TEDEd: A Brief History of Plural Word…s.

From TEDEd:

All it takes is a simple S to make most English words plural. But it hasn’t always worked that way (and there are, of course, exceptions). John McWhorter looks back to the good old days when English was newly split from German — and books, names and eggs were beek, namen and eggru!

Watch the lesson on TEDEd.com.

Venn Diagram of Homograph and Other Linguistic Concepts

What is a heterograph? Is it the same as a heteronym? How about the difference between homonym and homophone?

Let’s try it another way…

What do you call to/too/two? Is it the same as desert/desert? Or tire/tire?

Check out this Venn Diagram (Wikipedia) that show the relationships between words with the same pronunciation, same spelling, and same meaning.


Source: Wikipedia


(New Edition) Master the Basics: English

I’m apparently behind on my publication of new materials, despite the inordinate amount of time I spend in bookstores. I have rather lame excuse for my inattention to this new edition…I was reading other books…for my Master’s degree.

Nevertheless, I am now aware that there is in fact a third edition to Master the Basics: English.  If by some chance, I am not the last person to be aware of this fact, I shall spread the word.

I wrote a blog post for the second edition of Master the Basics: English in December of 2012.  The third edition was published in September of 2013.

The third edition did not go through a major rewrite.  In fact,  it is nearly identical to the second edition.  There is, however, one new section: “Common Forms to Avoid”. This section goes through pronunciation and each of the parts of speech with advice on common errors that ESL/ELL students make.  This is very helpful for those students to curb major problem areas.  It is also helpful for native speakers to help them understand common errors and be ready to correct (and explain) those errors.

There is also a brand new yellow cover.  This now standardizes the Master the Basics covers and the 501 Verbs books.  They still only have Master the Basics for English, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, and English for Spanish Speakers.

The third edition also boasts it is fully recyclable and printed in the USA.

For more information on Master the Basics: English and other language guides by Barron’s, visit www.barronseduc.com.

Podcast Review: English Pronunciation Pod

One of my main complaints from my ESL/ELL students is that people cannot understand them when they speak. Grammar books and bilingual dictionaries don’t help them when they want to converse with native speakers or simply go about their lives in the United States.

I sympathize with my students greatly and empathized with them slightly. Too many high school and college Spanish courses have taught me that I sound like a dummy when I speak to my native-speaking professor.

Thus, I searched to find materials that will actually help them reduce their accent in a meaningful way.  There are too many pronunciation tools out there that have students repeat words and sounds without telling them how to make those sounds.  A student can hear “dog” over and over, but if they don’t know to drop their jaw to produce the vowel sound, it will always be said with an accent (discounting children…their brains are wired for language differently than adults).

Enter in Charles Becker and his podcast, English Pronunciation Pod.  I found this podcast several years ago and have used it over and over again with numerous students.  They love it.  They love it because it tells them how to speak English, including: what they are probably doing wrong, what “wrong” sounds like, and common mistakes for some languages.  Students have found his pronunciation easy to understand and like listening to him.  Of course, some of the really novice students have too much of a difficulty understanding him so this podcast is best used with students who know English but want to improve their pronunciation.

I really like that this podcast has transcripts on its website for students to follow along.  However, he could have used a better editor…there are some glaring problems that Microsoft Word can fix quite easily and quickly.  I like to copy and paste the web transcript into a Word document, fix the errors (save it so I only have to do it once!), and print it off for my students to use while they listen to the podcast.  This allows them to read and hear at the same time.  Unfortunately, the transcript isn’t a word for word transcription.  It seems to be the podcast in visual form.  It leaves out some digressions.  It does confuse my students at first, but then they get used to his format and appreciate the succinctness of the transcript for future reference.

Podcasts can be downloaded via iTunes to an iPad or iPhone.  I have them all downloaded to my iPad.  However, it is also possible to listen to podcasts on the web.  You can listen to the podcasts on the archive page or the transcript page.

