ELSA is an app that uses the power of AI to help English learners improve on everyday speaking skills. In this article, ELSA’s lead instructor explains how English students can improve their speaking skills by listening to specific artists, performers, and celebrities.
Make sure you read until the end… Some of these suggestions might surprise you!
-“I want to improve my intonation. Who should I listen to?”
-“Easy! Aparna Nancherla.”
Since being selected as one of Variety magazine’s “Top 10 Comics to Watch” in 2016, this geeky and unassuming comedian took America by storm. Hollywood was quick to pick up on Nancherla’s talents too. In just a few years, she worked as a voiceover artist for a string of successful animated series such as Ginger Snaps, BoJack Horseman, and Mira, Royal Detective.
Aparna Nancherla also happens to be an excellent source of inspiration for developing intonation skills in English. Nancherla always modulates her voice freely and creatively to give surprising meaning to the subjects she addresses in her stand-up. Notice how she takes time to highlight important words when she speaks:
Her voice also rises and falls naturally and expressively.
Finally the pacing of her delivery is always controlled, which allows her to be as playful and natural as she likes on stage (exactly what I’m looking for when I assess the intonation of an English learner during a presentation).
So for all you English students and budding communicators out there, I guarantee you’ll learn a thing or two by listening to Nancherla’s work. Fancy a ride through the weird corners of her mind? No problem! Sit back, relax, and watch her discuss sneezing in public, and debating politics with white friends in Yogurtland. You’ll thank me for it!
Am I the only one that thinks Grammar has a bad rep? Yeah, it might be a bit boring and tedious to learn, but having a great control of English grammar will have a massive impact on the clarity and credibility of your ideas.
So, why the cold shoulder? I dream of a world where celebs and students alike bask in the secret joys of a well placed Past Perfect Progressive on Youtube. (sigh) One can only hope!
So it’s after much research that I managed to dig up this clip of a well-known bunch taking on a unique grammar challenge. In this scene, the cast of the popular American sitcom Big Bang Theory cleverly underlined the complexity of verb tenses one should use when traveling through time.
It’s this type of playful engagement with grammar I love to cultivate in my students. For me, ‘a spoonful of sugar always makes the medicine go down!’
So, for dedicating over 3 minutes of expensive CBS airtime to the hidden joys of grammar, I had no choice but to introduce you all to this hilarious clip from Big Bang Theory!
On January 20, 2021, Amanda Gorman, a young poet aged twenty-two became an overnight sensation after performing her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration.
There she was, in a canary-yellow jacket, towering over governors, senators, and American presidents. A voice of youth and change, speaking about unity and togetherness.
And at the heart of her performance, I noticed a stunning care for language and a wildly creative use of English pronunciation. Using a mix of repetitions, assonances, rhythmic breaths, enjambments, and alliterations, Gorman delivered a ground-breaking performance that will no doubt be remembered for years to come.
I was particularly taken by the way she leans on important consonant sounds. It’s a skill I always want my students to develop to highlight important emotions and powerful ideas.
I make all my students watch this clip. You should watch it too!
Having lived in the UK for a while, I absolutely had to include British celebrity in this post. So, as a tip of the hat (a bowler hat, surely) to his witty sense of humor and his amazing knowledge of English vocabulary, I decided to add the actor, writer, and comedian Stephen Fry to my roster of language influencers.
Stephen Fry’s entire life is a passionate love letter to the English language. For those of you who might not know this British icon (who also voiced the audiobooks of the Harry Potter series), sharpen your pencils and crack open a new notebook because Stephen Fry’s is firing on all cylinders!
Check out one of his early sketches where he mocks the British intellectual elite.
During this sketch, Fry’s use of “advanced vocabulary” (words labeled as C1 or C2 on the CEFR scale) is staggering. Of course that’s partly the point of the parody, but it’s this constant search for “the better word” I find impressive. It’s something everyone should strive for…not just English learners!
For those of you interested in expanding their active vocabulary, make sure you take a leaf out of Stephen Fry’s book and make friends with a new word every single day!
(Oh yeah, forgot to mention…You might recognize Fry’s scene companion here. That’s right… a baby-faced Hugh Laughrie, a.k.a Dr. House!)
“The time has come…For you to lipsync… FOR. YOUR. LIFE.”
RuPaul is unquestionably the most famous DragQueen in the world. With her comedic flair and quick-witted repartie, RuPaul has charmed audiences worldwide, and opened uncountable opportunities for members of the LGBTQ community.
RuPaul has the glam, the glitter, the sass, but more importantly…she’s got timing, honey!
By effortlessly pairing her charming southern drawl to a cool Californian swag, RuPaul always keeps her audiences glued to their screen, basking in every last drop of her Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent!
To me, she’s the perfect example of someone fine tuning the pacing and pausing of their speech to keep a listener’s attention.
Because of her natural and confident flow of speech, RuPaul Charles is someone I’ll always introduce to English learners to exemplify the basic skills that underpin fluency in English.
Now… Sashay-Away! And as you “untuck”, check out this clip! Mama Ru’s got some tips on clever responses you can use in every possible situation!
Make way for the Queen! Actress Meryll Streep is officially crowned as my greatest English all-rounder celeb!
From her humble beginnings as a love-torn bride in Deer Hunter, to her coronation as the all-powerful godmother of fashion (The Devil wears Prada), Meryll Streep’s effortless control of English never ceases to amaze.
What strikes me is that she’s always so relaxed, so unassuming. She cleverly balances all aspects of English seamlessly. Her pronunciation is on point, but without ever sounding pedantic. Her intonation is layered with feeling and she uses abrupt changes in pace to keep the audience on its toes. It’s a tricky balance to achieve for English learners and Meryll Streep is a perfect example of all those speaking skills rolled into one!
Check out Meryll Streep’s mad skills in this acting challenge set to her by Ellen DeGeneres.
You’re choosing Arnold? You MUST be joking… Arnold? As in “I’LL BE BACK” Arnold?
Yep! I wanted to include an example of perseverance in this list, because more than just learning new skills, the road to English fluency is also a journey of self-discovery which can be full of obstacles. That’s why I felt I had to turn to the Terminator for some inspiration!
For me, Mr. Universe’s journey is the perfect example of a life-long commitment to English learning. It’s a life dedicated to the pursuit of dreams through pure hard work and grit. It’s about sticking with it, despite adversity.
As an English learner, Arnold Schwarzenegger reached the summit of the bodybuilding world, and changed the face of American action movies. Who can forget True Lies…
But Arnold didn’t stop there! He dedicated nearly ten years of his life to public service as the 38th Governor of California. During Covid, he even used his platform to urge Americans to wear masks, practice social distancing, and get vaccinated!
But it’s what Arnold represents that’s important here: perseverance, determination, hard work, self-confidence, and courage. For me, these are the traits that represent English learners all around the world. These are values and character traits I love to cultivate in my students.
So yeah… Arnold’s my pick. All day, every day! He’s the perfect embodiment of a new, more inclusive approach to spoken English training which can be summarized like this:
There is nothing wrong with having an accent. Accents are a good thing.
Clarity and confidence in English are the real standards English learners
should really be aiming for.
Wanna practice the skills discussed in this article?
Download the ELSA app today!