Category Archives: free

Practice Listening and More with Music

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Hi! This is just a quick post. I’ve just started a new job, and I’m very busy. (I’ve promised you posts on Facebook and more. Those posts are coming, I promise!)

Right now, I want to tell you about a free site called Lyrics Training. At Lyrics Training, you can watch a music video with English words. At the same time, the words are shown under the video — but some of the words are missing! You need to type in the words while the song plays. There are harder and easier levels, and you can find old and new songs. If you like music, it’s a good way to improve your listening.

Remember that song lyrics often have strange or poetic words and grammar. Still, they’re fun and a nice way to enjoy learning English.

Getting Started on Facebook

1. Go to http://www.facebook.com/
2. Change it to your language if you’d like to make it easier. Languages are at the bottom of the page. You can switch languages any time.
3. Enter your name and other information. Yes, you should probably use your real name. Why? Because it will help your friends find you. (Also, Facebook requires it.) You can hide all of your other information from people that you don’t know.
4. There will be a “captcha” image. Type in the words to prove that you’re a real person. Click “try different words” if you can’t read it.
5. Facebook will offer to look for your friends who are already on Facebook, using your email. This is a good idea if you have a compatible email service, but be careful.

  • First, it will ask you to log in with each account if you’re not logged in.
  • Then it will ask you to agree and continue.
  • After a while, it will show people in your email address book who are already using Facebook. It will say “Select which contacts to add as a friend from the list below.”
  • Click the box to the left of anyone you want to add as Facebook friends.
  • Click “Add as Friends.” (If there wasn’t anyone you wanted to add–for example, it was just people from your job–click “Skip” (cancel/etc.)).
  • DANGER! Be VERY careful to not accidentally email your entire address book in this step! Now it will say “## contacts aren’t on Facebook or haven’t listed their screen names.” You can invite people or skip (not do) this step. I think you should click on “Skip” — don’t invite anyone here. If you do want to invite a few people, click on “Invite some friends.” Do not click “Invite All Friends.” So click “Skip.” You can come back to this page later. It is very useful as long as you don’t accidentally invite everyone!

Click “save and continue.”

6. Fill out basic profile information like your high school and where you work. Later, you can use this to find people who went to the same school at the same time, worked at the same place, etc. It’s also really helpful when an old friend or distant family member is looking for you. Currently, there are 600,000,000 active accounts on Facebook. There is probably someone else with the same name as you. If you want to change it later so that people who aren’t your friends can’t see it, you can. However, this means that people who are looking for you won’t get any help. Click “save and continue.”
7. Add a profile picture. You can use your computer’s camera, upload a photo of you, or upload a picture of something else. It’s nice to use a photo of you–I contacted a classmate from several years ago, and she didn’t remember my name, but she said “As soon as I saw your photo, I remembered you! I’m so happy to see you again!” Some people use a childhood photo, a photo with sunglasses, a hat, or part of their face covered. Others use a regular photo. Some really don’t want a photo of themselves, even if it’s useful, so they use something else. Click “save and continue.”
8. Now you’ll see your main page. Of course, it’ll be pretty empty right now. There will probably be a notice at the top that says “Go to your email to complete sign-up.” Facebook should have sent a confirmation link to your email, something like “Just one more step to get started on Facebook.” Look for it in your email. Find the link in the email and click on it.
9. This should take you back to Facebook. It should tell you that you’ve registered succesfully. Click “Okay.”
10. The next thing you should do is fix your security settings, which I’ll write more about later. After that, you have two more fun things to do: Finish setting up your profile and go look for more friends. I’m going to stop here, though.

If there’s anything that you’re confused by, or worried about, PLEASE ask! If you have advice or suggestions for other users, please tell me.

Next I’ll talk about how to enjoy using Facebook and how to stay safe!

What is Facebook For?

Readable Blog

For me and most of my friends, Facebook is a good way to connect with our real-life friends and family. Unlike Twitter, the people that we are “friends” with on Facebook are usually people that we know well. We also use Facebook to become “fans” (or “like”) the pages of businesses that we use a lot, brands that we like, media such as newspapers and TV stations, celebrities, local government and nonprofit groups, publishers and educational organizations, school and alumni groups, and so on.

The updates from our friends’ personal accounts and the photos and articles from the organizations’ pages are all shown in the same area, called the News Feed, when I log in. (Normal users have Facebook accounts; businesses and so on have Facebook pages. I, the woman writing this blog, have a Facebook account under my name, but there’s also a Facebook page called Readable Blog.)

