Fun facts about the English Language to use in the classroom
The English Language is delightfully quirky. Here are some fun facts about it to use as a base for classroom activities with intermediate and advanced learners.
Fact One: English changes all the time
Languages evolve and English is no exception. One-quarter of the words in the full Oxford dictionary are classed as obsolete. Strewth! That only leaves about 175,000 for everyday conversation.
Fact Two: Foreigners can find English hard to understand
Good luck trying to translate this without a good slang dictionary. English is enriched by slang, and I say enriched deliberately since it's colourful and fun, although not perhaps everyone's cup of tea, and certainly one would endeavour not to use it in the presence of the Queen.
I was down the pub having some nosh when I noticed this nutter going in and out the loo. I said to my mate: "Bet you a tenner there's something well dodgy going on there." "I should mind your beeswax" he replied, "I'm off to Bedfordshire." Just as the nutter was going back into the loo, Bob's your uncle, the Fuzz arrived. Gobsmacked, my mate fell off his stool (actually I think he was plastered). "Keep your hair on," I said. "The coppers are here for him, not you." A classroom activity could be to work on different paragraphs like the above in small groups and provide a translation in proper English!
For a classroom activity, let students guess and rewrite this passage, then read out their version to the class. The class vote for the funniest rendition, or the best, or the most imaginative.
Next, let students use dictionaries to work out the true meaning of the passage and share with others.
Less radical than slang for the English language classroom are metaphors and similes. The English are champions for quirky metaphors. While the French say it's raining ropes, the Spanish say it's raining jugs, the Italians say it's raining like a shower, all of which give a good visual on very heavy rain, the English say it's raining cats and dogs. Where did they come from? Call my bluff definitions is a fun language game to work with metaphors and help expand a student's knowledge of English. Check the resource box for a link to language learning activities.
Fact Three: It gets worse...even native speakers can find English hard to understand
If slang wasn't enough the English language has further ways to confuse the intrepid learner. While French has 'Verlan', where words are said backwards, so femme becomes meuf, English has rhyming slang, a language understood by some East Londoners and a few other people in the know! If you don't want to die stupid use your loaf and take a butcher's at Wikipedia, where rhyming slang is explained in full.
Words that rhyme are used instead of the original word, so wife became trouble and strife. The longer phrase is then shortened to just the first word, so wife became trouble. The phone became the dog and bone, and that in turn became the dog. So if you plan to spend longer than planned down the pub, for Pete's sake get your trouble on the dog and let her know!
Fact Four: Much of English is foreign anyway.
The English Language is an eclectic mix of Indo-European, old Norse, Greek, Latin, German, French...(and other sources). Many every day words come from afar, such as jodhpurs after the Indian city, chocolate from Aztec, anorak from Eskimo, aficionado from French, embargo from Spanish and so on. To this day new words are being added from diverse sources and goodness only kwz if txt language will be added, OMG I hope not, TIME, CU Wordsworth. To think that the rest of the world are also using these acronyms, I mean can't they think up their own?
Fact Five: English spelling and pronunciation can be maddening
With as many exceptions as there are rules good luck to the teacher trying to explain why the same letters 'ough' have three different pronunciations. 'Go through the pigsty and put the feed in the trough under the bough.'
Fact Six: English is only spoken as a native language by 5% of the world.
Should we all be learning Chinese and Spanish before English? Not according to the UN, at least for the moment, where English and French are the working languages, even though only 1% of the world speaks French! LOL!
To help your students have more fun lessons, try my best-selling classroom activities book. There is plenty there for every teacher wanting to get students more involved. You can get my book in paperback (see Amazon for book reviews) or directly from me in an instant PDF download.