Beyond Boundaries: Fluency Through Drama

Have you ever considered how the stories we tell not only entertain but bind us together? Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” delves into this with the idea of “imagined realities.” This concept resonates deeply with me, especially when it comes to teaching English through the lens of drama.

In our vast sea of communication, language is our anchor and our sails. It allows us to construct endless sentences, each with its unique meaning. But, Harari points out, it’s not just the words themselves—it’s the collective stories we craft and share. And isn’t drama just that? An act of sharing stories, feelings, and ideas, collectively.

I’ve long believed that fluency in an additional language isn’t just about mastering grammar or expanding vocabulary. It’s about embracing the physicality of communication—the gestures, facial expressions, and intonation that bring language to life. Drama, especially improvisation, becomes a powerful tool here. It pushes students to explore and express without the confines of “correctness,” allowing them to be comfortably uncomfortable.

The improvisation philosophy of “yes, and…” is a golden rule in my classes. It teaches acceptance and adaptability, key to both drama and everyday interactions. Through this, students learn the art of conversation isn’t just about speaking but also about listening, responding, and adapting—instantly and creatively.

Take body language, for example. It’s as much a part of our language as the words we speak. A shrug, a glance, a step forward or back, they all say something. In the English-speaking world, there’s an invisible boundary around each person—a space we subconsciously maintain. Drama exercises can help learners navigate these cultural subtleties, avoiding potential social missteps.

Intonation, too, can completely alter the meaning of a sentence. In the spirit of exploration, I use props like a movie clapboard in an exercise I call “Academy Awards.” This encourages students to find the emotion and rhythm in their speech. It’s not just about the rise and fall of our voice but the passion and personality behind it.

My classroom is a stage (or a tv screen these days!) where students learn to embrace their mistakes as part of their language learning journey. This space of playfulness fosters a sense of kinship and inclusivity, allowing students to explore the cultural nuances of the English language and compare them with their own.

Ultimately, the path to fluency is about more than just grammar; it’s about opening up to the spontaneous, human side of communication. It’s about connecting authentically. Drama is the bridge between textbook English and the living, breathing language of emotion and interaction.

By blurring the lines between language learning and dramatic play, we not only teach English; we celebrate it in its most human form. And in doing so, we create a world in our classrooms where boundaries are crossed, and genuine connections are forged.

Idioms: Authenticity for International Actors

At the heart of acting is the pursuit of authenticity. It’s about fully inhabiting a character, understanding their world, and making it believable for the audience. This is where idioms come into play. These phrases aren’t just linguistic quirks; they’re windows into culture, history, and emotion.

What are Idioms?

An idiom is a phrase or expression that has a figurative, or sometimes literal, meaning. They don’t necessarily make logical sense when translated word for word, but have understood meanings within a particular language or cultural context.


  1. Kick the bucket (to die):
    • I can’t believe old man Jenkins finally kicked the bucket; he seemed invincible.
    • After a long and adventurous life, Captain Redbeard kicked the bucket on his ship.
    • She joked that if she ever tried to go skydiving, she’d probably kick the bucket before even jumping out of the plane.
  2. The ball is in your court (pushing another to make a decision):
    • I’ve done everything I can to set up the project; now, the ball is in your court.
    • We’ve given you all the offers we can; the ball is in your court to accept or decline.
    • I’ve told you how I feel about this relationship, so the ball is in your court now.
  3. Spill the beans (reveal a secret):
    • I can’t believe she spilled the beans about the surprise party we had planned!
    • Tom, if you know where we’re going this weekend, don’t spill the beans.
    • I promised I wouldn’t spill the beans, but it’s so hard to keep such exciting news a secret!

Why are Idioms Important in Acting?

  • Offer cultural insights: Knowing idioms can show you more about a character’s background.
  • Enhance authenticity: Use idioms to make dialogues more natural and relatable.
  • Highlight key moments: Some idioms can signal a major turn in a story, like revealing a secret.

How Can Idioms Improve Your Performance?

  • Depth: Understand the emotion or history behind an idiom to add layers to your role.
  • Connection: Relate more with characters and audience by using idioms correctly.

Example in Conversation!

Catching up with the multi-talented Berend McKenzie — a writer, director, and actor based in Toronto. Watch as we discuss video chatting and listen closely; you’ll catch Berend casually dropping the idiom ‘spill the beans’ in our candid conversation.

The Challenge of Idioms in Acting

Idioms, while rich in cultural meaning and local flavour, present unique challenges to actors, especially those for whom English is an additional language. Their metaphorical nature means they often don’t translate directly, which can cause misunderstandings or a loss of the intended nuance.

