Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Christmas Post

Merry Christmas!  I'm off for a couple of weeks, but will be back blogging again in January.  For now, enjoy your holiday (if you have one), and enjoy this video of a rabbit opening a Christmas present:

See you in the new year!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Little differences that make a big difference

Sometimes in English it's possible to say a sentence that is perfectly correct in terms of grammar, but doesn't mean quite what you intended.  So, why not try this quiz - it could save you some misunderstandings in future!

A quick language quiz (with answers):

1) You walk up to someone and say 'What's the problem?'  What are they likely to do in response?

2) You walk up to someone and say 'What's your problem?'  What are they likely to do in response?

3) You're talking about your job, and you say 'I work like an accountant'.  Are you a qualified accountant?

4) You're talking about your job, and you say 'I work as an accountant'.  Are you a qualified accountant?

5) Your friend says she's going on holiday for three days.  When does she leave?

6) Your friend says she's going on holiday in three days.  When does she leave?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Is that priceless or worthless? Confusing words part 2

Two pictures of priceless objects, and two of worthless objects - but which is which?  This is one of those cases where the English language can seem totally illogical.  You would expect priceless and worthless to be synonyms, but in fact they're opposites.

Here's why:

The suffix -less means not having ______

  • A useless thing is something that doesn't have a use.
  • A homeless person is someone who doesn't have a home.
  • Something worthless does not have worth - in more natural English, it isn't worth anything.

So in our picture, the bags of rubbish, the broken umbrella, and the dead fish are all worthless.

Something that is worth a lot of money is very valuable, so you would expect to pay a high price for it.  But for something completely unique, like the vases in the top-left picture, or the helmet in the bottom-right, are even more valuable than that.  In fact, they are priceless - they are so valuable that they do not have a price.  A synonym for priceless is invaluable, which means that something isn't possible to value, or decide the price of in money.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Improving your Reading skills in English

A lot of students ask me how they can improve their reading skills.  They typically say that they read a lot, but it's very slow, and they just don't seem to get better at it.  Most of these students always read in the same way in English - slowly, and with a dictionary in the other hand for the words they don't know.  This is actually quite bad for your reading skills, but more on that later...

What I tell these students is that they need to practise reading in different ways, to get better at different reading skills.  In particular, they need to practise Fast Reading and Slow Reading techniques.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Memory is the most important... err...

Is it important to have a good memory to learn another language well?  Hopefully the answer is obvious, since learning a language involves learning:

  • vocabulary - individual words like cat, library or superstitious;
  • word patterns - regular verbs like stop / stopped, irregular ones like throw / threw / thrown, and word families like confide / confidence / confident / overconfident and so on;
  • grammar rules - like using the past simple and would + the infinitive when you make a second conditional;
  • pronunciation - the 's' in island is silent, and the 'ed' in stopped sounds like 't';
  • intonation patterns - how to sound interested, or bored, or confident, or like you're asking a question;
  • 'chunks' of language that can be used automatically in relevant situations - like 'You're welcome' or 'Can I take a message?'
  • and so on.

  • But how good is your memory, actually, and how can you make it better?  Like anything else, memory skills will improve with practice, so here are some tips and techniques for memory practice that are sure to have an impact.

    Wednesday, 10 October 2012

    IELTS Ahead? Read these tips first!

    Preparing for an exam that is important for your future is not something that many people enjoy, and IELTS is no exception.  Just a few short papers can determine whether you get a job, university place or visa, so the pressure is on!  Fortunately there's lots of good advice out there about preparing for specific parts of the IELTS test, along with practice questions, model answers and video material for the speaking test.

    This post is not more of the same.  Instead here are four tips of a slightly different kind, which are mostly related to you and your motivation:

    Thursday, 27 September 2012

    Confusing words: fun / funny, typical / traditional

    Learning a language can be like climbing a mountain sometimes.  At the base, all you can see is the first bit of the path, so you start out confidently.  After a struggle, you get to the top of a steep climb, and suddenly the mountain looks bigger.  You climb and climb again, and all you can see is more of the mountain.  Is there even a top?  The higher you go, the more the mountain seems to grow, as you start to understand more and more of the size and complexity of the language.

    And let's face it, the English language can be pretty confusing at times.  There are vast numbers of words that are synonyms, or near synonyms, or sometimes synonyms and sometimes not.  So what's a student to do?

    Friday, 14 September 2012

    Getting More out of Google

    If you’re reading this, it’s very likely that you use the Internet to help you study English.  But are you making the best use of it?  How do you find sites that provide good quality information?

    Whether you’re a digital native or a technophobe, you probably use Google most times that you go online.  For some of you, that will be several times a day, especially if you are a smartphone user.

    Here are some tips for getting more out of your Google searches as a language learner: