Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This is a Canadian ESL blog for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons, tutorials and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, speaking, writing and editing. Some of the resources are Canadian. Others are from around the world.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

15 Tips For Becoming a Better Reader

by Kishore Kumar  

NOTE FROM MICHELLE:  Do you have problems reading? Do you find it difficult,and even sometimes painful. If your answer is YES, here are some tips and strategies on how to become a better reader.   This article was written specifically with you in mind. I couldn't have said it better myself.   

Do you have a positive attitude towards reading?  
 Your attitude influences how well you perform any task When you believe you can do something, you are usually successful. Work to create a positive attitude about reading. Positive attitudes don’t just happen; they need to be built and maintained daily. Begin every reading session by repeating several times, “I can read this. I will read this. I will find it interesting” Most people who have difficulty reading have a negative attitude towards it.

Maybe they had bad experiences in school, or perhaps they think reading is boring and offers them nothing they need. They may even have a learning disability that makes reading extra hard.. Whatever the case, building a positive “Yes, I can!” attitude almost guarantees that reading will quickly become fun and “do-able”. Reading has never been more important to success in life than it is today. Only a few years ago, most Canadian jobs centered on natural resources like wood products, fishing, farming, and mining; today most available jobs relate to handling information, usually in written form. As information grows and more and more jobs are created around it, understanding what you read is an essential skill.

Do your lips move when you read silently?     
 If so, you are really doing oral reading rather than silent reading. When you read silently, your brain should absorb whole words (and groups of words) at a time. If your mouth and lips form words as you read, you are slowing yourself down. When you read too slowly, it is very difficult to get the full meaning because you often forget the beginning of the sentence before you get to the end of it. Make a real effort to stop moving your lips as you read. Moving your lips when you read silently is called “subvocalization”.
Do your vocal cords move when you read silently?    
 Place your hand lightly on your throat as you read silently. If you can feel a vibration, it means that you are using oral reading techniques to read silently. As a result, you are probably reading so slowly that it is hard for you to understand what you are reading. This is another kind of subvocalization.

Do you have a hard time seeing the letters on the page?    
If you have to hold the book close to your eyes or at arms length, you may need glasses or contacts. If you already wear glasses, perhaps you need a new prescription. Changes in eye sight happen so gradually that many people are unaware that they have poor vision. After all, they have nothing to compare it to.

Do you have trouble keeping your eyes on one line of text or moving from one line to the next?     
                  If you lose your place frequently when you read, it is a good idea to use a piece of paper, or ruler, placed under the line you are reading. As you finish one line, simply slide the “guide” down as you read. During your early years at school you may not have been allowed to do this, but as an adult, you can choose to use any strategy which makes your reading easier. Try this one to see if it works for you.
There are also several ways to use your hands or fingers that may improve your reading.. You may try using your index or second finger to lightly follow the line you are reading. When you get to the end of a line, sweep your hand quickly to the left to pick up the beginning of the next line. Some reading experts suggest a “dusting” motion with the hand when you are trying to increase your reading speed and comprehension. This quicker hand motion forces your eye and your brain to move across the page more rapidly than you can actually pronounce the words “in your mind’s ear”. As a result, it may help get rid of the subvocalization habit thatslows down reading speed and contributes to poor comprehension. When you are skimming or scanning a text, you may run your finger quickly down the middle of the page to help focus your concentration on what you are looking for.

Do you find your mind wandering when you read?
Even good readers often report that they “lose their concentration” and begin daydreaming. Actually, it’s impossible to “lose” your concentration unless you fall asleep. Your brain is always concentrating on something. When you daydream or look out the window, your brain is concentrating on something, just not on the written material you are supposed to be reading.

Try these suggestions to improve your concentration.

1.Create a purpose for reading. Know why you are reading and what you expect to get out
     of it before you start.

2. Be active when you read. Think of questions you want answered and then look for the
     answers. Disagree with the writer and look for “holes” in his/her arguments. Try to
     predict what will happen next in a novel or short story. Some experts suggest that the
     index finger method or dusting method helps keep you actively involved.

3. Read material that is at your reading level, or slightly above.

4. Read material that is interesting to you and that you have some background knowledge

5. Don’t readfor too long at one time. Break longer reading assignments into manageable
    parts (paragraphs, pages, sections, or chapters).

