Category Archives: free

English with Stacy

If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!

If you are an intermediate to advanced learner, I recommend subscribing to English with Stacy on Youtube. Here’s one of her videos: “-ing and -ed adjectives.” This video will help you use adjectives like “interested” and “interesting” correctly. The videos are great because they include some review and practice so that you can check your understanding. She doesn’t just talk to you! It’s very nice.

These videos will help you with listening and with grammar. She also explains how Americans (and some other English speakers) change their pronunciation when they are talking in a relaxed or normal way, which she calls “Fast English.” You don’t have to copy this pronunciation unless you have a special reason for needing to sound like this kind of English speaker. However, it’s still very useful for listening comprehension.

By the way, Stacy is the co-author of the current edition of Understanding and Using English Grammar, the advanced grammar book that I recommend for self-study.

BeeOasis.com

child reading articles by gracey at morgueFile.com

Reading is a great way to improve your English at any age. (Some people think reading lots of easy, fun things is the best way to improve your English.)

Here is a new website that may be good for reading English: BeeOsasis.com: Big Things in Basic English. They have 6 different reading levels, from “very easy” to “near native.”

A professor started the website, and it seems different from other ESL websites. It’s very “clean” and nice to look at It doesn’t have a lot of annoying ads like most other sites. Most of the other free reading websites I’ve found have a lot of spelling mistakes and grammar errors, so I haven’t told you about them. This one is good and doesn’t have many mistakes! However, the website is still pretty new, so there aren’t a lot of stories yet. You can join the website, and I hope they’ll add more to read in the future. It’s free to join. (By the way, if you are Japanese, you can use the website in Japanese, too. Of course, the stories are still in English!)

Now, I think the levels are a little confusing. In my opinion, many of the articles marked “middle” are actually “advanced” due to the use of idioms and other difficult vocabulary. Just don’t worry about the levels. If you know you are usually an intermediate-level reader, but you need to read “easy” stories on this website, it’s OK. These levels are not the same for each person. Read things that are comfortable for you.

Language Exchange Done Right?

Happy New Year! I’m slow to post again. Sorry! I have an important project that I have to finish, so I can’t spend enough time here. Anyway, I hope you had a good new year and will have a good 2009.

Today let me tell you a little about Lang-8. It’s a language exchange website. Usually I don’t link to these websites. Users often get bored or frustrated, because they can’t explain grammar problems, etc. (Yes, a native speaker can tell you “This is wrong.” However, it takes a language teacher to explain why something is wrong.) Or people just write short notes to each other. That’s pretty useful, but any language exchange site is fine for that.

Anyway, Lang-8 is a little different. It focuses on writing correction. You write a short journal entry in English. Native/fluent English speakers use Lang-8 sections to make corrections to your entry. You can see their corrections highlighted in red, marked out, etc. It’s easy to see the changes. (And you can help other people who are learning Korean, Japanese, German, etc.)

Of course, there’s still a problem. If you ask the commenter “Why did you change that?” he or she probably can’t explain very well. As a result, it’s hard for you to understand why you should write differently next time.

So I have a suggestion: If you use Lang-8, use it to practice specific grammar points and sentence patterns. Pick something where you basically understand the rules and write just a couple of sentences practicing that grammar point. Make several journal entries over several days working on that grammar point. Use Lang-8 to “check your homework” (except that the “homework” is your self-study). I think this will help make Lang-8 more useful to you.

Actually, I’m going to try this myself with Japanese! Wish me luck…

Election News

This year, a lot of people around the world are interested in the US presidential election. Americans are very interested in this election too. The person who is elected can make a big difference, both internationally and in the daily lives of Americans. For example, the United States does not have national health care, even though most other major industrial nations do. Some Americans think we really need to have a national health care system. Others think that would be bad for business. Whether we will start a national health care program probably depends on who is elected. For these reasons and others, many Americans have extremely strong feelings about who should be elected. That’s why it is usually considered a bad idea for Americans to discuss politics at work, parties, etc.–people may get very angry with each other.

Anyway, if you can read advanced to intermediate English, the Voice of America has a good website explaining the election process, with news articles, audio of the articles, videos, and more. Just visit the VOA US Election 2008 website.

