In my third lesson in the Language Notes series on YouTube, I address geography and nationalities. As I explain in my video, I didn’t know until I studied another language that not everyone in the world talks about seven continents. Some recognize only six or even five continents. What were your students taught about geography? Use my Language Notes_3_classroom slides and find out.
Indeed, learning another language is partly about learning to see the world in a different way. This very point is a nice springboard into my video lesson. Hold a brief discussion. Have you or your students learned to think in a new way thanks to language studies? Another example I could share is how the Japanese system of counting taught me to see even greater detail. It’s amazing to recall all the counting words I learned in my brief study of that complex language. One doesn’t just count using 1, 2, 3, etc. In Japanese, you add on a counter (a quantifying word) depending on what exactly you are counting: rolls, sheets of paper, books, people,… — the list goes on.
In my video Language Notes 3, I also address the sometimes problematic word American. A number of times over the years, learners have written to me questioning my use of this word when I identify my nationality. I chose to explain this word in the context of vocabulary and grammar. American is not a word with any intended offense, and it doesn’t imply that a speaker fails to recognize other countries in North and South America. There simply isn’t another noun or adjective people from the U.S. can use to refer to themselves. United Stater or United Statian doesn’t exist. We either say we’re from the U.S. or we are American.
Learning the names of nationalities in English can be a daunting task. Of course, there are patterns to teach (e.g, countries ending in “o” use the ending –an for the nationality, as in Mexico > Mexican, Morocco > Moroccan), but nevertheless the list is long. I think it’s advisable to learn these words on an as-needed basis. Which nationalities does one need to refer to the most in conversation? Which ones are relevant to a reading task? Where are your classmates from? These are the kinds of questions that can guide a teacher’s or learner’s choice of which names to focus on.
With that in mind, I’ll suggest a variation on a familiar task. You likely know the warm-up activity where ESL students line up according to the countries they are from. They can order themselves alphabetically or, even better, from east to west starting with countries in Asia. With EFL students, the teacher can pass out cards with the names of countries of his or her choice. Here’s the variation. If you have the discussion about the number of continents first, you can then have students group themselves by continent: students from Europe in one group, students from Asia in a second group, etc. However they organize themselves, students can also practice identifying nationalities. Example: Lee is from China. She is Chinese. > Anna is from Mexico. She is Mexican.
I’ve posted some exercises on geography and nationalities on my website. Your students may also enjoy the following resources.