4. As much as possible, try to make reading a pleasant experience.

Now that you know that reading is more than moving along word by word, it’s time to look at some strategies that will help you understand what you read. Good readers know that it is important to “get ready to read” before they actually start reading.

1. Check your posture. 
 Sit in a comfortable chair with your back firmly, against the back of the chair. The book should be at about a 45E angle to your eyes. Don’t sprawl on the couch or read in bed unless you are trying to fall asleep.

2. Check the lighting.
You’ve probably heard that reading in poor light will ruin your eyes. New research shows that’s probably not true, but reading under good light makes the process a lot easier. Use diffuse lighting. This means light should fall on the page from several sources. Find a place to read where you don’t get a glare off the pages and try not to have any shadows on the page.  This is important when reading for information or for school. If you are reading for pleasure, you don’t have to finish reading a book you find boring or too difficult. When reading for your own personal pleasure, never force yourself to read anything that you find boring. Try the first 15 or 20 pages of a novel. If it doesn’t catch your interest and you are bored, stop reading immediately. Don’t feel guilty for not having finished a book. If you don’t like it, put it down and find another. The world is full of wonderful books. Often you have to start several books before you find one that is entertaining to you.

3. Make a commitment to your reading.
 Remember the “Yes, I can” attitude. Make a promise to yourself that you will complete the reading4 (even in several stages) and that you will come away with an understanding of what you have read. If it helps to focus your concentration, repeat the phrases, “I can read this; I will read this; I will find this interesting5.”

4. Reduce the distractions.

Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for a while. (If you’re a parent, the bathroom may be your only safe haven). Try to organize your life so that when you read, the phone won’t ring and kids/family won’t need your immediate attention. Turn off the TV and/or radio. If you must listen to background music to drown out other sounds, make sure that it is easy listening music that won’t demand your attention.

5. Decide on a purpose for reading.  
 People read for entertainment, for fulfilment, and for information. Before you even open the book or look at the article ask yourself these questions:
  • How important is the material I am about to read?
  • What do I need or want to remember after reading?
  • Do I need just the main points, or do I need some key ideas too?
  • Does anyone expect me to report on what I’ve read?
  • Do I need specific details for a major test or project?
  • I need just some general ideas for a brief quiz or meeting?
 6. Relax your book.    
You may know about relaxing yourself, but did you know you can relax a book? This helps keep the pages from flipping over by themselves and keep the pressure off your thumb as you try to hold a new book open as you read.

Here's how to relax a book:  
1. Place the spine on a flat surface.
2. Open just the front and back covers of the book.
3. Run your thumbs and fingers up and down the pages as close to the binding as possible.
4. Take a few pages, front and back, and repeat the process.
5. Continue until you have reached the centre of the book.
6. Ruffle the pages several times to make sure they are supple.
7. Do not start at the centre and work out. This may crack the spine and greatly reduce the
   life of the book. This is especially important with paperbacks and cheaply bound books
   which rely on glue to hold the pages together.

 5 Read what you enjoy.  When reading for your own personal pleasure, never force yourself to read anything that you find boring. Try the first 15 or 20 pages of a novel. If it doesn’t catch your interest and you are bored, stop reading immediately. Don’t feel guilty for not having finished a book. If you don’t like it, put it down and find another. The world is full of wonderful books. Often you have to start several books before you find one that is entertaining to you.


Try the strategies suggested by the SQ3R6 described in the module on Learning Strategies) as you move through the three stages in the reading process.

1. Pre-reading - Survey and Question
2. Reading - Read (according to your purpose)
3. Post-reading - Recite and Review


If you give your brain a chance to get organized and “get on the right track” before you start, it will do most of the work for you, automatically. You will have a better chance of understanding if you preview what you are about to read before you read in depth.

Reading can be compared to taking a trip. You need to know where you are going and how to get there, before you set out so you won’t get lost along the way. The author has already made the trip, and his/her writing provides a map, so you can both travel the same roads and end up in the same place. As you travel or read, it saves time and energy if you first look at the map and get a general idea of the “pathways” you will travel. Doing this will keep you from making a wrong turn, getting confused, or having to backtrack.

The starting place on your reading trip is what you already know about the subject. Your destination is an understanding of the ideas the writer has presented. Along the way, you will probably change highways a couple of times and pass through several major cities.

Previewing the text will give you a head start on understanding what you are about to read.
Reading is the food for brain, cultivate the habit of reading and feed your brain.
I wish you all success.

