African American English in the media

This American LifeThis week’s This American Life took on an interesting topic, having to do with identity and projection.  I recommend it to all.  But this is (mostly) a language blog, not an interesting-subject-npr blog.

I bring up This American Life because I had a personally interesting experience while listening to this episode on my way home from work having to do with language.  The prologue of the episode talks to two sets of twins, and while the story is interesting, what got me going was their use of African American English (AAE).

From the Podcast:

Faith (a high school girl) talking about why she doesn’t like her twin, who she says does bad stuff and plays it off on others:

1)    “Everything she do, they say, ‘Why y’all do that?’ They be thinkin’ it’s me.”

Later, talking about their principals trying to help:

2)    “I appreciate that they tryin’ to help, but I don’t like her.”

Both examples are nothing special, or undocumented phenomenon, of AAE; but it was the first time that I had heard natural use of both of these constructions and in the same moment understood them correctly.

Contrary to popular belief (and popular mis-representation), AAE does not simply drop or delete copula be (as in the second example) nor does it simply disregard conjugations (as in the first).  I should probably spend more time talking about language attitudes and authority, but we will stick to the grammar for now.


The copula doesn’t mean what you think it does.

For example (1), what is being expressed is what is known as a habitual aspect.  Standard English expresses the habitual in a couple of ways.  We may employ the use of an adverb such as:

3)    “I always go walking in the morning.”

Or, surprisingly to some people, English uses the simple present tense to convey habitual.  Note:

4)    A: “How do you keep in shape?”
B: “I walk.”

Notice, speaker B doesn’t mean that they are walking in that moment (i.e. the present), but that they are accustomed to walking regularly, in order to maintain health.  They habitually walk.

The habitual in Standard English is not so simply defined, however.  The simple present tense does a lot of leg-work.  Consider:

5)    “I know what to do.”

This form of the present notes states of being, and it is rightfully called the Stative.  In example (5), we are not saying we habitually know what to do, but that in that moment (in that state), we know what to do.  There are many other uses of the present tense, you can read about them here.

Back to the AAE in (1).  What we have isn’t simply a stubborn refusal to conjugate verbs, what we are seeing is the habitual aspect.  Notice how the phrase translates into (my) standard English:

6)    “Everything she does, they say, ’why did you do that?’ They think it’s me.”

Notice the slight off-ness of trying to translate it to, “they are thinking it’s me.”  It conveys a sense that, at that time, they think it is her.  Or even if we place it in the past, “they were thinking it’s me.”  Notice how this doesn’t fit semantically with the previous phrase, “Everything she do..”.  We are talking about something that is on-going, something that happens habitually.  The cleaner (and indeed, more correct) translation is to the SE use of the simple present habitual.

Now, number (2).  This may be understood as laziness and ungrammatical by some.  Faith seemingly forgets to add tense to her sentence (“are trying”).  But in reality, what we are seeing is a parallel feature to the Standard English contraction system.  Notice how it translates into SE.

7)    “I appreciate what they’re trying to do.”

We could translate it to, “they are”, but this would misrepresent the grammatical feature that is being employed in AAE.  Where SE contracts the verb to “’re”, AAE takes it one step further and omits it.  (A phenomenon that also occurs in Russian)

The systematic nature of be-omission in AAE actually follows the same rules that govern be-contraction in SE.  For example, in the following, ‘be’ cannot be contracted in standard English:

8)    “I don’t know where she is.”
*”I don’t know where she’s.”

Note that ‘be-omission’ and ‘be-contraction’ are not on a continuum.  It isn’t simply a slide from the contraction to the omission, but parallel rules that govern the same thing.  The AAE equivalent in (8) is not “I don’t know where she’s”, but “I don’t know where she is”.  Full inclusion of “be”.

To linguists, this conversation is old-news.  No one challenges the legitimacy of African American English as a legitimate language. (Though, jury is still out as to whether AAE is a dialect of the English language or whether it is a Creole.  An interesting discussion that I think is leaning towards ‘dialect’).  Unfortunately, linguists have frequently been dismayed at the hateful, racist and ignorant comments made by some of the general public concerning AAE. The Ebonics debate of the 1990s comes to mind readily.  It can be difficult, but it is certainly a consciousness-raiser to recognize both the complexity and systematic organization of AAE.