I use updates from the Facebook pages two ways: First, I read and enjoy the updates myself. I get more information this way than on Twitter, since it’s not limited to 140 characters. I can watch videos or look at photos from inside Facebook. Some Facebook pages also have contests and coupons. (There are games and apps, too, but I don’t usually do those.) I comment on some of the interesting things. I also click “like” on stories, photos, and videos that are interesting and useful to me.

Second, when I see something that I think my Facebook friends would also like, I click “share.” This means that my Facebook friends will see it, too. They can comment on it, “like” it, and share it, too. Unlike Twitter, when my friends comment on it, they’ll all wind up talking together, which is nice.

It’s this mix of entertaining and useful news, video, and photos from all over the world, plus my friends from all over the world commenting together, that makes Facebook something I like. Also, it doesn’t take much time to use. If I want to share something I see on Facebook, it only takes a second to click “share” and type a comment. If I want to share something I found somewhere else, I just paste in the URL. Facebook makes it a link automatically. It’s faster than blogging, but there’s more detail than Twitter.

In the last two days, I shared some news about a charity for tornado victims in the southeast US, a comic strip about English vocabulary, a news article about a 9/11 memorial, and a music video. I clicked “like” on a lot of things, including my friend’s status update (kind of like a tweet) that she was accepted at a university, a message from a local park page announcing a free festival, an article from a travel magazine, etc. I also commented on lots of status updates and a few other things. Oh, and I entered a contest win an around-the-world airplane ticket! Heehee.

Finally, one thing that a lot of my friends do is play games and use other “apps” (mini-programs) inside of Facebook. Mixi started to also use this idea a while ago, and so did other SNSes, so you might be familiar with it already. Some of the games are really pretty good.

In some other posts, I’ll tell you how to get a Facebook account, how I use Facebook (literally–where I click and so on), how to stay safe, and how I think you can best enjoy using it.

Later, I’ll add some pages to this blog with more details (like my Twitter pages).

If you have ANY questions, please let me know!

Meet the World: Part 3

Meet the World is a set of three posts about sites where you can meet visitors to your area and speak English or another language with them. This is the third post.

Finally, you may have heard of Couchsurfing. Their main service is connecting travelers and people who have room in their home for sleeping. (That’s right: You let strangers stay in your home! However, like Hospitality Club, they have some safety features–you can only decide to accept people who have already stayed with other users, etc.)

But Couchsurfing also lets you just meet visitors for lunch, etc. When you register, there’s an option called “Couch Availability.” The question is “Are you able to host anyone now?” This is about whether people can stay overnight at your place. Your choices are “Yes,” “Definitely!” (meaning you really want to), “No,” “Maybe,” “Coffee or a drink,” and “Traveling at the moment.” If you’d just like to meet people, and maybe be their guide, choose “Coffee or a drink.” That’s fine!

When you confirm your account, you can choose to make a small donation to become “verified.” CouchSurfing uses that information to check your information and to send you a postcard. That proves to CouchSurfing and other users that your name and address are real. You don’t have to do this (I didn’t). Just choose “Continue to Edit Your Profile” if you don’t want to. You can also do it later, if you want to. When you use the site, you might feel more comfortable contacting other users who are verified.

If you don’t want your real name to be displayed to other users after you join, go to “privacy settings.” Change “Hide name” to “Yes.” It’s up to you. There are a lot of settings, so look at them all.

Couchsurfing.org is extremely popular, so if you really want to meet international travelers, you can try it without having people actually stay in your home. There’s lots of advice here. You can also change the language in the top right corner. (And here are messages from people who’ve tried it.)

To write this post, I registered for all three of these websites. So if you need help getting started, I can try to help you.

And remember, you don’t need to stress about your language level too much.

If you’ve already tried them, or if you know about a better site, please tell me!

Meet the World: Part 2

Meet the World is a set of three posts about sites where you can meet visitors to your area and speak English or another language with them.

The second site is Hospitality Club. It seems to be much bigger than Hi Everywhere!. People can use it to request guide services or or to ask to be able to stay at someone’s home. For that reason, they have more security features than Hi Everywhere! Here’s how to use it.

  1. You register. You give them information including your country, region (province, etc.), city, name, and address. You may not be comfortable with this, but they request this information so that members know that you are really the person they expected to meet. If they meet you, they are supposed to ask to see your passport to make sure it matches. You can choose to not show this information in your profile in general.
  2. In step 2 of registration, you fill out your profile. One part says “I can offer accommodation: yes, maybe, no” and “I can offer: show around town, have someone over for dinner.” If you’d like to be a guide only, then you choose “no” for accommodation. After that, choose “show around town”. You can also choose “dinner” if you’d like to invite someone to your house for dinner).

