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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Friday, November 30, 2012

World AIDS Day 2012:Getting to Zero

Tomorrow on World Aids Day, it is important to realize that despite achievements in both education and treatment, the world is still suffering from a global AIDS epidemic  

Yes, the number of HIV/AIDS cases around the world has finally stabilized

But, more than a million people a year are still getting the disease.

And, nine million victims of AIDS still don't have access to life-saving medication that would prevent them from dying. 

Also, let's not forget  that scientists still haven't found a cure for AIDS. 

So, we can't afford to sit around feeling complacent. Not only do we need to keep informing ourselves, we need to spread that information to the millions who are still unaware of some of the basic facts about AIDS. It is also time for us to DO something - whether it be learning  the facts, or by  getting more involved. in the AIDS movement. 

"Oh, we won't get AIDS "

As I was sitting in my Vancouver kitchen listening to the radio today, I heard  something that truly shocked me.  An interviewer was talking to a group of young people about AIDS and how they felt about it. 

The kids answered, " Oh we don't really have to be careful.  It could never happen to us."

"Why is that?" asked the interviewer.

:" We're not gay. Only gay people get AIDS." 

I had to laugh. Had these kids never noticed what was happening in Africa, Asia, and other countries around the world?

Had they not read stories about women and children here in Canada and the U.S. who were suffering from AIDS?

Had they completely ignored their school counsellors, and the pamphlets and warnings which are regularly given to young people - especially young people in high school. . 

This year's poster by a Canadian AIDS organization truly does say it all. 26 % of Canadians who have HIV AIDS don't even know it.

If you take those statistics and apply them to every country in the world, imagine what those numbers would be.  

Getting to Zero

30 years ago, the world acted to fight against HIV/AIDS. Extraordinary action generated around the world has saved millions of lives and brought hope to millions more. But, there is still a lot to be done.
  The World Health Organization has determined that the theme for World Aids Day from 2011 to 2015 is "Getting to zero by 2015: Zero new HIV infections,  Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths".

The focus on  zero new HIV infections and zero discrimination means placing an even greater focus on education.  The  focus on "Zero AIDS related deaths"  means pushing for much more access to antiretroviral medication for AIDS victims in Africa, India and Asia and a call for governments to act now.

WHO Video: Helping to get 15 million people onto antiretroviral treatment by 2015

A newly released United Nations World Aids Day Day report by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)  shows that a renewed commitment to dealing with the worldwide AIDS epidemic  is producing results.

United Nations Aids Report Findings:  

Declining new HIV infections in children
The area where perhaps most progress is being made is in reducing new HIV infections in children. Half of the global reductions in new HIV infections in the last two years have been among newborn children.

Fewer AIDS-related deaths
The report shows that antiretroviral therapy has emerged as a powerful force for saving lives. In the last 24 months the number of people accessing treatment has increased by 63% globally.

More investments
The report shows that countries are increasing investments in the AIDS response despite a difficult economic climate. The global gap in resources needed annually by 2015 is now at 30%. In 2011, US$ 16.8 billion was available and the need for 2015 is between US$ 22-24 billion.

WHO Video: Helping to get 15 million people onto antiretroviral treatment by 2015 

 The 10 goals for 2015
  • Sexual transmission of HIV reduced by half, including among young people, men who have sex with men and transmission in the context of sex work. 

  • Vertical transmission of HIV eliminated and AIDS-related maternal deaths reduced by half;
  •  All new HIV infections prevented among people who use drugs;
  •  Universal access to antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV who are eligible for treatment;
  •  TB deaths among people living with HIV reduced by half;
  •  All people living with HIV and households affected by HIV are addressed in all national social protection strategies and have access to essential care and support;
  • Countries with punitive laws and practices around HIV transmission, sex work, drug use or homosexuality that block effective responses reduced by half;
  •  HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence eliminated in half of the countries that have such restrictions;
  • HIV-specific needs of women and girls are addressed in at least half of all national HIV responses;
  •  Zero tolerance for gender-based violence.
How much do YOU know about HIV/AIDS?
Go to the following websites to see if you can answer these questions. 

