Monday, February 25, 2019

What are friends for? - English Lesson (Better Call Paul)

Improve your English as English teacher Paul talks to different people in short fun videos. Use the free guide with your students or classmates for a fun English activity. DOWNLOAD the FREE Lesson Guide here:

Saturday, January 26, 2019

5 Years Coaching Confident English Speakers

Since 2014, StoryPaul has helped hundreds of learners become confident English speakers with a unique approach to language learning. On this occasion, we'd like to thank you for your trust and support.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Stories Are the Language of the Brain

Sir Ken Robinson deliverying a TED Talk in 2010 —Source:
Over the last decade, one buzzword has taken the business world by storm. Storytelling.

Everybody is talking about it. We could almost call it a revolution. And nobody wants to miss out on it. In fact, most large organizations today have started to implement storytelling in both internal and external communication to some degree.

Not only that, the world’s leading business schools and experts are teaching future leaders that communicating their key ideas as stories is the way to go.

And they’re right. Storytelling —which has existed since the dawn of civilization— is far more engaging than the traditional facts and figures approach to communication. And today, thanks to neuroscience, we know that the chemistry in our brain favors compelling narrative over cold logic. In fact, the human brain is wired to understand the world and everything in it in story form.

Stories are the language of the brain.

So regardless of the size of your business or the industry you are in, here is the bottom line. Knowing how to tell a powerful story is an essential business skill.

Of course, that’s not to say that if we tell a story, we can forget about the facts. On the contrary, we need to include the facts into the story. The question is how and to what the degree.

Well, we’re in luck because there is a successful model of communication that combines both. Stories and facts. In just the right measure. And with just the right dosage of drama so the neurobiology of the audience resonates with it. This model comes in the form of an engaging talk on an important subject delivered in a cool conversational tone. And the best thing about it —you can find hundreds of these talks of the internet. Right now.

But if you’ve never watched a TED Talk, please stop what you’re doing and go watch one.

Of course, chances are you probably have.

TED Talks appeared on the internet in June of 2006. And since then, nothing in the world of communication has been the same. They have raised the bar on what it means to get important ideas across effectively with powerful stories. And obviously, the business world has taken note of this.

But TED Talks have also raised the bar for learners of English as a foreign language, especially for those in business —which is our special focus here.

  • In fact, many of my business English students and coaching clients have asked me the following two questions over the years:
  • Is it possible to learn to deliver a presentation in English in the style of a TED Talk if English is not your native language? Is it a good idea to use storytelling for shorter presentations, even impromptu presentations, such as those that pop up in meetings or anywhere else in business?

My answer to these questions: Absolutely!

I’ll even add an extra question:

  • Is it a good idea to use storytelling to answer key questions during job interviews?

My answer: Absolutely! The next question is predictable, but essential.

  • How is all this possible?

First, let’s clarify what we know and what we’re looking for here. We know that storytelling is a powerful tool for business communication. What we’re looking for is: how can speakers of English as a foreign language learn that model and use it effectively?

A few years back, I found myself asking that same question. I searched everywhere for material that I could provide to students. But after going through books, documents and courses, I found very little on the subject.

In fact, in the parallel universe of business English books, the closest idea I found to making a connection with an audience was that it was important for English learners to learn to use connectors during their presentation. You know, words like: first, next, after that... finally —which are all great.

Connectors are useful, but you know what's also useful? Knowing how to explain to an audience why things often go wrong. And then taking them on a journey of how what seemed impossible had a solution after all.

Success after failure. Lessons learned. Motivational Personal Journeys. Warning tales. Visionary thinking. Lateral thinking. Problem-solving. Disruptive creativity.

The world is hungry for these ideas, these experiences, these visions, these stories. And every organization, every professional has them. But you're not going to get the attention of your audience if you share your knowledge, your plan or your experience in a bland power-point presentation full of charts and bullet points. If you want to command the audience's attention, if you want to connect with them, you're going to have to be a hero, leave the comfort of your known territory, enter the cave and learn to tell a story.

And here's the thing. You can do this. In English. Even if it is not your native language.

