‘Grammar with films and songs’ videos: focus on weak forms

Posted: January 20, 2014 in Listening
Tags: , , , ,

 

Function words, such as pronouns, auxiliary verbs and conjunctions, can be frustratingly difficult for learners to make out in fast unscripted speech. Not only can diphthongs get reduced to monophongs (that  is, I can sound like u in ‘cup’) and not only can vowels get dropped (that is, ‘does‘ can sound like ‘dz’ and ‘any‘ like ‘ny‘), but whole high-frequency combinations of ‘grammar’ words can blend together. While some such blendings, e.g. ‘cou ja’ and ‘wou ja’ are well known and routinely taught, others go unnoticed and as a result can lead to listening difficulties. 

To make matters worse, in my experience as a language learner, massive exposure doesn’t always help, probably because it’s quite hard to guess what it is that you’ve missed. This might be because there’s not enough thinking time, the average function word being so short, or maybe because as soon as it becomes clear that you’ve missed a whole stretch of words, your mind reflexively focusses on the surrounding lexical words in an attempt to compensate. So, unless you stop the recording and replay it/look at the script (I’m too lazy to be bothered 🙂 ), you get no feedback and hence do not learn.

As a very concrete example, I’d watched a season after season of Jonathan Ross’s show without perceptible gains in comprehension, but as soon as I learnt a few (infinitely surprising) facts about connected speech, like

  • /aʊ/ may get reduced to /ʌ/
  •  /ɪ/ may get dropped at the beginning of a conditional clause (so ‘if I’ might sound like /fʌ/),
    I immediately started getting ‘aha’ moments listening to his speech (e.g. making out his extra short ‘out’s and ‘our’s).

There has recently been published a groundbreaking book called Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field on how to treat this and other aspects of listening systematically. Field starts out with a controversial claim that all traditional listening practice effectively tests listening rather than teaching it. He then goes on to give a comprehensive analysis of the sub-skills involved in listening, first dividing the skill into ‘decoding’ and ‘meaning building’ and then deconstructing these two processes into the constituent micro ‘building blocks’. For each of these ‘blocks’, he describes concrete, tangible learner problems and gives plenty of suggestions for classroom activities addressing each of those problems. This book was a revelation to me and I’m quite sure that Field’s ideas will be commonplace in language coursebooks in 10 years’ time, just as work on collocations has become commonplace over the past couple of decades.

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One of the general guidelines that the author gives is providing students with regular short intensive decoding practice through gap-fills that focus on just one feature of connected speech (e.g. ‘t’/’d’ being reduced to a glottal stop at the ends of words). He doesn’t go into detail on why practice should be intensive and not distributed, but this is not the first time I’ve come across the idea that intensive practice in key to skill development, so I’m guessing this must be insight from  some theory or another (one of the disciplines John Field teaches is psycholinguistics).

So I’ve been looking for ways to provide students with such practice without spending hours editing audiofiles, and as it turns out there are quite a few videos produced by language teachers that are just perfect for this. I can’t imagine how much work went into this, but they produced compilations of 3 to 10 second extracts from films featuring a particular grammar structure. These videos have subtitles and could simply be shared with students via a group blog, but I’d suggest taking this one step further and creating gap-fill exercises, as this would expose the problem of decoding function words  much more effectively and target the students’ attention towards the problematic area. I feel that the video on ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ could be particularly valuable, as it really highlights the impact sentence stress has on meaning. I’m still looking for a nifty free tool to hide the subtitles.

Was/were: was/were http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NalGvK1c95M

