5 ways to improve speaking skills ~ ESL students

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Most of my students have the same complaint about their ESL education, they didn’t practice speaking! Some spent up to 10 years learning English but when it comes to putting it into practice they are having a hard time finding their words and producing the correct sounds. If you want to improve your speaking skills, here are my favorite 5 ways:

1. Think in English – it may sound strange, but this is an excellent way to improve your fluency when learning a new language. Most of the time you get stuck translating from your language into English. This makes your speech slow and awkward. If you want to sound natural, think in English as often as possible.

2. Read aloud – pick up a newspaper or a magazine that is interesting to you. Find an article and read it aloud. Alternatively, when you watch your favorite English language show (you are watching at least 5 hours of English programming per week, right?) pause and repeat after your favorite star.

3. Phonetics – take a course or invest in a book. It is worth while to invest in private lessons to help you to improve your speech. An experienced ESL teacher can show you the English phonemes and the correct way to produce the sounds, as well as other pronunciation rules like word linkage and stress. Hire me!

4. Record yourself – use a voice or video recording software. Pick a short video clip or sound file. Record yourself repeating after the person in the video. Listen to yourself and compare.

5. Join a conversation group – there are local groups of people that get together to practice their conversational English. It’s a fun way to make new friends while you practice speaking. An excellent one is Meetup.com. Alternatively, join online groups where people are interested in doing language exchanges. Practice speaking every chance you get!

50 ways to learn English

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Here are 50 ways to help you learn English. There is no particular order. Keep in mind your level!

1. Watch – Watch English TV programs, movies or shows with English subtitles. Internet resources and DVDs are better because you can watch them many times. Examples: YouTube, TedTalks, Vimeo.
2. Listen – Listen to English radio and music. Examples: online radio stations.
3. Join groups– If you are in an English speaking country, join local hobby groups where you can meet native English speakers. You can practice English while you are hiking, visiting museums or trying out a new restaurant! Examples: meetup.com


