Lana Del Rey: Video Games

Wow. Unbelievably hypnotic. Eamonn, again. Review on Pitchfork.

Swinging in the backyard
Pull up in your fast car
Whistling my name

Open up a beer
And you say get over here
And play a video game

I’m in his favorite sun dress
Watching me get undressed
Take that body downtown

I say you the bestest
Lean in for a big kiss
Put his favorite perfume on

Go play a video game

It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you
Tell me all the things you want to do
I heard that you like the bad girls
Honey, is that true?
It’s better than I ever even knew
They say that the world was built for two
Only worth living if somebody is loving you
Baby now you do

Singing in the old bars
Swinging with the old stars
Living for the fame

Kissing in the blue dark
Playing pool and wild darts
Video games

He holds me in his big arms
Drunk and I am seeing stars
This is all I think of

Watching all our friends fall
In and out of Old Paul’s
This is my idea of fun
Playing video games

It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you
Tell me all the things you want to do
I heard that you like the bad girls
Honey, is that true?
It’s better than I ever even knew
They say that the world was built for two
Only worth living if somebody is loving you
Baby now you do

(Now you do)

It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you
Tell me all the things you want to do
I heard that you like the bad girls
Honey, is that true?
It’s better than I ever even knew
They say that the world was built for two
Only worth living if somebody is loving you
Baby now you do

song of the season :-) learning english with songs

iCloud: iUnderstand

This is one of Steve Job’s last presentations, still explaining “his” products with inspired simplicity and clarity.

Focus with me for a moment on his metalanguage (often called signposting), that is the language he uses to take us from one point to the next. Metalanguage or signposting varies widely between presentation types, and is generally very different in product marketing, say, than in a presentation of technological developments to other specialists. Likewise metalanguage in academic science presentations that rely heavily on visuals will differ completely from those in economics, with their charts and empirical data, or from lectures in philosophy. At one level the difference is connected to the way each type of presentation communicates concepts. The more abstract and involved concepts get, the more difficult it will be for the audience to relate to and follow the speaker communicating them, and the more necessary it becomes to talk about what has already been said and to connect it to what is coming up next. In other words, there is no one formula for signposting, no instant phrases to learn by heart and simply apply to presentations. One size does not fit all. Every genre is different!

Just listen to the type of metalanguage Steve Jobs uses. It’s unbelievably simple:  Introducing a new product: “You like everything so far? (Audience: Yeah!) “Well, I’ll try not to blow it.” Moving from one feature to the next: “So that’s Contacts; here’s Calendars. Works much the same way.” Each statement backed by the trademark big, beautiful pictures. His authentic and communicative body language suggests that everyone is really getting the message. He doesn’t explain the technology in a way that goes over anyone’s head. And should anyone not get it completely, he draws them in, not through information, but through

  • Empathy: “Keeping those devices in sync is driving us crazy.” “You might ask, Why should I believe them? They’re the ones that brought me Mobile Me. It wasn’t our finest hour, let me say that, but we learned a lot.”
  • Emotion, quasi-religious feeling and humor: “Some people think the cloud just a hard disk in the sky… We think it’s way more than that.” “The truth is on the cloud.”
  • Reassurance: “It just works.” “Pretty cool.” “It’s that simple.”

…and his audience laughs and believes it understands. A socially very powerful approach. Remember we are talking about an app that takes all of the information on your personal phone and removes it to an external something, somewhere, which should at least invite questions. But no, it’s all good.

It’s really an understatement to say that Steve Jobs’ iconic presentation style perfectly matched the Apple image. As a consequence of these presentations, Jobs was Apple. He’ll be a hard, no: an impossible act to follow. RIP.

Learning to listen to scientific lectures

One of the greatest challenges for non-native academic users of English as a Lingua Franca is keeping up with what is being said in discussions to the point where they can process the information in real time and contribute themselves. In a word, the challenge is information overload. Not only are you trying to understand the content, but you are also trying to decode the language. But instead of listening to every single word, you need to focus on very specific things.

