Archive for the ‘stuff’ Category

10 ways to speak like a native English speaker

In stuff, Uncategorized on July 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Some students never learn! Do you ever feel disheartened by your slow progress with learning English? Perhaps you feel ‘stuck’ at a certain level, as though you’ve reached a plateau? Actually, this is a common misconception students often voice. In the initial stages of language learning, you may feel that you are making rapid progress, as you continue to learn you will be honing the knowledge you have already gained, working on your accent, and acquiring new vocabulary, idiomatic English phrases and phrasalverbs. Even if you’re relatively fluent, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re speaking accurately. Perhaps you need to work on improving your pronunciation? Above all, it’s important to stay focused and motivated – don’t get complacent!

English Language Camp 2008 SMK Taman Rinting 2...

English Language Camp 2008 SMK Taman Rinting 2 #224 (Photo credit: Roslan Tangah (aka Rasso))

1) Be aware of your teacher’s accent

It sounds obvious, but often students don’t realise they are taking on the traits of their language teacher. Often students who have had North American teachers will develop an approximation of a  North American accent, in addition to using North American English (quite different to British English).  Within any country there will be variations on accent and dialect, depending on where you come from.  A Scottish teacher could have ESL students who will sound very different from students being taught by a teacher from Wales. Find out where your teacher is from and expose yourself to native English speakers from other areas of the UK to familiarise yourself with the different accents and UK dialects.

2) Work, work, work on your pronunciation

Get a phoneme chart and learn them! It really is on of the most useful things you can do to improve your pronunciation. Record your spoken English on your phone, or your computer and play it back to identify continued mistakes in your pronunciation which you can work to iron out.

3) Use, but don’t overuse, phrasal verbs and idioms

Yes, phrasal verbs and idioms are great. Idiomatic English is fun and easy to remember because it is very visual. Generally, students tackle these at a higher level because they are difficult to incorporate into everyday spoken English in a natural way. Used effectively, they can impress people; used ineffectively, they can highlight that you are foreign.

Student teacher in China teaching children Eng...

Student teacher in China teaching children English. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4) Review basic structures from time to time

Even if you think you have the present perfect down, you can still benefit from going back to the basics from time to time and just checking that you have been using the structures correctly. I’ve had students who took a look at exercises on the Conditionals and were astonished to discover that they had been misusing the Third Conditional for 4 years! Occasionally looking back at old grammar books or doing some exercises online should help you to pick up on any mistakes you have been making.

5) Keep building your core vocabulary

Keep a glossary of new words, and carry a notepad around with you to jot down new lexical items as you travel around. If you make a ‘mental note’, the chances are you will have forgotten what the word is by the time you get home.

6) Socialise

There is no better way to learn a language that fully immersing yourself in the culture. Socialising with native English speakers will give to an opportunity to learn idiomatic English in a natural environment, and to speak outside of the classroom. It will also give you an insight into British culture, traditions, and English people, helping you to think English!

7) Utilise every situation to maximise your education

Whether it’s a trip to the seaside, a visit to the dentist, or a date with a hot girl/boy, each situation is a chance for you to learn English in a new context. This should help you to build your vocabulary and to continue to improve.

Student preparing for exams

Student preparing for exams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8) Work on your mistakes

Once your aware that you make repeated mistakes in a particular area – for example,  misusing prepositions of time, articles, or mixing up the tenses – you can work to improve this. Take a look at some exercises to clarify the rules, then utilise the correct form in your spoken English. Unlearning bad habits is one of the most difficult things to do; however, it’s difficult but NOT impossible, and with hard work and attention to detail you can get past your mistakes.

 9) Avoid over-monitoring your speech

Worrying about what you’re going to say next is a huge barrier to fluency in English. Be careful, think before you speak, but don’t freeze up completely if you can’t work out how to use a particular tense. Just find a different way to say what you want to say. Above all, don’t worry! Making mistakes is part of the learning process and most people will be kind, helpful and understanding. They will appreciate that you are trying to communicate in English.

USFK Good Neighbor English Camp students visit...