Pigs, Bears, and 9th grade philosophy of love and death

After a very comfortable two weeks away from the school, I am back to desk-warming until the new school term starts (sometime.. soon?).  I spend my time alternating between thinking about planning my lessons and actually wasting time on Reddit.

Beyond that, though, I do find some time to be productive.  Recently, I’ve been going through all the papers I have been saving.  The papers consist mostly of material that I created and planned for lessons that I never actually taught.  It’s a chaotic life- being an NET up here.  Some of the material is actual work from the students and then some of it is just junk and I don’t know why it is here.  I went through a good portion of it, recycling what was worthless, saving what could be used again.  And while I did all of this I found a laugh or two at my students creative (and sometimes perverse) writing.

I thought I might share some of their writing with you.

One lesson I did, probably last october/september, was one of those “write one sentence, pass the paper, the next group writes another sentence continuing off of the first sentence” lessons.  It can be so much more elaborate than that; you can have specific topics, starting the sentence with a specific letter or word, rhyming, making it an “if…then” (like, “if you give a mouse a cookie”).

I think I just wanted to get the students writing at all, and I thought this might be a good way to go.  Let the kids be creative.  And while I still think that is a good thing, the students thoughts can be… one-dimensional.

The students are middle-school 9th graders. (middle school goes from 7th-9th, high school is 10th-12th).

Story 1

Seokwon is hungry.
Yumi is hungry and angry.
Seokwon is angry too.
So he started eating food.
He was a pig.
And he said, “You start studying right now!”

Story 2

Anthony went to school.
A bear tried to eat Anthony.
Anthony died.
But he is now a ghost.

Story 3

The princess Mary lived with a small man named Sam.
The Small man tried to kiss the princess Mary.

Story 4

Once upon a time, there lived a fat pig.
The pig was alone.
The fat pig died.

Story 5

Long, long ago, there was a bear.
The bear died.
Because the bear saw Juwon, the bear died.

‘going to’ vs. ‘gonna’: The Cagematch

I was eating out with some friends the other night when one of them stopped the conversation to announce that she needed to leave. (It isn’t as strange as it might sound, her English is about the low-to-mid intermediate range, so just jumping in can be difficult).  Her reason was that she needed to wake up early the next day, because she was going to the countryside.

Except she didn’t say, “I’m going to the countryside.”  She said:

I’m gonna the countryside.

The grammar-cogs in my brain stuttered so forcefully that I think my head actually tilted.  I made the necessary accommodation without too much trouble, but even in that moment I was pretty sure that it is not grammatical in my dialect (in a descriptivist sort of understanding) to use “gonna” followed by a noun phrase.  My initial response was that it probably wasn’t grammatical anywhere, but those sort of generalizations rarely play out.

To define the conversation more specifically, the issue here really revolves around the infinitive/preposition “to”.  There is an additional discussion that involves “going” more directly that is demonstrated more easily with this example:

“I’m not going to work today.” [I am going to stay home instead]


“I’m not gonna work today.” [I’m just going to sit in my cubicle and play solitaire].

This tricky little linguistic phenomenon is well-documented, going back to the 1950s.  In this case, it essentially comes down to differentiating between an aspectual [gonna], and the progressive verb [going to].

The phrase my friend used doesn’t show off the aspectual, so it can be difficult to see why exactly it is being blocked.  After all, it may seem to most of us that ‘gonna’ is simply a contraction of ‘going to’.  But, what we actually find, is that is not the case.  ‘gonna’ is a contraction of a specific progressive verb + the nearby infinitive participle ‘to’.

If it isn’t clear, infinitives and prepositions can behave in very similar, and yet distinct ways.  Oddly enough, we are aided by a prescriptivist perspective to help us understand the difference a little.

Infinitives like, “to go”, can be split.  The most famous of split infinitives is the epic Star Trek line,

to boldy go…

In the olden days, prescriptivists would have you believe such iconic statements like this were ungrammatical in the English language (and that it should be, instead, “to go boldy” which, as has been noted by many, goes strangely against the natural tempo and stress of standard English).

