Linguistic: Intro Chapter 7- Syntax Salvation

This week I learned two concepts that improve my teaching skills.

First, Korean in a pro-drop language.  The subject of a Korean sentence in routinely dropped.  The pronoun is dropped.  Thus, it is a pro-drop language.

For example:

I am hungry.

배고파요.  This literally translates as “Stomach hurts.” Korean leaves out the “I”.

In contrast to this, English requires dummy subjects.  These are empty subjects that have no meaning.

In the English sentence:

“It is raining.” What does the “it” refer to?  There is no antecedent.  It could refer to nature, weather, or the sky.  However, it is never explicitly defined.

Second, pronouns do not replace nouns. I have been teaching English wrong for years.  Sigh.  Pronouns replace noun phrases.

For example:

“The little green man is cute.” can not be written as “The little green he is cute.”

It has to be written as, “He is cute.”

When teaching English as a foreign language, it is important to know what is a language omits and what can not.  Especially, dummies can not be forgotten.


Hornsby, D. (2014). Linguistics: a complete introduction. London: Teach Yourself.




Linguistic: Intro Chapter 6 – Lego Building Words with Morphology


Why study linguistics? How can studying linguistics lead to a successful EFL classroom?

Of course there are many factors that go into an EFL classroom that attributing a successful classroom.  However, an EFL teacher should have a basic understanding of language works. This idea of basic competence is actually a heated topic of discussion.  Some believe that being a native speaker is enough to be an EFL teacher.  It should be noted that this belief benefited me in the beginning of my teaching career; however, I believe that teachers need to grow and develop as long as they are teachers (thus this blog).

If a teacher wants to develop their skills, then the teacher needs to develop an understanding of how words work, or morphology.

While the word “morphology” looks challenging, it can be broken down down into simpler parts.  The two simpler parts include derviational and inflectional morphology.  Derivational morphology strives to understand how a language makes new words; inflectional morphology focuses understanding on the different parts of speech interact in a language. Breaking a word down into a morpheme, or the simplest form of the word.

Most English teachers have to teach lessons on suffixes, prefixes, and adding “s” or “es” to third person singular verbs. Suffixes and prefixes, such as “un” and “pre”, are examples  of derviational morphology.  They change the meaning of the word.  Adding “s” or “es” to third person singular verbs is an example of inflectional morphology

Why is this important?

A teacher should understand the students in the classroom.  The first language of a student heavily influences student’s second language acquisition (Brown, 2007).  Knowing the differences between the English and the first language will help bridge the gap between the students and the teacher.

Here are the 8 English inflectional endings.

Click to access EnglishInflectionalAffixes.pdf

I hope this helps.



Brown, H. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching (5th ed.). White Plains, New York: Pearson.

Hornsby, D. (2014). Linguistics: a complete introduction. London: Teach Yourself.


A Thought about Consistent Variety

Education turns into factory work.  Students come in, and test go out.  While some lament this, it seems that school for the most part is a safe place to be.  Danger and school should never mix.  If this is to be our fate, then amor fati.  The question becomes how can educators make school a positive place to be.  This leads me to reflect on the idea of consistent variety.  It is one of those ideas that has echoed in my head for a long time.  School should be a place were different educational games are played in fair and familiar ways.  Maybe learning is about stretching the imagination just far enough to make the moment meaningful.  Please know that this thought obviously not entirely mine.  This is a simple reflection of a long day of playing hangman.

How to Make Teaching Fun ~ A Humble Suggestion

The best way to make teaching fun is to try.

Another way and more concrete way to make learning fun is to combine teaching methods. The world is not calm or orderly.  Why should the class be so?  While a teacher should be able to manage a classroom, there should be element in the classroom of wonder.  If a teacher brings two different styles of teaching into the classroom, then the objective could be reinforced twice.

For example, my debate classes last week had the objective to teaching students how to brainstorm reason for a debate and how eliminate weak arguments. The topic was about the efficiency of giving homework to students.  The topic required a long explanation of difficult vocabulary words and a discussion on why certain arguments were valid.  According to Richards and Rodgers (2001), this class would fall under Content-Based Instruction.  There is nothing wrong with this approach; however, the lesson felt constricted.   By adding a Task-Based learning element to the class, it helped make the class more interactive.  I showed the student online chess puzzles. As a class, we discussed which moves were the best and the which moves were the worst.  The difficult part, of course, was the transition between the games and the lesson.  Still, the children left with smiles on their faces.

By combining teaching methods, the students had moment of wonder.  Why was the teacher using chess to teach debate?  It was when the students were able to answer that question that they achieved the class objective and understanding how to brainstorm and eliminate weak arguments.

I remember reading somewhere that humor is when you compare two things that should not be comparable.  Maybe good teaching is the same way?




Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching.

Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press

Linguistics: Intro Chapter 5- How to use it?

Yesterday’s blog was about the difference between phonemes and allophones.  The problem is how to make this information pertinent to an EFL classroom.  Since phonics is part of the curricula, it should be obvious where to use this new piece of news.

Being such a novice, implementing any changes to my teaching style and lesson plans seem premature.  Right now, the awareness of how different language learners make mistakes is important.

Fretting over whether my students aspirate or don’t aspirate the “t” sound does not appeal to me.

This morning I read a little from “Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching”. The selection that I read this morning about Audiolingualism noted the importance of positive reinforcement.  From that point of view, it is better practically speaking to focus on the phonemes when teaching and not the allophones.  Maybe it is laziness? However, maybe good is good enough for beginners learning a language.


