Tag Archives: self-study

Blogging in English

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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!

100 Posts and a Contest!

This is post #100!


Time for the first Readable Blog contest!

HOW TO PARTICIPATE

The contest theme is “Sharing Our English Tools.”

  • Think about one way that you practice or study English — something that works well for you. It can be anything. It should be something that you actually do.
  • Think of a way to tell me and other people about it. You can do that by taking and uploading a photo of you doing something (or a photo of a thing that you use). You can leave a comment on this entry. You can send me a message here. You can make a post in your blog, and Tweet me a link. You can draw how to do it, and send me a letter (please contact me and give me your e-mail address if you want my address. You can even post a video on Youtube or something like that. Almost anything is OK–just ask here or on Twitter if you’re not sure!
  • If you send it to me privately (by mail, contact form, etc.), please let me share it with everyone.

I will send something by mail to the entries that are

  • the most useful, based on what I believe as a teacher
  • the most fun to do
  • the most unusual
  • the most thoughtful

The (mysterious) thing each winner might get could include a book, something from Trader Joe’s, chocolate…Each winner will be able to choose between at least 2 things.

The deadline (last day) is November 6th! I must have received your entry by then.

P. S. You should be an English learner and a reader of this blog or a @readable follower to enter. (Of course, you can start reading this blog or following @readable now!)

(My Twitter follower, @10Lizy, suggested the idea for the contest. Thank you!)

New Page Added: Improving Your English in Asia

I’ve added a new permanent page to the site. It’s Improving Your English in Asia. In the future, you can find the link at the top of the page. Look at “Ways to Improve Your English,” and then “Improving Your English in Asia.”

Many of my friends who live in Asia say it’s difficult to improve their English. They say they can’t practice English easily, can’t listen to correct English easily, can’t meet fluent English speakers, and so on.

I agree, it’s not as easy in East Asia as it is in Western Europe or some other places. However, it is possible. You need to be motivated (you need to really want to do it). You need to be creative. You need to spend time finding ways to improve your English. Then you need to spend time actually doing it. If you do that, you’ll be able to improve your English anywhere in the world.

The list of ways to improve your English is pretty long. I put a lot of things on there because I want you to find several things that are useful for you. Also, some of the things on the list are only good for advanced learners or for people who can read Japanese.

Of course, I live in the US, and I’m learning Japanese. I need to do the same thing for myself when I’m studying Japanese!

When are Phrase Guides OK?

I understand why people want to use phrase guides, follow phrase-posting Twitter accounts, etc. Here are some reasons I thought of.

  1. You want to memorize correct language and use it exactly the way you learned it with no mistakes.
  2. You know it’s easier to remember language in “chunks” (larger pieces) instead of single words
  3. You want to see lots of examples of correct language use.
  4. You know that some kinds of words usually go with other words, and you want to learn about it.
  5. You are curious about the language.
  6. You don’t have time to really learn a language, but you need to use it.
  7. You need to know about a certain kind of language for a certain kind of purpose/You need to “fill in a hole” in your speaking/writing abilities.

I really understand these reasons. I’ve bought phrase books and subscribed to Japanese-teaching mailing lists, too! Let’s look at these reasons for a minute and see if they are good reasons or bad reasons, and whether phrase guides are useful in each case.

#1 is probably the most common reason. Most of us want to sound correct. However, this is a bad reason, since we are not computers. You can’t just use memorized phrases all the time. Language is creative, and you have to learn to create your own sentences in order to communicate. In addition, as we discussed last time, many phrase books and guides are full of errors, and it’s not easy to memorize that way, anyway.

#2 is true: it’s easier to remember things in “chunks” rather than one at a time. For example, if you’re trying to learn phrasal verbs, it’s much better to learn them inside of sentences. However, phrase guides won’t really help with this. It’s better to either get these chunks by reading (such as in fiction), or by writing your own examples that are easy to remember (use people from your life, favorite characters, etc.). So learning things in chunks is a good idea, but not a good reason to use phrase guides.

#3 is another good idea, but it doesn’t work well with phrase guides. It’s true that getting lots of “input” is great, but phrase guides are not a good source. It’s better to read and listen to lots of correct, natural English! Before, we talked about how phrase guides are often full of mistakes. Even if they are well-written, the phrases aren’t connected, so they are hard to remember. Unlike fiction, the phrases aren’t repeated (fiction writers often use favorite words and phrases several times).

#4 refers to something called “collocations,” which is the way some words are often found with other words. For example, “hot” goes with “coffee,” but “warm” goes with “blanket.” For some simple things, such as pairs (where the order may be different from your language, such as “men and women,” “mother and father,” “you and I,” and “black and white,”) it might be useful to look at a list. The list of collocations is so big, however, that you could look at phrase lists forever and not learn them all! To learn collocations, it’s definitely better to pick them up by reading, not by looking at phrase guides.

#5 is actually a good reason! If you are just curious about the language and you have a found a phrase guide that you can trust, then phrase guides can be fun to read! You might learn something new, correct a mistake you had been making, etc. I don’t think you will learn lots and lots of phrases, because this is not an effective way to learn lots of things quickly. But you may learn some things that are interesting or useful. This is one reason why I enjoy some of the Kodansha Japanese phrase books that I have. However, don’t spend too much time doing this.

#6 is also a good reason. If you don’t have time to learn another language, a phrase guide can be very useful. When I went to Japan for my honeymoon, I really didn’t speak any Japanese, so I memorized some phrases like “May I take your picture?” The biggest problem with English travel phrase books is that some of them contain really awful, old-fashioned English that’s not understandable, so you still have to be careful. Also, some of the ones made in Japan and Korea give pronunciation in katakana and hangul. That’s pretty bad, because we usually can’t understand that–it doesn’t sound like English at all.

