Michael Kiwanuka: I’m Getting Ready

A soul prayer from Michael Kiwanuka (2012). Thank you, Christoph.

Oh my, I didn’t know what it means to believe
Oh my, I didn’t know what it means to believe

But if I hold on tight, is it true?
Would You take care of all that I do?
Oh Lord, I’m a getting ready to believe.

Oh my, I didn’t know how hard it would be
Oh my, I didn’t know how hard it would be

But if I hold on tight, is it true?
Would You take care of all that I do?
Oh Lord, I’m a getting ready to believe.

Then we’ll be waving hands singing freely
Singing standing tall it’s now coming easy
Oh no more looking down honey, can’t you see?
Oh Lord, I’m a getting ready to believe

Then we’ll be waving hands singing freely
Singing standing tall it’s now coming easy
Oh no more looking down honey
Can’t you see me?

Oh Lord, I’m getting ready
Oh Lord, I’m getting ready
Oh Lord, I’m getting ready to believe

Donald Fagan: Snowbound

Big storm Xaver over Northern Germany is announcing it’s winter. I’ve just moved all the plants indoors and tied things down. Hoping for snow.
“Snowbound” (1993) from Fagan’s second solo album Kamakiriad continues the concept story, a road trip sometime in the future. The song describes being in a city in winter weather with bad road conditions, and is all about how fun it is to party when the sky reflects the lights, and how very cozy it gets indoors (‘Let’s sleep in today!’). The video is by Michel Gondry. – Drive safely!

Donald Fagen – Snowbound


Let’s sleep in today
Wake me up
When the wolves come out to play
Heat up
These white nights
We’re gonna turn this town
Into a city of lights

At Nervous Time
We roll downtown
We’ve got scenes to crash
We’re gonna trick and trash
We’re gonna find some fun
We hit the street
With visors down
With our thermasuits
Sealed up tight
We can beat the freeze
And get saved tonight
Let’s stop off at the Metroplex
That little dancer’s got some style
Yes she’s the one I’ll be waiting for
At the stage door


We take the tube
To Club Hi Ho
It’s about deadspace
It’s a marketplace
And a party house too
Something new
From Charlie Tokyo
It’s a kind of pyramid
With a human heart
Beating in an ion grid
A critic grabs us
And says without a smile
The work seduces us with light
Eviva laughs and we step out
Into the blue-white night


We sail our icecats on the frozen river
Some loser fires off a flare, amen
For seven seconds it’s like Christmas day
And then it’s dark again
And then it’s dark again


Geh aus, mein Herz, und suche Freud

We sang my mother-in-law’s favorite song at her funeral: Geh aus, mein Herz, und suche Freud, with a text by Paul Gerhardt (1656) and music by August Harder (1813). Her heaven is full of birds and flowers. Who needs angels when you have nightingales? RIP dear Heidi.

Geh aus, mein Herz, und suche Freud

1. Geh aus, mein Herz, und suche Freud
in dieser lieben Sommerzeit
an deines Gottes Gaben;
schau an der schönen Gärten Zier
und siehe, wie sie mir und dir
sich ausgeschmücket haben,
sich ausgeschmücket haben.

2. Die Bäume stehen voller Laub,
das Erdreich decket seinen Staub
mit einem grünen Kleide;
Narzissus und die Tulipan,
die ziehen sich viel schöner an
als Salomonis Seide,
als Salomonis Seide.

3. Die Lerche schwingt sich in die Luft,
das Täublein fliegt aus seiner Kluft
und macht sich in die Wälder;
die hochbegabte Nachtigall
ergötzt und füllt mit ihrem Schall
Berg, Hügel, Tal und Felder,
Berg, Hügel, Tal und Felder.

8. Ich selber kann und mag nicht ruhn,
des großen Gottes großes Tun
erweckt mir alle Sinnen;
ich singe mit, wenn alles singt,
und lasse, was dem Höchsten klingt,
aus meinem Herzen rinnen,
aus meinem Herzen rinnen.

Also on a new recording: Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Alte deutsche Lieder. Rundfunk-Jugendchor Wernigerode, Dirigent: Peter Habermann

Communicative aim

A communicative aim in a Trinity assessed class is not the same thing as a communicative aim in real life. In real life, we might communicate with each other to get something off our chest, or to check each other out, to find areas we share interests in or perhaps just to shoot the breeze before we get down to business, without actually “communicating towards an outcome”. Yet that latter, very narrow definition of communication is what we have learned forms the heart of the lesson.