On the other hand, splitting a preposition is a much more difficult task.  For example in, “I’m going [p to [np the countryside]], trying to put something between the preposition and the attaching noun phrase is odd to say the very least.

I’m going to beautiful the countryside.

(I’m going to the beautiful countryside).  Even adverbs, which are a very mobile word category in English, feel a little stretched. “I’m going to tomorrow the countryside.” (I’m going tomorrow to the countryside).  It should be noted that while adverbs of time have a particularly difficult time here, other adverbs don’t: “I’m going to, hopefully, the countryside.”  I think there is something semantically significant here, but I’m not entirely sure what it is.

Preposition can, however, be stranded with effortless ease.  Particularly when asking questions (which is where lay prescriptivists are most likely to find offense).  For example, using my friend’s statement, pretending I didn’t hear where she was going, I ask: “Where are you going to? (prescriptivists would submit that it should be, “To where are you going?”  A construction, that while perfectly well-formed, fights a battle it lost long before it began.

Try out the infinitives now.  We’ll use the “work” examples for clarity.  Let’s say I didn’t understand what my friend said she was going to do today:

What are you not going to do today?

Not only can you not strand the infinitive, you actually need a place holder verb, (what we might call a pro-verb) ‘do’ in this case, to formulate a grammatical sentence.

Got that? Good.  Both “going to” and “gonna” start with the same phonemes, namely, /goiŋ.tu/.  In actual speech, my “going to + noun phrase” looks like this


You may not recognize or be able to read all the characters, that’s ok.  Essentially, what I am saying with this transcription is that the first syllable is the stressed, that my “o” is not as far back as it is in words like “bode”.  In fact, “goin”, when I am speaking quickly sounds somewhat like “gwen”.  “to” is unstressed and so the “o” vowel gets reduced to “uh”.

Now for “going to + verb”


It looks a little strange like this, but essentially, what is being said is that “gonna” is pronounced in my speech as, “guh-nuh”.  Why the different vowel characters?  In most AmEnglish dialects, if “uh” is stressed, it tends to go down and back in the mouth, just a little bit.  Another example is the word ‘someone’ [sʌmwən].

As for ‘gonna’ the most interesting thing, to me, is that the ‘-ng’ (of ‘going’) and the ‘t’ (of ‘to’) have merged into ‘n’.  I won’t bore with the whole phonological explanation, but essentially, it is nothing strange for the nasal [ng] to spread to the [t] and make it an [n], or vice versa; for the [t] to influence the [ng] and make it [n].  But ‘gonna’ takes it a step further, and the nasality of [n] influences [t] and turns it into an [n].  The standard spelling of ‘gonna’ shows this pretty well.  Gon-na.

But the question still stands, why should ‘to’ merge into ‘going’ in the cases of ‘going to +verb’ but not ‘going to + noun’?  Our discussion of infinitives and prepositions comes in handy.

In the case of the prepositional ‘to’; notice that it is possible to say, “where are you going to?” or “where are you going?” but, importantly not:

where are you gonna?

The prep “to” holds enough information/importance that it cannot be fully reduced.  Now, notice that if you add the verb ‘go’, ‘gonna’ works fine, “Where are you gonna go?” ‘to’ changes from a preposition to an infinitive and whatever informational importance it once had, is now gone and can be assimilated.  In summary, prepositional ‘to’ holds enough importance in making sense of any utterance that it cannot be fully reduced without causing some confusion, at some level.

‘Gonna’, I think, also shows why the prescriptivist rule about not splitting infinitives is wrong in English.  ‘gonna boldy go’ is fine, but

going boldy to go

sounds awful.  For whatever reason, the infinitive ‘to’, which is linked traditionally more to the following verb (i.e. to go) and not the preceding one (i.e. going to [go]), seems to more easily assimilate with the preceding.  It also has a much harder time being stranded from the preceding verb.  In fact, the bond between ‘going’ and ‘to’ is such that they merge, yielding ‘gonna’.

The conclusions of all this, from my descriptivist perspective, are that maybe… just maybe it’s worth keeping those prescriptivist ideas around.  While they may be preposterously stupid at times (splitting infinitives…) those very same ideas can help us test actual descriptive phenomenon.  This descriptivist gives a tip of the hat to all you language mavens today.

