Dreams and Goals for 2011

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Do you have any dreams or goals for the future? The end of one year and beginning of another year is when many people think about these things.

Are some of your goals related to learning English? Make sure that your goals are clear, easy to describe, realistic, and “finishable.”

“Improve my English” or “Get better at speaking English” are not good goals. Just saying “improve” isn’t clear. How will you know when you are better? Is it possible to finish “getting better”? What is “better”? It’s hard to describe.

Here are some better goals: “Read English 20 minutes per day, at least 3 days per week.” “Go to a restaurant and successfully order what I want to eat in English.” “Read 10 full-length English novels by next year.” “Speak to someone in English once a week, even if I just offer them help.” “Find an international volunteer group or a club that I can go to once a month.”

To help you achieve your goals, it’s good to write them down, look at them regularly, and share them with someone. That will keep them in your mind and keep you focused on them. (That’s true for language-learning and other goals.) If you’d like to do that online, there are several ways to do that. You can put your list on a blog.

There are two popular sites in English for keeping your lists of goals and things you’d like to do. You can write down and share your goals for life and language-learning there, if you want. One is http://www.43things.com/. It’s very easy to use. You can see goals posted by other famous and ordinary users. If you like their goals, you can add them to your list!

The other site is http://www.dayzeroproject.com/, usually known as 101 Things in 1001 Days. The site isn’t working right now, but I hope it will be later (updates at @dayzero). If you search for “101 things in 1001 days,” you can still see a lot of people’s lists. Because you have 2 3/4 years to work on your list, you can include big things like international travel.

Anyway, happy new year! If you try any of these sites or write any resolutions for 2011, I hope you’re able to achieve your goals!

Contest Winners – Most Thoughtful

Here is the final contest winner, for “Most Thoughtful” writeup of a technique.

I’d like to entry the  contest!

My way to study English is watching DVDs of ”Friends”.
To begin with, I often watch it subtitled in Japanese to understand its outline, after that,I watch it subtitled in English, then without subtitle several times.

sometimes, I consult this script to understand the plot: http://www.friendstranscripts.tk/

I think  watching TV drama is useful for English learners to learn and we can not only  learn English in an enjoyable format, but also learn it from the situation so  vocab is also easy to stick in your head.

besides,reading the script aloud  is also helpful to speak English.

That’s why I pick this way up & I  believe it works well for me.

It was submitted by the Twitter user @turningpoint6. Even though her entry was short, I think she did a great job of thinking about several ways to use and benefit from technique:

  • It’s fun, which always helps!
  • Watching TV episodes several times can help you with listening and vocabulary.
  • You can practice multiple skills this way–listening, speaking, and reading.
  • The new vocabulary is in a context, which makes it easy to remember. (It also helps you learn about who uses that kind of word, when to use it, etc.)

A Friend’s Christmas Day

I thought some of you might like to see my friend’s Christmas Day. She lives in the southern part of the central US. On Christmas Day, there were four generations of her family in one house!

Here’s Christmas morning. They have a very tall tree (it’s taller than mine or my parents’). However, many Americans have trees that are about 6 feet/2 meters tall. One reason is because there are a lot of gifts to put under the tree.

Some families only give one gift to each person. In my family and my husband’s family, everyone gives more than one gift to each other. (I don’t know about my friend’s family.) So when I was old enough (maybe 10 or so?), I gave presents to my parents, too. They also gave presents to each other. This year, I gave presents to my mom, my dad, my husband, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, and my brother-in-law. (I also gave or mailed presents to several friends.)

Anyway, here’s the gift unwrapping at my friend’s house.

Some gifts are practical things that people have been wanting but can’t or won’t buy. (For example, my parents gave me a nice pair of jeans, a pair of trail shoes for hiking, and an extra iPod Touch cable.) Some gifts are educational or to help the person in their job. (For example, my husband gave me a book on English linguistics. Last year, my in-laws gave my husband a book about math teaching.) And of course, other gifts are just fun or nice. (For example, my parents gave my husband a Doctor Who DVD box set and a video game.)

