The Cambridge Advanced Learners' dictionary (accessed by selecting `British English' on the Cambridge dictionaries page) has sufficient vocabulary for most purposes and gives more easily understandable explanations than those in dictionaries for native speakers. The online version gives pronunciation in phonetic symbols and now also recordings of both British and American speakers saying each word. You can find a list of the symbols, with recorded pronunciation for each one, on the BLMCSS site but you have also to download the silipa93 font (from that site or from the button at the bottom of this page) to see the symbols displayed properly and this may not be possible on some browsers (for further details see Sounds of English below).
Dictionary.com provides definitions from standard dictionaries and therefore some of the explanations may be too complex for students at intermediate level. However, recorded pronunciation (American) is provided for each word. The site also includes a facility for translation between English and the world's major languages. The pronunciation of the names of many persons and places names is given on the HowToPronounce, Howjsay or Inogolo sites. Phonetic transcription and recorded pronunciation are also available for some names on the Free Dictionary site. For an amusing demonstration of just how eccentric English spelling/pronunciation can be, try this poem: `If you can pronounce correctly every word... you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud.' Help is, however, available on the Deep English site which includes a recording of the whole poem and additional material for practice.
The most complete dictionary of the English language - and probably the most comprehensive dictionary available for any language - is the Oxford English Dictionary. This aims to include all words that have been used since around 1100 (i.e. since the transition from Old to Middle English) and to trace the history of any such word as far back as possible. At present the dictionary covers 600, 000 words with 3, 000, 000 quotations illustrating their use down the centuries. An individual subscription to the on-line version costs £205 per annum but free access from any computer terminal is provided for all students and staff of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and similar arrangements may be available for members of other libraries.
The British National Corpus is is a computer database of around 100 million words of text (including both published material and transcripts of conversations). It allows the user to search for examples of the use of particular words or phrases. With the simple search function, for which registration or payment is not required, only a maximum of fifty examples will be displayed for each query but this is normally sufficient for most purposes. A number of different corpora, mostly of American English and generally more up-to-date than the BNC, can now be accessed conveniently via Mark Davies' Brigham Young University site. They include corpora based on Google's book collections, which indicate the number of uses of a word or phrase in different decades,
There is an extremely large collection of recordings of the same short passage read in different accents (both native and non-native), with phonetic transcription also provided, available free-of-charge in the Speech Accent Archive.
John Milton's Compulang site includes a wide range of activities to assist in vocabulary learning. Payment is required for long-term use but a 30-day free trial of the material is available.
Modularised English courses, with interactive exercises and assigned tutors, are available on a commerical basis from Connect Learning
You can test your knowledge of the names of major world cities with a composite satellite photo of the world at night. The brightest light patches are large cities and, if the cursor rests on one of them for a few seconds, the name will pop up. The names of all the countries of the world are included in a song available on YouTube.
Miscellaneous materials prepared for Hong Kong students are available at the English Zone website set up by Ron Kordyban at Christ College and at a new site currently under construction, http://hk-net-works.weebly.com/ Another Hong Kong TEFL page is maintained by Tom Grundy, who also provides an extensive list of links to other resource sites. The Make Belief Comix site allows users to click and drag figures into story panels and add their own words in speech or thought bubbles. There is a similar service by registration on http://www.toondoo.com/.
Kevin Neary's site http://english-speak-english.com/ includes material on gardening and nature and links to other resources, with a particular focus on business English. exercises of various kinds, with an emphasis on American English are available on the English Daily site.
The classic basic course English 900 (with text and MP3), originally devised for Cuban refugees settling in the USA, can be downloaded free of charge from scribd.com but you may need to upload a document of your own in exchange.
The BBC website's `Words in the News' section includes a large collection of news stories with attached sound files and a glossary of difficult words. You can download the file below for detailed instructions on how to use these, plus comprehension questions and expanded vocabularies for stories from the first half of 2002. The second file gives answers to the comprehension questions:
The BBC site also has a regular bulletin for 12 to 14-year-old children (native speakers) in simplified English. The bulletins are read with a muzak background (but sound only) and a transcript provided.