1. Spider-Man ________ hero.
2. ______ ready? ______ born ready.
3. A hundred years ago, ______ one and a half billion people on Earth.
4. Exactly! ______ a worker, but now _______  war hero!
5. Oh, right! _______ my sister.
6. But ______ young and proud!
7. Yesterday, _______ such an easy game to play.
8. _______ asleep!
9. ______ your mistake.
10. Ben, ______ born for this.
11. ‘I can’t believe it!’ ‘Oh Mike..’ ‘_______ on TV!’
12. ______ accident. A tragic accident.
13. My ________ born today.
14. _______ name?
15. A long time ago, when we first came here, ______ so different.
16. ______ as popular at university as ________ at school.
17. Your _________ fighter and a patriot.
18. ______ mine and ______ sweethearts.
19. ______ married to a beautiful woman who had family money.
20. Do you have any idea _______ behind this attack?
21. And yes, ______ little drunk.
22. ______ a mistake to bring Shreck here.
23. ______ best thing that ever happened to me.
24. That relationship ______ complete waste of time.
25. I never said ______ innocent.
26. His resignation ______ his confession.
27. Thanks, guys. Thanks for the party. _______ great. Really!
28. ___________ last night? I told you, ______ sick.
29. I knew ________ real.
30. For once, the gossips __________.
31. _________ a time ______ everything and nothing all in one.
32. ______ the star in the 1973 hit film Zanjeer?
33. __________ the last time _______ home? Two years, two hundred sixty four days and this morning.
34. ______ that? I didn’t say anything. Okay. Alright. Good night. Sleep well.
35. On Sunday you went home along. _______ tears in your eyes.
36. Edward Perriman Cole died in May. ______ Sunday afternoon and ________ cloud in the sky.
37. ______ on the floor. I didn’t know ______ state secret.

am/is/are 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_611ulscCrw

1. _______ you name? Leon.
2. _______ okay?
3. _______ still here!
4. _______ a good soldier.
5. _______ possible.
6. _______ Holly Hills.
7. _______ proud of you.
8. _______ machines! _______ cattle! _______ men!
9. _______ okay, _______ here.
10. _______ busy.
11. _______ careful. Even in defeat Saruman is dangerous.
12. Their secret _______ teamwork.
13. _______ my older brother.
14. _______ not human, _______
15. This house _______ hundred and fifty years old.
16. _______ serial killer.
17. _______ a problem, William. _______ solution..
18. Commodus _______ moral man.
19. The fate of Christopher Robin _______ our hands.
20. Oh my god! _______ miracle
21. _______ always on my mind.
22. _______ impossible. _______ in prison. _______ impossible.
23. _______ like you. _______ murderer.
24. But your business _______ a little dangerous.
25. The spirit of Troy _______ that sword.
26. _______ not different. _______
27. The cub _______ year old and still dependent on its mother.
28. _______ beautiful
29. _______ real?

am/is/are 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSB58F7_LZM

1. ________ insane?
2. To them ________ just a freak, like me.
3. ________ the thief. ________ face familiar to you.
4. ________ challenge?
5. Uh, whose car ________ out front?
6. ________ mother alive?
7. ________ best part of my day.
8. ________ about you. ________ about us!
9. ________ sorry about your grandson.
10. ________ amasing.
11. The planet’s indisputable super-river ________ Amazon.
12. ________ pregnant!
13. Whose sword ________? Mine.
14. ________ very god, very loyal. ________, boys?
15. ________ an alient, ________ legal alien, ________ Englishman in New York.
16. ________ my classroom, boy!
17. ________ genius!
18. ________ father here?
19. ________ the last hope left.
20. ________ satisfied.
21. ________ sorry.
22. This Canadian bear ________ special.
24. ________ crazy, ________ crazy!
25. ________ nobody’s master, got it?
26. ________ sign fromApollo
27. ________ completely terrified.
28. ________ power, not love.
29. ________ here, ________ nothing I fear.
30. ________ unacceptable.
31. This guy ________ crazy.
32 My father ________ different than any other powerful man.
33. ________ good idea.
34. ________ here because ________ free. ________ here because ________ not free.

am/is/are 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0G1zfi2jP0

1. _______ profitable.
2. See, _______ monster!
3. _______ father.
4. Wow! _______ spaceship!
5. Ahh, change _______ good! Yeah, but _______ easy.
6. _______ most responsible man I’ve ever known.
7. Well, well, _______ historic day.
8. _______ good papa, Papa.
9. Lucy _______ very special person, very different from other people.
10. _______ perfect.
11. _______ happy for you. _______ honorable man.
12. Yes, _______ clumsy, _______?
13. Okay. _______ free to go.
14. Four weeks old and the cub _______ blind.
15. _______ real. _______ here.
16. _______ wrong with you.
17. _______ interesting. That ground _______ wet.
18. _______ disrespect, master. _______ truth.
19. Hi. _______ for me?
20. _______ beautiful writer.
21. _______ good to be home!
22. Life _______ bigger.
23. Robert _______ overprotective because _______ doctor.
24. The point _______ fear is natural.
25. _______ still alive.
26. Oow! _______ problem.
27. For some women, beauty _______ only talent.
28. _______ today?
29. _______ good news!
30. _______.
31. Christopher Robin! _______ there?
32. _______ about you.
33. _______ wrong with my future?
34. Because _______ special and unique!
35. Okay, look! _______ sorry! Alright?

present continuous in films http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVuVrVr4dvI

1. _______________ now?
2. Charlie _______________ on the wall. What? Charlie. ________________ on the wall.
3. Dexter, _______________ to me? Yes, _______________ .
4. _______________ you, _______ ? A little!
5. I know _______________. _______ breakfast?
6. Merlin, _______________ ? _______ for a book.
7. Carey, do you have a second? Sure, what’s up?
_______________ about me? _______________ about you? Are you Upriser 7? _______________ about? _______________ online about me.
8. I know _______________ . _______________ anything.
9. ______________________?
10. ______________________.
11. Yes… me. What? Cary? Kalinda? ________________? ________________? ________ omlette, what do you think? Where are you? I need some help. OK, now?
12. Hey guys, _______________? Chemistry.
13. ________________ at? You, Eli. ________________ at you.
14. Mum! Phineas and Ferb ________________ a title sequence!

future simple http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dUkFgFb448

1. ________ remember your name.
2. Oh, young master, one day ________ king.
3. ________ you my whole life.
4. ________ this house today.
5. ________ ask again.
6. Now, ________ ever fall in love with somebody else’s lover.
7. Please come home. If you come home, ________ protect you.
8. ________ see you again, Michael?
9. ________ join you? ________
10. The problem is that Portugal ________ more money.
11. ________ come back and free you, Mom. I promise.
11. ________ you what you want.
12. ________ not tell anyone.
13. ________ never be on the wrong side again.
14. And I know ________ no more tears in heaven.
15. Maybe ________ his mind. No, no, I don’t think so.
16. ________ never let anybody hurt you.
17. ________ easier than I thought.
18. ________ always be Spider-Man.
19. There ________ a war.
20. In time ________ to trust your feelings.
21. ________ you again, ________?
22. If you really love her, ________ her go.
23. ________ marry me?
24. ________ this.
25. So ________ try to come?
26. ________ trouble for you. I just want the truss.
27. Kludd, I promise ________ anyone what you’re doing.
28. ________ my best.

Can or Can’t?
can http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7BMZrvTF6E

1. ________ follow me?
2. Sorry, ________ answer!
3. ________ find all this in London?
4. Listen! ________ help you!
5. ________ breathe!
6. Lady Arwen, ________ delay.
7. Nothing ________ permanently.
8. ________ see me now.
9. ________ trust you?
10. ________ sleep.
11. ________ do for you?
12. ________ move! ________ talk! ________ walk!
13. ________ save hundreds of them.
14. ________ stay here.
15. ________ forget the day you left.
16. When ________ see you again?
17. ________ fly!
18. ________ believe it!
19. ________ survive without you!
20. I believe ________ fly!
21. Please forgive me, ________ stop loving you.
22. Its skin ________ change colour.
23. Oh my God ________ believe it!
24. Father , ________ win this war.
25. ________ see things before they happen.
26. This lake ________ be a dangerous place.
27. There’s nothing ________ do.
28. ________ describe.
29. ________ cook, ________?
30. ________ do it, Ned.
31. ________ be 4:30.
32. If there’s anything ________ do, please call.
33. ________ repeat the question?
34. ________ find food.
35. ________ do this my ourselves.
36. Because there’s nothing ________ do.
37. ________ go now?
38. ________ trust me.
39. ________ wake him up?
40. ________ see!
41. ________ ask you something? Yeah.
42. ________ lose them both.
42. ________ change the past!
43. ________ leave here!

