Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Fun Game for Apostrophe Practice

Do you have difficulty with correct use of apostrophes?

(An apostrophe is the punctuation mark we use in "isn't", "you're", "the student's pen" and so on).

I recommend this really fun and challenging game from the BBC:



Monday, 10 December 2012

Top Twenty Literary Quote Tattoos

Do you like tattoos? Do you have one or would you consider getting one?

Why do you think some people like to get tattooed?

Here are some interesting tattoos using quotations from English literature:


The quotation in the image below is from the "Harry Potter" series.

Image from flavorwire.com

What will schools of the future look like?

What does the school of the future look like?

"Teachers seem to agree that "the school of the future will have no walls, be highly tech-infused, and available to more people than ever before".


Do you agree? What would the advantages and disadvantages of these developments be?

Learn English/Prepare for IELTS with me online with Skype

Here is my web page, for anyone interested in learning English or preparing for IELTS with me online with Skype:


Christmas Grammar Joke: What do you call Santa's elves?

Get it :) ?

Image from grammarly.com

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Experience of Italian Exchange Student in USA: Reading with Questions and Answers

Have you ever lived or studied in another country? Are you hoping or planning to do so?

Luisa, an Italian student, spent one semester studying in the USA.

Read the interesting account of her experience at:


Now see if you can answer these questions (answers below):

1. What did Luisa find different about her classes in the USA (three main points)?

2. How did Luisa cope with being far from her family and friends?

3. What are three lifestyle differences Luisa observed?

4. What main difference between American and Italian food did Luisa note?


1. The classes were smaller (about 30 students), the relationship between teachers and students was more personal and participation in class is important.

2. Luisa used technology (such as Skype and Facebook) to communicate with family and friends.

3. Italian students usually live with their families, Italians have fewer house parties than Americans, Italians like to walk around the streets and go to bars, Italians appreciate the "small things" in life, Italians don't like to rush, Italians like to spend time with family, Italians like to dress stylishly. (Any three answers).

4. Americans have much frozen food while Italians eat more fresh foods.

Hope in a Changing Climate: Video with Text

Watch this ten minute documentary which offers hope for restoration of severely damaged ecosystems:


"Success stories from Ethiopia, Rwanda and China prove that bringing large areas back from environmental ruin is possible, and the results are key to stabilising the earth’s climate, eradicating poverty and making sustainable agriculture a reality."

You'll find many more great resources on topics of current interest at the Open University site:


Stories From Around The World: Listen and Read

"Sacred Stories" is a wonderful site from the British Library featuring beautifully illustrated stories from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. Go to:


Watch and listen or read with subtitles.

There are many more treasures to explore at the British Library website's "Learning" section. The main page is at:



Saturday, 8 December 2012

The 6 Kinds of Presents You Should Never Give

Here's an article about the six types of presents you should never give!

Read the article and discuss the questions.



What is the worst gift you have ever received? And the best?

Have you ever given somebody one of these six types of gift? When and why?

If you celebrate Christmas, do you also exchange gifts? With whom?

Why do we give gifts?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Reading: The 10 Smartest Animals

"Scientists may not agree on the best and fullest definition of intelligence — but they generally agree that humans are highly intelligent.

Other members of the animal kingdom exhibit signs of intelligence as well, and some scientists might say the definition of animal vs. human intelligence is merely a matter of degree..."

Do you agree?

Before you read the complete article at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24628983/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/smartest-animals/#.ULUpv4foRrB , make a list of the ten animals -- other than humans -- that you consider the most intelligent.

After reading, look back at your list to see how many of the animals you named are the same as the animals discussed in the article.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Why You Need Good Punctuation and Grammar ;)

Image from Grammarly.com


to lower the odds (of) - to reduce the likelihood (of)

to be turned off (by) - to be caused to lose interest or attraction (by)

shoddy (adjective) - poor, careless

Video: The Future of Lying - Listening Exercise with Answers

Listen to the talk on “The Future of Lying” by Jeff Hancock at http://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_hancock_3_types_of_digital_lies.html and then answer the questions below.

You may need to listen more than once. The first time, you should listen to the whole talk to get the main ideas. Making some notes while you listen may help you focus. When you listen again, use the pause and transcript buttons to catch details if needed.


1. About how many times per day do people lie?

2. Is the internet making us more deceptive?

3. Why do we lie less when we write?



To lie/to tell a lie – to tell an untruth; a liar (n.) – a person who lies

A fib – a small lie

A white lie – a less serious lie, often told to protect another person from feeling bad

To tell the truth/to be truthful - to be honest; truth (n.), truthful (adj.)

To deceive – to be dishonest; deception (n.), deceit (n.), deceitful (adj.)


1. We all lie once or twice a day.

2. No. (New means of communication have only changed the ways in which we lie. We tell most lies on the phone. We’re more honest online than face to face).

3. With writing, we leave a record (unlike speaking, where there’s no record of what we say).

***On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult did you find this exercise? It's not an easy one -- this is a native speaker, speaking quickly on a complex topic. Hope you could catch some of his main points!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Dogs Learn Language Differently From Humans

Read the report on an interesting study with a border collie dog called Gable at:

http://www.tgdaily.com/general-sciences-features/67658-dogs-learn-language-differently-from-humans .

"The study sheds further light on language abilities in other species and how they communicate with humans. The researchers believe that how word-knowledge is developed in dogs and how it works in reference to objects is fundamentally different to these processes in humans. The idea that dogs learn words in a very different way to us could advance our understanding of how languages first developed in humans."

Can you find the sentence in the text that shows in what way, exactly, dogs seem to learn language differently to humans? (Answer below).


Answer: "However, when dogs are learning the name of a new object, researchers found that they associate the word to the object based first on its size and secondly on its texture, rather than on its shape."

Monday, 19 November 2012

"Say Cheese"

"Say cheese" is what photographers sometimes say when they're taking a picture of you. Saying "cheese" makes you appear to be smiling.

Friday, 16 November 2012

How Sleep Makes Us Smarter and Healthier - Listening Exercise with Answers

PBS NEWSHOUR is a great source of clear, informative videos on a diversity of topics. You'll also find an option to "turn on captions" to help you understand if needed.

For a video you may enjoy on an activity we all love -- sleep!-- go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ye2_2osVCJQ .

Watch the ten-minute video once or twice and answer these two questions:

1. What is the main benefit of sleep discussed in the video?

2. What are the main physical problems associated with lack of sleep?

Then compare with my answers below.

If you missed any key points, listen once again to check.


"to reboot" - to restart (like a computer)



Thinking over a problem (or "rebooting the brain") during sleep/dreaming makes us more effective at problem-solving.


Produce fewer antibodies
Process food less efficiently
Increased hunger
Increased signs of being pre-diabetic
Weight gain
Cardiovascular problems

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ten Great Documentaries to Help You Improve Your English

Film of all kinds, from short YouTube videos to movies and even cartoons, are a fabulous way to provide yourself with authentic English input while having fun and keeping informed.

Here are ten great documentaries to enrich your knowledge of the world while you improve your English:


Particularly if you're preparing for a test such as IELTS, in which you need to speak and write about a range of subjects, you should follow the news and current affairs topics to make sure you not only have ideas and opinions to communicate but also the language you need to impart your thoughts.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

First Class of Texas Online University Graduates

The first-ever class of WGU Texas, the state's online university, have graduated.

Students commented: " "People have the perception that if it's online, it's easy," Stewardson said. "That's definitely not the case."

