Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This is a Canadian ESL blog for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons, tutorials and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, speaking, writing and editing. Some of the resources are Canadian. Others are from around the world.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

A Reality Call

Hi guys, your homework has been posted in the Homework pages.

I just want to remind all of you that we now have three weeks until final exams. That is very little time in which to accomplish what you need to as a class to in order to pass this course. The fact that only the most motivated of you have actually been doling homework plays a huge role in this issue. Faceit ladies and gentlemen. All actions have consequences. As some of you kmow, but don't seem tlo believe, whether you pass or fail does not de;pend lon how well you do on the final. One half of your mark is based on your term work. Yes, I know that in many of your coutnries this was not the case, but you are in a new country now, and you have to play by our rules. That means that term work actually matters -as does motivation, obviously.

I have added several new links to the grammar section; Just look at the top and will be adding more complext material practice such as vadverb clausesa, adjective clauses etc.

However, I will also be putting in a number of lower end verb tense practices for those of you who are still struggling not only with verb tense, but with verb form, so we;ll practice some lof that as well as a few surprises. The kind of proofreading, editing exercise we were doing on Thursday, is probably one of the berst ways you an improve your proffreading and error correcting .

Friday, May 20, 2011

Writing: Taking It Slow and Easy

Many of you have now reached the stage when studying is simply becoming too much. There is too much homework. It is taking too long to do. The teacher says it should only take two hours, but you find that it is taking four hours, just to read one story, or another four hours to write a 12 sentence composition - with a dictionary. You thought you would enjoy learning English. Now you hate it and you want to quit. Why is it so hard?? Nobody told you about this part.

You are not alone. Many students feel like this. Here are a few tips on what to do to help yourself.
If you are the kind of student who spends four hours on a composition because you are an educated person who has always had good marks, stop trying to be that person. You are wasting your time. This will not happen. You are working in a different language, with a very limited vocabulary.You don't know how to say things in a complex way, so accept this fact and stop trying to be someone you are not "in English. " Instead, accept that for a while you are going to have to say things more simply than you want to. It doesn't mean you are a bad person. It simply means you are working in a language that you are not familiar with. Now, when I say write simply, I don't mean that you should write at the pre-intermediate level, using beginner vocabulary and simple sentences only. I mean write at your own level. Don't try to write like someone who is three or four levels higher.

When you are given a writing assignment to do at home, brainstorm and develop an outline, the way your teacher taught you. Then, spend only an hour writing the whole composition. it should be completely finished. Don't use a dictionary because using it will interrupt the flow of ideas. Write double spaced so that you can change things later. After an hour of writing and a complete composition, put your pencil down and walk away from the piece. Don't come back for one whole entire day. Don't even consciously think about it. (You may find yourself unconsciously thinking about it).

A day later, come back and look at what you have written. You will find that you can read it much more objectively. You are no longer so "in love" with this piece of writing that you can't stand the though of changing one word. This is where you start the revision process - fixing and changing the content. Read each sentence out loud. Does it sound right? Should some of the information be put some place else? Is one part confusing, or vague or just crazy? Do you need to add information to parts of it of the composition because your reader would be confused without more information?

It much easier to hear changes that should be made than to see them. It is also much easier to hear them one or two days after you have written the composition itself .
You are now beginning the real writing. Add the information you think is missing. Change the information that you think might be confusing or that sounds like translation. Move information to where you think should go instead of where you have it now.

Then take another break and come back for the real proofreading of mistakes. Again, read your paragraph out loud, slowly, sentence by sentence. Listen for possible grammar mistakes. Should this be an "ing" instead of a "to". Should you be using past tense all the way through this narrative story instead of present tense? Is this a run-on? Do you need s or ed at the end of these words. Does it sound wrong. Say it another way. Does it sound better? Change it based on your ear.

Then, go back and read silently focusing as many times as you need to, once for each major kind of mistake you tend to make. For example, if you have a lot of sentence fragments because you keep forgetting to use the verb "to be, " especially with adjectives, or you keep putting in an extra "be" on present perfect sentences. Do you usually have a lot Run On sentences and comma splices instead of a period and a capital letter, or worse yet instead of a lovely joining word. Do you always forget about subject verb agreement. Go back look at every verb and every noun. Does it need an "s"? There are several different kinds of errors in writing, but one that is based on carelessness, or laziness is unforgivable. It means you did not bother to proofread when you knew the rule and could have easily fixed the mistake.

I absolutely want to stress, however, that this process sahould not be done in a four hour period in one day. If this is what you are doing, of course, you hate writing. I wold too. Give yourself time and distance from the subject. Have fun doing something else. Then, you will come back refreshed and ready to have another go at it.

Now, unfortunately I know this does not apply to in class writing when you are under a huge amount of pressure and when you inevitably forget a lot of t he vocabulary you actually know. That is the subject of an entire different discussion.

My next post will be about reading and how to make that a much easier, and pleasant process.

This is a note to anyone out there who reads this or even uses the practice links on the side. I have no idea who you are, what you want or like. I would be a very happy person if you would leave a comment at the bottom of the posts All you need to to do is click on the word comment and a box will pop up on the left hand side. At that point you write your message. You do not have to identify yourself, but you can if you want to.

Another option is to subscribe my blog and become a member. The link for that is at the top of the page on the right hand side.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Ideal Husband or Wife

Last week, my class had a very lively discussion on the subject of arranged marriage. That discussion turned into an even livelier whole class discussion in which absolutely everyone participated - all having something to say. Now, this is not terribly surprising given that my class is a virtual United Nations. What was interesting was that over half of them came from countries that strongly endorse and practice arranged marriage - countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Ethiopia, Burundi - even Korea and Japan who haven't given up on the custom - especially for their post "25 year olds" who have lost their youthful bloom and appeal. Now, we're talking about "arranged marriage," not forced marriage. These are marriages in which women have a complete right to refuse any of all of the candidates that are put before her. The concept of "love marriages" has now been introduced to some of the more youthful students in the class, whereas some of the older people saw the merit in arranged marriage. All of this discussion naturally led to the topic of just what characteristics a good husband would have to have. A class brainstorm yielded a number of qualities, including being loving, trusting, helpful, responsible, practical, trustworthy,reliable,respectful and having a good education.  After the diuscussion, the students wrote a composition on the characteristics of a good husband or wife. The contents were quite interesting.
All the married students wrote about what makes a marriage work, whereas all the unmarried students wrote about ideals of love, tenderness and having a good education. All of the Muslim women focused heavily on the the desire for a man who would respect them, both inside and outside the house, in front of others, especially in front of the children. So... respect , or lack of respect was playing a strong role in their marriages. We have a lot to learn here in Canada. 
Certain things we take for granted in Canada would never even come up with women from these cultures. Not one student mentioned the idea of someone who might be a good father. The idea just didn't play when I brought it up, nor did the concept of a husband " being considerate". "What does considerate mean," one student asked. I told her that an example of a considerate husband would be a one who picked up the kids from day care on a day you were running late. Another example would be a husband  who started making dinner immediately when he   got home in order to prevent the melt down children suffer if they are not fed almost as soon as they walk in the door. One or two two women thought this was a fantastic idea, and even admitted that their husbands might actually do something like that, but the rest laughed and said "come on. You must be dreaming. The men...well the men were simply in disbelief mode.
Ah the joys of teaching ESL. You are constantly learning, and learning and learning. Never take anything for granted. Cherish what you have.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Making Time For Reading

I cannot stress enough the importance of reading your novels for 30 minutes a day. I know you're busy with jobs,. children, regular school and family affairs, but why are you here at the college if not to improve your reading, writing and vocabulary. 

Research has clearly shown that reading a lot is one of the best ways to acquire new vocabulary. The more you see a word, the more you start to understand it. The more you understand it, the more it goes into your  passive knowledge,  or even active knowledge and use if you start using it in your writing and speaking. 

Every single one of you has told me that one of your biggest problems is VOCABULARY            I would personally agree given what I have seen of your writing. So, stop making excuses about how you don’t have time to learn new vocabulary  and  bite the bullet. Almost every student studying ESL in this school, or studying courses for a second or third career have exactly the same amount of problems as you do. Somehow, they seem to manage to find place for homework. You need to take a more  positive approach that guarantees that you will be able to do this reading.  
Plan your day so that you have 30 minutes for reading. It doesn't have to be all together. You can split it up into 10 minute segments, waiting in lines, riding on the bus, at lunch time etc. In fact, look at your homework, decide which parts of it you realistically have time for, and which parts  are the most important for YOU then make a daily plan. Account for every half hour of your day. Build in time for your reading and other studying. Again it does not have all be at the same time. Do NOT watch television rather than doing your homework.  Building in Time can be something as drastic as getting up an hour earlier than usual when you are fresh and everything is quiet.

:Poor  Spellers
Since I seem to be writing on the general subject of planning time to do your homework, I want to speak to you poor spellers. You know who you are, and you need to know that it you don't come up with a plan to improve it, you will never get the kind of job you want. Spelling is very important in Canada.  So you also need to stop waiting for the teacher to wave her magic wand, and do something about your problem. Take control and decide that Yyou ARE going to improve. Make a plan of how how you want to do that. The first step is to make a list of every spelling mistake you have made this term, maybe even some from last term.  Study the list very carefully. Do you make many mistakes  with double consonants? Do you make a lot of mistakes with a missing vowel in the middle of the word?  Do you make mistakes with basic “sight words.” When you have your list and some kind of patterns  for them . 

Bits and Pieces

I just wanted to let you know that your homework is in the homework pages.

Also, I think the reading on identity Theft was not stapled; therefore, you may not have received the complete reading. I have scanned the whole reading and you can find it in the Reading Pages. It is in two sections. Just click on the PDF files. 

I also wanted to let you know that Reading for Understanding 2 can be found in the  the Reading Links .
Another reading page you should try this weekend , or in the near future is  the Frankfurt Skill Based Reading Exercises. Don't get food by thinking there is only one reading per section, the arrow for the next page is on the upper right hand side.

Also because we've been talking about weddings and marriages this week I wanted you to watch this delightful photo essay of marriages from around the world. The costumes and the hand designs are absolutely gorgeous. Enjoy.

                           Here is a little sample of a traditional Korean wedding

Marriage Traditions Around the World 

Don't you just love technology. I wish I were 30 years younger. What fun I would have with all of this .

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Go Canucks Go 

So the Canucks won their game last night against the Predators. Finally, this will give them a little of the rest they deserve before going on to the next round in the playoffs in the Stanley Cup. 
One thing I have noticed is that there is nothing like a sport like hockey or soccer to draw people together - white black, brown, red, yellow, purple, Asian., African, East Indian,  European /....whatever as the teenagers say. I have seen  more of an outburst of sheer Canadian patriotism  these past few weeks than I have since the Olympics. The Olympics were the actual highlight of how this new Canadian patriotism expressed itself spontaneously with joy and passion. Suddenly for a magical two weeks it didn't matter who you were? immigrant? long time Canadian? Everyone was a proud patriot, wearing the colours, the sweatshirts, hats, mitts and cheering as loudly as they could for Canada. These same people, who would ordinarily never lower themselves to speak to this batch of "newcomers" were suddenly having great conversations and getting to know each other because they had one thing in common. They all loved this country of their and they wanted it to win the Olympics. The same thing is happening in Vancouver with the Canucks. You can see it on the hockey jerseys worn by people of all colours. You can see it by the Canuck flags on the cars, and you can see it in first topic of conversation at work. Yay the Canucks won. Boo the Canucks lost. Even as an ESL teacher, I am proud that so many of my students, some of whom have been in Canada for less than a year have caught 
Canuck fever.. 
So Go Canucks Go! I hope you make it to the very end,. not just for the cup, but to keep all of Vancouverites - immigrants and citizens cheering for their team. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Few Good Online Practice Links

I have added a few new online links in the reading, vocabulary and writing section and grammar section. For the writing, simply go over and check it out. Both Paragraph Writing and Paragraph Writing Practice are excellent places to start with the concept of just what is involved in a paragraph.  In the grammar section I have added an entire book. Yes,. this is an entire grammar book which the writer has given permission to be freely used by anyone.It's called the The Power of Words Grammar and  has chapters on all the grammar points that you would expect to see in an Upper Inrermediate grammar book. Definitely  check it out.
Another useful link is the Longman Vocabulary Book  You can find it in the Vocabulary section. Longman is one of  the major publishers of ESL material and is very well respected  The book is divided into chapters with word parts, dictionary use, context clues, etc. It is also set up in way that you that in which  you can use it as a beginner, intermediate or advanced student.

I hope you  have fun with these new websites for practicing. 

It would be great if you left a comment on your impressions of this site. Are the links useful? Which ones do you prefer? What else would you like to see on this blog? I have just learned how to do pages, so I will be added some specific exercises of my own as soon as I get some time between teaching and marking.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

In Praise of Mothers -especially Immigrant mothers!!

Once a year on Mother's Day families gather round good old mom to tell her what a wonderful person she is.

Out come the cards with the sweet verses written by a professional. Out come the flowers, or the sweater, or the garden tools or ....or ....

Doesn't this all seem to be a little phoney  since we ( mothers that is) seem to be the butt of  criticism the rest of the time.

Either we are overly protective, or selfish slobs who don't care enough for our children. Of course, we don't have a life do we? Our life is supposed to be our children isn't it?

In the world we live in today, mothers DO have a life. In fact, their life is so busy juggling  work, kids, housework and exhaustion that one of our favourite activities is lying in  bed, or the bathtub with a good book.   

