Whom is Stupid

English is changing. Constantly morphing. Whether you want it to or not.

I was telling my college composition class today that I firmly believe that the word “whom” will be completely gone from standard American English within 50 years. Grammar rules are in place, because of how we talk- not the other way around. The rules were written to explain how we speak. If we stop speaking in a certain way or words fall out of use, the rule will be defunct. I want to start a Kickstarter to defunt (yes, I just made that adjective a verb, because I do what I want!)  the word “whom”. Is that possible? Will you donate 5 bucks to that cause? If so, go to www.whomisstupid.com. Just kidding. Don’t click on that link; it’ll probably give you a virus.

Let’s talk about verb tenses, such as the verb “to help”. The tenses actually used to be help , holp, holpen. For realz. They have know become regular- help, helped, helped. I think some other irregular verbs are moving that way as well, such as drunk and swum. Have you ever heard someone say, “I have swum in the ocean many times.”? Uh, no. They say swumpt. Just kidding. But swum sounds just as silly to me. What about brung or thunk? The less often a word is said, the more likely it is to change. That’s why go, went, and gone are probably around to stay I’m afraid.

Next on my list is the word “well”.

“How are you doing today?”

“I’m well. How about you?”

No. All kinds of no. Yes, I am an English teacher, but I feel so stuffy when I say I am well. I feel like a 19th century woman carrying a parasol when I say it. This is another rule that I give a good 20 years before it falls to the way side. Everyone always says, “I’m good.” “Things are good.” Except me, because I only reply with, “Things are poppin!” Mostly to my boss. Just kidding. He gets a “well” since he has a PhD in English. And he’s my boss. But really, things are poppin!

There are even some capitalization and punctuation rules that are changing. People argue over the oxford comma all the time for example. Did you know that the Chicago Manual now says not to write U.S. when talking about the United States of America. It is now just US with no periods. The word “website” and other technological words used to require capitalization and now don’t.

Some grammar gurus get angry for what they view as grammar infractions, but really, they just need to accept that English grammar is fluid and ever-changing, and it always will be. And, in my opinion, they also need to think about incorporating the word swumpt into their vocabulary. I better hurry and go get a copyright on that.

 

funny grammar

Image from onehorseshy.com

 

Journal Topics for Writing Class

As a writing teacher, I love having my students write in a journal for the first 5 minutes of class. It establishes a routine of how we will begin class each time and also gets them in the habit of writing. I find that the only time most students write is for formal assignments. Journal writing can help them experience writing their feelings and thoughts on papers, knowing there is no right or wrong answer and knowing that their grammar won’t be corrected. I have my students buy a composition notebook and only use it for journaling. I collect it every Wednesday (for a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class) and give 2 points for every journal entry completed. They can not make up journals once I have collected them for the week. (This saves me from grading 30 journal entries for each student at the end of the semester!) This is an easy yet useful way to get points. It usually ends up to be about 70 points at the end of the semester.  I also make it a response journal. They write and I respond. It’s usually just 1 sentence asking a question or making a comment, but they know that I read it and care about what they write. Sometimes it creates whole conversations and really helps you to learn about your students. I actually enjoy grading these! So that’s how I utilize the journal writing process in my classroom.

Here are some topics I use for my freshman composition class, but they can also work for ESL writing classes, who would also benefit very much from journal writing:

– Why is writing important?  (this is always my first  AND last  journal topic)

-What is your biggest fear?

– What is your  favorite childhood memory?

-What is the most appealing non-physical quality of the opposite sex?

– What is one thing you would change about your personality?

-What is one thing you wouldn’t change about your personality?

– What is the one country you would love to travel to and why?

– Do we depend on technology too much?

– If you were stranded in a foreign country with no money, what would you do?

– Is lying ever ok?

– Do you believe in ghosts?

– Tell about a time when you got undeserved criticism.

-Does racism exist today?

– If you could live in a different time period, which time would you choose and why?

