Category Archives: listening

TED | Translations

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I’m posting twice in one day! Crazy!

Here’s a resource for intermediate to advanced learners:

TED | Translations.

TED talks have become extremely famous for their interesting topics and good presentations. The speeches are from 6-20 minutes long, with still images or videos (NOT traditional Powerpoint). The speakers talk about everything: dance, robots, food, storytelling, DNA, etc. They talk about “big ideas.” (Some of the speakers make me cry.)

However, a lot of the speakers talk really fast because they’re trying to fit big ideas into 18 minutes. And sometimes they use difficult vocabulary words for the same reason. Still, because the ideas are so cool, I think they’re worth a try if you are not a beginning or low-intermediate learner. (If you find some easier TED videos that are good for lower-level learners, please tell me!)

Lots of volunteers have helped make subtitles for TED. You can see these at TED | Translations. I recommend watching your favorite videos several times–with subtitles in your language, then with English subtitles, and then without any subtitles.

TEDx events are not official TED events. (There’s TEDxTokyo, TEDxSeoul, etc.) They’re TED-style events, and the speakers are sometimes not as skilled as the TED speakers. However, sometimes they’re just as good. Some TEDx speakers speak in languages other than English, with English dubbed versions available. You can try those, too.

You can subscribe to TED in iTunes, by the way.

Here’s one very popular video that is available in 21 languages. Click on View Subtitles to see them. The speaker has a light Nigerian( or Nigerian British?) accent, but she speaks more slowly than other speakers, and her presentation is really interesting.

Let me know if you find some good ones! There are so many TED videos–it’s hard to know where to start.

English with Stacy

If you are an intermediate to advanced learner, I recommend subscribing to English with Stacy on Youtube. Here’s one of her videos: “-ing and -ed adjectives.” This video will help you use adjectives like “interested” and “interesting” correctly. The videos are great because they include some review and practice so that you can check your understanding. She doesn’t just talk to you! It’s very nice.

These videos will help you with listening and with grammar. She also explains how Americans (and some other English speakers) change their pronunciation when they are talking in a relaxed or normal way, which she calls “Fast English.” You don’t have to copy this pronunciation unless you have a special reason for needing to sound like this kind of English speaker. However, it’s still very useful for listening comprehension.

By the way, Stacy is the co-author of the current edition of Understanding and Using English Grammar, the advanced grammar book that I recommend for self-study.

Childhood Dreams

The word “dream” has several meanings in English. The basic meaning refers to the “dreams” that you have you’re sleeping–you feel like you are seeing or doing things that aren’t real. Another meaning is idiomatic, referring to your hopes and wishes. You may have heard of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “I Have a Dream.” In this speech, he is not talking about the dreams he has when he sleeps. He is talking about his hope that racism will end someday. This was a big dream, and I think it hasn’t fully come true yet. (When a dream “comes true,” it becomes real.) Most people have big and small dreams for their lives. Childhood dreams are the hopes and wishes that you have when you are a child. Some childhood dreams are realistic (such as visiting another country); some are difficult (such as becoming a professional singer); and others are almost impossible (such as becoming a superhero or owning a castle).

Recently, many internet users have been watching a video called “Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Randy Pausch was a writer and computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, a well-known university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. He died on July 25, 2008, when he was just 47 years old. Last fall, he gave a lecture called “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Many people really liked it at the time, and it has become even more popular since then.

It’s a very long speech, and it is definitely at an advanced English level. There are images included as part of his presentation, which may help you understand what he’s saying. However, he does use some slang, many idioms, etc. (You can read the speech here [PDF] or here [website]. Look for page 3, where it says Randy Pausch:. That’s where the video starts.) Give the video a try if you are interested:

What were your childhood dreams? Have they come true? I’m honestly not sure what mine were, but maybe I should try to remember them.

Election News

This year, a lot of people around the world are interested in the US presidential election. Americans are very interested in this election too. The person who is elected can make a big difference, both internationally and in the daily lives of Americans. For example, the United States does not have national health care, even though most other major industrial nations do. Some Americans think we really need to have a national health care system. Others think that would be bad for business. Whether we will start a national health care program probably depends on who is elected. For these reasons and others, many Americans have extremely strong feelings about who should be elected. That’s why it is usually considered a bad idea for Americans to discuss politics at work, parties, etc.–people may get very angry with each other.

Anyway, if you can read advanced to intermediate English, the Voice of America has a good website explaining the election process, with news articles, audio of the articles, videos, and more. Just visit the VOA US Election 2008 website.

(P. S. I’m out of town–I’m sorry I haven’t been posting.)

Now That’s Real English.

If you’re an adult, you should check out the Real ESL blog. This blog includes video conversations and explanations of normal spoken English (including slang). Kim, the blogger, makes her own videos to explain things to you. Currently, she has videos about everything from pronouncing “th” to ordering coffee at Starbucks.

You should be at an intermediate or advanced level to use these videos. You should be an adult, too, because Kim feels that it’s useful to be able to understand and use “swear words.” These are words that most English-speaking adults use when they are angry or joking or speaking very strongly, but you can also get into a lot of trouble if you use them incorrectly.

I hope you’ll check out Kim’s videos and make sure to visit her blog regularly.

(Another good resource for learning to speak natural-sounding English is the Speak English Like an American book and CD series. I’ll be reviewing these soon.)

Halloween!

October 31, tomorrow, is my favorite holiday: Halloween! I wanted to write a long post about Halloween, but my life is a little stressful right now. However, I noticed this today: Ten Tales of Terror, by several excellent authors including Neil Gaiman, who is one of my favorite writers. Each story is very short–only a paragraph or two long. In addition, there is a sound file of each story, read aloud by the author.

Some might be a little hard to understand, such as the next to last one (which is about politics). However, I think you’ll be able to understand and enjoy most of them–at least, if you like scary stories!

Several friends from other countries have asked me this week about the origins of Halloween. It’s a little hard to explain because Halloween is so old that it began before Christianity was common in Europe, and before things were regularly written down. As a result, we don’t really know much about the beginnings of the ancient cultural or religious celebration that is now Halloween. Halloween originated in the British Isles (Ireland, England, etc.), but is probably most popular now in North America. You can read about the history and customs of Halloween at Wikipedia in the Simple English article, the main English article, or in several other languages. Just look on the left side of the main article for explanations in other languages.

In the USA, Halloween is popular with most ages and ethnic groups, although some groups of conservative Christians don’t like it. Every year, they protest Halloween celebrations. However, for most people, it is a fun day to celebrate the imagination. Many adults and families have Halloween parties, where the guests often come in costume. After sunset, children dress up and are taken trick-or-treating in their neighborhood or at a shopping center. Adults may also go to themed events such as Halloween dances at nightclubs, costume contests with big cash prizes, and concerts. You can see a lot of Halloween party photos and other Halloween photos at Flickr (or you can also view more artistic Halloween 2007 photos).

Usually several horror movies are released near Halloween. This year, “30 Days of Night” has been popular. It’s about a group of vampires who go to Alaska. The movie I want to see is the 3-D version of “Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Halloween season is extended from October 31 through November 2. November 1 and 2 are the Dias de los Muertos, or Day(s) of the Dead. This holiday from Mexico and Latin America has many themes in common with Halloween. In the Bay Area, there are various events such as concerts and neighborhood street festivals. At Mexican bakeries, you can buy special bread and sugar skulls. I recommend going to a Dias de los Muertos event if there is one near you!

If I can find my camera, I’ll post photos from our party tomorrow.

English practice for food-lovers and movie-lovers

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).

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.