  1. Literal vs. Figurative Interpretation: For an international actor, it might be tempting to interpret idioms literally, leading to confusion. For instance, “kick the bucket” doesn’t relate to any physical action of kicking, but rather means someone has passed away.
  2. Cultural Context: Some idioms are deeply rooted in specific cultural histories or stories. Without understanding this background, the essence of the idiom may be lost.
  3. Emotional Resonance: For an actor, it’s not just about understanding the meaning; it’s about feeling the emotional weight and significance of an idiom, which can be tricky if it’s unfamiliar.

Tips to Overcome These Challenges:

  1. Research & Practice: Dive deep into the cultural and historical background of the idiom. The more context you have, the better you can internalize its meaning.
  2. Consult with Native Speakers: Whenever possible, run lines with native speakers. They can offer insight into the subtleties and common usages of the idiom.
  3. Physicalization: Try to associate idioms with a physical gesture or action. This can be a private rehearsal tool, helping you connect the body with the emotion or intention behind the idiom.
  4. Keep a Personal Idiom Journal: As you come across idioms in scripts, jot them down. Write out their meanings, origins, and any personal associations. Review regularly.

Remember, idioms add flavor and authenticity to scripts, capturing the essence of a culture or a community. Embracing and understanding them not only enhances your performance but also deepens your connection to the character and their world.

Acting isn’t just about words, it’s about understanding their deeper meanings. Master idioms, and you’re one step closer to a standout performance!

Identity and Accent

close up of hand holding text over black background
Photo by Pixabay on

Let’s set the record straight. It’s pronunciation that truly matters, not your accent. The world has embraced countless actors, like the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger, not because they shed their unique accent, but because their pronunciation was clear and comprehensible. Arnold’s distinct accent didn’t stop him from becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. It added charm to his roles and made his characters memorable. 

Your accent is a part of your identity – it tells a story, adds character, and brings authenticity. So, rather than trying to completely change it, focus on sharpening your pronunciation. This ensures that every word, every dialogue, and every emotion you convey is understood and felt by the audience.

Embrace your uniqueness. Train for clarity. And remember: It’s not about where you’re from; it’s about how well you’re understood. 


Accent Reduction?

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.” 

– Amy Chua

There are some who offer “accent reduction” lessons. Since our accent is attached to our voice which is attached to our being – our identity – accent reduction implies that, somehow, we are not good enough. It reminds me of “conversion therapy” where people are trained to suppress a part of their identity in order to fit in to some kind of ideal. What I think people are trying to help students with is pronunciation. This, of course, is key to being understood. Our varying languages use different muscles in the mouth and different breath patterns to create the sounds that make sense to native ears. By calling pronunciation work “accent reduction”, we are reinforcing the idea that individuals need to be “fixed” in order to belong. As a result, because “experts” are saying that you need to reduce your accent to be better speakers, students believe it and carry on with their English language learning with less confidence in their abilities. Why contribute to what has been a long-standing bias in many places? For instance, a “working class accent” in England kept you in your place and limited your social capital. Accents are so intimately connected to our sense of being. Think about what the word “reduction” implies. What are students reducing their accents to? As lovers of language, we know the impact words can have. I encourage people to reflect on their choice to use the words “accent reduction” by considering the limitations you are putting on yourself and the learner about how language can be spoken, and, how the words, “accent reduction”, can deflate the confidence in people who are making the courageous effort to speak in a new language.

I offer an alternative choice of words, simply, accent practice.

As actors work on accents to create a character, individuals practice to acquire an accent and explore their multi-faceted identities. An interesting example of accent modification depending on geography is Gillian Anderson. She has been known to speak in her American accent when she is in the United States, and in her British accent when she is in England. It is understandable that one may want to sound like a native speaker because they want to fit in and would feel more comfortable if they sounded like their peers. If this is a goal that will uplift a learner and instil more confidence, then accent practice can be a fun exploration. By calling it accent practice, and continuing to work on pronunciation, we are not diminishing their natural accent in English, instead, we are adding more to their communicative toolkit and allowing their authentic voice to blossom!

New Year – New Habits

Start good new habits this year by checking out “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. He writes on page 143, “If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice it….Habit formation is the process by which a behaviour becomes progressively more automatic through repetition. The more you repeat an activity, the more the structure of your brain changes to become efficient at that activity.”

Learning a language is training, it is practice, it is rehearsal. As your coach, I keep you accountable, motivated, and supported in your language learning. It’s a good habit to start practicing one aspect of your English learning for 10 minutes every day. Let’s talk about how by…..

Booking your free 30 min strategy session with me!

In the 30 min meeting with me, we will 

– discuss your current situation and your challenges

– brainstorm immediate steps you can follow to improve your communication and presentation skills

– develop a long-term plan to achieve your improved job performance

If you are ready, message me to book your free 30 min strategy session with me. 

