Monday, February 28, 2011

Only 99 cents until March 6, 2011

Come and get it! The new digital edition (pdf) of The small guide To Improving Your English is now available for download. The price: a mere $0.99 for the first week! Check it out at and get your own copy for your PC or Mac.

The small guide is a miniature textbook, reference, and quick grammar guide for the English learner on the go. It's designed for quick study, review, and practice.

Visit the small guide site. Drop by. Learn something. Improve Your English.

All the best.
Joe Yu 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

TT4BS - voiced & unvoiced "th"

For this TongueTwisting4BetterSpeech, we're going to practice both the voiced and the unvoiced "th" sounds. To make these sounds, remember to bite your tongue gently, then blow for the unvoiced "th", whereas for the voiced "th", you make the sound in your throat. To review and practice each sound first, go to our Feb. 11 blog for the unvoiced "th" and the Feb. 17 blog for the voiced "th".

Practice these words first:
unvoiced "th": Samantha, thorough, thesis, thought, thinking, threatened, throw, thesaurus, path, thawed
voiced "th": Although, with, their, they, loathed, the, rather, themselves, worthy, this 

Now for the tongue twister. Remember, slowly first emphasizing the sounds; then repeat until you can say it at normal speed three times.
Although Samantha was just thorough with their thesis, they thought she loathed their thinking and threatened to throw her thesaurus on the path before it thawed.

To be thorough means to go through everything without missing anything. For example, when you're cleaning your room or checking your essay for mistakes, you want to be thorough so that your room is super clean or your essay is perfect when you are finished.
To loathe means to hate intensely.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Good luck!
Joe Yu 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

G2R - the second conditional part 2

In this Grammar2Remember, we'll talk about a more advanced form of the second conditional. To review our first post on the second conditional, go to our blog on Feb. 4, 2011.

In general, advanced forms of second conditional sentences flip the verb "were" and the subject in the "if clause" and eliminate the word "if". Nouns, adjectives, participles (ing forms), and prepositional phrases then follow the noun in the "if clause".

like this:
1. If Tom were rich, he would definitely quit his job.  (Tom is not rich.)
    (advanced form) Were Tom rich, he would definitely quit his job.
2. If I were the producer, I would spend more money on this film.  (I am not the producer.)
    (advanced form) Were I the producer, I would spend more money on this film.
3. If Sam were first on the list, he would already have the car.  (Sam is not first on the list.)
    (advanced form) Were Sam first on the list, he would already have the car.
4. If they were of legal age, we would let them in.   (They are not of legal age.)
    (advanced form) Were they of legal age, we would let them in.
5. If she were going to the party, I'd pick her up. (She is not going to the party.)
    (advanced form) Were she going to the party, I'd pick her up.

So what if the "if clause" had a verb other than "were"? For example, If I had a yacht, I would go ... Well, let's talk about this on the next blog. For now, let's practice and finish these sentences: 
Were I an American, I would ...
Were I living in ... , I might ... 
Were I a lot taller, I could ...

Feel free to comment and share your sentences. Good luck!
Joe Yu

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A lot on my plate

Having a lot on your plate means having a lot of responsibilities all at once. When we have so much to do, we often feel overwhelmed, and because of this, we usually use this idiom to explain why we have been so busy or stressed or unhappy or why we haven't called or kept in touch with someone. 

This expression has a couple of variations. We can say "have so much on my plate", or "have enough on my plate". We usually use enough when we want to say that we don't want anymore of something.

like this:  
1. Sorry, I haven't been able to help you out lately; I've had so much on my plate these days.
2. Be a little patient with him; he has a lot on his plate right now. That's why he's so grumpy.
3. I don't want anymore responsibilities; I have enough on my plate.
4. Our manager just assigned a major project to us as if we don't have enough on our plate already. (said sarcastically)
5. You always put too much on your plate and then you complain that you're always stressed out.

So, can you take more on your plate right now or do you have so much to do already? Let us know.

