Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spending Time with Family

Hi everyone,

At the moment, I'm spending time in warm weather in Arizona with my family, parents, and my brother's family. We did this last year, and we just enjoy relaxing, doing some sightseeing, and catching up on family happenings. We also want our own kids to get to know their grandparents better and develop stronger family ties. By doing so, they can understand my own upbringing and we often laugh about old stories.

So, what do you do with your family to strengthen family relationships?



Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Listen to this recording and write your response about it. Thanks.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Travel: A Tough Decision

Listen to the recording and share your ideas on the topic.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Experiences at School - Listen and Share

Listen to the topic and questions, and write your answer and opinions here.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Year-end Holidays: What do you celebrate?

For many people around the world, Christmas is a very important year-end holiday. However, there are many other holidays celebrated at this time too. Please share any specific cultural and religious festivities or days that are important to you or others in your area.

Here is a listening Activity on my Website about Christmas:

Christmas is Coming!

Holiday Traditions



Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cell Phones: Should they be allowed at schools?

More and more people are carrying cell phones and considered them as a need, not just a want. (Of course, people my age never had cell phones, and we survived.) However, should schools (let's say elementary, junior high, and high schools) allow students to carry around and use cell phones during school hours? What potential problems are there? And the benefits? Share your ideas.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Happiness: What does it mean to you?

The word, happiness, often means different things to different people. Therefore, finish this sentence with the first idea that comes to your mind:
  • I feel happy when ________________.
Personally, I feel happy when:
  1. I return home in the evening and my wife greets me with a smile.
  2. my kids don't complain about the vegetables we have for dinner.
  3. students do their assignments on time without giving excuses for not doing it.
  4. I have the chance to run in the mountains to burn off stress.
  5. I can do something for someone else.
Please share your ideas on this topic.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Gifts: What would you give?

So often, our focus on Christmas or the holiday season is about what gifts we hope to receive from others; however, if you could give one gift to someone, to whom would you give and what would the gift be? Personally, I'd like to give my family more time together. You really can't buy that, but it is more valuable than other things you can buy. Now, share you feelings on this topic.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day in the US

Thanksgiving Day in the US is the day when many people give thanks for the many things they have. It's historical origin dates back to when some of first settlers came to Massachusetts and survived the first difficult winter with the help of the Native Americans in the area. In my particular family, we usually get together and each the usual, traditional meal of turkey, potatoes, beans, pumpkin pie, salad, and whatever people bring over.

So, do you have a day of thanks in your country? If so, share information about this day with us.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Apartment Living: Alone or with a Roommate?

Imagine that you are studying English in a foreign country. Would you prefer to live by yourself in an apartment or with a roommate? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? What have been your experiences in living with roommate? Share your ideas.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What is a successful language learner?

Although many international students come to the US to learn English and pursue university degrees, the reality is, from my experience, that not all have the academic skills to succeed in the timeline that they choose. In other words, some students think that they can come to the US at a beginning level, and within 6 months, be ready to enter AND succeed in college. Now, there is a big difference between everyday language skills (meeting people, ordering at a restaurant, talking about hobbies, etc.) and participating in debate and classroom discussions on academic topics (politics, economics, social issues, etc.).

So, what do you think are the keys to preparing for a university degree in another country? Are there born learners who naturally can learn languages while others might struggle? Share your ideas.


US Elections: Obama wins

The US elections concluded last night, with Barak Obama winning. So, do you think a new US president will have a positive impact on the world economies and peace? Why or why not?


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Raising Children: What's the secret?

Raising healthy and emotionally-sound children isn't as easy as you might think, and most young couples have really no idea of what they are getting into when they first get married. In fact, while babies and young children require time, older children in their teenage years and even into adulthood need just as much, and sometimes more, time and understanding.

Therefore, what do you think are the keys to raising children in our day and age? What did your parents do to raise you that worked or didn't work? Share your ideas. You can also listen of an activity on my Website on this topic at:


Monday, October 13, 2008

About English Teachers: If you could change one thing . . .

This topic is specifically for English students. If you could change one thing about your English teacher (teaching style, classroom management, interaction with students, grading system), what would it be and why? W hat is your image of the perfect or ideal teacher? Tell us about one teacher you have had that influenced you most.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Home Security: How do you protect yourself?

Crime, particularly robbery and burglary, can be found in most places around the world, and learning to deal with it----including protecting yourself----is an important concern. Furthermore, as you travel to new places, you need to take precautions to minimize your risk of theft. Here is my newest listening activity on the topic at my site,
Although the conversation is somewhat humorous, the topic of crime and theft can never be taken lightly. So, let's suppose you have an international friend that has just moved into your area. What advice can you give the person to protect himself/herself from theft?


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Time Machine: Where would you go?

If you had a machine that could take you back to one specific point in the past, where would you want to go and why? Personally, this would be a difficult decision to make, but one point in time I would like to visit is a place called Grand Gulch in Utah, USA. This is the location of many old indian ruins abandoned hundreds of years ago. Because I like hiking and old civilizations, I would be interested to go back and time and learn about these times and people directly from them. What did they eat? How did they live day to day? Why did they leave the area? You can learn more by visiting this link: Grand Gulch at

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Plagiarism: How big of an issue/problem is it?