Milliron offered up another common misconception. "I think it's a myth to think that an online universities like ours is impersonal," he said. "

Read the complete story here: http://myhighplains.com/fulltext?utm_medium=referral&nxd_id=314672&utm_source=t.co

What are your perceptions or experiences of online learning?

Friday, 9 November 2012

Finding and Maintaining Motivation

Here's a terrific article on "grit" (strength and determination) which offers techniques to keep you going through the long process of learning English:


These tips aren't just helpful for language learning -- they can be applied in any areas of life in which you wish to achieve success.

Wishing you grit!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Using Online Resources to Improve Your English

If you followed the link in my previous blog entry and listened to Stephen Krashen speaking about how we learn foreign languages ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXJwGFpfCY8&feature=related ), you'll know that interesting, understandable input in the second language is key!

In other words, find interesting material to read, listen to, or watch in the second language. Video material is great because it helps make the "input" understandable.

Here's a link to 39 free video lectures on "The History of Western Architecture", taught by Jacqueline Gargus at Ohio State University (USA): http://www.openculture.com/2012/11/the_history_of_western_architecture_in_39_free_lectures_.html .

Not interested in architecture? No problem! There are countless excellent, free resources now available on the internet. Just search for material on your topics of interest. (YouTube can be a good place to start looking, if you can access it. If not, just search elsewhere -- searching online in English is great language practice, too.)

Happy learning!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What Does and Doesn't Help You Improve Your English

Listen to language expert, Stephen Krashen, speaking on what really helps us improve our proficiency in English at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiTsduRreug (Please copy the website address into your browser if the link is not working!)

You may find the reality differs greatly from your beliefs! For instance, do you need to know how grammar works in English? Do you believe it's helpful for the teacher to correct all your grammatical errors?

Listen again and make a list of Krashen's most important points.

Then make a list of ways you can add 30 to 60 minutes' interesting and comprehensible English input to your life every day!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Ways To Improve Your English

Ways To Improve Your English


• Follow TV and radio news in both your native language and in English. Understanding the ideas in your native language first will help you understand the English.
• Listen to songs in English.
• Watch films in English with English subtitles.
• Practice communicating with your friends in English.


• Learn the words to English songs and sing.
• Practice with English cassettes, CDs or internet sites.
• Read aloud (articles, stories, dialogues, film scripts).
• Watch English films and read the dialogue aloud from the subtitles.
• Talk to yourself in English.
• Talk to your friends in English.
• Make an “interest group” with friends/colleagues/classmates to speak in English while you do something you enjoy together (singing, eating, exercise, playing cards…).


• Read about topics that interest you in English (e.g. sports, fashion, business…) in newspapers, library books or on the internet.
• Follow the news in both your native language and in English. Understanding the ideas in your native language first will help you understand the English.
• Read simple, modern short stories and novels in English.
• Read letters and emails from your friends in English.


• Keep a diary in English. Just write freely about whatever you like. This helps you “think in English” more easily.
• Email or write notes to your friends in English.
• Write a song or a poem.
• Write the story of your life: past, present and future.
• Join an internet e-group and communicate with people who share your interests from all over the world.
• Chat in English on the internet with people from other countries.

Friday, 2 November 2012

"Too" or "enough"? - guide and exercise with answers

Too / Enough ...........

Too = a lot but not good

It is too warm! It's 40 degrees C and I'm very uncomfortable.

*********** too + warm

Enough = a lot but good (just right)

It's warm enough. It's 25 degrees C and perfect.

*********** warm + enough

Use too or enough :

1. It's ............ hot today ! It's 40 degrees C.

2. You are old ............. to go shopping by yourself.

3. You are .......... young to go on the bus without your mother.

4. The homework was ......... difficult. I could not finish it.

5. The teacher spoke .......... fast for me to understand.

6. The teacher spoke slowly ..................... for me to understand.

7. Is it quiet ....................... for you to study here ? No, it's .............. noisy !

8. Have you had .................. to eat ? Oh, yes ! Really, I have had ...... much.

Answers: 1. too 2. enough 3. too 4. too 5. too 6. enough 7. enough, too 8. enough, too

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Do you understand eye language?

The eyes are said to be the windows of the soul. You've probably heard of "body language". "Eye language" is an interesting aspect of non-verbal communication through facial expression.

Read here to discover more about what we can learn from the language of the eyes:


While you read, highlight or underline key words or phrases.

After you read, choose five important vocabulary items you don't understand. Check the words in a dictionary (such as as http://dictionary.reference.com/ ), and add them to your vocabulary notebook.

To reinforce your learning, use each of the new vocabulary items in a sentence.

Instant Lesson on Perspective and Perception

When we change our perspective, we can change the way we perceive what we see.

Take a look at the image below. It's a type of "optical illusion".

What colours do you see in the upper and lower boxes?

Now, place your finger across the line separating the two boxes. Look again. The colours in the two boxes appear the same now, don't they?


perspective (n.) - view, outlook, angle of vision; view which shows the relationships of parts and the whole

perceive (v.) - to become aware of, to see, to understand
perception (n.) - the act of perceiving

optical(adj.) - related to the eyes or vision

illusion (n.) - an incorrect perception of reality

Do you enjoy hearing and seeing other people's perspectives on issues and events?

Can you think of examples of other times when your perception of "reality" has been challenged?

How can looking at life from different perspectives be helpful?

The Benefits of Pets

Do you own a pet -- or does a pet, perhaps, own you? All pet owners know how rewarding the companionship of an animal can be.

"Owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke. But the positives don’t stop there."

Read about the numerous benefits pets bring at http://www.mnn.com/family/pets/stories/10-ways-owning-a-pet-benefits-your-health .

What kinds of animals do you think are the best pets? Why?
Should the number of pets per household be restricted? Why or why not?
What are the most important benefits of pets, in your view?

Phrasal Verbs - Guide and Exercise with Answers

Phrasal Verbs

A phrasal verb has 2 or more words:

to run into
to run away with
to run over

It has a special meaning.

I must give up coffee. I can’t sleep at night.

To give up coffee is to stop drinking coffee because it is a bad habit.

Sometimes phrasal verbs have more than one meaning.

I’ve tried and tried to make my mother stop drinking coffee but she won’t.
I give up !

In this sentence, to give up is to stop trying because something is too difficult.

Practice: Put the phrasal verbs below into the appropriate sentences.
You may need to make some changes for tense & person.

get into get over take off try on
run over put on run into give up
speak up look for shut up put off
look up end up drop in break up

1. “Why is Christine crying ?” “Because she ………… with her boyfriend last night.”

2. You are welcome to ………… any time you go past my house.

3. We looked for the bus-stop for hours but we couldn’t find it.We …………….. getting a taxi.

4. I am really ……………… this book. I have read more than 100 pages since I came home from school.

5. You need to rest more if you want to ………….. your ‘flu.

6. I found the twenty dollars I thought I’d lost and it has stopped raining so we can go to the beach. Things ……………. !

7. Tomorrow you must tell your friend that you broke her mp3 player. You can’t …………………. any longer.

8. I want to change my seat in class. I can’t concentrate.The boy who sits next to me never ………………………..!

9. If you feel too hot, why don’t you ……………….your sweater ?

10. I’ll ask the shop assistant to bring me the next size to …………..This skirt is too tight.

11.I am late because I spent 10 minutes …………..my keys.

12. How terrible ! A car ………. her pet rabbit and killed it.

13. …………your jacket. It’s cold outside.

