Friday, October 28, 2011

What you make of something / your take on something

What someone makes of something and someone's take on something are two ways of expressing or asking about someone's opinion.

1. What do you make of the new regulations at work?
    What's your take on the new regulations at work?
2. The manager wants to know what we make of the new schedule.
    The manager wants to know what our take is on the new schedule.
3. He spoke for an hour telling us his take on the Presidential debate.
4. What did your parents make of your joining the army?
5. My friend has a strange take on the legalization of marijuana. Don't ask.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Understanding is never enough, part 2

It seems obvious that if we want to master a language and speak it fluently, we'd practice as much as we can, right? Practicing is crucial to feeling comfortable and natural in our new language as we strive to master it, as I mentioned in part 1.

However, while we are often eager to practice outside the classroom with movies, music, and conversation, we're sometimes not too excited about practicing in the classroom. Often, we don't see the need to practice once we've understood the lesson, or we may feel that we're not really learning anything if we're just talking to our classmates.

On the contrary, practicing in the classroom is so important however well we've understood a grammar lesson and with whomever we are doing it. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Understanding is never enough.
I can't stress this too much. Having a grammar point in our head and getting it completely does us no good if we can't use it in conversation. Completing exercises perfectly is great, but we don't learn a new language in order to complete an exercise; we study a language so we can speak it. Practicing will take us closer to that goal.

2. Focusing on what you just learned is important.
Using a grammar lesson soon after we've learned it helps us acquire the lesson and make it a natural part of our language skills. It helps convert the grammar in our heads into language that we can use outside the classroom. It also increases our chances of using it in future conversations.

3. The teacher can check and correct.
When we practice in the classroom after we've just learned something new, the teacher is there to catch mistakes in our sentence structure, wording and pronunciation. In essence, we're getting rid of imperfections in our speech before we use it outside the classroom, and we're trying out the language to see if we can use it correctly and are comfortable doing so.

4. You can test if you've really understood the lesson.
Thinking that we understand something and knowing for sure that we do may not be the same thing. Sometimes, we think that we completely get a lesson because it seems easy; yet when it's time to use it in conversation, we cannot do it or we make mistakes. When we practice a language, we're taking it out for a drive to see if it feels right, and we can ask the teacher if there's anything we're still not sure about.

5. Explaining helps us master the lesson.
When we feel that we're not learning because we're simply talking to our classmates who are in the same level or sometimes lower than we are, remember this: we are first and foremost checking ourselves use the language in order to get the kinks out and be certain that we can use it outside the classroom. However, if a classmate needs help, take advantage of the opportunity to explain the lesson. This only helps with deeper understanding, and you'll be practicing your English.

So there you have it. I'm amazed at how some students don't see the value of putting a grammar or vocabulary lesson into practice in the classroom. If you're one of these students, I hope this two-part small blog post has changed your mind, and I hope you spread the word and encourage your friends and classmates to practice in the classroom.

however well - It doesn't matter how well.
with whomever - it doesn't matter with who(m) 
I can't stress this too much - This is so important. 
get it - understand it 
does us no good - doesn't do us any good
acquire - receive; get
In essence - essentially; basically
get rid of - eliminate 
take it for a drive - check it (to see how well it works) 
first and foremost - the first and most important thing to consider or to remember 
get the kinks out - remove the small mistakes or imperfections 

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Understanding is never enough, part 1

For most subjects in school, you're finished studying once you've understood the lesson. You may need to remember facts or equations for a test, but for the most part, you are good to go once you know the material. Your main goal is to do well on the test, after which, unfortunately, you will probably forget most of what you studied.

This is not so with language learning. Understanding is never enough when you want to learn to speak a new language. Understanding only lets you take a grammar test and do well on it, but it won't let you speak the language well. It doesn't matter how much you know. You may know all the grammar there is to learn, and you may complete a grammar exercise perfectly, but these won't make you speak English well, and you will still be judged by how well you speak. If you can't string a sentence correctly, people will still think that your English is not very good--sad, but true.