English conversation group hiking in the park

4. Tell everyone – Tell your friends and family about your English language goals. It will keep you motivated in the long run.
5. Goals – Set yourself short and long term goals. The short term goals will give you satisfaction while the long run ones will keep you going!
6. Native speaking peers – Find English speakers interested in learning your language and do language exchanges together! It is a fun and free way to access native speakers and make new friends!
7. Love – They say dating is the best motivator! Full immersion includes dating an English speaker!
8. Journal – Keep a language journal. Write down new words as well as the problems you encounter as you are learning.
9. Skype – Make online friends who speak English. Use Skype to your advantage!
10. Private courses – For those who are really motivated to fasttrack your goals, find a good private teacher! Having the complete attention of an ESL teacher and the feedback will help you to improve very fast! Contact me!
11. Online courses – Take online courses. Don’t be afraid to repeat levels. Repetition is the best way to assimilate.
12. Word families – In your language journal, as you learn a new word, try to find all its variations (love, loving, loved, lovable, lovingly)
13.  English news – Read the news in English. Try Google news.
14. Have fun! – Don’t study too hard! More than 30 minutes per day can become tiring and no fun.
15. Speak! – Use English as often as you can. Learning a language is like riding a bike, you won’t learn it from books!
16. Speak more! – The best way to learn grammar is by speaking!
17. Blog – Do you enjoy writing and sharing your experiences? Why not blog about your English learning adventures? Who knows, maybe you’ll find others who are in the same boat!
18. Sing – Writing is not your thing? What about singing? Learn an English song and sing it out loud!
19. No failure! – Don’t be afraid to make errors! Remember that every mistake is a lesson, every time you make a mistake you are learning something new! Just don’t make the same mistake too many times.
20. Practice! – Practice every day! You can make yourself a plan with goals and end dates.
21. Test – Take tests. We tend to learn better for tests.
22. Immerse – Surround yourself with English.
23. Use a dictionary – If you are advanced and courageous enough to read a book, don’t use a dictionary the first time you don’t understand a word. Try to get the meaning from the context. If you still don’t understand the word when you see it for the 5th time, use the dictionary.
24. Focus – Figure out how you learn. Give yourself whatever you need to be successful!
25. Coffee? – Try to find out where you learn best. Do you prefer quiet places or are you best in noisy situations?
26. Translation – It is NOT a good idea to keep translating from your language in your head. It is time consuming and there are too many chances for error. Instead, think in English. Seriously, try it!
27. Record your voice – I don’t know anyone who likes to listen to themselves, but it is a very good way to improve your speaking! Record yourself speaking in English and listen to the recording. You will be amazed!
28. Record others – When you get bored of your own voice, use the recording of a native speaker and repeat what you hear. Record yourself and compare. You can use software like Audacity, that give you a visual of the sound so you can better match your speech to the native’s.
29. Dictation – To improve your listening and writing, use dictation. You can listen to a CD, a video, a friend, and write down what you hear.
30. Keep going! – Don’t ever give up!
31. Internet – Use free online tools! There are great teachers putting out awesome content all the time. Here is a very good example of an excellent teacher run site for listening: http://www.esl-lab.com/  
32. Intuitioin – This cannot be stressed enough: use your intuition!
33. English friends – Even if you do not live in an English community, you can find English speaking groups almost everywhere nowadays. Look for one in your city and join! Make a real effort to meet English speaking people.
34. Kids’ books – Children’s books are a great way to learn! You can easily find them online.
35. Pronunciation – Don’t focus only on grammar. Remember that English is spoken differently than it is written. Learn the International Phonetic Alphabet and the English phonemes.
36. Tenses – Make sure you know your tenses, however. Time may be expressed differently in your language.
37. Phrasal Verbs – Phrasal verbs are not to be ignored. There are hundreds of them but don’t get discouraged, the more you learn them, the better you will understand how they are structured.
38. Debate – A very good way to learn any language, is to debate! Discussing ideas in a group will help your listening and speaking at the same time.
39. Smooth Speaking – A particularity of English is the way we link words in our speech. The way we write is very rarely how we actually speak.
40. Courses – This is an easy one: take an English course!
41. Travel – Spend time in an English speaking country!
42. Work – Work in English! Depending on your level, you could qualify for an English speaking job in your area!
43. Breathe – It’s not your native language and it’s normal to feel nervous when you speak English. When you feel that way, take a couple of deep breaths to collect your thoughts, and speak slowly.
44. Just do it! – Are you thinking about learning English? What’s stopping you? Remember that you are never too young or too old to learn something new!
45. Hire me! Whatever your level or background, I can help you to reach you goals! If you are not in Montreal, we can meet on Skype or on the phone!
46. Learn the culture – English language is important, but so is culture. Learn about the major differences between English accents and vocabulary. For example “an elevator” in Canada is “a lift” in England.
47. Focus – While there are many English accents, focus on just one! The rest will come after.
48. Enjoy! – Have fun with it! They say you master a language when you can be funny in it!
49. Know yourself – Choose material appropriate for your level. Anything too difficult may frustrate and discourage while easy activities may waste your time.
50. Be confident! A new language is an open door to endless new possibilities!

Time flies when you’re having fun

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It seems our experience of the speed of time is directly proportional to the degree of happiness we are experiencing in the moment. There is a special student who makes time fly. Our conversations span topics like Czech Cubism, World War II, Romanian cooking and Japanese ritual bathing. She is Japanese and she likes Romanian food. She is a business owner and blogger.

One day, she brought me a Japanese snack, home-made by her. She included a note:

Ume boshi

Ume – Japanese apricot
Boshi – from the verb hosu, which means dry

“Umeboshi” is very, very traditional Japanese food. Almost all Japanese families keep some Umeboshi in their kitchen.

Before, all Japanese women used to make their own Umeboshi following their own recipes. But nowadays, more than half of them buy it or get it from their relatives.

