The blogs are going on vacation for the summer. **** I’ve refreshed an earlier post with great ideas for your summer homework. Click on the blue links to learn and practice until we return with new lessons in the fall!
Confusing Word Choices
image by WTCC instructor ecparent
In these blogs, we teach you the differences between two (or more) confusing words or phrases. Click each one to learn more.
Sometimes, students say to me, “Teacher, I learned grammar and writing in my country, but I never practiced listening and speaking. I don’t understand Americans. How can I practice more listening?” Of course, you can watch TV or listen to the radio. You can also sign up for Crossroads Cafe at your site. It is an excellent program for improving your English.
However, if you want more listening practice at home, I have several ideas for you!
For ALL Levels
These websites have lessons for all levels. You can choose the level that is right for you!
Talk English – This site has free listening courses for all levels. On the main page, they also have vocabulary and grammar lessons!
Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab – Scroll down for listening activities and quizzes. You can choose easy, medium, difficult, or very difficult listening activities.
Breaking News English – On this site, you can choose your level at the top of the page. Then you choose the story you want to read and hear. You can also choose the speed of the listening. You can listen to it very slowly or at normal speed.
VOA English News – Voice of America English News has short news stories that you can read and listen to. The site has three levels. On the site, “Level One” might be good for you if you are in a level 3 or 4 class at Wake Tech.
For Advanced Students
image by WTCC instructor ecparent
Do you know what a podcast is? Imagine people on TV talking about a topic. Now turn off the picture so you are only listening to them. That is a podcast. It is an audio (listening only) recording of people talking about a topic. You can find podcasts about all kinds of topics. These podcasts are about English.
English Class 101 – Some episodes are for intermediate students, and some are for advanced students, but they are not organized so that you can choose your level. You can sign up for a free account on the website or listen on iTunes.
ESL Pod – This site offers some free lessons, and you can listen to episodes on iTunes, or you can pay for an account for more practice.
The next two resources I want to show you are NOT made for ESL students. Many Americans enjoy listening to them because they talk about a wide variety of interesting topics. You might enjoy some of them as well!
How Stuff Works – This website is FULL of information on so many things! You can read articles and listen to podcasts about almost anything. You can find information about all of the podcasts here, and I will tell you about some of them as well. You can find all of them on iTunes.
Car Stuff – Two men talk about cars
Stuff of Genius – A podcast about some of the greatest inventions in the world
Stuff You Missed in History Class – History lessons you probably didn’t learn in school
Brain Stuff – Science in the world around us
Stuff You Should Know – A general information podcast with each episode focused on a different topic
Tech Stuff – A podcast about technology
Stuff Your Mom Never Told You – Two women talk about women’s issues
TED Talks – TED is a conference where people come to share ideas about technology (T), entertainment (E), and design (D), but people talk about almost everything. You can watch videos of the speeches from the conference online. Go to the website, and search for a topic you find interesting. You can even choose the duration (length) of the video. If you want to watch a short video, search for 0-6 minutes. If you want to watch a longer one, you can choose a different duration.
Over the past few weeks, we have talked about shortened words, sentence stress, and sentence rhythm. This week, we’re going to look at some pronunciation rules for putting stress on the correct syllable in a word. This is important for 2 reasons:
Using incorrect stress causes confusion.
It is important to put the stressed syllable of a content word on the beat when you are speaking in English rhythm.
Let me explain #2 a little more. You know that we stress content words in speaking – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, negatives, question words, and interjections. In the sentences below, every word is a content word, so each word gets a beat.
Ana works hard. Ana works VEry hard. Ana works exTREMEly hard.
Read the first sentence out loud and clap your hands when you say each word. Clap in a steady rhythm. The first sentence is easy because each word has only one syllable, so they all get equal stress. In the second and third sentences, there are words with two or three syllables. The stressed syllable is on the beat (when you clap). The extra syllables must go between the beats. Practice the second and third sentences. Clap in a steady rhythm, and try to put the extra syllables between claps.
Now let’s talk about stress in lots of different words. English pronunciation is a little crazy compared to other languages, but we have a few rules that can really help!
Stress on the Syllable Before Certain Endings
In words with the following endings, the stress usually goes on the syllable before the ending:
Some verbs and their related nouns look exactly alike, but their pronunciations are different. Usually, in two-syllable VERBS, the second syllable is stressed.