On metaphor, meaning and the paralinguistic

ediya coffee cupThe first time I saw this cup at one of the cafés that I frequent, I nearly laughed out loud. Specifically, I am talking about the line, about half way, that says, “Only ‘hot’ passion for ‘hot’ coffee”.  Even though it’s fragmented (lacks a verb), it is a well-formed noun-phrase, so no need to get all puffy about teh grammarz.   However, the double meaning from the quotations got me thinking about what the writers may have been intending and what, depending on your dialect, may be understood.  In addition, I think there is real value in teaching para-linguistic devices like air-quotes or other conversational gestures in the ESL classroom.

One must always be careful when venturing into the world of double-entendre, as the indirectness can easily lead (logically) to misunderstanding if you do not direct the listener/reader to the correct interpretation.  (of course, vagueness may be what you are going for).  In this case, ‘hot’ has a few different potential meanings.  It can refer to temperature, sexuality, doing something very well (hot hands, in basketball), etc..

To understand how we establish meaning when more than one reading is available, certain fields of linguistics have adopted connectionism to help.  This is particularly true in the area of Speech-Error.  Most of the work in speech-error is based at the word or phonological level (switching words, or sounds, from one place to another) and a tool used is the idea of “Activation” (I like to think that Tobias Funke, who studied psycholinguistics, did his graduate work in speech-error.)

I am not well-versed in Neural Networks, Race Models and the rest of the good stuff, but I have had a rough introduction during one semester of Computational Linguistics.  Using that “rough” theme, I think the idea of activation of words and meanings can help us understand why the use of quotation and the word ‘hot’ is humorous.

Having established that ‘hot’ can refer to any number of things or ideas, our brains need a way to constrict the number of meanings down, and ultimately, to the correct one.  Context is obviously the most effective method.  For example, on its own:


It doesn’t tell us much of anything about what it means.  It could be a response to a question about the weather, or the attractiveness of another person or how well Kobe Bryant is playing tonight.  It is, on its own, optimally vague.  Introducing context gives:

Hot passion

Well, now, I think here it’s safe to eliminate the idea that we are talking about the weather and it may also be only a short step away from getting rid of the basketball meaning.  In my dialect, while this is still vague as to what it’s talking about (passion for what?), it’s clear that the potential meaning has been significantly restricted.  Let’s check the other noun phrase.

Hot coffee

I suppose in 1980-90 America, “hot coffee” might reasonably activate an understanding having to do with TORT reform, but for the most part, this simple noun phrase limits the number of potential meanings perhaps even more drastically than “hot passion”.  Maybe because coffee is a physical entity, whereas passion is abstract.  In any case, ‘hot coffee’ would be prototypically given to the meaning of ‘coffee, which has the temperature of being hot’.  Let’s now put the two ideas together:

Only hot passion for hot coffee

In my reading, ‘hot passion’ loses it’s sexuality meaning with the added context of ‘hot coffee’ and we are left with an activation point  for [intensity].  ‘Hot coffee’ on the other hand, gives only an activation point to [temperature].  It is a fairly straightforward, albeit strange way of saying, “we are really into making/drinking coffee”.

hot coffee 4(An aside:  We may wonder why the writer used ‘hot’ to describe the coffee at all, as it doesn’t really seem to play a part in the overall understanding.  Aesthetically, we may say it flows better and there is such a thing as parallelism, where we seem to like things to parallel each other.  In this case, an (adj+noun) for (adj+noun).  The repetition of ‘hot’ adds to the parallel nature.

In addition, however, we might say that the word, ‘hot’ was activated by its first use in “hot passion” and therefore was a more likely choice of descriptor for ‘coffee’, than say, ‘warm’.)

But then the writers throw a curveball and for some reason add quotations to ‘hot’.  Quotation marks serve a few functions in written language specifically, but this case is one where the quotation marks signal a para-linguistic device.  Something that is done alongside the actual language that also conveys some meaning.  In English, or at least my dialect, air-quotes serve to indicate insincerity, sarcasm or euphemism.  Simply, air-quotes indicate to the listener that I know what my words normally mean, and I don’t mean that.  And usually, I am joking around.  Now, back to the data.