It's important to remember that your level of English is always gauged by how well you communicate, not how well or how fast you complete an exercise. This means that students who are in advanced classes because of their advanced knowledge of grammar can still sound like they are having problems speaking English if they don't get sufficient practice. Practicing helps you remember what you've studied, but more importantly, it lets you get used to saying things in English. You're essentially making your brain and your vocal apparatus work together to produce English sentences. Consequently, the more you practice the better you'll speak English and the faster you'll master it. A lot of practice, basically, erases your imperfections when you use your new language.

You are practicing English every time you speak to someone, every time you watch a show or sing a song in English. However, the practice that I want to talk about more is classroom practice--something students are sometimes not too crazy about. In part 2 of Understanding is never enough, I'll explain why practicing in the classroom is crucial in improving your English, why you should eagerly participate if you're a student or urge your students if you're a teacher. Stay tuned.

good to go - ready; have met standards
string a sentence - put a sentence together; form a sentence 
gauge - check; critique; evaluate 
vocal apparatus - body parts used to produce sound: mouth, tongue, teeth, vocal cords 
not too crazy about - don't like
crucial - very important 
urge - push; encourage

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Have got it made

1. Todd's got it made. He's now the store manager, so he doesn't have to get to work so early.
2. Since they won the lottery, they've moved into a huge mansion and hired servants. They've definitely got it made.
3. Mike had it made, but he blew it. He had the best job, but he got fired because he often called in sick.
4. Their 16-year-old thinks she'll have it made once she gets an iPad.
5. I think travel writers have got it made. They get to visit places and write about them for a living.

If you have got it made, you're in a good, favorable situation. Notice the form of the past tense, had it made, in number 3, and the future form, will have it made, in example number 4.

blow it - mess up; ruin the situation
for a living - as a job

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Making it

1. Did you make it to your meeting on time?
2. We were late, but we made it in time for the President's speech.
3. The traffic was so heavy; we almost didn't make our flight.
4. Making it as an actor is not easy; competition is so high.
5. He's made it big as a successful legal consultant in New York.

Making it can mean arriving or getting somewhere, or it can mean succeeding in something.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

throw in the towel

1. Having faced so much opposition in his new position as regional manager, he decided to throw in the towel and hand in his resignation.
2. No one expected the politician to throw in the towel so early in the election campaign.
3. One contestant almost threw in the towel, but the judge talked her into staying.
4. John is not the kind of person who throws in the towel, however stressful it gets. You can count on him.
5. You're not going to throw in the towel, are you? We need your leadership and expertise on this project.

You throw in the towel when you quit or give up on something usually because it has become too much of a struggle.

hand in your resignation - formally quit your job
talk someone into - convince someone
however stressful - no matter how stressful

count on someone - depend on; rely on someone

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why keeping a journal will improve your English

Writing your thoughts down in a notebook or on your computer is such a useful exercise that everyone should be doing it. Besides, it's not that difficult, and you can do it on your own. In fact, for serious language learners and especially if you're in the intermediate or advanced levels, it should be a must. Keeping a journal is a personal and private activity; you should be able to write anything you want without worrying about who might read it, and there should be no apprehensions whatsoever about exposing your subject matter, your writing ability, or your English. You will simply be free to write, and you should write for three reasons: to record your thoughts, to record your experiences, and yes, to improve your English.

Why does keeping a journal improve your English? Funny you should ask. Keeping a journal works because it's an output activity that lets you express yourself in your new language. In addition, because you're writing, you will have to pay closer attention to grammar and sentence structure--something you don't do as much when you're speaking. In fact, writing lets you practice the grammar that you will be using when you speak.

The improvement in your English happens when you write regularly and consistently and when you also practice input activities such as reading, listening to the news, or watching tv or movies. When you're taking in English with input activities, your brain is subconsciously getting used to the sounds and the rhythm and the structure of the language. When you write or speak (output activities) you're consciously practicing what your brain has subconsciously learned. Writing gives you better control of your English and makes you aware of how you're using it.

