Past Simple Song Lesson – The Fools Who Dream

Today we are going to learn some grammar with a song from the movie La La Land. Maybe you have seen the movie, or maybe you have heard about it. The main actress in the movie, Emma Stone, won an Oscar (Academy Award) for her performance. It is a beautiful movie with great music. In this scene, Emma Stone’s character, Mia, is telling a story about her aunt. Mia’s aunt was an actress, and Mia also wants to be an actress.

Here are some words that might be new for you. If you have questions about them, please ask your teacher.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

Mia is telling a story about the past, so many of the verbs in this song are in the past tense. Here are the verbs, their past simple forms, and their meanings.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

One more thing before I give you the song:

You will hear the phrase “here’s to” many times. We use this phrase when we are celebrating. Imagine that someone is holding up a glass of champagne at a wedding. The person is celebrating the couple who got married, and they say, “Here’s to the happy couple!” It is a phrase for celebration.

Now, read the words to the song.

My aunt used to live in Paris. I remember, she used to come home and tell us these stories about being abroad, and I remember she told us that she jumped into the river once, barefoot. She smiled…

Leapt without looking
And tumbled into the Seine.
The water was freezing.
She spent a month sneezing,
But said she would do it again.

Here’s to the ones who dream,
Foolish as they may seem.
Here’s to the hearts that ache.
Here’s to the mess we make.

She captured a feeling,
A sky with no ceiling,
The sunset inside a frame.

She lived in her liquor
And died with a flicker.
I’ll always remember the flame.

Here’s to the ones who dream,
Foolish as they may seem.
Here’s to the hearts that ache.
Here’s to the mess we make.

She told me,
“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see.
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us!”

So bring on the rebels,
The ripples from pebbles,
The painters, and poets, and plays.

And here’s to the fools who dream,
Crazy as they may seem.
Here’s to the hearts that break.
Here’s to the mess we make.

I trace it all back to then –
Her and the snow and the Seine.
Smiling through it,
She said she’d do it again.

Listen to the song, and read the words again.

Your Turn

Talk about the song with your classmates. Answer these questions in a small group. Remember, when the song talks about “dreaming,” it is not about sleep. In this case, dreams are the things that you want in life. Some people have simple dreams, and some people have BIG dreams. Some people want to live a simple, happy life, and some people want to change the world. These are the kinds of dreams we’re talking about.

  1. Do you have big dreams for your life? What are they?
  2. In some cultures, people are not encouraged to dream about their futures. What do you think about this? Do people in your culture dream about the future? Why/Why not?
  3. Do you think dreaming is foolish? Why/Why not?
  4. Think about a dream you have. Why do you have it? When did this dream start in your mind? Trace the dream back to its beginning.
  5. Do you think we need a little craziness in life? Why/Why not?
  6. Think of a person who inspires you. Tell us about him/her.
  7. What do you think about this song?
  8. Have you seen the movie? If so, did you like it? If not, would you like to see it? Why/Why not?


How Americans Speak – Sentence Rhythm

We have talked about shortened words. We have talked about sentence stress. This week, we are going to look at American speech rhythm. Every spoken language is like a song. Your language has a special sound, and it is different from the sound of English. The tones and rhythm of a language make its song, and learning these things in English is very important for communication.

Many students say that American people cannot understand them even though they are speaking English. Sometimes the problem is that you are saying English words, but you are still using the sound/song of your language. This confuses Americans. They think you are saying English words, but the sentences don’t sound like English.

The song of English is like a song for marching (walking like a soldier). It has strong, regular beats. We say content words on the strong beats, and we mumble (say quietly and not very clearly) the other words between the beats. If a content word has more than one syllable, we always stress one syllable more, and we put that syllable on the beat.

In this video, you can hear soldiers singing a marching song. They are clapping the beat, and you can hear them singing content words when they clap:

I want to (wanna) be an airborne ranger.
Live me a life of blood and danger.
Airborne ranger
Blood and danger

I want to (wanna) be a SCUBA diver.
Jump right in that muddy water.
Muddy water
SCUBA diver

1, 2, 3, 4
Run a little, run a little, run some more.

Here Is the Important Part

The beat stays strong and regular, and we say content words on the beat. Sometimes there is nothing between the beats. In a simple sentence where every word is a content word with one syllable, every word is spoken on the beat, and there is nothing in between.

Kim eats lunch.

Every word is a content word. Every word has one syllable. You can clap and say all of these words. Try it.

However, sometimes there are syllables between the beats.

Kim eats her lunch.

Kim is eating lunch.

Kim is eating her lunch.

Kim is eating her delicious lunch.

Try to say each sentence. Say the content words (or the stressed syllable of the content words) on the beat. Put the other words and syllables between the beats. Here is a slow beat for practice.

Ask your teacher for more practice! We will continue with our pronunciation lessons next week!

How to Say Big Numbers

For many students, very big numbers are difficult to read. For example, what is this number?


Can you read it? It’s four hundred thirty-six billion, seven hundred nine million, five hundred eighty-two thousand, one hundred fourteen. Let me show you how we do it.

In the United States, we use commas in large numbers. This separates large numbers into smaller pieces. Each small piece has no more than three numbers in it – 436 / 709 / 582 / 114. Think of them separately.

  • 436 = four hundred thirty-six
  • 709 = seven hundred nine
  • 582 = five hundred eighty-two
  • 114 – one hundred fourteen

Now you just have to say them in order, and when you see a comma, you add another word like thousand or million.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

Say each smaller piece (3 numbers) and then the word at the comma.

