Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holiday Cheese Ball

One thing that I like the most about the Christmas season is about reflecting on the giving spirit. Too often, we get caught up in the commercialization of this time of year, but beyond the giving of store-bought gifts, the giving of time and homemade items can be just as rewarding.

Our family has the tradition of making cheese balls and giving them to neighbors and friends along with crackers. The one picture here is a hot, jalapeƱo variety, with crushed walnuts on the outside.

Cheese balls are very simple to make with a few ingredients, and many recipes can found online. If you have any family traditions of giving or celebrating the year-end festivities, please share them with us.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter Activities - Snowshoeing

Winter has arrived in my area, and one of the things I enjoy most is trail running and even snowshoeing when I have a chance. In fact, my family and I went snowshoeing this year and had a great time.  Why go to Disneyland when you can enjoy the great outdoors?

I have created a video and language-learning activity about this event here:



Friday, November 12, 2010

Antelope Island 100K Trail Run

Life can be filled with all sorts of challenges: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. For me, one very physical and mental challenge I was in was a 100 kilomter trail run on Antelope Island near Salt Lake City, Utah. Take a look at this video on my experience:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Secrets of Language Learning

Many students wonder how they can learn a language with ease. Although there is no magic pill, there are some things that people can do to learn more effectively. Listen to people sharing their ideas on my Web site,



Saturday, October 9, 2010

Recreation and Sports at

So, what sports and recreational activities do you do in your free time? Try this new listening activity at and record your own comments. Give it a try:


Friday, September 24, 2010

Towing Service - New Listening Activity

Have you ever received a ticket for a traffic violation? If so (or not), you might find this new listening activity helpful, or at least somewhat entertaining. Give it a try:


Please share your experiences with traffic in your city. How would you compare the conditions to other places in your country or other places around the world?


Saturday, September 18, 2010

I've been working on a new listening and speaking Web site called, which is designed to help learners around the world share and hear ideas and thoughts on a variety of topics. Please give it a try.


Little Grand Canyon Marathon

My wife and I just completed a marathon in the desert in central Utah, and it was a very enjoyable experience. I can relate this to language learning as well. Not everything is easy, and it might take you longer to learn a language than other people can do it, but it's the journey, not the destination, that teaches you to be stronger.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

New Listeing/Speaking Web site -

Hi everyone,

I just want to announce my new listening/speaking Web site that have just opened and is being developed at this time. is designed to give language learners and teachers around the world opportunities to share their comments about a variety of topics in new ways.

Take a look at EnglishVoices and please share your comments:



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Party Invitations: New Listening Activity

One of the more ackward occasions for international students is being invited and attending a social event without having a clue as to what to say, wear, or bring. In my newest listening activity, I describe a somewhat humourous party, and although not real in content, students should be able to find valuable expressions on describing people and carrying on small  talk.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I'm sure many of you might have noticed the different children's voices on my Web site, Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab (, and I consider raising my kids as my greatest passion in life. No other accomplishment can take the place of nurturing kids, even when times are difficult.

After pondering over this for some time, I decided to create a new Web blog on parenting called, Being a Parent ( I don't consider myself an expert by any means, but some of my experiences might be of some use to some struggling parent. Although the Web site is not directly related to ESL or English, it still could provide some reading material on which a class discussion could be held.



Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reading for Pleasure: How common is it in your country?

One of the challenges that some international students face when traveling to the United States is the amount of reading that is required for academic studies . . . and I'm not just speaking of reading textbooks. I'm also speaking of reading for . . . . pleasure. The kind of activity where you pick up a novel (fiction or non-fiction), sit on the couch, and read to explore stories and new ideas.

Now, in some countries, reading is very much encouraged, and even schools give awards for the student or class of students who read the most pages during a pre-determined period of the year (e.g., for three months or so).

However, in some educational systems around the world, reading for pleasure in schools with a library full of stories, mysteries, and detective novels is not commonplaces, and as a result in part, some students who come to countries where reading is encouraged find the concept somewhat foreign and difficult.