Plagiarism, or copying exact words or concepts of others without giving credit, has become an important issue throughout the world, and in particular, the United States where many international students have attending school. In working with such students for many years, many struggle with the language and either copy material from the Internet because(1) they believe they can't write effectively on their own, (2) don't understand the issues and concept of plagiarism, and/or (3) don't see anything wrong with it because so many people do it anyway.

But, of course, this isn't just an international student issue as well; native English speakers engage in the practice. So, my question is on how we can best train and educate students to better do research and improve their writing skills so they can avoid the problem of plagiarism and the potential penalties of engaging in such a practice. Please share your ideas and experiences.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Daily ESL: Learning English for Everyday Use

Students often complain that the English they're learning in their classrooms has little value outside in the real world . . . at least for everyday use. In other words, although some textbooks have topics on undersea creatures in the Arctic region or the life of a rare butterfly in the rain forest, students rarely feel that this information is useful to them to order a burger at a restaurant or meet new people ("So, nice party, isn't it? How about talking about the life of the Wawu Butterfly in the rain forest?") Now, honestly speaking, all topics have value, and I'm not saying that ecology isn't valuable to all of us. I'm just saying that students often want language that is very practical . . . the kind that can be quickly used once you step off the airplane in New York City.

For these reasons, I created my site, Daily ESL ( to help students learn common expressions, dialogues, and vocabulary for everyday use. Give this site a try. Here is one example:

I'm still developing the site, but this page should give you an idea on the types of activities and lessons I'm working on. There is a listening activity, discussion questions, a vocabulary quiz, and even an Internet Exercise.



Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Volunteer Work and Service: How common is it?

Most of our lives are spent taking care of our own needs, but I once read the following quote, often attributed to Winston Churchill:

"You make a living by what you earn;
you make a life by what you give."

What do this mean to you and have you done anything in your life for others that made their lives better? I'm speaking specifically things done for other people outside of your family or immediate relationships (wife, husband, partner, girlfriend, etc.). I remember years ago one of my sons picked apples off his grandfather's apple trees (with his grandfather's permission, of course), sold the apples to neighbors, and then gave all of the money he earned to our church to help the poor in our area. I think he remembers that experience, and it also affected those who perhaps didn't really need all of the apples they bought, but they saw that his efforts might help other people.

So, what things have you personally done or have seen done in your area to help others? Is this type of volunteer work common? Please share your ideas.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Senior Citizens: Who should care for them?

In many parts of the world, the number of older citizens is slowing growing to the point someday in which the elderly will out number younger citizens. However, in your country, what are common ways in which family take care of their older members? Do families care for each other in their old age, or do the elderly prefer to live on their own? Are these attitudes changing over time? Please share your ideas.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Important People in Your Life

As a father of four children (ranging from 11 years old and up to adulthood), I sometimes sit down to the dinner table to hear kids complaining about the dinner meal. "Ah, are we having this again?!" "Ah, I didn't want this!" Fortunately, this doesn't happen too often, and my kids are generally appreciative of my wife's cooking (which is EXCELLENT), and I have loosely calculated that she has probably made about 15,000 meals for the family over the years. That's a lot! I often tell my kids that my years growing up were happy, but my parents' dinner menu consisted a few basic meals, including spam, frozen fried chicken, and some of my mom's good Mexican cooking. I was grateful for what they did for me.

Now, the person that is most important in my life is my wife of 21 years. I told my kids that when two people are considering marriage, they really have no idea the amount of work that it takes to build a happy marriage, particularly when it takes a lot of work, patience, selflessness, and service. Romantic love only will take you so far. Deep commitment in the face of challenges is what can carry you through some dark hours in your life.

So, who is the most important person in your life? Please tell us about this person and describe how he/she/they have influenced your life.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Presidential Candidates: Should people with young families run for office?

Recently, a great deal of talk in the United States is on the running of Alaskan Governor Sara Palin who has a young family, including a baby son who has a medical condition called Down Syndrome. The same could be true to Barak Obama, another leading candidate for president of the United States, who has two young daughters. My question is whether people (men or women) who have young families run for political office, especially at a national level, where they might have limited time to see and raise their own families. What do you think? Can people really balance time between family and career in this kind of work? If so, how? Please share your ideas on this topic.


Monday, September 1, 2008

New Listening Activities

Many of you might already be aware of my listening Website, Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab (, but you might not know about my newest short listening activities. These are designed to help low to intermediate ESL/EFL students with short listening pratice, and they also encourage students to talk about the topics. Here are some of my newest listening activities, and you can find more on my main page under Basic Listening:

Shopping Center:


ESL Programs:

Let me know what you think about them.



Thursday, August 28, 2008

Learning Vocabulary

I currently am teaching high-level grammar classes in the program where I work, and the one thing I notice most is that students lack so much vocabulary that they end up using high-level gramamar structures with only beginning-level vocabulary. In other words, they can order a hamburger from McDonalds just fine, but they can hold a conversation on basic environmental issues like recycling. Again, this is supposed to be a high-level class.

Two reasons (of several) that lead to this problem are that (1) students spend most of their day engaging in everyday conversation topics or activities like shopping, ordering at a restaurant, or riding a bus (They don't has their roommates about socio-political events over breakfast, which might not be natural anyway), and (2) students tend to learn a word here and there with no real vocabulary study method in mind.

