Tag Archives: british English

Hallelujah!!

Good news, everyone! The Royal British Academy has finally succumbed to the pressure of billions of non-native speakers of English and has changed one of the features of the English language that cause the most trouble to these people: the irregular verbs.

Everyone who has ever studied the Past and Perfect tenses in English knows what a nightmare it can be to memorize all those irregular forms of the verbs, both in their past form and in their past participle form.

Of course it is difficult, because there are absolutely no rules you can apply to help you remember them. For instance, why is it that ‘bring’ goes ‘bring- brought- brought’ and ‘ring’ goes ‘ring- rang- rung’? Don’t they both end in ‘ing’? What about ‘show’? It pretends to be regular, because its past form is ‘showed’, but then it shows its true face, and the past participle goes ‘shown’! No way!

So it was to put an end to this torture that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, along with the Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, has finally convincend the High Board of the Royal British Academy to abolish irregular verbs from the English language. Quoting the new rule, which was written on the Great Book Of English, “As per request of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, the declination of verbs into the past and past participle forms is henceforth banned from the English language”.

What does this mean to you, English student? No more time wasted memorizing endless lists of crazy verbs! Some examples: the past and past participle of ‘go’ (the second and the third columns, as they are usually referred to) will become simple ‘goed’. Likewise, ‘buy’ will now be ‘buyed’, ‘see’ will be ‘seed’ and ‘fly’ will be ‘flied’ (you still have to follow the spelling rules though).

So throw your books away and enjoy!

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For those of you who haven’t noticed yet, this post is just an April Fool’s prank! I know that this particular piece of news would make a whole lot of students happy, and I thought, ‘why not?’… I hope you haven’t gotten too downhearted to realize you will still have to memorize irregular verbs for many many years to come…

But come on, it’s not that hard!

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Pro-nun-ci-a-tion

I can’t talk enough about the importance of pronunciation when you are speaking English, or any foreign language, for that matter. Would you like to know why?

Because a non-native speaker of any language depends much more upon a clear pronunciation of the individual sounds*  and on the syllable stress** than native speakers. That is because native speakers’ brains are so used to listening to that particular language that they are able to “fill in the blanks” and understand practically everything they hear, as long as the intonation*** and rhythm**** are right.

It’s quite easy to see this feature in action when you are talking to someone in your own mother tongue. Let’s say you’re at a bar, having a beer with your pals; that’s a pretty noisy environment, but you’re still able to maintain a conversation with them, even if you can’t make out every single word they say, right? That’s because your brain is being kind enough to process the clues of intonation and rhythm, and putting together fragments of words so that you can make some sense out of what you hear. You don’t need your friends to articulate every single sound perfectly, even because after a few beers, that isn’t even possible…

Now, you certainly don’t have that much time to be immersed in an English-speaking environment to allow you brain to achieve that same level of proficiency in puzzle solving. So when you are talking to another English speaker, whether native or not, you pay close attention to the articulation of each sound, and to where the stressed syllable is, and if you hear a sound that doesn’t match the version of a word you have heard and learnt before, you feel like you don’t know that particular word, or you might even get completely lost.

Well, let’s say you’re speaking to another non-native speaker of English, maybe face to face, or over the radio, why not? That person is going through the same process you went through, and may not even have the same linguistic level that you have, so what will come out of that mix? Slower communication, for sure, and possibly a miscommunication. We don’t want that to happen, do we?

So you have to be the agent of change here, and make and effort to pronounce words correctly, to articulate each sound clearly and to imitate the rhythm and intonation of the listening materials available on the market. Because if everyone does their job, we can mitigate the risks of communication breakdowns, which are potentially dangerous in any environment, let alone aviation.

Oh, and before I forget, you can keep your Brazilian accent, all right? Some people are more “musical” and are able to mimic accents easily and naturally and we often feel jealous of that ability. But what we’re trying to achieve is intelligible and clear pronunciation, not a perfect American or British accent. Unless you are born again in the US or in the UK, your mother tongue will always be Portuguese and you shouldn’t be ashamed of that!

