Category Archives: speaking

“Thanks!”

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Drawing of a coffee cup with curly steam and hearts coming out of it

Some people say that Americans say “thanks” or “thank you” too much. It’s true that we say it a lot. (If you don’t, you may sound rude.)

Today I went to a cafe for breakfast. I said “thanks” so many times that I started to think “This is weird!”

Cafe worker: “Here’s your membership card back.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Cafe worker: “Here’s your change.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Cafe worker: “Here’s a coffee cup for you.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Cafe worker: “Your sandwich will be right up.”

Me: “…Thanks.”

 

This is too much, right? But I couldn’t think of anything else to say. (Well, culture is culture.)

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 – 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.)

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!

Names

Happy new year!

Here’s a nice resource if you would like to know how to say the name of a client, a penpal, or even a character in a book that you’re reading: Hear Names (howtosaythatname.com). You can search for a family name (surname) or personal name (M=male, F=female), and then click for audio to hear it. They don’t have every name, but they have a lot of names. (They don’t have my personal name, but they do have my surname.) It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start if you don’t know how to pronounce a name at all.

There are some nice features, such as having different “origins” for one name. Names like “Laura” are pronounced very differently in English-speaking countries like the USA and Canada compared to how they’re pronounced in countries in Europe, South America, etc. There may be many pronunciations for one name.

If there’s no information for a name, you can click on Request a Name. I don’t know how quickly they add names, but I hope they’ll add my name someday!

There is another website you can try, Pronounce Names, but it’s less good. They use a strange way of spelling the names’ sounds that will only make sense to some native English speakers.

In an older post, I mentioned that there is a way to find out if a name is usually male or female.

Pitfalls: Most vs. Almost vs. Almost All

warning symbol of exclamation point in triangle, by zeimusu at openclipart.org

Watch out for these two phrases. Many students confuse them, but their meanings are actually very different. When you use “almost all (of)”/”most (of)” with a noun phrase, and “almost” with a verb phrase, the meanings can be opposite!

“Almost all (of)” means 80-99% (not all, but close to all).

“Most (of)” means more than half, maybe 55-99%.

“Most” and “almost all” are very close to each other. You can use them in similar ways. “Almost all” is a little stronger. If I say “I liked almost all of the food I ate in Taiwan,” it’s stronger than “I liked most of the food I ate in Taiwan.” But both sentences mean that generally I liked the food I ate there.

Let’s talk about “almost all (of)” and “most (of)” only with noun phrases for now. Here are some examples, with underlined noun phrases: most of my friends, almost all of the movies, most of the shops, almost all people, most kittens.

“Almost” means nearly, not quite, close to.

“Almost” goes with verb phrases very often. Here are some examples with just verb phrases,in bold: almost married, almost won the lottery, almost miss the exit, almost bought a car, almost died, almost finished eating.

Anyway, here are some examples of a sentence type where confusing “almost all/most of” and “almost” can really change your meaning:

  • Almost all of the students passed the test.
    Congratulations! The majority of the class members passed the test! There were 30 students and 28 received a grade of C or better. Great!
  • Most of the students passed the test.
    Congratulations! The majority of the class members passed the test! There were 30 students and 22 received a grade of C or better. Great!
  • The students almost passed the test.
    Oh, no. The students got very low scores. Their scores were close to a passing grade, but not close enough. All of the students got less than 50% on the test. They were very close to passing, but they didn’t, so they failed.
  • (And remember to use “all of,” “most,” or put “almost” in the right place every time. You can’t say “almost the students passed.” First, this is ungrammatical. Second, the listener will be confused and not know what you meant. The listener can’t guess whether you meant “almost all of the students passed,” “most of the students passed,” or “the students almost passed.” When you’re speaking English, you can often make small mistakes and still be understood, but not with this kind of phrase!)

  • Almost all of the flowers died.
    I went on vacation for two weeks and didn’t water my 20 roses. 17 of the roses died.
  • Most of the flowers died.
    I went on vacation for two weeks and didn’t water my 20 roses. 15 of the roses died.
  • The flowers almost died.
    I went on vacation. After one week, I remembered that my roses needed to be watered. I called my neighbor and asked if she’d water them. She said the flowers looked very bad! However, she took care of them until I got back. When I came back, my roses were fine. My roses came close to dying because I forgot about them.

Does it make sense? You have to be careful with this one, because you can accidentally change your meaning completely. Watch out!

Now That’s Real English.

If you’re an adult, you should check out the Real ESL blog. This blog includes video conversations and explanations of normal spoken English (including slang). Kim, the blogger, makes her own videos to explain things to you. Currently, she has videos about everything from pronouncing “th” to ordering coffee at Starbucks.

You should be at an intermediate or advanced level to use these videos. You should be an adult, too, because Kim feels that it’s useful to be able to understand and use “swear words.” These are words that most English-speaking adults use when they are angry or joking or speaking very strongly, but you can also get into a lot of trouble if you use them incorrectly.

I hope you’ll check out Kim’s videos and make sure to visit her blog regularly.

(Another good resource for learning to speak natural-sounding English is the Speak English Like an American book and CD series. I’ll be reviewing these soon.)