#7 is probably the best reason. Whether you are studying nursing or learning to use Twitter, there are times when you need to learn about special vocabulary. I think that the more limited a phrase guide is, the more useful it is. So “English phrases for daily life”? Not very useful for memorization. “English phrases for the telephone”? Maybe… “Casual English telephone greetings?” “Common Twitter abbreviations?” Okay, those might be helpful to look at–if the lists are correct and natural.

Related to #7: You might also want to use a guide if you realize that there are “holes” in your vocabulary. I’ve been using a couple of books on “frequently used English phrases” with some students who learned English in Japanese schools. They didn’t know many common conversational English phrases like “Guess what?” I chose the books after looking at about 20 different books in Kinokuniya. We looked at about 5-10 phrases per week. We spent a lot of time discussing each phrase. The books didn’t include enough information on whether a phrase was casual, rude, etc. (Dangerous!) They didn’t include enough examples, either. If you tried to learn from these books without a teacher or very fluent friend, you would need to combine it with a lot of TV- and movie-watching practice to learn how to use the phrases. Sometimes, phrase guides just “heighten your awareness” (increases your knowledge that a certain kind of thing exists). However, that’s still useful, I think. You’ll start to be aware of it and notice it, and gradually learn how to use it.

Overall, I think it’s best to focus on reading and listening to books and other material at your level. This way, you know the language is natural, and it has context, etc. However, phrase guides are useful for some purposes. Check out the PhraseMix blog and Twitter account for an example of a good phrase guide with correct English.

If I missed (forgot to include) some reasons, let me know! The discussion on the other post was really great. Thank you!

P. S. I’m sorry this post is so long! I’ll try to write a short, interesting post soon.

A rant!

I am going to take a minute to do something different. I’m going to write a “rant.” A rant is when people write or talk about something in an angry way. Usually, they talk about something that bothers them personally. They don’t just yell and scream. They explain why they are upset.

Here is something that really bothers me: Books, websites, and Twitter accounts that teach totally useless or incorrect English.

It’s OK if it’s funny, and the learner knows it’s funny. But when it’s mixed in with normal English, how can you tell?

Here are some phrases that I have seen on “English-teaching” Twitter accounts recently:

  • It just eats up electricity and frosts up really quickly. (I guess it’s about a refrigerator. When would you need to say this, though?)
  • I could make a glitter ball out of tinfoil. (Why?!)
  • I dreamt you chucked me. (What? I’m not even sure what this means.)
  • He was in the true sense of the word culture. (This is just wrong. The correct sentence would be very formal, anyway.)
  • I had my wife die. (Not impossible, but extremely strange and rarely used.)
  • I don’t know both of them. (We don’t say this. It sounds very, very strange. I contacted the account that posted this and asked them about it. They didn’t answer me.)

I guess some of these accounts are using lists of phrases that come from very old books or dictionaries. Some of these sentences might have been OK 100 years ago. They’re not OK now. Other phrases have mistakes in them. I think somebody who’s really fluent in English should check the phrases to make sure they’re correct. It should be someone who has really used English a lot. It shouldn’t be someone who’s just learned English from a book. If you’ve just learned English from books (or Japanese from anime, etc.), then you can’t judge what is OK, realistic, old-fashioned, etc. EDIT: Idiom guides are particularly bad, even ones written in the US or UK. Many of them teach idioms that are almost never used in modern English. Why waste your time trying to memorize them?

I’m not upset about just a couple of mistakes or strange phrases. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. I’ve probably made mistakes somewhere in this post. I also don’t mean mistakes in #twinglish users’ accounts or English-learners’ accounts or blogs. I am talking about blogs, Twitter accounts, and books are supposed to help you learn English, but that have lots of serious errors or strange phrases that no modern English-speaker would say or write.

I have a travel phrase book from JAL that is full of strange phrases. When I look at English books at Kinokuniya, I see lots of mistakes and strange phrases, too. Some of my Japanese and Taiwanese friends have dozens of books that are totally useless! They must have spent a lot of money on those books. (And yes, that’s true for books about Japanese and so on in America, too! One popular book on Japanese slang is full of words from the 80s!)

This sort of thing drives me crazy (makes me annoyed/angry) because learners often can’t tell what’s useful and what is completely strange or wrong. These writers, bloggers, and tweeters are supposed to be helping you. However, they are actually giving you useless information that wastes your time. These people are taking your time or money, but giving you something bad in return. It’s like they’re selling you rotten food, but you can’t smell it or see it.

Don’t just go to the bookstore or use things you find online. If you can, get a fluent friend to check it out first. Read Amazon.com reviews very carefully. (Reviews that just say “It’s great!” are not helpful. Look for details.) If you have fluent or native-speaker friends online, ask them to look at books/blogs/Twitter accounts and tell you what they think.

Anyway, just memorizing phrases with no context is not very helpful. It’s better to learn them from a novel–even an easy kids’ book–than to just try to memorize them one at a time. If you read them in a story, they’re probably going to be correct. You will also get more information about who says that kind of thing, why, when, if it’s polite or casual or rude, etc. (especially as you read more and see phrases over and over again).

Still, there are some good Twitter accounts, blogs, and phrase books out there. You just have to be careful.

Okay…my rant is over! Phew. :)

If you have any questions or comments, or if you’ve had bad experiences with this kind of thing, please tell me!

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!