Friday, December 5, 2014

STORY SONG: Breaking the Law in Style

Songs are always a great way to learn a language in context. And when the song tells a story, the music acts like the soundtrack. In this edition of StorySong, the song and the story take us to a future where things are less than ideal.

Of course, stories about future dystopian societies normally act as cautionary tales about what might happen one day. So they are usually not a lot of fun. However, this one is a little different.

First of all, it’s a rock song by legendary Canadian power rock trio Rush, which means powerful music and thought-provoking poetic lyrics (hence, a chance to improve your vocabulary). Second, it’s about a guy that breaks the law by escaping from a gated city to visit his cool uncle and enjoy the freedom of driving a real car, something which is illegal in this place and time. But not just any car, a stylish Italian sports car from a bygone era: a Barchetta.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY:  First, READ and understand the lyrics. Next, WATCH the short animated film - based on the song - which tells the story as you listen to the lyrics. The lyrics are provided below and have links to the meaning of some words. Afterwards, proceed to QUESTIONS and DISCUSSION at the end.

"Red Barchetta" Story Reel from Sant Arellano on Vimeo.

GRAMMAR NOTE: The story is told in present tense narrative and in many cases omits the subject when the protagonist talks about what he does. This is a poetic decision which makes the lyrics easier to match to the music, while still maintaining clear storytelling.

Red Barchetta by Rush

My uncle has a country place
That no one knows about
He says it used to be a farm
Before the Motor Law
And now on Sundays I elude the eyes
And hop the turbine freight
To far outside the wire where my
White-haired uncle waits

(subject “I” omitted)
Jump to the ground as the turbo slows
To cross the borderline
Run like the wind as excitement shivers
Up and down my spine
But down in his barn
My uncle preserved for me
An old machine
For fifty-odd years
To keep it as new
Has been his dearest dream

I strip away the old debris
That hides a shining car
A brilliant Red Barchetta
From a better vanished time
We'll fire up the willing engine
Responding with a roar
Tires spitting gravel
I commit my weekly crime

In my hair
Shifting and drifting
Mechanical music
Adrenaline surge

Well-oiled leather
Hot metal and oil
The scented country air

Sunlight on chrome
The blur of the landscape
Every nerve aware

Suddenly ahead of me
Across the mountainside
A gleaming alloy air-car
Shoots towards me two lanes wide
Oh, I spin around with shrieking tires
To run the deadly race
Go screaming through the valley
As another joins the chase

Ride like the wind
Straining the limits
Of machine and man
Laughing out loud with fear and hope
I've got a desperate plan

At the one-lane bridge
I leave the giants stranded
At the riverside
Race back to the farm
To dream with my uncle

At the fireside

QUESTIONS: Use the vocabulary in the lyrics to answer:

  • What do we know about the boy's uncle’s country place?
  • When does he commit his weekly “crime”?
  • How long has his uncle kept the Barchetta?
  • How does the boy prepare the car before driving?
  • What are some of the sensations he feels as he drives?
  • What appears across the mountain side?
  • What's the boy's desperate plan to escape from the alloy air-cars?
  • What does the boy do when he gets back to the farm?

SENTENCES: Create new sentences using some of the following: used to, elude, run like the wind, shiver, odd years, strip away, fire up, roar, gravel, surge, scented, chrome, allow, spin, shrieking, tires, straining, stranded

  • What are some of the major themes of this story and how do characters, actions and events represent these themes?
  • What does driving the car represent to the boy?
  • What does driving a car represent in other places?

LIVE MUSIC: Here are Geddy Lee (bass, vocals), Alex Lifeson (guitar) and Neil Peart (drums, lyrics) of Rush performing the song live at a recent concert. By the way, these guys are like the boy's uncle. Not so young any more, but still firing up their machines and having fun.

Origin: Rush drummer / lyricist Neil Peart was inspired to write this song after reading a futuristic short story titled "A Nice Morning Drive", by Richard Foster and published in the November 1973 issue of Road and Track magazine.

Monday, November 3, 2014

CULTURE SPOT: Shaken, Not Stirred, Drinking in English

Sean Connery as James Bond preparing his famous Vodka Martini
(prepared shaken, not stirred)

By StoryPaul

Yes, folks, drinking is a necessary and often enjoyable fact of life.

But beware, the verb drink only means to intake some form of liquid into your body, so we all drink something everyday. It's basic survival.

However, when we talk about drinking, we generally refer to drinking alcoholic beverages.

