Tag Archives: advice

Blogging in English follow-up

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

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!

TOEFL, TOEIC, and jobs


I want to talk about something that I have talked about on Twitter. On Twitter, it’s hard to explain an idea completely. So I’m going to talk about it here.

The TOEIC is a test that many companies
in Japan, Korea, etc. use to decide if someone’s English is good enough for a job. A few companies use the TOEFL, but this is usually a very bad idea. The TOEFL tests English for university study, not for business communication.

However, I don’t think the TOEIC is very good, either. It tests normal reading, grammar, and listening more than the TOEFL, but it’s still not perfect or very realistic. Also, its focus is business–it’s not a test of general communication. Actually, the TOEFL should be called the “Test of English for Academic Purposes.” The TOEIC should be called the “Test of English for Business Communication.”

I’ve taught many people who have taken the TOEIC. Some of them have even lived in the US for more than two years. Sometimes people with the same TOEIC score have totally different English abilities: One person is easy to talk to in English, and can write understandable and emotional English, even if it’s not perfect. Another person freezes every time she needs to speak, and writes strange-sounding sentences. But they have the same score (or the second person might score higher!).

Companies like the TOEIC because it’s easy to use. They don’t have to spend much time checking each job-hunter. But I think people shouldn’t trust it too much.

  • Test-takers shouldn’t trust it too much. If you think your abilities have gone up, but your score didn’t, don’t worry. Your skills probably did improve. The test does not measure everything.
  • Companies shouldn’t trust it too much. They should consider other measures of a job-hunter’s English abilities, because they want to find the best employees and provide good service in English. The ones with the best scores may not be the best English speakers or the best employees.

In the US, if a company wants to hire someone who speaks another language, sometimes they ask for test scores. But sometimes they do something that’s better: 1) Someone in the company who speaks the language talks with the job-hunter for a few minutes in that language. 2) The job-hunter is asked to do an example of that kind of work. For example, write an e-mail to a company, translate part of a letter, make a simple advertisement, or something like that. This kind of thing lets the company see if you can do the work they need you to do. It takes more time, but it’s very practical. It also helps the job-hunters, because not everyone is good at taking tests. It gives more people a better chance to show their abilities.

I don’t know how much other countries use this kind of measurement. I know that in Japan, sometimes part of the interview is in English. (That sounds really stressful, but if you need to speak English for that job, at least it’s more realistic than just the TOEIC!) I hope they use other measures sometimes. If you need to speak and write English for a job, it’s good if you can find a company who does this kind of thing. It means they may truly care about finding good employees and providing good service.

Okay, I’m glad I got that off my chest! (<--idiom meaning "to finally tell someone about something that has been bothering you")

P. S. I have extended the deadline for the contest! That means that you have more time to enter. There are not enough entries yet…Please think about a way to study English that works well for you. (Even if it’s for the TOEIC!) Talking to people in cafes? A favorite book? Watching TV shows? Listening to music? Karaoke in English? Traveling to Australia every time you have a vacation? Is there a hobby that made you really want to learn English? It can be really specific or really general. If you can write about it, take a picture of it, make a short video about it, or do anything like that, you can enter the contest! Just e-mail me (Tweet me or contact me for my e-mail address) or comment with your entry! I will send a postcard to EVERYONE who 1) enters the contest or has already entered the contest 2) sends me their name and a postal address through DM, e-mail, or the contact form 3) in the NEXT THREE DAYS (till November 14th, US time). English learners who read this blog only! (People who are both English learners and English teachers are fine!)

Dare to Fail

Elizabeth Bear, an excellent writer whom I’ve gotten to know online, posted this line in her blog today: To double your success rate, quintuple your failure rate. (That means “To have twice as many successes, you should try failing five times as much.”)

She was talking about writing fiction, but this is also true for learning languages. Researchers have looked at this. They found out something interesting: Students who are brave enough to take more chances DO make more mistakes, but they ALSO learn faster and better. If you only say or write things that you know are correct, it’s nearly impossible for you to raise your level.

I know it’s scary, but it’s also necessary.

Now, I don’t particularly like Nike, and I don’t like TV ads in general. However, I think Michael Jordan does a good job in this video. He reminds us that making mistakes and failing is part of getting better and winning:

When you hesitate to speak or write, think of what Michael Jordan and Elizabeth Bear said. Then take that chance!