– Explain why attitude is everything.

– What do you use to make a first impression of someone?

– What’s something really good that has happened to you lately?

– Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

– What is your life motto?

– If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

– Tell me about your hometown.

– What makes a person dependable?

– How have you changed since coming to college?

– If you could go back in time and meet any person, who would it be and why?

– If you had to live outside your home country for a year, where would it be and why?

– Describe the most interesting person in your family.

– Describe a funny moment in your life.

–  How does the media affect our body image?

-How do smart phones affect relationships negatively?

– Do you think the phrase “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is a good way to live?

– What do you think about immigration to the US?

– What was your most embarrassing moment?

 

ESL students usually take longer to write a journal entry. They may take 10-15 minutes. So, if you don’t want to spend that much class time on it, you may want them to do a complete the sentence activity. I write this on the board at the beginning of class, and they can either write about it or think about it (usually they choose to write), and then we discuss it, which incorporates the speaking aspect of course. It usually takes 5-7 minutes total. They key is that they only have to complete the one sentence.  Here are some ideas for complete the sentence:

– I get angry when…

– Last summer…

-My parents…

– In high school…

– When I was a child…

– I am really looking forward to…

– My favorite vacation was…

– When I have free time…

– I get stressed when…

– I think people should…

– I see my greatest weakness as…

-I see my greatest strength as…

– Being a friend means…

– I feel lonely when…

– I am most talented at…

– My favorite hobby is…

I hope these were helpful. If you have any journal topics you have used that you found to be quite successful, please share! And, as always, please share via social media if you have some teacher friends you think could benefit from reading this.

Spritz and Spreeder

I just learned about speed reading apps, specifically  Spritz and Spreeder. It only shows one words at a time, and each word is in the same spot on the screen. This allows us to speed through reading. Spritz’s website explains it much better than I can:

“Reading is inherently time consuming because your eyes have to move from word to word and line to line. Traditional reading also consumes huge amounts of physical space on a page or screen, which limits reading effectiveness on small displays. Scrolling, pinching, and resizing a reading area doesn’t fix the problem and only frustrates people. Now, with compact text streaming from Spritz, content can be streamed one word at a time, without forcing your eyes to spend time moving around the page. Spritz makes streaming your content easy and more comfortable, especially on small displays. Our “Redicle” technology enhances readability even more by using horizontal lines and hash marks to direct your eyes to the red letter in each word, so you can focus on the content that interests you. Best of all, Spritz’s patent-pending technology can integrate into photos, maps, videos, and websites to promote more effective communication.”

The average reading speed is about 220 words per minute. I’m a pretty quick reader, so I’d say my reading speed is somewhere around 300-350. Speed readers can help you read up to 600 words per minute! When I tried it, I was able to keep up at 600 and comprehend. I think I would need to practice though to read articles or whole books that quickly. I’d probably stick to about 500 wpm.

Another similar site is Spreeder. It’s a little more advanced than Spritz, because they are actually ready for you to copy and paste whatever you want to read on their site and choose your reading speed. And, it’s free!

http://www.spritzinc.com/

http://spreeder.com/

I really want to try this. I could read journal articles for work a lot faster. I could read news articles online for fun at a quicker speed.

Have you ever used a speed reader before? What speed did you use?

I really want to show this to my ESL reading class and even my domestic students. Everyone could use a little boost in their reading speed, especially students, who are required to read so much!

 

I’ll Take One Order of Mice Please!

For  the ESL courses at our school, we generally use textbooks that are specifically made for English language learners. However, there is one exception- our reading textbook, and it has proven to be hilarious on some days for us.

In reading class yesterday, we were doing an activity in which we needed to understand how topics are related so that we can better comprehend how paragraphs are organized. The activity asked us to mark out the word that does not belong in the group and then to say a very specific topic in which all the words could belong.

