Food Pyramids

‘Food’ is a topic that always comes up at some time during a course in various forms. Sometimes it is just a vocabulary issue: course members ask to review food vocabulary for example because they have guests from abroad and would like to explain their company’s menu. What we have often done was to simply get copies of the menu of the week and start translating, realizing how difficult even the translation of food vocabulary can sometimes be, especially when it comes to fancy menu names. (This would normally be the place where I would relate my famous food translation anecdote, but I will refrain from that for now, suffice it to say it involves turkeys and patrols).

And it’s always nice to have some pictures. Continue reading

An Overview of the English Verb Structure System: Introduction

What is grammar?

Whenever you ask this question, e.g. in a first year Introduction to Linguistics course or to learners of English, the first reaction is often one of bafflement. Isn’t the answer rather obvious? Tenses, prepositions, if-clauses: all the stuff you were supposed to learn in school.

When I ask adult learners of English, which area of grammar they feel they have the most problems with or feel they need more practice in, they most often answer: tenses – closely followed by prepositions. The first year linguistic student as well as most learners of English equate ‘grammar’ with verb structures or ‘the tenses’. Especially in a German context there seems to be a certain obsession with ‘tenses.’ And many learners of English worry about getting the ‘tenses’ right, even students I consider quite advanced. Although, when asked, most agree that vocabulary is much more important than correct ‘grammar’, there seems to be a certain unease or insecurity when it comes to using the ‘tenses’. Continue reading

The Importance of Reading Fiction

A definition of fiction:

A made-up story told in prose with words alone. Words alone. That’s the unique challenge and wonder of written fiction. There’s no actor or storyteller using gesture and inflection. No painter or filmmaker showing settings or close-ups. Everything is done with those little symbols we call letters, which are melded into words, which multiply to form sentences and paragraphs (from: the Gotham Writer’s Workshop, Bloomsbury: New York 2003).

Many people from all kinds of walks of life regularly visit creative writing schools. Their individual motives might differ in detail, but what seems to underlie all is a drive to write stories; not report or document, but to transform thoughts and experiences into written narratives. Why is this, where does this aspiration come from? Continue reading


One of my group participants has just moved to Australia. His wife was sent there by her company. They work for the same firm, but unfortunately they didn’t have a position for him. (However, I heard from his former colleagues that, once there, he found something.) Due to this major change – as I felt – in his life, I took the opportunity to focus on Australia for as long as he was still there. Australia, so far, had been a country I hadn’t dealt with very often. And as in another class a participant was planning to travel there for five weeks, the topic ‘Australia’ pushed itself into focus.

We dealt with several aspects of the country: e.g. historical themes concerning the original European settlement by the British who needed space for all their prison dwellers. Until then Australia hadn’t been of major interest to the British. Continue reading


One of my favorite webpages, and one I can strongly recommend to teachers and students of English alike is, and here especially Kerry Maxwells collection of ‘BUZZWORDS’.

Buzzwords are newly formed or created terms that reflect upon different kinds of social phenomena or new fads and are great for discussion. Additionally, from a language perspective, they offer insight into word formation processes. On the webpage is a whole list of new words and an archive going back several years.

Every once in a while I choose some I find interesting and believe (or hope) will trigger intensive discussions. And so far I have not been disappointed.  Continue reading

Grammar as Fact or Grammar as Choice

The above distinction was originally made by Richard A. Close in ‘A Teacher’s Grammar’ (1992). He had already formulated his ideas 30 years before, but published a revised version in the early 90ies. I believe the distinction to be quite valuable, even if not always clear-cut.

Grammar as fact concerns such aspects of the language that are non-negotiable if I want to be able to communicate with the majority of speakers of the language. Facts of grammar describe the essential regularities or rules of a language that define it and organize its meaning. Continue reading