Hornsby, D. (2014). Linguistics: a complete introduction. London: Teach Yourself.

Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching.

Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press

Linguistics: Intro Chapter 5

What did I learn?

I learned that words, or lexemes, are made up of phonemes.  Phonemes are made up of allophones.  This is not a completely accurate description.  Linguists, like all intellectuals, enjoy using jargon to describe simple concepts. This gives them a higher degree of precision when talking about a topic and additionally makes them sound smarter.

Nailing down what exactly is a word is difficult.  It is only simple when live a bubble and view the world solely through the lens of THE MOST GLORIOUS ENGLISH.  In some languages, it is hard to distinguish between a word and a sentence.  I run into this daily because Korean is an agglutinating language, which means it uses morphemic blocks.  Anyways, I will get back on the topic.

If we just accept the common idea of what a word is, then we can break down the parts of the word.  For example, “stop” and “top” both have a “t”.  The “t” is a phoneme.  In my and your head and only in our imagine does the letter “t” exist.  The difference is that the “t” in “top” is aspirated.  This difference is real and shows the difference between two allophones.

Here is a great video that explains this better.


Hornsby, D. (2014). Linguistics: a complete introduction. London: Teach Yourself.

Linguistics: Intro Chap. 4

What did I learn?

This chapter covered how people make and understand sounds. Linguists use IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), not the kind of beer, to describe sounds.  The letter “b” is described as a voiced bilabial stop. First, voiced means that your larynx vibrates. Bilabial means the both the lips are involved in making the sound. Finally, a stop means that all airflow is blocked and is not nasal.  Linguists can describe the sound in even more detail in naming the muscles, the way the mouth moves, and how the air passes through it.

The main take away is that every sound made by a human is documented and thoroughly described by a linguist.

More on the Letter “B”

More on the IPA

More on the IPA chart

How can I make this useful?

Even though I am not a linguist, it is still important for my EFL students and myself to understand the basics.  Learning how to pronounce words properly and early can build confidence and make future acquisition of English words and grammar points easier and less frightening.

One way to make this useful is by teaching with minimal pairs.  These are pairs that have similar sounds except for one letter, such as “tap” and “tab”. For Korean students, “l” and “r” minimal pairs are especially important since Korean makes both sounds with only one letter “ㄹ”.

More on minimal pairs

More hints on how to teach with IPA

What do I want to learn?

I want learn more about accents.

This video is very interesting about Southern accents.


Hornsby, D. (2014). Linguistics: a complete introduction. London: Teach Yourself.

Linguistical Lies ~ Part 3

This is a blog that briefly covers chapter three of Linguistics: A Complete Introduction.

A Swiss Saussure sours my sureness.  Saussure is a famous erudite who helped push linguistics into a science.

Here is my interpretation of the events that transpired.

In the beginning, humans are alone in the womb.  The only sound is the moving liquid.  Our eyes are closed even if there is a twin next to us.  Later, a child sits in a classroom and receives attention.  The child goes from being one of one to one of thirty.  Still later, the child walks on the human wheel to be one of seven and a half billion.

In the beginning of history, writers knew only their own language.  They stumbled out of the crib to meet foreigners. Language was in a class only in Europe for a time.  It was a class of similar differences. Now, languages are a dime a dozen. Each claiming uniqueness like countries claiming  to have produced the inventor of the first radio.

The third chapter describes first the rise of the Structuralists and secondly the weak Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. The language chairs went from arguing about words to arguing about the importance of structure. Secondly, Sapir-Whorf argued that thoughts are controlled by the language that we speak.

Am I smart because I know the word, erudite? Am I polite if my language is polite?  If my words come from an arbitrary place, then am I arbitrary?

Safely and wisely, most linguists agree with a weak form of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.




Hornsby, D. (2014). Linguistics: a complete introduction. London: Teach Yourself.

Snow Falling Up~Thought of the Day #9

I am into my first third of my career as an educator.  There have been thousands of bad classes, false starts, and ton of miscommunication.  Some of it is due to having my career in Asia.  Most of it is because of my failures.

Today I was sitting in a bus on the way home.  All of the signals were in a foreign language I barely understand. Snow was slowing falling.  I was wondering if my students understood my lessons.  I pondered if they understood my plans for them.

There in the distance was an old woman with a bent back digging through the trash.

The moment made me mad. Do I understand my lessons? Do I understand my students?

The snow has stopped falling.

Linguistical Lies ~ Part 2

There is nothing but the abyss…

What was the first language?  Why did language start? Who spoke it? Did multiple people start speaking in different places?  Did they speak different languages?

It is painful for some to admit that there are no answers.  Yet, an honest look at language leads to conclusion that something is amiss. Does this paucity of answers tell us something?

In the second chapter of “Linguistics: A Complete Introduction”, there is no clear answer to these questions. People who claim to know the first language have vested interest in maintaining power through language.

This disappointment is followed by another.  Where does language come from? Does it come from the nature or the gods? Does it come from our own minds?

First, Plato argues that nature comes from the gods in our own head.  This linguistic naturalism stated that words come from us intrinsically and rationally. Then this rationality was juxtaposed with empiricism that language with its arbitrariness came from the senses. Thirdly, Chomsky strikes back with the idea the humans are innately equipped to learn languages.

It is only a disappointment if you like answers.  Who doesn’t mind waiting 10,000 years to learn that the number 42 is the ultimate answer to the question of life, universe, and everything?

Hornsby, D. (2014). Linguistics: a complete introduction. London: Teach Yourself.