For my students, I try to help them learn words basic on topic----words that are directly related to a common theme and that can be easily used with the grammar structures we are learning in class. So, if we are learning about adjective clauses (e.g., "I like people who are . . . ."), I would teach them positive and negative personality traits that could be used with the structure (here's a very short list):

  • outgoing
  • generous
  • dependable
  • hardworking
  • dedicated
  • motivated
  • enthusiastic
  • self-centered
  • selfish
  • agressive
  • rude
  • overbearing
  • unconventional
  • shy
  • serious

As students have learned vocabulary in such a way, they seem to be able to express clearly their ideas at a higher, more fluent, level.

So, do you have other ideas for building vocabulary?


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Family Activities: What do you enjoy doing together?

It is often said that family is at the center of social activity. However, each family is different, and many families struggle to have good relationships. So, describe your family and tell us what are some of the things you do to improve relations between your siblings (brothers and sisters) and your parents.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Learning ESL: Tips for Students

One recent visitor ask me about my teaching style and philosophy on language learning, and I wanted to share my own personal views on the subject. I always discuss these points with my students right from the beginning of class to give them some perspective on learning:

1. Just because you live in a country where English is the main language does not mean you will learn it. In other words, some parents believe that if they send their children to the US, the students will somehow automatically learn the language. Unfortunately, I have many students who come to class, but then spend their time in their apartments after class, by themselves or with students from their country, and they never get out into the community to use English. And when I say "use" English, just going to McDonalds and buying a cheeseburger everyday doesn't count. Some of my students who made the best progress volunteered in the community, go a job on campus, and took community classes to really use their English beyond the classroom.

2. Learning English takes time, and you will have good days and bad days. Some students become frustrated when they don't learn as quickly as they expect. Students learn differently, and not giving up is key.

3. Learn how to study. Hours spent in the library without a clear understanding of study skills won't help much. I always try to teach my students HOW to learn, including tips on how to best learn vocabulary and other skills. Without this knowledge, students tend to waste time not realizing that they might be more effective ways of learning than they are currently using.

So, do you have any comments or experiences that have helped you learn? If so, please share them.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Beijing 2008 Olympics: What's your favorite event?

The olympics showcase some of the best athletes in the world, and the events are often exciting to watch. So, which is your favorite event and why? Personally, although I don't swim much myself, I enjoy the swimming events because you can win or lose within a fraction of a second. There is a lot of variety in the types of strokes and events. Please share your ideas.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Keeping Love Alive: What are the keys?

Having been married for over 20 years, students often ask me about marriage, and I hear them talking about love and dating. Sometimes, they wonder why people seem to "fall out of love." I mean, no one begins a marital relationship, let's say, with the expectation that they will have problems with the relationship at some point. Now, I'm not saying that there are all kinds of challenges that we face in marriage: health issues, financial problems, challenges in raising children. I have experienced my own share along the way. However, what do you think are the keys to relationships that work and those that don't? Are there differences from one culture to another? What can people do before they get married to prepare for a long-term commitment?

Please share your ideas on this topic.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bryce Canyon National Park - The Half Marathon

Please listen to the recording below and share your own thoughts on the topic. Then, take a look at this report of my experiences.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cascade Mountain - Provo, Utah

Have you ever done a hike that takes you to high places? Recently, a friend and I climbed to the top of a mountain called Cascade Mountain in Utah, and the hike is difficult because there is no trail. It took us 12 hours to go up and down back to the car, and the hike is hard on your body.

You can read a complete description of my hike, plus watch a video, at:


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

School Uniforms: A good idea?

Many schools around the world require students to wear uniforms; however, there different opinions on the benefits they have for both students, parents, and schools. What do you think? Is it a good idea to require uniforms, or should students and parents be able to decide what children wear? Why or why not? Share your ideas.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wahsatch Steeplechase: One of my Greatest Physical Challenges

Everyone---sooner or later---will face great emotional, physical, spiritual, or financial challenges of their lives. As part of life, we can escape this. However, there are times when we purposely take on challenges to test ourselves---to see how much we can do.

Recently, I participated in a physical challenge called the Wahsatch Steeplechase in Salt Lake City: a 27 kilometer trail race that goes up one side of a mountain and then goes down the other (here is a picture of me with only 12 kilometers to go). And you have to finish it in under six hours. The trail is hard, there are places where you have to climb over rocks, and there are times you have to run through deep brush---but it's "fun." The reason why I like trail runs is that it challenges you physically and mentally. You can read my complete report of the race at:

However, not everyone's challenges are the same. For some elite runners, the race I was in would be like a short jog in the park; for others, it would be beyond their current abilities. However, everyone has some challenges: they might even by physical disabilities that affect our ability to do simple things others take for granted.

So, what about you? What are some of the challenges you have faced in your life? What did these experiences teach you?


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Super Powers: What if . . .?

If you had any super power (e.g., fly, lift heavy objects, etc), what would it be and why? Personally, I would like to run a little faster than I already do. I enjoy running in marathons or other similar races that are away from the city, but I wouldn't mind going a little faster, not because I can win a race, but because I would have more time to enjoy the scenery around me and take pictures. I could run for a while, stop, rest, and take some pictures and still be able to finish in time. You can see my recent run in the Wahsatch Steeplechase HERE.

So, what about you? What power would you enjoy having?


Monday, June 23, 2008

Divorce and Failed Relationships: What are the causes?