Meet the World: Part 1

I know that many English learners would like to meet other people to speak English with. It’s great to talk to other people from your country, Europe, and so on. Having someone to talk to is fun, can help you learn things, can make you want to learn more, and gives you a reason to really speak English. It can also be stressful and scary, but that’s part of learning!

Anyway, for a lot of people it’s hard to find someone to talk to. But there are ways…

shokunin_backpacker_on_a_phone from openclipart.org

As I said on the Improving Your English in Asia page, one way is to find out if your city or province (etc.) has a volunteer guide program, like Goodwill Guides. If you can’t do that, I recently found out about two other sites. (I already posted them to our Facebook page–remember to “like” it if you use Facebook!) I’ll introduce a third site, too, in three posts here. All of these sites are free to use.

The first site is Hi Everywhere! The site says “Hi Everywhere!” is a volunteer local tour guide exchange community.” Here’s how it works:

  1. You register. Your information includes a username (not your real name), your e-mail (not shown), the languages you speak, your city, and whatever you want to say about yourself.
  2. Travelers post information (requests) about where they are going and what they need. For example, a British woman is going to Japan for a month. While she’s there, she would like to go anywhere in the countryside. Even if she can meet someone for an hour, it’s okay.
  3. You look at the requests and decide whether you can help. If you want to be someone’s guide, you can click “Book it!” Or you can leave a comment to discuss it with the person.

After their trips, some users write journals about their good experiences. I don’t know how active the site is, but you can try it!

Don’t worry about your English level too much. If you’re not fluent in English yet, just tell them before you meet them. When international visitors come to your area, they will probably be happy to meet anyone who speaks ANY English. If you need help, you can find information about food, history, and so on in English in advance using Wikipedia, Wikitravel, and so on.

Here are the next two posts:

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!

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!

New Links

bookmark-new from openclipart.org

I’ve added some new links to the sidebar on the left.

Here’s some information about each one.

  • Learning English from Friends: Terry is a non-native English speaker from Korea who’s been working in the US as a systems application engineer since 2006. This cool blog is about his and his friends’ experiences learning English. (The way you really learn a language when you live overseas is that you talk with people, you make mistakes, and you learn new things from your friends. That’s what he’s writing about. It’s fun!) I really like this blog. Terry is a great example of an enthusiastic language learner who likes thinking about language.
  • Jukugo: If you are Japanese and use Twitter, you probably know about Jukugo already. This blog is bilingual (English/Japanese) and focuses on idioms. The author includes cute drawings with each post.
  • Business English in 5 Minutes: Naturally, this blog is about business English. Each post is short.
  • ESOL Courses Blog has short posts to help you study English.
  • ESOL Courses – Free English Lessons Online has grammar practice, vocabulary, and other activities.
  • Listen a Minute: This site gives you listening practice. You can listen to a short speech about something (Harry Potter, the World Cup, fast food, etc.). You can read the words, too, and test yourself on it. The English is at an low-intermediate to intermediate level. There are no definitions or explanations, so you might have to use a learners’ dictionary.

I’m going to change the organization of the site when I have time. If you like these links, you should save them. I recommend using Delicious, Xmarks, or another bookmark manager. If you do that, you can have the same bookmarks on every computer that you use.

English-language Word Processing

NeoOffice Logo

Several of my students have had Japanese computers and Japanese operating systems, with Japanese versions of Word. They needed to write English essays for their classes. However, it’s difficult to get the settings (line spacing, paper size, etc.) correct in Japanese, because everything is different. For example, English essays are spaced by line: double-spaced, single-spaced, etc. Japanese essays are spaced by character. It’s really confusing to try to make it match!

I know some people must be able to do it correctly, but I couldn’t figure it out.

Anyway, I recommended downloading either NeoOffice or OpenOffice.org (Yes, “.org” is part of its name…). Both are free office software packages (including databases, presentations, word processors, etc.). If you download the English version, it’s good practice. You will be able to find the right settings for writing in English. If you’re using a non-English operating system, the website might try to make you download another language. Just look for an “Other Languages” option and choose English.

NeoOffice (Mac OS X only–I use this one)
OpenOffice.org (Windows, GNU/Linux, Sun Solaris, Mac OS X)

(I didn’t include the OpenOffice.org logo because their website says you have to ask their permission. Um, okay …)

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