Let me know what you think. Write a comment below.  I really appreciate any feedback. (Michelle)

About The Author


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to Make English Speaking Friends

                                                                                                    Are  you having problems  meeting new people and making English speaking friends?

Are you finding it difficult to step outside your comfort zone and make the first move? 

Today it is easier than ever to get to know different types  of people in your city or town through social networking - especially with a resource called Meetup.                 Meetup has more than 9.5 million membersin  40 countries around the world. Thousands of people from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico, India and many others belong to meet up groups.  Meet up groups were created to solve the problem of  feeling alone and isolated in big cities . The groups are designed to help people make local connections and meet new people who share similar interests. The meetup web site provides information on thousands of special interest groups, so it is easy to find a topic and a group that interests you. 

How Does Meetup.com Work?
Each Meetup Group shares an area of interest. The groups meet face-to-face on a regular schedule. Sometimes this is once a week. Others it's once a month. These meetings are open to everyone, and are a great way to meet new people who share your particular interest. There are thousands of local Meetup Groups for thousands of interests. 

Here’s just a sample of available topics:
  • English conversation practice
  • Socializing in general 
  • Dancing 
  • Board games 
  • Pets 
  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Languages 
  • Yoga
  • Music
  • Hobbies 
  • Travel 
  • Technology 
  • Sports of every kind 
  • Mothers with young children
How can this help you?
It all depends on you. You can do several different things.  You can find and join an English conversation group in your city where you would definitely practice speaking English and make new friends. But,  you could also  join a regular interest based social meetup group such as a  walking, games, photography, dancing group that consists of mainly English speaking members. By joining this kind of group, you would have opportunity to have fun, do something you are genuinely interested in, speak English and make some new friends all at the same time. The choice is yours. It really depends on how brave you are, or how confident you feel about speaking English. 

What Happens at a Meetup Group?

It is very easy to join because meetup groups are usually informal and open to anyone who is interested in the topic. Members will immediately welcome you and make you feel comfortable - even if you are not English speaking. In fact, if your English is not perfect, members are likely to help you. Friends are also welcome, so if you feel nervous about joining a group, bring along a friend for moral support.

Most Meetups happen at restaurants, cafés, or public parks, and some groups meet in offices or private homes. You will often find a printed sign to help you find the Meetup Group. Some Meetups are based around activities—like knitting or language practice.
Others focus on organizing for a cause like raising money, or planning an event. At other Meetups, people share information and stories, such as a shared health condition or what it’s like to be new in town. There are thousands of options to meet new people.

How to find a Meetup Group 

  • Go to Meetup.com
  • or...go to google. Type in Meetup groups and the name of your city.  
  • Search on a topic, and enter the name of your city, postal code,or zip code. 
  • You will see a list of the Meetup groups that are closest to you. The distance is indicated in miles.
  • Click on a name to go to the group's website where you can learn more about the group, its members, its activities and times and locations of events.
  • Attend the group and meet new people!
 Here is what a local Vancouver group has to say about itself: 

"This group is all about finding friends and making new friends. It's for anyone who enjoys events and activities that are socially interactive, interesting, laid-back and lots of fun. This group is for socializing only and there is no cost to joining our group. 

In addition to social events we also organize fun outdoors events that help promote good health & wellness through fun exercise and regular hiking and walking events.

Do some research first:
The same Vancouver group as above suggests that " a good way of finding out how well a Meetup group is performing is to check out their past events. In particular, look at the event rating and also read member's comments. We encourage you to click on any of our past events under the heading "Past Meetups."

Here are a few sample meetup group links in different cities around the world. Make sure you check out the main website  at Meetup.com for more.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Improve Your Vocabulary:Name that Thing

Have you ever wondered what everyday objects are called, but been too busy learning " academic" vocabulary? Here's a fun new word game I have recently discovered called "Name that Thing." The game, on the Merriam Webster dictionary  website,  is a visual vocabulary quiz of the names of everyday objects. Unlike most word games, it uses pictures to test your knowledge of words. If you have five or ten minutes to spare, it is a great study tool to help you  build your vocabulary by learning the names of everyday objects for kitchen tools such as a kitchen whisk, or common things you see on the street such as store awnings.  It will also help you feel much less frustrated when you want to refer to "that thing you turn eggs over with when you are frying them" by its correct name. By the way, that  thing is called a "spatula."  Click here for the website: Name That Thing .   
While you're there, why not try out a few other word games on the site such as : 
and at least a dozen more.  You can even create your own personal word list. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