When people start a relationship, particularly in marriage, most aren't thinking that divorce is inevitable or likely. ("It happens to other people, but not us. Right, honey?") People are happy and excited about the future. However, all too often, relationships end, and this is often a traumatic or emotionally difficult time. So, what are possible causes for troubled relationships? What can people do to improve relationships before problems occur?


Friday, June 20, 2008

Raising Teenagers: How much freedom should they have?

Being a teenager and being a parent of one present some unique growing challenges from an emotional, financial, and educational standpoint. For the teenager, is a new time in their lives when they are seeking for self-identify; for the parent, it can be a difficult time as teenagers exert their independence and no longer want to be managed by parents.

So, in light of this, how much freedom should teenagers have their own lives to make their own choices (and accept the consequences for their actions)? What was it like as a teenager growing up in your family? How can parents and children develop a positive relationship during this time?

Please share your ideas.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rising Gas Prices: How do you deal with them?

The price of gas in many parts of the world is continuing to rise, and as a result, is affecting life for many individuals and businesses. Now, there might be a number of things that countries can deal with the issue include encouraging individuals to conserve, increase production, and developing refining infrastructure, but my question is this:

What can individuals (you and me) to lessen the impact on our lives, increase gas mileage of our vehicles, and conserve more energy? Please share your ideas.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Travel and Sightseeing: Going alone or with a friend?

If you had the opportunity to travel overseas for a month, would you rather go alone or travel with someone else (a family member or a friend)? Share your reasons. Also, talk about the place you would want to visit.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

English Proverbs: How do they relate to you?

Many language has certain sayings or proverbs that teach some moral lesson about like, and English is no exception. Choose one of the following proverbs, share your ideas on what it means, and then tell us how it relates to your own life:

  • Charity begins at home.
  • Don't bite off more than you can chew.
  • The best things in life are free.
  • The more you know, the more you know you don't know.
  • Walk the walk and talk the talk.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Teacher Features at Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab

Over the years, many visitors (teachers and students) have used my main Website,, to either teacher or learn English as a second or foreign language. Now, I'd like to feature teachers and how they have used the listening materials to help students improve their language skills. Please visit this page for more information:

It is also interesting that many visitors ARE native speakers, but they might have hearing impairments and benefit from the listening content in interpreting meaning from the sounds they hear. I never thought about this use when I first started my site back in 1998.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Good Manners: Understanding the Cultural Puzzle

When you visit a new area or country, you really need to learn the rules of good etiquette or manners so you don't offend other people. However, what are some basic manners that you feel people should know and how are these manners changing? For example, when I was growing up over 30 years ago in the US, men would always give up their seats to a woman on a bus. It was just considered polite. However, this is changing. In fact, at this very moment, I am writing this message on a city bus as I travel to work today, and the bus in packed with people. Yet, there are some women standing while other men are sitting. In other words, men don't give up their seats as often these days. Perhaps this is due in part to fact that the movement of feminist equality makes men wonder if women really want to be treated differently.

So, what about your area, culture, or country? What are some general rules of etiquette I should know and have these rules changed over time?


Monday, June 2, 2008

Basic ESL Listening Activities

Many learners have used my main Website,, but other students are looking for easier listening activities for low-level students. Well, the good news is that I am adding such activities to my site now, and you can see these in the middle of my main page and are called Basic Listening Quizzes. Give these a try. The can help you improve your basic listening skills. Here are direct links to some of them:

Introductions and Small Talk -

Shopping and Prices -

Family -

Directions Around Town -

Bus Travel -

Let me know what you think.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

World Food Crisis: How are rising prices affecting you?

Food prices around the world are slowing increasing, and this has been hard of people in different countries, particularly where governments don't produce enough food and have to import food to feed their people. So, how have prices affected you or people in your own country? What do you think are the causes and solutions?

Take a look at at some articles about the topic HERE.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day: Do you have a similar holiday?

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, which is held on the last Monday of May. It is the day when people remember those who have died in military service, but we also remember family members who have died. Many people take flowers to the cemeteries, and cities often hold parades or other memorial ceremonies. In addition, it is often considered the beginning of summer because many schools end around this time of year, and people have barbecues, go camping, or do other outdoor activities.

So, do you have a similar holiday in your country? If so, what do you do on this day? What is the meaning of this day to you? Share your ideas.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Oil Reserves: When will they run out?

It is well known that there is only a limited amount of oil in the world today---oil that affects all aspects of our lives because it is used not only as a fuel but in some many products we buy everyday. The unknown factor is when all of this oil will run out. So, what do you think will happen in the world as we run out of oil? How will this situation affect our daily lives and our relationships with other countries?

Please share your ideas.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab - Press Release

I just wanted to let you know about a press release about my site that might help you understand the background of my main listening Website:

Please share your experiences if you have used the site and, if so, how it has helped you learn English.



Monday, May 19, 2008

Conversational Starters: Which seems the most natural to you?

Although many ESL/EFL textbooks teach students basic ways to ask questions and start conversations, the real question is which question is the most appropriate under different situations. I believe that this where more focus should be placed because students ask inappropriate or strange questions because they don't understand under what context things should be said.

In this poll, I asked visitors what they felt was the best question to ask in this situation, and I feel the results show that students lack sociolinguistic awareness as I mentioned above.

For example, asking a complete stranger his or her name just doesn't make sense and the native speaker might be very surprised at the random question. I mean, native speakers don't ask this question unless a name is really needed. I most cases native speakers, in this case on an airplane, might talk about a variety of random things like the food or the person's travel destination for hours without ever asking the person's name because it isn't really needed.