(P. S. I’m out of town–I’m sorry I haven’t been posting.)

Three Fun Things to Read This Weekend

Even if you’re at an advanced level, you should keep reading in English. People may tell you things like, “Your grammar is correct, but it just sounds strange for some reason. I can’t explain why.” In this case, your English may sound “unnatural” because you haven’t read enough well-written English. (You’ve probably noticed this problem when native English speakers write in your language.)

Here are three totally different websites with lots and lots to read. Take a break this weekend and improve your English at the same time as you read something interesting!

  1. Quamut is a publisher of how-to and other guides. However, you don’t have to buy the guides. A lot of their information is available online for free. You can learn about baseball, jewelry-making, American business socializing, and more.
  2. Paula’s Choice is by a woman who calls herself “the cosmetics cop.” She writes about makeup and other beauty topics. She’s not afraid to say that an expensive product is no good. Personally, I think women shouldn’t feel forced to wear makeup. But if you like to wear makeup, you might find these articles worth reading. She also writes about skin care, hair care, etc.
  3. Little Brother is a new novel by Cory Doctorow. It’s written for young adults, but it’s getting good reviews from adults too.The book is a thoughtful science fiction story that takes place in the near future. The main character is a young hacker who is wrongly arrested by the American government after a terrorist attack. On the linked site, go to Download: Official Files to download your legal, free copy of the book. You can even download it for your cell phone.

Whether you choose to read a how-to, a makeover article, or a novel, I hope you find something you’re interested in.

Read Comic Books to Improve Your Reading Skills

Comic books are good for you! Really, it’s true. Take a break, read a comic … improve your reading.

image of woman reading, by Gerald_G from openclipart.org

Stephen Krashen, a well-known education researcher, has said that comic books and other “light” reading can be an important part of learning to read at an academic level. His book The Power of Reading summarizes research showing that comic books contain a high number of of unusual and academic vocabulary words, that comic book readers tend to be better overall readers, and that, essentially, all reading is educational reading.

You can get started reading these for free. Daily Bits has posted links and short descriptions for 17 free online English-language graphic novels (comic books). These graphic novels are aimed at a variety of audiences. Some of them, such as Fables, NYC2123, Crossing Midnight, Deadman, Y: The Last Man, The Sandman, DMZ and Fell, are aimed at readers who are 18 years old or older (however, Salamander Dream is for all ages).

Wowio’s Comic Books and Graphic Novels section has quite a few legal, free comic books and graphic novels. You’ll have to register to use Wowio, and they require you to prove your identity using a photo ID, credit card, or “non-anonymous” e-mail address (such as a school e-mail address). I haven’t used this site, so I hope that if you try it, you’ll let me know what you think.

If you are interested in reading more graphic novels and you live in the US or Canada, go to your local library. In the last few years, libraries have been increasing the number of comic books, graphic novels, and manga on the shelves. Most libraries have people on the staff who love to read that kind of thing. They’ll be able to give you recommendations.

You can also check out the Comics in English section of the Readable Blog Bookstore (those, of course, aren’t free). If you have any English-language comic books or graphic novels that you would like to recommend to other English learners, please leave me a comment.

English practice for food-lovers and movie-lovers

Has it really been two weeks since I posted? I’m sorry! I’ve had car trouble and lots of other things going on. Here are two interesting sites that combine culture, images, sound, and reading:

  • Mercury News Photo: Bite is a collection of audio “slideshows” from the San Jose Mercury News. Each entry has a series of photos, with audio. The person speaking is a restaurant-owner or chef, who will tell you about the restaurant and show you images of their delicious food. Near the bottom right, there is a CAPTIONS button you can click. It won’t show you what the speaker is saying, but it will tell you a little more about the image. You might want to watch the slide show twice: First, watch it with the sound off and just read the captions. Second, turn off the captions and watch the slideshow while listening to the audio. Mmm, looks delicious!
  • English Trailers is a site specifically for English language learners, using movie trailers (sometimes called “previews”). There are several different ways to use this website. Go to the menu under Site Menu and choose “Trailer List.” Pick a movie that you want to use and click on its name. Do the warm-up activities, then watch the trailer. After that, you can click on Activities (a menu between the two moving red arrows) to find more activities to do. This can help you make sure you understood the trailer.