But business English books don't have a section on how to do that. I guess the big publishers assume storytelling is only circumscribed to the world of literature. Or perhaps the horse carrying the letter that indicated that the business world has embraced storytelling got lost and never arrived. And to be fair, if somebody did publish such a book, then it was me that got lost and was unable to find it. This is entirely possible as well.

Whatever happened, without a book or a method that I could suggest to my students, I did the next best thing. I created an approach especially designed to help intermediate and above English learners in business deliver key messages in the form of stories.

I applied what I learned about storytelling from my experience as a television producer with what I learned about language learning as an English coach. But that wasn't enough. I also had to go outside my known territories. I had to go into unknown caves. So I researched what neuroscience now knows about how our brain learns. And it was quite fascinating.

When I had what I needed, I had to give a name to this approach. So I decided to go with Storylingo since the goal was to teach English learners the language of storytelling for business communication.

Flash-forward to present day.

I've been coaching English learners on how to use Storylingo to master presentations and job interviews in English for a few years now. And what I can tell you is this. If you are an English learner and you wish to learn to connect with your audience when communicating key ideas, then the following three skills are an essential part of your journey.

  • Creating a clear message in English
  • Sounding conversational in English
  • Delivering your message as an engaging story in conversational English

As we said earlier, stories are the language of the brain. Storylingo teaches English learners how to speak that language.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Opening Doors With a Foreign Language

by Paul Ponce

If you are up to speed on the news, you probably know that US President Donald Trump recently visited Asia. Depending on where you stand on this particular president, you may have heard different things about this trip. But in China, what really made an impact during Trump's recent visit was his 6-year-old granddaughter Arabella singing and speaking perfect Mandarin Chinese. Not just an impact. Her video went totally viral in China.

Unfortunately, most in the West are not aware this even happened or that it matters. But it does. Americans are generally perceived as having little to no interest in other cultures when they travel abroad. And while it is easy to pin that characteristic on conservative Americans, it is a fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans in both red and blue states speaks only one language and has little concern about their children doing otherwise. Or at least, plenty of other issues have priority over this one at your average PTA meeting.

Sure, kids in the USA might take a few years of Spanish in high school, but that is as far as it goes, amigos. Now, of course, you might say, Mr. Trump's granddaughter is a child who has access to an education most kids do not. True. But that is not the point. The point is whether or not Americans (and other monolingual English speakers, say across the pond) will finally get that it is time to learn other languages, if possible at an early age. The point is also whether or not those who resist foreign cultures as a threat to their own will see that culture opens doors and that one does not cancel out the other.

Learning a second language should not be a privilege of some billionaire's granddaughter, but the rule. In China, every child is learning English. And as a result of this viral video, my Chinese students are asking me if every American child is also learning foreign languages like Arabella. Of course, I have no choice but to tell them the sad truth. For Americans, speaking a second language is not a priority. It's not even an issue, even if as a melting pot nation, festivals and words or phrases from other cultures seep in.

It is ironic. After all, it is Trump's own party base that is pushing hardest against opening cultural boundaries. But the mentality of closing doors is not exclusive to the United States of America by any means. Fear-based nationalisms and narrow worldviews also thrive in other regions of the planet whose inhabitants feel that other cultures threaten them and cast a shadow over their identity. And you will always find someone who will inform you of the latest conspiracy theory that reveals why "the threat" is real.

In Argentina, where I live and work, for the past few years, there has been a big debate about whether it is right or wrong for children to dress up for Halloween, a "yanqui" festival where kids have fun (imagine that) and learn three English words. "They are losing their cultural identity", is the most common complaint. I could understand if they were complaining about the cavities they're going to get from all the candy.

But no, foreign culture is the culprit here. I remind them that the celebration of the guy on the cross every December 25th is also not local. But they quickly point out that Americans would never celebrate a festival from another country. "You mean like Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick´s Day", is my standard reply. I might also add that many Americans say "gesundheit" to a person who has just sneezed.

Oh, and in both countries, thousands of enthusiastic beer lovers celebrate Oktoberfest. Some even show up wearing traditional German lederhosen shorts with suspenders. Ja! Want more? Okay. In most places, it is common to hear French words used when referring to key concepts in gourmet cuisine or in ballet, just as it is common to hear Italian ones in music, maestro. In other words, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey are not ladies with high pitched voices. They are sopranos.