Only “hot” passion…

If air-quotes ask the listener/reader to move passed the first meaning to the second, we might guess that here, indeed, the writer means sexual passion.  Adding the later half, first without quotes:

hot coffee 1

This noun phrase does seem to activate the sexual meaning more strongly for me than it does without the quotation marks.  However, with the context, the heightened activation still doesn’t seem to have enough power to overcome the [intensity] reading.  We may pause over the quotations, find it odd, or maybe an incorrect useage, and then move on.  Now for the final and actual phrase:

Only “hot” passion for “hot” coffee.

hot coffee 1

Before, we had said that [sexuality] had been given 1 activation point for the first ‘hot’, but also [intensity].  The second ‘hot’ only activated [temperature] (and perhaps [tort reform]).  But now, with the quotations asking us to search beyond initial meanings, we might say that ‘hot coffee’ has activated [sexuality] as well.  Giving [sexuality] 2 activation points, while the other meanings remain at 1.  In this moment of heightened activation for the sexual meaning, we may briefly understand this statement to be referring to a preference for some unspecified sexuality.  A funny statement, given the broader context, to be sure. One that might give a slight chuckle.

(Aside 2: I suppose it is relevant to add that, to many young adults such as myself, the phrase “hot coffee” already has a sexual meaning active.  You might remember a controversy over the Rockstar game Grand Theft Auto:San Andreas, which had in it a secret mini-game of explicit sexual content that went by the name of “hot coffee”.)

Nevertheless, the high activation for [sexuality] is overcome by the rest of the discourse, which is blatantly about actual, drinkable coffee.  In addition to the linguistic clues, there are non-linguistic contextual clues which also help.  The fact that I was in a coffee shop and not a brothel or more relevantly, a classroom (which would be devoid of contextual clues).   The [sexual] reading came to my mind, gave me a slight laugh, and left all within a matter of seconds.  That is truly a remarkable feat and a testament to the computational power of our linguistic systems in the human brain.  (AI systems have stereotypically notorious problems with metaphor and semantics).

As a final disclaimer, the little practice I employed here does not follow any theory that I know of.  Drawing trees and giving “points” isn’t how linguists go about doing experimental work in computational linguistics.  This is just me trying to make sense of why I laughed, there are other explanations and this one is certainly open to *a lot* of criticism.

The next question, how to teach air-quotes, or other para-linguistic features, will have to wait for another post.  I have already tried it once in an impromtu sort of way, and it was fairly successful (meaning, the students learned the usage and, even more importantly, were open to using it freely).

A descriptivist fixes your grammar

524855_10151181369880952_52410627_nMocking signs like this is a common past-time of native English speakers with nothing better to do than not think about the beauty of English and how or why it changes over time.  I’ll admit, though, some errors can be pretty funny in our dialects.  Language is funny, sometimes.

For some reason, especially amongst those of us self-described as “English teachers”, some people feel a great desire to call out the bad “grammar” (more often than not, their problem is with spelling, but that’s just a linguist’s quibble).  They view themselves as the guardians of our magnificent, bastard tongue.  Self-styled language mavens, prescriptively swinging the hammer of their self-satisfied justice.  Their target being layman and descriptive linguist alike.

A common argument from the language mavens is that, according to a descriptive linguist, “anything goes“.  There is no such thing as “ungrammatical”, just minority dialects and other such poppycock.  Descriptivists of course disagree.  Every introductory Linguistics course will cover at some point the interesting distinction between sentences like:

colorless green ideas sleep furiously


furiously sleep ideas green colorless


colorful green trees swing peacefully

Clearly, the first sentence is grammatical, but semantically meaningless (or at least opaque).  The second is neither grammatically nor semantically meaningful and the third is a perfectly grammatical and semantically meaningful (though perhaps slightly metaphorical) sentence.  The descriptive linguist believes wholly in ungrammatical sentences, we just believe in a corpora-based account of what “grammatical” means.

Returning to the sign from the beginning.  I think it is worth figuring out what is ungrammatical about this English, why it is so and what would be the simplest correction.

