The first time people saw a train on film, they fled the theater in terror.
It was reported that people thought a real train was about to crash into them.
You might have heard about it.
This is probably a myth.
But what is definitely not a myth is the fact that video is the medium which brings us closest to reality.
We cry for characters. We yearn for places. We travel through time. And sometimes we prefer it over our real lives.
That is why videos are the best alternative to real teachers and exactly why we should add this to our routine.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read literature, watch movies and TV shows, listen to speeches and participate in conversations. But if you prefer videos to teach you grammar, we have exactly what you need to get started.
How to Maximize Your Learning with Videos
- Identify the type of learner you are. How do you learn best? People generally identify themselves as one of the four types of learners: auditory (listening), visual (learn by watching), reading/writing and kinesthetic (use their body to learn). You can use various online tests to know how you learn best. This will tell you how you need to approach videos (i.e., with subtitles, act it out, listen multiple times).
- Set S.M.A.R.T. goals. Your goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely (set a due date). This will make your learning more efficient. So while a typical goal might be “I will speak English fluently,” a S.M.A.R.T. goal looks more like this: “I will be able to use gerunds (see below) correctly by using two in a sentence each day for the next three weeks.” This will help you find videos of examples of the skill/grammar structure you plan on incorporating into your routine.
- Test yourself on the material afterward. The best way to do this is to use flashcards, which are physical or digital cards with a question on one side and the answer on the other.
- Mix in FluentU videos.
For example, there are interactive subtitles. You can click any unfamiliar word for an instant definition and grammar information. There are also vocabulary lists, full transcripts, flashcards and fun quizzes built into every video.
It’s the perfect way to learn English the way native speakers really use it, without worrying about missing a word. Best of all, you can practice anytime, anywhere with the FluentU mobile app for iOS or Android.
- Don’t study too long at one time. Research by psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus shows that practicing in short sessions over longer periods of time with intervals in between are best for learning. Use this in combination with the flashcard method.
- Prevent eye strain. For every twenty minutes you stare at a screen, look at an object twenty feet away for twenty seconds. Also, take a 15-minute break every hour.
- Learn by teaching. A study has found that the mere expectation of explaining learned content to others often improves your own understanding and memory. Find someone you can share new learning with and be prepared to tell them what you learn from the video.
- Summarize (briefly explain) the lesson. While reading or studying, take notes. When you finish, write three sentences about the most important points of the video.
- Use music to learn sounds. Before watching a music video, study the lyrics of the song and try to sing along. Later, sing from memory and see how much you can remember.
8 Poetry Videos to Make You an English Grammar Expert
Poetry can be difficult for those studying English, but it’s a great way to “play” with language. And just like singing along to songs increases fluency, poetry does the same. (After all, a poem is just like a song in spoken form, right?)
Like any other resource, don’t stress out if you can’t understand every word in the videos provided (and remember to put on the captions!). Just listen for the grammar structure in action!
1. Gerunds and Infinitives
What is the difference between the word “dancing” and “to dance?”
When should we use the first word and when should we use the second one?
If you get confused in these kinds of word formations, do not worry. It is quite common for English learners to mix up the two.
“Dancing” is an example of a gerund, which is when a verb like “dance” begins to function as a noun and has “-ing” at the end.
Lots of people dance during the parade. (verb)
There was a lot of dancing during the parade. (noun)
“To dance,” on the other hand, is an infinitive. Which means it usually has “to” in front of it, does not change because of the subject or tense and typically (but not always) follows a verb.
He dances during every song.
“He” is the subject, so “dance” becomes “dances.”
He likes to dance when the music is loud.
Although “he” is still the subject, “to dance” does not change and follows the verb “likes.”
Additional information: If you would like more information on when to use these different structures, here is an awesome YouTube video that clearly explains the difference between the two and how to use them with examples.
Poem: “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Robert Frost
Before you listen to the poem, read the following questions. Afterwards, come back to the questions and try to answer them.
- Could you identify the gerunds and the infinitives in the verses?
- Did you notice how they were used differently?
- What were some examples that stuck out to you?
2. Definite and Indefinite Articles
As the name suggests, an indefinite article is used when you are talking about a person, thing or event in general terms.
Give me a ball.
In this sentence, “a” is an indefinite article since the speaker doesn’t need a specific ball but any ball will do.
A definite article is used when a specific thing is being mentioned.
Give me the toy.
Here the speaker is asking for a specific toy.
This rule is often confusing for learners whose native languages do not have this particular rule.
In English, “the” is the only definite article and “a” or “an” are indefinite articles.
Additional information: To gain a clearer understanding of their exact usage, this video by Khan Academy will be a great help.
Poem: “Still I Rise,” Maya Angelou
This inspirational poem by the activist and poet Maya Angelou talks about hope and self-respect despite humiliation and cruelty.
- Can you identify the definite and indefinite articles in the poem?
- How does the use of the definite article “the” in the line “With the certainty of tides,” add to the meaning of this sentence?
3. Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Countable nouns form the bulk of English words. They point to things, places, events (and of course people) which can be counted. Usually, they have different forms for singular and plural usage.
Common examples include: tables, chairs, apple, computers and so on.
Can you move those three tables to another room?
There are only two apples left.
Uncountable nouns are nouns where we cannot define a specific quantity. They are usually abstract concepts like “knowledge” and “truth.”
