28 November, 2014

Feeling tense?

I'd always thought tenses were fairly easy to learn in English, because the other languages I'd studied were all western European and had tense systems that weren't too far removed from English. Then I started working with students whose first language was Indonesian or Chinese and I realised that not all languages work the same way as French, Spanish or German. In fact, they may not have changing verb endings at all. That makes English tenses really difficult for speakers of many other languages.

We introduce our English for Uni video 'You've Got Talent' with an opening scene in which an Indonesian student
is asking for help with English verb tenses because she is writing an essay about talent contests. By chance, both she and Ms Parrot had attended a talent contest the week before. We then have a flashback to the talent contest, followed by an explanation of the use of different tenses in English academic writing.

You'll notice that one tense I've used twice in the paragraphs above is the past perfect: I'd thought, I'd studied. This is a tense that's really hard to use and to explain. I would describe it as an action that happens before another action in the past. However, everything in the past happens before another action in the past!

That's where the idea of aspect is useful. Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, in The Grammar Book, divide the conventional twelve tenses in English into combinations of tense and aspect, and suggest four different aspects in English: simple, continuous/progressive, perfect and perfect continuous/progressive. That means we can have present, past and future simple (e.g. I work, I worked, I will work); present, past and future perfect (e.g. I have worked, I had worked, I will have worked); present, past and future continuous/progressive (e.g. I am working, I was working, I will be working); and present, past and future perfect continuous/progressive (e.g. I have been working, I had been working, I will have been working).

Aspect describes how we see an action, whereas tense relates to the time the action occurrs. The perfect aspect means that a verb using this aspect is connected to another point in time. e.g. I had thought tenses were easy . . . until I knew more about them. In this case, I am looking back from one point in the past to a point further back in the past.
We have put a bit more information on this on the English for Uni website in the section called 'Aspect - for advanced grammar lovers'.

If these ideas make you feel more tense, watching the You've Got Talent competition will help you to relax!

Celce-Murcia, M & Larsen-Freeman, D 1999, The grammar book (2nd edn), Heinle Cengage Learning, Boston, MA.

12 November, 2014

New videos

We're finally there. The new videos are ready and we have uploaded all our new materials to the website. We've also made a DVD. Here is the cover, filmed in a carriage at the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide. Our new materials cover conditionals, prepositions and tenses.

The conditionals materials are based on the Chinese dating show Fei Cheng Wu Rao, known in English as "If You Are the One". In our version, we have one male contestant and three lovely ladies. The script uses all the different types of conditional forms in English and includes other types of conditional words, such as 'otherwise' and 'provided that'.

The materials for tenses in academic writing are based around a student writing an essay about talent contests. She has trouble with her verb tenses and consults Ms Parrot for help. Funnily enough, she and Ms Parrot had both been to a talent contest the week before.


Ms Parrot played in the Really Really Terrible Quartet (so terrible that there were only three players). 

After the quartet's dreadful performance it was no surprise that the show was won by Prince Wolfgang and the Medics.

The last of our new resources is based on the difficult area of prepositions. All the materials are based on words from Averil Coxhead's Academic Word List. The video story this time is a murder mystery. Watch it and find out what happens to the famous chef Harumi Kaga.

We hope you'll enjoy using the new resources. Whatever you think, please complete the short evaluation survey on the website to give us some feedback, as we really want to keep improving the site. You might even a $100 voucher for taking part in the survey!

31 October, 2014

The English for Uni Roadshow

What is a good way to publicise something? One answer is: via a roadshow. A roadshow is a travelling event to publicise and showcase a resource to a large number of people in different places. The idea of a roadshow is to give people a taste of what's on offer so they want to learn more about it. Publishers, for example, may have roadshows to promote a group of their authors to potential readers. 

At a project managers' meeting a few months ago someone suggested that we have an English for Uni roadshow. That sounded good. However, a real live roadshow would mean taking the English for Uni project team and actors round Australia, and that was something we hadn't budgeted for. Then another suggestion was made: why not have a 'virtual roadshow'? What a great idea!

From that suggestion, we went on to film a virtual roadshow which promotes all the resources on our website and also introduces you to nearly all the team members, as well as many of the principal actors in the videos. We are pleased to announce that the English for Uni virtual roadshow is now live on the front page of the website. You can also see it on YouTube.

Creating the content was interesting. Originally we wanted to put a transcription of each person's words into the video, so you could read their words and listen to them at the same time. That made screen too cluttered, so we opted for a reminder of the English for Uni website address instead, and a key word in the top right hand corner. 

