English Weirdness is a video series that explores and investigates the strange side of the English language, its irregular grammar, contradictory syntax rules, and even the oddities created by learners as they attempt to navigate the complexities of this language made up of Latin, French, Celt, and German influences. The creation of English-as-Second Language instructor Paul Duke, English Weirdness began as a one-off educational video made in early 2018 to promote online tutoring work. Since then, it has developed into an ongoing series we hope will spread to a global audience of English learners, teachers, and whomever else enjoys them.
Over the course of his years teaching in the ESL classroom, Paul observed that students often had similar questions when confronted with the contradictions, irregularities, oddities, and mysteries of English syntax. These were questions that nagged at them but which they could find no answers for in their reference materials or even on the Internet. Paul took note of these confusing and confounding aspects of the language, and his students’ frustration at the pat answers provided by grammar references and textbooks, and began thinking of ways to explain them that would satisfy his students’ desire to understand ‘why’ English behaved in these strange ways. When now-chief collaborator Uriel Alejandro Lopez de Lara Meneses studied English in Paul’s class, Paul was impressed by his talent for video production and passion for cinema, which they shared. When they decided to shoot a video based on an essay about modals Paul had written, and featuring Paul’s classroom technique of inductive grammar presentation, English Weirdness was born.
Together with student performer Tomoko Himeoka, the three of them made Episode 1 over the course of two after-school evenings with a total budget of zero. The video, posted on Youtube, was a limited but well-received release. However limited, interest in the video was passionate. Hiroko Nakahara, principal at Sakata Minami high school in western Japan, saw it and recognized its potential as an educational tool for her school’s English program, which she wanted to be innovative and revolutionary. English education has long been problematic in Japan, and she saw English Weirdness as useful in updating it. Visiting Canada in September 2018, a deal was struck to provide some initial financial support, enough to permit the production of several more videos. It was at this point English Weirdness was truly conceived as an ongoing series.
As new episodes materialized, other contributors have come on board. Singer-songwriter Nic Darwin, himself a former student of Paul’s, came aboard in 2019, contributing his song “Change” to the soundtrack of episode 3. In addition, Nic updated the series’ title sequence, providing visual effects and motion graphics.
Since then, the team has grown, the ideas have developed. From episode 3 onward, the series assumed its own particular style and tone. Paul describes English Weirdness as “The Twilight Zone Meets Sesame Street,” due to its combination of dramatized miscommunication and educational language analysis.
But the story of English Weirdness could not be told without mentioning the performers in the videos. Every character in the videos is played by either a student of Paul’s or a former student and alumni. It is they that inspire the episode stories, and they that motivate the production, for it is the English learners around the world, represented by those that have been under Paul’s tutelage, for whom these videos are written and produced. The goal of English Weirdness, you see, is not merely entertainment, although we hope it is that. The goal is to add something of value to the efforts of the global community of English learners. It is their sincere desire to learn, improve and develop their English proficiency that has always motivated Paul’s teaching, without and within the videos.
Enjoy, and spread the Weirdness!
-Paul Duke, April 2019.