Two-syllable NOUNS, on the other hand, are usually stressed on the first syllable.
There are many more rules for pronunciation and word stress, but these three will help you get started. For further explanation and more examples, here is a video that talks about these rules a bit more.
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!
I have a 15- month-old baby. She is learning to speak, and she knows a lot of words, but she can’t speak in sentences yet. She says only the words she needs to communicate basic things. When she wants water, she says, “Water.” When she wants cheese, she says, “Cheese please.” When she is finished with something, she says, “All done!” In English, we call these kinds of words content words. Content words are necessary for communication.
Content words include:
main verbs – the verbs that show the action
nouns – people, places, things, ideas
adjectives – words that describe nouns
adverbs – words that describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs
negatives – no, not, never, nor, etc.
question words – who, what, where, when, why, how
interjections – Wow! No! Yay!
We also have function words – words that are necessary for grammar. Function words include:
articles – a/an/the
conjunctions – and, but, or, so, etc.
prepositions – of, to, from, in, etc.
pronouns – he, she, you, we, they, I, him, her, us, etc.
Function words are necessary for grammar to be correct, but without them, we can probably still understand the meaning of a sentence. Look at these words:
WANT BROTHER PLAY
Imagine you are at a soccer game with a friend. Your friend’s brother is on one of the teams, but he is not playing in the game right now. It is very loud at the game, and you can’t understand every word your friend says. You only hear, “want brother play.” What is he saying?
I WANT my BROTHER to PLAY.
You probably understood that because the content words made sense in this situation. Imagine the same words in a different situation. A 2-year-old child has a baby brother. The 2-year-old wants to play, but the baby is too little. He can’t play yet. The 2-year-old looks at his mother and says, “Want brother play!” This child is also saying, “I want my brother to play,” and we understand him because we know the situation, and it makes sense.
How is this related to MY pronunciation?
Americans pronounce content words louder and more clearly than function words. In the sentence, “I want my brother to play,” Americans will pronounce the content words (want/brother/play) very clearly, but the function words (I/my/to) will not be loud or clear.
In these sentences, the content words are in CAPITAL ITALIC letters. Try to read the sentences out loud. Say the content words loudly and clearly. Say the function words softly. You can cover your mouth when you say the function words if you want.
I HAVE to GO to WORK.
He TOLD me he would CALL.
It’s NOT a GOOD IDEA.
Find the Content Words
Now let’s practice finding the content words. In these sentences, which words are content words? Which words are function words? Look at the lists above to help you decide.
I told you not to do it.
We’re going to the park.
Raleigh is a great city.
Hannah and her brother are playing outside.
What would you like for dinner?
Here are the answers:
told, not, do
I, you, to, it
We’re, to, the
Raleigh, is, great, city
Hannah, brother, playing, outside
and, her, are
What, like, dinner
would, you, for
Circle or highlight the content words. Read the sentences again, and put a strong emphasis on those words. Say the function words quietly and quickly.
Look in a book, magazine, or newspaper. Choose a few sentences to practice. Circle the content words. Then practice reading the sentences out loud. Pronounce the content words loudly and clearly. Pronounce the function words more quietly and less clearly. Ask your teacher if your pronunciation is correct.
For the next couple of weeks, we are going to learn how Americans speak. Maybe you can read very well, but you cannot understand Americans when they speak. We speak quickly, and we do not pronounce all the sounds clearly. Sometimes we don’t pronounce things at all! This week, we are looking at how Americans make words and phrases shorter.
I am going to + verb
We use “going to” in 2 ways:
going to + place – I am going to Target. I am going to New York.
going to + verb – I am going to see him tomorrow. I am going to eat dinner.
When we use “going to” with a place, we don’t make it much shorter, but it is common for Americans to drop the final “g” on “going” (I’m goin’ to Target).
When we use “going to” with a verb, we can make it very short. You will hear all of these shortened forms of “I am going to”:
I’m going to (acceptable in speaking and writing)
I’m goin’ to (only for speaking)
I’m gonna (only for speaking and VERY informal writing like a text message or Facebook)
I’m-n-a (only for speaking)
I’m-a (only for speaking)
Practice saying these sentences. Remember, the part in bold has the same meaning as “I am going to.”