For Harumi Kaga,

for instance, you can see the word 'Japanese' in the corner,

while for Kareena Kapadia
there is the word 'prepositions'.

We hope that the English for Uni roadshow will be played on screens and monitors in educational establishements all round Australia, and even in other countries. If you would like a copy for your school, college or university, please contact us via the website!

24 October, 2014

The Ms Parrot DVD

I had no idea it was so difficult to 'author' a DVD! This technical process involves putting all our current videos onto a single DVD. The software to do this, though, is extremely expensive, and the whole process is very costly. That's why we've opted for a slightly lower resolution version that will allow all our videos to fit on one DVD. The result will be something like this:
Don't worry - the spelling mistake will be corrected! In fact 'Saving English Grammar' will also be renamed to 'Thanks a Million'.

What is really nice about this DVD is that the film maker has made a clever compilation of extracts from all six stories and put them in an opening screen that plays with the Ms Parrot theme. Viewers can then click on any of the titles below to play that particular video.

All these videos will be freely available online, and we will also upload them to Youku so our Chinese viewers can enjoy them. We're really hoping that our take on Fei Cheng Wu Rao will be big in China!

17 October, 2014

Movie premiere

Our new movies are nearly ready, and we're going to hold a premiere on 7 November. It's time to roll out the red carpet!

A premiere is a wonderful opportunity to thank everyone who's been involved. I think we all learned a lot from the experience; it was something totally different for many people. 

For instance, we filmed all the student audience reactions before we filmed the shows they were reacting to!That meant that they had to imagine what was going to happen on stage. They sighed at a love scene, gritted their teeth at the sound of some terrible music and muttered their concerns about a strange-looking musical act, all without seeing anything in front of them except for a few cameras. And they did a wonderful job!

The rest of the regular cast spent a cold day filming in an historic property in Adelaide. It looks so glamorous in the final version that you would never guess we nearly froze, as there was no heating in the area where we were filming!
The editing process is nearly finished, and that is a big job. I spent 3 hours yesterday with the film maker while he edited a 2 minute video. Each little caption of text has to be added separately and dragged into place.  It's a very long process.

The final version, though, is worth all the effort, and we're really looking forward to our cast party and movie premiere!

10 October, 2014

Video for All

I heard recently about the Video for All project funded by the European Union. Their website aims to provide examples of how videos are used in language learning. This is a great initiative, and a wonderful opportunity to share resources. 

For example, Ms Parrot and Harumi Kaga now have access to Camtasia software, thanks to the generosity of TechSmith, and we are hoping to develop some very short teaching videos to add to the English for Uni website. These could then be shared on Video for All.

Maybe you could comment on your own favourite language teaching videos and give us some ideas of what works best for you? Is there a particular length that you prefer, or a teaching style you like? What do you think about the Ms Parrot series? Please let us know your thoughts!

02 October, 2014

Interview with David Crystal

Ms Parrot and Harumi Kaga were lucky enough to talk to the famous linguist Professor David Crystal about the importance of grammar when they were all at the GAL 2014 Congress in Marburg. You can see the interview on the English for Uni website.

22 August, 2014

New movies coming!

This has been an exciting week of filming.

Last Saturday we filmed a version of the popular Chinese dating show 'Fei Cheng Wu Rao' (known as 'If You are the One' in Australia), with one male contestant and three lovely ladies:

What a perfect vehicle for teaching about conditional forms.

After that, we filmed a talent show that will be used for teaching the use of tenses in academic writing:
Look out for Adelaide's own Really Really Terrible Quartet and the wonderful Prince Wolfgang and the Medics, all competing to win 'You've got Talent'.

Our next stop was the historic Carrick Hill property, where we filmed 'With a Revolver in the Library' - look out for the movie in October to find out what happened to chef Harumi Kaga (and to learn more about prepositions).

There'll be three new movies and a new song out in October, along with grammar exercises and explanations!

18 August, 2014

Welcome to the English for Uni blog

This is the new blog for the English for Uni website.

Have a look at the resources on the webpage and use this page to ask questions for other readers to answer. I can't promise to answer all questions personally, but I hope we can start a community where we can comment on each other's questions.

You'll find materials on the English for Uni website to help you with different areas of English writing and academic literacy skills, such as essay writing:

        the passive voice



articles (a/an/the)


and oral presentation skills. 

You can watch humorous videos, view the explanations of difficult points of English grammar and academic skills, and try the exercises.

See you there!

Ms A Parrot
(Julia Miller: julia.miller@adelaide.edu.au)