The challenge is two-fold. First, learn to listen for the key words that hold meaning, and know what vocabulary to expect and which structures to expect those words in. This is something you can acquire through practice. It is also where pronunciation as a receptive skill comes in, listening in context and noticing how the most important words are stressed. Here it makes sense in the name of international intelligibility to listen to and emulate good near-native speakers and the way they use nuclear stress.

The second challenge is learning to accommodate a wide variety of accents. This means understanding what specific challenges a non-native speaker needs to overcome to make his or her English sound “English”, based on the restrictions of his or her native tongue (L1). Accomodation is a challenge for every speaker of English, and in fact is at least as difficult for native speakers as it is for non-native speakers. I have a hard time with some Asian and African accents, and even with some from the UK! But practice makes perfect. Here are some sites to practice your listening skills:

Talk About English: Academic English is a didactic program from the BBC geared to preparing learners for the listening skills part of the IELTS exam. This BBC program provides discussions and tips, listening practice and accompanying questions, and student responses are discussed with a teacher.

The TED Talks http://www.ted.com/talks are the best lectures online today, but tend to be removed from the type of lectures students are subjected to at college. Still, it has obvious benefits to study these talks by international luminaries, as the series celebrates the highly engaging nature of cutting edge research.

Video Lectures http://videolectures.net/ is a collection of videotaped academic and business lectures by international speakers, tagged by discipline and accompanied interactively by powerpoint slides. This site has content supplied by academic institutions, which makes it a good window into academic presentations. On the business side, I’ve watched a presentation from 2001 by Volvo CEO Leif Johannsen on Volvo’s Environmental Business Strategy, and one from 2009 by Robert Grant on the financial crisis. I can also recommed the very entertaining Umberto Eco on the History of Ugliness, from 2007.

In the Reith Lectures on Radio 4 on BBC, Martin Rees,  President of the Royal Society, speaks on “The Scientific Citizen”:  In 4 lectures dedicated to “Scientific Horizons”,  he challenges scientists to play a greater role in helping the public understand science. The full transcript is available.

For these and more tips, explore the wonderful English for University site written by Patrick McMahon. His page with great links is here.

Finally, my current favorite for online pronunciation practice, English Central, is the place to go to analyse at the level of individual words and phrases what exactly it is that you are hearing.

Pros and cons of selected apps for adult learners of English

I’ve blogged about fun, productive apps on Ask Auntie Web, and posted a summary about technology in teaching a while ago, but check out apps all the time to ponder their overall usefulness. When assessing learner tools I ask:

  1. What does it actually require the learners to do linguistically (that they could not do equally well or better without it)?
  2. Can they modify their work, to discuss their work in progress (to avoid the slick surface hiding essential vacuity)?
  3. Does the app itself encourage learners to revisit and show off what they can do (not what the app can do)?
  4. Can learners share and collaborate in a way that makes immediate sense to them? (In other words, are they learning socially?)

Though I enjoy apps throughly myself, and encourage self-study and give feedback on work learners send me after using them, the social component is computer-mediated, heads together over a screen, and that rarely seems more valuable than other in-class activities – at least with academics and business people – and at least when time is very short. Apps, to me, are ideal when learners can dip in and do something, and then redo it better, after which they can take the learnings away and put them into something away from the computer or handheld device. At the purely technical level, these criteria must be met:

  1. Is it free? (In class individual use is obviously very different from what individual learners may do at home or on their hand-helds, or platforms we can provide and administrate for the whole group or school!)
  2. Is it simple enough to use for that particular group? (And do you have the time to engage them in tech learning)
  3. If it requires “sign-up” to output a result, are the learners able and willing to engage in that? (Remember privacy issues)
  4. Since I include apps with tasks in Moodle for self-study, apps that embed well are more attractive. Quite often the embed code interferes with HTML code, e.g. here on WordPress, so links are sometimes the better option.

One of the nice apps to use in class for dialogue scripting/building which meets the above criteria is the very easy GoAnimate.com, which I used to make this Bundestrojaner scene (Anne)

Benefits: The learner can access this app immediately and simply, without signing up or having to create avatars. (Caution: requires Flash.) Simply select a scenario and your actors and begin typing in text. After outputting the finished text-to-speech product, you can go back and edit the dialogue. The creator can share the link to the finished product through all the regular social media channels and e-mail, or embed it in a blog, wiki or website. For a small fee, it can also be downloaded as a file. On the whole, the scenarios are somewhat limited, but technologically more creative students will very quickly find that you can create your own cutomized animations, so taking a very simple and functional first step together is really all that is needed.