A wise man seeks knowledge and truth above everything else.
Since you cannot have one knowledge or many of them, there is no plural form of the word. (Although in academic circles some philosophers might use the term “knowledges” or “truths,” English language does not accept their arguments yet.)
Additional information: This video gives a brief explanation of the two kinds of nouns and highlights their normal usage.
Poem: “Self Knowledge,” Kahlil Gibran
“Self Knowledge” is a deep, philosophical poem by Kahlil Gibran which ventures into questions about identity and what we know.
- Can you identify the countable nouns like “secrets” and “days?”
- Notice how in the first verse uncountable nouns like “knowledge,” “thirst” and “silence” give a feeling of timelessness
4. Phrasal Verbs
Phrasal verbs are perhaps the hardest part of English grammar since their meaning is not obvious to most non-English speakers and have to be memorized.
A phrasal verb consists of a verb and an adverb or preposition, or both.
One important rule to remember is that the words that make up a phrasal verb should, for the most part, stay together in a sentence.
Can you please throw out the trash?
Additional information: This video explains phrasal verbs in detail.
Poem: “She Let Go,” Safire Rose
- Why does the speaker continue to repeat the phrase “let go?”
- How is the meaning different from the individual words “let” and “go?”
5. Irregular Verbs
English is a tricky language. Although the majority of its verbs follow a set pattern of tense formations, many of them do not. These verbs are called irregular verbs.
Typically, when forming the past tense of the verb, you’ll add “-ed” to the end:
I can’t wait to learn Spanish!
I learned Spanish in high school.
Irregular verbs don’t follow this pattern:
I’m going to the store.
I went to the store.
As you can see, the verb “go” does not become “goed,” but rather “went.”
Sadly, there is nothing else to do but memorize these verbs and keep using them in daily conversations.
Additional information: This video shows some irregular verb patterns which are commonly found in spoken and written English.
Poem: “Crazy English” Irregular Verbs Poem, Richard Lederd
This witty irregular verb poem found in the book “Crazy English” by Richard Lederd summarizes the various present and past tenses of common irregular verbs.
- Which of the irregular verbs mentioned in the poem gives you the most trouble? Try using the verbs you hear in the poem in simple sentences or find examples of them in other poems or texts.
- If you are confident in your English skills, then try making your own version of the poem with different verbs.
6. Active and Passive Voice
Bertha threw the ball to Bess.
The ball was thrown by Bertha to Bess.
What changed between the first and second sentence?
If you have been learning English for some time now, you might have recognized that the active voice of the first sentence was changed into the passive voice in the second one.
We say that a sentence is in the active voice when the subject (in this case, Bertha) does the action (threw the ball) stated by the verb. In the passive voice the subject (in this case, ball becomes the subject) is acted on by the verb (was thrown).
If the definition seems tricky to you, changing the voice of a sentence might seem absolutely confusing. Just know that, in most cases, it’s better to use the active voice because the meaning is clearer, more precise.
Additional information: Luckily, we have this video that teaches us how to recognize and transform active and passive sentences.
Song: “Passive Voice Song”
This educational song titled “Passive Voice Song” demonstrates first the active and then the passive version of a sentence.
- Notice the pattern of the sentences with the passive voice.
- Learn how the active voice was changed into the passive voice. Focus specifically on the word order.
7. Word Order
Word order refers to the placement of words in a sentence. The most common word order in English is SVO or “subject-verb-object.”
The dog chased the ball. (subject=dog, verb=chased, object=ball)
However, that is far from being the only kind of word order available in English. As we saw in the section talking about passive voice, the object came first. In sentences with indirect objects, the word order can also change.
Additional information: This video can help in explaining the most common word orders and how to use various combinations in daily life.
Poem: “When All My Five and Country Senses,” Dylan Thomas
“When All My Five and Country Senses” written by Dylan Thomas explores various word orders to convey a specific meaning to the reader.
- Read this analysis and answer the question given at the top: “How does changing the word order in a poem affect its meaning?”
- Try to find other, simpler poems in English and study their word order. Can you identify the subject, object and verb? Is there more than one of these elements in a particular sentence?
8. Double Negatives
“We don’t need no education!”
This sentence is from the world famous song by Pink Floyd “Another Brick in the Wall” and is grammatically wrong. The error here is called a double negative, which means that two negations (words denying something) exist in one sentence.
In English we say that the negative words cancel each other out, so you should only use one negative word (no, don’t, can’t, not, isn’t, etc.) in a sentence.
When the song uses “don’t” and “no” in the same sentence, it basically means that the speaker actually does need education because both the negatives cancel each other out:
don’t need no education!” = We need education.
This is a confusing rule, and many times new English learners use double negatives in their sentences. This might be because they hear so many native speakers break this rule.
Additional information: Here is a video that explains the grammatical rule in a straightforward way. It will ensure that you will not make the same mistake as some pop stars.
Song: “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” The Rolling Stones
The classic rock song “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by the legendary rock band the Rolling Stones uses double negatives.
- How does the use of double negatives in this song add to the tone of the song, which is rebellious and angry.
- Contrast the use of double negatives in your own language. Does this rule apply?
Now that you have seen these grammar rules in action, why not write your own poem?
Keep practicing and you will be using these structures in your everyday conversations in no time!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.