Friday, December 21, 2012

Help with Writing Practice (Website Recommendation)

If you want some practice writing, then short stories are definitely something you should try. Not all writing has to be marked by a teacher to be useful. Your teacher isn't with you all the time to check your reading, speaking or listening.

One of the problems that some people have is getting ideas about what to write about. This is certainly true for me. However, I've found it just takes one little piece of help, a ‘prompt’ (something which helps you to think about other things).

So try this little webpage – Prompt Generator. It will give you the first sentence of your story and then you just need to continue your story from there.  Just remember that a short story doesn't need to be a book.

Here’s an idea for you:

Write a different short story each day for two weeks. Use the Prompt Generator for help if you need it. At the end of your two weeks you should have 10 stories - you don't need to write at the weekend. :-)

Now, take a look at your first story again. I'm sure you will see some mistakes in it that you can now fix. Maybe there will be some new vocabulary or more details you want to add. For the next two weeks, take a look at one of your stories each day and see if you can improve it. For 10 minutes a day (just over 3 hours in one month) I'm sure you will be impressed with how much you improve.

Let me know how you do with your writing.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Phonetic Film Quiz #14

Here is the penultimate (meaning second last) film quiz of the year.  This quote is from a brilliant film about a real life event.

/hjʊstən wiː həv ə ˈprɑːbləm/

Do you know the movie?  Do you remember which character/actor said the words?

For the answer and some history of the event, click here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Help with Grammar & Academic Writing (Website Recommendation)

If you like grammar to be explained to you very clearly then you probably want to take a look at this website. 

The Lecturette is a website with short, simple slideshows (like Powerpoints) about grammar and academic writing. Just click on something you want more explanation about and the slideshow in the middle of the page will try to explain it. It looks like the website has most of grammar points that you would find in a grammar book. However, what I really like are the extra slideshows about academic writing. Definitely worth looking at if you are preparing for university courses in English.

If you are on Twitter you can also get updates about new lessons from Piet.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Backchaining for Speaking and Presentations Preparation

I sometimes struggle putting long sentences together. For this reason I get very apprehensive when I have to present to a large audience.

The sentence above can be difficult to say correctly the first time. When I give a presentation I certainly don’t know everything I’m going to say. However, there are some parts of a presentation that you need to practise a lot.

Usually, you want to know how you are going to start and finish your introduction and your conclusion. These are important sentences, especially the first sentence. If you present your first sentence well then you build confidence which helps you during the rest of the presentation.

So we don’t need to know every word we are going to say... but we do need to practise a few key sentences.


Backchaining. Here is an example of backchaining:

large audience. 
a large audience. 
to a large audience. 
present to a large audience. 
to present to a large audience. 
have to present to a large audience. 
I have to present to a large audience. 
when I have to present to a large audience. 
apprehensive when I have to present to a large audience. 
very apprehensive when I have to present to a large audience. 
get very apprehensive when I have to present to a large audience. 
I get very apprehensive when I have to present to a large audience. 
reason I get very apprehensive when I have to present to a large audience. 
this reason I get very apprehensive when I have to present to a large audience. 
For this reason I get very apprehensive when I have to present to a large audience. 

Research shows that backchaining is a great way to practice speaking and it is much more effective than starting at the beginning when you have a problem.

Here is another example of back'chaining:



You've just backchained the word ‘deterioration’.

So you can backchain with whole words or, if you are having problems with a specific word, you can back-chain the word alone. This method really helps learners to get the right stress and the right sounds (especially if you focus on the phonetics).

Think about how you might practise these example sentences (I've also provided the phonetic script to help you):

“Unfortunately, the deterioration of the city in the 80s led to a number of social problems.”
/ʌnˈfɔːʧnɪtli ðə dɪˌtɪərɪəˈreɪʃən əv ðə ˈsɪtɪ ɪn ðiː ˈeɪtiːz led tʊ ə ˈnʌmbə əv ˈsəʊʃəl ˈprɒbləmz/

“Good morning. Welcome to this presentation. Today I’m going to discuss issues of international trade and its relation to social welfare in various countries.”
/gʊd ˈmɔːnɪŋ/
/ˈwelkəm tə ðɪs ˌprezenˈteɪʃən/
/təˈdeɪ aiːm ˈgəʊɪŋ tə dɪsˈkʌs ˈɪʃuːz əv ˌɪntəˈnæʃənl treɪd ənd ɪts rɪˈleɪʃən tə ˈsəʊʃəl ˈwelfeə ɪn ˈveərɪəs ˈkʌntrɪz/

If you really want a challenge, try using backchaining to improve your speed and pronunciation of a tongue twister.

Remember, in general, good presentations are about
expressiveness, intonation and audience involvement.
A lot of this comes from good pronunciation and
good pronunciation comes from lots of practice!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Understanding How We Learn" is now "Understanding English"

I recently wrote my 100th post on this blog! I started writing my blog in February 2011 while I was teaching abroad (meaning in another country) and I'm pleased to say it's always been a lot of fun finding things to share with you and thinking about things to write. In September 2011 I returned to Britain and started doing a Masters in Applied Linguistics and Teaching. Unfortunately, my work and studies meant I couldn't think about my blog for a while.

However, a few months ago I decided to start writing and posting again and I'm pleased to see that you are still interested. I hope that what I'm posting is helping you in your studies of English. I will try to keep writing as long as people want to keep reading.

As for 2013, I have a few ideas about new things I want to introduce to the blog. I look forward to getting a few more of my excellent teaching colleagues to share their thoughts and advice with you as well. I am making one big change immediately.