Drawbacks: Like most text to speech apps, the computer-generated audio leaves much to be desired, as it doesn’t translate into natural speech in terms of nuclear stress, intonation and connected speech (and in this case, gives incorrect word stress for “Facebook”, provides strange pronunciation for “discussing” that sounds as if I wrote “discursing” (but I doublechecked, honest!)  and makes mincemeat of the inserted German words). Creative punctuation helps a little to adjust nuclear stress, and the differences between machine speech and human speech are a great opportunity to discuss what makes English pronunciation special. But you do have to decide whether going the roundabout route of having two cartoon characters read out your dialogue is what you want. — Here’s another sample video made with this app, with similar issues: GoAnimate.com: Hard copy by Anne at GoAnimate.com.

Animating text using Wondersay

I dislike animated text for presentations, it just seems silly to make text hard to read. But giving the “solution” to a quiz, e.g. using the “letters falling into place” animation this app provides, adds a nice touch. Ask learners to fill in the blanks in a quote, e.g. “The learner needs _________ and _________ to learn the language fast.” Then play an answer:

made on Wondersay – Animate text with style

Benefits: No skills required, though the app allows the user to experiment with animations. And learners can select quotes and do the same exercise with their classmates.

Drawbacks: It’s actually quite difficult to get this app to give you the animation you selected. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Then, once you open the link to your Wondersay animation, it begins automatically as soon as the page opens, and you can’t start or stop it. Once played, the sentence is visible as part of a rather ugly initial screen, without the “film still” picture that many apps provide. This means that the app doesn’t work well as an embedded animation on Moodle or here on WordPress. It’s far better simply to link to it. But seriously, when would you really want to? You can’t study a nice-looking version of the sentence in peace, post-animation, so I see the educational value of this kind of tool to be very limited. (Prove me wrong!)

John Prine: Dear Abby

The wonderful singer-songwriter John Prine turned 65 yesterday (thanks Eamonn).
Dear Abby” was an advice column founded in 1956 by Pauline Phillips under the pen name of Abigail Van Buren, and was syndicated in the Washington Post. Or was it in the evening paper, the Evening Star (later the Washington Star)? We got both. I never missed reading her column, and Peanuts. John Prine’s “Dear Abby” was on Sweet Revenge (released 1973), and it was one of the few songs I actually attempted on the guitar, sitting on the front stoop of our house on A street. Prine’s brand of humor, to me, still defines “home”.

  • listen up, buster/kiddo! listen up good! = hey, come on, listen properly!
  • shoot the breeze = chat, engage in idle conversation

Dear Abby, Dear Abby
My feet are too long
My hair’s falling out and my rights are all wrong
My friends, they all tell me that I’ve no friends at all
Won’t you write me a letter, won’t you give me a call?
Signed,
Bewildered

Bewildered, Bewildered
You have no complaint
You are what you are and you ain’t what you ain’t
So listen up, buster, and listen up good
Stop wishing for bad luck and knocking on wood

Dear Abby, Dear Abby
My fountain pen leaks
My wife hollers at me and my kids are all freaks
Every side I get up on is the wrong side of bed
If it weren’t so expensive I’d wish I were dead
Signed,
Unhappy

Unhappy, Unhappy,
You have no complaint…

Dear Abby, Dear Abby,
You won’t believe this
But my stomach makes noises whenever I kiss
My girlfriend tells me It’s all in my head
But my stomach tells me to write you instead
Signed,
Noise-maker

Noise-maker, Noise-maker
You have no complaint…

Dear Abby, Dear Abby,
Well I never thought
That me and my girlfriend would ever get caught
We were sitting in the back seat, just shooting the breeze
With her hair up in curlers and her pants to her knees
Signed,
Just Married

Just Married, Just Married,
You have no complaint…
…Signed,
Dear Abby