We Ediya prides ourselves on selecting the best quality bean, Arabica beans, which is the result of the pure roasting system at the Ediya coffee lab.

Right out of the gate we’ve got a very interesting problem.  I want to note that whoever wrote this got a couple of things VERY correct.  One, ‘we’ and ‘ourselves’ coordinate perfectly.  It is reasonable (given the indication from the verb) that the reflexive pronoun would have been ‘itself’ or ‘themselves’.  Second ‘Ediya’ and ‘prides’ are conjugated perfectly.  Third person singular (or third person mass nouns) conjugate to ‘prides’.  Well done.

Of course, trying to fit both ‘we’ and ‘prides’ and ‘Ediya’ and ‘ourselves’ all into the subject position becomes something of a kerfuffle.  In trying to figure out where the writer went wrong, we should attempt to figure out what they were intending.  It seems to me that the clarifying noun, ‘Ediya’ is trying to be used in the sense of ‘We, at Ediya…”.  This isn’t a certainty however.  It is possible they could have been using it as a parenthetical: “We (Ediya)”.  With the way the verb is conjugated, (to Ediya) I think we can say that they were going for the prepositionally phrased aside “at ediya”.

Even so, ‘We, at Ediya’ still conjugates to ‘pride’ not ‘prides’.  This is confirmed, I think, by the presence of ‘ourselves’.  By including ‘ourselves’ the writer shows they intend ‘we’ to be the main subject-marker in the sentence.  What is the simplest change then?

We Ediya pride ourselves…

Notice I omitted ‘at’.  ‘At’ is dialectical, and not necessary for grammaticality (as the parenthetical example shows).  If we must quibble further, you can add the commas if you wish.  Spelling and punctuation truly are not my interest.  As for the rest of the sentence:

…on selecting the best quality bean, Arabica beans, which is the result of the pure roasting system at the Ediya coffee lab.

This sounds slightly odd in my dialect, but I see no grammatical error.  Semantically it might be odd, but it seems to me (and I am no semantist, by the way) that what is being said is that the selection of Arabica beans is the result of the “pure roasting system” (whatever that is), and that at Ediya, they are proud of this.  Strange, but grammatical.  More like “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” than “furiously sleep ideas green colorless”.

You will enjoy the best and the most aromatic coffee at Ediya.

All good here.

Coffee that the emperor of the continent would have taste.

The writer seemed to have tripped at the finish line.  In my opinion, this sentence is the one with the most difficulties (more so than the first, which only required one small change in conjugation).  Grammatically, we simply have a case of the wrong perfect participle on ‘taste’  –> ‘tasted’.  Semantically, this still makes for a strange sentence.  Part of the reason lies in the syntax-semantic interface, the writer has engaged the conditional ‘would’ along with the present perfect, indicating that at some point relative to the present, going back in time, the emperor of the continent would have tasted the coffee.

I suppose its fine to leave it like that, as far as semantics and syntax are concerned, but it is a strange thing to say, in essence, “If this coffee existed back in the times of the emperor, he would have tasted it!”  With no other information, that is the only reading I am able to pull out of it.  But, I am certain the writer meant to refer to the previous sentence which said, “you will enjoy the BEST and the MOST aromatic coffee.”  The writer isn’t trying to say the Emperor would have simply tasted the coffee, they want to say that the Emperor would have tasted it because it IS THE BEST.

How do we save this sentence then? We don’t, fool.   Simply repairing the perfect participle makes the sentence grammatical and that is sufficient, I don’t particularly like to impose my reading onto what the author intends.

In the end, how ungrammatical was the sign? Not very.

We Ediya pride(1) ourselves on selecting the best quality bean, Arabica beans, which is the result of the pure roasting system at the Ediya coffee lab.  You will enjoy the best and the most aromatic coffee at Ediya.  Coffee that the emperor of the continent would have tasted(2).

Sure, it’s semantically odd, but it’s also a very different dialect (Korean-English) from mine (Utah-English), so who am I to judge?  And I will note that even though I speak a separate dialect, I am more than capable of comprehending what this sign is trying to say to me, without resorting to a sort of “native speaker” arrogance that says, “ha! that sounds so weird.  Your English is so wrong!”