When you first start your journal, your writing will probably have plenty of mistakes. It may even be difficult to understand. Not to worry. As you continue to write--remember, regularly and consistently--and as you do input activities, you're writing will eventually improve. This is inevitable. You will be applying what your brain has been picking up, and you will acquire your language skills in a very close to natural manner--similar to how a child learns its first language. Sound familiar? See my Oct 5, 2011 post, which talks about laminating exercises and reading them repeatedly. When you read your old exercises, your letting your subconscious mind pick up what you're consciously reading. When you write, the inverse happens: you're letting your conscious mind practice what your subconscious has learned. 

Before long, your journal will become a record of how your English has improved. You, yourself, will notice how certain words and phrases just sound natural while others just don't. You'll have a better handle of tenses and prepositions and idioms, etc. than your friends who don't write. You'll see. So get started now. Get a nice notebook or create a document on your computer. Name it "my journal". Write as regularly and as consistently as you can, and notice how much and how quickly your English improves.

When this happens, let me know.

apprehension - worry, uneasiness that something bad will happen
whatsoever - at all; not even a little
expose - reveal; show; uncover
Funny you should ask - It's interesting or I'm glad that you asked
consistent - without interruption; without stopping
subconscious - when we are not aware of things happening in our minds
conscious - when we are aware or when we control what's happening
inverse - opposite way or direction
take in - receive; get
inevitable - unavoidable; it will happen
pick up (language) - learn; get from our environment 
acquire - receive; get; learn
a handle - an understanding; a grasp

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

keeping something/someone at bay

1. She meditates to keep negative thoughts at bay.
2. He started feeling sick, but he kept it at bay with some chicken soup with vegetables.
3. They sprayed bug repellent all around the outside of their tent to keep mosquitoes at bay.
4. Making to-do lists everyday helps him keep stress at bay.
5. The manager decided to install cameras around the store to keep shoplifters at bay.

Keeping something or someone at bay means keeping something or someone under control or away from you.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

breaking a sweat

1. He's so smart he aces through all his exams without even breaking a sweat.
2. The other team wasn't very good; we won the game, and we didn't even break a sweat.
3. I used to be able to hike for hours without breaking a sweat; now, I get exhausted so easily.
4. Honestly, I broke a sweat when the cop told us to get out of the car.
5. Todd gets so nervous in social situations, whereas his twin brother, Tom, can work a room without breaking a sweat.

You can literally break a sweat when you feel warm and uncomfortable, and you start sweating. You can also figuratively break a sweat when you have a hard time doing something or when you look or feel uncomfortable. This idiom is often used in the negative using without or using a negative auxiliary verb (don't; doesn't; won't) to mean "have an easy time" or "not be uncomfortable".

ace through - do very well; get good grades; get perfect scores
hike - walk for exercise or to see beautiful scenery (as in the mountains or in the country)
work a room - be social; greet people; network; mingle
literally - exactly
figuratively - metaphorically; symbolically

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

The power of reading old exercises

On my post about what to do with old ESL textbooks, one of my suggestions was to scan old, favorite exercises, print them out, laminate them, and place them on your coffee table so you can read them as often as you can for practice. Incidentally, you can do the same thing with your notes. This further eliminates clutter, as well as reinforce your understanding and grasp of English.

However, what does practice mean exactly? What are you supposed to do with your laminated exercises and notes on your coffee table? The answer is simple: read them. Actually, read them out loud. Because you've already learned the material before, you don't really need to study it. Simply read it. Read it over and over. Read it when you sit down to watch tv or listen to music. Read it after a phone call. Read it when you have coffee or tea. It doesn't take long, so read it as often as you can until you've almost memorized it. When this happens, you'll have acquired the language in a close to natural way, which means your brain will have absorbed the lesson in a way that's similar to a child learning its native tongue. Once you've memorized a couple of exercises, pass them on to friends who are learning English, then print out a couple more and repeat. 