Which brings us to: what is the difference between a drink and a beverage?

In the context of what's available on the market, we say that a restaurant, store or supermarket sells beverages. More specifically, it sells non-alcoholic beverages, such as fruit juice or carbonated soft drinks like Coke and Sprite. And it also sells alcoholic beverages (beverages that contain alcohol), like wine, beer or spirits (which are distilled alcoholic beverages such as vodka, gin or soju). Now water is a liquid in pure form, so it is technically not considered a beverage. Although you will find bottled water (natural and carbonated) in the Beverage section of the store or on a restaurant menu.

Here's how a conversation with a supermarket stocker might play out.

- Excuse me, where can I find Coke?
- In the Beverage section, across the frozen foods. Two aisles down to the left.
- Great. What about water?
- Same section right next to the soft drinks.
- Will I also find whiskey there?
- No, whiskey is in the Wine and Spirits section, all the way at the back. But you'll need to show the cashier your ID to prove you're over 21.
- Oh, I see. Thanks

At a party, there are many drinks you can ask for at the bar, whether it's a real bar or just a friend improvising. Some of those are drinks in the social sense of the word, meaning they're prepared with a mix of ingredients. Others are just a basic alcoholic beverage, like a glass of wine or beer. So if you order them, the bartender can serve them immediately. True drinks usually require that the bartender know the recipe and have the right tools like a blender or a cocktail mixer. Popular drinks from around the world include: Daiquiri, PiƱa Colada, Mojito, Bloody Mary, Rum and Coke or even a simple Whiskey on the Rocks. At the bar, you can also order a shot (very small glass) of something strong, usually a hard liquor such as whiskey, tequila, vodka or gin.

You can read more about alcoholic beverages here.

Glass of Wine
Of course, sometimes we use a word that defines the kind of vessel or container where a beverage is served. You can ask for: a glass of coke, a glass of wine, a cup of tea, cup of coffee, a pint of beer, a pitcher of beer, a mug of beer, a shot of tequila. And the cool thing about English is that you can order "some" of anything when the way that it is being served is obvious.

So if someone at a party is serving Sprite in plastic cups, you may say,
- May I have some Sprite please?
- Sure, here you are.
- Thanks.

And there in that context, it'll be obvious that the Sprite will be served in a plastic cup.

Likewise, someone who is making coffee at home or at the office may offer you some. It will most likely be served in a cup.

- Would you like some coffee?
- Sounds great, thanks!

But it would be incorrect to say: a water, a coffee, a wine. These are uncountable nouns and require a countable word (cup, glass, bottle) if we want to quantify them. The exception to this, especially in an informal situation, is with beer.

- Want a beer?
- Yeah, dude.
- So get one. They're in the fridge.
- Cool. Thanks.

A Few Drinks
Sometimes, adults offer each other a drink. But at some point in the conversation, the one who is ordering will need to specify exactly which drink they want.

- Would you like a drink, sir?
- Of course. What do you have?
- Gin and Tonic sound good?
- Hmm, not my cup of tea, I'm afraid. Have you got any Martini?
- Yes, we do. How would you like it?
- Shaken, not stirred.
- Sorry, sir, I didn't catch your name.
- Bond, James Bond

Otherwise, the person won't know which drink to prepare. And with James Bond, it's probably a good idea to get it right.

Now when people go out and socialize and part of that involves consuming alcoholic beverages - in other words, drinking - it is common to say:

- Yeah, we went out and had a few drinks.


- John and the boys went out for drinks.

So in both cases, these people were drinking. But that doesn't mean they were getting drunk. This is when people become intoxicated by the excessive alcohol they have consumed. Not a good idea.

You can learn more about alcoholic beverages from this video produced by the folks at Spoken English Lessons. Enjoy and remember if you drink, you MUST be of legal age, do it with great moderation and above all, remember NOT to drive.


Monday, September 22, 2014

REAL DEAL: The Secret of Motivation

REAL DEAL is a series of Intermediate English lessons based on real world issues.

Topic - The Secret of Motivation

Lesson created by StoryPaul

FOCUS: Business English (Management, Productivity)

What is the secret of motivation? What drives some people to excel at what they do? Why are some organizations better at motivating their employees to stay and innovate, while others simply have employees who show up to do the work and leave as soon as possible.

Business writer and speaker Dan Pink believes that certain conditions and situations fire up the spark of motivation for many people in work environments. However, he doesn't believe those conditions are always related to the economics of their relationship with an employer.