Here are some links that will help you improve your pronunciation:

How do you pronounce that word?

Pronunciation practice

*phonemes
** some call it word stress, it’s the position of the “strong” syllable in a word
*** the rising and falling sounds in a sentence, e.g. rising intonation at thye end of yes/no questions
**** also called sentence stress, it refers to the “strong” words in a sentence, that usually carry its meaning

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Does grammar matter?

I read this post a few days ago and found it extremely thought-provoking. Read it and think about it.

Im my opinion, grammar does matter. The question is, how much does it matter, and when?

This video, which is embedded in the post, is also very very interesting.

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It’s not always your fault

Do you feel frustrated when you can’t understand a few lines in a really interesting movie you’re watching? Or when you miss some words of that cool song everyone’s been listening to lately? How about when you travel abroad and feel like you’re under water because everyone’s accent seems so different from what you expected? Let alone when you try to ask the guide something and he just looks at you like you’re from outer space! Ok. Count to ten, take a deep breath, let it out, and get ready to read something that will make you feel better:

it’s not always your fault.

Yes, my friend, it’s that simple. All those times you felt like the tiniest living being on the face of the Earth, you were just fretting over nothing. Because, the movie? Didn’t you realize that the characters were all speaking at the same time?  Maybe you weren’t even supposed to understand that line clearly. And the song? Do you know how many times the singer had to record that part so it came out correctly? It’s not easy to say that many words in such a short time. And the trip abroad? Are you sure all those people were locals? I’ll tell you, the hardest thing to find in New York is a New Yorker! You may think everybody was born in that area, but you might be talking to people from all over the world, with a wide variety of accents. And the tour guide? Do you have any idea how many questions these guys answer everyday? Maybe he was thinking about the pizza he was going to have with his girlfriend later on and didn’t even hear you, but was embarrassed to ask you to repeat.

Hey, I’m not letting you off the hook here! I’m not saying that you always speak perfect English, with a perfectly clear pronunciation and that you should always be able to understand what everyone’s saying. All I’m saying is: it’s not always your fault. You shouldn’t beat yourself up just because you didn’t get what someone said or someone didn’t get what you said. Just remember all the times this has happened when you were speaking your mother tongue.

How many times have you had to ask someone to repeat what they’ve just said – in Portuguese?! Until fairly recently I thought the lyrics to Rita Lee’s “Lança Perfume” went: Lança menina/ Lança todo esse perfume/De baratinha/ Não dá prá ficar imune. That song came out when I was 8 years old, how could I know what ‘desbaratina’ meant? What does it mean anyway? And don’t get me started on Legião Urbana…

And I always tell my students what happened to me when I was in England for the first time. I was staying at a youth hostel (good old times when I was a youth!) and I wanted to try the typical British breakfast. Call me crazy, but I was excited to eat that heavy food first thing in the morning. The problem was: there was a breakfast buffet, and I wasn’t quite sure what was typical and what wasn’t. We had to order the food from a lady who commanded the buffet, so I asked her in my most perfect International English: “please, I’ll have a typical English breakfast”! For the life of her the girl could not understand what I was saying! After repeating and rephrasing it a few times, I asked the guy beside me to just say the same thing. He did. And she got him perfectly. You know what she told me? “Sorry, love, I don’t speak your language!” (I’m pretty sure she wasn’t a native speaker of English herself, and wasn’t used to accents other than the ones she heard everyday).

So, my point is: if you’re having trouble understanding or being understood, keep trying until you succeed, but even if you don’t, don’t blame yourself. It’s not always your fault!

Please don’t take this as encouragement to stop studying…

 

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Do not unfasten your seatbelts

Don’t like Carnival? Enjoy this funny video by Monty Python.

Are you able to identify all the commands they give the passengers?

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