English podcasts

As I said in my last post, I’m a recent convert to podcasts. I really like the fact that I can slip my phone in my pocket, plug my headphones in, and learn something new while I’m washing up or cleaning the windows! It makes the munane tasks seem a bit more bearable!

I’m not a GCSE teacher so I can’t vouch for the quality of the podcasts mentioned in this post, but you may find them useful.

GCSE Revisionpod – I really like this one. The banter between the two presenters keeps it light-hearted.

Revise GCSE English Literature

Approaching Shakespeare – this one isn’t GCSE specific, but there are some really interesting insights into Shakespeare’s plays.

Mr Bruff podcast – I know lots of people really like Mr Bruff’s website as I see it recommended quite a lot. I didn’t find this podcast as engaging as GCSE Revisionpod (above) but everyone has different tastes.

How English lost the double negative (and French gained it)

double negativesDouble negatives are considered bad grammar in English. Try telling an English teacher that you “haven’t got no pencils” or that you “didn’t see no-one” and he or she will pounce and say “Aha…. A double negative cancels out to become a positive, so you do have some pencils and you did see somebody.”

It hasn’t always been like this though. There was a time in English when using a double negative was an acceptable way of emphasising something. Shakespeare is littered with double, and even triple, negatives!

In As You Like It, Celia says: You know my father hath no child but I, nor none is like to have…

In Richard III, Stanley says: “I never was nor never will be”

And in Twelfth Night, Viola says: I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth.
And that no woman has, nor never none
Shall mistress be of it, save I alone.”

Other languages still have a double negative. For example in Spanish to say I see nothing you would say “No veo nada.”

Well, if it was good enough for Shakespeare, and it’s still good enough for other European languages, what went wrong in English? To paraphrase Baldric in Blackadder goes forth, “ There must have been a moment when double negatives being acceptable went away, and double negatives not being acceptable came along. So, how did we get from the one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?”

Well, what happened is that the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason came along. Mathematics became more socially important and scholars tried to impose the same mathematical rules to language. In the mid 1700s Robert Lowth wrote a book about English grammar, proclaiming that two negatives must make a positive, and so it has been ever since.

Interestingly – French made the opposite change. As anyone who has tried to learn French will probably remember, to say something in the negative you have to make a ne pas sandwich. I don’t want is “je ne veux pas, I don’t know is “je ne sais pas” and so on. If you’ve ever wondered why you had to use two bits, and why the second word was the same as the word for a step, well… there is a reason!

It wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time I don’t want was “je ne veux, I don’t know was “je ne sais” and so on. But then there came a great fashion for exaggeration for emphasis: I couldn’t eat another mouthful….I couldn’t drink another drop……I couldn’t walk another step. Over time this manner of speaking became the norm, but then gradually most of the expressions disappeared, just leaving “pas” which tacked itself onto all of the negatives and has stayed there ever since.

And that’s the story of how English lost the double negative, and French gained it.

Found Poems

I recently did a course about writing poems with FutureLearn. I have never really enjoyed poetry and I know that I tend to neglect it when I teach, so I was hoping that the course would give me some new ideas for helping me to enjoy teaching poetry and for helping my pupils develop their poetry writing skills.

One of the types of poetry mentioned on the course was “found poems” and I found this very interesting. The idea is to write a poem using only words and phrases that you can hear or see at the time of writing. The words don’t have to be used in the order that they are overheard or seen so you have to play around a bit to find an order that makes sense, but I liked the idea that pupils could be creative without having come up with their own ideas which many people find difficult.

An example of a found poem is written below. This was written using words I could see while sitting at my desk – from snack packets, various items pinned to a corkboard, German post-it notes and a framed picture. The only addition to this poem were the words “No inspiration.”

Lo-fat yoghurt,
Salt and Vinegar,
Paracetamol.
No inspiration.

Pay credit card,
Write to Rachel,
Email Emma.
No inspiration.

Thank you for booking….
You are cordially invited…
Next day guaranteed.
No inspiration.

Plötzlich….I’m begeistert!
No inspiration ursprünglich
but im Augenblick
I’m away with the fairy lights…
and it’s gruselig!

I shall definitely try this out with some of my tuition pupils in the coming year. If anybody wants more ideas of how to write a poem I can recommend the FutureLearn course “How to Make a Poem“.

Related post: The 10 Step Cheat’s Guide to Writing a Poem

F is for Frisian

Frisian is a minority language, with only around ½ million speakers, but I have chosen to include it in this A-Z because it is notable for being the language most closely related to English. English evolved from Old-Frisian, which was spoken by settlers living all along the East coast of England.

It is currently spoken in parts of the Netherlands and parts of Germany. There are three dialects forming Frisian: West Frisian, North Frisian and East Frisian. West Frisian has joint official status with Dutch in the Netherlands. North and East Frisian, on the other hand are not official languages, although they do have protected status in Germany.

If you fancy learning a little Frisian, you’ll find a course on FutureLearn.

Related posts: E is for English      G is for German

E is for English

E is forI couldn’t write an A to Z of languages without including my own mother tongue. It’s an unusual language in so many ways, with its quirky spelling and rich vocabulary, and I love it.

After Mandarin and Spanish it is the next most common spoken language in the world, with about 360 million native speakers, and it is the most common second language in the world. There are English speakers on every continent.

One of the most unusual things about English is that its beginnings can be dated fairly accurately. It has evolved from Proto-Germanic via Old Frisian, which was spoken by settlers who came over in the 5th century. The language was further influenced by Old Norse, when invaders arrived in the 9th and 10th centuries, and by Norman French from 1066. And of course it has been influenced by the Celtic languages spoken before any of the overseas visitors arrived.

Over the years, English has lost the case endings that German is known for, along with the different verb endings that characterise most other European languages – just the ‘s’on the he/she forms of the verb are left as a reminder.

One of the things that English is most noted for, is its unphonetic spelling. The seemingly spellings are due to the fact that the language was committed to print before the pronunciation had finished evolving, so it’s now has a spelling that reflects how it used to be pronounced!

Related posts: D is for Dead Languages     F is for Frisian