So, how is reading of literature (in your native language or other) promoted (or not) in the school where you attend? Would a visitor to your school in your be able to find novels like Harry Potter? Do teachers encourage such reading?

Having answers to these questions can really help teachers and other students understand foreign cultures and educational systems better.


Friday, August 6, 2010

New Interactive Video Activities

As many of you are aware, I always seem to be experimenting with something new as a means of helping teachers and students improve their teaching and/or learning. Just recently, I created the activity below with the goal of evaluating its effectiveness for some future project on my site. Your suggestions and feedback are appreciated:




Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Emergency Preparedness

You never know when you might be faced with an emergency. Now. practice your English as you listen to my family describing steps that you can take in the event of an emergency, and you can answer questions about the video here:


This activity is part of a new, possible section to my Web site as described here:




Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Language Learning Activities -

Great News! I have been experimenting with new video, audio, and text activities that help teachers and students interact in a different way on my site, The activity you see below is using a service called Voice Threads, and I am currently testing to see if this project could benefit you and other visitors. You can see more details about the project at

Basically, you can listen to and share comments about topics that are on my site. Give it a try.


Friday, June 25, 2010

UFOs: Do they exist?

Many people wonder if aliens and UFOs really exist in outer space. Right now, my son is doing a research project on the topic. I would really appreciate it if you could take his survey on the topic at:


Your help is greatly appreciated.


P.S. You can find a humorous listening activity on my site on aliens at:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Run

As some of you have noticed in some of my postings, I really enjoy endurance activities, particularly trail running. Here is one my most recent races. I'm not very fast, but I enjoy testing my abilities in extreme conditions. In this case, I ran in a 50 mile (80 kilometer) race through the mountains in Utah. Please share the activities you like to do to test you body and mind. You can read my complete race report at:




Friday, June 11, 2010

Gaps in Language Learning

One of the greatest challenges as a language teacher is to help students recognize their true levels and the gaps in their learning. In other words, language programs which provide different levels of skills often require students to "pass" the class to move on to a higher-level class. The potential problem with such a system is that unless students really master the concepts at their current level, then the gaps in their learning will follow them. This problem can also result for the lack of good assessment techniques. In other words, if I award students points for simple participation (not ability), then this score can inflate a students grade and the appearance that they have mastered the language skills being taught.

Students need to realize that gaps in their learning can and do occur and that they must review and study the areas they still haven't mastered to really perfect their skills.

What are your thoughts on this topic?


Friday, May 28, 2010

Misperceptions About Language and Culture

I often find that international students come to the United States with misperceptions about learning languages and living in a foreign country. I've created a video on this topic:


Feel free to share your ideas on this topic. Also, tell us what misperceptions people have about your language and culture.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Learning English: What's the Secret?

So, is there an ultimate secret to learning English? Perhaps not, but watch my new video on the topic that focuses on three important keys to improving your language skills:


What activities have helped you the most in learning a foreign language?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Online Chat: Benefits and Challenges

Language learners often ask me to recommend an online chat service where they can practice their English and meet new people. At times, however, I have some reservation in doing so because of the quality, content, and lack of moderating with such services. Of course, few companies will provide such service because of the manpower needed to supervise online chat sessions; I'm just cautious about the potential problems that can arise from using them.

So, what have your experiences been using using online chat or similar services to meet people and improve your English? Do you have any recommendations?

Please share your ideas.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gardening: A relaxing hobby that doesn't involve video games

People often don't think of gardening as a fun hobby, especially when such an activity competes with video games, movies, and shopping. However, my wife and I have found that growing things, particuarly delicious fruit in unusual ways, can be a relaxing and rewarding experience. In the picture below, you can see how we grow our melons ---- hanging from the vine. This method saves a lot of space and the fruit are easier to manage and pick. You can see more of our garden in video and pictures at:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Canyonlands National Park, Utah: Sightseeing at its best!

One of the most enjoyable parts of life for me is doing something that has absolutely nothing to do with computers and the Internet. In fact, I think that most people need a mental and physical break from work and school to recharge their batteries. Otherwise, we will just burn out. As many of you might know, I really savor getting far, far away from the hectic world and spending time in the outdoors. During the past week, I took a wonderful trip with my family to a wonderful, scenic place.

