Monday, May 30, 2011

IELTS Writing Help (Blog Recommendation #3)

If you want some more help and insight into IELTS writing then I highly recommend this blog!

A Teacher's Odyssey: Tips for Successful English

Miracel Juanta has produced a brilliant blog here that looks at IELTS essays from her different students.  She now has more than 60 "IELTS Writing Makeover" posts which show full essays from students.  The students have a variety of levels and the essays are on a variety of topics.

If you want to see more IELTS essay models, then you should look through this website.  If you want a better idea of what is good and what is bad, then you should look through this website.

Thanks Miracel!  Great website, keep it coming! :-)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Help for Exam & General English Practice (Blog Recommendation #2)

If you are preparing for the IELTS exam then you will be interested in these links.  If you are not doing exam preparation but want to improve you general English abilities, then I have other links you will be interested in.

But these all come from one source... so this is my


So, if you are preparing for IELTS, I think you should look at Rliberni's Top 10 Tips for Improving IELTS Scores.  This blogger has been involved with IELTS since the mid-1990s (when it started!) so she has lots of experience and certainly understands what you need for the exam.

Vocabulary Help
The recommendations here are based on using, not losing your bilingual dictionary.  Generally I think it is better for learners to use an English to English dictionary but I think bilingual dictionaries are useful and I think the suggestions here are good ways to use them.  So, take a look at Rliberni's 10 Ways to Increase Your Vocabulary.

Speaking Help
These are some GREAT suggestions and I think I'll start using some of them with my Spanish!  I really like Rliberni's 10 Goofy Ways to Practise Speaking Skills.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Does Testing Help You Learn?

What do you think about exams and tests?  Please post your ideas and opinions below.

Many of you who follow this blog probably took IELTS or FCE or one of the other Cambridge exams.  Or perhaps you did the North American testing; TOEFL or TOEIC.

A lot of people learn English because it is the international language and if they want to work for the big companies (and even some of the smaller ones) they need to have English.   And how do we measure this English?... with the tests.

As a teacher, I have a love/hate relationship with these tests (yes, another love/hate relationship, just like with tenses).  The good thing for the teacher is that students preparing for a test are generally, generally well-motivated (not always).  The bad thing for a teacher is that it is sometimes difficult to keep learning fun when an important exam is ahead.

If I think as a learner (of Spanish), I feel that I need exams to motivate and guide me.  I am not taking a language course at the moment so if I really want to improve my Spanish I will need to have an exam to prepare for.  The exam will have specific points about language that it will test (think IELTS Writing Part 1: Graphs and Tables) and that means I know what I need to focus on.

But a big problem is that testing is generally stressful, can be expensive, and the English it tests can sometimes be very inauthentic, in other words, not like the English you will hear on TV or find in a native-speaking conversation.

Another problem is that we are not all good at taking tests or exams.  I will admit that I am not good at standardized tests.  I hated them at university and I actually failed some of them (there, my big secret is out in the open!).  I was also really bad at predicting if I did well in a university exam or not.  I remember there were a few times when I finished an exam and I thought that I had done very well (I hadn’t) but there were also a couple of exams that I thought I had completely failed (I passed very well, in fact).

So when I come out of an exam and then I am told that I failed it, does that mean I didn’t learn anything?  Did I learn anything from those courses?  Apparently, not enough.

What do you think about exams and tests?  I look forward to your opinions so don’t be shy. :-)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Calm Down and Relax

How do you feel at the moment?  Calm and relaxed?  Do you have a cup of tea next to you while you look through this?  This would be the best way to feel in an English class.  Do you feel like that when you are studying English?  If you used to be in classes, did you feel like that?

I’m reading a lot at the moment about how important feelings are when we try to learn new things.  Specifically, I am reading a lot about anxiety and that anxious learners learn less than relaxed learners.  Do you think this is true for you?  Do you think this is true for the classes you have been in?

The research shows that it is important to have a relaxed atmosphere when you are try to understand something new – you will “pick it up” (understand it) much faster like this.  Some people work well under pressure (I think I am one of these people in general) but there is a big difference between work (doing a task) and learning (understanding something new) and I know that I don’t learn well under pressure.

We will look at my attempts to learn Spanish again.  My Spanish improvement is prevented by two things: anxiety and distractions; sometimes both depending on the situation.  Every time I am in a Spanish conversation where there is new language for me, I know I am much too anxious to learn or remember any new words.  In fact, learning vocabulary is the least important thing to me in the conversation because I am focussing on the communication.  My priority is to understand the person talking to me or to make sure the person understands the idea I am trying to say.

My students also try to teach me words in class but obviously I am too distracted by teaching and learning priorities to stop, take some time and think about the new word they want to give me.

So an environment free of anxiety and distraction is essential for learning a new language. However, relaxed does NOT equal bored, and no distractions does NOT equal boring. You need to be engaged and paying attention – which usually means having a good 8 hours of sleep the night before. :-)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Free Rice for Vocabulary

Hello all!

I’m preparing for a seminar this Saturday this will be a short post.

Have you seen the banner/link near the top of the page?  This is a great tool to improve your vocabulary.  It builds from words you already know and asks you to recognize synonyms.  Don’t worry about level – it has 60 levels of difficulty and level 60 is FAR too difficult for me.  It will give you questions for your level based on what you get right and wrong.  It’s quite clever really.  :-)

I promise a bigger post next week.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Favourite Websites for English Practice, pt 2 (Reading)

A couple of months ago I posted about my favourite websites for listening activities for the Internet.  Already I have a lot more listening websites I want to suggest but today’s post, as I promised, is a suggestion of a few websites that would be useful if you wanted to improve your English through reading.

As I already posted, reading is a VERY valuable and useful activity in English (and any language you are studying).  It helps to improve our vocabulary and the more reading we do, the faster we become.  One of the problems with reading activities is that most people don’t enjoy reading a computer screen for long periods of time.

News & Online Newspapers

This is why short news articles are an obvious thing to recommend.  A free, commuter’s newspaper in Britain, the Metro, is also available online (commuter is a person who travels to work every day).   They have a website but if you want to feel like you are reading a newspaper then they have a virtual newspaper you can read as well.  For this service you need to provide an email address and then you will receive a free, virtual newspaper every week day.  The level of English is not too high but you will still get a lot of useful vocabulary. 

If you are more interested in business and finance then you might want to look at a website connected to the Metro newspaper,  You can read articles about various topics in the financial world and there are lots of comments about these articles which are perfect to see how people “talk” about these topics.  If you want to improve your financial/business English but you are at a lower level, the BBC and British Council have made a website for you, Business Magazine.  The articles are short and clear and each article has learning exercises connected to them as options for extra practice.

General Interest

If you don’t want to read a newspaper regularly, then you might want to go so the Wikipedia Simple English site.  I love Wikipedia and I think it is one of the most useful websites on the entire Internet.  Sometimes the articles are very complicated so for learners of English I recommend the Simple English site.  There are not as many articles as in the main Wikipedia English site, but there is a lot of information and it is designed for learners of the English language.

Extensive Reading

If you want to do more extensive reading (as I suggested last week) then I recommend these two websites; Lit2Go and LoudLit are both websites with classic English-speaking stories, such as work by Jane Austen or A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  The great thing about these websites is that you can listen to someone reading the stories while you follow (read) the story.

One more website that is certainly worth looking at is ESL Reading.  It has a variety of different reading materials as well as some learning activities.  I haven’t had much time to look at this site in detail yet but it looks good to me.

Please let me know what you think and, as always, any comments are welcome.

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