14. Could you ……………., please ? I can’t hear.

15. I must ……………. chocolate. I am getting too fat.

16. I ……………. James at the market yesterday . I hadn’t seen him for months.

1. broke up 2. drop in 3. ended up 4. getting into 5. get over 6. are looking up 7. put it off 8. shuts up 9. take off 10. try on 11. looking for 12. ran over 13. put on 14. speak up 15. give up 16. ran into

The Importance of Reading and Writing ~ Carl Sagan

Friday, 26 October 2012

Prepositions of Time - Guide and Exercise with Answers

Prepositions of Time


at : exact time - at 2.40 pm
name of a holiday - at Christmas

on : name of a day - on Saturday, on Christmas Day

in: part of the day - in the morning ( * but : at night)
name of a month - in July
name of a year - in 1996
name of a season - in summer

1. ….. Friday, Lisa and I walked to school together.

2. I always visit my brother ….. Easter.

3. My birthday is ….. March.

4. I was born ….. 1903.

5. ”When do you have dinner?” asked Diem.
“….. 6 o’clock,” said Kazia.

6. ….. Wednesdays, my brother has swimming lessons.

7. We started English classes …… Tuesday morning …. 8.30 a.m.

8. ….. the morning I go to school, ….. the afternoon I go to the library
and …. the evening I spend time with my family.

9. We finish school … two-thirty.

10. Australia Day is ….. January.

11. Every morning I get up … 6 o’clock.

12. I never walk home … night.

13. ….. Spring, the flowers bloom.

14. In Australia, the school year ends …. December and starts …. February.

15. Sarah’s baby was born ….. Friday …. one o’clock.

16. ….. 1983 I went to europe.

Answers: 1. on 2. at 3. in 4. in 5. at 6. on 7. on, at 8. in, in, in 9. at 10. in 11. at 12. at 13. in 14. in, in 15. on, at 16. in

Prepositions of Place - Guide and Short Exercise with Answers

Prepositions of Place


in : when something is all around, on all sides
in the phone-box
in my pocket
in the garden
in the kitchen
swimming in the pool

in + town/country
Kate lives in Ma On Shan.
Sydney is in Australia.

in + street name
in Sai Sha road

on : for a surface
lying on the rug
walking on the footpath
a number on the door
egg on your shirt

on: for a line
a town on this road
a bridge on the river

on + floor
on the first floor of the building

at : for a position, a point in space
someone at the door
sitting at my desk
at the end of the street

at + house /address
at 65 Bridge Road
at John’s house

Some common phrases :

in prison
in hospital
in a book
in a movie
in a photo
in the country
in the sky
in the middle

on the farm
on the page
on the screen
on an island
on the beach
on the right/left

at the station
at the airport
at home
at school
at work
at the top
at the bottom
at the end

in / on / at

1. We spent the whole holiday ….. the beach.
2. I read about kangaroos ….. a magazine.
3. Suzy’s flat is ….. the twenty-first floor.
4. Julia was holding a small bird ….. her hands.
5. I’ll meet you ….. the airport.
6. London is ..... the Thames River.
7. There weren’t many books ….. the shelves.
8. We had to change planes ….. Beijing.

Answers: 1. at 2. in 3. on 4. in 5. at 6. on 7. on 8. in

Halloween Vocabulary Exercise (Easy)


Work with a partner. From the words in the below, find the best word to complete the sentences.

celebrate Halloween witches earth dress up scared costume pretend decorate skeletons carved pumpkins lanterns apple-bobbing blindfolds Trick or Treat ghosts evil spirits

1. Every year children like to …………. Halloween.The festival of ……………. is held on October 31st.Some people say that on this night many bad things walk around the ………… .

2. …………. are the spirits of dead people. Some people use firecrackers to frighten away …………. …………. . ………………… are women who wear black clothes and ride through the night on broomsticks. ……………… are the bones of people or animals. For Halloween, my sister is going to ………… ……. as a witch. I am helping her sew a black ………… . My brother wants to …………… he is a ghost by wearing a white sheet.

3. We bought some orange …………… at the market and we …………. them with scary faces. We put candles inside to make ……………. . We will …………. the house with pictures of other scary things, like spiders’ webs.

4 …………………… is a game in which children lift apples from a bowl of water with their teeth. In “House of Horrors”, another Halloween game, children wear …………… and touch things that feel strange. The most famous Halloween game is “…………………………………”.

Answers(in order): celebrate, Halloween, earth, ghosts, evil spirits, witches, skeletons, dress up, costume, pretend, pumpkins, carved, lanterns, decorate, apple-bobbing, blindfolds, Trick or Treat

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What's your favourite colour?

If your answer to the question, "What's your favourite colour?" is "Blue", your answer is the same as that of approximately half the people in most parts of the world.

Read more about the special qualities of the colour blue at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/23/science/with-new-findings-scientists-are-captivated-by-the-color-blue.html?

What's your favourite colour? Why do you like this colour?
Is your favourite colour the same as, or different to, the favourite colour of most people you know?
What are the special meanings of some colours in your home culture?

No apostrophe when "its" is an adjective!

Simple, isn't it?

When "its" is an adjective, like "my" or "your" or his" or "their", you don't use an apostrophe.

You don't write "hi's door", you write "his door"; you don't write "it's door", you write "its door".

Which door? His door! Its door!

Just too easy!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Unappetizing Lunch - A joke

Do you like to tell jokes? Here's one about an English teacher.

One day in America, a little boy pretended to be sick.

"Dad, I don't want to go to school today," said the boy.

"Why not, son?" asked his father.

"Well,” said the son, “One of the chickens on the school farm died last week and we had chicken soup for lunch the next day.”

“So?” said his Dad.

“And three days ago one of the pigs died and we had roast pork the next day…” said the boy.

"But why don't you want to go today?" asked his Dad.

"Because the English teacher died yesterday."


In your culture, do people like to "tell jokes"?

Is there a difference in the kinds of humour men and women prefer?

Using Adjective Clauses

Are you sometimes unsure how to make adjective clauses (also called "relative clauses")? Here's a useful summary chart:


Person: who/that

I met a girl. She fell in love with me. → I met a girl who/that fell in love with me.

Thing: which/that

I have a car. It is fast. → I have a car which/that is fast.


Person: who(m)/that/Ø

The man was Mr. Jones. I saw him. → The man who(m)/that/Ø I saw was Mr. Jones

Thing: which/that/Ø

The movie was good. We saw it last night. →

The movie which/that/Ø we saw last night was good.

Object of a preposition

Person: who(m)/that/Ø

She is the woman. I told you about her. →She is the woman who(m)/that/Ø I told you about.
OR She is the woman about whom I told you.

Thing: which/that/Ø

The music was good. We listened to it last night. → The music which/that/Ø we listened to last night was good.
OR The music to which we listened last night was good.

Possessive: whose

I know the man. His bicycle was stolen. → I know the man whose bicycle was stolen.

Place: where/which/that/Ø

The building is old. He lives there (in that building). →
The building where he lives is very old.
OR The building in which he lives is very old.
OR The building which he lives in is very old.
OR The building that he lives in is very old.
OR The building Ø he lives in is very old.

Time: when/on which/that/Ø

I’ll never forget the day. I met you then (on that day). →
I’ll never forget the day when I met you.
OR I’ll never forget the day on which I met you.
OR I’ll never forget the day that I met you.
OR I’ll never forget the day Ø I met you.