One particular area I recently visited is one of the most remote national parks in the United States---a place you can hike for miles without seeing a single person if you'd like. The national park is called Canyonlands. The picture above was taken a few miles outside of the park, but it can give you a sense of what you might find in southern, Utah.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Quotations and Sayings: What do they teach us about life?

Often, quotations or proverbs often can teach us some lesson of life, and these writings can be used to develop our discussion and language skills. Share one proverb or quotation (either from your native language or one translated into English), explain its meaning, and discuss how it relates to life or your own experience.

Here's one:

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."

To me, having and demonstrating courage----especially moral  courage---in the face of life's greatest challenges can define who we are. For example, it takes a lot of courage to tell the truth and be honest in all our doings with others. In fact, honesty and courage are at the center of one's value system. If a person has the courage to tell the truth, then you will always be able to trust that person in their work and study. As a result, our opportunities will expand.

Now, share a quotation or saying that you like and explain it to the rest of our readers.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Health Care: A government or private section issue?

Many countries around the world are facing a health care crisis. The United States is one of them. Many people feel that having health care is a right of every citizen and that the government should pay for it. Others are very worried about how the government will pay for it in the long run and to what extent individual tax payers will be burdened with the cost in the future. What is your opinion on this? What is the role of government in providing health care? Should the government stay out of the issue and let private companies deal with the issue.

Share your ideas.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Culture Shock or Re-entry Shock: Which is more difficult?

What do you think is more challenging: going overseas to live in a new country (possible culture shock) OR returning back to your home country after being abroad for some time (re-entry shock)? What have been your experiences in this regard? Are there situations in which a student might find it more challenging to return to his/her home country, especially when the freedom(s) they enjoyed overseas is not the same when they return home? Share your ideas on this topic. I have also create a Web page on the topic:


Monday, March 1, 2010

The Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics has just concluded in Canada this week, and many inspiring events and human stories took place during the games. If you have the ability to compete at the Olympics, in which event would you participate and why? Do you know anyone personally who has been a part of the Games? If so, what did they learn from the experience?

A number of years ago, I had the famous short track speed skater, Yang Yang, from China, in my English class in Salt Lake City around the time of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. A wonderful student and person.

Share your thoughts on this topic.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Breakfast Recipes: What do people eat in your area?

What is your image of the ideal breakfast? Having traveled to different parts of the world, I have seen that the meal isn't the same everywhere. Try these listening/video activities on the topic:


 Then, describe a typical breakfast in your area? What do people usually have for breakfast? How does the local culture influence what people eat? Are there items you have for breakfast that people from other places might find unusual?

Please share your ideas.


Monday, February 15, 2010

New Language Videos - Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab

Hi everyone,

I have just created new language-learning videos on my Web site ( on small talk, winter hiking, and winter camping, and they are some of the most interesting and exciting videos I have enjoyed creating so far. Take a look:

- http:/

Here are the direct links to these video activities:

- Meeting People:
- Winter Camping:
- Winter Activities:

I am also adding Online Investigation Activities on my site to encourage critical thinking. You can learn more about his project at:




Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Challenges of Life: What things do you face and how do you deal with them?

All of us, sooner or later, will face some form of emotional, physical, or spiritual challenge in our lives that will test our limits of endurance. For some, it might be learning a language; for others, it could be dealing with the death of a love one. And still others may struggle with the pressures of daily life.

However, in most cases, learning how to deal with the challenges, frustrations, and disappointments of life helps build character, giving us the strength to move forward in life.

For me personally, many of those challenges are dealing with many day-to-day issues. Besides that, one of the things I enjoy (but is very challenging for me) is running long distances. Of course, I am very, very slow, but doing something that tests your limits and teaches you something along the way is what I like doing.

Recently, I participated in a snowshoe marathon. Yes, running in snowshoes up and down along the way in through some mountain trails. It was very hard, and I didn't win any prize, but even though I came in near the end, just finishing gave me satisfaction.