ESL Love and other Valentines

Practice your English with some fun Valentine's Day activities.  I have included videos for you to watch and  listen to, quizzes, articles you can read and slide shows about love around the world. Take your pick

A short Love Story 

Love Stories and seven billion others 

Listening Quiz Video History of Valentine's Day Quiz 

History Channel Valentine's Day Page   ( includes several videos about The Science of love, How Chocolates are Made and many more)

Video Roxy the Lonely Penguin  : ( a cute story about a Penguin in the London  zoo that is getting thousands of Valentine's Day cards) 

Valentine's Day Listening Quizzes  from ELLO
Listening Quiz Video History of Valentine's Day Quiz                                                       Lover Ever After  is a is a slide show from TIME Magazine where couples who have been married fifty years share their secrets for making love last.

Visit Canada's Virtual Museum to watch  a Valentine's Day Exposition on love though the agesThe Science of Flirting :  a delightful reading on how flirt from the BBC) 
Read  Valentine's Day Around the World to find out how people celebrate Valentine's Day in different countries. 
Love Around the World   is a nice little slide show from MSSN about love around the world                                                                                                                                         Learn some  Valentine's Day vocabulary on You Tube   
Take a  Valentine's Day Quiz National Geographic 
Read How Valentine's Day Helps the Economy  

Spending By the Numbers 2012  

Send free Valentine's Day E cards  : The National Wildlife Federation has many free Valentine's Day E cards you can send.
Writers choose their favourite  Love Poems   an interactive activity in The Guardian 
Finally, here are a few love songs with listening activities that you can sing along to later.

Whitney Houston, a very famous singer who sang beautiful love songs and sold millions of records died a few days ago, so I will start with her.

Enjoy! .

Happy St. Valentine's Day

I admit it. I'm a romantic. Everyone needs love in his or her life.  I'd like to start with a few quotations that say a lot about the power of love.

"The hunger for love is more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread."  Mother Theresa 

The supreme happiness in the world is the feeling that we are loved, " Victor Hugo

"To love someone deeply gives you strength. To be deeply loved by someone gives you courage." Lao Tzu
 "I love you not for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you," Ray Croft 
"You come to love, not by finding the perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly," " Sam Keene 
 As I mentionned in my last post, Valentine's Day is not just for lovers. It's a day when anyone who cares for, or appreciates someone  should let them know how they feel.  This includes fathers, mothers. brothers, sisters, children, grandparents, friends, or anyone else.
But there is no avoiding it. Today love IS in the air. Lovers will be giving their significant others roses and jewelry, or going out for candle light dinners. The radio is playing love songs all day long, and many of us are smiling at complete strangers just because it is Valentine's Day.   

Who was Saint Valentine?  
So, who was St., Valentine and why do we celebrate this day Ferbruary 14th?  Even historians can't seem to agree on the origins of Valentine's  Day.

One of the commonly agreed on stories is that  the idea of Valentine's Day started in the time of the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honour Juno. Juno was the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also knew her as the Goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia.

In those days, girls and buys lived separately from each other. However, on the day before the festival of Lupercalia, girls and boys  would both write their names on slips of paper and place them in a jar. Each young man would pick a girl's name from the jar, and spend the entire day of the festival with her. Sometimes this "pairing" would last a whole year, and often, they would fall in love and later get married.

There have also been stories of three St. Valentine's. There is very little information about two of them, but the legend that has survived the longest and which historians seem to agree upon the most is the following one.

The Bishop who Married Lovers  

Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular wars. Claudius was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his army because they didn't want to leave their wives and families. Since Claudius felt thatr single men would be more likely to join the army, he cancelled all marriages and engagements and refused to allow lovers to get married.

However, Saint Valentine, a Christian Roman priest in the days of Claudius II,  refused to obey the emperor and continued to secretly pperform marriage ceremonies. Eventually, the Roman authorities caught him and put him to death. The Catholic church then made him a saint and gave him the special feast day of February 14th, the day he was supposedly executed.

Another legend is that when the emperor Claudius put Valentine in jail, he fell in love with the jailer's daughter. Before he died, he supposedly sent her a letter signed "from your Valentine. "

The return of love on St Valentine's Day 

Valentine was pretty much forgotten until the 14th century when this Christian feast day become associated with love.  According to UCLA medieval scholar Henry Ansgar Kelly, author of Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine, it was Chaucer who first linked St. Valentine's Day with romance.

In 1381, Chaucer composed a poem in honor of the engagement between England's Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. As was the poetic tradition, Chaucer associated the occasion with a feast day. In "The Parliament of Fowls," the royal engagement, the mating season of birds, and St. Valentine's Day are linked: For this was on St. Valentine's Day,

The holiday continued to change over the next few centuries, but by the 18th century it had become customary for lovers to exchange hand made cards and gifts on Valentine's Day. Americans soon picked up on this idea, but the practice did not become really common until Esther A Howland, began mass-producing Valentine's Day cards.  

Today, the holiday has become a huge commercial success. In 2009, Valentine's Day generated an estimated $14.7 billion in U.S. retail sales. Each year, people buy about a billion Valentine's cards, 100 million roses (in a 3-day period) and 35 million heart-shaped boxes of candy. The average consumer spends $77 on Valentine's Day gifts.

Check out my next post for a few Valentine's Day links to have fun with.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Valentine's Day is not Just for Lovers

Many people assume that Valentine's Day is only for lovers. They think of it as a day when men and women tell their lovers, significant others, or spouses how much they love them. All the advertising focuses on lovers and the exchange of gifts such as jewelry, flowers and chocolates, or on romantic candlelight dinners.
But, Valentine's Day is NOT just for lovers! Love comes in many forms. Some of us have partners, spouses or others whom we love in a romantic way. But, we also love our children, our parents, grandparents, friends and other people who have had a strong influence in our lives.  Valentine's Day gives us the opportunity to tell them that we also love and appreciate them.  

On  February 14th,people in Finland celebrate  Ystävänpäivä, which is translated as Friend's Day. In Mexico, it is called the Día del amor y la amistad, the Day of Love and Friendship.
There is no doubt that Valentine's Day has been over commercialized in Canada and the United Sates, but it still remains a wonderful day when we can express love and appreciation to ALL the important people in our lives, including our children, our family and our friends.  

In almost every elementary school in North America, children make Valentine's Day cards for their parents as a way of reminding them that they love them. Why shouldn't we as parents return the favour - not just with cards, but with words and actions.

My children know that I love them, but it never hurts to say it a little more often. I have always given them cards and chocolates on Valentine's Day, and there have even been years when we have celebrated Valentine's Day together as a family by going out to dinner. I have always telephoned my parents to tell them how much I appreciated them, especially after I had kids of my own and realized just how difficult it was to be a parent. Now that my father is no longer alive, Valentine's Day is one specific day when I spend time thinking about him and about how much I appreciate what he gave me. It seems appropriate to do this on a day that focuses on love. 

For many families, Valentine's Day  evokes  feelings that children may not know how to deal with. Divorced or separated parents may find this a good day to discuss feelings. This is a good opportunity to tell your children how much you love them, regardless of their living situation. It is also a perfect time to hear what your children have to say, to empathize with their emotions and have a real conversation about love and emotions.

How about all the friends who have been there for us in good and bad times,and who have helped us get through some of the most difficult times of our lives?  Don't they deserve a little expression of the love and gratitude we feel towards them? Of course they do.

So, by all means send the love of your life a dozen red roses, or spend some intimate, romantic time with him or her, but remember to let the other people in your life know that  they are important to you  and you love them because Valentine's Day is not just for lovers. It's for everyone you love.

What do  YOU think? Is Valentine's Day just for lovers?? What do you do in YOUR original country, or culture?  

Let me know what you think.  I value your comments.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Go out and Practice Speaking English

I've been thinking of all of you who are discouraged because learning  English is harder than you thought it would be.  You never seem to be able to write or speak without making mistakes. You rarely,  if ever,  try to speak English to real English speakers because you are afraid of making mistakes, so of course, you never improve. 

Many of you are ready to give up. DON'T!  You CAN do it. Remember, even the "greats" had to fail and pick themselves up again. Just take it one step at a time.  

Remember that LIFE IS RISK. If you don't try, you can't possibly succeed. If you don't jump into the water, you will never  learn how to swim. Of course you will make mistakes. Accept this and get over it. 