For more information and exercises, go to http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/pronouns/relative-pronouns

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Using Perfect and Continuous Verb Forms in English

Understanding Tense and Aspect in English

To use English verbs correctly, you need to understand both tense and aspect.

Tense marks past, present and future time. Closely linked to tense is the concept of aspect, which adds a further time perspective. Aspect reflects the way in which the action of a verb is viewed with respect to time, answering questions such as: ‘Is the event or state completed or still in progress?’.

There are two forms of aspect in English, the perfect aspect and the progressive aspect (sometimes called the continuous aspect). The perfect aspect usually describes events or states which occur or begin during a previous period of time. The progressive aspect describes events or states which are in progress or continuing.

“I have read your letter.” uses the “present perfect” verb form, made with the present form, “have” + past participle, “read”.
“Present” shows the time and “Perfect” shows the aspect (completed).
There is a connection between something that happened in the past and the present time.

“I had read your letter.” uses the “past perfect” verb form, made with the past form, “had” + past participle.
“Past” shows the time and “Perfect” shows the aspect (completed).
There is a connection between something which happened in the past and another past moment in time.

“I have been reading your letter.” uses the present perfect progressive verb form, made with the present form, “have” + past participle, “been” + progressive form, “reading”
The perfect aspect shows that the action began in the past and the progressive aspect shows that it continued and may still be happening now.

(Adapted from Present perfect aspect – article http://www.onestopenglish.com/grammar/grammar-reference/verbs-and-tenses/present-perfect-aspect-article/152812.article by Kerry G. Maxwell and Lindsay Clandfield)

Check your understanding by trying the exercises:


***Don’t feel frustrated if you can’t always use these verb forms correctly! It takes time to fully understand and master the use of tense and aspect in English.

American and British English Vocabulary Differences

Here's a fun exercise to help you learn some differences in British and American English vocabulary:


(from the British Council's excellent resources for learning English)

You will also find a list of the main points in which British English differs from American English at http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/grammar-reference/british-english-and-american-english .

Keep in mind that these differences are really very minor. UK and US English are by FAR more alike than different!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Understanding Tonic Stress in Spoken English

Improving sentence intonation is one of the key elements in your English pronunciation. The four basic types of word stress that lead to proper intonation in English are:

* tonic stress
* emphatic stress
* contrastive stress
* new information stress

Tonic Stress

Tonic stress refers to the syllable in a word which receives the most stress in an intonation unit. An intonation unit has one tonic stress. It's important to remember that a sentence can have more than one intonation unit, and therefore have more than one tonic stress. Here are some examples of intonation units with the tonic stress bolded.

He's waiting
He's waiting / for his friend
He's waiting / for his friend / at the station.

Generally, the final tonic stress in a sentence receives the most stress. In the above example, 'station' receives the strongest stress.

There are a number of instances in which the stress changes from this standard. Here are short explanations for each of the changes with example sentences to illustrate.

Emphatic Stress

If you decide to emphasize something, you can change the stress from the principal noun to another content word such as an adjective (big, difficult, etc.), intensifier (very, extremely, etc.) This emphasis calls attention to the extraordinary nature of what you want to emphasize.

For example:

That was a difficult test. - Standard statement

That was a difficult test. - Emphasizes how difficult the test was

There are a number of adverbs and modifiers which tend to be used to emphasize in sentences that receive emphatic stress.


Contrastive Stress

Contrastive stress is used to point out the difference between one object and another. Contrastive stress tends to be used with determiners such as 'this, that, these and those'.

For example:

I think I prefer this color.
Do you want these or those curtains?

Contrastive stress is also used to bring out a given word in a sentence which will also slightly change the meaning.

* He came to the party yesterday. (It was he, not someone else.)
* He walked to the party yesterday. (He walked rather than drove.)
* He came to the party yesterday. (It was a party not a meeting or something else.)
* He came to the party yesterday. (It was yesterday not two weeks ago or some other time.)

New Information Stress

When asked a question, the requested information is naturally stressed more strongly.

For example:

Where are you from? - I come from Seattle, in the USA.
What do you want to do? - I want to go bowling.
When does class begin? - The class begins at nine o'clock.

Use these various types of stress to help improve your pronunciation and understandability.

Does Handwriting Matter?

"... we are at a moment when handwriting seems to be about to vanish from our lives altogether. At some point in recent years, it has stopped being a necessary and inevitable intermediary between people – a means by which individuals communicate with each other, putting a little bit of their personality into the form of their message as they press".

Read the complete article at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/oct/07/missing-ink-handwriting-art-hensher-extract


inevitably (adv.): unavoidably, inescapably

One occasion on which you MUST still write by hand is the IELTS test. Undoubtedly, though, people are writing by hand far less frequently than in the past.

Do you enjoy writing by hand? When?

Is handwriting still important? Why or why not?

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Differing world views of Asian and European Americans

" The way we see ourselves in the world can affect how we answer ambiguous questions like: “Next Wednesday's meeting has been moved forward two days. What day is the meeting now on?” "

How would you answer this question?

See the different answers Asian Americans and European Americans give and read more about the difference between the way these two subcultures view the world at http://www.bps-research-digest.blogspot.co.uk/2007/10/asian-americans-and-european-americans.html .


ambiguous (adj.) - unclear, with more than one meaning

In what ways do you think your own culture affects your view of the world?

Do you think people from different cultures are more different than they are similar?

Listening Practice: "Music as a Language"

Yet another excellent TED talk for listening practice and reflection:


"Music is a powerful communication tool--it causes us to laugh, cry, think and question. Bassist and five-time Grammy winner, Victor Wooten, asks us to approach music the same way we learn verbal language--by embracing mistakes and playing as often as possible."

What do you think of Wooten's idea?
Is music an important part of your own life and culture?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Good news, speakers -- others don't know how nervous you are!

If you fear speaking to a an audience, you are not alone. Indeed, "public speaking" is often ranked in surveys as people's number one fear!

Speaking in a second or third language can also make us feel nervous, especially in exam or test contexts. Teachers often advise students to act confidently at such times, even if it's necessary to "fake it". Adopting confident body language actually makes you feel more confident and so helps you to perform better. In turn, your audience responds more positively to you: it's a "win-win" situation.

Here's some other good news for those who fear speaking to a group, in a second language, or both! Research has found that others can't tell how nervous you feel.

"In one study in which people gave extemporaneous speeches, participants were asked to rate their own nervousness (Savitsky & Gilovich, 2003). This was then compared with audience ratings.

The results showed that people tended to over-estimate just how nervous they appeared to others. And this is a consistent finding. We think others can read more from our expressions than they really can."

Read the article here: http://www.spring.org.uk/2012/10/the-illusion-of-transparency.php


to fake (something) - to pretend

a "win-win" situation - a situation in which everyone benefits

extemporaneous (adj.) - unprepared, improvised

Do you feel nervous when speaking a second language or to a group? What strategies do you use to overcome your nerves?

What would you list as your "number one fear"?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Do you say "Autumn" or "fall"?

Most of us know that in American English, the word for the season before winter is "fall" while users of British English prefer "Autumn".

Here's some fascinating background to this difference in vocabulary:


Canadians, meanwhile, switch between the two terms. Read more here:


This beautiful photograph is from the article on mnn.com .

How many seasons per year are there where you live? What are their names?
Which are your favourite and least favourite seasons?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Is Your Facebook Page A Lie?

A student in her first year at a London university found a disparity* between the seemingly connected and fulfilling lives represented on Facebook and the reality.

""I thought that everyone on Facebook was having a better time than me," says Jemma. "A lot of people I knew had gone to universities in big cities, so my Facebook feed was constantly flooded with evidence of the great nightlife in these places. This upset me because I wasn't being tagged in pictures enjoying myself like they were."

"If you're having a bad day, the last thing you want to do is go on Facebook and see another happy couple or another fun party that you're not at," agrees Natasha."

Read the complete story here:



disparity (n.) - a gap; a difference

Do you think that the way people represent their lives online generally matches the reality?

Is a social medium like Facebook a good place to share your dissatisfaction or unhappiness in life?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

IELTS Reading - 10 Top Tips

IELTS Reading – 10 top tips IELTS Reading

Adapted from Dominic Cole's IELTS Blog http://www.dcielts.com/ielts-reading/10-top-tips/#ixzz1yjjMyv8Z

For many academic IELTS candidates reading is the hardest paper and the one which requires most training. Following are suggestions for different ways to make that training as efficient as possible. These pieces of advice are fairly general and are designed to help you think about the best way to train yourself in IELTS reading and how to avoid some common mistakes.

1. Beat the fear – read as much as possible

My first suggestion is to read as much as possible. By this I don’t mean do endless IELTS practice tests, I mean do as much general reading as possible. I suggest you focus on reading short articles on topics that interest you or on topics that are common in IELTS – newspapers and magazines are a great resource here.

One reason why this is such a good idea is that many candidates freeze in the reading believing it is too hard and so fail to get their band score. If, however, you read enough “native English” before the exam, you will become more and more confident in looking at texts where you don’t understand every word. Confidence is a very important concept in IELTS. Find something that interests you and read. That’s all.

2. Improve key skills – skimming and scanning and reading in detail

A major problem in the exam is the length of the texts and you will not have time to read them all carefully. You need to train your speed reading skills so that you can read as efficiently as possible. Two important skills are skimming which is reading quickly for general meaning and scanning which is looking for specific information.
You may sometimes see advice saying that you don’t need to read in detail. Incorrect. Bad advice. You shouldn’t read the whole text in detail but you will need to parts of the text in detail – if you want to get the right answer. Put simply, skimming and scanning are useful skills to help show you where the answer might be: reading in detail tells you what the answer is.

3. Time management – experiment to see what works

Because the texts are so long you need to have a definite strategy for how you manage your time in the exam to make sure you finish on time. This means deciding:
how long you look at the text before answering questions
how long you spend on each question
how long you spend on each group of questions
how long you spend on each text
do you leave time at the end to go back at look at unanswered questions?

There is a lot to consider here. You will find books and websites that insist you do it their way. They may claim to have a magic formula and that you must do this or you must do that. Ignore them. Their advice may be good for some people but not for you.
The key point here is that different learners have different styles and different needs. Much the best advice here is to experiment and try different approaches and see what works best for you.

4. Focus on the question – avoid careless errors

The texts in IELTS are typically quite hard, so candidates spend as much time as possible reading the texts. Mistake. Why? Well, a huge amount of mistakes are made by not focusing enough on the exact question. It can be easy if you are in a hurry to miss a word such as “always” or “often”: the problem is those sorts of words can change the meaning of questions.

There is an easy solution to this problem: it is to go back and look at the question before you write in the answer. Make sure that the question says what you think it says. You will normally save yourself 2/3 marks this way.

5. Learn the exam – know the different types of questions

There are 8/9 different types of reading question that examiners may use. Before the exam, you should make yourself familiar with each type of question as they are slightly different. Look at the different types of reading questions as a first step to see what the question types are. The next stage is to experiment and see what techniques you are going to use for each type of question.

This may mean that you approach different types of questions differently.

Details of question types here:


6. Train yourself, don’t test yourself

One common mistake candidates make is to practise exam questions too much. Exam practice is important to learn the timing (3 above) and learn the question types (5 above), but that does not mean that every time you practise reading you need to do it in exam conditions. My suggestion is that you do some “open book” tests where you can see the answers as you do the questions. This way you will learn how examiners set questions and how to find the answers. If you just test yourself, this may not happen.

7. Learn how to underline

This is a very specific piece of advice. You may believe it is wrong to write in books and generally I’d agree with you, but IELTS is different. A very strong suggestion is that you should underline words in the text in the exam. There are at least two reasons for this:
if you underline key words in the text, it can help you organise the text and this will save you time in the exam
if you find an answer, it is sensible to underline the part of the passage that relates to the question as a check (see 4 above) and to write the number of the question next to it in case you find a better answer later
How you do this will depend on you and your style. Some people underline different types of words in different ways. I’d only add that less is more: if you underline too much, it can become confusing.

8. Beware word matching – be careful with key words

One very common mistake is to match a word in the question with a word in the text and to think you have found your answer. It is almost never that simple and I am tempted to say that if the words do match, then that is not your answer. What you are normally looking for are either synonyms (words with a similar meaning) or paraphrases (short bits of text that say the same as the question.

Essay Basics

Essay Overview

1. Topic

Be sure to “answer the question”. Look carefully at the essay prompt. What are the key words? Which are the instruction words (e.g., “compare”, “discuss”, “give your opinion”). Underline or highlight these words.
Make sure your Thesis Statement, Topic Sentences, Supporting Sentences and Conclusion relate directly to the question. You must write on topic in every part of the essay. If any part of your essay is off topic, change or delete it!

2. Introduction

The first sentence of the introduction may be a “hook” which catches the reader’s attention.
The Introduction must include a Thesis Statement. The Thesis Statement gives your position (opinion or point of view) on the topic. It should be one sentence which gives an answer to the question you have been asked. Often, the Thesis Statement is the last sentence of the Introduction.
The Thesis Statement may include the topic of each body paragraph (e.g., “The internet can help students learn English in three main ways: X, Y and Z”, where X, Y and Z are the main ideas of the body paragraphs).
The other sentences of the Introduction lead the reader to the idea of your Thesis Statement. They may connect your “hook” to the Thesis Statement.

3. Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs will each have a Topic Sentence, which gives the main idea of the paragraph in one sentence, plus Evidence. Evidence is other sentences which support the Topic Sentences with examples, explanations and/or other details.

The last sentence of the body paragraphs may summarise the paragraph or lead into the next paragraph.

4. Conclusion:

In the Conclusion, the Thesis is restated. At this point, the reasons behind your Thesis should be clear to the reader. The Conclusion may summarise the main points of the essay.

Never introduce new ideas in the Conclusion. End strongly.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Achieve More Each Day By Following Your Body Clock

Are you aware of your body's changing levels of energy and alertness during the day?

Understanding the body's natural rhythms could help us schedule tasks at optimal times and use our time more efficiently.

Most of us do our best thinking work during the late morning, for instance, with our ability to concentrate declining during the afternoon. We also tend to feel sleepier after meals. The evening may be the best time for creative thinking.

Go to http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444180004578018294057070544.html to read more.


optimal (adj.) - best

to concentrate (on s'thg) (v.) - to focus (on s'thg)

Do you follow the same routine every day? Could you benefit by following your body clock more carefully?

Which are the best times of day for learning and for reviewing?

Are modern lifestyles responsible for people losing touch with natural rhythms?

Would Babies Speak with an Accent?

If babies could talk, would they speak with an accent?

Researchers have noted that infants are more responsive to the sounds of their native language than to the sounds of other languages, even before they can speak.