Comprehension Questions

1.     What is HIV? What is AIDS? 
2.     What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?  
3.     How can a person get HIV or AIDS?
4.     Who can get HIV or AIDS?
5.    Where does HIV/AIDS come from?  What caused it?
6.    How can people avoid getting HIV or AIDS?
7,    Why do experts stay that a person can have HIV or AIDS and not know it?
8.    What are the symptoms of HIV or AIDS?
9.    What are the treatments for HIV/AIDS
10   What countries in the world have the highest incidence of HIV / AIDS? Why?
11.  What countries in the world have the highest death rates due to AIDS? Why? 


Watch the following video and answer the questions below


1.   What was responsible for saving man's and his wife's life? 
2.   Why the man mean when  he says "I did more than just survive?" 
3.   Why was the young girl born HIV free? 
4.   How did people discriminate against the man and his family? 
5.   Why do millions of people have a better chance of surviving today? 
6.  What is preventing people in the
7.  Lists all the benefits of AIDS treatments  the man spoke about.   

Listen, do the exercise and and sing along  

525,600 Minutes with Lyrics

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Great Way to Improve Your Writing

Recently I've noticed that the GRAMMAR  page on this blog is much more popular than the Editing and Error Correction page. 

Why is that? 

Many of you assume that the more you know about grammar and punctuation, the more you will improve your writing. 

That's true, to a point. 

But, it's important for you to remember that grammar is simply a tool to help you improve the way you communicate complex ideas. 

 You should study grammar in order to improve your accuracy in writing and speaking. 

But, if you really want to improve your writing, you actually need to know how to use the grammar accurately in your paragraphs, essays, and reports.

Life is NOT a Multiple Choice Test

I often tell my students that "real life is not a multiple choice test.  When you are in the real world, you will not have the opportunity to choose the right verb tense, connecting word or word form from a multiple choice list with four possibilities. You will have to speak and write  using correct grammar  all by yourself.  

So,.....what's the answer? 

The best way to improve your writing is learning how  proofread and edit mistakes in real  writing rather than just doing grammar exercises,

When you practice finding and correcting grammar, punctuation, and English usage mistakes, you find out how well you understand the rules in real writing. 

And, after you get better at identifying and correcting mistakes in someone  else's writing, you  will  improve your ability to do the same thing in your own. 

An old expressions says that practice makes perfect. But,real success depends on what kind of practice you are doing and whether it is the right kind. 

How to Practice Proofreading and Editing

1.  Start by correcting other people's mistakes
  • Do specific proofreading and editing exercises on my EDITING or COMMON ESL PROBLEMS pages, OTHER writing websites, or in writing improvement textbooks that focus on error correction.   
  • Many of you don't find miss  mistakes in your  own writing because you are too familiar with the content.  You are reading for meaning rather than for grammar or punctuation errors.  As a result, your eye fills in missing words when they aren't there. As well, you      often skip over obvious mistakes because you are focusing on what you wrote instead of  how you wrote it.. 
  •  When you proofread someone else's sentences,  you are NOT reading for meaning. You are specifically looking for grammar, punctuation and usage errors. As a result, these mistakes are much more obvious and likely to jump out at you.

 2.   Practice Correcting the type of errors YOU make
  • Get to know the mistakes that YOU  make most frequently.  All ESL teachers use marking symbols to help you identify your errors. Memorize those symbols, or post them right at your desk so that you can understand your teacher's feedback.   
  • Then, count the type of errors YOU make the most. Do you have a lot of verb tense mistakes? run on sentences?  sentence fragments? missing articles or prepositions? 
  •  Working on verb verb tense consistency  in a real context will teach you more about how we really use verb tenses in writing than simply doing specific exercises in past vs present perfect. 
3. Focus on one type of mistake at a time 
  •  Learn how to identify and correct one type of error at a time. Look for specific tutorials, and practice activities that teach you how to find different types of the same mistake and ways  to correct them.
  •  For example, there are many types of sentence fragment errors. In order to start fixing the problem, you need to understand what kind of mistake you are making. The same applies to other common errors.     
  •  Then, practice correcting that particular type of mistake until learn how to prevent making it, or how to catch and correct it when you DO  make it. 