If you live in a city like Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, New York, San Fransisco, Chicago,  Los Angeles, London, Sidney and many others half the people you speak to will have an accent. They will probably be making mistakes with their English too. That is the kind of world we live in now. Cities are fmulticultural. They're full of people from somewhere else. We all have to learn how to get along with one another whether or not we have an accent, or make grammar mistakes.   

Talk to yourself in the mirror 
So, talk to yourself in the mirror. Conduct entire conversations with yourself. You won't find a better listener! You can even play both parts and practice new vocabulary and pronunciation at the same time. 

Believe me, it works. That's exactly what I did when I was learning how to speak English. I started improving right away.  I gained a lot of confidence, which started the ball rolling in the right direction. I started speaking more and better English. My vocabulary improved and I began to be able to express my ideas much more fluently and naturally.

Take a risk. Dive into that pool. 
Go out there and  practice! practice! practice!
  • Talk to strangers at bus stops, in elevators, in the cafeteria, in stores, in the doctor or dentist's office, outside of class.
  • Talk to people in every line up you find yourself standing in in - at the supermarket, the bank, the post office, or the pharmacy.  
  • Join a meetup group in your city., or join a conversation club.  
  • Start attending a church where you can meet English speakers who will be friendly.  You don't have to be religious, or join that religion. Small churches are great because they usually have social activities, both after church and at other times. People there are very welcoming to newcomers, and nobody will force religion on you.    
  •  Volunteer. Find your local volunteer centre and find a volunteer position that you are genuinely interested in. There are literally thousands of volunteer jobs just waiting for you. Stay with it. You will speak English, gain skills and make new friends.
  • Go to dog parks and make small talk with dog owners. They absolutely love talking about their pets.  
  •  Take a fun class like woodworking, flower arranging, or dance, or get involved in a sport. Most community centres have drop in sports leagues, or even regular leagues. You can also learn a new sport. 
  • A number of my homestay students from Japan and China have done just that and their English improved beyond their wildest dreams. Kaori, one young woman from Japan took skating lessons. Then she took up "power skating", and finally joined a mixed (men and women's hockey team where she met a ton of English speaking friends. They are still friends today even though she is back in Japan teaching English. Akiyo, another Japanese student enrolled in a scuba diving class where she actually met her Canadian husband. Still another, Junko, enrolled in a sign language course at night school. She also spoke a lot of English and made new friends. 
  •  If you have young children, join a mother and children group ( they're often called mum and tot groups). You'll meet a lot of other young mothers who have a lot in common with you.  
  • Go to community centres, and playgrounds  where you can talk to other mothers.
  • If your child is enrolled in a swimming , ballet, gymnastics or any other class , talk to other parents while you are waiting for your children. 
  • If your child plays hockey, soccer, baseball, volleyball, or any other sport, talk to the other parents who will also be cheering their children on. They WILL talk back. 
  • If your child is in school, join the parent association. Parents in these associations are only too happy to talk to other interested parents. Believe me, they WILL be much more patient and understanding than you think.    

Whatever you do, be willing to feel uncomfortable for a while. You can't take risks and be compltely comfortable at the same time. Learn ing how to do anything involves feeling  uncomfortable at first. Remember when you learned how to ride a bicycle. Where you at ease at the beginning? How about when you learned to drive? Were you comfortable? How do you feel now?  
Just try. You will eventually thank yourself if you keep it up. You will also improve a lot!   Take it from me. I speak English like a native speaker. No one who meets me even realizes that French was my first language. 

Do you have any other suggestions to offer? How do you feel about this? Let me know how it goes. I love getting your comments.

Seatbelt ad

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Magazine to Meet Immigrant Needs

Many of you are Canadian immigrants or people planning to immigrate to Canada. In this post, I want to promote a Canadian magazine entirely  devoted to Canadian immigrants and their needs. 

Canadian Immigrant is a monthly publication distributed in Vancouver and Toronto, but available on line to anyone  interested in information related to immigrants. This magazine can  be extremely useful if you want information on legal, career, education, real estate issues or Canadian culture as well as many more topics. It can also give you hope and detailed information on how immigrants can become successful once they begin to accept that they are living in a  country where people do things and think differently than "back home."  But, I prefer to let the publisher tell  you about the magazine in his own words.

