Sunday, January 30, 2011

A map of the predominant surnames in the USA

I have recently come across this very interesting map published by National Geographic.
Map: Mina Liu; Oliver Uberti, NGM Staff. Source: James Cheshire, Paul Longley, and Pablo Mateos, University College London.
It shows the most common surnames in the different states of the USA. The bigger the name, the more common it is. The colours are given according to the origin of the name, thus, red surnames are Spanish in origin, and it is quite interesting to see how they are mainly found in the states that used to be part of the Spanish Empire. Blue, on the other hand, with its different shades, is the colour of surnames coming from England, Scotland and Wales; green is for the Irish names, brown is for Scandinavian names, etc. It's also quite logical that the French names, in pink, are found near the Canadian frontier, where French is an official language alongside English. The German names, in orange, abound in the Northern central states like Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesotta. Finally, it's no wonder that the Chinese name Lee is rife in California, where so many immigrants of that nationality helped to build the railway.

See the interactive map here.
Hat tip to Richard Byrne, of the Free Technology for Teachers' blog.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Future tenses

There are many ways to express the future in English, but there are only four tenses that are termed “future”:
  • future simple: will+ infintive    I will study tomorrow
  • future continuous: will be + V-ing     Tomorrow at this time I will be studying English
  • future perfect: will have + past participle    By the end of this week I will have finished my exams.
  • Future prerfect continuous: will have been + V-ing    By the end of this year I will have been working in this school for 20 years.
Apart from these, other tenses can have future meaning:
  • present simple: The train leaves at 4 o'clock.
  • present continuous (usually with future expressions):   She is leaving tomorrow morning.
There are other ways to express the future, the most common of which is going to + infinitive
We are going to work really hard to pass our exams.

Read this thorough presentation to revise the forms and uses of the future tenses in English, and below there is a selection of exercises to help you improve this aspect.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

A useful tool for learning vocabulary

I usually tell my students that learning a language is like building a house: you need a strong structure, but you also need bricks. Otherwise, your house will look more like a skeleton! In a language, grammar is the structure and words are the bricks. Learning a lot of grammar but very little vocabulary won't help you at all to understand and be uderstood in that language.
                                    Image: 'Pilares'
Sometimes my students tell me that they find it difficult to memorize vocabulary and I usually reply that they should write lists of new words and try to translate them into their mother tongue; then do it the other way round: write the words in the native tongue and try to remember what the foreign word was.
Now, thanks to Mr. Byrne, of the Free Technology for Teachers blog, I've discovered Nabbber, a new tool that helps you learn vocabulary while being part of a social network. In Nabbber you can write the words you want to learn and then give the translation into your mother tongue or a definition in the same language, then you can also write an example so that you learn the new word in context. Furthermore, you can browse their web for other words that may interest you and you can also follow other people that have a similar level to yours. In order to help you remember the words you have contributed and the ones you have marked, there is the possibility of doing exercises and thus check your knowledge.
I find Nabbber quite an interesting tool for language learners. Give it a try!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How to pronounce "ch" in English words

The digraph “ch” can be pronounced in four different ways in English. How can this be possible?

Though it is a Germanic language, English has borrowed words from many other languages that it's been in contact with through the centuries, but most influences come from French and the classic languages Greek and Latin.
English letters and letter combinations of Greek origin or influence
While most words that contain ch are pronounced with the / / sound (like in church), many words that come from French still retain their original pronunciation in a way. That explains why words like chic or champagne are pronounced with a sh-like sound (phonetically /ʃ /).
In this video you can hear many of these words.
On the other hand, words coming from Greek retain the /k/ sound, as they were said by the Greek and the Romans as well. Some well known examples are: architect, orchestra, choir,... and of course, the many words related to medicine that come from Greek and are used in most modern European languages.
Listen to many of these words in this video. If you want to read a thorough list of these words follow this link.

Well, that makes three different sounds: //, /ʃ / and /k/, and I said four different sounds. Which is the last one? The sound / χ /, which sounds like a strong aspirated /h/ and is used in Scottish words of Gaelic origin such as loch /loχ/ (lake), which is written lough in Ireland.
For a complete chart with all the phonemes of English, follow this link.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Singular nouns with plural verbs

Which one of these sentences is correct?: “The band were playing” or “The band was playing”?
Havana Streetband

Especially in British English, certain singular words which refer to groups of people can be used as if they were plural. This happens when we consider the group as individuals. In this case, the verb that follows is in the plural, and the noun can be referred to by the pronoun they.

The crowd were shouting and singing. They were really noisy.
My family are coming tomorrow for Thaksgiving dinner. They will stay at home overnight.
The Government are debating the new act.

However, these words can be used with singular verbs and pronouns when we see the group as a unit rather than a group of individuals.

His family is from Scotland.
The Tunisian Government has fallen.

Note that these words are not used with plural verbs when they have a, each, every, this or that before them. Compare:
The team are training really hard.
That team is at the top of the league.

The family were having dinner together.
Every family has a black sheep.

The majority of our students are under 18.
A majority of just one vote is enough to win the election.

Some of these nouns are:
commitee couple crew
crowd family gang
government group herd
congregation jury majority
minority pair staff
team audience band

There are a few of them which are usually plural: the police, the press, the public, the aristocracy.
The police have arrested the criminals.

So, in the question above, which would you use, the plural or the singular? Both would be fine. It just depends on the context and on the meaning you want to convey.
If you want to read more on the subject, follow this link.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shops and food vocabulary

It's sale season and most people enjoy going out shopping. Do you?

This exercise is good for beginners to learn some vocabulary related to shops and the food sold in them. Click on the images and you will hear the words. Then you can do the activities.
Enjoy shopping!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Day

Even though it's titled War, U2's third album has been described as “the record where the band turned pacifism into a crusade”. Of all the songs in the album, two stand out particularly: Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year's Day. The first one is about a terrible incident in Northern Ireland in which a group of civil rights defenders were shot by the British Army with a result of fourteen dead people. The other song, New Year's Day is about the Polish social movement Solidarity, which in the early 1980s started a fight in favour of workers' rights against the communist government.
Almost 30 years later, this song can still be heard without losing any freshness and can rightfully be termed as a classic.
Enjoy listening to New Year's Day on New Year's Day!
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