The most unfortunate thing about this podcast is that it is no longer being updated.  I do not know why.  Awhile ago I emailed Charles Becker telling him I used this podcast frequently and would love more podcasts.  He did reply back indicating he would publish more podcasts.  However, only a couple podcasts were published in 2012.  Most of the podcasts were published in 2008-2011.

You can also purchase his “full pronunciation course” (Best Accent Training MP3s) that you hear an advertisement for at the end of every podcast (I usually stop the podcast before that…my students understand and appreciate it).  I’ve looked into it before.  It costs $75 and consists of most of the same material that is presented in the podcast.  Thus, I have not purchased it.  Let me know if you have purchased it and find it to be vastly different from the podcasts!

Overall: I love this podcast.  I have learned more about my own language while listening to this podcast.  It has helped me become a better teacher and has helped my ESL/ELL students reduce their accent and sound more like an American.

The History of English…in 10 minutes

The Open University has brought us the History of English…in 10 Minutes.  It’s educational, concise, and entertaining.  What more could you ask for?

There are originally 10 videos and the 11th video is all 10 of them combined.  Thus, I’ve only embedded the 11th video.  If you are interested in a single chapter video, you can find it individually on YouTube, The Open University’s website and on iTunes U (with transcripts).

Grammar Lesson: The Prefix “homo-“

It’s time for a quick grammar lesson with a side of a “politically correct” English lesson.

You can thank the Nomen Global Language Center and the firing of blogger Tim Torkildson for writing a post about…homophones.

downloadYes, a global language center who focuses on teaching English as a Second Language (or third, fourth, etc.) was worried that a blog post explaining homophones “creat[ed] the perception that the school promoted a gay agenda.”

According to Torkildson, the owner of the Nomen Center, Clarke Woodger, complained that “now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality.” 

Woodger, of course, cited none of this officially.   Blogger Paul Rolly noted that Nomen catered to foreign students seeking admission into United States colleges and universities; however, “Woodger says his school has taught 6,500 students from 58 countries during the past 15 years. Most of them, he says, are at basic levels of English and are not ready for the more complicated concepts such as homophones.”

If a foreign student cannot understand the difference between “be” and “bee”, than that student is not ready to attend a US college or university.

However, this blog post is not about the firing of Torkildson.  It is about the prefix “homo-“.

DEFINITION: Same.             EXAMPLES:

  • homophone (same sound/pronunciation, different spelling)
  • homograph (same spelling, different sound/pronunciation or meaning)
  • homonym (same spelling and same sound, different meaning)
  • homogenize (to change something so all parts become the same)
  • homograft (a skin graft from the same person)
  • homopaternal (same father)
  • homoplasmy (same mutation)


What do these definitions have in common?  The concept of “SAME”.  NOT sex.  The prefix “homo-” only refers to sexual concepts when used with a base word that is a sexual concept.   Thus, homosexuality.

Lastly: note the etymology of words and the power of language.  Homophobia actually means “to fear sameness”.  It has nothing to do with sex.


Owed to a Spell Chequer

I halve a spelling chequer

It came with my pea sea

It plane lee marques four my revue

Miss steaks aye ken knot sea

Eye ran this poem threw it

Your sure reel glad two no

It’s vary polished in it’s weigh

My chequer tolled me sew

A chequer is a bless sing

It freeze yew lodes of thyme

It helps me awl stiles two reed

And aides mi when aye rime

To rite with care is quite a feet

Of witch won should be proud

And wee mussed dew the best wee can

Sew flaws are knot aloud

And now bee cause my spelling

Is checked with such grate flare

Their are know faults with in my cite

Of nun eye am a wear

Each frays come posed up on my screen

Eye trussed to be a joule

The chequer poured o’er every word

To cheque sum spelling rule

That’s why aye brake in two averse

My righting wants too pleas

Sow now ewe sea wye aye dew prays

Such soft wear for pea seas


Author: Joe Tenn, faculty member at Sonoma State University, adapted from Eric Bear Albrecht (with apologies to Percy Dovetonsils.

Master the Basics: English

Learning a foreign language has been common in American high schools for quite some time.  I had always been drawn to the Spanish language.  But then again, I’m drawn to all languages as well as the concept of language itself.

