Would you LIKE a cup of TEA?

Welcome once to the ETC International blog, where we hope drinking too much of last week’s homework didn’t make you ill!. ‘Would you LIKE a cup of TEA’. de-de-DER-de-de-de-DER.

As we said last week, in order to fit themselves between the stressed syllables, the extra beats have to be weakened. To do this English usually enlists the help of a little sound which doesn’t have its own letter in the alphabet but is the most used sound in English. If you’re still wondering, it’s the sound /ə/ and it is the only sound in English that has a name. It is, of course, ‘schwa’. (A name which I believe originally comes from Yiddish). It’s used to replace little vowel sounds in English and make sure the rhythm is maintained. So, back to ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’  In sounds, it looks like this: the ‘would’ and the ‘you’ are both reduced and linked together, (in my case, by the sound /ʤ/), which is the sound at the beginning of my name John. So, you get /wəʤə/. The whole sentence would look like /wəʤəlaɪkəkʌpətiː/ The same rhythm fits the sentence, ‘would you like a cup of coffee?’, and ‘would you like a glass of wine?’ And it’s not about how fast you say it, which some people think; the sounds are the same no matter what speed. Until next week, bye for now!

Try tapping

Welcome back to the ETC International College blog where I’m happy to report that a modicum of normality has returned to the job, with ETC currently conducting, what we call, ‘hybrid classes’. This means some of the students are actually in class, in person, in-situ, albeit socially distant from each other, and others are at home, at their computers, at an even greater distance. Initial reports are encouraging and the students are being very supportive!

Now,’ would you like a cup of tea?’ I bet you would. Anyone who has been to England is well aware of our obsession with tea, but I’m going to look at the pronunciation of this popular question. Last week we were considering sentence stress and this question ties in very closely.

In this sentence, chances are the first stressed word is ‘like’, unless, that is, you want to place particular emphasis on one of the others. This means that you have to say two words, namely ‘would’ and ‘you’, before you stress the third word, ‘like’. de-de-DER. For speakers of some languages, where each syllable requires equal prominence, this can be a challenge. If you want to put the first main stress on the ‘like’, then you have to reduce the sounds of the first two words in order to keep the rhythm. With exposure, you develop an innate sense of rhythm which allows you to ‘count yourself in’ subconsciously, like…1,2, would you 3 a cup of 4? 1, 2 de-de-DER-de-de-de-DER (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d ever write!) Try tapping out the beat on the desk. Your homework this week is to practise saying this, then making yourself one!


One, two, three, FOUR, five, six.  Did you do last week’s homework? If you did, you probably realised how difficult it was to alter the stress without changing the pitch. As I said in a previous ETC International blog, English stress, is very ‘mobile’.

I want to return to the question from blog 132, where I asked you to say the sentence: “What are you doing tonight?”

In the advert, the emphasis is on YOU. “What are YOU doing tonight?”If you put the stress on ‘WHAT’, then the intonation will probably rise throughout the rest of the sentence, showing some kind if incredulity. Stress ‘ARE’, and the mood changes again, ‘DOING’ changes the idea once again and placing the stress on ‘TONIGHT’ specifically means not any other night!  Of course, the context for these variations needs to be clear so there’s no breakdown in communication. So, “What are you doing TONIGHT?” Something nice, I hope.



Well, here we are in July. Who’d have thought, eh? At ETC International, we are passionate about language and although we don’t promote any particular model, we like to make sure we inform learners of the possibilities English has to offer. Last week, I asked you to say the sentence, “What are you doing tonight?” and place the stress on different words each time to see how it changes the meaning. Before we focus on this, I’d like to consider how a speaker actually identifies the stressed words in an utterance.

