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.