I really appreciate my friend letting me share these photos with you. :) Thanks, Q!

My Holiday

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m in Arkansas visiting my parents for Christmas. Today is Christmas Eve. During the last day or two, we’ve been shopping and so on.


Mall Santa
Santa Claus is in the middle of this photo, but he’s hard to see! On the right, people are lined up. They want their kids to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him their Christmas wishes. (I usually had no idea what to say.) On the left, a woman is taking photos. You have to pay money for them… Anyway, this is in the local mall. We bought some last-minute gifts there.

Inside the restaurant
Later, we went to a restaurant. It’s very old-fashioned inside. You can see lots of old-style farm and household tools inside.

Dinner
This country restaurant only serves one meal: All-you-can-eat chicken dinner. You get fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy (a kind of sauce for the potatoes), corn, green beans, slaw (cabbage, mayo, etc. salad), and a tiny loaf of hot bread with apple butter (spiced apple jam — there’s no butter in it!). If you want more of something, you can just ask. This meal is not part of our holiday tradition, but it’s a nice place to go with my family when I visit. Today, we had Thai food at lunch and beans with cornbread for dinner. For Christmas Day this year, we’ll go out to a buffet. (Most restaurants are closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the US, but a few are open.)

Christmas Tree Cat
This is one of my parents’ cats, Gimli. He’s sitting under their Christmas tree. Gimli usually acts very seriously, but he loves their Christmas tree and spends a lot of time playing with it and sleeping under it. (I took this picture last year, but it’s the same this year!)

If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you’re having a good one!

(Sorry, I’ll post the final contest winner later!)

Contest Winners – Most Fun Technique

The next-to-last category is “Most Fun Technique.” This sounds like fun to me!

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share tools for learning English. I really want to know how everyone’s learning it. And CONGRATULATIONS on your 100th blog!!

I like music and alway listen to the web radio during the work all day. When I come across a song that I like, I look up the words I didn’t understand. Here is my tool. http://www.tube365.net/ and then I get to know the meaning of the lyric. After that, I sing the song over and over again. In the radio I usually listen to, they seem to bring songs, which are routine. It means that I can take a test if I can sing the song I liked well everyday.

I’m not really sure if it works for improving my English. But It’s really fun to sing a song in English. That makes me feel as I’m a real English speaker at least at that time! ;)

I look forward to another great tools!

Thanks a lot!

@pakuchi5 on Twitter sent in this idea. I think it’s a really fun idea! I’m trying to learn some Japanese songs for karaoke myself. Song lyrics aren’t perfect for learning grammar, but they’re good for other things. They’re definitely fun and motivating if you like music.

Contest Winners – Best Technique for EFL Learners

The third category in the contest is the “Best Technique for English as a Foreign Language Learners.”

I use VOA special English program ( http://www.voanews.com/learningenglish/home/ ) to practise “shadowing”.

“Shadowing” is an established method most Japanese interpreters use for their training.

My level isn’t that high, so I chose VOA special English programs for the materials because they speak slower in the program than regular speed.

How to practise “shadowing” is easy. You listen to the program and imitate just as you just heard. It’s fun and I feel as if I’m playing a game; I need to concentrate to catch up with their speaking. I like “shadowing” better than simply listening. I feel thrilled :)

If you find some point you can’t follow/catch, you can check the manuscript on VOA website anytime. After you read and figured out which words you’d missed, you repeat “shadowing” until you can “shadow” it fluently.

I guess this helps my listening skill a lot. Also, it’s more fun than just reading or listening as I wrote above, which means it’s easier to continue. You can practise listening and reading at the same time, too :)

Twitter user @kaorie3 sent in this technique. Shadowing is good for EFL learners who live in areas without many fluent English speakers. By listening to the VOA speakers and copying them, you can practice American English speech patterns. This can also improve your listening skills. The VOA website, as @kaorie3 mentioned, uses slower language, so it’s easier to do.

If you want to try some more natural language, try NPR (National Public Radio). I’ve noticed that some of their programs have speakers who talk kind of slowly compared to live radio news. Try different programs until you find one that you like.