The News English Lessons site posts short stories every few days with extensive exercises. There are normally no videos but an mp3 recoding of the passage, read quite slowly, is available with each lesson. There are also comprehension and vocabulary exercises on news stories, classified as elementary, intermediate or advanced, on onestopenglish.com
There are also BBC reports with audio recordings and downloadable transcripts and exercises on the cnhubei site but glosses and comprehension questions are given in Chinese (with simplified characters) rather than English.
These exercises, intended to provide practice in listening comprehension, vocabulary study and short writing, mostly make use of short videos from the BBC site. When used with a class, the topic should be introduced and students then told to watch the video and to remember as much of the contents as they can. After eliciting what they can remember, the worksheet should be distributed and students asked to do the gap-filling exercise whilst watching the video again. They then match the vocabulary items and finally write about the discussion question. For each exercise, the first download is the worksheet itself and the second the answers to the listening and vocabulary tasks with, in some cases, suggested answers to discussion questions. A few exercises to which keys have not been provided are grouped separately at the bottom of the section.
`In the saloon' is based on a Youtube clip from the 1993 film Tombstone. The video for `Snowfall chaos' has now been removed from the BBC site so only the text comprehension exercise is still usable but the links for the others were still live in November 201o. There is an additional exercise of a similar type downloadable from the `Ten Years after the Handover' section lower down on this page.
These exercises are similar in scope to those listed in the previous section but without the video/listening element. New exercises relating to local news items are available every three or four days on the HKEdcity site, for which individual or school registration is required. For those wishing to use articles in the international media to make their own exercises, links to many leading newspapers are collected on the world-newspapers.com site.
The PowerPoint, with comprehension questions added by Glynnis McCourt of Salford University, provides an outline history of the English language with some material on other languages used in the British Isles. A fuller account, also with comprehension questions, is provided in the Word document.
Two of the PowerPoint slides illustrate the contrast between the American Declaration of Independence as actually written, and as it might have been written if English had not begun to use so many non-native words from the 11th century onwards. The version in English without loanwords (`Anglish') was produced by the Anglish Moot, who have since further modified their text, which can be read here.
The slide show also includes some lines (stanza 8) from Y Goddodin, an old poem in Welsh, the language which was spoken over most of Britain before the arrival of English. You can hear stanza 10 of the poem chanted on a video here and see the whole text and an English translation here. For another sample of Welsh, listen to the national anthem of Wales, which was written in the 19th century.
The BBC documentary series `The Adventure of English' is currently (December 2017) available on YouTube and is probably the best free resource on the subject:
Further information on the history of English, plus a full list of countries where the language has official status is given on KryssTal.com This site, like my Powerpoint, follows the generally accepted theory that the English language was brought into Britain by immigrants from continental Europe in the middle of the first millennium A.D. There is an alternative theory, adopted in Stephen Oppenheimer's book, The Origins of the British: a Genetic Detective Story and also advanced on Michael Goormachtigh's How old is English? website, according to which English was established much earlier in eastern Britain and this area was never Celtic-speaking. Oppenheimer's views are conveniently summarised in a review article by Nicholas Wade and a critique by Geoffrey Sampson is also available on-line.
The Open University's light-hearted animation video `History of English in Ten Minutes' presents a lot of information but the breakneck speed of the narration makes it hard work for all but the most fluent users of the language. There is also a lot of interesting data in the form of maps and charts in Libby Nelson's compilation, `25 maps that explain the English language'.
If you are interested in Old English, the form of the language spoken before about 1100, there are online lessons, with recordings of the pronunciation, on the University of Calgary site. There is also a good overview in a mini-lecture by Professor Alexander Arguelles, who compares Old English with two Germanic languages, Gothic and Old Icelandic, as well as reading from a Biblical text. Another Biblical reading, from an 11th century translation of Genesis, is available in the Language Harmony Project series. The pronunciation of Early Modern English, the language of Shakespeare's time, is demonstrated in extracts from his plays in this video by David Crystal and his actor son, Ben:
For a sample of English a generation before Shakespeare, try this reccitation by a Dutch professor of the `Speke Parrott' by John Skelton:
Battle of Hastings
Designed as a supplementary exercise for a textbook unit dealing with a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, which put a French-speaking ruling class in control of England and opened the way for a flood of French and Latin words into the English language, today amounting to over half of its total vocabulary. The Powerpoint is accompanied by a worksheet with questions to be answered whilst watching it. Several of the photos used are taken from the Woodlands Junior School site, which is designed for British children aged 7-11 but also useful for lower secondary students studying English as a second language. Many illustrations from the Bayeux Tapestry depiction of the battle are also included. The worksheet concludes with a follow-up assignment researching re-enactments of two other battles.