In the video, you probably realised it was through their rise of ‘pitch’. The stressed word was pitched higher than the others in order to identify it. Actually, it’s often a combination of ‘pitch’, ‘loudness’, ‘length’, and ‘quality of the sound’ but mainly it’s the ‘pitch’, which usually rises. This is not true for everyone, however, as sometimes the pitch falls. It’s quite difficult to identify the stress on a word without changing the pitch, although singers can do it! As a church chorister as a child, I was taught how to do it when chanting psalms!

For an experiment, try saying 1, 2, 3, 4 ,5, 6,  and stress number 4 by just altering the length or loudness, without changing the pitch.

Next week we’ll get back to the sentence from last week. Here’s the advert again, just to remind you.


Stay well!


Welcome back to the ETC International College blog on what is a beautifully fresh day here in sunny Bournemouth.

Last week I left you with a video to watch. I hope you enjoyed it! I think it’s a wonderful example of the importance of context. It also gives me the chance to highlight the ‘mobile’ nature of word stress in English, compared to some other languages which use a different system.

“What are you doing tonight?” asks the girl in the video, stressing the word ‘YOU’. It’s the crucial factor in the misunderstanding. For this week’s homework I want you to practise saying the same sentence, but put the stress on a different word each time and see if it changes the ‘meaning’. Also, think about how you identify the stressed word (longer, louder, etc) and see what happens to the ‘intonation’. Have fun and stay well.


Hello again everyone from a ‘lockdown-eased’ UK. Let’s hope things will continue returning to normal, although now it’s generally accepted it will be ‘the new normal’. I hope you enjoyed my little diversion into the world of ‘Standard English’. One of the most interesting areas of language for me is not whether you’ve got the words in the right order or that you use the ‘correct’ grammatical form, it’s how what is said is perceived. Take for example the person who walks into the room and says: “It’s hot in here.” Do they want you to open the window? Are they just making a general comment on the temperature? Are they expressing relief? Are they being sarcastic? Of course, it all depends on the context and the way it’s said. I want to leave you with a beer advert from the USA. If you want to analyze the language, it’s obviously ‘the present continuous’ but there’s more to it than just that! I hope you like it. Until next week, goodbye from sunny Bournemouth.


/the/ English language

I hope you enjoyed the video from last week. In the video, the presenter refers to ‘Standard English’ and I thought I’d like to elaborate on this a little further. Standard English has nothing to do with pronunciation. It is not the English language.

“There is one thing about Standard English on which most linguists, or at least British linguists, do appear to be agreed, and that is that Standard English has nothing to do with pronunciation. From a British perspective, we have to acknowledge that there is in Britain a high status and widely described accent known as Received Pronunciation (RP) which is sociolinguistically unusual when seen from a global perspective in that it is not associated with any geographical area, being instead a purely social accent associated with speakers in all parts of the country, or at least in England, from upper-class and upper-middle-class backgrounds. It is widely agreed, though, that while all RP speakers also speak Standard English, the reverse is not the case. Perhaps 9%-12% of the population of Britain (see Trudgill and Cheshire, 1989) speak Standard English with some form of regional accent. It is true that in most cases Standard English speakers do not have “broad” local accents i.e. accents with large numbers of regional features which are phonologically and phonetically very distant from RP, but it is clear that in principle we can say that, while RP is in a sense, standardised, it is a standardised accent of English and not Standard English itself. This point becomes even clearer from an international perspective. Standard English speakers can be found in all English-speaking countries, and it goes without saying that they speak this variety with different non-RP accents depending on whether they came from Scotland or the USA or New Zealand or wherever.”

Standard English is thus not the English language but simply one variety of it.

Peter Trudgill University of Lausanne.

That’s cleared that up then!

Until next week. Byeee!