The words were cows, sheep, pigs, mice, goats, and chickens. The students should have marked out the word mice and the topic was “farm animals that are kept for meat.” My Chinese student thought this was a very poor question, because, in fact, some Chinese people do eat mice, especially in Guangzhou province. We probably laughed for ten minutes about this. So, all textbooks are not created equal. 😉 

How I Made my Students Really Mad

This semester, I am back to teaching a composition course for college freshmen. Apart from learning in-depth about research writing, we also read the play A Raisin in the Sun in College Writing II.  This play took stage in 1959, and it focused on an African American family in Chicago. It showed what life was like for blacks in the 50’s and 60’s. I wanted my students to know a little more about the civil rights movement and also the discrimination and segregation of this time period in American history.

To begin the lesson, I asked everyone with blue or green eyes to sit on the left side of the room and everyone with brown eyes to sit on the right side of the room. They were expecting a quiz on the introduction to the book, so they were very confused about what I was doing. I explained that instead of a quiz, we would be working on something else for which they would receive points. I gave the blue/green eyed students a page copied from the dictionary and told them they had to copy it letter-for-letter, word-for-word. They all glared at me with a look that seemed to say -Uh, are you serious? The brown-eyed students seemed scared to get their assignment next. However, they were relieved when I told them they would be working on a word search puzzle about pizza. As they were working, I told them to be sure and find the word pepperoni. I went over to the other side of the room and told that students that they better finish the whole page. I let this go on for about 3 minutes, then I finally allowed them to stop. I asked them how they felt knowing that the other half of the room was working on a different assignment. The light-eyed group said they felt angry at me and at the other group of students. They said they wondered what they did to deserve the terrible assignment. The brown-eyed group said they felt badly but not badly enough to exchange assignments with anyone or to even ask questions about why the assignments were different. I did have one blue-eyed guy ask me why he had to do the dictionary assignment and not the pizza one. It all worked perfectly. I asked my students to relate their feelings and the way I treated them to how Africa-Americans felt in the past. I think it really hit home with them and made a good point.

I then went on to show 2 YouTube videos. This first video really makes me emotional. I really can’t believe this happened so recently in my own country. I can’t fathom why people thought they were better solely based on their skin color. This video is a general overview of everything that happened. It’s about 5 minutes long.

The second video is about Bull Connor, who greatly influenced the civil rights movement, because of the terrible things he allowed to happen in Birmingham, Alabama while he was the commissioner of public safety for the city. It’s about 10 minutes long and really worth the watch.

After the activity, the videos, and a discussion, I really felt my students were ready to read A Raisin in the Sun and fully understand the context and the time period. I hope that no matter the grade level, this recap of my lesson might be helpful for you to teach about the civil rights movement, especially since it is black history month. Share with me some ideas you’ve used to teach this same topic.

Russian Police Officers Are Trying to “Get Lucky”

Like many people, I was interested to watch the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The opening ceremony for the winter Olympics is usually not as grand as the one for the summer Olympics, but Russia really wanted to try and outdo its buddy, China. I think they put on a high-quality performance, which highlighted Russia’s contribution to dance, literature, and music. It was strange at times, but I think, overall, it stayed pretty classy with the ballet and the opera. However, they didn’t show one very, um, interesting performance on television here in the US. There was a choir of Russian police officers who sang Daft Punk featuring Pharrell’s hit from the summer “Get Lucky”. Not only is the performance very awkward, but the song choice is very awkward, in my opinion. And as an ESL teacher, I have a theory on it. They chose an upbeat song to try and show Russia’s fun, carefree side. However, they really have no idea what the song is about! Most non-native English speakers know the word “lucky”. In fact, luck is often talked more about in countries outside the US, because people strongly believe in luck.So, perhaps the Russians were thinking this was a fun song about luck. Maybe they thought this song would bring luck to their Olympic athletes. Here are the lyrics to the chorus of the song:

We’re up all night ’til the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky

This song is talking about a hook-up, about sex! I am almost completely sure that the Russians don’t realize this. They don’t know that “getting some” and “getting lucky” are synonymous with casual sex. How could you know these idioms unless you’ve learned them before? I highly doubt that the Russians would want their country to be known for police officers singing about having sex as they present themselves to the world during the opening ceremony. It also surprised me because the Russians are so conservative about many things, sex and homosexuality being just a few of them. Maybe this is something only an ESL teacher would think of; I don’t know.