The English described in dictionaries and grammars is normally standard British or standard American - but the language as actually spoken in Britain, America and elsewhere shows enormous variation. Written English only became fully standardised about 200 years ago and before then the same word was often spelled differently by different authors and vocabulary and grammar also differed from place to place. The variety spoken in southern Scotland, known as Scots and most famously employed by the 18th century poet Robert Burns, would probably have emerged as a separate written standard had it not been for the political union between England and Scotland in 1707. Although a number of Scots words and expressions are well-known outside Scotland, or can be guessed from a knowledge of standard English or other languages, many of the words can appear completely foreign to speakers of other varieties. Some examples are given in `D'ye ken yer neaps frae yer tatties?' (Do you know your turnips from your potatoes?), a quiz produced by Billy Kay and can be downloaded here or read on the SCOTS page on this site. Kay, who is a strong advocate of greater use of Scots as well as a leading authority on the subject, discusses it in detail in his book Scots: the Mither Tongue:
A dictogloss exercise differs from a conventional dictation by requiring students not to write down as they listen but to reconstruct the whole passage AFTER they have heard it read through two or three times. They are usually provided with a lit of key words to help them to do this and, working in small groups, they are able to reproduce the general meaniing by pooling individual memories and also expected to work together to ensure accurate grammar and spelling. In the format use here, keywords are elicited from the class by showing a Powerpoint before the full list is finally displayed. The technique is especially useful for language-across-the-curriculum work by using passages reinforcing language content from other subjects. The Word files below include the word list and also the original passage which can be displayed at the end. Before that stage, it is a good idea to require a group which has finished quickly to present their own reconstruction either with a visualiser or by typing it into the classrooom computer. The rest of the class can then be invited to try to improve the result before the original is shown for comparison.
1. CHOP SUEY
Adapted from Professor Hugh Baker's very entertaining University of London inaugural lecture, The Chop Suey Connection: Hong Kong (School of Oriental and African Studies, 1994), this is an account of a dish that probably originated in Guangdong province but is now much commoner in Chinese restaurants overseas than in China itself.
3. ABU SIMBEL This is a more elaborate set of exercises, including questions on vocabulary and complex noun phrases. The passage is adapted from a travel guide account of the Abu Simbel temples and their removal and reconstruction during the building of the Aswan dam. The exercises are in the third file.
This is a comprehension and vocabulary exercise based on a description by a BBC correspondent of a visit to an Amazonian tribe in Brazil, with an introductory Powerpoint covering the more difficult words. The text is still on the BBC site but the sound file originally accompanying it has now been deleted and a teacher would need to read the passage out aloud himself/herself for the listening task (see detailed instructions at the end of the Word file). Students working on their own could simply do the matching of words and meanings and the other questions on pg. 2. Answers to the exercises are in the third file.
A worksheet for use with the first of the `Annoying Orange' videos on Youtube. Students have to fill in words as they listen and then to explain the meaing of some words and phrases. The second page gives the answers
This is a comprehension exercise based on a video of a bungee jump. An advanced class could be asked to complete the worksheet (pg. 4 of the Word file ) immediately after introduction of the topic of extreme sports and viewing the Powerpoint. A weaker class could be shown the transcript and glossary (p.1-3) before tackling the questions. Answers are provided in the second Word file. The video itself is too large (13 Mb) to be uploaded to this site but the file can be requested using the comments form on the home page.
This is an activity designed originally to accompany Unit 8c (`What's On?') in Virginia Evans and Jenny Dooley's Upstream (Elementary A2) but can be used independently. Students view a PowerPoint presentation of 26 stills from various films or stage productions and are asked to name the film or play if they recognise it or at least to guess the period in which it is set. They are then given a handout of 26 plot summaries and have to match these with the PowerPoint pictures and also write one or more genre names (tragedy, romance, adventure etc.) for each summary. The handout is the second of the downloads and the model answer the last one.