Read to yourself and let your brain get used to the English sentence, with its verb tenses and prepositions and articles and vocabulary. Keep it regular and consistent, and you're mistakes will gradually and eventually all disappear, and you'll be speaking and writing English much better before long. 

Best of luck in your language learning.
Please post your questions and comments here or at any of the sites mentioned below.
clutter (adj) - mess
reinforce (v) - strengthen; support 
grasp (n) - hold; mastery [to grasp - to hold; to understand
laminated (adj) - covered; placed between layers (of plastic) 
acquire (v) - get; receive
absorb (v) - take in
consistent (adj) - regular and continuing
gradually (adv) - slowly and surely
eventually (adv) - in the end

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What to do with old ESL textbooks

If you're a student or have ever been one, you know that textbooks can pile up quickly and can easily end up in huge disorganized stacks that require time to sort through and tidy up. If you've been studying English for awhile, for example, chances are you've acquired a small library of ESL textbooks. Several of these are probably redundant because they are likely to teach the same grammar points. As you've probably realized by now, grammar points repeat themselves in different textbooks, especially in advanced levels.

It's time to downsize and reduce the clutter. In this digital age, there's no reason for hoarding textbooks. What's more, in this era where living simply, existing on the minimum, and organizing are becoming hip, we're constantly reminded that orderly living is now the way to go.

So where do you go from here? Well, here's a 3-step option you should consider.
1. Keep the best - Flip through all your textbooks and decide which ones you enjoyed learning from the most. Keep the ones that you could still learn from. This is your "best" stack. The "other" stack is to be sold or donated to friends, family, the library, or your school.
2. Omit redundancy - If your "best" stack is too high, look for textbooks that teach the same grammar points and choose only one to keep. The others go on the "other" stack.
3. Scan favorite exercises - Go through both your "best" and "other" stacks and look for exercises that are worth keeping. These are exercises with interesting articles or any with useful lessons that you can still learn from. Scan these exercises and save them on your computer. 

This process could take a whole day depending on how many textbooks you have accumulated. When you're finished, you should have a few favorites on your "best" stack, have several to give away or sell, and a lot of scanned exercises on your computer. 

Reusing old exercises for practice
Use your scanned exercises by printing out one or two, laminating them, and placing them on your coffee table to read now and then. Once you've mastered the exercises with their vocabulary, grammar points, and sentence structures, pass them on to friends who are learning English, then print and laminate a couple more for your own practice.

When it comes to language learning, practice truly makes perfect. It's never enough to understand a grammar point, to hear how a word is pronounced, or to learn an idiom. You should practice, repeat, and practice some more. This is how you make English a natural part of you.

Best of luck in your language learning. Please post your comments and questions here or at any of our pages mentioned below.

stack (n) - pile
acquire (v) - get; receive
redundant (adj) - repetitive; extra
downsize (v) - make smaller or simpler
clutter (n) - mess [to clutter - to make a mess]
hoard (v) - to store; not throw away (things) 
hip (adj) - trendy; in style
the way to go - the right way
worth keeping - has value
accumulate (v) - gather more and more things gradually
laminate (v) - cover; protect in a layer of (plastic) 
master (v) - be an expert in; know very well

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

TT4BS - /e/ and /eI/

In this TongueTwisting4BetterSpeech, we'll help you practice the /e/ and the /eI/ sounds together. To practice each of them separately, go to our July 31, 2001 post for the /e/ sound and to this window off the small guide site for the /eI/ sound.

Let's practice the following words first:
Brain, trail, gait, late, lake
Less, digress, confess, friend, fret
Enable, maintain, unveil, address, paycheck

Say the tongue twister slowly first.
They set sail as the rain fell and made a wet mess of guests who came to watch whales and tell tales.

Good luck!

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