And last I heard, nobody lost their cultural identity because they trained at the local dojo, found all their chakras and then treated themselves to some delicious shawarma. Of course, we could go on all day, with more examples in more languages.

In Argentina's defense, I will say that it has the highest proficiency of English as a foreign language in Latin America. But many of those with high proficiency are privileged kids like Arabella. Still, just like the US, in Argentina, the population at large has a gene pool of mixed origin. So when its citizens aren't closed off about language and culture, they are quick to catch on.

But in today's world, the global cultural gene pool is a click away. Sometimes, it's around the corner. We really have no excuse. So I'm sure little Arabella will benefit greatly from her knowledge, way beyond the short-sightedness of her grandpa and his constituents. The same short-sightedness we are seeing across nationalist movements all over the world, both right-leaning, left-leaning and otherwise. They're freaking out and want to close all the doors.

I say open them. Learn a second language. Or a third. And don't forget to have fun.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

CULTURE SPOT - The Stranger Language of Children

Scene from the NETFLIX series Stranger Things
By StoryPaul

As a kid who grew up in the 1980s, I can tell you. Things were very different.  In fact, they were a little strange. First, it was the pre-internet world, so you couldn't Google your way out of trouble. Gadgets were large and clunky. Music was epic and enjoyed with friends. And friendship did not require that really strange thing called... Facebook.

So when Netflix released its new sci-fi mystery show Stranger Things which takes place in the 1980s, I knew they had me.

The Story
A group of friends investigates the disappearance of one its members near a suspicious government facility. While searching for clues, they find evidence of a strange creature with a big appetite that lurks in the forest. But most importantly, they also meet Eleven, a young girl with special powers who escaped from the government lab. Naturally, Eleven and the boys join forces to find the missing boy, fight the bad men from the government and deal with the creature.

The Language
Stranger Things - created by The Duffer Brothers - is a non-stop 8-hour epic ride with obvious references to the works of filmmaker Steven Spielberg and writer Stephen King during that strange decade. But if I had to pinpoint its greatest achievement, I would say it has nothing to do with science fiction and mystery. In fact, I would say the greatest achievement of the writers is how they depict the way children speak. They nailed it!

The Scene: "You look pretty"
As a sample of what I mean, WATCH the following scene. Then, READ the copy of the transcript. Situation: The boys argue about whether their missing friend Will is still alive. To find out, they agree to invite Eleven to collaborate with them on a mission outside of the house. -- Pay attention to:
  • how they interrupt each other
  • how they speak in fragments, single words, not always completing sentences
  • how they mostly use simple vocabulary

Scene Transcript

(Radio frequencies tuning) (Indistinct whimpering) 
Mike: We keep losing the signal, but you heard it, right? 
Lucas: Yeah, I heard a baby. 
Mike: What? 
Lucas: Mike, you obviously tapped into a baby monitor. It's probably the Blackburns' next door. 
Mike: Uh, did that sound like a baby to you? That was Will! 
Lucas: Mike... 
Mike: Lucas, you don't understand. He spoke last night. Words! He was singing that weird song he loves. Even El heard him! 
Lucas: Oh, well, if the weirdo heard him, then I guess... 
Dustin: Are you sure you're on the right channel? 
Mike: I don't think it's about that. I think, somehow, she's channeling him. 
Dustin: Like... like Professor X. Yeah. 
Lucas: Are you actually believing this crap
Mike: I don't know, I mean... Do you remember when Will fell off his bike and broke his finger? He sounded a lot like that. 
Lucas: Did you guys not see what I saw? They pulled Will's body out of the water. He's dead! 
Dustin: Well, maybe it's his ghost. Maybe he's haunting us. 
Mike: It's not his ghost. 
Lucas: So how do you know that? 
Mike: I just do! 
Lucas: Then what was in that water? 
Mike: I don't know! All I know is Will is alive. Will is alive! He's out there somewhere. All we have to do is find him. (Static crackling on radio) This isn't gonna work. We need to get El to a stronger radio.
Dustin: Mr. Clarke's Heathkit ham shack.
Mike: Yeah. 
Lucas: The Heathkit's at school. There is no way we're gonna get the weirdo in there without anyone noticing. I mean... look at her.

