Grammar Guru: Watching an old film on TV

You watch an old film on TV for the first time. Afterwards, what do you say?

  1. “This is the first time I see this film.” You use the present tense because it’s true now.
  2. “This is the first time I saw this film.” You use the past tense because the film is over.
  3. “This is the first time I’ve seen this film.” You use the present perfect because it’s about your experience so far.

There are regional differences in where what is said, so answer without thinking too much, please!

Shearwater: Golden Archipelago

Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater started out as a natural scientist and has reworked his travels into a very interesting concept album (and media package) on remote islands. He says he first thought he should become a scientist. “But I kept noticing that the questions that most interested me are things you can’t really investigate with science, like why the fragments of an older, wilder world I’d glimpsed seemed so full of a strange meaning and energy that’s completely foreign to the technolopolis where we mostly live now, or why islands seem to have such a great hold on our imaginations, whether we’re talking about Lost or Homer.” One album review (link) compares Shearwater with Brian Ferry. Most of the tracks are quietly intense, but from time to time they produce interesting loud dissonances that keep things from getting too melancholy. Pretentious or great? Shearwater is in Munich on 2 March.


Album trailer:

Official video:

Spoon: Who makes your money

Spoon “Who makes your money” from their new album “Transference” has a chorus that sounds like “Who makes you mine?” Interesting little twist. At this concert in January, lead singer Britt Daniel introduced the song to the audience, saying: “Got a new record coming out tomorrow. To-mor-row! Was a lot of work. Anybody head it yet? Anybody not heard it yet? Anybody bought it?” Notice how he drops words?

Yet another song by an alternative band that is about money. Snippets of these idioms are in the lyrics:

  • make money = Geld verdienen
  • earn a wage = Lohn verdienen
  • this will break the bank = Das wird der Ruin sein
  • take the fight out of somebody = jemanden entmutigen, jemandem den Schneid abkaufen
  • your back’s against the wall = du stehst mit dem Rücken an der Wand
  • no place to go = kein Zufluchtsort
  • Who’d have thought it would come to this? = Wer hätte gedacht, dass es soweit kommen würde?

Japanese John, his slight face fur
Still just as confused, still just as sure
He’s still just as charming, he points out the view
As he hands your wage to you

Don’t you break it
Who makes your money
Oh, they’ll take it

Who makes your money
Who thinks they might
Who’s gonna be there to take the fight
Some try to relax
Some try to know
Some try to get there with no place to go
No place to go

Who makes your money
Oh they take it

When all is quiet, you’re on your own
And all your love, well, there it goes
It’s come to hate
With everything you call
And now your back
Is against the wall
Who makes your money

Listen to the record and Spoon’s very nice interview on NPR.

song of the week 🙂 englisch lernen mit liedern

Pigeon: Impossible

Pigeon Impossible, the silent animated film by Lucas Martell released on 9 November that took 4 years to make, passed the 1 million views mark on YouTube after less than 2 weeks online. The film is set in the neighborhood of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., where two of my nieces and I spent an enjoyable afternoon in October. I grew up in Cold War D.C. – I hope other teachers haven’t had exactly the same idea yet: Here’s my contribution of a lesson plan to the upcoming EFL blog carnival.

Target group: Adult education, Business English (group and one-to-one)

Level: multilevel, ca. B2

Language goals: 1. Speaking 2. report writing 3. spy/ thriller vocabulary (a one-to-one student is reading Le Carré) 4. predictions; 5. could/ coudn’t/ was able to (describing general ability vs. single achievements)

Material/ preparation: Go online to Watch film online. If not possible, download video “Pigeon: Impossible” (use Download Press Kit pdf to show film stills on screen. No handouts. Save those trees!


Pre 1: Present title of video “Pigeon: Impossible.” Predict genre. Revisit Mission: Impossible series 1966-1973; 1988-1990; film series with Tom Cruise. Use soundtrack or poster if necessary to help recall.

Pre 2: Hypothesize content of film. Brainstorm spy and Cold War vocabulary (e.g. for reference: to gather intelligence, secret agent, espionage, operation, operative, screen someone, be in disguise, conceal your identity, code/decode, crack codes, cypher/decypher, wiretap, detect surveillance, brief/debrief; Cold War, Berlin Wall, Iron Curtain, Star Wars, rocket, target, cruise missile, explosives)
Wordle: Spy and Cold War vocabulary

During: Watch film, and stop at likely places to ask “What will happen next?”

Watch film to about 1:50. Look at still of pigeon inside the briefcase. Collect and write up predictions (note grammar: I think, will probably, is likely to). (If teaching a group, let separate groups develop and present their scenarios.)

Watch to about 2:32 (pigeon has discovered that the suitcase can fly and is armed; man finds bagel again). Again, predict.

Watch to 4:04 (bagel has hit red button, Washington Monument turns into launching pad, rocket is underway to Russia). Again, predict.

Post 1: Reconstruct and summarize what happened: Contrast outcomes with predictions “I/we thought he would… and/but he…”

Post 2: Write “Incident on F Street” on the board. Make three columns. Headers: pigeon couldman couldn’t, man was able to

Tell students they are the man and will have to write a report to their line manager about the unforseen incident with the pigeon. (If you’re teaching a group, do this in pairs.) Tell them to concentrate on describing what the pigeon

  • could do with the additional powers at its disposal,
  • what they (as the man) couldn’t do to interfere and
  • what they (as the man) were ultimately able to do to stop pigeon and end the incident

Note grammar: contrast “could” for general ability with “was able to” for ability in a specific situation; couldn’t is more natural for negatives.

Have them use the film stills as guides. If they ask for it, watch the whole film again as they finalize their notes. Then they write reports. They pair up with another group to read each other their reports.

At least that’s what I’m planning to do. This is an action enquiry. I’ll let you know how it went later on this week in the comments. If you’re using this film in a different way, or have other ideas about how you would, I’d be delighted to read about it.

Blog Carnival archive - esl, efl, ell carnival

Grammar Guru: will/going to

Further in my collection of posts you won’t find in a coursebook, and nastiness we could do without (if it weren’t funny): I’ve just finished writing a quiz on using future tenses, and have saved the most sexually incorrect joke I could find for you.

“You’re ugly.”
“And you’re drunk.”
“Yes, but in the morning I ________ (be) sober.”

What do you think, is it also incorrect in terms of gender? I mean, the drunk person could be a woman.

Crying in my coffee

Writing can be a lonely and frustrating business. Writing for online learners of English as I do is particularly tricky: I don’t get much feedback from my readers. As my employers are very busy, asking them to review and edit my work is not always possible. But that means that any errors I make and any nonsense I write is my problem, and it’s out there, and there’s nobody to tell me what’s going on. So when they do, it’s like a gift, like a mantel of love.

Sometimes I get negative feedback from readers, in the form of two stars out of five. (Love notes, Wanted! The crime of the century) That makes me feel about five years old. Seeing those nasty stars makes me cry in my coffee. That helps.

Yesterday I got wonderful, constructive feedback from Gill. And I met the people who will be working with the Moodle stuff I’m writing. That was wind in my sails, I’m on my way with that project.

So back to work.