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 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."


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:


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.
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

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 .

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 .


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 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 .


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:

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:

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:

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,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:

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:

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Official IDP Australia IELTS Facebook Page

IDP Australia's official Facebook page, with information and tips,is at

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

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