USFK Good Neighbor English Camp students visit USAG-Humphreys (Photo credit: USAG-Humphreys)

10) Stay confident and motivated

Setting goals for yourself and being clear in what you want to achieve is probably the best way to stay motivated. But, try not to set unrealistic targets for yourself as this could lead you to become disheartened if you feel you haven’t achieved everything you set out to do. Most people seriously underestimate their linguistic abilities and sound much more natural and clear than they imagine. Be confident, enjoy studying and speaking English, and you’ll be amazed at your progress. Good luck!


Justin Bieber’s Short Fuse

In media, stuff on July 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Whether getting a ticket for speeding down a highway to avoid Paparazzi, snapping at radio DJs over Timberlake comparisons, or blowing up at over-zealous reporters, it seems that new stories about Justin Bieber’s ‘bratty behaviour’ make the headlines practically every day.

So, what about the man himself? Is he justified in wanting a little privacy, and the same rights to an opinion (or perhaps, an occassional lapse in judgement) as any other person? Or does his celebrity status make him fair game for a tabloid trashing?

How to Make an Eton Mess

In stuff on June 28, 2011 at 12:26 pm
A delicious raspberry Eton mess

Traditionally served in the tuck shop at Eton College, this deliciously fruity strawberries-and-cream based English dessert is the perfect recipe for a hot Summer’s day.


3 large egg whites

175 gms golden caster sugar

1 punnet strawberries

1 pint double cream

A dash of port


    1. Whisk the egg whites in a bowl until they stiffen to form soft peaks.

    2. Slowly add the caster sugar and continue until completely mixed into the egg whites.

    3. Put rounded dessert spoons of the mixture onto a lined baking tray and bake in the oven on a low heat for approx. 1 hour.

    4. Leave the meringues to dry overnight, or until cold.

    5. Mash strawberries together with a little icing sugar and a dash of port.

    6. Lightly whip double cream.

    7. Fold the strawberries, meringues and softly whipped cream together and spoon the mixture into serving dish.

Amy’s World

In stuff on June 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm

A good teacher knows that working with children is really a blessing. As exhausting as teaching can be, it’s a profession which allows for creative freedom,  and children can give you the opportunity to think in a different way. Through children, we can learn to free up our innate synaesthetic leanings so that blue is not only calm but also associated with Tuesday, The Present Perfect, and Mum’s blouse. These associations  become lost as we get older and are forced to order and appraise the world in a more ‘organised’ and ‘rational’ way.

Working with 11 year old Amy was a huge challenge – a Ukrainian child who had very little English, but spoke fluent Italian, Ukrainian and Russian, in addition to a smattering of several other languages –  she would code switch at any opportunity, as if her brain was unable to contain and differentiate between all the linguistic information it possessed. After one particularly frustrating morning,  Amy sat announced “I don’t like…” followed by a long list of her grievances with countries, family members and the world in general. I began to think that her abrupt refusal to work and extreme mood swings were more than mere tiredness or an inability to understand the material we were covering. It was at this point that I was told that Amy had undergone many operations to her brain as a child, which had initially rendered her unable to talk or even to move, after a tumour was removed.

This helped me to understand why she had such difficulty interacting with the other children, why she would try to lock the classroom door during the lesson to prevent other people coming into the room, why she refused to go downstairs during the break and wanted only to play noughts and crosses on the board every day. After about four days together, things started to work better as I began to understand Amy. As I hit upon  strategies to keep Amy focused on her work, her moods became less erratic and she responded extremely well to exercises involving number patterns or pictorial stimuli. Providing a generative situation with a cartoon coupled with a tactile object (a radio shaped like Homer Simpson’s head) proved very effective for the introduction of new grammatical structures, and I began to find her receptive and, in fact, quite a pleasure to teach. She was certainly unlike any other child I’d taught. Amy didn’t want just to play the games; she wanted to design the games. Although she couldn’t speak Korean, in her mind she was quite fluent. The soft toy cat on her chair was as real as any animal, and the  references she made to her favourite things (Obama, Berlusconi, foxes, huskies) during exercises or games, or when I praised her for grasping new vocabulary or a new grammar point, were an expression of her happiness and satisfaction. Viewing groups of things she likes as connected, ‘odd one out’ questions can involve only preference. A very interesting way of looking at the world!