I’m going to talk to her.
I’m goin’ to talk to her.
I’m gonna talk to her.
I’m-n-a talk to her.
I’m-a talk to her.
Now practice these:
I’m going to find it.
I’m goin’ to find it.
I’m gonna find it.
I’m-n-a find it.
I’m-a find it.
A general rule for English is that shorter sentences are more casual, and longer sentences are more formal. I can say, “I’m-a talk to her,” to my friends, but when I speak to my boss, I will use a longer pronunciation.
What do you
When speaking quickly, Americans will say, “Whadaya.” We do not pronounce the “t” at the end of “what,” and the vowels in “do” and “you” are very relaxed. This phrase is usually followed by a verb. We put a strong emphasis on that verb.
What do you do? => Whadaya DO?
What do you want? => Whadaya WANT?
What do you think? => Whadaya THINK?
(What/When/Who/How/Why/Where) did you
Americans push words together when they speak, and sometimes, we combine the ending sound from one word with the beginning sound from the next word. When one word ends in “d” and the next begins with “y” (like “did + you”), we say a “j” sound. “Did you” becomes “di-ju” or “di-ja.” There is no difference between “di-ju” and di-ja.” Some Americans say “di-ju” and some say “di-ja.” Some say both. They have the same meaning.
What did you say? => What di-ju say?
When did you go there? => When di-ja go there?
Who did you see? => Who di-ja see?
How did you get here? => How di-ju get here?
Why did you hit me? => Why di-ju hit me?
Where did you eat dinner? => Where di-ja eat dinner?
You have probably learned this one already. In pronunciation, “want to” becomes “wanna.” You will see “wanna” in very informal writing, like Facebook or a text message, but it is not a real word. It is only a pronunciation. In speaking, it is also common for Americans to drop “Do you” at the beginning of a question with “want to.”
Do you want to see a movie on Friday? => Wanna see a movie on Friday?
Do you want to see a movie on Friday? => Do you wanna see a movie on Friday?
I do not know
“I don’t know” often changes to “I dunno” or “I-da-no” in pronunciation. You can use it alone in response to a question:
Who’s playing in the Super Bowl?
– I dunno.
Or you can use it as the beginning of a sentence:
I dunno who’s playing in the Super Bowl.
have to/has to
Most Americans don’t use “must.” We say “have/has to” instead. In conversation, “have to” is pronounced “hafta,” and “has to” is pronounced “hasta.”
I have to go to work now. => I hafta go to work now.
She has to pick up her son. => She hasta pick up her son.
have got to/has got to
The meaning of “have/has got to” is the same as “have/has to” or “must.” In conversation, we make this phrase VERY short. Look at how it changes.
I have got to answer these emails. (acceptable in speaking and writing)
I’ve got to answer these emails. (acceptable in speaking and writing)
I’ve gotta answer these emails. (only for speaking and VERY informal writing like a text message or Facebook)
I gotta answer these emails. (only for speaking and VERY informal writing like a text message or Facebook)
Gotta answer these emails. (only for speaking and VERY informal writing like a text message or Facebook)
You will see “gonna,” “wanna,” and “gotta” in very informal writing, and you will hear them in conversation, but THEY ARE NOT REAL WORDS. Do not use them in writing for school or work.
should have/could have/would have/might have/must have
If you have not learned how to use perfect modals, you can ask your teacher. Basically, when we use a modal verb (should, could, would, might, must) with “have” and a past participle, we are putting the modal verb in the past. In pronunciation, Americans do not pronounce “have” very clearly. We just say “uh” or “a.”
should have => shoulda
could have => coulda
would have => woulda
might have => mighta
must have => musta
Practice saying these sentences. Use the shortened pronunciation:
I should have used sunscreen.
I could have met you at the park, but I didn’t know you were there.
I would have gone to the store, but I didn’t know what we needed.
I might have left the oven on.
She must have forgotten about the meeting.
Watch this video to hear many of these shortened phrases spoken by a native English speaker.
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
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?
In 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.
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
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
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
525,000 journeys to plan
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
Think about the past year (from 12 months ago until now). Discuss with your classmates.
How many cups of coffee have you drunk? What is your favorite kind of coffee? How do you prepare it?
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?