Certainly a stylist would have much more to say about it, the language mavens always do.

The Hero’s Journey – Winter Camp day 2

Day 1 Lesson here

Journey - Trials

For me, my winter camp finished today.  It was a four day mis-adventure, but my co-teacher was really pleased with how it went.  My version of “The Hero’s Journey” involved some discussions about what it means to be a hero, some examples of heroes and a lengthy (multiple day) dive into the ideas of “ordinary” and “special” which was suppose to culminate today with the students thinking about their own “special” and “ordinary” worlds and how they interact with them.

Unfortunately, after a break, my co-teacher got to talking about famous Korean actors and singers and why it matters that they are dating and why people are upset because they went on a date while the guy was suppose to be serving in the military and how famous people get special privileges and yada.. yada.. yada..  I am sincerely amazed he cares at all.  but we did get into an interesting discussion about whether or not your superiors should be punished for your mistakes.  Maybe a topic for “thursday nights“.

Because of this side-adventure, the students never came back after the break and my winter camp ended on a strange shrug and a vocal, “meh.”

I’m posting all the information today for the day 2 lesson.  This lesson goes over the parts of The Hero’s Journey dealing with “trials, approach, and Crisis”.  The climax, I suppose, of most hero stories (though not necessarily so.. I get sort of confused after this point, what exactly happens next or what is classified as what).  It’s a fun lesson that incorporates the idea of “daring” people to do stuff, good times.  It also has the potential to make students (and yourself) think about the trials in your own life.  The things you fear.  Joseph Campbell said, “The cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure that you seek.”  It’s a potentionally profound idea to explore for students, if they are willing.  Many will not be.   This lesson needs to be fun however, as it is necessarily the “dark” portion of the hero’s story (at least for the movies and examples I picked out).  I don’t want the students sad or serious the whole time.

Lesson Plan

The Hero’s Journey – Day 2 Lesson plan


The hero’s journey – day 2 presentation worksheet

The Hero’s Journey – Day 2 maze practice

the hero’s journey – day 2 evaluation worksheet

The Hero’s Journey – Winter English Camp Plan

journey-game-screenshot-1-bThis week, I am supposed to be conducting a one to two week English camp here in Northern South Korea.  Part of an NETs contract here  is to organize and run a winter and summer English camp.  These events vary in importance, but from what I can gleen from my colleagues on the intrawebz; generally it’s a two week, 4 hours a day affair.  Usually the NET runs the camp by themselves and is generally a low-key, fun-type of event.  Lots of people seem to be doing cultural tourism.

A few weeks ago as I was getting ready to plan my camp, I was scouring the internet for something I could do.  I mean, the only real knowledge I have is linguistics and even that is debatable.  I’m not sure how the kids would react to learning about syntax trees and writing in IPA (regardless of how useful it would be).  But I came across a beautiful video on TedEd.  It was a short, 5 minute video on “The Hero’s Journey”.  I remember hearing about this when I was in high school, but I’ll admit I didn’t pay attention very well.  But it struck as ideally suited for the organization of an English Camp.

The Hero’s Journey, or the Monomyth, is the underlying framework that all “hero” stories follow and was put together by Joseph Campbell in, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”.  Now, I will probably say some stuff here concerning Cambell’s monomyth that is laughable (I probably already have), lets just keep in mind that I’m approaching this from a Language Acquisition perspective.

What I intend to do here, is provide all the information, data, worksheets and lesson plans for performing this English camp.  It’s going to be irrelevant to many people, but hopefully some fellow lonely travelers on the ESL educators trail can use it (at least in part, or to build off of).  Sadly, I myself will not be able to do the one thing I wanted to most, at least as concerns this blog; I will not be able to give post-lesson critiques, as my winter camp has been commandeered by my superiors.  I now have 1-2 hours, maybe, for four days.  Enough to do something, but not nearly on the level of what I intended.  I will finish all the materials in the hope that someday I can try it out.


Day 1 Lesson Plan

The Hero’s Journey – Day 1 lesson plan

Day 1 worksheets

Hero’s Journey – departure airline ticket

Hero’s Journey – personal story template

Hero’s Journey worksheet – day 1 – departure