The rationale is that language learners need a concrete reason to use English, so we have to design a task for them to do that. I’m feeling the pressure, as the class I teach can communicate most easily using Spanish (though they’re multilingual in that some have Catalan as their mother tongue). And they use it too much in class. As we design our lessons, we have to include one main communicative activity that aims for a believable and concrete outcome in some way related to what the learners need to apply outside class. In that activity they have to be using language that we have defined as our lesson aims, and have taught and had them practice in that particular lesson. There has to be evidence for their intake. But it feels audiolingual and behavioristic, actually.

We can’t simulate real life transactions in class, so there’s always an element of something being forced, which is why I tend to avoid communicative didactics in this narrow sense. I do lots of information gap activities, sure, as well as authentic communication and simulations, but I’m just not too keen on roleplay. Yet now I have to play the communicative EFL game, or I’ll fail the teaching part of this exam.

For Friday the students have requested talking about the weather. I can have them describe all sorts of weather moving up towards the heart of the lesson (I might use paintings, and have them describe the weather there and then. I’ll also have them describe the weather on a beautiful day on their last vacation, and on a bad-weather day they remember very clearly.) But it’s not enough. So I’ve been kicking around a few lesson ideas:

I’d thought of having them “call a friend” in advance of a weekend trip, and ask them about the weather there, and then pack their suitcase accordingly. In the classroom setup, that would amount to pairwork, with one person being “it” and drawing a card containing information about a place, and having to formulate a brief weather report on the current weather, and then the other person recounting what they’ll put in their suitcase. But that feels like a lesson out of a 1970s or ’80s coursebook, and reminds me of the teaching I had to do at Wall Street Institute. I burned out after six months.

A second slightly feverish idea I had was having them solve a murder mystery based on forensic evidence influenced by the weather, which would certainly be working toward an outcome, but would not exactly be very applicable. Plus, I just can’t fit in my MD in forensics before Friday. Did I mention “feverish”?

Another way to solve this might be to set the scene where they’re going on a last minute holiday, and they have to make up their mind at the airport based on the current weather report (which they research and report separately). This scenario would have the added advantage of putting them under time pressure (which is important in any fluency activity). Perhaps I could actually stand them in line and give them the “weather report” info as they stand there in line, and then call them “to the ticket counter” when they’re “up”.

I can think of so many nice activities that are not communicative:
Labelling pictures
doing a personal weather report (the weather mirrors my state of mind)
a gapped dictation describing the weather to set the scene
a sorting task differentiating between excerpts from a travel guide and a personal description of the weather right now
I’d like to film them doing a weather report, but there are 22 of them, and 60 minutes is incredibly short. And when do we have time to watch the film?

Anyway, I can’t just have them talk about the weather the way we normally do, with the aim of using the language later to break the ice and tune in to each other in a real encounter. Weather is a wonderful metaphor for feelings, and right now mine are stormy.

PS: Mike from our course has summarized the formula: “The ppp with a communicative approach worked. Remember ‘activities that are truly communicative, according to Morrow (in Johnson and Morrow 1981) have three features: information gaps, choice, and feedback.’
Three activities with correction error slots is all we have time for.”

Ruby’s shoes, ruby shoes

“The Problem We All Live With”  by Norman Rockwell is currently on display at the White House, just outside the president’s office. It shows Ruby Bridges, the most famous of the children who in 1960, at the age of 6, walked into an all-white school and helped desegregate the schools of New Orleans. Daddy’s brave little girl, indeed. Never forget. I’d like to believe that the Civil Rights Movement has become a part of the core of our civil religion.

Ruby’s shoes. Ruby shoes.

In the song Ruby’s Shoes by Lori Mckenna, from 2002, it seems to me her story has become almost generic. Ruby is Everygirl, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, whose ruby shoes in the film help her get back home to Kansas. Ruby is Everygirl, just like Anne Frank.  – Ruby Bridges recollects:

Scenes from a Disney, made for TV movie. Some very nice Norman Rockwell-like scenes of the intact black community.

Ruby’s Shoes, 2002

by Lori McKenna

Ruby’s shoes would take her
A mile or so to school every day
Where the white people hated her
They’d scream and hold signs and tell her to go away

But Ruby’s will was stronger
Than the bigots with the signs could ever know
She stopped every morning on the corner
And prayed that someday the pain would go

And she’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She was only six years old but she knew
Walk a mile in Ruby’s shoes

Ruby sat alone in the classroom
She never dreamed the other children wouldn’t come
They hated her for the color of her skin
Well color is such an amazing illusion

She’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She was only six years old but she knew
Walk a mile in Ruby’s shoes

Now Ruby knew about Dorothy
And the ruby shoes that she wore
She wondered about Oz sometimes
Well, well no other child ever walked her shoes before

And she’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She was only six years old but she knew
Walk a mile in Ruby’s shoes

Ruby, if birds can always fly
Why oh why can’t you and I?