This little girl certainly taught me the value of play in the classroom, and in life in general. She also reminded me of  the importance of listening and responding to the way students think and feel as opposed to simply teaching by the book. The artist, the architect, Amy is constantly recreating the world and she may well create something quite amazing when she grows up. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to teach her, and will work hard not to forget the lessons that she taught me.


Generation Y: Are YOU part of the problem?

In media, stuff on February 12, 2011 at 6:46 pm

This morning I received a link on Facebook to a video from my cousin. He appended a tagline to this which innocently enquired “Are you part of the problem, or the solution?”. Ordinarily, I tend to avoid guilt-inducing documentaries about saving the planet, which tend to have a thinly disguised anti-corporate, anti-government, anti-Capitalist agenda. I’ve been to University, bought copies of the Socialist Worker from the ageing vendor picketing outside, attended meetings on Marxist-feminism, and ultimately concluded this isn’t the solution. At least, this isn’t the solution for me.

I have spent too long trying to fight for my survival, just to stay afloat and make enough money to make ends meet, to waste my time and pay undue attention to a bunch of overpriviledged, private school educated Graphic Design students pontificate on  9/11 conspiracy theories, or the ills of modern society.

But, today was a special day. This was a day in which I woke up feeling a little less cynicism, and a little more hope. An attitude which may have as much to do with a recent change in my personal circumstances as it does with current political events (my boyfriends’s new job moving us from a dire state of packet noodle malnourishment and avoiding the landlord, to that of gorging on Waitrose oysters and Beaujolais, and planning a holiday in Madeira – Happy Valentine’s Day indeed!).

The fact is, I always knew what I wanted; a big family; a nice house, preferably in South Kensington or surrounding area; a husband, who respects and loves me; job satisfaction; a high salary; above all, I always hungered after money and power. So, watching the documentary I suddenly felt a pang of guilt. I’m guilty of succumbing to that terrible addiction the majority of 21st century Westerners so often fall prey to: wanting more. I began to panic, attempting to rationalise my thoughts – surely, this is an adaptive trait? A drive to succeed, a burning ambition to work harder, do better, make more money, and to get better qualified,  gives me energy. It prevents me from looking around me in desperation at the tragic state of modern society, and from falling into a pit of despair at the realisation of my own shortcomings and failures. This is what gets me up in the morning. Why feel guilty about it?

Eating a packet of Oreos while reading an article on CNN Money about Conan O’Brien, I started to wonder why Gen-Xers such as Conan, or Jon Stewart or Obama – all men in their late 40s, have the ability to inspire and motivate Gen-Yers, such as myself.  Yesterday, I came across a blog by an MBA student which discussed leadership theories that match different generational categories to different personality types. For example, the Golden Generation of pre WW2 would tend to show a obedience to authority, in contrast to the Baby Boomers of the Vietnam era who consequently display a dislike and mistrust towards authority. While I find these categories could be a little reductive, and question the utility and validity of applying them to generations wholesale (it seems like a nice little project for a bored University Sociology professor, and if executed poorly could be considered just one step up from making astrological predictions based on  peoples sun signs), I do have to admit that some of the qualities outlined for the Gen-Yers are applicable to me.  I am indeed a globally selfish person – when I consider volunteering I think about whether having experience at the RSC would look better on my CV than Theatre Peckham, even if they do desperately need the extra help. Call me a bad person if you want, but it just seems like smart business to me.

I’m afraid I can’t concur with the opinion that Gen-Xers are a bunch or disaffected and angry 40 somethings. After all, people’s attitudes reflect not only their social environment, but also their own age and the depth of their own personal experience. I hope that by the time I reach my mid-40s I’m not paralysed by disappointment in my government, or jaded and embittered by lost youth, lost love, missed chances, and that I have the strength and power to fight for what I believe in and to encourage others to do the same. While the world is filled with inspirational figures like Obama, Assange, Jon Stewart, and yes,Conan O’Brien, who challenge peoples perceptions and encourage young people to question paralysing and stultifying systems of power, I will embrace Generation X. These are the spokesmen who inspire me to believe that I can be a part of building a better future for the next generation, and that working to revolutionise systems of power is not merely the purview of the naive, or the rich, or the young. This is really happening now. Through unity and power people have the power to shape their own destiny, and the destiny of our world. And that’s real change, no matter how old the messenger is.