So, what do you think about this topic and the other responses to the survey? Share your ideas.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

School Truancy: How to get students to attend school

From time to time, children and teenagers don't want to go to school, but certain laws might require parents to send their children to school. In the US, such laws exist, and parents can be held responsible if they don't do this, or they need to provide equivalent instruction at home. So, what can parents do when their children don't want to go? Do parents let children stay home, call the police to get help in taking their children to school, or find another means of motivating children to go to school?

Share your ideas on the topic, including what laws have been passed on the requirements for children attending school in your country.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Love: Do people show it the same way?

Although love is probably considered important for most people, the ways we show it might differ from culture to culture. Specifically, how to families show love and appreciation for each other. Do parents say to their wives, "I love you", or do they express this in a different way? Do parents hug and kiss their children and say that they love them? If so, until what age? Do parents use other ways of showing appreciation and affection for their children?

Share your ideas on this topic.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Apartment and Home Living: Anything Unusual?

Apartments and homes are different from place to place around the world because of culture, climate (weather), and architecture. So, if someone visited a typical or common home in your country, what would they find different or unusual from other parts of your own country or other parts of the world. This can include anything inside or around your house: types of rooms, decorations, cooking appliances, tables, chairs, religious objects, etc.

Share your ideas.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Animals, Bird, and Other Wildlife: What if . . .?

If you change into any animal for a day, which animal would you choose and why? Personally, I'd choose to be a high-flying bird. Then, I could fly and soar about the world below and enjoy the views. Because I love hiking ( is my site on hiking) I could also through canyons and high on some mountain peak where most people can't go. It would just be great to see things from a different perspective.

Now, share your ideas on the topic.


Friday, May 9, 2008

Favorite Movie: How did it move you?

Do you have a favorite movie? If so, share your thoughts about it and why other people would be interested in seeing it. Personally, I saw the movie, Brian's Song, years ago about the friendship and courage of two friends who played together on the Chicago Bears football team (see more information HERE). Although the men compete for the same position on the team, they develop a bond of friendship that helps them during times of great tragedy. I highly recommend the movie if you enjoy a movie with a positive, uplifting message.

Now, share your favorite movie with us.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

ESL Vocabulary Quizzes

One of the challenges I face as a English grammar teacher is that although my students can understand the grammar points I present in class, they often don't have to vocabulary to use with it. For example, I might teach students how to use unreal conditions like this:

If I found (simple past) a million dollars, I'd (=I would) turn it in to the police.
If I had found found (past perfect) a million dollars last week, I would have turned it in to the police.

Again, my students know the rules, but they can communicate fully because of their lack of vocabulary, and nothing will change until they come up with a detailed and clear plan to build their vocabulary. With this in mind, I've created vocabulary activities on my site to help students achieve this goal:

If you have other sites you use to build vocabulary, please share these with us.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Successful Relationships: What factors predict success?

Breakups and divorce are becoming common practice in relationships and marriage, but I'm sure people don't start out say, "Hey, there's a good chance that we will get a divorce in the future. Isn't that nice?" Of course not. But, despite people's original intentions to stay together, people break up. So, what are the keys to successful, lasting relationships? What factors lead to divorce? Do people change after they get married?

Personally, I think a lot of problems deal with unrealistic expectations. I often run into people who are dating people with personal issues and problems and feel that they can change their partners or that their partners will change over time. My suggestion is that people don't marry a "project." If your partner already has personal problems, there is a strong likelihood that the problems will get worse, not better. People who want to marry should start preparing for a relationship years in advance rather than start to change when they meet someone.

So, what do you think on this topic?


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

World Changes: What if . . .?

If you could change one thing in the world today, what would it be? Personally, I'd encourage people to be more caring of others and think less of themselves. In my opinion, many of the world's problems deal with selfishness and neglecting the needs of others.

So, what do you think about this topic?


Monday, May 5, 2008

Mother's Day: A Day to Remember

Mother's Day is right around the corner, usually celebrated on the second Sunday of May. So, what is your favorite memory about your mother (and if not your mother, someone else who has been a special mentor or guide in your life---father, grandparent, teacher). Personally, I remember my mom reading to me as I went to bed and I now try to do that with my own kids. I've also tried to spend time talking to my children, even to my oldest who is 18.

So, share your experience or memory of someone who has made a difference in your life.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Favorite Honeymoon Destinations

If you could go anywhere on your honeymoon (assume you're not married) and money was not an issue, what destination would you choose and why? How long would you be gone? Where would you stay: in a hotel, bed and breakfast, or other? Would you even consider not going on a vacation and just saving your money to something practical?

Share your ideas.


Friday, May 2, 2008

TOEFL Score: Does it predict success?

As a general rule, international students need a good TOEFL score to get into many North American universities. However, my question is whether a good score is a predictor or good measure of whether a student will succeed or not at the university. Personally, I have met many students who somehow manage to get a fair score, but they can't communicate very well or who are not aware of the US educational system and do poorly. So, what do you think on this topic?


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Improving Your Pronunciation

Everyone has an accent, including native speakers, and thus, having an accent isn't the problem by itself. Accent only becomes an issue when it affects comprehension. One of the issues comes when learners stress every syllable:


English is a stress-timed language, and thus, some syllables are stressed and others are reduced to give English its sing-song or rhythm. Some languages have only clear, strong vowels, but the most popular vowel sound in English is the schwa sound. Thus, the sentence above might be pronounced:

i wanna go ta the party tanight.

