Oh. Me. Oh. My. To Blog or not to Blog. Can you tell I’m listening to Hamlet?

The #15secondShakespeare spurt on Twitter last week was utterly fascinating. First of all, Karen Gillan.

Her eye contact and breathless voice made it convincing enough, but the du-dum-dum-dum at the end finished it off. We simply never know, with Shakespeare, whether or not he is using real words or words he made up. The internet is full of pages of ‘How To Speak Like Shakespeare‘ and English / Drama teachers up and down the land thrust pages of Shakespearean insults into their students’ hands with glee, year in, year out.

Last weekend I took my family to Norwich to watch Bill, the new film offering from the team behind Horrible Histories. If you have kids and you haven’t watched HH yet, please do, then pop back to say thank you. You’re welcome. The team write pithy, sarcastic and topical jokes into historical stories, match them with some fantastic cover version-style songs and frankly teach us all something new every time they’re on the screen. The film was great fun. A true family film with enough ‘adult’ jokes to keep us giggling while the kids loved the action and plot. One of the great observations was how Shakespeare’s comedies are basically ‘a series of funny misunderstandings’, which provided a fantastic musical number. This is so true. Look through the fluffy language and bizarre characters and you’ll find some very similar plot threads. Boy meets girl in wrong place / time / outfit / state of health / under spell / married to someone else / in wrong family type thing. This reminded me of a stupendous book I read whilst at college, Seven Basic Plots. I thoroughly recommend this, although its a huge book its worth trawling through it.

Nest let’s look at Nadia Wadia‘s video. That stillness of face and body but still projecting the voice is often seen as very Shakespearean, although truthfully the actions in his day might have been much bigger and bolder, with no amplification save the shape of the theatre, an audience filled with prostitutes and pie-sellers to bellow over, people weeing in the corner to avoid paying their penny twice (so spending a penny in the theatre – ha! ha!), with the royal family potentially in the audience ready to cut off your head if they don’t like the play! Nowadays we have microphones and better insulation and generally people sit quietly in the audience. On comfy seats.

Can we apply these ‘Shakespearean’ thoughts to our every day speaking? If we want to be dramatic, keeping a stillness about ourselves can help. Try keeping your eyes on one point, your face quite still, leave longer between sentences and phrases to build tension. Save your smiles. Push the sounds forward and project them out with passion.

Gosh, it must be lunchtime – I’m Hank Marvin!

Have a lovely day and week everyone – see you soon!

Just like riding a horse… or a bicycle…

I may well be mixing my metaphors, but I feel nervous blogging again.

I have had a truly lovely summer with my family, filled with festivals, trips in the camper van and long days in the sun. The garden is developing nicely and we had a great crop of runner beans, tomatoes, chillies and strawberries.

Now the autumn closes in around us and we draw our curtains earlier. I have been enjoying listening to No Such Thing As A Fish podcast as I run or as I carry out my household tasks. It made me think about some phrases we use without thinking about it, some terribly English things to say.

  1. Above Board. This hails from card playing. If your hands are ‘above the board’ or above the table, you cannot be playing tricks or concealing cards. In a contemporary sense we might say ‘everything this company does is above board and will remain so’, meaning that the company’s dealings are legitimate. The first ‘a’ is pronounced as the schwa sound, so sounds like uhbuhv-bawrd.
  2. Bee’s knees. I love this phrase. Today it means something utterly brilliant, although if we think about it, bee’s knees must be incredibly tiny, if indeed they even have them! Apparently these phrases were all the rage in the 1920s, especially in America and this one has hung around longer. Other, slightly more bizarre examples include flea’s eyebrows and canary’s tusks! Think abut the deliciously long ‘ee’ sound in both of these words and lean on it, following the ‘ee’ with the buzzing ‘s’ sound, as opposed to the hissing ‘s’.
  3. Beat about the bush. This is all about avoiding the issue. This time of year beaters are everywhere in rural areas. They beat the undergrowth with sticks and make all the wildfowl fly into the air. Then the people with the guns can shoot them in the air. So the beaters never get the satisfaction of shooting, hence the term, they don’t complete the task. Synonyms include prevaricate, quibble, hedge, stall and shilly-shally.

How many more do you know?

Buzzfeed list on this topic

Use this site for reference too

A similar list on Grammarly

Choon! Or Toon! Or Tune!

I was listening to BBC Radio 3 on the way back from the school run (the children had been listening to their Times Tables CD in the car and I needed to erase the earworm!) and I was very surprised to hear the presenter pronounce tune as ‘toon’. When you check the phonetic transcription for the word in the dictionary you find that it should be pronounced tju:n, which becomes t-yeeeeooooo-n, in slow motion, that is! So, a nice sharp t, then a yeeoo sound before the closing n. You will hear people say toon and indeed choon for this word, but try and use the correct tju: sound.

Which other words use this sound? Here are some examples: 

  1. Tuba
  2. Tube
  3. Tudor 
  4. Tuesday
  5. Tuition 
  6. Tulip 
  7. Tumid 
  8. Tumour
  9. Tumultuous 
  10. Tuna
  11. Tunic
  12. Tutee 
  13. Tutelage
  14. Tutor
  15. Tutorial

Tu can also sound like ter as in turn / Turkish / Turkey, or tuh (t followed by short u or schwa) as in tuck, tuff or tuppence. 

Enjoy the sunshine today, UK people, this might be our brief Summer! Let’s enjoy it!

Script List Mania!

Using scripts is a great way to practice correct intonation and emphasis with another victim, sorry, willing person. My daughter and I enjoy reading scripts together and she’s only 7, so there’s no age limit to it. If there are more parts than people you can either assign parts, or just take it in turn to read a line, either way works. Try different tones or pitches for different characters and different speeds to reflect different people’s ages. If you’re able, do use different accents, practice extending vowel sounds or shortening consonants. Read at different volumes to experiment with effectiveness of this. If you’re on your own use monologues or comedians stand up sketches.

Here is a list of some sites I like to plunder when I read scripts with my students:

  1. http://www.bitcomedy.co.uk/ this site has a huge collection of one-liners and short jokes. They’re great for practising emphasising the right words in a sentence.
  2. http://www.cello.prestel.co.uk/songs.htm this site has a HUGE resource of scripts including some very funny Victoria Wood sketches.
  3. http://theatregirl.co.za/ here is a fantastic site filled with scripts and lyrics from musical theatre and straight theatre
  4. http://www.montypython.net/ Monty Python scripts are a very amusing, if surreal, experience
  5. http://scriptline.livejournal.com/55348.html this is where I found Downton Abbey scripts – great to read aloud!

Right, must go, Parents Association meeting at the children’s school! See you all later!

Feeling hot, hot, hot.

In this BEAUTIFUL hot weather that we are having in the UK, it is absolutely essential to drink plenty of liquid. Water is best but juice and squash are great too. If you love caffeine try and up your water intake to balance out the caffeinated drinks as they are quite drying to the system. Avoid straining your voice in the heat by warming it up thoroughly in the morning before you leave the house. Take some Vocalzone with you in case of dry throat-related hoarseness. Take antihistamines regularly to feel their maximum benefit.

I’m restarting a blogging course that I let go last year – fingers crossed I show better staying power this time! #31DBBBDay1

Right. Cheerful head back on!

Today I am channelling Worzel Gummidge. I am taking off my Grumpy Head and putting back on my Cheerful Head. Last night’s post started out beautifully then dissolved into misery! Gah!

I’m not going to write about how my daughter sobbed because her team lost at SkittleBall (no, I don’t know what it is either) or about the fact that I stayed in ALL DAY for a delivery from Viking that apparently tried to deliver to us and apparently found us ‘closed’. NO! I am going to write about a delicate balance – teacher talk vs student talk.

It is a constant worry to me that I do too much teacher talk in my lessons. I worry about my students copying me rather than learning from me. I worry about filling up too much time with telling them what to do vs listening to them experimenting. So here are my tips:

1. Practice CONCISE introductions. Always ask for a brief verbal progress report at the start of the lesson from the student in case you can incorporate any areas they are struggling with immediately. Then watch the clock as you introduce the topic for the lesson. No more than 5 minutes per hour for an intro, maximum. It will take practice but it is worth it! Sometimes I only speak for 2 minutes at the start of a lesson now!
2. Set a task immediately after the introduction that is teacher led but student demonstrated. For example, I ask for breathing and warm up exercises – I give the instruction but they do the work. This is between 5 and 10 minutes depending on the student’s needs.

3. Then do a task where you both demonstrate the skill and compliment your student when they get it right. Gently guide them where they need to develop the work and praise them when they get it right. In my lessons this is usually focussed vowel and consonant work. It sometimes takes up to 15 minutes for this section, even longer with some students.

4. Then move into an editing role. Give the task, listen to their version and edit. Show which bits need cropping / changing / lengthening and get them to try again. I usually spend about 10 minutes on this.

5. Then take a step back. Set a task and just listen. I use poetry and  short passages (both fiction and non-fiction) and highlight as they read. Afterwards go through why you highlighted certain passages / words. 5 minutes-ish.

6. My penultimate task is to let the students speak freely on a given topic, for a fixed period of time. Afterwards I give feedback on pronunciation and intonation, as well as speed and volume. 5 minutes-ish.

7. Finally they read an extended piece, either from a novel or a newspaper. Again, I highlight while they are reading and go through the highlights afterwards. By this point they almost certainly recognise why I highlighted before I say the reason. About 5 minutes.

So, one way I avoid too much teacher talk is that PRECISE introduction. This inspires me for the rest of the lesson to try to avoid chatting / waffle if I can. I make the tasks achievable and enjoyable, I ditch resources that don’t work straightaway. Remember although we are there to impart knowledge, we won’t know what level their understanding is if we just blah blah blah at them. It’s a two way thing, tutoring. I learn from them what they need to know next, they learn those skills from me, hopefully!

So – a MUCH more positive blog! HURRAH! And it’s the weekend! Hubby will arrive home with chips soon and we will all be able to relax.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend too 🙂

England in the Springtime

I adore England in the Springtime. I especially adore it here in East Anglia where there is a great mix of arable and livestock farming, so I drive past fields of rapeseed, cows, sheep (& lambs of course), wheat, corn, whatever they are growing. And the hedgerows – the hedgerows are bursting with life. Cow parsley and hawthorn and blackthorn and lilac and bluebells and harebells and the odd rogue bulb that someone has guerilla planted or has just ‘appeared’. The grass is long, luscious and thick, the trees have that luminous green in their leaves that painters often puzzle over capturing. My favourite painting of Spring is in my house. My father-in-law painted it and it’s perfect. The light dapples on the floor of the woods and the sky is that precious light blue we get in the Spring.

Things in England are not so happy. My facebook newsfeed is full of people utterly bemused at how a political party who achieved 30% of the vote can rule the country… a few people gathered to peacefully protest and they were treated appallingly by the Police, creating fights and arresting people who had done absolutely nothing. So actually being English is tainted… a bitter taste is left in our mouths.

So, will I have a job in a couple of years time? If people haven’t been affected by the swathing cuts yet, they will be soon. Will people have disposal income to spend on lessons to help them speak more clearly? Will employers still pay for their employees to receive tuition to gain confidence and ability in public speaking? To begin worrying about your future before there’s even a problem is a bit odd, isn’t it?

I haven’t anything useful or promising to share today. I am enjoying the Springtime and hope you are too.