B1 Can-Dos

Welcome back and thank you for the kind comments about last week’s blog. You will have gathered by now that ETC International  College wants the absolute best for its learners and respects everyone equally. For the last ten years we have lived by the ‘having a good EAR philosophy’ (Empathy, Authenticity and Respect). We use the latest manifestation of the CEFR descriptors, divided into two focus areas of ‘receptive’ and ‘productive’ skills, so help our students to self-assess. We don’t specify any particular ‘grammar points’ at any particular level because that isn’t in the spirit of global communication and regarding pronunciation, if it is clear, then variety is the spice of life. For anyone not acquainted with the CEFR, you can find information here


Here is an example of the ETC International College B1 PRODUCTIVE ‘Can do’ descriptors.

B1 Spoken interaction

I can:

a. Give personal information and respond to questions about myself.

b. Talk about present circumstances, past and future.

c. Talk about familiar topics using the necessary vocabulary.

d. Enter unprepared into conversations about topics I am particularly interested in.

e. Deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling.

I want to leave you with another You Tube clip which I think might find interesting.


Welcome to June!

Welcome to the first June edition of the ETC International College Blog.  I hope you are bursting out all over and that you enjoyed the Scottish poets from last week. Four weeks ago, (if you can remember that far back), before I got distracted, I began talking about ‘multi-word verbs’ and one theory that they were often used as a kind of secret code. The example I chose was ‘investigate’ and ‘look into’. I mentioned that in some quarters ‘multi-word verbs’ are regarded as not ‘academic’ or ‘formal’ enough for examinations. This is understandable because they can be misinterpreted or not understood by a wider audience. Perhaps they were considered too ‘cultural’? Now, especially with the ‘new wider audiences’ and the use of computers, particularly while we are all ‘locked down‘ , multi-word verbs’, and their creative juices, seem to be running everywhere! I’m sure you could find another way of saying the following ‘computer terms’ , but why would want to? Aren’t they more fun?

Computers are machines, but the language does its level best to make them sexier. Isn’t there something very “Carry On” British humour about:  ‘plug in’, ‘get into’, ‘hook up’, ‘turn on’, ‘turn off’, ‘power up’, ’power down’,  ‘boot up’, ‘shut down’, ‘log in’, ‘log on’,  ‘log off’, ‘log out’, ‘put in’, ‘key in’, ‘pop up’, ‘click on’,  ‘scroll down’, ‘scroll up’, ‘zoom in’, ‘zoom out’ ……Oh the poetry! Where does it all end! It’s true, if you only ‘know’ these ‘words’ in the context of computers, it’s probably enough, but surely you’d want to take them further? In the words of an old song: “ I get locked down but I get up again, ain’t nothin’ gonna keep me down.”  And who doesn’t want to turn something on by touching it in the right place? Until next week. Byeee.

Bank Holiday Monday

Happy Bank Holiday Monday 2020! I hope you found the video in last week’s blog interesting. I know it’s about the USA, and we are in sunny Bournemouth, but I believe it is relevant. People seem to need to belong to a group and the way they speak is one way of doing it. I have to ‘confess’, I’m a ‘native speaker’ (a term often frowned upon in the age of Global English) but I can’t help the fact that I was born here and come from a long line of Lancastrians whose native language just happened to be English. As far as I know, none of my relatives wanted English to become a global language and would have been quite content to keep speaking ‘Lancashire dialect’, a type of English particular to the part of the world where I grew up. Unfortunately, the country, (London) decided we all had to speak a type of Standard English which would enable us to speak to people from other parts of Britain using words everyone would understand. Although logical, this meant we lost some lovely, friendly, Lancashire words like ginnel, (a narrow passageway between buildings), gradely, (really good) and getten, (have to). All these words are underlined in red, because the computer doesn’t recognise them. In a way, I’m glad it doesn’t.

At ETC we understand that English has many varieties and we don’t want to be seen as teaching a ‘dead’ colonial language. We are not. We want people the whole world over to be able to communicate productively with each other, and if this means using ‘english’ with or without a capital ‘E’ then so be it. I want to leave you with two poems, both by Scottish poets. One by Jackie Kay, (no relation) and the other by Liz Lochhead. Until June, byee!