Understanding How We Learn is now going to be called Understanding English.
This blog is mostly about learning and studying English so I think ‘it is about time’* the title should make that more clear. I hope you like the change. It's still the same blog, it's still the same author and none of the links should be affected.

I'm really looking forward to writing the next 100 posts but I thought I'd just give you a small summary of what made the first 100 posts.

You can still follow me on Twitter (@gscruton) and you can follow the blog and see other things I'm sharing on Facebook (Gordon's Understanding English Blog).

Thanks for following and sharing the blog with friends.  Keep visiting because there's more to come. :-)


P.S.  Here's a small explanation of a phrase I used in this post: "It's about time (that)"

* “it's about time (that)” is a phrase that means an event is late.  Here are some examples.

  • “The shelf has been broken for 3 months now.  It's about time I fix it.”
  • It's about time you arrived.  We've been waiting for you for half an hour!”
  • “I've decided to change the name of my blog.”  “It's about time.  You should have changed the name months ago!”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Phonetic Film Quiz #13

Staying on the theme of famous movie quotes, here's a famous quote from a series of films.  I think this one is pretty simple for you to recognize.

/meɪ ðə fɔːs biː wɪð jʊ/

What's the quote and which films is it from?  Here's the answer.  Follow the links below if you want to try a few other phonetic film quizzes.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dropbox (App Recommendation for Academic Students)

I have a 'cautionary tale' for you (this is a story which describes a problem you should avoid).

Last year, while I was doing my M.A. course, one of my classmates got into some trouble. He was working very hard on his dissertation. He had been working on it for a couple of months and it was about 15,000 words long. The deadline was 12 noon (midday) on a Friday. He didn't sleep any of Thursday night because he was still working hard to finish his dissertation on time.

At 9 a.m. (3 hours before the deadline) his computer crashed. It died. It stopped working. Unfortunately he didn't have time to get the computer fixed before the 12:00 deadline. He missed the deadline and when he did get the computer fixed, he printed his assignment and submitted it to the university. However, because it was late, it only got the minimum pass of 50 (the lowest possible pass score).

The problem for my classmate was this:

Universities do not accept ‘computer failure’ as a reason for late work. 

What can you do to avoid this?

Well, I don’t worry about this problem because I use Dropbox. When you put Dropbox on your computer it creates a new Dropbox folder. Anything you put into that folder will automatically be saved online.

If my classmate friend had Dropbox, he could easily have gone to another computer, downloaded the essay, printed it and he probably would have gotten 60-70%.

What else can Dropbox do?

Dropbox will keep every version of your documents. So, for example, if you have a 5000-word document and then you accidentally delete half the words and save it again, Dropbox will keep copies of the 5000-word version and the 2500-word version.

Most importantly, if you have a smartphone, a laptop and a tablet, Dropbox can be on all three computers and that means you don’t need to worry about USB drives and you don’t need to remember which computer has which file.

Here is a short video to demonstrate:

If you think this is something that would help you, click on the Dropbox icon below or follow this link.

I prefer Dropbox but there are other systems you can use, like Microsoft’s SkyDrive or Google Drive. The important thing is to make sure that you are never in a situation where your computer has the only copy of important documents you need.

Hope this helps a few of you.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Coherence in Academic Writing (University Preparation Tip #3)

Here is a short comic.  The hairy character is called Irwin and the woman he's telling his story to is Broom-Hilda.

Broom-Hilda by Russell Myers
I hope you see there is a problem with Irwin's story, specifically about the structure and about the topic of the story. If you don’t see the problem, read the story again. Look at each picture and try to answer this question: What is the main focus of the story in part 1, in part 2, in part 3, etc?

Do you see the problem now?

Part 1 is about the Young Princess, whereas Part 2 is about Uncle Hernando and Part 3 is about the Great Depression. The story has no focus... no coherence.

Make sure you don’t have this problem in your writing by:
  1. Deciding on one specific topic. 
  2. Making sure the topic and conclusion sentences of each paragraph tries to connect the paragraph’s idea to your essay topic. 
  3. Re-reading your work several times to make sure you have clear coherence in your writing. 
  4. Getting a friend/colleague to read your essay and asking their opinion about the coherence of the work. 
If you want a bit more help understanding this topic, you might want to take a look at an earlier article I wrote - Cohesion and Coherence.



Monday, December 3, 2012

Phonetic Film Quiz #12

This is another famous quote from a movie.  Can you remember the name of the film and the character?

/ə ˈsensəs ˈteɪkər wʌns traɪd tə test ˈmiː/
/aɪ eɪt hɪz ˈlɪvər wɪð sʌm fɑːvə biːnz əndə naɪs kiːjænt/

It's an American accent and definitely not from a film suitable for children.

See if you can figure it out and then check your answer here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

World AIDS Day and Aaron Myer's Mission

Today is World AIDS Day and to recognize this and support the work that is being done to combat AIDS is sub-Saharan Africa, Aaron Myers is doing something special.

Aaron is another teacher with an excellent website and great attitude to language learning.  He sells learning guides to help people build their language skills even if they don't have a teacher or regular face-to-face classes.  For the whole month of December, Aaron is going to donate 100% of the money he makes to Blood:Water Mission, a charity which helps communities in Africa to deal with HIV problems as well as water crises.

If you have been following my blog for a while then you will know how much I believe in trying to support charities.  I think this is a great thing Aaron is doing so I encourage you go over to his website and learn more about what he is doing to help support World AIDS Day this month.
Newer Posts Older Posts Home