  • 952 = nine hundred fifty-two
  • 716 = seven hundred sixteen
  • 301 = three hundred one
  • 400 = four hundred
  • 538 = five hundred thirty-eight
  • 952,716,301,400,538 = nine hundred fifty-two trillion, seven hundred sixteen billion, three hundred one million, four hundred thousand, five hundred thirty-eight

How do you say a zero?

hundreds-tens-onesIn a three-digit number (like 538), the number on the left represents hundreds. The number in the middle represents tens (20, 30, 40, etc.), and the number on the right represents ones (1, 2, 3, etc.). In 538, there are 5 hundreds, 3 tens, and 8 ones.

  • 500
  •   30
  •     8

When you see a zero (0) in the hundreds place, say nothing. There are no hundreds to talk about. For example, 76 has no hundreds. You don’t say, “zero hundred seventy-six.” You only say, “seventy-six.” When you see a zero in the tens place, say nothing. There are no tens. When you see a zero in the ones place, say nothing. There are no ones. Here are some examples of numbers with zeros.

  • 1,076 = one thousand, seventy-six
  • 403 = four hundred three
  • 820 = eight hundred twenty
  • 820,403 = eight hundred twenty thousand, four hundred three
  • 400,000 = four hundred thousand
  • 7,000,000 = seven million
  • 20,001,040 = twenty million, one thousand, forty

For Fun

Listen to this song, and read the words below. Then answer the questions.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
525,000 moments so dear
525,600 minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets?
In midnights? In cups of coffee?
In inches? In miles?
In laughter? In strife?

In 525,600 minutes?
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love

525,600 minutes
525,000 journeys to plan
525,600 minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned,
Or in times that he cried?
In bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died?

It’s time now to sing out.
Though the story never ends,
Let’s celebrate, remember a year
In the life of friends!

Remember the love!
Remember the love!
Remember the love!
Measure in love.
Measure, measure your life in love.

Seasons of love
Seasons of love

Your Turn

Think about the past year (from 12 months ago until now). Discuss with your classmates.

  1. How many cups of coffee have you drunk? What is your favorite kind of coffee? How do you prepare it?
  2. How many miles have you traveled? Where was your favorite place (only in the past year)? Where do you want to go in the next year?
  3. How many new people have you met? Did you meet anyone new who is now a good friend?
  4. How many times have you laughed? When was the last time you laughed really hard? What was so funny?
  5. How many difficult times have you had? What did you learn from a difficult experience?
  6. How many friends have you celebrated? Talk about a birthday party or wedding you attended recently.
  7. Say this number: 68,037,240,900,501. Ask your teacher if you are correct.
  8. Do you think we can choose to be happy? Do you think we should always try to be happy?
  9. Have you had a good year?
  10. What do you hope the next year will bring?

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – Intermediate Grammar/Listening Practice

For ESL levels 3 and up.

This song is by a band called U2. Maybe you have heard about them. They have been making music for a very long time. Most of the verbs in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” are in the present perfect tense. This chart shows how to make present perfect verbs:

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

If you are confused about subjects and don’t know which one you need, please read the explanation in the last post.

Past Participles

Now let’s talk about past participles. Every verb has several different forms. One form is the base form. This is the verb with no changes – no -s, no -ed, no -ing at the end, no “to” at the beginning. “Be” is a base verb. “Go” is a base verb. “Eat” is a base verb.

Another form is the past simple form. We use this to talk about action in the past. “Was,” “went,” and “ate” are past simple verbs.

  • Yesterday, I was hungry. I went to a restaurant. I ate some food.

Another form of a verb is the past participle. Many times, the past simple form and the past participle form are the same. If the past simple form of a verb ends in -ed, the past participle is usually the same.

  • walked (past simple) – walked (past participle)
  • shopped (past simple) – shopped (past participle)
  • wanted (past simple) – wanted (past participle)

However, many verbs in English are irregular. That means they don’t have an -ed ending in both the past simple and past participle forms. There are MANY irregular verbs in English. Click here to see and download a chart of many common irregular verbs.

Here is the song.

The verbs are in parentheses ( ). Write the verbs in present perfect tense. Don’t forget to use have/has and the past participle form of the verb. Then listen to the song. Click here to download and print the words.

I  _________________________ (climb) highest mountains
I ___________________(run) through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I ___________________(run), I ___________________________(crawl)
I _______________________(scale) these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still ___________________________(not find)
What I’m looking for
But I still ___________________________(not find)
What I’m looking for

I __________________________(kiss) honeyed lips
___________________(feel) the healing fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I __________________________(speak) with the tongue of angels
I __________________________(hold) the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still ___________________________(not find)
What I’m looking for
But I still ___________________________(not find)
What I’m looking for

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I’m still running

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
You carried the cross
And all my shame
All my shame
You know I believe it

But I still ___________________________(not find)
What I’m looking for
But I still ___________________________(not find)
What I’m looking for

Now listen to the song.

What questions do you have?

  • Do you have questions about the vocabulary in the song?
  • Do you have questions about present perfect verbs?
  • Do you have questions about past participles or irregular verbs?

Ask your teacher or leave a comment!

Your Turn

Discuss your answers to these questions with your classmates:

  • Did you like this song? Why or why not?
  • What do you think the man is looking for? Do you think he will find it?
  • What are you looking for in life? Have you found it?