(after Eleven's makeover)
Dustin: Wow. She looks... 
Mike: Pretty. Good. You look pretty good. 
Eleven: (whispers) Pretty.

If you like good storytelling, and you have a chance, don't miss Stranger Things. Seamless storytelling, impeccable acting, mystery of the highest order and a very realistic depiction of the strange language of children.

  1. Using the collocation believes that, describe what each of the boys believes about their friend Will.
  2. When Lucas says, "You're not actually believing this crap", he's using present continuous with a stative verb like believe. Normally, you're not supposed to do that, but why is it OK in this case?
  3. How do the boys plan to take Eleven to school without anyone noticing?
  4. Compare the difference in meaning when Mike says that Eleven looks "pretty"to when he says that she looks "pretty good". (What part of speech is the word "pretty" in each case?)
  5. What do you know about the 1980s?
See what the strangeness is all about.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

STORY SONG: How to Ask Questions About Experience

By StoryPaul

Asking questions in English always poses a challenge for learners. One of the reasons is that unlike other languages, in English you must add auxiliary verbs to create the question form.

Of course, there are many types of questions. Among them, one that is essential to understand and to master is the question about experience. People ask each other questions about experience all the time. It happens among friends, strangers and in especial situations like job interviews.

To make a question about experience, we use the form:

Have + you (ever) + Past Participle of the MAIN VERB 

The adverb ever emphasizes the idea of experience from the time you were born until today.
  • Have you ever studied abroad?
  • Have you ever wondered why we have deja vus?
  • Have you ever seen the rain coming down on a sunny day?
The last question was asked by the roots American rock band Credence Clearwater Revival in their classic hit "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?". This is a song from 1971 when rock bands were asking questions and using metaphors - such as this one - to protest the war in Vietnam. This song, however, has lived beyond that era and has been covered by dozens of artists, among them: The Spin Doctors, REM, and Rod Stewart.

It's a simple song that asks a simple question, which may go a little deeper. Think about what it means to you, as you watch the lyrics video.

Can you make a question about life experience with: HAVE YOU EVER... ?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

TALKING OBJECTS: a FUN activity for the #ZeroResource Classroom

Language classrooms don’t always have a lot of resources like video projectors, smartboards, and wi-fi. In fact, sometimes they have very limited or no resources at all. This is the case of Heart ELT school located in the Domiz camp for Syrian refugees in Iraq - a school founded by English teacher Julie Pratten that is giving hope to kids who have lost it all.

So as you can imagine, the wonderful volunteer teachers who share their time with these kids are in need of not only resources but also of activities they can do with limited resources - in what is better known as the #ZeroResource classroom. For more information, please visit Heart ELT today and find out how you can help out by purchasing excellent educational materials or by giving a little bit of your time and skills.

What follows is a lesson plan I created for the #ZeroResource language classroom. It's one that I’ve used many times before. I call it “Talking Objects”.

Talking what? That’s right. Objects. I’ve done this with kids from limited-resource schools, but also with their more fortunate counterparts. Bottom line: kids love mysteries. They’ll go for this one. This activity stimulates imagination and allows for silliness as well. As a teacher, you only need to get into it yourself in order for it to work.

LEVEL: Up to B1
TIME: 30 - 45 min depending on size of group
AGE: Under 14
RESOURCES: Paper, pencil or pen, objects the teacher brings to class, heaps of imagination.

The teacher brings objects that are safe and age-appropriate to class. Safe means nothing sharp or where anyone can get hurt. Age appropriate I trust you understand. It will also be useful to bring some paper and something to write with (pencil, pen, etc) if the learning area lacks such elements.

So what kind of objects? Well… They may be old. They may be new. They may be orange. Or they may be blue. They may have letters. Or perhaps numbers. Easy to understand. Or leave you to wonder. Dig around. You’ll come up with something.

The idea is to create a communication activity centered around a series of objects that will allow kids to ask simple questions and provide simple answers. With kids, this is fun because you can do almost anything imagination allows. If you try doing this with adults, you would have to first sell them the idea that an alarm clock will talk about himself during the lesson.