In this lesson, we will enhance and empower our use of the English language by learning about the secret of motivation. Our focus will be a hand-drawn animated video where Dan Pink explains what he believes this secret is all about.

KEY VOCABULARY: Let's become familiar with it.

  1. a little bit freaky: somewhat strange and unusual
  2. we've seen this movie before: it's fairly common situation
  3. cognitive skills: ability to think creatively and critically in order to solve problems and generate new solutions
  4. the top tier of the economics profession: the most prestigious economic professionals
  5. The Federal Reserve Bank ("The Fed"): the central bank of the United States of America
  6. behavioral physics: how people behave
  7. anomalous: something that is not supposed to happen
  8. take the issue of money off the table: remove (and ideally resolve) the issue of money so that we don't even need to talk about it
  9. fricken: a socially-acceptable version of the f-word, usually to stress an idea... a lot!
  10. unmoored: separated

VIDEO: Let's WATCH it once and ANSWER the following questions?

  1. What do the studies that Dan Pink talks about call into question?
  2. What did the study at MIT consist of?
  3. Why were the results of the MIT study unusual?
  4. What happened in India?
  5. How were staff members at Atlassian given autonomy?
  6. What hypothetical example does Dan Pink give when he talks about mastery?
  7. According to the author what happens when profit becomes unhitched from purpose?

TRANSCRIPT: Let's READ it and check to see if our answers are correct. Groups can delegate different members to read. Optionally, you can watch the video again after reading the transcript. You WILL NOTICE how much more you understand. 

Later, you can also try to FIND the target vocabulary within the script and PRACTICE making your own sentences with it.

DAN PINK: Our motivations are unbelievably interesting, I mean... I've been working on this for a few years and I just find the topic still so amazingly engaging and interesting so I want to tell you about that. The science is really surprising. The science is a little bit freaky. OK? We are not as endlessly manipulable and as predictable as you would think. There's a whole set of unbelievably interesting studies. I want to give you two that call into question this idea that if you reward something you get more of the behavior you want. If you punish something, you get less of it.

So let's go from London to the mean streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts the northeastern part of the United States and let's talk about a study done at MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here's what they did: They took a whole group of students and they gave them a set of challenges. Things like memorizing strings of digits, solving word puzzles, other kinds of spacial puzzles even physical tasks like throwing a ball through a hoop. OK, they gave them these challenges and they said to incentivize their performance they gave them 3 levels of rewards. OK? So if you did pretty well, you got a small monetary reward. If you did medium well, you got a medium monetary reward. And if you did really well, if you were one of the top performers you got a large cash prize.

Ok, we've seen this movie before. This is essentially a typical motivation scheme within organizations right? We reward the very top performers we ignore the low performers and other folks in the middle. Ok, you get a little bit. So what happens? They do the test. They have these incentives. Here's what they found out. 

1. As long as the task involved only mechanical skill bonuses worked as they would be expected the higher the pay, the better their performance. Ok, that makes sense, but here's what happens. But once the task calls for even rudimentary cognitive skill a larger reward led to poorer performance. Now this is strange, right? A larger reward led to poorer performance. How can that possibly be? Now what's interesting about this is that these folks here who did this are all economists: 2 at MIT, 1 at the University of Chicago, 1 at Carnegie Melanie: the top tier of the economics profession. And they're reaching this conclusion that seems contrary to what a lot of us learned in economics which is that the higher the reward, the better the performance. And they're saying that once you get above rudimentary cognitive skill it's the other way around which seems like the idea that these rewards don't work that way seems vaguely Left-Wing and Socialist, doesn't it? It's this kind of weird Socialist conspiracy.

For those of you who have these conspiracy theories I want to point out the notoriously left-wing socialist group that financed the research: The Federal Reserve Bank. So this the mainstream of the mainstream coming to a conclusion that's quite surprising seems to defy the laws of behavioral physics. So this is strange, a strange funny. So what do they do? They say... This is freaky. Let's go test it somewhere else. Maybe that 50 dollars or 60 dollars prize isn't sufficiently motivating for an MIT student, right? So let's go to a place where 50 dollars is actually more significant relatively.

So we take the experiment, we're going to Madurai, India. Rural India, where 50 dollars, 60 dollars whatever the number was, is actually a significant sum of money. So they replicated the experiment in India roughly as follows: Small rewards, the equivalent of 2 week's salary. I'm sorry, I mean low performance 2 week's salary. Medium performance about a month's salary. High performance about 2 month's salary. Ok, so these are real good incentives so you're going to get a different result here.