In a study of babies whose parents spoke different first languages, it was observed that "the infants were more responsive to the sounds of their own language than to the sounds of other foreign languages—even before they were able to speak themselves (...); babies as young as one year acquire the specific accented sounds of their parents and (that) the first year of listening makes a lasting impact on the way we speak for our entire lives."

Read more at http://hotword.dictionary.com/baby-accents/#FyeXxhozK8358i8q.99

Is it easy to "lose" an accent?

Do you think accents are irritating or interesting?

Which Video Games Are Better For Kids' Health?

New technologies, such as computers or video games, are often blamed for increasing rates of childhood obesity and associated illnesses. Time that used to be spent on active, outdoor activities may now be used for more sedentary pastimes.

However, some newer versions of video games may encourage children to be more physically active.

Read more here: http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/26/xbox-or-wii-a-scientific-argument-for-why-xbox-is-better-for-sedentary-kids/?


obesity (n.)- the condition of being obese (adj.), excessively overweight

sedentary (adj.)- seated, done while sitting

pastime (n.) - hobby

Can new technologies help children learn any useful skills?

Should the amount of time children spend with computers and electronic games be restricted by parents?

Wrong and Right Way to Learn Foreign Language: Reading Comprehension Exercise

Read the article below, answer the True/False questions and check your answers with the answer key.


The wrong and right way to learn a foreign language

By Stephen Krashen

This was written by linguist Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, who is an educational researcher and activist. He has written hundreds of articles and books in the fields of second language acquisition, bilingual education, and reading.


In a recent issue of the Washington Post Express, Andrew Eil, a staffer who works at the U.S. State Department on international climate change, recommends that foreign language students start with “boot camp:” Study grammar very hard, drill vocabulary every day, and force yourself to talk. This regimen, he claims, put him in a position to develop high levels of competence in several languages; he now speaks Russian and French fluently and can converse in Mandarin and Kazakh.
Most of us who have taken foreign languages classes that emphasize heavy grammar instruction and memorizing vocabulary would disagree with his recommendations, and so does the research.

The results of studies done over the last few decades by a wide variety of researchers and published in scientific journals support this view: We do not master languages by hard study and memorization, or by producing it. Rather, we acquire language when we understand what people tell us and what we read, when we get “comprehensible input.” As we get comprehensible input through listening and reading, we acquire (or “absorb”) the grammar and vocabulary of the second language.

Studies show repeatedly that intensive grammar study and memorizing vocabulary are of limited value: Students in classes that provide lots of comprehensible input (e.g. methods such as Total Physical Response Storytelling) consistently do better than students in traditional grammar-based classes on tests that involve real communication and do just as well, and often better, on grammar tests. These students have acquired the grammar and vocabulary of the language naturally, and can use what they have acquired in real communicative situations. They are also more likely to continue foreign language study.


The complexity of the grammatical system to be mastered makes it highly unlikely that it can be taught and learned: Linguists have not even described the grammatical system of any language completely and many rules are forbiddingly complex, with numerous exceptions.

Even very complex rules, however, can be acquired (or “absorbed”) through comprehensible input, especially through reading. Here is one of many examples from the research: In one study, English speakers who spoke Spanish as a second language were tested on their ability to use the Spanish subjunctive in conversation. The subjunctive is of interest as it is considered a difficult structure to master. Researchers considered a number of predictors of subjunctive proficiency: amount of formal study of Spanish, amount of formal study of the subjunctive, years of residence in a Spanish-speaking country, and the amount of reading done in Spanish. The only significant predictor was reading in Spanish.


There is a substantial research literature showing that vocabulary knowledge comes largely from comprehensible input, especially reading, in both first and second languages. Many second language speakers acquire enormous vocabularies, and it is highly doubtful that they did it through vocabulary study: In one study, it was reported that speakers of Spanish as a second language who were avid readers in Spanish had larger Spanish vocabularies than native speakers of Spanish who did not do a lot of reading.

Forced speech

Should language students force themselves to talk, as Eil advises? Research informs us that at beginning stages, highly successful second language acquirers often experience a substantial “silent period,” a time when they produce little or no language. The silent period is nearly universal for children acquiring a second language, and there are entire cultures in which second language acquirers are expected to experience a silent period. Also, successful comprehensible-input based methods do not force students to speak.

Forcing language students to speak before they are ready not only makes them extremely uncomfortable but does nothing for language acquisition. Speaking doesn’t cause language acquisition; rather, the ability to speak is the result of comprehensible input.

Comprehensible input at all stages

Andrew Eil has clearly done well in foreign language acquisition, and he acknowledges the value of the experiences he had during his residence in Russia, Kazakhstan, France and China over several years, from the reading he did, the movies he saw, the many conversations he had with others, and other kinds of “informal, friendly interaction.” In other words, he improved thanks to comprehensible input.
Current research strongly suggests that comprehensible input is the way we acquire language at all stages. The kind of “boot camp” Eil recommends is neither necessary nor desirable.



Comprehensible input: Krashen, S. 2003. Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use. Heinemann.
Effectiveness of comprehensible-input based instruction: Krashen, op. cit.; TPRS studies: Varguez, K. 2009. Traditional and TPR Storytelling instrution in beginning high school Spanish classroom. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 5 (1): 2-11; Watson, B. 2009. A comparison of TPRS and traditional foreign language instruction at the high school level. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 5 (1): 21-24.
Acquisition of Spanish subjunctive: Stokes, J., Krashen, S., and Kartchner, J. 1998. Factors in the acquisition of the present subjunctive in Spanish: The role of reading and study. ITL: Review of Applied Linguistics 121-122:19-25.
Highly successful second language acquirers often experience a substantial “silent period”; Krashen, S. 2000. What does it take to acquire language? ESL Magazine, 3(3), 22-23. (available at http:www. sdkrashen.com)
Cultures in which a silent period is expected: Sorenson, A. 1967. Multilingualism in the northwest Amazon. American Anthropologist, 69 (6), 670-684.
Avid readers of Spanish: Rodrigo, V. 2009. Vocabulary size and reading habit in native and non-native speakers of Spanish. Hispania, 92.3, 580-592.


1. Research supports the importance of heavy grammar instruction and memorizing vocabulary in learning a foreign language.

2. “Comprehensible input” is understandable language acquired by reading or listening.

3. According to the article, research shows that we acquire language when we understand what people tell us and what we read.

4. Students in classes that provide lots of comprehensible input do not perform as well on grammar tests as students who study in traditional grammar classes.

5. The only significant predictor of ability to use a grammar item (subjunctive) in conversation was reading in Spanish.

6. According to the article, the best way to learn vocabulary is memorization.

7. Beginner learners should force themselves to speak.

8. Learners’ ability to speak a foreign language is developed through listening and reading.

9. Andrew Eil agrees that his ability with foreign languages probably improved through reading, movies and conversations with others.

10. The kind of “boot camp” Eil recommends can be helpful to language learners.

Answers: 1. F 2.T 3.T 4.F 5.T 6.F 7.F 8.T 9. T 10.F

Total correct answers: /10

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tips for IELTS Test Takers from IELTS.org

Be certain to read the valuable tips on taking the IELTS test from the official IELTS website:


Which three tips do you think are most important?

It's difficult to choose just three, isn't it? All the advice is sound.

Read the list again to make sure you absorb everything!

Follow the Official IELTS Page (IDP Australia) on Facebook

If you're preparing for IELTS and you're a Facebook member, I recommend following the official IELTS page from IDP: IELTS Australia for great information and suggestions from an official source.