Ruby’s shoes would take her
A mile or so to school every day
Where the white people hated her
They’d scream and hold signs and tell her to go away

And she’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She’d stop and she’d pray
That no other children would be raised this way
Ruby’s shoes

If birds can fly
Then why oh why
If birds can fly then why oh why can’t I

Features of connected speech:

assimilation: when words are spoken together and the sounds at the word boundaries change
s can change to sh: this shop => thish shop or Ruby’s shoes =>rubysh shoes
t, d, n at the end assimilate to the place of articulation to become bilabial: in bed => im bed
d can change to g: good girl =>goog girl
voiced can become unvoiced: have to go => haf to go
d and y can fuse to j: how d’you do => how jou do

elision: omitting sounds, esp. d and t, between words
next please => nex please
Ruby’s shoes =>ruby shoes

vowel reduction and weak forms:
You and me => You
ənd me
If birds can fly => If birds cən fly

She should əv known better. She shəd ə known I’d wait.

laison: her English => her ringlish
brother and sister => brother rən sister

intrusive r and w:
no other => no wother

Joe Jackson and learner agency

Joe Jackson has a new live album out, and I’ve just ordered it. He lives in Berlin. I found this marvellously provocative video dedicated to him by New Yorkers who want him back:

This all came out of surfing around after Ann posted something about Coney Island being the target of redevelopment, and Coney Island always makes me think of Luna Park, and I can’t think of Luna Park without thinking of Joe Jackson’s fantastic cover of Graham Parker’s “You can’t be too strong”, a song about abortion and responsible relationships that came out in my wild years and made me think. Anyway, enjoy the wooing of Joe, and his latest cover of the song. Which is not on the live album, unfortunately.

That was a real time-out. Or was it?

Back in Munich I used to teach English to people who enjoyed sharing and talking about songs. I really miss that sort of teaching. Now when I teach it’s all about focus, the curriculum fitting an agreed target precisely, the lessons in line with elaborately planned outcomes. Not that it always works, but that’s the plan. Sigh. Somehow I’m getting the sense that learners need a lot more space to build up motivation. I love learner groups that demand more space and want to help develop their own curriculum. Learner agency, that’s what I like!

And I love the serendipity that comes with teaching unexpected stuff. For instance, can’t you just hear all the alarm-bells go off in German learners’ heads when the New Yorker woman changes the lyrics in “Is she really going out with him?” to “Are you really going to waste your time in that stupid city where they killed the Jews?” (3:05) What a way into dealing with intercultural non-communication! How do you handle it, dear learners, what are your options, do you let it pass, do you respond and how, what do you think she would say in return, how does this mindset influence your willingness to speak English or change your German accent…or are you actually quite happy to maintain your German accent as a part of your cultural identity?

Oh, to teach a class of people willing to devote maybe a 1/4 of their course time to exploring extraneous content, to learning for life and not for the boss, the exam, the publication! Where are you? Hello, calling, calling…

Written by Graham Parker

Did they tear it out, with talons of steel
And give you a shot, so that you wouldn’t feel
And wash it away, as if it wasn’t real
It’s just a mistake I won’t have to face
Don’t give it a name, don’t give it a place
Don’t give it a chance, it’s lucky in a way
It must have felt strange find me inside you
I hadn’t intended to stay
If you want to keep it right, put it to sleep at night
Squeeze it until it could say


You can’t be too strong
You can’t be too strong
You can’t be too strong
You can’t be too strong
You decide what’s wrong

Well I ain’t gonna cry, I’m gonna rejoice
And shout myself dry, and go see the boys
They’ll laugh when I say I left it overseas

Yeah babe, I know that it gets dark down by Luna Park
But everybody else is squeezing out a spark
That happened in the heat somewhere in the dark, in the dark
The doctor gets nervous, completing the service
He’s all rubber gloves and no head
He fumbles the light switch, it’s just another minor hitch
Wishes to God he was dead

You can’t be too strong
You decide what’s wrong
Can’t be too hard, too tough, too rough, too right, too wrong
And you, can’t be too strong
Baby you can’t be too strong…

T is for thee

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” is the beginning of possibly the most beautiful love poem ever written, of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.

Pity that there is no “Du” in English. The intimacy of “thou, thee, thine”, the “du, dich, dein” we have lost in English, is one of the things that makes German my language of love.

For those of you who were hoping that T is for test, here is a great test of Shakesperean pronouns.

Here’s David Gilmore of Pink Floyd interpreting Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

– William Shakespeare

Thank you to Leslie of English Desk for this video.