P. S. The new version of my blogging program, WordPress, includes “tags.” I’ll be using tags to list more details about the posts, such as movies, pets, books, etc. I’ll continue to use the broad categories (culture, listening, reading, etc.) as well. It might take me a while to figure out the best way to do it, so please be patient with me. Thanks!

Don’t forget, you can always contact me to suggest what you would like me to write about, too.

Games and movies for study? Why not?

As you know, I believe in using enjoyable things to study. Movies and computer games are two great sources of English that can also be fun. Lots of English learners use movies to practice listening to English dialogue. The most popular way to do this is to watch a DVD with English dialogue and English subtitles. However, another technique that you can use is combining watching the movie and reading the script. The Internet Movie Script Database has hundreds of scripts to movies, and you can read them online without registering or downloading anything.

Play This Thing posts links to free games. Some of the games are just downloadable “demo” games, which don’t include the entire game. Others are full games, or cames that can be played entirely online. Most of the games are for computers, but there are a few others, including at least one “tabletop RPG” (role-playing game). The explanations use complicated English, and some of the games do too. But if you are a serious computer game-player, maybe you’ll find something you like. Playing games can be very motivating. Actually, many Americans my age practice their Japanese by playing videogames like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy in Japanese.

In a future post, I’ll write about working on your English by playing role-playing games (Wikipedia link; look on the bottom left for explanations in other languages).

Listen to news that’s free and up-to-date

The Voice of America (VOA) is a radio project by the United States government. It was started in 1942, and it’s still going. One way it’s changed is that you can now use VOA’s English-studying resources any time you want, thanks to the internet. VOA News: Special English Programs are recorded radio news stories using “special English.” This means that the stories use basic vocabulary, simple sentences, and no idioms. It’s a good way to start confidently understanding spoken English. Best of all, the stories are updated regularly and frequently, so there’s usually something new when you check.

Each episode or program is about 30 minutes long, so they are long enough that it’s worth putting them on your iPod or other mp3 player. They have different themes on different days, so be sure to pick a theme that is interesting to you.

Here are direct links to some of the most useful parts of the project:

If you look around the VOA website, you’ll find lots of other interesting and useful things. I’m glad we have this resource; since it has the support of the government, it can be updated regularly and frequently.

Free games from Cambridge

Recently I started using a new textbook with someone I’m tutoring. When I looked up the book’s website, I found out that the publisher (Cambridge) has put lots of free games online. You can practice with these games even if you don’t have the book, or to decide if you’d like to buy the book (naturally, the books are not free!). Although Cambridge is a British publisher, they publish both British English and North American English books. They’ve created a huge database of real North American English language in use, and many of their newer books are based on this source. The language in these books is more authentic and more useful because it’s based on the way people actually talk and write.

  • This is the Level 1 book in the series I’m using with my student now:
    Interchange Student's Book 1 with Audio CD (Interchange Third Edition)

    To play the games, go to the Interchange Arcade. Choose your level from the left. Then click on Unit or Sort by Activity, and choose what you want to practice. The games are simple, but have good graphics and sound. You can practice grammar, listening comprehension, and more.

  • Touchstone is another series from Cambridge:
    Touchstone: Student's Book with Audio CD/CD-ROM, Level 1

    You can try out the Touchstone Arcade. Again, pick your level of difficulty (1-4), and then try the activities. They even have some good listening/pronunciation activities, such as choosing which vowel in a word is silent. There’s a “Report” button that lets you see your progress.

  • I haven’t used the Connect series with any students, because it’s for kids. But if you know a younger learner of English, maybe he or she would enjoy the Connect Arcade.
  • Another book I use is Business Vocabulary in Use. It includes both American and British English, and is meant for self-study (so you can use it on your own). If you use English in your career, I really recommend these books. There are three levels. There’s no game site, which is too bad, because I think businesspeople like to play games, too! Oh, well. The activities in the books are creative and interesting, so give the series a try. Right now, I’m using the Intermediate book:
    Business Vocabulary in Use

If you have a recent English textbook or dictionary from a major publisher, try looking up the title on the publisher’s website. You might find free downloadable worksheets, games, etc. These games are a nice change of pace from using a book all the time!