What happened though, was that the people offered the medium reward did no better than the people offered the small reward but this time around, the people offered the top reward they did worst of all. Higher incentives led to worse performance.

What's interesting about this is that it actually isn't all that anomalous. This has been replicated over and over and over again by psychologists by sociologists and by economists, over and over and over again. For simple, straight-forward tasks, those kinds of incentives: if you do this then you get that, they're great! With tasks that are an algorithmic set of rules where you have to just follow along and get a right answer "If-then" rewards, carrots and sticks, outstanding!

But when the task gets more complicated when it requires some conceptual, creative thinking those kind of motivators demonstrably don't work. Fact: Money is a motivator, at work. But in a slightly strange way if you don't pay people enough they won't be motivated. What's curious about, there's another paradox here which is the best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. Pay people enough, so they are not thinking about money and they're thinking about the work. Now once you do that, it turns out there are 3 factors that the science shows, lead to better performance not to mention, personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed: to direct our own lives. Now in many ways, traditional methods of management run afoul of that. Management is great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement which is what we want in the workforce today as people are doing more complicated, sophisticated things self-direction is better. 

Let me give you some examples of this of the most radical forms of self-direction in the workplace, that lead to good results. Let's start with this company right here, Atlassian an Australian company. It's a software company and they do something really cool.

Once a quarter on Thursday afternoon, they say to their developers "For the next 24 hours, you can work on anything you want. You can work at it the way you want. You can work at it with whomever you want. All we ask is that you show the results to the company at the end of those 24 hours." and this fun kind of meeting, not a star chamber session but this fun meeting with beer and cake and fun and other things like that. 

It turns out that one day of pure undiluted autonomy has led to a whole array of fixes for existing software a whole array of ideas for new products that otherwise have never emerged. One day. Now this is not an "if-then" incentive. This is not the sort of thing that I would have done 3 years ago before I knew this research. I would have said "You want people to be creative and innovative?" Give them a fricken innovation bonus. If you could do something cool, I'll give you 2,500 dollars.

They're not doing this at all. They're essentially saying you probably want to do something interesting. Let me just get out of your way. One day of autonomy produces things that never emerge.

Now let's talk about mastery. Mastery is our urge to get better at stuff. We like to get better at stuff. This is why people play musical instruments on the weekend. You have all these people who're acting in ways that seem irrational economically. They play musical instruments on weekends, why? It's not going get them a mate. It's not going to make them any money. Why are they doing it? Because it's fun. Because you get better at it, and that's satisfying.

Go back in time a little bit. I imagine this: If I went to my first economic's professor a woman named Mary Alice Shulman. And I went to her in 1983, and said "Professor Shulman, can I talk to you after class for a moment?" "Yeah." "I've got this inkling. I've got this idea for a business model. I just want to run it past to you.

Here's how it would work: You get a bunch of people around the world who are doing highly skilled work but they're willing to do it for free and volunteer their time 20, sometimes 30 hours a week." Ok, she's looking at you somewhat skeptically there. "Oh, but I'm not done. And then, what they create, they give it away, rather than sell it. It's going to be huge."

And she truly would have thought I was insane. All right, you seem to fly in the face of so many things but what do you have? You have Linux, powering 1 out of 4 corporate servers and Fortune 500 companies. Apache, powering more than the majority of web servers. Wikipedia...What's going on? Why are people doing this? Why are these people, many of whom are technically sophisticated highly skilled people who have jobs, ok? They have jobs! They're working at jobs for pay doing challenging, sophisticated, technological work. And yet, during their limited discretionary time they do equally, if not more, technically sophisticated work not for their employer, but for someone else for free! That's a strange economic behavior.

Economists who look into it "Why are they doing this?" It's overwhelmingly clear: Challenge in mastery along with making a contribution, that's it.

What you see more and more is a rise of what you might call the purpose motive. It's that more and more organizations want to have some kind of transcendent purpose partly because it makes coming to work better partly because that's the way to get better talent. And what we're seeing now is, in some ways when the profit motive becomes unmoored from the purpose motive bad things happen. Bad things ethically sometimes but also bad things just like, not good stuff: like crappy products like lame services, like uninspiring places to work.

That when the profit motive is paramount or when it becomes completely unhitched from the purpose motive people don't do great things. More and more organizations are realizing this and sort of disturbing the categories between what's profit and what's purpose. And I think that actually heralds something interesting. And I think that the companies, organizations that are flourishing whether they're profit, for-profit or somewhere in-between are animated by this purpose.