Good luck!
Joe Yu

Thursday, February 17, 2011

TT4BS - voiced "th"

For this TongueTwisting4BetterSpeech (TT4BS), we're going to practice the voiced "th". Like the unvoiced one (see Feb 11 blog), you also gently bite your tongue. However, instead of blowing, you make the sound with your vocal chords (in your throat) because it's a voiced sound. 

Practice these words first:
those, these, then, their, than
bother, other, worthy, brethren, gather
rather, loathe, this, another, further 

Here's the tongue twister. Remember, slowly first, emphasizing the voiced "th". Practice several times until you can say the sentence at normal speed three times.
Other than their brother, I'd rather bother those who gather worthier brethren than these.

Another way to say this sentence is: Besides their brother, I prefer to ask (for help) people who are better (nicer, richer, etc.) than the ones who are here. Yes, it sounds a little too self-righteous. Btw, brethren is an old word for brother and can sometimes mean friends, colleagues, classmates or fellow members.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Good luck!
Joe Yu  

Grab a partner, and practice!

We added a new dialog section on tsgs to provide you with some speaking practice. You'll find it on the lower left of the page next to the Try This! exercise. The dialog is based on the story in the exercise and should be practiced with a partner. Read it together several times until you both have it memorized. Then you can act it out, and just talk to each other naturally. With practice, you can do it! 

Here it is:
John: Guess what! I found a job!
Jake: Really! That's great!
John: Finally.
Jake: We knew you'd find something. So where is it?
John: At the local college. I'll be an IT manager there.
Jake: So you'll be doing the exact same thing as in your old job.
John: Just about. Except it'll be much less stressful. It's a smaller organization.
Jake: That's awesome, man. We're happy for you.
John: Thanks.
Jake: Now you definitely won't have to go back to Canada.
John: Yup, I can stay right here.
Jake: That's awesome. Congratulations, man.
John: Thanks, man.

Have fun.
Joe Yu

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Try This! anyone?

Just updated our Try This! exercise at the small guide site to check your (or your students') knowledge of English expressions. Think you know how to use these expressions: Off the hook, get on someone's nerves, leave it up to someone, be my guest, happen to + verb, what's in store for someone, let the cat out of the bag, and just about ?

Stop by and see if you (or your students) can fill in the blanks correctly. Sound intimidating? Don't worry; you can mouse over the blanks to check your answers. 

Good luck!
Joe Yu

Friday, February 11, 2011

TT4BS - unvoiced "th"

Alright, everyone, here's our first blog post of TongueTwisting4BetterSpeech (TT4BS). If you have trouble making this sound, just bite your tongue--not so hard!--and blow. Go ahead; try it.

Practice these words first: 
through, thank, thought, thumb, throw 
math, bath, Beth, Seth, myth

Here's the tongue twister. Slowly first; emphasize the "th" sound. Then faster. Practice until you can say the sentence at normal speed three times. (You don't have to go too fast.)
Thank Timothy for throwing out Samantha's thermometer and buying thumbtacks for Thelma.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Good luck.
Joe Yu
the small guide

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

off the hook

This phrase can be used three different ways: you can be off the hook, get off the hook, or let someone off the hook. Being off the hook or getting off the hook means that you are no longer obligated to stay and do something you don't really want to do. In other words, you can go; you're free. For example, if your brother volunteers to do your chores (perhaps for a fee), then you're off the hook. You can leave and go out with your friends. You can then tell your friends, "I'm off the hook" or "I got off the hook. I don't have to vacuum the whole house."

If you did do something wrong, and you escaped punishment, you can also say that you got off the hook. This usually means that you should be in an unpleasant situation for something that you did, but for some reason you were able to get yourself out of it. This is similar to the phrasal verb getting away with something, which means not being punished even though you did something wrong. An example is when a cop stops you for speeding; but because it's your first offense and because you are respectful to the officer, he just gives you a warning and not an expensive ticket. In this situation, you just got off the hook! Congratulations!

