ + partciple. They are particularly common after state verbs like ‘enjoy’, ‘like’, ‘hate’:

I like being driven to work.
I enjoyed being read to.
I hate being interrupted.

Don’t confuse this with ‘been’ which indicates an event rather than a continuous activity:

Something should have been said at the meeting.
The room has been repainted.
I’ve been burgled!

Try these online exercises (with answers) on passives, varying levels:

Things to do with a text….apart from read it!

In most textbooks, reading tasks are limited to answering a few questions that come after the reading. And those questions often don’t actually teach or test comprehension.

When students answer comprehension questions after reading a text many of us teachers quickly move on to the next activity.  However, do we really know if the students have comprehended the text or just managed to match up the correct answers to the questions?  Also, have you never had the guilty realisation that there is so much more that you could do with a piece of text than just answer a few questions.  All those words….all those possibilities. Below are a few suggestions that I have picked up from various different websites and blog posts:

Ss can be asked to put words into order by class of word ie: find the adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, phrasal verbs, lexical chunks, tenses, passive speech, reported speech etc etc.

Ss can read through the text and identify any unfamiliar words, either underline them and then work with a partner to find the definitions or in small groups to discover if peers already know the meanings.

To introduce a competitive element ask students to pick out one word that they ‘like’ and see how many different ways it can be inflected ie: worth, worthy, worthiness, worthless, worthwhile etc.   To extend this activity, ask students to find synonyms of the word ie: worth – quality, value, price merit, importance etc. etc.  This game is has endless possibilities including antonyms, idioms using the word, collocations of etc etc.

Do a “jig-saw” reading. Before class, take the reading and cut the paragraphs apart. Put them on the copy machine in the wrong order. It helps to put a box next to each paragraph for learners to write the numbers. It is also easier if you tell them which paragraph is first. Learners read and try to put the paragraphs in order. The ability to find the order shows the students and you that they’ve not only understood the words, they also understand the organization and relationships between ideas.

Much of reading is really “reading between the lines.” Learners need to understand the ideas behind the information in the text. Look for inference opportunities in the text. How does a given character feel about something? How do you know? Has that character ever been here or done this? How do you know. One good way to help them infer is to have the read part of the story. Stop them at a critical point and, in pairs have them predict what will happen next. This helps students make the jump to inferencing.

Deciding fact/opinion, same/different, etc. Later, if you want, it can include higher level decisions like agree/disagree or good/bad. Students make some kind of decision. At an elementary level, it can be as simple as asking the learner, “What character is the most like you? Why?” At a higher level, have them find elements in the story that do or don’t parallel their own lives. They have to explain why.

After a reading, simply ask the students, “Did you like this story or not? Why?” Being able to answer is a true test of understanding. One good way to get at this is to ask each learner to draw a picture of one scene from the story.  When they complete their drawings they can turn to the person next to them and explain the pictures. it in.  Group feedback can include perhaps voting for their favourite drawing and explaining why.

And if you are feeling really lazy you can always ask the students to read the text and, in pairs invent questions related to the readings to ask their fellow students.

….I wonder if I can  make one text last a whole week?

Digital literacies

Popular task types:

  • webquests
  • image searches (also good for smartphones/handheld devices)
  • voice recording (again on smartphones/handheld devices)
  • class/group blogs
  • video clips (as springboards, students preparing their own clips and activities)

Links (live links and the URL) :

Cool Speech is cool

In my continuing teacher development I have tried, not always successfully, to become familiar with the myriad of online applications promoting SLA from interactive self access sites to the endless variety of websites that we can access for ideas.  I have always been a bit wary of technology in the classroom (always putting myself firmly in the land of the luddites).  However, I am determined not to be defeated by progress and after attending an IATEFL PronSig event came across a great IPAD app that I have used lots of times.  The app is called ‘Cool Speech’ and was created by Richard Cauldwell.   As it is an IPAD app (and I have no idea how I could link this up to an IWB for example) I have only used it in one-to-one lessons as the small IPAD screen negates its use in a large classroom. At the conference I attended there was a particular emphasis on receptive pronunciation activities as opposed to productive pronunciation and I think that this app is ideal for providing good examples of authentic speech spoken spontaneously, with good listening exercises for learners of an intermediate level and above.

The last time I used this app in a lesson was with a French student of B2 level who said that wanted to practise his pronunciation. As he often misunderstood me (as he was unfamiliar with my northern accent) I thought that he would also benefit from a couple of lessons using the Cool Speech App as there is also an emphasis on comprehension. The student had the option of choosing a character who he wanted to listen to (there are 8 options) and then he listened to that character responding briefly to a question.  In itself this activity is no different to any listening activity available on a CD or tape, however the follow up tasks in which the learner can ‘explore’ each sentence is, I think quite unique. For example,  the character’s spoken response is then broken down into chunks providing tasks on different parts of the speech ie: word stress, prominent and non-prominent syllables, rthythm and intonation etc. It explores the elements of speech in more detail than any other listening activity that I have done in the past and gives the learner the opportunity to really listen to, and practise different components of the sentence at a comfortable speed. (The sentences in the listening tasks can be slowed down or speeded up by the learner). There is also a section on the individual vowel and consonant sounds within a sentence that can be repeated as many times as required by the learner. I think that the French learner I used this app with really enjoyed the exercises on the app and found them quite challenging even though he considered himself a competent speaker. Finally, another advantage of this app is that it can be used autonomously by the learner for further practice outside of the classroom.

Reflection app for PC : Show your iPad on your IWB screen