Thanks for entering the contest, @kaorie3!

Contest Winners – Most Unusual Technique

The second category is the “Most Unusual Technique.” If you read about his technique, I think you’ll agree that it’s pretty unusual!

Hi Clarissa,

I decided to submit one tip for practising English that comes very handy on situations when foreign English speakers have difficulties with speaking English due to so called ‘mind-chatter’.

It’s a feeling in one’s mind as if hundreds of thoughts are repeating themselves over and over again and preventing from having a clear and fluent English speech.

I know for a fact that plenty of foreign English speakers experience this issue every now and then and I’ve described my technique of dealing with it in my blog post here: http://englishharmony.com/increase-english-fluency/

I still get this ‘mind-chatter’ every once in a while myself and the way of dealing with it as described in my blog post helps me every time.

I’d be glad if you accepted this as an entry for the contest!

The winning technique above was submitted by @englishharmony (non-Twitter users were welcome to enter, but only Twitter users entered).

Well, driving yourself crazy with English can definitely get in the way of speaking fluently–especially if you’re focusing too much on trying to remember rules and difficult vocabulary words. So maybe taking a break is a good idea sometimes.

Contest Winners – Most Useful Techniques

Thanks again to everyone who entered! Here are the first two winners. I’ve posted their submissions “as is,” which means that I didn’t edit their English. The main focus for this contest was good ideas, not perfect grammar!

The first category is “Most Useful Technique,” based on my opinion as a teacher and as a language learner myself. Two people submitted similar ideas, so there was a tie (two people scored the same/both won). Here’s the first one:

@10lizy's books

Hi!! 

I would like to introduce the tools of studying in English with attaching photo.
The notebook is necessary to memo for new words or new sentences.

The English-English dictionary and The Oxford Thesaurus are also necessary tools.
I use them since I was a student of English school in Malaysia.
The teachers recommended to use them!

Books are written by English.
I try to read them out!!
Picking up some nuances or learning way to native’s thinking from them.

The magazines, CNN English Express,to Include in CDs. I use for improving my listening.

That’s it!!

This combined technique was submitted by the user @10lizy on Twitter. It focuses on books, but she uses them in many ways. Graded readers are great for picking up vocabulary. Easy-to-understand regular books are great for learning words that go together and sentence patterns. She also mentions that it’s a good way to learn how native speakers think, and the nuances of words. She also uses English learning books with CDs for listening practice. She writes sentences and words in a notebook (some researchers say that this works well if you do it in a certain way.) Finally, she has a thesaurus and a dictionary to help her get a deeper understanding of words.



Here’s the second one:

Hi, I’m AlexaderBD on the twitter and this is the first time I  write to someone that have English as first language. xP

About the  contest I can say that my English was not that bad, but was not
that great  too, and my solution to improve it was to read books. I have choose
the reading of books because books are one of my big love. When I have a  doubt about some word in the book I use a dictionary
This is a picture  of the book I’m reading at the  moment.

alexaderbd's books

I  think this is what is suppose to do in the contest, if it isn’t please let me know.
But the main reason to make me participate is the help me  improve my English.
Hope you can understand everything I try to say.  :p

This technique comes from @alexaderBD on Twitter. He has a more direct approach of reading novels in English. He is comfortable reading English, loves reading, and speaks another language that’s related to English, so this is a great choice for him. Huge novels like The Stand (or Harry Potter) aren’t a good idea until you’re comfortable with them. If you are, then you can use them to improve your vocabulary, your reading speed, the different ways you can use words, your understanding of difficult things like articles, and so on.

If you just read books about English, it’s not very useful. But if you read books in English, I think it can be a very useful technique. Great job, both of you! If you wrote me about which prize you wanted, I’m sending your prizes soon. (Some people didn’t answer about their prizes…)

I’ll post more winners tomorrow!

Blogging in English follow-up

If you would like English-speaking commenters and readers on your blog, please be careful about the service that you use. (Especially if you would like commenters who don’t speak your language!) I just tried to leave a comment on an English-learner’s blog. The blog is on Livedoor. My comment was rejected (it was not accepted and would not be posted). I was really surprised because I had entered a username and e-mail address. I thought I had done it correctly, but I got an error message in Japanese.