Look forward to speaking with you!

“Down the rabbit hole”

Idiom Chat with The Joy of English ( and guest, Catherine Lough Haggquist!

“Down the rabbit hole”

The idiom, “down the rabbit hole” is widely used and means to pursue something which leads to other questions or problems or actions. It conveys the sense that someone spends some time doing something without a clear goal. We tend to use this idiom when we talk about using the internet. We may have clear goals at the outset of our pursuit but quickly become distracted by other things we find online and end up “down a rabbit hole”.

To help you, below are some examples of using these idioms.

“Once I started researching online, I ended up down a rabbit hole of information!”

“The website was a rabbit hole of pages and links.”

The etymology of this idiom comes from Lewis Carol’s story, Alice in Wonderland, where Alice literally falls down the hole of the White Rabbit and encounters a place full of strange and wondrous things. 

Here is an interesting resource:

In this week’s video, Catherine and I chat about our experiences as entrepreneurs navigating the internet to help us build our businesses. 

CHALLENGE: Catherine uses two synonyms that tie in with “down the rabbit hole”. Can you name them?

“On the ball”

Idiom Chat and The Joy of English with guest Bronwen Smith!

In today’s video, you will hear how Bronwen uses the phrase “on the ball”. This idiom is widely used and means to be alert and ready, or to have aptitude for something. Information about its etymology can be read here:

Here are some examples to help you:

“She had to stay on the ball while she waited for her meeting to start.”

“You’ve got to be on the ball when you are answering questions during a presentation.”

Bronwen is an actor and teacher who knows all about staying on the ball. Her profession requires her to practice techniques that help her to stay on the ball, which is really a state of total presence, in order for her to perform at her best. Nervousness is something we all deal with when we perform on stage, in a meeting of colleagues, or during an English language test! Here, Bronwen shares one of her strategies for staying present, staying….on the ball!

“Strike while the iron is hot”

Idiom Chat and The Joy of English! with guest, John Prowse!

“Strike while the iron is hot”

In today’s video, we use the idiom, “strike while the iron is hot”. This idiom is widely used and means to take advantage of something immediately while the opportunity exists.

Here are some example sentences to help you:

“These offers don’t come along often – I would strike while the iron is hot if I were you!”

“We’ve been waiting here a long time and we haven’t seen a taxi yet. Let’s get that bus! Strike while the iron is hot!”

Today, I speak with actor and mechanic John Prowse. John and I catch up and then talk about the etymology of the idiom of the day!

“Break a leg”

Idiom Chat and The Joy of English with guest, Michelle Coulter!

“Break a leg”

In today’s video, we use the idiom, “break a leg”. This idiom is widely used and means “good luck”. So, instead of wishing someone good luck on their endeavour, you may instead choose to say “break a leg!”

The etymology of this idiom has many theories. Some say the phrase originated from theatre makers’ superstition that evil spirits inside the theatre may be outwitted by wishing the opposite of good luck to actors about to step on stage by wishing something bad like breaking a leg. Another possible origin of the phrase might be that of the actor breaking the leg line of the stage when they performed in order to get paid. More information on this can be found here:

And, here is a dialogue to help you:

Person A: “I’m going to give my presentation on idioms in 10 minutes.”

Person B: “Break a leg!!”

We also use the term “hot potato” which means something that is hard to handle or a topic that raises contentious feelings.

For example, for some, vaccination injections is a hot potato issue.

More on the idiom “hot potato” here:

Today, I speak to Michelle Coulter. She is a dear friend, a community activist, an Oxford alumnus, a prolific traveller…just a few of her many accomplishments. Most impressively, Michelle is one of the kindest people I know! Here we discuss her daughter’s first stage performance and the usefulness of idioms in everyday conversation.

“A lot on my plate”

Idiom Chat and The Joy of English! with guest, Amil Rasheed.

“A lot on my plate”

In today’s video, we use the idiom, “a lot on my plate”. This idiom is widely used and means to be very busy or to have a lot of responsibilities to deal with.

Here are some example sentences to help you:

“I can see by looking at my schedule that I have a lot on my plate today!”

“Can you help me with this or do you have a lot on your plate right now?”

Notice that we use the verbs “have” and “got” with this idiom and the possessive adjective can change to indicate who is busy. For example:

“She has a lot on her plate.”

“I’ve got a lot on my plate.” Here, a native English language speaker may use reduction and it will sound like this: “I gottalot on my plate”.

Today, I speak to Amil Rasheed, who coaches business English communication to IT professionals. We discuss our entrepreneurial journeys and Amil’s busy schedule!