Chindogu is a Japanese word for gadgets which appear to have a function but are really too silly to use. The Powerpoint downloadable here shows eight examples (more can easily be found on the web using a search engine) and students can be asked to describe each gadget and say what they think its purpose is. They should then be shown the PDF file to match the picture with the description giving the real answer.
This is a simple listening comprehension based on a BBC presentation of three Hong Kong citizens talking about their feelings in 2007 ten years after Hong Kong was handed back to Chinese rule. The sound track is accompanied by three slide shows. The first Word file consists of short, gapped summaries for students to fill in whilst watching and listening. There are four copies of the questions on a single A4 sheet to facilitate making multiple copies for a whole class. The second file is a transcript of the sound track, There are a number of minor grammatical errors in this and students could be asked to look for them as a follow-up, proofreading exercise.
The third file is a combined worksheet (suitable for a single student) with the questions followed by the transcript, in which errors have been identified in italics but correction is still left for the student himself/herself. The fourth file gives answers to the questions and the proofreading exercise.
And a video produced by Hong Kong teacher Tom Grundy and his students:
A large range of Internet resources in English are available via the links on the Christmas page on a French educational site. and here is a song for very young learners - Three Christmas Trees:
A collection of Powerpoint presentations illustrating different aspects of grammar is available here. Most of them were originally intended to supplement John Potter and Clare Vickers' Grammar Explained.
...and Grammar Nazis
An amusing parody of the tendency of some people to take insistence on `correct grammar' to extremes.
1. MNEMONICS by Andrew Morton This is an impressively detailed recalling by English teacher and jazz musician Andrew Morton of a school hike in 1965 along the River Trent and the traumatic event that interrupted it. Another of the autrhor's short stories, `England's Glory' (on student life at the end of the sixties) is available at http://www.eclectica.org/v4n2/morton.html
2. LETTER TO AMERICA circulated widely on the Internet in differing versions and falsely attributed to John Cleese Written when the result of the 2000 presidential election was under dispute, this spoof announcement of the USA's reversion to British crown colony status is perhaps a little childish but at the time it amused most Brits and quite a few Americans, though it may have made the supposed author rather unpopular in Kansas or Utah, depending on which version people saw!). It is also a handy summary of some of the differences between British and American English. Whilst the latter has mostly influenced the former, there has recently been a trend, especially amongst better-educated Americans, to borrow specifically British words and phrases. Examples are collected in a BBC article `Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English' and in readers' responses to it.
3. MAY IT BE by Roma Ryan (lyrics to music by Enya) A simple but very effective song written for the film `Fellowship of the Ring', first of three films by Peter Jackson dramatising Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The lyrics are accompanied by a translation and a link to a performance of the song by Enya.
4.THE GOOD CONDUCTORby Bernard Hare The author recounts how one act of kindness by a stranger changed his life. The story was first published on the BBC's website in December 2010. The file for download includes help with vocabulary.
5. A VILLAGE IN A MILLION A sensitive portrait of a village in northern India, its traditional caste structure and the forces of change operating on it.
6. TIGER MOTHERby Amy Chua Extracts from the author's Battle Hymn of the Tiger-Mother, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal just before the book itself was published in January 2011, creating great controversy by the apparent advocay of draconian child-rearing methods. The extracts themselves are followed by an interview with Chua in which she responds to her critics, and by a piece by one commentator acknowledging that the book as a whole gave a very different picture from the extracts but blaming her for allowing such an unrepresentative sample to be released.
7. `HOW TO LIVE BEFORE YOU DIE' - Steve Jobs' 2005 Harvard Commencement Address This link is to the YouTube video of the 15-minute address given by apple CEO Steve Jobs to Stanford University graduates, using episodes from his own life to argue that you should not settle for doing anything you don't really love doing and that apparent failures can be springboards for success. There is also a transcript of the speech available on the web.
8. ENGLISH RHETORIC Erin McKean's review of Ward Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric, which introduces eighteen figures of speech by their original Greek names and then exemplifies and discusses each of them with reference to outstanding users of English from 1600 to 1950.
