Saturday, January 31, 2009

Week 5 task: Heroes

Welcome to our Week 5 task,
which I've decided to call

We'll do it in different stages over several days.

The aims of this task are:

1. To practice reading and listening to authentic English-language texts.
2. To write a description of a personal 'hero'.
3. To read classmates' descriptions and comment on them.

When you're reading my blog and you see a word highlighted like this, it's a word that I think might be new or unfamiliar to you. Look these words up in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary Online
(which you'll find here: and write them down in your notebook or on a vocabulary card.

Activity 1: What is a 'hero'?
  • Work in pairs.
  • Go to the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary Online and search for 'hero'.
  • Does the definition sound a bit sexist? What's the feminine equivalent of 'hero'?
  • How many different definitions are given? Aim #2 above says that you're going to write a description of a personal hero, so which definition is most appropriate for this task?
Activity 2: Who are your heroes?
  • Work in pairs.
  • Think of a person you admire because of a particular quality or skill that they have. For this task, because you're going to research them on the internet, choose a public figure, not a family member or friend. Think of the following:
  1. Who are they?
  2. What biographical information do you know about them?
  3. Why do you admire them?
  • Tell your partner about the person you've chosen, thinking about the answers to questions 1-3 above.
Activity 3: Read about one of my heroes, Neil Young
  • Work in pairs.
  • Below is a description of one of my heroes, Neil Young. I'd like you to read it and then discuss these two questions with your partner:
  1. What do I admire about Neil Young?
  2. What is the significance of the sub-title, "Burning, but not burning out"?
  • Add a comment at the end of this blog post telling me the answers to the questions.
  • Check the words highlighted like this using the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary Online (see link above).
but not burning out

Neil Young is a legendary musician from Canada who sings, writes songs and plays a number of instruments (acoustic and electric guitar, harmonica, organ and piano). I've been listening to his music for most of my life; I can't remember when I first heard his name or his music. My parents used to play his music in the house as I was growing up, particularly one of his albums, Comes A Time, that was released in 1978, the year I was born. I guess that's where the connection really started.

I really started to pay attention to Neil Young in 1993, when I saw him performing live on MTV with Pearl Jam, my favourite band at that time (you can watch the performance of Neil's song 'Rockin' in the Free World' here:; and read the lyrics to the song here: Pearl Jam revealed that they were heavily influenced by Neil Young and his music, and this intrigued me: what was it about him that my younger musical idols found so inspiring?

Since then, I've been slowly collecting his albums (I now own about 18 of them) and I've seen him perform live twice (in 2003 and on January 21st this year - one of the best concerts I've ever been to). Recently, I've been reading an excellent biography of him and been listening to his music more than ever (actually, my wife Chrissie, who loves his music as well, is fed up with me playing his music around the house all the time at the moment!).

Musically, his long career (his first album was released in 1966!) is an inspiration. Even at the age of 63, he attacks his instrument with an energy and passion that surpasses most musicians a third of his age and, over the last 40 or so years, he has lost none of his skill or intensity. Even in 2009, he's still making some of the loudest, angriest and rawest music of his career. If you look at him onstage with Pearl Jam in that YouTube clip from 1993 - the members of Pearl Jam just stand back and watch him in awe!

In 1979, at the age of 34, he sang, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." Ever since Kurt Cobain quoted it famously in his 1994 suicide note, it has undoubtedly been not only his most well-known lyric, but also his most misunderstood. In my opinion, it means that you should live your entire life with passion and energy, rather than slowly lose that passion and energy as you get older and die unsatisfied and unfulfilled. I think there's a lot of truth in that statement.

His passion and energy is not limited to his music. His other major obsessions are vintage cars and model trains! In fact, he has used his talent for engineering and electronics to design, among other things, an electronic model train control system for use by disabled people. This was inspired by his son Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy and cannot speak.

Neil Young actually has two sons with cerebral palsy, though his elder son Zeke's condition is not as severe as Ben's. When Ben was born in 1980, Young's life and musical career was thrown into turmoil. Throughout the previous decade, he had experienced massive success, but now he had to balance his musical ambitions with his total determination to help his son. As a result, his career and reputation fell into a major decline that lasted most of the 1980s. Many of his fans and his record company became disillusioned with him and many abandoned him completely. Out of love and respect for his son, though, he never discussed the cause of this decline with anyone else.

In addition to his commitment to do the best for his sons, Young and his wife Pegi have done a lot of valuable work for a various charities, much of which they have shunned recognition or publicity for.

What all this adds up to, then, is a man who has spent the last 40-plus years refusing to fade away and, in 2009, is still as energetic and impassioned as ever. Long may he run.

Activity 4: Grammar in context
  • Work in pairs.
  • Look again at the text above and, with your partner's help, identify all the examples of Present Perfect Simple and Present Perfect Continuous verb forms. Write them down in your notebook.
  • Discuss with your partner these questions:
Why did I use that tense?
Why didn't I use other tenses?

For example, in the first paragraph, I used Present Perfect Continuous in this sentence: "I've been listening to his music for most of my life." Why didn't I use Present Perfect Simple ("I've listened..."), Past Simple ("I listened..."), Past Perfect Simple ("I'd listened), Past Perfect Continuous ("I'd been listening...) or Present Continuous ("I''m listening...")?



  1. Thank you for imforming me that person but if I were you, I would choose the person more famous (like Freddie Mercury)

  2. After having read this article, I have just one intention. It's to listen the other songs of this great musician. Because it will be good for my listening.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Clifford! In the English-speaking world, Neil Young is pretty famous. Plus, I don't mind Queen but I don't find Freddie Mercury that inspiring, at least not musically.

  4. HEY HEY HEY ! Kyle i like listen music neil young, RA! What do you think about my grammar?

    im kidding...

  5. Hey Kyle "YOUNG" Smith.

    So, I enjoyed the 'Rockin in the Free World'.

    Good Song.

    Now, i know why you have big side burns.

    See ya.

  6. We could realise that this article was written with a lot of passion and enthusiasm. Now we are thinking to know more about Neil Young that we haven't known. Now we are interested in his music which shows his feelings and fulfilment.