Let me give you a couple of examples. Here's the founder of Skype. He says our goal is to be disruptive but in the cause of making the world a better place. Pretty good purpose. Here's Steve Jobs. "I want to put a Ding in the universe." All right? That's the kind of thing that might get you up in the morning, racing to go to work. So I think that we are purpose maximizers, not only profit-maximizers. I think that the science shows that we care about mastery very, very deeply. And the science shows that we want to be self-directed.

And I think that the big take-away here is that if we start treating people like people and not assuming that they're simply horses you know, slower, smaller, better-smelling horses if we get past this kind of ideology of "carrots and sticks" and look at the science I think we can actually build organizations and work lives that make us better off but I also think they have the promise to make our world just a little bit better.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: If you belong to an English Practice Group or if you are a teacher, we recommend you discuss the following questions as a group.

  1. What motivates you at work?
  2. How important are autonomy, mastery and purpose in your industry?
  3. How important are they in your specific job?

ROLE PLAYINGIf you belong to an English Practice Group or if you are a teacher, we recommend you role-play the following questions as a group.

Part A. Discuss in groups what would be a really good "autonomy" activity for special areas of  your company and prepare to share it with the other groups?

Part B. Prepare in groups strategies for taking more advantage of mastery among staff members (as defined by Dan Pink), but in benefit of your company.

Part C. What is the purpose of your industry? What is the purpose of your department? Discuss in groups the following question: How beneficial to the company is it to establish a stronger relationship between the two? Present results.

Final Tip: watch the VIDEO one last time after the lesson and discussion and you will subconsciously incorporate a lot of the language you worked on.

That's the Real Deal

Monday, September 8, 2014

CULTURE SPOT: Cerati in English (A Comparative Language Exercise)

by StoryPaul

As a lifelong music fan (& player) who also happens to work with languages and storytelling, I've always had fun with the linguistic side of the music I listen to. 

Basically, I love to think about how the lyrics of a song would sound in another language. If anything, it's a fun exercise. But not just any exercise.

------ A Comparative Language Exercise ------

So for this exercise, I chose to honor one of my cultural heroes, the late Argentine rock legend Gustavo Cerati, who leaves a legacy of beautiful songs and soundscapes, not just for Spanish speakers, but for the world. The song I chose is called Crimen (Crime), winner of multiple awards all over the Spanish-speaking music world and beyond, and one of the most successful in Cerati's solo career. 

THE EXERCISE involves watching the following modified version of the VIDEO for Cerati's "Crimen". Click on this LINK to watch: (make sure you hit HD for better quality)

I picked this gem as an exercise in imagining what the lyrics might look, feel and sound like in English. This is called "transcreation". So fair warning, if you're looking for a literary translation, you might be disappointed. 

TRANSCREATION is a form a translation that takes a detour from the conventional word-for-word approach, but rather goes for meaning, context and style. Bottom line, what you say simply has to work in the language it's being transcreated to. If it sounds translated, it's not quite there yet. 

You can read more about transcreation in a previous post.

Interestingly, Cerati did his own of transcreation of the song "Bring on the Night" by The Police, called "Traeme la noche" and an amazing job he did! But transcreation is certainly not limited to music. 

In fact, translators of books, advertising campaigns and of course films must transcreate words so that they sound good in the language of destination. So if you've ever read a text or watched a film that was poorly translated, it was probably poorly transcreated.

THE STORY: Coming back to Cerati's song and video, I also liked the fact that Cerati's "Crimen" tells a great detective story, but in a non-linear style. After watching the video, as a language teacher, I would ask students to put the story in order. This would require watching the video a few times and then comparing among students. This is called "sequencing" and it's a great exercise to do with lower intermediate students, although you'd be surprised how much upper intermediate ones would benefit as well.

ON TO YOU: In conclusion, if you're a language teacher, learner or lover, you are encouraged to use this material as an exercise in comparing two languages and enhancing the sense (yours or your students') of why going from one language to another (any language) is never a word for word affair. And obviously, a great exercise is to take a song you like in your native language and try to transcreate it to English. Fun stuff!

Gracias Totales, Gustavo! Your beautiful music will always be with us.


You can get this great track from Cerati's "Ahi Vamos" album

NOTE: The video was modified from the original to keep the story, but favor the comparison of lyrics in both languages. You may watch the original in FULL SCREEN here:

DISCLAIMER: For Educational Use Only. No copyright Infringement intended. All copyrights property of their respective owners.