The page is at https://www.facebook.com/IELTSOfficial .

Be very wary of misinformation in whatever you may read or hear about IELTS if it does not come first hand from an official source!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Online Technologies Bring Change to Higher Education

The world of higher education is being rocked by free, online courses offered by prestigious universities such as Stanford in California, USA. Students around the world are now participating in classes taught by experts who lead their fields of study.

"Christos Porios is a 16-year-old high school student who lives in Alexandropoulos, Greece. He has never seen the Stanford campus: never gazed up Palm Drive on a September morning, walked around the Quad or pedaled across White Plaza. He has no real ties to the University. Yet he credits a Stanford course with changing his life."

Read more at http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=55991?src=longreads .


prestigious (adj.) - having high status or reputation, impressive

Would you consider taking one of these courses?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of online learning?

Are these free, online courses a positive development for higher education?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Inspirational Technology

There's no question that new technologies can transform lives.

Here's a truly inspiring example of an iPhone application a father, with the help of his students, developed in order to communicate with his disabled son:


Have you ever had the opportunity to help another person in a significant way?

Do you know of other cases in which technology has brought profound changes to a person's life?

Would you agree that sometimes "necessity is the mother of invention"?

"Best Internet Sites for Learning English"

Here's an excellent list of internet sites for learning English, compiled by Joe Lauer.

The list includes websites for listening, reading, speaking, writing, grammar, culture, making friends around the world and much more...

Hurry over to http://home.hiroshima-u.ac.jp/flare/EnglishStudySite.html and explore!

Learn Everyday English with Three-Minute Podcasts from BBC

Here's a fun resource from the BBC to help you learn more everyday English and slang.

The series is called "The English We Speak". "Every week, we look at a different everyday English phrase or piece of slang in this fun three-minute programme."

Check out the podcasts at http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/tae .


Saturday, 22 September 2012

Breakfasts Around The World

" “Bread, cereal and milk are the main components of the typical breakfast for most Australians” says a University of Wollongong study. “This American-style pattern developed in the second half of the 20th century; previous to that, the consumption of English-style cooked breakfasts was much more common,” the study notes."

Here's an interesting slideshow of breakfast rituals in cultures around the world:



ritual (n.)- an established procedure or pattern (often religious; a set of actions or behaviours repeated regularly and deliberately

What do you usually eat for breakfast?

Have you tried any typical breakfasts from other cultures?

Is breakfast an important meal? Why?

Friday, 21 September 2012

Study Finds That Giving Time Gives You Time

Einstein said,"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That's relativity."

Sometimes time seems to pass slowly; sometimes it seems to fly by quickly. Sometimes we feel we don't have the time we need to complete everything we must do while at other times we feel we have time "on our hands".

It may seem counter-intuitive but giving your time to others can make you feel you have more time -- in other words, giving time gives you time.

Perceptions of time were the subject of a new study which "gave people some time and had them either (Mogilner et al., 2012):

spend it on themselves,
waste it, or,
spend it on others, whether friends or strangers.

What they found was that people who spent the time on others felt afterwards that they had more time in both the present and the future, compared with those who spent it on themselves or wasted it."

Read more here:




counter-intuitive (adj.) - opposite or different to your intuition (expectation or feeling) but is true or real

to have time on your hands(idiom) - to feel you have too much time

to be "time rich" - to have plenty of time

to be "time poor" - to lack time


Do you usually feel you have too much time or too little time? Are you "money rich but time poor" or the opposite?

Were you surprised that helping others could make people feel they had more time?

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Do you have a fear of writing?

Is this you?

Write a little every day to overcome your "fear of writing".

Keeping a Journal (or Diary) in English is a great habit. Regular free writing helps you develop fluency. A Journal is a place where you can write about anything you like and is for you, only. In ten years time, you'll be fascinated to see what you wrote about, too!

Why not get yourself an attractive blank notebook and a fresh new pen and start your Journal today?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

New York bans large soda drinks

New York City is banning the sale of large "sodas"* and other sugar-filled drinks in a move to fight obesity and other diet-related health problems.

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/13/nycs-soda-ban-whats-allowed-whats-not/#ixzz26pKjX87u

Do you think it's a good idea to ban unhealthy foods and drinks? Or should people simply be offered information about the effects of harmful products and left to make their own decisions?

What are your thoughts on private versus public health care? Should people pay for their own health care or should governments (via taxpayers) take care of all health costs?


*Language note: In the US, the words "soda", "pop" or "coke" are commonly used. In other countries, such as Australia or the UK, you may hear "soft drinks","fizzy drinks" or "carbonated drinks". Most native English speakers should understand any of these words.

"Carbonated water is the defining ingredient of carbonated soft drinks. The process of dissolving carbon dioxide in water is called carbonation." (Wiki)

Also note that "soda water" is a different drink, containing no sugar."Carbonated water (also known as club soda, soda water, sparkling water, seltzer or fizzy water) is water into which carbon dioxide gas under pressure has been dissolved, a process that causes the water to become effervescent. " (Wiki)

Monday, 17 September 2012

Improve your English by reading Blogs

Blogs are a fabulous way to improve your English by learning about the world through the eyes and words of others. In blogs, you'll find authentic language as native speakers use it. This is one of the very best ways to absorb the appropriate use of idioms and less common items of vocabulary.

Here's a wonderful example of a blog entry about Uyghur bread making, complete with luscious photographs and recipes.


You can follow "networked blogs" for random samplings of bloggers worldwide, offering fascinating new perspectives on life.

Why you can't "pass IELTS"!

Why can't you "pass IELTS"? The reason is that IELTS is not a test you can "pass" or "fail"!

Your IELTS result indicates your language level.

As the official IELTS website states, "There is no pass or fail in IELTS. Candidates are graded on their performance, using scores from 1 to 9 for each part of the test – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The results from the four parts then produce an Overall Band Score."

For details of the 9 "bands", please see

So, you can't "pass IELTS" -- and you can't "fail," either!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Chinese Students Make More Use of Technology for Learning Than US Students

A survey by Dell has found that Chinese students make more comprehensive use of technology for learning than students in the USA.

Parents and teachers in China also seem more open to the use of technology for education.

Interestingly, "Chinese respondents were also more positive about using social media in the classroom, according to the survey. Sixty percent of U.S. respondents said they disapprove of the use of social media for learning (with teachers being slightly more negative) while 60 percent of Chinese respondents said they approve of it."

You can read the complete article at: http://gigaom.com/2012/09/14/survey-chinese-students-use-tech-for-learning-more-than-their-u-s-counterparts/

What are your views on the use of technology, including social media, for learning?

In particular, do you believe that technology can be helpful in learning a language?

Do your opinions differ from those of your teachers and parents?

Aussie Police Use Social Media to Engage with Community

Police in the Australian state of New South Wales have been recognised as world leaders in the use of social media.

These police have been making use of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share information and communicate with the community.

NSW Police says their Facebook pages have attracted over 171,000 followers and reach a potential audience of more than 33 million.

Read more here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-16/nsw-police-world-leaders-in-social-media-use/4263836?

Do you agree that this is a productive use of social media platforms?

Do you know of any other creative uses of social media? Can you suggest some?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Learning a Musical Instrument Sharpens The Mind

Recent research suggests that learning a musical instrument as a child has lifelong benefits for the brain.

For more information, check out the entry on the New York Times blog at


which states, "... scientists are puzzling out the connections between musical training in childhood and language-based learning — for instance, reading ... “To learn to read, you need to have good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound-to-meaning connections,” said Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. “Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with active engagement in playing a musical instrument.” ".