4.  Start at the sentence level  
  •  Learn how to walk before you run. Develop some control and confidence at finding and fixing mistakes at the sentence level before you move on to longer writing.
  • As you learn how to recognize specific errors in sentences, you will find yourself reviewing grammar rules and learning how to apply them in a real context. 

5.  Move to longer pieces of writing
  •  Once you feel confident proofreading and editing errors in sentences, start doing the same thing with paragraphs and essays.
  • As you begin to improve, find older pieces of your own writing. Proofread and correct this particular mistake in your own compositions and essays. 

 6.  Work on different errors 
  • Each time you feel you have more control over a specific type of mistake, start working on a different. error you commonly make.
  •  Focus on the kind of errors that affect meaning first. These include verb tense, modals, conditionals,  appropriate connectors. 

7.  Work on Multiple errors in paragraphs 
  • As you gain control over specific errors, start practicing proofreading and editing multiple errors in the same paragraph. This is more challenging, but more realistic in terms of what you need to do in the real world.
  •  Start  with practice paragraphs in which the number and type of errors have already been indicated. 
  • Proofread for ONE type of error at a time, using the strategies you have learned. As you finish with one type of error, move on to others.  That way you are more likely to find most of them.   
  •  Make sure you read each sentence out loud as slowly as you can so that you can hear each individual word. You are much more likely to "hear" mistakes, or even notice missing words with your ears than with your eyes. ,
  •  Finally, work on proofreading and editing paragraphs and essays  where you have to find all types of errors by yourself.  

With Control Comes Confidence 

Nothing succeeds like success. The more you improve your ability to clean up mistakes in your own writing, the more you you will feel that you have regained some control. The more control you gain, the more you will want to improve even more. 

The improvement in your writing will speak for itself. The gift you will be giving yourself is the gift of renewed confidence in your ability to communicate effectively. 

There is nothing more empowering than knowing that you are successfully communicating ideas in a second language  in the same ways as you conveyed them in your first language.


To practice proofreading and editing go to my EDITING PAGE , or COMMON  ESL PROBLEMS PAGE . You will also find more information on useful websites and textbooks to help improve your proofreading and editing skills 

Do you have anything else to recommend or add ? I welcome all comments. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Is Ottawa: Forgetting Veterans on Remembrance Day?

Despite Canadians' growing interest in paying tribute to its fallen soldiers,  many veterans  say Ottawa  is treating  them unfairly. 

A recent poll from Ispos Read says 30 %  of Canadians plan to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony  tomorrow compared to 16 per cent in 2008.  

The survey also shows that 80 per cent  of  respondents  plan to observe two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day in order to remember those who have sacrificed their lives for their country.  

Afghanistan Makes it "Real"  

Anthony Wilson-Smith, president of the Historica-Dominion Institute said this trend is due to Canada's younger generation becoming more aware of soldiers' sacrifices in more recent conflicts in Bosnia and Afghanistan. 

 "The events of yesterday have a very direct effect today. Our history affects our present and our future, " he said.  

Wilson Smith said the number of Second World War survivors and Korean war veterans now include the thousands of soldiers who fought as part of the nine-year mission in Afghanistan.

"This younger generation of soldiers have had a great success connecting with  Canadians as they tour schools and other community events spreading a message of remembrance."

"With younger soldiers , it's very much in the here and now," he said. "They see them in uniform,. They can visualize them doing it. The impact is immediate. "

 Veterans Feel Neglected

But, while Canadians may be feel more respect for those who were injured or died  in war, many veterans feel the government is treating them badly.  

On Thursday a group of injured veterans, joined by families and widows of dead soldiers protested on Parliament Hill, telling stories of neglect and frustration as they try to cut through  the bureaucracy  that's supposed to take care of them. . 