One of my Websites, Train Your Accent (, is designed to give students practice with reduced speech. Give it a try.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Conversation Starters: What would you say or ask?

Many English textbooks start by teaching students basic expressions and questions like, "Hello. What's your name?" The problem with that question and approach it is often completely unnatural to ask someone their name in many situations. For example, imagine you are in an airport lobby waiting to catch your flight. If someone sitting next to you asked you your name, what would you think and how would you respond? Personally, I'd be very surprised and probably ask the person why they wanted to know.

So, if you found yourself in this situation, what kinds of questions or statements could you make to start a NATURAL conversation? Please share your ideas.


Monday, April 28, 2008

The Olympics: What is your favorite sport?

The Olympics are just around the corner, and people from around the world will participate in the events. So, what is your favorite sporting event and why? Personally, I enjoy the marathon. Having ran one myself, it requires a great deal of endurance, both physically and mentally. No matter how fast people run one, it is still an accomplishment.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Favorite Place in Your Country

If a friend wanted to visit your country, city, or local area, what would you want to show them? Personally, I an outdoor fanatic, and I love to hike, camp, explore the beautiful rugged scenery in Utah, the state where I live in the US. There are many beautiful canyons where you can go without see a single person during your hike. While many people prefer to visit areas from their cars, I enjoy going deep into the backcountry where there lots of peace and quiet. Here are a couple of pictures I took with family recently. So, share your favorite place in your area. You can see more pictures of Utah at:


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Online Shopping Verses Traditional Stores

What are the advantages and disadvantages of shopping online verses going to a traditional store in your neighborhood? For one, if you shop at a traditional store, you can actually touch, handle, and examine the product (perhaps even test it), but you might only see a picture of an item if you shop online. Yes, you might be able to return the product if there's a problem, but some people won't think the effort is worth it.

So, what do you think about this topic? Share your ideas.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Scary Moments in Your Life

Everyone has probably had scary experiences in your life that changed them, in some cases for the better. Personally, I have a slight fear of heights, and last year, I climbed to the top of a mountain called Lone Peak near my house. The mountain isn't that tall (about 11,000 feet), but the last 300 feet to the top requires great care and hands-on moves with a lot of exposure. In other words, one slip and your gone. I climbed the mountain twice in about a month's time, but the first time, I didn't have the courage to climb 15 more feet to the top. At the same time, I knew my limitations, so I was satisfied with what I did. However, a month later, I climbed the mountain again and reach the very top, as seen in this picture. This experience helped me conquer some of my fears, but it also taught me not to take undue risks: you should do what you feel comfortable in life and just be satisfied with small accomplishments.

So, what about you? Share a scary experience and what you learned from it.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Learning English: More Than Living Overseas

Currently, I teach at an intensive English program in the United States, and one of the biggest misconceptions among students is that living overseas in the US will automatically be their golden ticket (the secret) to improving their English. Unfortunately, I work with so many students that isolate themselves from the community by only spending their time with friends from their native country. Furthermore, the only real contact these students have is going to the local supermarket or ordering a cheeseburger from McDonalds. Then, these same students wonder why their English isn't improving.

On the other hand, I have worked with other students who have volunteered in the community at schools, homeless shelters, and youth groups, or who have taken music classes, joined health clubs, and visited senior citizen centers. These students really make great efforts to meet people and not only did they improve their English, but they made lasting friendships and learned more about the local culture.

Learning another language won't happen automatically without effort. It takes a lot of work, dedication, and a tolerance of your own mistakes.

So, what do you think about this topic?



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cultural/Language Adjustment: What's your most embarrassing moment?

Adjusting to a new culture can be similar to a roller coaster: a lot of ups and downs with plenty of unexpected turns. Sometimes, the mistakes we make are due to language and cultural differences. So what has been your most challenging, embarrassing, or exciting experience in adjusting to a new culture.

For me, trying to explain to a Japanese pharmacist in Tokyo that young daughter had constipation using body language was a real challenge, but after a while of using gestures and drawing pictures, we finally understood each other, and I got the "medicine" I needed. At least from the experience, I gained more confidence that I could handle other similar situations in the future.

Now, share your experiences.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Favorite Season of the Year

The changing seasons bring new weather patterns as well as opportunities for enjoying different outdoor activities, and what people do can be influenced by geography and cultural traditions. Please share your feelings on which season of the year you enjoy most and share your reasons to explain your choice.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Language Learning: What if you could change one thing?

If you could magically change one thing about your English skills overnight (e.g., listening/speaking/reading/writing/grammar), which would you choose and why? Do you think it is possible to improve this skill in real life, and if so, how? Please share your ideas.


Friday, April 11, 2008

ESL/EFL Student Mistakes: How much correction is good?

When English students make mistakes in their speaking (whether they be related to grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation), under what circumstances should the teacher correct them? In other words, should the teacher correct every mistake a student makes in their speaking, or should the teacher make corrections depending on the purpose of the activity? How do you feel when a teacher corrects you in front of other students? Share your opinions and thoughts on this topic.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

English Only in the Classroom: A Good Idea?