You can also let someone off the hook if you allow them to escape punishment or just let them go. If your parents don't want you to go out with your friends because it's a school night, but you beg and beg, they may just let you off the hook. Similarly, we can say that the policeman in the above example let you off the hook by not giving you a ticket.

like this:
1. John, you can go now; Bill's here. You're off the hook.
2. My colleague volunteered to do the presentation, so I'm off the hook! Thank goodness.
3. "Mr. Thomson, you can go; you're off the hook," the police said. "The real criminal just confessed."
4. We heard the boss was going to yell at us at the meeting, but we ran out of time, so we got off the hook.
5. Many people thought he committed the murder and that he got off the hook when the jury found him not guilty.
6. The store owner let the boy off the hook when he found out why the boy stole the apple.
7. Our teacher makes us do homework in class if we don't do it at home. He never lets us off the hook

Alright folks, your turn to write sample sentences. Have you ever gotten off the hook for something? When did you let someone off the hook? Feel free to write a mini story.

Until next time,
Joe Yu

Friday, February 4, 2011

G2R - the second conditional

Alright everyone, here's our first post of Grammar2Remember. Let's brush up on our use of the second conditional. Proper use of the second conditional is really impressive.

A few things to keep in mind about the second conditional:
1. It talks about the present or the future.
2. It talks about an unreal possibility or option, which means what you're saying is not true at the moment.
3. We use the past tense in the if clause and a conditional modal (would, could, may, might) in the result clause.
4. Use only "were" for the verb "to be" in the if clause. (People often mess this up, and grammar textbooks are becoming flexible with using "was" as the informal alternative.)

like this:
1. If we had some extra time, we would stop by for a visit. 
(This means: We don't have any extra time, so we won't stop by for a visit.
2. If I were rich, I might buy a boat. 
(This means: I am not rich, so I won't buy a boat.)[Using might means I am less certain.]
3. If she knew how to cook, she would cook up a feast because she has a lot of free time. 
(This means: She doesn't know how to cook, so she won't cook up a feast.)
4. If he didn't like that place, he wouldn't go there every Sunday. 
(This means: He likes that place, so he goes there every Sunday.)
5. If she were coming to the party, we could celebrate her birthday then. 
(This means: She's not coming, so we can't.)

Alright, just to practice, say what you would do if you were somewhere else. (If I were at home, I would ...; or If I were at work, I could ...; If I were on vacation; I might ...; 

What about thinking of what or who you might know? (If I knew the President, I might ...; If I knew how to scuba dive, I would definitely ...)

Alright, everyone. Be bold. Write some sentences in the second conditional in the comments section below. Next up on G2R, I'll talk about more advanced structures using the second conditional.

Well, so far so good, I think. What about you? 

Joe Yu
the small guide 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Big announcement! G2R and TT4BS

Lately, I've been thinking of adding a greater variety of content to the small blog in addition to the English expressions that you've been reading here since May 2009. I've thought of two good, actually, great ideas. One is by blogging about grammar. Let's call this Grammar to Remember (G2R), which will help you brush up on grammar and remind you of how to use it correctly. 

I believe grammar is not everything when it comes to English learning, and you can certainly learn to speak English without concentrating too much on grammar. However, if you want your English to reach advanced levels, if you want or need to speak or write well professionally, for example, grammar is crucial in helping you achieve these goals. I hope Grammar2Remember (G2R) will help increase your confidence in your English.

My other idea is to introduce tongue twisters now and then. Let's call this Tongue Twisting for Better Speech (TT4BS)--This should catch people's attention. As an ESL teacher, I know how challenging certain sounds are to English learners. Tongue twisters are an excellent way to get your vocal apparatus used to unfamiliar sounds and, of course with practice, make your English sound much better.

So, excited? I am. Stay tuned for coming blogs on Grammar2Remember and TongueTwisting4BetterSpeech. I hope you enjoy them and, more importantly, I hope you use them.

All the best.
Joe Yu
the small guide