How many new people have you met? Did you meet anyone new who is now a good friend?
How many times have you laughed? When was the last time you laughed really hard? What was so funny?
How many difficult times have you had? What did you learn from a difficult experience?
How many friends have you celebrated? Talk about a birthday party or wedding you attended recently.
Say this number: 68,037,240,900,501. Ask your teacher if you are correct.
Do you think we can choose to be happy? Do you think we should always try to be happy?
Americans write and say dates differently from people in other countries. Do you know how to write and say dates correctly?
How to Write the Date
Americans always give the month first, the day second, and the year last. There are several different ways we can write it.
image by WTCC instructor ecparent
March 27, 2016
March 27th, 2016
03/27/2016 or 03-27-2016
3/27/16 or 3-27-16
You can use a slash (/) or a hyphen (-) between the numbers. There is no difference. When you write the name of the month, you must use a comma (,) after the date.
Sometimes, you will see instructions for writing the date that look like this:
The M means month, the D means day, and the Y means year. If a website or form asks for a date like this, you should use two numbers for the month (01, 09, 11, etc.), two numbers for the date (07, 10, 29, etc.), and four numbers for the year (1982, 2016, etc.).
Sometimes the instructions look like this:
Do you see the difference? In this case, you only use the LAST two numbers of the year – 82 (not 1982) or 16 (not 2016).
When you write the date in _ _ / _ _ / _ _ _ _ format, it is VERY important that you write the MONTH first and the DAY second.
How to Say the Date
Americans usually do not write “st,” “nd,” “rd,” or “th” (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) on the date, but we ALWAYS say it. If you write, “3/27/2016,” you say, “March twenty-seventh, twenty-sixteen” (you can also say, “two thousand-sixteen”). Here is how we write and pronounce all the dates.
**We only add -st, -nd, -rd, and -th to the pronunciation of numbers in dates.**
photo by WTCC instructor ecparent
When we say years, we usually say the first two numbers together and the last two numbers together. If the year is 1982, we say the first two numbers – nineteen – and the last two numbers – eighty-two.
1980 – nineteen eighty
1776 – seventeen seventy-six
1430 – fourteen thirty
2016 – twenty sixteen
If there are zeros in the middle of the year (2002), the rules change a little. Here is how we say 2000 years:
2000 – two thousand
2001 – two thousand one
2002 – two thousand two
Here is how we say other years:
1903 – nineteen oh three
1409 – fourteen oh nine
1207 – twelve oh seven
1804 – eighteen oh four
Write and say the answers to these questions (search the internet or ask your teacher if you don’t know):
When were you born?
When did the United States become an independent country?
When did Princess Diana die?
When was Barack Obama born?
When is Thanksgiving this year?
When will Americans elect the next president?
When is the last day of your class?
What is today’s date?
What is an important date in your life (wedding, birth of a child, when you moved to the U.S., etc.)?
Today, our topic is contractions. You see contractions every day. Do you understand them?
What is a contraction?
These words are contractions. A contraction is two words together in one word with an apostrophe (‘). An apostrophe looks like a comma at the top of a word. Here is the pronunciation of apostrophe.
Why do we use an apostrophe?
When we put two words together, we remove (take out) some letters. We use an apostrophe in the place of those letters.
It is –> It’s – We remove the “i” from “is” and put an apostrophe in that place.
We are –> We’re – We remove the “a” from “are” and put an apostrophe there.
I am –> I’m – We remove the “a” from “am” and put an apostrophe in its place.
image by WTCC instructor ecparent
How do you pronounce contractions?
We only say the letters we can see. We do not pronounce the letters we removed. When I say, “He is,” I pronounce the “i” in the word “is” because I can see it. When I say, “He’s,” I do not pronounce the “i” because it is not there.
Practice saying these contractions. Ask your teacher to help you.
Can you believe it? The semester is almost over! This post will be the last blog post until January 2016. In this post, you will find links to previous posts. Click on the links in the box and practice and review what you learned in class.
This post is also the last post I will write. I started writing for the blog in January 2013. I have written a lot of posts in the past almost-3 years! It was very fun to write for the blog and to receive feedback and comments from all of you students. Thank you! A new writer for the English Language blog will start in January 2016. That person will have a lot of good, new ideas to help you all learn more English.