Because of their structure, poems are a great way of learning about the rhythm of the English language. In these Activities you will be able to listen to poetry, read it, and then improve your knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols, thus improving your pronunciation. The Activities also include information about the poets and some background to the writing of the poem. Finally, you will have the chance to test how much you have learned about the vocabulary and other aspects of the poems through some interactive exercises.
The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation that was devised in the 19th century as a standardised way of representing the sounds of speech in written form. The British English IPA chart consists of 44 symbols representing the pure vowels (monophthongs), the gliding vowels (diphthongs), and the consonant sounds of spoken British English. The Britlish Library contains a wealth of Activities to help you to learn, remember, and use the British English IPA symbols efficiently whether you are a student or a teacher.
No matter how good your English grammar and vocabulary may be, if your pronunciation is so bad that nobody can understand a word you say, then your English won't be much good as a means of communication. You might be good at grammar, have a broad vocabulary, and be able to explain all the aspects and tenses of English, but it's not much good if you can't be understood when you speak. I have designed these Activities to help you to improve your pronunciation, as well as other areas of your English.
Did you know that there are over 600,000 words in English? That's a lot of words, and far more than any human being could ever manage to learn. Even Shakespeare only used around 55,000 different words in all of his works. Mind you, he did actually invent quite a few of them. To get a good mastery of English, you do need to expand your vocabulary as much as possible. The more words you know, the better your English will be. The Activities here will help you to quickly develop your vocabulary.
Some students like to sit back and listen to some interesting English. It doesn't get much more interesting than some of the old classics from English literature. These Activities have been created to help you get the best from the vocabulary found in some of the old classics. As you listen and read your way through these Activities, you will also broaden your understanding of English culture.
Reading is the easiest way to take in English. Listening is a much harder skill and one that has to be developed as you study the language. There are lots of speech features that arise when native English speakers speak English. These speech features, such as elision, simplification, intonation, stress, and rhythm, and the way in which speakers may miss out sounds or whole words, are important to understand if you are to be able to listen to and fully understand spoken English. These Britlish Library Activities will help you to develop you listening skills.
Futility is one of the most famous poems by one of the most famous poets of World War I, Wilfred Owen, 1893-1918. This poem tells us of an incident where a group of soldiers try to revive an unconscious soldier by dragging him into the sun on a snowy day, but their efforts are in vain because the soldier is already dead. I use this poem in this lesson to help you with your pronunciation, your vocabulary, your understanding of the British English IPA chart symbols, and to introduce you to this most beautiful of poems. Poems are a great way to enrich many aspects of your English and I hope that you enjoy the poem and the exercises included in the lesson.Popular Poetry Course
By Wifred Owen (1893-1918)
Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?
Wilfred Owen was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, on 18th March 1893, and was killed on the battlefields of France on 4th November 1918. He is regarded as the greatest poet of World War one. He composed the poem in this lesson while recuperating from shell-shock in Ripon in March 1918. Owen volunteered to return to active duty in France in July 1918, despite his fellow poet and friend, Siegfried Sassoon, trying to persuade him against it. Owen was killed exactly one week before the end of the war, and his mother was informed of his death on Armistice Day.
What this poem is saying:
Move the dead soldier into the sun. The sun's warmth used to wake him and remind him that he needed to finished planting the fields. The sun always woke him up, even on the battlefields of France, until this snowy morning. Surely the kind old sun will know how to wake him now.
Think of how the sun encourages seeds to grow, and how it brought to life a cold, lifeless planet. A man's precious limbs and body are surely more easily brought back to life? Did life rise from the lifeless Earth just so it could die? Then, why did the sunlight bother to wake the Earth into life?
There are many poems that are recognised, if not known, by many people, and which have become cultural icons. Far from being dead or irrelevant, poetry still maintains the capacity to strike deep at the heart of what it means to be English. These poems are as English as cathedrals and castles, Maypoles and Morris dancers and should be read and enjoyed by all English speakers and by those who aspire to understand more of what it means to be English.
Widely anthologised, The Windhover, by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1884-1889), though dedicated To Christ our Lord, is a rapturous love poem to life itself. Hopkins struggled to balance his vocation as a Catholic Jesuit servant of God and his poetical yearnings. Because of this, and his experimental use of new metrical forms, and his religious faith, his poetry was largely unrecognised when he died aged 44. It was not until 1918 that his poems were first published. This poem remains one his best known and will help you with your pronunciation, your vocabulary, and your mastery of the IPA symbols. The lesson also has a prose interpretation to help you better understand the poem.
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