STEP 1: Distribute the Objects

Break up the classroom into groups. Each group gets an object. Be smart in how you distribute the objects. Why? Because members of each group cannot show their object to the other groups and they don’t get to see what object the other groups got.  

STEP 2: Make Them Talk

Explain that their job is to describe that object to the other groups. But there is a catch. These are talking objects. And it is their job to make them talk. They might wonder, “How do you make an object talk?”. Simple. Pick up an existing object and make it talk. Pick up a pencil, hold it in front of you and say, “Hi, my name is Ziggy (or some other imaginary name). Look at me. I am long. I am thin. I help people write. Can you guess what I am?” Elicit replies. If no one says anything, you may ask, “Am I a book? Am I a door?”. Perhaps, somebody might say, “You are a pencil.” (or some other guess) If no one guesses it, then suggest it, “I am a pencil. I am Ziggy, the pencil”.

STEP 3: Working in Groups

The teacher goes around and helps each group describe their object. A few sentences will do. The students should give a fun name to their objects. Then they should make sentences in 1ST PERSON. “I am round. I am made of metal” describing it. This is also a great opportunity to teach ADJECTIVES. You may have to draw on your paper to teach some adjectives. The students in each group should learn the actual name of their object. So if it's a clock, they should know. This is a clock. However, they must not give it away when they present it to the rest of the class.

Since the teacher cannot be with all groups at once, while she is with one group, the other groups should come up with a fun name for the object and with words that describe it. Shape. Color. Size. Material. Anything else they can say about it.

STEP 3: Showtime

Each group presents their object. The teacher calls up a group and prompts the question, “So group A, who are you?” Let’s suppose Group A has a clock. So a member of Group A comes up to the front of the class, holds the clock in front of her and starts, “My name is Leeloo. I am round. I have numbers…”. She will continue with a few more descriptions, but stop short of saying, “I am a clock”.

The other groups take turns guessing what object “Leeloo” really is. Depending on the level of your students, it might be a good idea to make a list from where they can guess some options. This list should have the objects that each group has, plus a few more to generate some mystery. If you have no chalkboard or whiteboard, you can write the list on a paper and pass it around so the guessers can choose from there.

Again, depending on the level of your students, you may have to model for them how to ask a simple YES / NO Question in the 2ND PERSON, “Leeloo, are you a pencil?” Then “Leeloo” will reply, “No, I am not.” Likewise, help students as is needed in modeling these yes / no questions.

When a participant guesses correctly, then his / her group gets to go to the front of the classroom and present their object. And you help them by modeling questions and answers, as needed. You may also draw the ADJECTIVE descriptions. So when a student says, “I am round”. You can draw a round shape on the paper. And you might even ask them to repeat it once or twice, “round… round”, as you show your hand drawn circle to everybody. And you can seal the deal by saying, "Leeloo is round."

Of course, you can correct as the activity happens but try not to get too much in the way of the fun. The key objective is communication and fun, not accuracy.

STEP 4: Review

After each group has finished and all objects have been guessed. You can show the objects once again and call on individual students to describe them, by going around and asking questions. You may first try to go for the shyer students who did not participate as much in the earlier activities. Pick up each one of the objects presented and ask questions about them. Correct answers as necessary and always reward students for participating, regardless of the result.

  • What’s this?
  • Is it round?
  • What does it have?

Obviously, here both you and the students are using 3RD PERSON. During the previous activity, it was all about 1ST PERSON statements and answers to 2ND PERSON questions.There's no need to point that out. If they can acquire it naturally, so much the better.

So you brought a few things to class and got students to make believe they were alarm clocks, dice and brushes. You could probably get a job at Hogwarts. But before that, you may want to repeat this activity another day with new objects. And then, after they have learned many objects, you may review it all with classroom game of 20 QUESTIONS.

Try to see if you can you come up with an activity for the #ZeroResource classroom. And if you do, please share with those who need it most.

What are friends for? - English Lesson (Better Call Paul)

Improve your English as English teacher Paul talks to different people in short fun videos. Use the free guide with your students or clas...