If you got that error message and you couldn’t read Japanese, you would give up, right? I tried to read the message, but it was pretty difficult. Finally, I realized that the blog’s settings automatically rejected any comment that did not have Japanese in it. If you write a comment in English, your comment will not be posted. The blog owner will never see it. Oops! I guess that’s a kind of spam control system. But it doesn’t work if a blogger is writing in English and would like people to answer in English.

There are usually also problems with things like “Comment” “Name: ” “E-mail: ” “Submit” and so on not being in English. That would make it really hard for English-speaking commenters to use.

Some blogging services let you control those settings. In that case, you can change it and it may be OK. Other blogging services don’t even tell you about those settings, so you can’t change them. (That’s too common–I commented on an English teacher’s blog once. His blog had a setting that limited comments to a very short length, so my comment was rejected. He didn’t know about the setting! Finally, he was able to find it and change it. But sometimes you don’t have a choice.)

So that’s why I recommend using Posterous, WordPress, Blogger, WordPress or Movable Type installed on your webhost, etc. You can probably find a guide to the blogging service in your language to help you. (If you have to use the blogging service in English, you’ll learn a lot of useful technology vocabulary.)

Of course, if your blog is basically a journal or diary for yourself, it doesn’t matter. In that case, you don’t even need comments. But many learners discover that they are more motivated, write more often, and write better if they feel like they have readers. (For example, on WordPress.com, even if people don’t have time to comment, you can see that you have readers.)

Again, if you decide to blog a) good luck! and b) tell me about it so I can read it!

Blogging in English

If you’d like to write more in English than you can on Twitter, try blogging.

A great way to have a really simple English blog is to use Posterous. Posterous is so easy that you can even blog just by writing an e-mail! It will be posted to the blog automatically. Yes, even if you attach photos. (It’s amazingly easy!) Posterous is in English, but there are many “how-to” guides in other languages. Just search for “how to use Posterous” in your language. Here’s a guide in Japanese, for example. You can even share a Posterous account with other people, which is really nice. (So several people can write a blog together.)

Using a service like Posterous, WordPress.com, or Blogger may help you get more international readers and commenters. If you use a blogging service that is based only in your language, it may be more difficult to find English-using readers.

It’s fine to write a short blog post. It’s a good idea to decide that you will post at least once a week and choose a day to do it. (It’s easy to forget about it if you don’t!) However, I’m not good at doing that, either… Anyway, if you try to blog every day, you’ll probably get too tired and stop doing it.

Picking a theme makes blogging much easier. Of course, you can always write about your daily life, your language-learning, etc. That’s fine too!

Here are some things you can write about:

  • Reviews of restaurants in your town
  • Anything else food-related, like grocery stores, bakeries, etc.
  • Photos and comments about how English is used in your area
  • Pet/animal/nature photos and descriptions
  • Photos and information about people’s fashions
  • Your cooking or crafts
  • Interesting places to go in the area near you
  • Reviews and your thoughts about TV shows, movies, music, or video games
  • Reviews and your thoughts about books or comic books/manga
  • Explaining local traditions (festivals and so on)
  • Your outdoor activities such as hiking
  • Cool or funny things from stores
  • etc.!

And yes, it’s really fine to write about things in YOUR town in Japan, Korea, Hungary, or wherever. Many times, there’s not much English information about a place on the internet. If you write about a bakery, temple, hiking spot, etc., and give its name, location information, and so on, people will be happy to read about it. (A friend was very happy to find a blog post about a Korean sewing shop in Seoul once! She was able to go there and buy supplies.) So most people will not mind if your grammar is not perfect. It can be fun to write things that people want to read!

Of course, if your blog is mostly for yourself, it’s OK too.

Remember that your blog is public (on most blog services), so be smart about how much information you give out!

If you start a blog, or if you already have one, please tell me about it! Comment here or tell me on Twitter. Thanks!