So, what about you? What challenges you most in life at the moment and how do you find the strength to continue on? Please share your ideas.


Randall running along a mountain trail

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Special Thanks to Visitors and Bloggers!

I just wanted to take a minute to thank all those who have contributed so much to this blog. Your comments and ideas have helped all of us, including myself, reflect more on not only language learning, but also about the world around us.

One particular blogger, Bruno De Matta, has contributed so many interesting posts that have been very enlightening and useful for all of our readers. Kan-u has been another active poster. I just can't express enough thanks. I also apologize if I haven't pointed out your own contributions; there are just too many of you to name personally.

Keep your ideas coming.

You might have noticed already, but I have these blog postings linked to my listening activities, so that after a student completes one of my conversations, he/she is encouraged to share ideas on a similar topic on the blog. Here is one example:


With this particular blog post on credit cards, there are over 150 postings on the topic from around the world, and I hope that people will continue to share ideas.

Again, thanks.


Spelling: How important is it?

One of the challenges (joys) I have as a teacher is trying to instill in students the importance of careful work when they complete writing tasks as a part of any language class. However, there are students who tend to ignore spelling for any number of reasons including (1) thinking that the meaning of their message is what is most important, not spelling, (2) laziness, and (3) lack of training on some basic spelling rules.

However, imagine that you are applying for a job a company called Happy Travel, and in your letter to the company, you spell it "Haappy Travel." Do you really think the company will call you back for an interview? Of course not. Or imagine that you misspell your wife's/husband's/friend's name . . . again and again. How pleased will this person be?

Plainly speaking, spelling speaks a lot about a person's educational background/training and to what level they take care in their work.

So, what thoughts do you have on the subject? What factors affect a students spelling or writing beyond what I have mentioned? What techniques have you found useful in learning how to spell? Please share your ideas.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Game Shows: Would You Be on TV?

TV is one form of entertainment most people watch to a certain degree, and you can find just about any kind of program on the air these days. One type of popular program is the game show. In many cases, people try to win prizes by participating in some form of game or challenge. One popular show that appeared on and off US TV was the Dating Game in which a woman (or man) would ask a series or questions to three men whom she could not see, and then select one to go out on a date, the expenses for which were paid by the show.

Now, if you had the opportunity be a contestant on such a TV game show, would you do it? Why or why not?

Share your thoughts on this or other TV game shows.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Avoiding Stereotypes in Your Writing

One of the challenges/joys of teaching writing to ESL students (or any student) is helping them avoid overgeneralizations in their writing. For example, students often write in absolutes:

- "All Americans own guns."
- "Americans never take off their shoes before entering the house."
- "The homeless are that way because they use drugs."

One important techique for students to learn is to learn how to "qualify" or limit their statements, so they represent more accurate or logical reasoning. You can qualify your statements by related the comments to your own personal experience, use adverbs of frequency to avoid absolutes e.g., (often, generally, sometimes), or use other phrases such as "in some cases" or "depending on the circumstances."

Some revised sentences might look like this:

- "Some people in the United States own guns."
- "In my family, we take off our shoes when we enter the house in the United States, but this isn't always the case in every family. It often depends on the family customs."
- There are a number of reasons why people might be homeless, so we can't say that all or almost all people are in that situation because of drugs. There are many factors that lead to this situatio."

Now, if people don't qualify their statements, they either run the risk of offending their audience or just sounding rather swallow in their thought.

So, are there generalizations or stereotypes about your culture or social topics that people need to learn qualify to so they speak or write logically?

Share your ideas.


Monday, January 11, 2010

College Textbooks

One of the things that bothers me most is the cost of college textbooks these days. Specifically, I can't understand it when textbook authors and publishers, rather than reusing the same book for a number of semesters, print a "new edition" that tries to force students to buy a new book, when in fact, the book is almost the same. You can often see this when the book is now it is 21st edition!

This is unfair to students, and it is just one more way that businesses make money off students. A lucrative business model that does little to remove the financial weight from college expenses.

So, what do you think students can do to same money on books?

Share your ideas.