Ben Crystal lectures in Japan

I heard Shakespearean actor, Ben Crystal, talk today. My interest in Shakespeare – which had wained with my miscomprehension or un-comprehension of it in my youth – had returned with the revelation that what I had been watching until now had been inauthentic. Ben had pointed out that modern performances had tended towards Received Pronunciation (RP) even though most of The United Kingdom (98% in fact) do not speak like the Queen. English is not the English of Lawrence Olivier. It is the English of ordinary folk. So watching Shakespeare done in RP is like watching it in another language altogether.

Modelled performances by Ben during the talk in the more natural pronunciation of English in Shakespeare’s time according to Ben meant a return to rhyme (lost in modern pronunciation of words), in a more natural tempo and rhythm (sounding more like the vernacular we recognise as native speakers), and engagement (actors spoke directly to the audience).

Some recent productions I have seen online have tried to return to these values (probably due to Ben and the Globe’s performances from 2005 onwards). These values, though, have always been there. You can still see it in the ordinary non-Shakespearean theatre of English. But the values were taken away (stolen as it were) by a small group some time in the history of the English stage performance. This revision and return is absolutely necessary if we are to appreciate Shakespeare on this day of all appropriate days – Shakespeare Day (23rd April) – once more. Bravo and thank you, Ben.

Va Va Black Sheep – difficult sounds for Japanese learners of English

The ‘v’ sound is perhaps one of the hardest sounds for my Japanese learners of English to master. It doesn’t exist in the Japanese language. And it is approximated with the ‘b’ phoneme.

Recent research has found that if the sound ‘va’ is matched with a video showing another sound made in the similar region like ‘ba’ the visual cues overrides auditory cue to register the “visual” sound. This is, according to the paper’s authors, a confirmation of the McGurk Effect which until now could not be explained.

So my students obviously haven’t been paying attention to my lips. It doesn’t help that I have forty students to teach which is why I use my iPhone camera and projector to show them how I am producing the ‘v’ and ‘b’ sounds. Now if only I can figure out how to show them the how I produce the ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds which are produced in the back of my mouth!

Is there such a thing as a camera which fits into my mouth? Are they called MouthCams? On second thought, gross.

Why we should continue to teach the “‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c'” spelling rule

The British government has said this spelling rule is no longer worth teaching because there are so many exceptions to the rule. I think this is a mistake – a mistake to get rid of it and a mistake or misunderstanding of where the rule is supposed to be applied.

I was taught this rule is applied only specifically words with two (or more) syllables which have the long ‘ee’ sound such as ‘believe’, ‘reprieve’, ‘receive’ and ‘retrieve’.

According to the BNC nearly 2% of all words contain either the ‘ei’ or ‘ie’ combination their spelling. This means you will roughly come across this once in every 50 words in writing. Of these roughly two-thirds are ‘ie’ and the remaining one-third ‘ei’. A further one-fifteenth of ‘ei’ (0.04% of the entire English usage) is specifically ‘~cei~’.

This may seem like a small portion but experience will tell you that you come across this enough times to have to think about it when writing.

Let’s put it this way, this rule is catchy enough to stay with most people. It is a just matter of knowing when to apply it – that is, when coming across a long ‘e’ vowel sound usually after the second syllable.

The following is a list of words to which this spelling rule applies to: ACHIEVED ACHIEVER ACHIEVES AGGRIEVE BELIEVED BELIEVER BELIEVES GRIEVERS GRIEVING GRIEVOUS RELIEVED RELIEVER RELIEVES REPRIEVE RETRIEVE THIEVERY THIEVING THIEVISH ACHIEVE BELIEVE GRIEVED GRIEVER GRIEVES RELIEVE SIEVING THIEVED THIEVES GRIEVE SIEVED SIEVES THIEVE SIEVE and CEILINGS CONCEITS CONCEIVE DECEIVED DECEIVER DECEIVES PERCEIVE RECEIPTS RECEIVED RECEIVER RECEIVES CEILING CONCEIT DECEITS DECEIVE RECEIPT RECEIVE DECEIT.

In the real world one would come across one of these words in writing about once in a thousand words (or about four pages of writing). That is plenty to warrant the learner to remember this word … unless looking up a dictionary frequently is something they enjoy doing.

And remember: all the rest of the time the spelling can be worked out from the pronunciation.