9. `DEATH TO HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH' An article by Kim Brooks, a writer and English college professor, arguing that the current emphasis on reading, class discussion and `creativity' in American high schools is inadequate and that much more attention should be given to the explicit teaching of formal writing skills.
10. `HONOR CODE' by David Brooks An `oped' piece from the New York Times arguing that the emphasis on `caring and sharing' in contemporary school culture may be alienating large numbers of male pupils and contributing to the growing achievement gap between boys and girls in the education system.
_11. BEFORE THE SWALLOW DARES The
link is to the preview on Amazon of a novel by Tony Whelpton, centring
on the relationship between Ted and Dilys, who have a brief affair
whilst at school in Nottingham and meet again almost fifty years later
in London. Although a work of fiction, it draws on the author's
experience of growing up in a Catholic family in Nottingham and his
enthusiasms for cricket, french and music.
Teaching English in Hong Kong
Written in 1996, these reflections on working as an English teacher from 1987 to 1996 under the various predecessors to the present Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) scheme were intended as input to a study on expatriate teachers in Hong Kong. There are now many more foreign teachers in the schools (over 800 in 2010) and conditions in Baptist Lui Ming Choi Secondary School were a lot easier, but a lot of what I wrote is probably still relevant.
For information on the NET scheme today, visit the HK Education Department's and the Native-Speaking English Teachers Association (NESTA) sites, while there is also now a Facebook group for NET teachers. There is also information on the website of Teach Away, a Canadian company which has been contracted by the HK Education department to assist with recruitment. Darren Bryant's 2011 Hong Kong University doctoral thesis on the NET scheme as a case study of educational innovation is downloadable here.
Native speakers without a teaching qualification may be able to get employment as teaching assistants, for example by aplying to Chatteris , an educational charity recruiting from English-speaking countries for placements in Hong Kong schools.
Details of the New Secondary School Syllabus for Hong Kong are also on the Education Department site and a Melinda Lo's list of sample questions on the Short Stories option can be found here. This Youtube video produced by the Drama Club at a Kowloon secondary school gives a humorous view of oral exams and also an example of the kind of work NETs may be involved in:
Details of the Hong Kong Secondary Schools Debating Competition, set up in the 2012-2013 academic year by veteran NET and debating coach Stan Dyer, are available on the HKSS Debating site. Around 80 teams had enrolled for the 2013-14 Term 1 competition by the beginning of September 2013.
Hong Kong's school system is a complex mix, dividing into the following main categories:
a. `Local Schools' - catering mainly for Cantonese-speaking children, though they may use English to teach some or all of the subjects and they include some which provide a fully English-language curriculum for one section of their students, with French rather than Chinese available taught as a single subject:
1. Government schools: Set up and fully controlled by the government. These include several of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the SAR
2. Aided schools: A much larger group, which are set up and run by a sponsoring body (e.g. a religious denomination) but have most of their costs met by the government and are subject to detailed control of their curriculum and budget. Their status is system is roughly similar to that of most Catholic schools in the UK. They do not charge fees, except for a very small ones for upper secondary students
3. Direct Subsidy School (DSS): These schools are also set up by independent bodies and do not have all their running costs met by the government but instead receive a lump sum which, within broad limits, they can use as they please. they normally charge fees of 1, ooo to 3, 000 Hong Kong dollars monthly.
b. `International Schools' - catering in theory mainly for non-Cantonese speaking children but also admitting a number of children of ethnically Chinese long-term Hong Kong residents:
1. Unsubsidized schools: These are largely independent of the Hong Kong government, though may have building sites made available to them at a concessionary rate and be subject to restrictions on the proportion of local students they may enroll. They charge fees which may be in excess of $100, 000 annually.
2. English Schools Foundation: A group of schools following the British National Curriculum but, under an arrangement dating back to the colonial period when the government needed to make special arrangements for the children of its expatriate civil servants, receiving a government subsidy. This was originally intended to match the per capita spending on children in the local system but, after heavy criticism of their financial management, the annual grant has been frozen for the past ten years. Secondary schools in the system now charge $9,000 monthly for senior secondary students
At the moment, many non-Chinese parents and also organisations representing foreign businesses in Hong Kong are complaining about a lack of places in international schools, with the problem especially acute for non-Chinese families unable to afford the fees in the non-ESF international schools. There is a counter-argument that the local system either is already able - or, more plausibly, could be made able to take a higher proportion of non-Cantonese-speaking children For a good discussion of the arguments involved by a former ESF administrator, see Peter Craughwell's article in the South China Morning Post.