why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnKyOqznDJ8 (ALL question types)

1. Why, why _______________ lie to me?
2. But why _______________ do it?
3. Why _______________ here?
4. If you believe that, why _______________ come back?
5. Why _______________ look so impressed?
6. Why _______________ read so much?
7. Why _______________ that?
8. Why _______________ love me, Jenny?
9.Why _______________ be the first man in your family not to use that word?
10. Why _______________ trust you?
11.Why _______________ tell me?
12. Why _______________ suspect me?
13. Why _______________ talk it over?
14. Why _______________ spoil everything?
15. Why _______________ you’re here together?
16. Why _______________ ride to the aid of those who did not come to ours?
17. Why _______________ tell me what everyone else seems to know?
18. Why _______________ change your mind?
19. Why _______________ release me?
20. Lady, why _______________ so interested in what I read or what I do?
21. Why _______________ try again A little harder. How’s that?
22. Why _______________ just sit back and relax?
23. Why _______________ wake me, smee?
24. Why _______________ nice people choose the wrong people to date?
25. Why _______________ looking at me like that?
26. Why _______________ follow the simples orders?
27. Why _______________ going to Washington DC?
28. Uh, but I don’t know if I can. Why _______________?

==========

Just the list of links:

am/is/are 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_611ulscCrw
am/is/are 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSB58F7_LZM
am/is/are 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0G1zfi2jP0
am/is/are 4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcTwiZwe-RM
was/were http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NalGvK1c95M

present simple voscreen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbEpQ_nLmJM
songs with present simple http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scjALd4iIaE

imperatives: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFFRLI6o3tw
present continuous in films http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVuVrVr4dvI
simple continuous http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dUkFgFb448

past simple http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1y_v2wev20
songs with past simple http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKBys9Pd-6w

present perfect in films http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NimnvJSwfs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nt7O2w1Fpxc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fOkb2ZTuAQ

past perfect in desperate housewives http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84f2MLXcmx8
in desperate housewives (careful!!! sex) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAIAiBTuqpg

why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnKyOqznDJ8 (ALL question types)

what http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ev9nuPWEW0

future simple http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dUkFgFb448
will and going to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zY8HarwqHFc

in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybdMPAlKoQk

0 and 1st conditional: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-3B8h-DnWw

2nd conditional in films http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd5cIbsefvE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvY_xFxais0
all conditionals in films http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIN34vvRk24

can http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7BMZrvTF6E
modals in films http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP5J5i1LSEE
modal verbs of obligation in films http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOsFTuAysnk

songs with superlatives http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eS6ZeYt-98Q
the passive in films http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzeI93MszMk
the passive with modals http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YkLHh3CqW0

Update. A year after writing this post, I came across a resource that allows you to search in movie subtitles and play the extracts, so now exercise of the type described in this post can be created ‘on the fly’: http://www.playphrase.me/#/en/I%20would%20have 

Update 2. Two more years on, together with my partner Kirill Sukhomlin we’ve created Tubequizard, a resource that allows to make interactive quizzes like the ones I wrote in this post, based on Youtube videos. Here’s an example quiz.

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Comments
  1. eflnotes says:

    hi olya

    you might have seen this post on videogrep, this is one way to automate clips:

    ta
    mura

  2. caraleopold says:

    Hi Olga. I’ve been on and off your blog regularly for a week now, deep in the listening tag section. Thanks ever so much for all of these practical ways in to teaching listening. I am currently reading the Field book, so gleaning much more of an insight into the whole thing. I can see his work has had an impact on your approach. Anyway, thanks for these links. It’s nice to get some micro-dictation from authentic sources. Did you come up with the gap fills? Are other teachers free to re-use them, crediting you as the source?

    • olyasergeeva says:

      Hi Cara,

      I’m sorry for replying that late. Great to hear that you found some of the materials useful. Definitely do reuse them. Also, my partner and I have been creating a tool that allows one to create such gap-fills automatically based on Youtube videos that have subs. I haven’t promoted this tool on this blog yet, but there are links and some examples here. The interface of the tool is not at all intuitive, so let me know if you need help with the tool.

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