I am often taken aback by some of the English questions that my students have come up with, and I’m also surprised by the questions that I find myself asking. English is a very incredible and weird language, when it comes down to it.
Consider our vocabulary for a moment. I toss out scores of vocabulary words to my students every day but I know that I’m only scratching the surface of a deep ocean of wonderful words. Then again, in a book called “The Mother Tongue” by—once again—Bill Bryson, he comments: “Here, as in almost every other area of language, natural bias plays an inescapable part in any attempt at evaluation. No one has ever said, ‘Yes, my language is backward and unexpressive, and could really do with some sharpening up.’”
The point of this whole discussion is to draw your attention to a few resources that you, presumably as a native speaker of English, may not have even known were out there. The Internet is all about strange little insular worlds concentrated on one idea or area of expertise, and the digital realm of English Language Learning is no exception to that concept.
I have selected a few resources, both digital and in print, that you might find interesting, even if you’ve spoken English since the day you were born. Consider them curiosities to add to the bookcases and knick-knack shelves of your brain, if you will. The first two have proven useful and entertaining to both my students and myself, and the third is just a good book about the history of the English language. The last is just a weird, random thing if you’re into Swedish… and who isn’t these days?
Take a look or have a listen if you ever get the chance, and see how the other, English-learning half lives:
This site is a collection of hundreds of dialogue samples and real-life scenarios, all of which have imbedded audio and text, both of which are great for my teaching purposes. The audio is kind of dry and at times even nerdy, but if you’re trying to learn how to talk the talk, this is a great site. If you already speak English, it’s worth checking out the profanity or sex talk parts, just to remark to your coworkers, “Wow, listen to this geeky-sounding voice talking about how he likes big titties!”
This is a collection of podcasts and their complementary English lessons. As the site’s title indicates, the podcasts are from China, and they are recorded by two Canadians (but we won’t hold their nationality against them…for now). The lessons are definitely for language learners, and if you’re not careful, the speakers’ slow, nearly-monotone Canadian voices can lull you to sleep. But when you pay close attention to the humor that’s beneath each broadcast, it’s quite easy to get pulled in and listen to these two brothers explain their take on everyday things. All in all, it’s enough to make you want to call your own brother to try to convince him to move abroad with you to record an English-learning podcast…Paul, you in?
3. “The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way,” by Bill Bryson
This is the book that I mentioned previously in the post, and it’s one of my favorites by Bryson. While he’s a hilarious writer in basically any circumstance or scenario, he also proves himself to be a consummate researcher and academic in books like this. This fascinating book frames the development of the English language by considering its historical, cultural, and contemporary significance. My personal favorite section is—of course—the one on swearing. A sample from page 215:
“English is unusual in including the impossible and the pleasurable in its litany of profanities. It is a strange and little-noted idiosyncrasy of our tongue that when we wish to express extreme fury we entreat the object of our rage to undertake an anatomical impossibility or, stranger still, to engage in the one activity that is bound to give him more pleasure than almost anything else. Can there be, when you think about it, a more improbable sentiment than, “Get fucked!”? We might as well snarl, “Make a lot of money!” or “Have a nice day!”
As an aside, Bryson also wrote a book called “Made in America,” which examines our language even more closely, but from a specifically American English perspective. Both books are well worth your time if language remotely interests you. The more compact “Mother Tongue” is a good start if you’re just curious about English or language development in general, but would prefer to learn about it with bit of a laugh.
4. Swedish Radio Site: Klartext
This is the weird one for people who like Swedish. It’s basically daily radio broadcasts from Svenska Radio, but with simplified vocabulary and slower speech. If you happen to be learning Swedish, it’s a great resource, and if you’re not learning Swedish, it’s still funny to laugh at. Check it out one way or the other. First, follow the link above. Below the calendar, click on the little speaker symbol for the day you want to listen to. An audio player should pop up, and after choosing your player preferences, click “Spara” (Save). Listen, enjoy, and repeat as necessary!
Well, that’s it for today. Now, you had all better start studying, because all of this could possibly show up on the quiz!