Retired master corporal David Desjardins, who is paralyzed from the waist down., said he felt like he had no choice but to go public with "serious concerns' about how Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies treat injured ex-soldiers. 

Desjardins said that he has had trouble finding any kind of  job because of his disability.

Retired master corporal Dave Desjardins can't find job
"There's a number of able-bodied people in expensive suits that will state that there are all sorts of wonderful programs and employment opportunities for people with disabilities, especially those that served in the Canadian forces.

 Well, I'm here to ask those suits one simple question. Show me. Show me where those opportunities and jobs are? "

Tracy Kerr, the wife of Cpl William Kerr, who was injured in a blast in Afghanistan and lost thee limbs, said the federal government has been dragging its feet in helping Kerr's rehabilitation and even providing basic needs like a bath lift. 

"I just want a quality of life, happiness for my family. When we make requests for his needs, I want to actually get them. If I don't get the help, I don't know what is going to happen." 

Veterans Protesting Unfair Pensions

Meanwhile, a group of former soldiers is challenging the New Veterans Charter legislation which completely changed the way ex-soldiers are compensated and moved away from . a pension-for-life system into a workers compensation- style lump sum payment. 

The veterans want the same benefits veterans of  World War 1, World War 11 and the Korean war received. 

"No matter how the government dresses it up," said Mike Blais of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, " the system has created two classes of veterans: those on the old system and those on the new system, who often get less and face a variety of caveats. 

"We believe in one veteran, and one standard" Blais said. 

"Justice is what those veterans involved in the class-action lawsuit are seeking. They do not want anything more than those that served at Juno Beach were accorded. They do not want anything more than those that fought at Dieppe.
Ret. Sgt. Tom Hoppe shows off his medals, including the Meritorious Service Cross and the Medal of Bravery, at his Kingston, Ont. home.
Ret Sgt Tom Hoppe shows off his medals, 

Soldier Won't Wear Medals 

Several of Canada's most decorated soldiers, have refused to wear their medals as a formal sign of protest at the way veterans of the Bosnian mission and Afhanistan war are being treated.  

Retired Sgt Tom Hoppe  earned the Medal of Bravery and the affectionate nickname "Dances with Bullets" for his 1194 heroic rush into into sniper fire to rescue three children pinned down in  Visoko.  

I don't know what else to do," Hoppe said Thursday in an interview with the Canadian Press. " As long as people understand there's no disrespect to veterans whatsoever."

"It's just a choice I've made because I can;'t sit on the sidelines and do nothing anymore. And I've tried everything I can. I've tried to work with Veterans and the government, but every time we go to Veterans Affairs with ideas and stuff, it's a confrontational  approach."

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said the government has been transforming the system, pointing to a recent $177-million injection of cash to halt a long-term disability clawback.

"We are just a phone call away" for help, Blaney said.

That didn't stop disabled veterans and military widows from unleashing a broadside of frustration Thursday on Parliament Hill, complaining of bureaucratic indifference and red tape that flies in the face of Blaney's reassurances.

All Information from Canadian Press, CBC News, CTV News 

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Poppy: A Symbol of Remembrance

In Flanders Fields 

by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row  

that mark our places, and in the sky 
the larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard  amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago 
we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
loved and were loved, and now we lie
in Flanders fields .  

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die.
we shall not sleep 
  though poppies grow 
in Flanders fields.

Why the Poppy? 
For almost 100 years, people from Canada, the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries have worn the red poppy as a symbol of Remembrance Day.

This simple red flower continues to be one of most visible ways  people can show that they remember and thank the millions of men and women who gave up their lives for their countries in World War 1, World War 11 and all other wars. 

The the association between the poppy and war dead goes back to the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s  when  soldiers noted how poppies seemed  to flourish on the graves of soldiers who had died in battle in Flanders, a region of northern France and Belgium.

