Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Daily Bread

"A loaf of bread,' the Walrus said, 'is what we chiefly need.”
Lewis Carroll

Bread is a pretty important part of western culture. Breaking bread with someone (having a meal together) often leads to friendship, builds a solid base for a good business relationship or smooths over disputes with a rival.

Your occupation provides with with a regular income. You may have other projects on the go, but your salary is your bread and butter. And to know which side your bread is buttered on is knowing who’s the boss.

“Hey man, I’m flat, can you shoot me some bread?” Means, “Hello friend, I don’t have any money. Can I borrow some?”

It is said however that, ’man cannot live on bread alone.’ in addition to the bare essentials in life, we need art and friends and love.

And perhaps you are hooked on a new fad, or there’s a new product out on the market that just knocks your socks off. It’s the best thing since sliced bread.

Just like the English Laboratory Fluency Questionnaire! It will tell you what level you're at and how long it will take you to reach fluency:

May your bread basket be plentiful,

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Shhh ... Secret Message

There are very few absolute rules in English. But one that you can count on is that the present participle and the gerund will always be ‘ing.’ Never irregular, there are almost two dozen different situations where you can use it, so it’s pretty handy. Now, I’m sure you know it as a verb (you’re reading this blog), as a noun (let’s go shopping) and as an adjective (that was an amazing movie!). But do you know about the secret message it conveys?

We use the ‘ing’ to convey our level of empathy towards our listener or the emotion involved in what the speaker is saying. Imagine that you have to catch a train at 5pm. On the way to the train station you stop into a shop to buy some gum. There is a huge line-up. If you wait in line you will miss your train ... but you really want that gum! You approach the first person in line. You could say:

“Would you mind if I butted in, my train leaves in 15 minutes.”


“Would you mind if I butted in, my train is leaving in 15 minutes.”

Which do you think is more appropriate? Why? What does the second sentence convey that the first sentence does not?

“My train leaves in 15 minutes” is a bland piece of information.“My train is leaving in 15 minutes” communicates a sense of urgency … that deadline is coming up fast!

Now, do you remember we talked about Distancing? We speak in the present when we are talking to close friends or equals and move the construction further into the past as the relationship becomes more formal and especially when we are speaking to a superior.

In the above example, the speaker asks ‘would you mind if I butted in’ as opposed to ‘do you mind if I but in.’ The latter option (being in the present tense) implies familiarity or friendship. Since the speaker has never met the listener before, s/he moves back to the past to express regard. The ‘ing’ expresses their feelings of apology (for causing an inconvenience) and friendliness (in the hope of it being reciprocated).

More than proper grammar and an extensive vocabulary, understanding these abstract concepts in communication in English will bring you closer to fluency. You can take a step in that direction by clicking this button:

Looking forward to next week,

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Are You Resourceful?

What’s your primary resource for improving your English fluency? How much would you say you use that resource?

I recently conducted a poll asking these same questions and although the answer to the first one varied widely, the answer to the second question was consistently upwards of 80% of the time.

Whoa! That’s way too much time to spend on one aspect of the language. Think about listening, speaking, reading and writing as your children. Would you spend 80% of your time with one of them, leaving only 20% of your time to spread thin between the other three? No way, they are each their own person and require their own special attention, but you have an equally bottomless well of love for each one. Likewise, you should dedicate equal time to the four main fluency skills.

Now, I’m not saying you do less of what you obviously enjoy very much. Rather, I’m suggesting that you do more of those things that have not been getting so much of your attention. If you’re at a loss for what you can do, you can visit the facebook group. Please read through other people’s tips and tricks in the ‘Action!’ thread and feel free to add your own. I’m always excited to the hear about the creative ways you think up to reach your fluency goal.

Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein

Have fun!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

At Last!

Everyone should have a few fancy words in their vocabulary, like everyone should have a fancy pair of shoes in their closet. You may not wear them often, but when the occasion is right, they’re the only ones that will do.

Most days however, we’re not going to fancy balls and the opera, so we wear our everyday clothes. We can mix and match tops and trousers to make combinations for work or the weekend. These clothes are our basics.

Likewise, 80% of what a native English speaker says are the same words used over and over in different combinations and contexts. The other 20% is just for special occasions.

I just love four-letter words, so today let’s look at ‘last’ and a few of its multiple meanings.

Final: That's the last thing I want to do!
Latest: What did you do last weekend?
Previous: Did you see the last presentation?
Continue: How long did the presentation last?

You can see that last can be a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb. Cool, eh? And each one of these definitions has its own little variants. Take a look at your favorite online dictionary and research a few more and write sentences using the word last in different contexts.

The Daily Training Program (DTP) is a great way to keep on top of your vocabulary-building efforts and it’s included in every package. Right now I’ve got a special 7 day trial offer on the Private Lessons Package ... only 0.99€! This offer not only includes the DTP but also 3 private lessons with a native speaker so click the button to reserve your first class:

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Listen Up!

Here is how you learned your first language:

listening > speaking > reading > writing > grammar

If you learned English as a second language in school, you probably did the exact opposite. You started with the grammar, you copied meaningless words and phrases, you read textbooks, your speech was unintelligible to a native speaker and it was likely quite difficult for you to understand what anybody was saying.

Your ears are the very first part of your body you should be using to learn to speak English fluently. Remember, your mouth only does half of the work in your first language too. The rest of a conversation is spent listening. Otherwise, how would you know what to say?

And believe it or not, the actual words are of relative unimportance. I’ve mentioned before that only 20% of our communication is what we say. The rest is gestures, facial expressions and tone. For example, I know when a native English speaker is asking me a question ... even if the structure of the sentence is not in the interrogative form, there are no question words and including if the speaker uses only one word ... because their tone goes up at the very end. This change in the sound tells me how to respond.

Sound, that’s the important thing. There are 40 sounds in English, 24 consonant sounds and 16 vowel sounds. Without a doubt, the vowel sounds are the most important and are also the sounds you likely find more challenging. I encourage you to practice them with this three-minute ESL Vowel Sounds Yoga workout video:

As with the other 'homework' I recommend, it's in your best interest to practice with this video every day: perhaps in the morning to start the day off by centering yourself or as a break in the middle of the day, or in the evening to end the day with a nice relaxing exercise. Either way, work it into your daily agenda and you will find that you dominate these 16 essential sounds in no time!

Have a great week!