Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Just this week a new student signed up with me and she said something I’d like to share with you,

“I will never be fluent in English.”

Ouch! She continued by saying she’s been studying for a very long time and feels like she’s been running around in circles getting nowhere.

When I moved from Canada to Spain almost a quarter of a century ago I knew four words in Spanish: Dos cervezas por favor. And I couldn’t even say those right. So how did I get from zero to being fluent (TV and radio appearances, magazine articles)? I chunked.

What is that? Chunking is breaking a big thing down into smaller pieces. The process involves understanding the smaller tasks and putting them on a timeline. Reaching these mini goals is rewarding and keeps you focused, making you hungry for more victories.

I discovered this method while studying Theatre Direction at university. Think about your fluency as opening night. What has to be done in the weeks and months prior to the big show? The actors have to learn their lines, the costumes have to be made, the set has to be built, posters and programs have to be designed and printed … and as you can imagine, all these tasks have to be executed in a specific order. It’s so much easier to do this by working backwards.

Perhaps the best way to start is with a good, old-fashioned pencil and a piece of paper. Brainstorm all the things you have to do to reach fluency. Here are a few things that may be on your list:

  • Look for a good teacher
  • Learn the irregular verbs
  • Master the sounds in English (the sounds are the building blocks)
  • Amass vocabulary
  • Learn what the different verb tenses are for (we use the tenses to express more than just time)
  • Join a conversation group

This list has very general concepts on it but you should make yours as specific as possible. For example, ‘amass vocabulary’ could be ‘learn 5 new words every day.’

Next draw a line on your piece of paper and write ‘FLUENCY’ at the far right end. Now put all the points on your list in chronological order along the timeline. The following step is to determine the regularity with which you will be performing these tasks. For example, if you do your research, you will only have to look for a good teacher once, but you will have to learn some new words every day to keep up the momentum. So now go to your agenda (the one you use for work) and load all your tasks onto it. When that little bell goes off … do it!

Directing a play is a lot like learning a language. You start out with a few words, you go through a process and then you amaze your audience. It’s tempting to dream about the great reviews while you’re still rehearsing, but in reality this only distracts you from your goal. By focusing on each step, the work gets done in a logical sequence ... and I emphasise ‘gets done.’

Start brainstorming your list right now. Just grab any old scrap of paper and write down the first things that come to your head. Stuck for ideas? Why not check out the ‘Speak English Once and for All’ facebook group?

Break a leg!

ps: ‘break a leg’ is a theatre expression that means ‘good luck.’ It’s considered bad luck to say ‘good luck!’

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pronunciation of the Final 'ed'

Oooh! I’m excited because I have a really cool tip to share with you today. It’s about pronunciation … a subject I know is of great interest to you!

I talked a bit about the pronunciation of the final ‘ed’ of regular verbs in the past simple and in the participle forms in my book (Speak English Once and for All), but today I have a graphic for you that I think is going to make the patterns a whole lot clearer. (Drum roll, please …)

As the number ‘1’ indicates, start at the top of the diagram. Answer the questions and you will be pronouncing the regular verbs in the Past Simple perfectly in no time! I know it takes a little getting used to, but then again, so did driving a car and now it’s second nature to you.

I’ve got lots of info-bites like this in my courses, so why don’t you have a look at them. There is a package available to suit your budget, schedule and level. Don’t be shy! Click the button and take a peek, there’s no obligation to buy:

Best regards,

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Out of Hand!

Hands are handy to have. When my children were born I wished I’d had an extra pair grow from my knees to pick things up from the floor.

That little stick on your wall clock that spins around at a relative speed is called a hand. You can give a hand to someone in a couple ways: as in helping or applause. A person’s calligraphy is known as their hand. You can give someone something by handing it to them. You have a big hand in the direction your life takes.

A person who performs manual labor is known as a hand. The playing cards you are dealt are a hand. Something that is not produced by a machine is hand-made. You can hand something over (usually reluctantly!) to somebody. Hands-down, this is one of my favorite all-terrain words.

Whew … that’s a lot of information. On the other hand, I know you enjoy a challenge! There are even more meanings and collocations for the word hand out there. You can discover more about collocations (and a lot more stuff too!) in Judy Thompson's book English is Stupid, Students are Not. It's available as a gift here.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

3 Solid Reasons to Watch

Today I wanted to check up on you. Are you watching videos and/or TV in English? Maybe you’ve given it a try but you’ve found it frustrating not being able to understand everything. Honestly, like I mention in my book (Speak English Once and for All), I don’t understand everything either. Thank goodness for Netflix. You can rewind and watch it again until it becomes clear. Just in case you were thinking of eliminating this activity from your Training Program, let me give you three really good reasons to stick with it.

  1. Authentic Material
The problem with material designed for learners is that real people don’t talk like that. Watching the TV that native speakers watch opens the door to their world of communication: alternative vocabulary, new catch phrases and collocations.

     2. Context
Remember the multiple meanings of words? So you’ve been diligently writing your sentences using the words from the 1000 Most Common Words list. And you’ve been investigating the different uses on forums and online dictionaries. Now it’s time to hear those words in action! It’s time to discover the ‘where’ (before the verb? After the subject?) and the ‘when’ (with friends, with a client … ).

   3. Words are Only 20% of what we Say
That’s right! The rest of our communication comes from gestures, facial expressions and the tone of our voice. Three little words like ‘I love you’ can have a myriad of meanings depending on how we say it. If I throw my arms around you and say it with a song in my voice, you know that I cherish you. I could say it sarcastically, which of course would mean the exact opposite. When watching, don’t limit yourself to the vocabulary, watch out for body language too.

One little word of advice: start out small with this project. Watch 5-10 minute videos to begin with and then work your way up to a 20-minute series. If you’d like some suggestions about what to watch, please visit my youtube channel. Don’t forget to subscribe!

Happy watching!