Admiration for Immigrant Mothers  

As a teacher of adult ESL immigrants from around the world for the past 17 years, I have nothing but awe and wonder for these women who slave away at minimum wage jobs, go home to feed their children, and then come to school for another two and half hours in order to learn the English that will get them into the courses that will lead to better jobs.

Do they do this once a week? No, they do it from Monday to Thursday, and if that isn't enough, they are loaded down with enough homework for the weekend that they have little time to enjoy such things as Mother's Day. 

Are these women determined? You have no idea. Are they motivated? Absolutely!  Are they tired? Sadly yes.... Do they have a lot of time to do homework when there is still housework to finish at home and kids to get up in the morning. And yet we teachers are telling them they must do their homework or they won't improve.

Whenever I think of my women students who care so much and are trying so hard to provide the best for their children, or as they say so frequently " to give them a better future,"  I want to run out into the streets and shout."You should be cheering for these people".

As mothers they are unbeatable 

 As mothers, they are unbeatable. And sadly, their grammar will probably never be perfect. They will always have problems distinguishing a past tense verb from a present tense one, or "come in Canada" from :come to Canada". So does this really matter in the greater scheme of things?  For some, it really does because it will make a difference between a life of drudgery and one that can offer some financial reward and satisfaction of having made the right decision in coming to Canada. 

There must be a way to make these people's lives easier. We have seduced them into coming to Canada because we want their children for the future. And we'll get them. So how about a little praise for the immigrant women as they are now. 

Yesterday, the Globe and Mail carried a delightful series of articlres on mothers in general. One that received a lot of comments focused on the fact that is was easier to be a mother in the 1970's than it is now/

Have a read if you are interested. 

Why the 1970s were the best time to be a mom

The 1970's was an easier decade, on  the mothering front at least. According to U.S. time-use data, moms were present more, but spent less time interacting one-on-one with their kids. They also, by most accounts, worried less.

 A 2005British survey asked moms with young children and mothers who had raised kids the 1970s to compare their experiences: Moderns mom reported feeling more stressed and more cranky, and were far more likely to say a lack of sleep was wrecking their sex lives – with percentage gaps wide enoughto account for rose-coloured reminiscing on grandma’s part.
And  those moms of old certainly weren’t fretting over food labels. In a Canadian survey in 1978, 30 per cent of mothers couldn’t name any food that their family should avoid.

Compare that to the 80 % of moms who now monitor their children’s sodium intake or compare labels before buying food for their toddler, as a 2010 Ipsos Read  poll  reported.
“I remember my mom sitting around drinking martinis with her friends and we would run free,” recalls Jen Maier, a Toronto mother of two and founder of Urban Moms.ca. “I ate a lot of hot dogs.” Including frozen ones. “I think I’d barf if my child did that now.”
But moms today don’t spend less time caring for their kids over all. One U.S. survey suggests that employed mothers in 2000 spent the same time with their kids as a stay-at-home mom in 1975. But the newer moms managed to squeeze it in by cutting back on leisure time and housework.

Today, women don’t boast that their “floors are so clean you can eat off of it,” Dr. O’Reilly observes. Society now values home-grown prodigies over ironed sheets, so it’s piano concerts and scholarships that earn bragging rights.

But before mothers today feel too misty-eyed, consider what their counterparts in the 1970s didn’t have to make life easier.

There was no popping a lasagna in the microwave (less than 5 per cent of Canadians homes had one) or running the dishwasher (22 per cent).

And just over half of Canadian moms could toss clothes in a dryer at home. And even if the feminist movement was transforming life for women, in 1975, only 57 per cent of Canadians thought a husband should share in the housework.

“It blows my mind,” Ms. Lynn says of the fathers at her daycare who get their children up in the morning, make them lunch and drop them off. Back in the seventies, she says, “if there was the odd guy doing that, I never met him.”
But balancing the pros and cons, weighing the convenience of a microwave compared with moms who could still laugh together over their “bratty” kids, which decade does she prefer? “A mom in the seventies,” she laughs, “with more money.”

Monday, May 2, 2011

Canadian Election

Today is the day that we vote for the person who will represent us in the Canadian parliament. 
That vote, with millions of others will determine if we have a Conservative, Liberal or New Democratic government. For the last five years we have had a minority Conservative government. Today we'll find out what happens next. If you are a Canadian citizen, please take advantage of the privilege  you've been given to choose for yourself. It is a right, but it is a privilege as well because there are so many people in the world who are fighting and even dying in order to have the freedom to choose their own government. Don't sit home and abuse this privilege you automatically gained when you became a Canadian citizen. It is too important to be thrown away. Make your vote count.