 The Canadian Immigrant: A Brief History

"When we set about researching the concept for the magazine, our investigations revealed some startling results. One of the most significant revelations  was that as immigrants leave their old role models behind, they need new positive role models — role models who can motivate them as they are settling in Canada.

Our research also showed that the information needs of immigrants are broadly the same. The challenges that they face are very similar regardless of their country of origin.

Information from Statistics Canada shows that it takes an immigrant an average of 10 years to settle in Canada. We know that immigrants suffer from lack of information. Could we in any way help that immigrant by providing information in an accessible format? Could we speed up the process of “settling in.”
It became increasingly clear that immigrant settlement issues involved more than just providing a brochure on how to get Social Insurance Number cards or open a bank account. There are broader information needs to be met.

That’s where our publication and website come in: we have made it our goal to help cover all the pertinent issues and challenges immigrants face, helping ease the settlement and integration process.

The content consists of stories of immigrants who have faced adversity and triumphed . We hope these stories will inspire inspire you on your own journey.  We also have columns from experts in fields such as immigration law, banking, careers, and real estate. estate. Our mission is to “inform, educate and motivate” every immigrant, whether they are planning to immigrate, are brand new to the country and are going through the early years of settlement or have been here for several years and are now looking for the next steps in their evolution. There’s truly something for everyone.

Above all,Canadian Immigrant helps immigrants settle in Canada by providing information, tools, resources and strategies for personal growth and success. We want to help immigrants to become successful contributors to both the Canadian economy and society.

At Canadian Immigrant, our vision is:
• To be the leader in providing information services to Canadian immigrants
• To be respected for our compassion and understanding of immigrants and their issues
• To provide a forum that will be the voice of the immigrant
• To share our success with the immigrant community
• To work with all levels of government and corporations to keep immigrant issues at the forefront while also working with them to provide solutions to issues


Many of you have told me that you don't know enough about Canadian culture and values because you don't have enough contact with people who were born here. Reading Canadian Immigrant regularly is a wonderful opportunity for you to learn valuable information about the people you live and work with, and whom many of your children will marry. 
This month, one of the main feature stories is about post secondary education options - an issue that many of you are interested in. If  you haven't heard of the magazine, or read any of its contents, I highly recommend that you visit its website and explore, not only the current issue, but also many of the articles in previous issues. You may end up having some of your many questions answered.
Again, here is the address: http://canadianimmigrant.ca/

Let me know what you think. I appreciate all of your comments.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How Say Something is Expensive


I don't think I'll be going to the movies as often as I used to.  The last time I went it cost me an arm and a leg. First the tickets cost $25. Then, I paid $6.49 cents for a SMALL popcorn and $4.50 for a small bottle of WATER. To top it off, the babysitter charged us $25 for two hours of babysitting.  

It costs an arm and a leg = when something costs a ridiculously high price.

Here are a few other ways to say that something is 

  • Don't you think that $25 an hour to cut my lawn is a bit steep?  
  • That chicken sandwich was delicious, but  at $12.00, it was  a bit pricey.         I don't think I'll come back here again. 
  • You actually bought a house in Vancouver!  It must have cost a small fortune. Houses  there are too expensive for most people. 
  • The prices they charge for a flight to Toronto are highway robbery. Did you know that you can fly to Hawaii for less? 
  •   Wow! Look at the size of the diamond on Jane's engagement ring. Her fiance must have paid through the nose for it.   
  •   One of the reasons NHL hockey tickets cost so much is because the teams have to  pay top dollar for their players. Some of them even have contracts for five or six million dollars. 
  • The price of gas these days is exorbitant. I'm going to start walking to work, or riding my bicycle. Why should I pay that much to help oil companies get rich. It's not fair.
  • Don't go to that store. The prices of everything are out of this world.       The cheapest blouse in the store costs over $400.
  •  My husband and I were thinking about going on a two week vacation to Mexico, but we changed our minds. That kind of trip would definitelyy break the bank.
  •  Going out to dinner at a good restaurant is expensive, but it won't break the bank
                  to break the bank = to cost all the money you have in the bank.
  •  Don't tell me you didn't ask for some kind of trade in price for your new car? Wow! That car dealer must have seen you coming. 
                   must have seen you coming suggests that the buyer was stupid to pay
                  such a high price for something.

Do  you know any more expressions that mean something is too expensive. Write and let me know.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Need Any Tips on Work Etiquette?