When I was in middle school, many of my fellow students did not see the value in learning a foreign language.  We were suburban, middle-class Americans in the Midwest, specifically, suburban Detroit.  There was zero need for Spanish.  And while Canada was so close that we’d forget it was foreign country, Québec was too far away for French to be of any value.  So, people flipped a coin to decide if they should take two years of French or two years of Spanish.  But little did they know that among the “bonjour”s and “hola”s, they would end up learning about their own native American English.

That’s right; I’ve learned more about my own native language by studying a foreign language.  The first thing that smacked me over the head was tenses.  I thought there were three: past, present and future.  Turns out there are actually about 15 of the them and those so-called helping verbs and modals (could, would, should…) are actually changing the tense.  I had no idea just how many irregular, past tense verbs we had in English until one student complained of having to memorize 15 irregulars and the teacher demonstrated that English had over 200.

Plurals!  Spanish has two rules either add an “s” to a consonant or add an “es” to vowels.  This is the opposite of English.  English also has 8 or so rules, and rarely do they make any sense.

American English is a hybrid language.  We’ve stolen words from other languages.  We’ve changed the spelling or meaning of stolen words.  We’ve applied our own plural rules.  We’ve kept their plural rules.  We don’t pluralize “fish”.  The plural of box is boxes; however, the plural of ox is oxen.  Media and data are actually plural words— the singular forms are medium and datum.  And don’t even get me started on pronunciation…

How in the world do you even begin to explain this insanely complicated language to someone who can maybe sing along to the latest pop song or can watch a Hollywood movie in the theater with subtitles?  You can’t, at least, not without help.

Enter in Master the Basics: English (For students of English as a Second Language).  Although the term English as a Second Language (ESL) has become out-of-date in favor of the more accurate English Language Learner (ELL), the book will work for anyone studying English.  English is my native language and I still find it helpful.  Master the Basics: English is written by Jean Yates and published by Barron’s.  It retails for $14.99.  It is also available on Google Books for free.

I could go on and on about how well-written it is for ELL learners.  Several tutoring students I’ve taught who were at varying degrees of English proficiency could read and understand this book.  It is simplistic.  There aren’t colorful, distracting boxes and pictures competing for your attention.  There is one accent color—red—to aid in comprehension.  There are two tests, a pre-and post-test that are aligned with section numbers and skills to help the student know what particular grammar areas need to be focused on.

What I really, really love about this book is how helpful it can be to struggling students who natively speak English.  Master the Basics is a reference guide.  Pages 30-31 have all 8 plural rules together in a quick reference format.  There is a list of why the rules are what they are and how to apply them.  The book has a lot of why explanations.  Many students who struggle in school don’t struggle because they do not know how do something, rather they don’t know why.  Some people need that “why?” answer in order to engage certain sections of their brain.

The book’s preposition section contains graphical representations for common prepositions.  How do you explain what “behind” means?  The book shows the explanation with two simple chairs, ABC labels and arrows.  It also writes a sentence next to the graphic to help further understanding.  There are pages and pages of definitions for verbs with prepositions.  For example, what is the difference between “listening to” and “listening with?”  This book can explain that.

What is the difference between “say” and “tell?”  How do you know when you use “say” and when you use “tell”?  For many native English speakers, the answer is, “I just know.”  What’s even more problematic is that many native speakers cannot explain the difference to an ELL student.  For example, when Pedro says, “…and he says me…” and his new friend Johnny corrects him, “No no, it’s ‘..and he tells me’…”.  Pedro wants to know why he made the mistake.  Unfortunately, Johnny has no idea why it’s “tell” instead of “say”.  He just knows it’s wrong.

This book gives native speakers the quick answers to explain to ELL friends why their grammar is wrong.  This book gives teachers quick answers to explain to their diverse learners (thus, increasing classroom efficiency).  This book is cost-effective.  This book doesn’t look like an English textbook, nor does it look like English for Dummies®.  It’s a quick-reference, to-the-point, English essentials book that will teach anyone something he or she did not know about English.

If you haven’t guessed already, I HIGHLY recommend this book.