Valentine’s Day English Tip

valentins_treeIt’s almost Valentine’s Day and love is in the air! I spotted this site in the news today. It’s for people who want to speed-date online. Speed-dating is when you have a short 5-minute discussion with a potential partner to find out if you like him or her.

I’m married so a speed-dating site isn’t much use for me but it did get me thinking about a good speaking exercise.

If a speed date, is 5 minutes long, that means each person probably has about a minute for an introduction and a minute to ask questions then another minute for general discussion at the end.

Could you describe yourself in a minute in a way that would attract a romantic partner? Give ti a try and time yourself. It’s harder than it sounds.

Also, what would be the most important questions to ask a potential partner?

This is a great way to practise your fluency and question-forming skills. Even if you don’t actually want to try speed-dating, thinking about the answers to these questions in English is good practice.

Today’s image is by Renate Kalloch.

How to dream in English

sleeping_womanOne of the characteristics of an advanced language learner is having dreams in his or her second language. I can remember my first dream in my second language. I was a chat show host in the dream and I was interviewing guests and playing the piano for an audience. It was a very strange experience!

Dreaming in English could be a great way to practise while you are sleeping, too. What a great idea for busy people! Obviously dreaming in English alone won’t make you fluent, you have to keep up your regular practice, too.

How can you control your dreams and make sure they are in English, though? There’s no certain way to control what you dream about, however, here are some tips to help encourage your brain to dream in English:

1. Read in English before you go to sleep. If you like novels, that’s great. If you prefer magazines, that’s fine, too. The important thing is that it is in English and you are thinking in English before you go to sleep.

2. Write a journal in English before you go to sleep. Many people think we use dreams to fully understand what happened to use each day. If this is the case, thinking about your day using English grammar and vocabulary will help you dream in English.

3. Keep a dream journal in English. When you wake up in the morning, make a note of what happened in your dream in English. Even if your dream was in your first language, writing about it in English will help you dream in English in the future.

4. Listen to something in English. Whether it’s the evening news or an audiobook, listening to something in English before you go to sleep will help put your brain in the right condition to dream in English.

Give these tips a try tonight. If you find they work for you, remember to leave a comment and tell us all what you dreamt about.

Today’s image is by Hervé de Brabandère.

Five fun ways to listen to English podcasts

apple_headphonesThere are loads of great English podcasts out there. Some focus on specific grammar points and others are more conversation-based. Whatever your preference, there’s something out there for you.

If you are a busy person, it can be hard to find time to listen to podcasts, though. Here are five fun ways to listen to English podcasts that fit in with your daily schedule.

1. When you are working out. I used to listen to Japanese podcasts when I was running and found it was a great way to find a time when nobody would disturb me. The rainy season has started now, though so I can’t listen when I’m running. I don’t want my iPod to get wet!

2. On the train. There is a lot of background noise on trains which can make listening a challenge. This is good practice because in real life, we don’t usually have a nice, quiet classroom to listen to people speaking in!

3. In your car. If you spend a lot of time driving, your car can be an ideal place to practise English. You can concentrate and nobody can disturb you. You can even practise speaking and don’t have to worry about disturbing other people. It’s a nice way to avoid getting stressed on traffic jams, too.

4. At work. You could listen to an English podcast on your lunch break or even while you are supposed to be working. Just make sure your boss doesn’t catch you!

5. With a friend. I have mentioned before what an advantage it is to have someone to study with. If you have a friend who is also studying English, subscribe to the same podcasts so you can discuss them and make sure you fully understand any new grammar points of vocabulary in them.

Which English podcasts do you subscribe to?

Today’s image is by Allan Sorensen.

An easy way of reading for detail

It’s unlikely that you will need to read more than a few paragraphs in this style. Most of the time, you will be skimming or scanning first. Once you have found the information you want, then you will need to switch to reading for detail. Here’s how to do it.

1. Read the whole paragraph without stopping. Don’t worry if you don’t understand it all yet, the following steps will help with that.

2. Once you have read the paragraph. Come back to the sentences that you don’t understand. Underline any words you don’t understand in those sentences and think about which other word you could use to replace them and make a sentence that you do understand.

This is guessing from context and is a very important skill to develop as it will help you learn to read faster and more fluently.

3. When you have already tried guessing the word you don’t understand from context, go back an check with a dictionary just to make sure you were right.

Learning to read for detail like this takes time to start with and you may be tempted just to look all the words up straight away in your dictionary. Try not to, though. Remember, you won’t always have a dictionary with you wherever you go, so it’s very important to invest the time in learning to read for detail and guess from context.

This is part of my improve your English reading skills series.

Improve your English reading skills – Part 3: Scan-reading

timetableContinuing with our Improve your English reading skills series, this week let’s look at scan-reading.

When do we ‘scan’?