To make Umeboshi, they preserve Japanese apricots in salt, and after that they dry the apricots for three days. Some people use some red shiso, which is a very popular Japanese herb, just before drying the Umeboshi, to add a red color and pleasant aroma.

They say Umeboshi is effective against all kinds of illnesses. It has an anti-bacterial action, so Japanese often put a small quantity of Umeboshi on the rice in their packed lunches, to prevent it from rotting.

Just after the war, Japanese people were so poor that the only food they had was the Umeboshi and rice.  The meal was called Hinomaru (Japanese flag) bento (home packed meal) because it looks just like it!


Time does indeed fly during these conversations.

Thank you, Kyoko! Delicious.

Phrasal Verbs

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If you are thinking about phrasal verbs it means that you are quite advanced! Congratulations! The bad news is that there is no end to learning phrasal verbs. There is no way for a non-native speaker to understand the meaning of some phrasal verbs based strictly on the meaning of the verb and/or that of the preposition that follows it. The good news is that there are ways of organizing them, which will help to memorize many of them.

Phrasal verbs are verbs that are followed by prepositions or adverbs (particles). Their meaning can change depending on the particle. For example:

                • Turn up the volume. (increase)
                • Turn in the final paper. (submit)

They can look exactly the same but have different meanings. For example:

                • The plane took off at 6 PM. (depart)
                • He is taking off his coat. (unclothe)

There are four different types of phrasal verbs:

1. Intransitive

  • no direct object
                • The plane took off .
                • The two girls get along famously.

2. Transitive and separable

  • direct object
  • the preposition can be separate from the verb
  • if the object is a noun, it can go before or after the preposition
  • if the object if a pronoun, it must go before the preposition
                • The grandmother told off the children.
                • The grandmother told the children off.
                • The grandmother told them off.
                • The grandmother told off them.

3. Transitive and inseparable

  • direct object
  • preposition is not separate from the verb
                • I look after my child.
                • I look after him.
                • I look my child after.
                • I look him after.

4. Verbs with two particles

  • transitive and inseparable
                • We ran out of milk.
                • We have run out of it.
                • We have run it out of.

Feel free to download and use the PDF version of this lesson:
Phrasal Verbs


Real English vs. Artificial Esperanto

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The original post can be read here:


Although the gap between the positions of English and Esperanto is wide, the choice between them is nowadays very difficult.
Esperanto is the best known of all artificial languages ever used. It was invented on the basis of Russian, Yiddish, Polish, French, German, English, Latin and Greek languages by a Polish oculist Ludwig Zamenhof, and was first introduced in 1887, and since that time its popularity never decreases. Esperanto is an easy language to learn, and what is needed to achieve fluency is a simple memory work.
Today Esperanto with a total of 8 million speakers is frequently encountered at international conferences. The Universal Esperanto Organization publishes several journals and newspapers and there is a large translated literature in addition to original work written in the language. However, despite its popularity, Esperanto has failed to achieve official status as an international language due to a lot of opposition of those who favour English as a world language and from the supporters of other artificial languages.
The supporters of English view Esperanto as both unrealistic and politically unattainable language, whereas English is regarded as highly prestigious and by no means dominant language, and they seldom admit such political problems and hindrances as anti-global and national movement that prevent English form its world dominance. Moreover, English is not an easy language to learn because of a large number of exceptions to any rule. It is one of such languages, which for many seems easy, at the beginning, but then the bridge between basic knowledge and mastery takes a long time to cross, and for many learning English is a waste of time, energy and money.
Some people see one universal language as an ideal and I fully subscribe to that view. If we all spoke the same language then the barriers to understanding would come down and the world might be a safer and happier place. On balance then, I feel that the artificial language like Esperanto would be an ideal choice, as it carries no cultural baggage, and therefore, being a planned language, facilitates communication among people of different lands and cultures on the equal footing, without having the usual cultural advantage of any natural language. Nevertheless, it should be admitted that Esperanto is far from being an ideal artificial communication system, and to achieve a status of truly international language and to function appropriately, Esperanto should be perfected in terms of its grammatical structure and lexical potential.