In 1915, McCrae, a medical officer serving near Ypres in Belgium, made the same connection between the fields of poppies and  the young soldiers who had been killed in  battle.  This 
inspired the immortal poem, In Flanders Field, which he wrote during a break from working with the wounded. 

The poem, one that almost every Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand  child can recite from memory, reflects what he McCrae  saw and heard with his own eyes and ears while working to save dying and injured soldiers during a particularly deadly battle in Ypres, Belgium.

The Story Behind the Poem 

On April 22, 1915, the Germans used deadly chlorine gas against Allied troops  in a desperate attempt to create on one movement on one side or the other. Even though the effects of the gas were  terrible, the Canadian soldiers continued to fight without giving up, and held the line for another 16 days.
In the trenches where he was caring for hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers, McCrae was so deeply affected by the battle and its devastating results that he wrote a letter to his mother. 

The letter to his mother 

"The general impression in my mind is a nightmare. We have been in the most bitter of fights. For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots, except occasionally. 

In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds...And behind if all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way", (Prescot, In Flanders Fields: The Story of John McCrae, p.98 

The day before he wrote his famous poem, one of McCrae's best friends was killed in the fighting and buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross. 

Wild poppies were already beginning to bloom between the crosses  marking the many graves. Although he couldn't help his friend, or any of the others who had died, McCrae spoke for them in this poem.  It was the second last poem he was to write. 


Listen to In Flanders Field being read out loud. Follow along, or read it at the same time - slowly and solemnly as it is meant to be read

    How the Poppy Became an Official Symbol 

In November 1918 as the armistice ended World War 1, Moina Michael, an American teacher working at the YMCA Overseas War Headquarters in New York, read McCrae's poem. She took in McCrae's appeal  "to keep faith with the dead" and vowed that she would always wear a poppy as a sign of  remembrance.  In 1920, the United States proclaimed the poppy as its national emblem of Remembrance. 

The following year, Madame Guerin, a Frenchwoman, sold millions to raise funds for rehabilitation in areas of France. She also sent women to London to sell poppies and persuaded Earl Haig to adopt it for the British Legion.

In 1921 the Canadian Legion joined its British counterpart and officially adapted the poppy as its symbol of Remembrance. 

Why Should You Wear A Poppy? 

First, wearing a poppy is one very visible way to show respect and admiration for the men and women who  sacrificed their lives in order to help us retain the freedom and rights we take for granted.
Also  when you buy and wear a poppy, you will be helping military families, former veterans in need and their families. 

Where does the money go in Britain? 

Last year the poppy campaign in Britain raised £40 m ( that's about about $70 million Canadian).  The Royal British Legion said it spends £1.7m a week on care and support for military families, including grants, employment advice and funding, emotional support, tribunal and inquest advice, care homes and family breaks. This includes  the families of veterans returning from Afghanistan.

Where does the money go in Canada? 

It is difficult to get an accurate figure for the total amount raised in the Canadian poppy campaign, but a 2008 post on the Salvation Army's blog put it at about $16.5 million.

The legion distributes about 18 million poppies a year via its members, veterans, military cadets and through direct mailings. Assuming all are given out to Canadians, it amounts to average donations of less than a dollar per available poppy.

The basic purpose of Poppy Funds is to provide immediate assistance to ex-servicemen and women in need. This may include food, shelter or medical attention for them or their families. Also, education bursaries are granted to children and grandchildren of ex-service personnel.  

Poppy funds can be used for low-rental housing and care facilities, community medical appliances and medical research, drop-in centres, meals-on-wheels, transportation and related services for veterans their dependents. Facilities and services are often extended to the elderly or disabled in the community as may be available. 

Is the poppy relevant to the veterans of today? 

The recent role of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, and the creation of the Highway of Heroes Highway of Heroes as a sign of respect Canadians have shown for the families of the more than 160 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan would seem to indicate that the poppy is still relevant. 


Write your answer in he comment box below 

1.   Do YOU think it is still important to wear a poppy?  Why or why not? 
2.   What else should people do instead?  Explain