Famous polyglot authors who wrote in English

Yann Martel (licensed under Creative Commons)

Yann Martel (licensed under Creative Commons)

Many of you will have seen the award-winning movie Life of Pi. Many may have read the book on which it is based. You might not know, however, that English is not the first language of its Canadian author Yann Martel; French is. “English is the language in which I best express the subtlety of life,” he has said. “But I must say that French is the language closest to my heart. And for this same reason, English gives me a sufficient distance to write.”

Martel is not the only writer to have chosen to write in their second (or even third) language. The Czech author Milan Kundera often writes in French, as did Irish playwright Samuel Becket. Sholem Aleichem, whose story Tevye and His Daughters became the basis for the musical Fiddler on the Roof, wrote initially in Russian and Hebrew but later in Yiddish. Anna Kazumi-Stahl, born to a Japanese mother and an American-German father, writes predominantly in Spanish. Some other well-known authors who have written in English as their second language are Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabokov and Jack Kerouac. Continue reading

5 benefits of being bilingual

bilingual educationIt might come as a surprise to speakers of global languages such as English and Spanish, but there are in fact more bilingual and multilingual people on the planet than monolingual ones. In some regions, such as Africa, where most people speak the national language as well as their own indigenous language, bilingualism is the norm. Whether you’ve grown up speaking two languages or are learning your second one later in life, there are numerous benefits to being bilingual that go far beyond being able to order a beer and ask for directions while travelling abroad. Let’s look at some of them here. Continue reading

Making the most of lyrics in class

Lyrics in classLike many ELT teachers, you may already use songs in class, perhaps as a fun way to end the lesson. But how often do you really exploit the lyrics in class in the way you would exploit any other piece of text? The obvious choice of activity with a song is the good old-fashioned gap fill, with students filling in the missing words as they listen along. But this is not the only possibility, and certainly not the most resourceful or productive. Here are some other ideas you can try.

1. Prediction by rhyme

Most English lyrics rhyme, which is a great way to get your learners thinking before they listen. Gap out the second word in each pair of rhymes, have the learners predict the missing word based on rhyme and meaning, then have them listen to check. They’ll listen much more attentively if they’re trying to check their own ideas, and they’ll also have a chance to focus on the text before hearing it. Here’s a silly made-up example (the answer is below):

Hip hop artists, when they sing /  Often wear a tonne of ___________ Continue reading

Letter D is for Dictionary

The title page of Johnson's Dictionary

The title page of Johnson’s Dictionary

It might strike speakers of languages other than English as puzzling, even remiss, that there exists no Anglo-Saxon equivalent of the Real Academia Española, the Académie françaiseThe Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo, the National Institute of the Korean Language, or any other of the hundred or so institutions set up to study, regulate and oversee the use of the languages with which they have been entrusted. On the whole, these esteemed institutions take a prescriptive approach to their work, laying down the rules of acceptable usage and deciding which new words may be allowed official existence in the lexicon. However, while other countries chose to establish national language-planning bodies, Great Britain in the 18th century, and the USA not long afterwards, opted instead for one-man endeavours. 1755 saw the publication on Samuel Johnson’s groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language, while across the pond in 1828 Noah Webster brought out his famous American Dictionary of the English Language. Both were masterpieces of scholarship and laid the foundations of what was to become an Anglosphere tradition of preferring to describe the language as it is actually used rather than attempt to dictate how it should be used. Continue reading

A carnival quiz for carnival season!


Masked carnival-goers in Venice (Frank Kovalchek – Creative Commons)

Do on your costumes, revellers and partygoers, if you haven’t donned already, and don’t do them off until it’s over – carnival season is upon us! Traditionally, these boisterous festivities were the time for Catholics to indulge before Lent, the time to eat up all the rich food in the house before the long pre-Easter weeks of fasting, piety and prayer. The roots of the revelry go back even further, however, to pre-Christian pagan festivals. These days, of course, it’s more the costumes, masks and music that come merrily to mind. Here’s a little quiz for you and your students about the various carnival celebrations in full swing around the world. Answers on a sequin or in drumbeat, please!

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Tweeting, yapping, frothing… and teaching (English onomatopoeia)

kapowFor the last ten years or so, delicate birds in English-speaking countries the world over have been complaining about social networking – or to be more precise, about one site in particular. It’s not Facebook that has upset them, or LinkedIn, nor is it Instagram or Tumblr. It’s Twitter that has ruffled their feathers. The reason is simple; they can no longer do one of the things that delicate birds in English-speaking countries most like to do, at least not without everyone expecting them to keep it short and simple and add a couple of hashtags to the message. They can no longer twitter or tweet.

‘Why they had to go with our particular sound is beyond me,’ tweeted Warner Bros. veteran Tweety Bird, in an exclusive interview for Pearson ELT Learning Journeys. ‘Why couldn’t they have called it Oinker or Mooster? The pigs and the cows wouldn’t have minded. They could’ve done with the publicity.’ Meanwhile, groups of birds from other countries have expressed their relief that the site chose to go with English onomatopoeia rather than sound-words from their own languages. ‘Chu-u chu-u!’ chirped a Japanese spokes-bird, visibly relieved, while a Spanish owl in Madrid hooted in to say, ‘It’s bad enough that the pedestrian lights here go pío pío. Frankly, I’m relieved you’re not all pío-ing.’ Continue reading