Whether you are studying English in your home country or overseas with a mix of students from many countries, a common concern is how to improve students' speaking skills and student relations under such situations. Personally, you can have students from one particular group learn English just fine if they are motivated and disciplined to use English only; a mix of different nationalities is not needed. However, what I often see as a teacher in the US is that certain students speak their language amongst themselves, and this can alienate students from other countries. Furthermore, these students tend to hang out together after class and don't use English except to order an occasional cheeseburger from McDonalds.

So, is having an English-Only policy in class a good idea? How can teachers help students improve their English under similar situations?


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The TOEFL Test: How can I get a better score?

Many students ask how they can improve their score on the TOEFL test, and answers to this question deal with both language skills and test-taking strategies. Over the years, the TOEFL test has evolved and changed, and the test now reflects more authentic situations and tasks that a student might encounter in real academic (school) situations. Besides passing the test, students should be equally concerned about their ability to communicate in English with fellow students and understand lectures and discussions. Too often, I have taught students who "passed" the TOEFL, but their language skills were still so low that they struggled (and sometimes failed) once they got into the university.

So, what are the keys to getting a better TOEFL score and how can students look past the TOEFL and improve real communication skills to survive the academic challenges of university life? Please share your experiences and ideas on this topic.


Monday, April 7, 2008

Favorite Fast Food Restaurant: What do you eat and why do you go?

Eating at fast food restaurants has become a popular option for many people, young and old. However, the reasons for going to such a restaurant and the foods people eat might differ widely. Therefore, share with us the name of a fast food restaurant you sometimes go to (it might be a local place most of us have never heard of, and that's okay), the items you usually order, and the reasons for visiting these places. Also, tell us about any unique or unusual items that are typical of your area or culture.



Tuesday, April 1, 2008

ESL Classes: How do you address your teacher?

How do students in college or at a university address or call their teachers in your area or country? Do people say something like "teacher" or "Mr. Smith", or can people call their teachers by their first name? How would you describe the student-teacher relationship? Do teachers encourage you to visit their offices and discuss their homework or problems? Please share your ideas.


Monday, March 31, 2008

Family Advice: What would you say?

If you had only one day to live, what advice or words of wisdom would you leave your family (brothers, sisters, parents, or children) and why? Are your choices of words or wisdom influenced by your own experience, culture, religion, or other values? Please share your ideas.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

ESL Learning: What's worked for you?

Please listen and share your opinions and ideas on this topic.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Making Progress in Learning English

Many students find that once they reach the intermediate level of English, their progress seems to slow down and, in some ways, fossilize. This can be very discouraging. Looking at this situation, students slowly progress in the beginning stages from simple introductions and hobbies to more demanding topics on personal values, environmental issues, relationships, and even politics. However, students either find few opportunities to engage in such topics or are just not interested in discussing them. In this case, it is more a question of knowledge of broader topics than language skills. However, in any future job or educational experience, students will need such higher-level topics. Thus, what are some ways students can extend their learning beyond basic topics on shopping and sports? Share your ideas.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Perfect Grammar or Pronunciation: You Choose!

If you could either speak English (1) with perfect accuracy with an accent or (2) with perfect pronunciation along with some grammatical mistakes, which situation would you choose and why?


Friday, March 21, 2008

Living Expenses: Should adult children pay rent?

Every culture and family has its own expectations on the responsibilities and duties of children who are "adults", that is, people generally over 18 years of age, particularly for those who are living at home. If an adult children, let's say, 23 years old is working full time, but still lives at home, do you think the person should pay rent to his or her parents? Why or why not? Share your opinions on the topic, including any values and beliefs of your culture that explain your answer.



Thursday, March 20, 2008

Keys to Succcesful Language Learning

I am just starting new classes at the university, and students sometimes ask me what are the keys (or secrets) to learning English. As part of this discussion, I often point out four things:

  1. Natural ability
  2. Motivation
  3. Effective study skills
  4. Out-of-class activities
I'd like to share some thoughts on #3 for today. Many students, unfortunately, have little understanding on how their study patterns or habits affect how quickly (or not) they learn the language. In my grammar class, I test all of my students by recording and grading their productive use of the grammar in CONVERSATION. In other words, I give them a situation and then record them using the grammar in natural conversation rather than using a paper test. Unfortunately, studying and reviewing the textbook in a quiet corner of the library by yourself will do very, very little to help you PRODUCTIVELY use the language when you need it in real conversation. However, this is a method used by many students to study for PAPER tests. Students just don't know or see any other way to study.

Therefore, I hold regular speaking workshops after school where students can practice their speaking skills in more natural situations. I also encourage students to use the grammar we are studying in their other classes as a way of recycling and reinforcing the structures we are studying.

Learning to use the language takes a lot of practice, and just being in a foreign country where the language is spoken isn't enough if you spend most of the time in your apartment alone.

So, please share your ideas on the topic.



Wednesday, March 19, 2008

ESL Teachers: Does experience matter?

One question that sometimes comes up regarding ESL/EFL teachers is whether experience makes a better teacher or not, and if so, to what extent. Furthermore, is all experience the same in quality. In other words, if you could choose between a new teacher with less than 6 months of experience in the classroom or a teacher with 10 years of experience, who would you want as your teacher? How about 20 years of experience? Would it matter what subject you were studying: grammar, writing, listening/speaking, or reading? Please share your ideas on the topic.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

ESL Classes: Do student nationalities matter?