Did you learn a musical instrument as a child? Do you believe learning to play and appreciate music is important?

Revival of "big bowl" tea tradition in Jinan, China

Jinan, China, is seeing a resurgence of popularity in "big bowl" tea, an inexpensive and traditional way to refresh with healthful tea made from local spring water.

Read more here:


Are any traditional practices or products being revived for locals or tourists where you live?

Smiling Can Lift Your Mood

Go to http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1871687,00.html to learn how smiling can lift your spirits.

Then conduct a little of your own research if you're still not convinced that the act of smiling can change your mood :).

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Read about Eco-Friendly Food Shopping

Concerned about how the way your food shopping affects the environment?

Check this link to learn 5 habits for eco-friendly food shopping:


Do you already practise some of these eco-friendly shopping habits? Are there still a few changes you could make?

Cat Massage

It's Caturday again!

Check this very clever, fun link: http://www.zurmat.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/cat-massaging-lady-2.gif

Do you have a pet? Why are pets important to us?

How about a trip to the moon for your next holiday?

A trip to space on your vacation may be possible much sooner than you think!

“There’s no question, in the next couple of years there’s going to be commercial space tourism,” said Roger D. Launius, senior curator of space history at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution. “That’s clearly going to happen.”

Read more about these exciting developments in this article from the New York Times:


So, would you go if you could afford it? Or would it be a waste of money which could be better spent elsewhere?

Friday, 7 September 2012

Following the News ~ A Reminder

Language experts say that reading is the best way to improve your English language skills. Most people can find at least one or two interesting articles to read in the daily news.

It's also very useful to be up to date with current issues for the IELTS Speaking and Writing tests, where you'll need to write about or discuss a range of topics and concepts, and illustrate your points with examples.

Here's a starter list for some good quality online newspapers:









Enjoy your reading!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Party Time

Ready for a "False Front Party" (Halloween Masquerade), Hangzhou, China, with Picasso the calico (2005).

Can you be a good distance learner?

Learning online is not always easy. It takes discipline and commitment.

Here's a link to a great article on six qualities of highly successful online learners:


Can you say you have all of these qualities?

Families held together by love and Skype

Do you ever stop to think how life was for separated family members in the days before technologies such as Skype enabled free long distance phone calls?

Please click the link to see some fascinating portraits of families "held together by love and Skype". Photographer John Clang captured these "strange moments of togetherness".


Do you think virtual communication contains an ambiguity; a sense of being here but not here?

How do older members of your family feel about technologies like Skype?

Can families remain intact despite the pressures of modern living?

How the atmosphere affects the way people eat

A study has found that people consumed 18 percent fewer calories when the music and lighting in a restaurant was softer.

"When we softened the lights and softened the music in the restaurant it didn't change what people ordered, but what it did do was lead them to eat less and made them more satisfied and happier,"

The study has implications not only for restaurants but for everyone who wishes to eat more healthfully.

"If softer music and softer lighting seem to get people to eat less in a fast food situation, why not try the same thing at home?" said psychologist Wansink.

Read the whole article here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/31/uk-restaurants-atmosphere-idUSLNE87U00Q20120831

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Official IDP Australia IELTS Facebook Page

IDP Australia's official Facebook page, with information and tips,is at https://www.facebook.com/ieltsessentials.

Check it out now!

Free online education

Getting into debt to study at university is becoming less and less necessary as free, high quality online courses from Universities such as Yale, Harvard, MIT and many more become available.

Below is a link to a list of 144 such free courses in areas ranging from computers and engineering to law and English language.

Thank you once again, internet!

"All education is self-education. Period. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in a college classroom or a coffee shop. We don’t learn anything we don’t want to learn.

Those people who take the time and initiative to pursue knowledge on their own are the only ones who earn a real education in this world. Take a look at any widely acclaimed scholar, entrepreneur or historical figure you can think of. Formal education or not, you’ll find that he or she is a product of continuous self-education.

If you’re interested in learning something new, this article is for you. Broken down by subject and/or category, here are several top-notch self-education resources I have bookmarked online over the past few years."

For the list, go to http://www.marcandangel.com/2010/11/15/12-dozen-places-to-self-educate-yourself-online/

(*"A dozen" means twelve. We usually buy eggs by the dozen or half dozen).

Friday, 31 August 2012

Take breaks to help your mind process information effectively

Do you have difficulty learning and reviewing new vocabulary? Are you looking for ways to improve your memory? Research shows that REST is key to memory. "Psychologists have found that brief resting periods after learning aids memory. In studies, when people take a little rest after learning, say, a string of numbers, they do better in recall than other people who've been given another task straight away. It is thought that this little rest helps consolidate the memory, making it easier to retrieve. On the other hand if you go straight on to another task, the memory doesn't have a chance to solidify." After a period of reading or learning, it's important to take a short break of five to ten minutes before moving to the next challenge. Relax and switch off for a while. In fact, during this period, your brain will be very busy sorting and storing data. The complete article is at: http://www.spring.org.uk/2012/08/memory-enhanced-by-a-simple-break-after-reading.php?

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Environment, Australia -- Listen and read

Many of my "best" students improve their English almost without trying. It's because they have many interests outside language - in technology, sport, fashion, music, world issues and more - which they follow online in English.

As these students follow their interests, their thinking broadens and deepens, their circle of English-speaking friends widens, and their language skills develop, too.

Here's a link to an interesting story one student sent to me:


It's about the use of an insect to control a destructive, introduced plant species in Australia.

You can listen, then read, listen and read again -- or find whatever combination works best for you!

Tips for IELTS Speaking Test

Tips for IELTS Speaking Test

Tip 1 In Part 1, the questions will mostly be about familiar topics: personal information and daily life. Take the opportunity to relax, adjust to the examiner and answer the questions as naturally as possible.

Tip 2 Candidates shouldn’t just provide one-word answers in Part 1, but it isn't necessary to stretch one question out for minutes either! The answer to 'Do you have any brothers or sisters?’ should not be as short as 'Yes', nor as long as 'My eldest sister is 5 foot 2 inches tall and her birthday is 7 weeks after mine. I last saw her at New Year, together with my younger sister, who has long dark hair and blue eyes and who works a nurse, and my brother, who is an excellent soccer player and who... (etc.)!'. Again, be natural. Neither of those responses would feel right in an interview or other semi-formal exchange, would they? For different questions, slightly longer or shorter answers will be appropriate. Part 1 takes 4 to 5 minutes in total.

Tip 3 Avoid giving "rehearsed" answers. Examiners can recognise these very easily. Prepare and practise for the Speaking test but do not over-prepare.

Tip 4 Focus on meaningful interaction rather than the display of language. Remember to make eye contact and use your face and body language to help communication.

Tip 5 Practise with a friend and record your speaking on a cassette. This will help you to find your weak points and improve. Listen for bad speaking habits such as repeating words or sounds when you are thinking, overuse of certain words (like "so" or "for example") and basic grammar errors. Your friend can also tell you about nervous habits, poor body language and whether you are speaking loudly enough.

Tip 6 You should practise speaking English every day. Talk to yourself if nobody else is available. Practice both the test format and everyday speaking.

Tip 7 Listen to the news and read magazines and newspapers in English as much as possible. This will help not only your language but also give you ideas of what to talk about.

Useful websites:

http://www.ielts.org/   (You can also order practice materials from this website.)

Be in the present!