Here is the video:

It’s strange to watch. Some members of the choir look like they were forced at gunpoint to sing this song. And there are some parts that I can’t quite understand what they’re saying. What are your thoughts on the performance? Are you a non-native English speaker who didn’t know what “get lucky” or “get some” really meant? If you’re an ESL teacher, do you think your students would know?I don’t think most of mine would. Oh well, I hope those police officers get lucky from being so famous for their performance! Share this post with those who you’d like to see this fun performance!

English Proficiency in the US

“Everyone that lives in the US should learn English or get kicked out!”

Have you ever heard someone say that, or have you maybe even said it yourself? There are many people that are residing in the US that self-report not speaking English well.

9% of the population in fact. 

The Migration Policy Institute just released a new study that determined that 9% of the population of the US is not proficient in English. It was at 6% in 1990.

9% of the US population is about 25.3 million people, which puts it into perspective a bit more.

63% of these LEP (limited English proficient) are Latino, and 20% are Asian. 13% are non-Latino white, and 3% are black.

About half of these LEPs live in California, Texas, and New York, which have always had large numbers of immigrants. In fact, 1 in 5 people in California have limited proficiency in English, which puts California at having 27% of the LEP population. And, of course, larger cities have larger populations of non-proficient speakers. Cities such as DC, Miami, and Chicago have large populations of LEPs.

Limited English Proficient Population

limited English proficiency states

While many LEPs are foreign born, about 19% were actually born in the US.  That leaves 81% that are foreign born.

Separately, there are an additional 2.8 million LEPs in Puerto Rico, which is part of the US.  (When I visited Puerto Rico, I was surprised that hardly anyone spoke English fluently since I had read that both English and Spanish are the official languages there.)

Does not being able to speak English while living in America hurt LEPs? This study does show that they are more likely to be living in poverty or be doing menial jobs. Many LEPs work in construction, transportation, or the service industry. They are less likely to hold college degrees. Is it difficult to live their day-to-day lives? I am sure it is. Many LEPs have children that are proficient in English from going to school, and their children must help them do simple tasks, like pay bills. It is taxing on the parents and the children.

However, not everyone has the time or the opportunity to learn English. If you’re working 60 hours a week, it’s very difficult to squeeze in time to learn English. Additionally, many people don’t know how to go about learning. Some don’t realize there are many free classes to help them learn English. And another major reason is that learning English can be intimidating. It’s hard to admit that you don’t know the language, and then go to a class and feel like a toddler while learning the basics. (I can relate to that while living in China and trying to learn Chinese!)

This study goes to show that there is a definite need for qualified ESL teachers. There is also a need for volunteers to teach English. There are so many organizations with which one can volunteer to do this. They will give you basic training, but the teaching will be simple, and any native English speaker would be able to do this easily. One example is Pro-Literacy America.

So instead of getting angry when people can’t speak English,  think about what you can do to help. Also, be considerate of their circumstances. It may very well be their first day in the US, or they may be taking classes but their ability level is still not very good yet.  Put yourself in their shoes, and be considerate of their feelings and situation.

I hate when people say that everyone in the US should know English, “because English is the official language goshdarnit!”  If you’d do your research you’d know that the US does not actually have an official language. So, chew on that little tidbit for a while.

I hope this post was informative. I got my information (and the images) from this website. So check it out if you’d like to read more if you’re a language/English/teaching nerd like me.   :]  And please help me out and  share on your social media (Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.) if you enjoyed this post.

Why Write? Because You Can Read Your Old Diaries Later

“Well, I don’t have as much to write as I used to, but in my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are, that there’s- that the process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.”

Barack Obama, Time Magazine

It’s like the president picked those words right out of my brain to describe why I think writing is important. When I teach college composition to freshmen, I spend the first few classes trying to convince them why writing is important and why they should hone their skills. So many people automatically say they hate writing, and that makes me so sad!

However, people don’t realize how much they write in their every day lives. When you put up your Facebook status, you’re writing. When you write an e-mail to your teacher or to your boss, you’re writing. When you send a text to that guy you like, you’re writing. Don’t you want to be able to get your point across well?

Besides from all the academic and professional reasons to write, there are so many personal reasons to put your pen to paper. People don’t write enough for themselves. Like Obama said, it really can help you clarify your thoughts, see what you truly believe, and assist you in figuring out a problem or situation. I know when I have a problem, writing about it helps me decipher a solution. I do it now, and I did it when I was younger.

In fact, I’ve found some old diaries that I used to keep in middle school. And boy oh boy are they amusing to read now! But, at the time, I was really trying to think things through and just record my feelings. So now, for your entertainment, I’ll share a few segments of entries. No making fun though!

“I went to the movies with Amy to see Spice World. We saw the boys from John’s birthday party and talked to them!”

“Today was our school dance. Scott asked me to dance with him. I don’t like him, but I danced with him anyway. But he stepped on my toes a lot! Ouch! Scott also wanted me to get my picture made with him (Wow. I was a southern child getting my picture “made”, huh?), but I didn’t.”

Do you notice a theme that I mostly wrote about boys? Haha. And I also discovered the first time I had a friendship with Chinese people.

“We have 3 new people in our school, and they are from China. Bin, Ling, and Xiu. They are so cool, and they are my friends!”

And here’s what the ol’ diary looks like.

20130115-231105.jpg

I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane as much as I did. Now go write something!

Is Cursive Dying?

As I was helping my new ESL students go through the registration process a few weeks ago, I was reminded about cursive writing. You’re probably wondering how a person can be “reminded” of cursive. Well, I’m reminded that many non-native English speakers can’t read cursive. My students were handed a form that had cursive writing filled into some of the blanks, and they told me they couldn’t read it and wanted help. I had learned during my time in China that my students there couldn’t read cursive either, but I hadn’t thought of it for quite a while.

I hardly ever write in cursive. It takes much more time for me, and, actually, I don’t remember how to form some of the letters. I’ve also noticed that, at least at my workplace, that hardly anyone my age writes in cursive, but the older folks do. (You can decide for yourself if you fit into the older folks category!)

Recently, while in the waiting room to see the doctor, I read an article in National Geographic magazine that supports some of these ideas. The article explained that cursive began because when quills were used to write with, they often splattered. Cursive solved this problem and was used until the 1900’s when it stopped being as important. Children used to learn cursive in 1st grade, then it slid up to 3rd grade. 88% of elementary school teachers today don’t feel like they even know cursive well enough to teach it! Also, a study showed that 85% of college students print instead of using cursive. I took a little informal poll of my college students to see which they preferred, and it seemed about 50-50. The ones that said print do so because it’s neater. The ones that said they like cursive made sure to tell me that a main reason is because they are afraid cursive is dying.

Is cursive really dying? Maybe so. In Indiana, they no longer require students to learn cursive, instead focusing on being able to use a keyboard. In one article I read, a 40 year teaching veteran lamented the loss of skill at cursive writing, saying that prospective employers are impressed with “attractive writing”. I’m sure that my boss has never seen my handwriting in the 4 years I’ve been at my current job, let alone use it as a deciding factor on whether or not to hire me.

Some would even argue that writing by hand is dying. I don’t know about you, but I like to see a note written, not typed, from someone I care about. And it’s great to look at a recipe written out on an index card by my grandma. Even if I do have a little trouble reading her cursive writing… :]

Do you feel strongly one way or the other about cursive writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.