One of the biggest concerns (complaints) I hear from some students in the US, particularly from certain countries, is that there are too many students from their country in the class, and therefore, they can't learn English. This perception, unfortunately, reveals how limited our scope of the language-learning experience really is. If I moved to, let's say, Mexico, and all of the other students in my Spanish class were native English speakers from the US, I wouldn't care at all, and I wouldn't view this as a negative thing. I feel this way because I see that what I do OUTSIDE of the class just as (or more) important in my language-learning experience as what I do in class.

International students who are concerned about the number of students from the same country being in their class, unfortunately, are often the ones who see the classroom as their world, and when the class is over, they tend to only associate and hang out with students from their own country. On the other hand, some of my best students have been the ones who have volunteered in the community, joined clubs, and helped in reading programs at local schools. They see that learning is much more than a classroom experience.

So, what do you think about this topic? What are some of the best ways to learn English, whether it be in your home country or overseas?


Monday, March 17, 2008

Exciting Travel: Take a cruise or fly?

If you were planning a trip to Hawaii, would you rather fly to your destination or go by ship (on a cruise) to the islands? Share your ideas and reasons to support them. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each travel option? What opportunities would you have to practice and improve your English on the trip?


Thursday, March 13, 2008

English Dictionaries: Text, Electronic, or Online?

Dictionaries are important tools to help ESL/EFL learners improve their language skills, but given the choice, which do you prefer to use and why: a traditional textbook dictionary, an electronic dictionary you can carry, or an online dictionary? Please share your ideas, including the specific dictionary you find most useful, and explain your reasons for using it.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

ESL Vocabulary: How can you increase your range?

Please listen and share your ideas and opinions on this topic.


ESL Classes: How many students are ideal?

Please listen and share your ideas and opinions on this topic.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Popular Proverbs: Learning Language and Culture Together

Seen in most cultures and languages, proverbs are popular beliefs that teach some truth about life. Understanding proverbs from different countries can teach us a lot about our world neighbors, including their values about certain topics. Proverbs can always serve as great conversation starters which can help us practice English (or any language) and learn culture at the same time.

A simple one in English is "a closed mouth catches no flies." This often means that keeping your mouth shut and not gossiping or talking about others will help you avoid problems. Personally, I have found this true in my life. It is much better to listen and study all the facts before you make any decision or judgment about any person or situation.

Now, please share a common proverb from your language, tell us what it means, and how it has applied to your personally in your life. You can find more proverbs from different languages and cultures at


Monday, March 10, 2008

Budget Travel: How to travel and where to stay?

If someone were traveling through your country or area, what travel tips and suggestions would you give them to save money and still have a great time? From my experience, staying at a youth hostel can be a way to save money on lodging and meet people at the same time. One Website that can help you find youth hostels around the world is This site lists places around the world and contains pictures and reviews of each place.

So, what other suggestions do you have for people traveling in your country? Share your ideas.


Friday, March 7, 2008

Choosing an ESL Program: What is most important to you?

Many international students often have a hard time deciding where to go overseas to study English, and this is sometimes due to the large number of options available. For you personally, what is the most important factor in choosing a language program? If you have studied overseas, what actually matters most in planning to have a positive experience overseas? Please share your ideas and experiences on this topic.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Manners and Etiquette: What's appropriate in your country?

Listen to this recording and share your ideas on the topic.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Study Abroad: Not as easy as you think!

Having taught English for twenty years, I have noticed many misperceptions among international students and their parents on the keys to learning English here in the United States. In order to learn any language, just being in the vicinity or area where the language is spoken is not enough to guarantee a student will learn. Many parents assume that if there children travel to a foreign country, they children will somehow naturally learn the language. However, I see time and time again on a daily basis that many international students tend to isolate themselves from the community by spending all their time with friends from their same country. Now, this isn't necessarily bad if the students are trying to speak English, but these students will make little progress if the only English they use is in the language classroom and at McDonalds when they order a hamburger.

In fact, I have met many people who learned to speak English in their home countries without ever going abroad, and they were able to do this because they were very motivated, sought out opportunities to speak English when they could, and had very good study skills.

So, please share your thoughts and opinions on how to learn language better, either overseas or in your home country.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Parenting Skills: What will you do differently?

Becoming a parent can be a rewarding, yet challenging, "job", and families and society are changing due to new ideas and influences around us. If and when you become a parent, what things will you do differently than your own parents and how you were raised? Share your ideas.

Personally, I have four children ranging in ages from 10 to adult, and I feel that I have tried to spend a lot of time with them playing games, camping, watching movies, and just talking about their lives. Someone once said that no success can compensate for failure in the home, so I do what I can to build relationships with my children.


Friday, February 29, 2008

ESL Listening Activities: What are your favorites?

Many students use the Internet to learn English, and finding appropriate materials for improving listening skills is often one thing learners are searching for most. Thus, which Websites do you go to most to help you improve your listening skills, or if you are a teacher, which sites do you suggest to your students? Please share your ideas and post a link to some of your favorite sites that should help all visitors here.

As a side note, I've just created two new listening activities on my own site, and I hope you enjoy them:

Budget Hotel Rooms

Grocery Shopping

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Classroom Cheating: What would you do?

If you saw a classmate cheating during an important English test, what would you do and why? Share your ideas and any similar experiences on this topic? How does cheating affect us all? What consequences are there for cheating at your school?