Many of you who live in Canada or the United States have jobs where you speak English. Some of you are perfectly comfortable in all aspects of your job. Others, however, often wonder how you should behave in a variety of situations.For example, students have often asked me how they should act around the senior manager, how much they should speak at a meeting, or how to start an email to a co-worker. Workplace etiquette  varies in different cultures, even different companies. In fact, acceptable behaviour in one culture may be seen as extremely rude in another. For example, in some countries, it is common for people to touch your shoulder or even put their arm around you at work in a simple gesture of friendliness. Here in Canada, that kind of behaviour would be unacceptable. If you are looking for some general information on how to behave in a wide variety of situations at work, try the following website. The entire site is devoted to providing you with the kind of information that may get you out very uncomfortable situations. Who knows? You might even get a promotion
So,, here are the people from WorkEtiquette.co.uk  to tell you how their site can help you. 
Whether we like it or not, most of us have to work to earn a living. The workplace is a   microcosm of life, with friends, relationships and arguments just like in real life! In order to help you find a clear, happy path through the workplace and aim to feel fulfilled and challenged by your job, Work Etiquette has been written to address the complex issues that are part and parcel of working life.
With topics for employees, employers, colleagues and clients, Work Etiquette offers clear, detailed and accurate information that can be used for the common work place issues that can so often cause difficulty. The site contains carefully researched articles written by experts, covering topics such as internal and external email etiquette, eating at your desk and cultural considerations to bear in mind.
With a wealth of articles that provide an approachable, realistic understanding of the type of every day concerns we can experience in the office, Work Etiquette is an invaluable resource for those that are keen to adhere to the often unspoken rules that exist in every work place. All too often work place advice is geared towards the employer, or is unrealistic in terms of advice and behaviour.
We pride ourselves on making sure Work Etiquette is a helpful support to employees and employers looking to develop and maintain positive relationships both in the work place and with clients, taking into consideration every detail, from blue chip international business behaviour to office romances.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Speak Better English With Your Cell Part 2

English learners have never had it so good. Ten years ago, you would have had very few opportunities to practice your listening and speaking  the way you can now.  As I mentioned in my last post, the voice recorder on your cell phone is a terrific tool to help you improve and practice your pronunciation, not just with the help of a teacher, but with the help of any English speaker who is willing to give you tips on how to pronounce difficult words. 

Record new vocabulary and idioms as soon as you hear them 
That same voice recorder can also help you to remember new vocabulary. Let's say you are having a conversation with someone who drops some new words, or idioms that you've never heard into the conversation. All you need to do is take out your cellphone, and ask the person you're talking to to tell the meaning of the new words. You can also ask for other examples of how the words are used. Later, you have instant access to the new words, and their pronunciation. An extra bonus is that you also have the recorded voice of a native speaker with all its correct English rhythm and intonation. 

Record yourself ( Check your own speaking strengths and weaknesses) 
Speaking into your own recorder also allows you to hear yourself as you really sound. Most of us hate the sound of our own voices the first few times we hear ourselves. But you get used to it quite quickly. In YOUR case, you can start paying attention to the actual WAY you speak.
  • Do you sound better than you thought you would? Pat yourself on the back and give yourself a little encouragement. 
  • Are you improving your fluency? Do you sound more natural than you did a few months ago? Again. Give yourself some credit instead of constantly worrying  that you aren't improving fast enough.
  • Does your English sound choppy and unnatural? This is something you can work on improving.
  • Do you have trouble understanding your own pronunciation - particularly the final sounds? This would be a strong indication that you really DO need to take a pronunciation class. 
  • Do you notice any specific grammar mistakes you seem to constantly make? For example, are you using the present tense instead of the past tense all the time? Are you forgetting to add the "be" to present continuous verbs? Are you forgetting to put an "s" on the end of your words when you need to? 
Focus on improving your grammar when you speak 
Listening to yourself in short bursts ( 2 to 3 minutes) allows you to focus on specific grammar mistakes you might want to actively work on improving. Of course, don't try to do everything at once. If you notice you aren't using proper verb tenses, focus on that one problem for as long as you need to until you feel you have it under some control. Then, you can move on to improving some other aspect  of your oral grammar. 

In my next post, I will add a few more tips on how to use your cellphone to improve your English speaking. 

Let me know if you have any comments, or suggestions of your own. I look forward to hearing from you.