Teach English in Futianhe Zhen - Huanggang Shi

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Let’s imagine we are sitting in Macau in a club. We are hungry and order some fried pork, it is called 猪 pronounced as zhū. We see some Saxon made porcelain figurines resembling probably pigs, again in Chinese they are 猪, zhū. We remind the waiter of the forgotten wine and he might address us as 猪, zhū, which might be something like swine. We have three English words with different, but similar meaning and just one expression in Chinese.  With this introduction, we touch already the first of two aspects in this short essay: Vocabulary and pronunciation.  Compared with other Indo-European languages English has by far the largest vocabulary. Why so? The history of the British Isles was shaped by various peoples partly settling partly invading. The word pig, for instance, is Anglo-Saxon dating back to the second half of the first millennium A.D. Anglo-Saxon is a Germanic language. With Duke Guillaume le Bâtard, in English known as William the Conqueror, England was conquered by the Normans. Their language is a Romance language similar to French. The word pork, in today’s French still porc, dates back to this time. The Normans built the so-to-say upper class and used their word for the food, while the peasants, still speaking Anglo-Saxon, used their word for the animal in the piggery. None of these two words managed to eliminate the other, thus, we still have two words with similar meanings. Simplified spoken, there are three roots for the English vocabulary. Pork and pig exemplify the French and Germanic, the rest is from Latin and Ancient Greek.  Furthermore, English on the British Isles and the USA developed independently leading not only to differences in spelling, as colour vs. color, but also to differences in semantic, as queue vs. line.  Let’s take as a teaching example the differences between British and American English: For the engage phase two very short film clips about the same aspect first in British English and then in American English can work to warm up and make the pupils understand the problem: same meaning, different words. During the study phase, we can use pictures with words both in American and British English. Before the words are shown, we elicit some of them with the help of the students. A worksheet with the pictures, which need to be complemented with two words, can follow. Afterwards, a memory game can be part of the activate phase.  We move to the next aspect, pronunciation. If we take the words "read" for instance, this can be the base form of "to read", its past simple as well as its past participle. "I read" in a text can both mean a present and a past action. Furthermore, the pronunciation of the base form is different from the pronunciation of the simple past form. The phenomenon is called homograph. Same spelling, different pronunciation.  The opposite is the homophone: Same pronunciation, different spelling. For example the word "for". It is pronounced exactly in the same way as "four" or even "fore". They all sound alike.  One reason for the partly absent correlation between spelling and pronouncing is the Great Vowel Shift around the second third of the last millennium. In short: pronunciation changed widely without changing the spelling. Another reason is: Words from other languages as doppelgänger and kindergarten from German are kept in the same spelling but adjusted to an anglicised pronunciation. For French examples, we can confine us to colours like mauve, ecru, beige or vermillion.  For teaching, there is no way around the phonemic symbols. It allows knowing the pronunciation even without ever having heard the word. Here, a memory game can help, pairing words’ spelt in Latin and phonemic letters.  In this context also teaching pronunciation needs to be mentioned. We can show students the anatomic parts involved in forming the sounds, make them touch their lips when forming plosives and their noses for the nasals. Tongue twisters can be a good game for the activity phase. Advanced students can even try to write their own tongue twisters.  For the study phase, the famous photograph of Albert Einstein showing his tongue can be a good beginning. We can elicit, who this person might be and then lead to the importance of the tongue touching the teeth when forming the th. For the homophones and homographs, a game called teapot can be played during the activity phase game. We viewed some little specialities of the English language. Since English is and remains today’s lingua franca, the need for teaching English remains increasing. The aim is, to teach the peculiarities neither as problems nor as obstacles but as fun facts almost being absurd. Instead of presenting a list of homophones and homographs as necessarily to be learned by heart, we can explain them as interesting and funny, as it is generally interesting and fun to learn a new language.