English practice for food-lovers and movie-lovers

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Has it really been two weeks since I posted? I’m sorry! I’ve had car trouble and lots of other things going on. Here are two interesting sites that combine culture, images, sound, and reading:

  • Mercury News Photo: Bite is a collection of audio “slideshows” from the San Jose Mercury News. Each entry has a series of photos, with audio. The person speaking is a restaurant-owner or chef, who will tell you about the restaurant and show you images of their delicious food. Near the bottom right, there is a CAPTIONS button you can click. It won’t show you what the speaker is saying, but it will tell you a little more about the image. You might want to watch the slide show twice: First, watch it with the sound off and just read the captions. Second, turn off the captions and watch the slideshow while listening to the audio. Mmm, looks delicious!
  • English Trailers is a site specifically for English language learners, using movie trailers (sometimes called “previews”). There are several different ways to use this website. Go to the menu under Site Menu and choose “Trailer List.” Pick a movie that you want to use and click on its name. Do the warm-up activities, then watch the trailer. After that, you can click on Activities (a menu between the two moving red arrows) to find more activities to do. This can help you make sure you understood the trailer.

P. S. The new version of my blogging program, WordPress, includes “tags.” I’ll be using tags to list more details about the posts, such as movies, pets, books, etc. I’ll continue to use the broad categories (culture, listening, reading, etc.) as well. It might take me a while to figure out the best way to do it, so please be patient with me. Thanks!

Don’t forget, you can always contact me to suggest what you would like me to write about, too.

Games and movies for study? Why not?

As you know, I believe in using enjoyable things to study. Movies and computer games are two great sources of English that can also be fun. Lots of English learners use movies to practice listening to English dialogue. The most popular way to do this is to watch a DVD with English dialogue and English subtitles. However, another technique that you can use is combining watching the movie and reading the script. The Internet Movie Script Database has hundreds of scripts to movies, and you can read them online without registering or downloading anything.

Play This Thing posts links to free games. Some of the games are just downloadable “demo” games, which don’t include the entire game. Others are full games, or cames that can be played entirely online. Most of the games are for computers, but there are a few others, including at least one “tabletop RPG” (role-playing game). The explanations use complicated English, and some of the games do too. But if you are a serious computer game-player, maybe you’ll find something you like. Playing games can be very motivating. Actually, many Americans my age practice their Japanese by playing videogames like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy in Japanese.

In a future post, I’ll write about working on your English by playing role-playing games (Wikipedia link; look on the bottom left for explanations in other languages).

Good Words: Genre

Genre: The online Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines this as

a particular type or style of literature, art, film or music that you can recognize because of its special features

This is a pretty good definition. Check the linked word entry for its pronunciation, because this word is still pronounced in a somewhat French way.

The usefulness of this word in ordinary conversations is when you’re talking about your favorite kinds of books and movies. Different cultures have different genres, so it’s useful to know what the categories you like are called in English. In addition, it can be confusing if you don’t realize that what you think of as “romance” is not what someone else thinks of as “romance.”

My favorite fiction genres include science fiction and fantasy. Other common genres include romance, mystery, Western, horror, and historical fiction. My favorite movie genres include historical drama, comedy, and science fiction. Action, romance, horror, fantasy, and thriller are some other film genres. (I’ve linked each genre’s name to its Wikipedia page so that you can see several examples of each genre.)

There are also “sub-genres” (or “subgenres”), which are smaller categories. For example, my favorite sub-genres of fantasy are historical fantasy and contemporary fantasy or urban fantasy. For science fiction, my favorite sub-genre is cyberpunk.

I really don’t like the entire genre of horror books or movies, with a few exceptions. I also don’t like romance books or movies very much, but I have enjoyed a few romantic comedies (that’s another sub-genre). Even though I like some fantasy novels, I find that fantasy movies are often too silly to enjoy. Some exceptions include the film versions of Harry Potter (contemporary fantasy), The Lord of the Rings (high fantasy), and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (a mix of high and contemporary fantasy). I thought all of those were well done.

Genres are interesting because they are different in different countries. For example, Japan has both women’s romance and men’s romance genres within comic books, but the US doesn’t (because there are not enough romance comics in the US to even have such a category). The US has a genre of Western novels (set in the Old West, with cowboys), whereas China has wuxia novels (set in earlier China, with martial artists). When I was writing this post, I found out that in British bookstores, there is a “Crime Fiction” section, which would be called the “Mystery” or “Mystery/Suspense” section in the US.

People within one culture often argue about genres, too. For example, is Star Wars science fiction? Most people agree that science fiction should include speculation about the future, but Star Wars is set in the past and doesn’t really involve thinking about how our society could change. However, it does have high technology and space travel. Because of this, some people place it in the science fiction/fantasy sub-genre of space opera. Some fans will argue about this kind of thing for a long time. Because genres are not officially defined, it sometimes means that a book or movie is not in the section I expect to find it in at the store, and I have to ask.

Sometimes people use the phrase “genre fiction” to refer to books that are highly identified with their genre, such as science fiction and horror. This is to set apart those kinds of books from, mainstream or literary books. Mainstream and literary books are not thought of as being part of a special category. For example, at a Borders bookstore, you’ll find genre sections including Romance, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Horror, and Mystery/Thriller. These are all genre fiction. The books found in the Borders Literature/Fiction sections are considered not to be genre fiction.

What about you? What are your favorite genres? What genres do you avoid? Are there any genres that you like but can’t find in English?

Happy Labor Day!

Monday, September 3, is Labor Day in the United States (and Labour Day in Canada too). Although the idea was originally to celebrate ordinary working people, now it’s usually just another day off. Many Americans enjoy their long weekend by going to the beach, picnicking, having a barbecue, etc. Some cities have parades or other city-wide events. Although summer doesn’t officially end until the autumn equinox, this day feels like the end of summer to many people. Of course, in many parts of North America, hot weather may last until late September, too.

Fashionable and “proper” people used to believe that no one should wear white shoes after Labor Day, because white shoes were thought of as being for spring and summer only. This rule is commonly ignored now, though some older or more traditional people may still think of it.

You can read about the history of Labor Day at the U. S. Department of Labor’s website. Check Flickr for some photos from parades and other events from Canada and the USA.

Listen to news that’s free and up-to-date

The Voice of America (VOA) is a radio project by the United States government. It was started in 1942, and it’s still going. One way it’s changed is that you can now use VOA’s English-studying resources any time you want, thanks to the internet. VOA News: Special English Programs are recorded radio news stories using “special English.” This means that the stories use basic vocabulary, simple sentences, and no idioms. It’s a good way to start confidently understanding spoken English. Best of all, the stories are updated regularly and frequently, so there’s usually something new when you check.

Each episode or program is about 30 minutes long, so they are long enough that it’s worth putting them on your iPod or other mp3 player. They have different themes on different days, so be sure to pick a theme that is interesting to you.

Here are direct links to some of the most useful parts of the project:

If you look around the VOA website, you’ll find lots of other interesting and useful things. I’m glad we have this resource; since it has the support of the government, it can be updated regularly and frequently.