For an exaggerated (but very amusing) portrait of the kind of demands some parents make on Hong Kong teachers, see the Youtube clip below.
Normal schooling is supplemented by the multi-million- dollar tutorial college industry, where many students go for `cramming sessions' presented by high-profile `tutor kings', whose photos are plastered on advertisements all over town. Marcel Theroux's report on the system for BBC TV, focussing on Beacon College's Richard Eng and one of his students, is available on this YouTube video:
Features of English as used in Hong Kong are discussed in a Wikipaedia article
Primary School resources
The Magic Tree House series of readers, particularly suitable for the upper forms of primary schools, introduce children to different periods of history though following the adventures of a brother and sister who travel through time collecting books for Morgan, the magical librarian from King Arthur's court. The book's website includes an interactive game allowing students to answer questions, collect clues and take notes on different missions.
The Ming the Minibus series of
readers, originally written by Thomas Becket for use by 3 to 8
year-olds in Hong Kong but of interest to children worldwide, features a
magical minibus which takes its driver and two schoolchildren from
Hong Kong on trips to different countries, teaching geography as well as
giving simple reading practice. An accompanying series of videos is
available on YouTube.
Readings of children's stories, with animated illustrations and the option of having the text displayed as sub-titles, are available on the Storylineonline site. Another site with stories and activities for young children aimed at boosting skills development is Chateau Meddybemps.
NET teacher Tom Grundy has uploaded training videos for 24 Primary School the 2011 Hong Kong Speech Festival at http://www.youtube.com/speechfestival2011 He has also made available in PowerPoint form a template for interactive quizzes. He has also made available a PowerPoint about Easter on the authorSTREAM file-sharing site (registration is required to download this) There is a wide range of children's ebooks, for age-range 3 to 11, available free-of-charge from the `Oxford Owl' site. All the books have added audio, which can be turned off if preferred. All of his material developed over 7 years has now been collected together for free download at http://www.tomstefl.com
The Sounds of English
This file provides an introduction to the sounds of standard British English (RP) and to the phonetic symbols as used in modern dictionaries with older symbols also listed where they differ. There is in addition a brief outline of stress and intonation patterns and of the use of strong and weak forms. For the symbols to display properly it is necessary to install the SIL ipa93 font by downloading the second file and then launching in the normal way. The teacher's guide to the accompanying exercises is now (June 2010) being edited and will be uploaded shortly. You can hear the individual sounds demonstrated on the Baptist Lui Ming Choi Secondary School site here. A table of the symbols with recordings of both American and British pronunciations where they differ is available here; it is too complex to recommend to most learners but a useful reference source for teachers.
The Word file, which would normally be printed and given to students at the beginning of the course, is supplemented by Powerpoint presentations covering the key points in each unit and normally including answers to the exercises. These can ber downloaded here.
For younger learners, or others who want a guide to the sounds most frequently associated with particular letters and letter combinations in standard spelling, there is a useful chart designed by Alison Logan on the Kowloon City Baptist Church Hay Nien (Yan Ping) Primary Schmarsool site here. This includes illustrations of the mouth shape for each sound and clicking on a letter lets you hear the corresponding sound in Canadian pronunciation. A more elaborate phonics course, designed for Hong Kong Primary 1 students by Tom Grundy, is available for download from the slideshare.net site, including an animated slide show with embedded sound and a student's workbook. To download and use all features, you need to register on the site and have a version of Microsoft Office later than 2003. For a humorous look at the mismatch between sound and spelling in English, see the collection of poems assembled by the Spelling Society. More on the spelling system, and other difficulties of faced by the learner of English, is provided here.
Those wishing to improve their public speaking skills in Hong Kong can apply for membership of the Hong Kong Toastmasters Association. Issues such as timing, pitch, posture, tone etc. are dealt with in an amusing way in a YouTube clip from the British TV series `Yes, Prime Minister'.