Hi! This is just a quick post. I’ve just started a new job, and I’m very busy. (I’ve promised you posts on Facebook and more. Those posts are coming, I promise!)
Right now, I want to tell you about a free site called Lyrics Training. At Lyrics Training, you can watch a music video with English words. At the same time, the words are shown under the video — but some of the words are missing! You need to type in the words while the song plays. There are harder and easier levels, and you can find old and new songs. If you like music, it’s a good way to improve your listening.
Remember that song lyrics often have strange or poetic words and grammar. Still, they’re fun and a nice way to enjoy learning English.
You probably know about Spam, the meat product. Do you know about the connection between Spam and the English verb/noun “spam”?
The noncountable noun/verb “spam” means “e-mail and other internet messages that you don’t want.” Usually, these messages are advertising something (“BUY SOFTWARE CHEAP NOW”). People also use this word to mean “posting too often” or “posting a message over and over again.” Imagine that your Twitter account has a problem. It accidentally posts your Tweet 5 times. You might apologize by writing “Sorry for spamming everyone. It was an accident!”
You can get advertising spam on your blog, in your e-mail, on Twitter, etc. Recently, someone spammed Readable Blog on Facebook! That’s why I started thinking about the word “spam.”
Spam (the meat product) is not very common or popular in the US. However, we don’t usually use it as an insult. So how did it become the word for internet messages that you don’t want?
Monty Python is the name of a British comedy group. They were most active during the 1970s, but they are still popular today. In the US, they are especially popular with geeky people. Below is one of their famous sketches (comedy performances). The “Spam” sketch starts around 0:32 and ends around 2:41–sort of. Two people are in a cafe trying to order breakfast. The server or shop owner is telling them what she can serve them. (Yes, all of the main performers are men.) Warning: There are a couple of body-part words in here. Don’t watch it at work, and don’t watch it if you are under age 16 without your parents’ permission.
It might be hard to understand all of it (Monty Python’s comedy is very strange). But I think you’ll get the main idea. You can watch a higher-resolution official video with no subtitles here.
When the internet was still new, there were online games and message boards. People who used these games and message boards sometimes typed the words of the “Spam” sketch or just “Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam.” After a while, people started to call this kind of annoying activity “spam.” Later, people also started to post messages to message boards trying to sell things or get others to join money-making plans.
In 1998, the New Oxford English Dictionary added this definition to “Spam”: “Irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of newsgroups or users.” (There’s a long explanation about all this on Wikipedia.)
And now we get spam all the time. It’s everywhere, just like the Spam in the comedy sketch.
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.
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.
I’m sorry I haven’t posted this summer. I had a health problem at the beginning of the summer. I’m getting better, but I had to concentrate on that for a while. Here’s something that has no words but is very interesting:
These two guys drove from San Francisco to Washington, D. C.–all the way across the United States. That’s about 3000 miles or 4900 km, 48 hours of driving if you never stop! They had a camera that took 1 photo every 10 seconds. They put all the photos together to make a video. (That’s called “time-lapse photography”–you can find some beautiful videos on YouTube if you search for “time lapse Grand Canyon” “time lapse Yosemite” etc. Try it!)
By watching the video, you can travel all the way across North American in 4 minutes! It might give you a headache to travel that fast…After you watch the video, you can click on it to go to the YouTube page. Look in the information box to the right, and you can find a link to a map of the route that they took across the US.
Does anything surprise you in the video? Did you see fewer cities than you expected? More trees? Lots of different kinds of scenery? (I think I saw a rainbow!) I’ve never driven this route myself, but I’ve driven across the southern part of the US. When you drive across the southern part, you see more desert. Here is some of that area (not time-lapse; regular video).
I hope your study of English is going well! Comment if you have questions you would like me to try to answer.
The terms “MV,” “PV,” “CM,” and “CF” are popular in countries such as Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. However, most people in North America and other English-speaking countries don’t know what MV, PV, CM, or CF mean. You need to be careful with letter-based words (usually called “acronyms”). Even though they’re based on real English words, native English speakers may not use the same acronyms.
Pitfall: MV, PV
American English: Music video. We don’t generally use this abbreviation (short form). We just say “video” or “music video.”
Example 1: My band made our first music video this weekend! Example 2: Did you see Gnarls Barkley’s new music video? I really liked it!
Here are two music videos that I like. The first one is “Two Silver Trees” by Calexo, and the second one is “Many Moons” by Janelle Monae. It might be hard to hear the words, so you can look up the lyrics here. Their lyrics are very poetic, so they’re probably still hard to understand! (And there are some “adult” words in the Janelle Monae song, so please only try it if you are in high school or older.)
Pitfall: CM or CF
American English: Ad (casual), advertisement, commercial. (Note: “advertisement” is pronounced differently in British and American English.) Usually, to refer to both radio and TV advertisements, we just say “ad.”
Example 1: I really hate that new diamond ring ad–it’s sexist and insulting to women. Example 2: I love watching TV shows on DVD because I don’t have to see any commercials!
This ad from the pay-TV network Discovery Channel was really popular last year. A lot of people made their own versions, and the geeky webcomic xkcd even did a parody.
Do you know some other acronyms that you’re not sure about? You can leave a comment and ask, and I’ll try to to answer you or write about it in a future Pitfalls post.
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.
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.
Elizabeth Bear, an excellent writer whom I’ve gotten to know online, posted this line in her blog today: To double your success rate, quintuple your failure rate. (That means “To have twice as many successes, you should try failing five times as much.”)
She was talking about writing fiction, but this is also true for learning languages. Researchers have looked at this. They found out something interesting: Students who are brave enough to take more chances DO make more mistakes, but they ALSO learn faster and better. If you only say or write things that you know are correct, it’s nearly impossible for you to raise your level.
I know it’s scary, but it’s also necessary.
Now, I don’t particularly like Nike, and I don’t like TV ads in general. However, I think Michael Jordan does a good job in this video. He reminds us that making mistakes and failing is part of getting better and winning:
When you hesitate to speak or write, think of what Michael Jordan and Elizabeth Bear said. Then take that chance!