We scan-read when we already know what information we are looking for. For example:

  • when we are reading a train timetable
  • when we are looking for an entry in a dictionary
  • when we are looking for a name in a phone book
  • when we are looking for information on a specific point in a non-fiction book

How to do it:

  • Don’t read every word, just look for keywords related to the information you need.
  • Don’t just read from left to right. It’s important to be flexible when scanning. Sometimes looking from the top to the bottom of the page to find the title, subtitle, or information you are looking for is more efficient.
  • Don’t let irrelevant information distract you. Focus on what you are looking for and ignore parts of the text that are not related to it.
  • Be prepared to change your reading style. Once you spot the information you need, you will need to change your reading style and focus on reading for detail. We’ll look at that aspect in more detail next week. After you have found out whatever it was you were looking for, you can switch back to scanning and continue reading through the rest of the document.

What documents have you ‘scan-read’ recently?

Today’s image is by Monique.

Improve your English reading skills – Part 2: Skim reading

magazinesLast week, we had a look at different types of English reading skills. This week, let’s focus on skim reading in more detail. Skim reading is a useful skill to develop and it’s easy to learn.

The most common uses of skim reading are:
browsing the news
reading a magazine
looking through long e-mails
looking at adverts

How to do it:
Look at the title to get an idea of the context.
Don’t try to understand every individual word. Read quickly and try to understand the general meaning.
In long paragraphs, focus on the beginning and end.
In short paragraphs, focus on the most important words.
Don’t stop halfway through. You’ll forget where you were and need to change to a different style of reading to find your place again.

Learning to skim well will help you improve your English reading skills in two ways. Firstly, you will be able to read faster. Secondly, you will find it helps you develop your skills at guessing new words from context.

What have you skim read today?

This is part of my ‘Tuesday Tips‘ series. Every Tuesday, I share a simple tip on how to improve your language skills. Some of these are techniques I use with students in class and others are things I’ve found work well when learning languages myself. If you decide to try them out, let me know how they went by leaving a comment below the article. Click here to see some more tips on how to improve your English.

Today’s image is by Sanja Gjenero.

Improve your English reading skills – Part 1: Styles of reading

readingBefore you can start to improve your English reading skills, you need to decide on which which styles of reading you will use most and where your strengths and weaknesses are.

Let’s have a look at the four main styles of reading and work out which aspects you need to work on in order to improve your English reading skills overall.

1. Skimming – This is when you read quickly, just trying to get an impression of the overall meaning of a text.
Examples: reading a newspaper or magazine, looking at an advert.

2. Scanning – When you ‘scan’, you are looking for a specific piece of information within the text.
Examples: looking at a timetable to find out when your train leaves, looking for a number in a phone book.

3. Reading for detail – This is when you pay attention to every single word and spend time thinking about what each individual sentence means.
Examples: reading a grammar explanation, reading the instructions for an exercise in a textbook.

4. Reading for a deeper meaning – This is when you read quickly through a long text and think about the overall meaning. You might consider that there is some hidden deeper meaning. Maybe it relates to another topic or maybe it is making some kind of political statement.
Example: reading a novel.

Try some of the examples I have mentioned here and find out which areas you feel most comfortable with and which you need to work on.

Why are you learning English and which of these skills do you think you will need to use most?

Once you have decided which of these types of English reading skills you need to work on, you will be able to focus on it and really start making some major improvements.

Over the next four weeks, I’ll be going into each of these skills in more detail so remember to check back to see all the latest updates.

This is part of my ‘Tuesday Tips‘ series. Every Tuesday, I share a simple tip on how to improve your language skills. Some of these are techniques I use with students in class and others are things I’ve found work well when learning languages myself. If you decide to try them out, let me know how they went by leaving a comment below the article. Click here to see some more tips on how to improve your English.

Today’s image is by Zsuzsanna Kilian.

6 great tips for kinaesthetic learners

jumping_2Over the last two weeks, we’ve seen some tips for visual learners and auditory learners. Now, let’s have a look at some for kinaesthetic learners.

Kinaesthetic learners learn things best by actually doing them. If you are a kinaesthetic learner, try using these tips to help you practise English.

1.  Matching games. Kids love these games and adults can benefit from them, too. Make one set of cards with words on them and another set with the definitions. Mix the cards up then try and match them together correctly.

2.  Role plays. If you have a partner to work with, act out situations with him or her. Even if you are only acting, it’s a great way to feel what it would be like to be in that situation in real life. If you don’t have a partner, use a mirror. I know many people who have really improved their pronunciation by impersonating famous people in front of a mirror.

3.  Find a penpal. It’s easy to meet people on the Internet. Join an English forum related to your hobbies and interests and meet people you can write to in English all over the world.

4.  Make posters. Actually creating a poster or leaflet with new vocabulary or a grammar point on it will help you remember a lot better than just looking at one.

5.  Learn while you work out. Listen to English podcasts while you are running or in the gym. Most of them are free and there are some really good ones out there.

6.  Start a blog. Tell the world about your life in English. You could also ask people for their comments on your writing underneath every post. There’s a great blog called ‘Is my English strange?’ which is a really good example of this.

If you already have a blog you use to practise English, remember to leave a link in the comments below.

This is part of my ‘Tuesday Tips‘ series. Every Tuesday, I share a simple tip on how to improve your language skills. Some of these are techniques I use with students in class and others are things I’ve found work well when learning languages myself. If you decide to try them out, let me know how they went by leaving a comment below the article. Click here to see some more tips on how to improve your English.

Today’s image is by Jesse Therrien.