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.

The resources on this Canadian blog are all free, and I spend a lot of my time working on it, so please consider becoming a SUPPORTER. I appreciate all the support I get. It is the fuel that keeps me going.

Membership is FREE.

NOTE: To leave a comment, click on the word "comment" at the bottom of the page. A comment page will pop up.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

I Am Proud to Be Canadian

Two years ago, when Vancouver hosted the 2010 Olympics, the people of Vancouver along with millions of other Canadians, were swept up  in an emotional display of patriotism  and flag waving they had never shown before. For the first time I can remember, Canadians were literally shouting in the streets just how proud they were to be Canadian. 

I don't want to say that Canadians didn't consider themselves lucky to live in this youthful land of promise  before the Olympics.

It's just that we had never been the kind of people who had flag poles in front of our houses, or who took every opportunity  possible to tell people what a great country we lived in, and how much we loved it.  

For some strange reason, we had always considered the Americans' flashy, flag waving, "aren't we great"  love affair  with their country to be in bad taste. And, something we all agreed about was that we didn't want to be seen as behaving like Americans.  

After all, we had a reputation to maintain. We were the polite, friendly, reserved Canadians who didn't like making a big fuss, and who preferred to keep a low profile.

The most flashy bit of patriotism we ever displayed was in a beer commercial called "the rant."  This commercial forcefully and emphatically told the world what a Canadian was AND wasn't.  It was incredibly popular for while because it showed us as loud and proud Canadians. Unfortunately it was quickly forgotten as soon as it stopped being shown on television.

The  Rant: "I am Canadian" 

So, let's come back to today when we are proud to shout " I am Canadian"  from the rooftops. 

Tomorrow, on July 1st, we will celebrate Canada's 145th birthday as a country  with plenty of noise, fanfare, flag waving, concerts, picnics, and fireworks.  Not only will you hear people sing our national anthem Oh Canada at the top of their lungs. you will also see people of all sizes, shapes, colour, cultural backgrounds wearing Canada's distinctive red maple leaf flag on their heads, their clothing and even their bodies. And what a glorious sight that will be!

Why Do I love Canada?

As the Heritage Canada website states, I am  "proud of the nation we have built together over the last 145 years. Since the earliest days of our history, Canada has been a land of promise.

“We have built a society that celebrates achievement and excellence, while at the same time maintaining a strong respect for human rights.

“Our participation in Celebrate Canada activities brings us together, strengthens our communities, and helps us understand the significance of the citizenship we all share.”

All you need to do is look at the headlines from around the world - unrest and human atrocities, financial crises, drug cartel wars  to realize that life in Canada is pretty darn good.

As I see it, Canada is a peaceful, democratic country where majority government rules and where government passes laws  to help and protect ALL people - including people of all races, religions, sexuality, gender, ages and many other areas not protected in many other countries. These laws are actually enforced.

Human Rights 

Canada  is a country where human rights are not only respected, but built into law. It is a country that allows you to practice any religion you want, to marry anyone you want, and that forbids employers to refuse to hire you because you are female, too old or simply not good looking enough.

It is also a country where you can actively disagree with the government's policies, actions and laws as loudly and as publicly as you want, and where you can take the country to court if you disagree with some of its policies, actions or laws,  One of the main protectors of these rights is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 

"Can Do"  Spirit 

Canada is a country known for its "can do spirit", where people are willing to experiment and take risks in education, health research, business, science, agriculture and technology. It is a country where when someone says," Why are you doing that? It can't be done." people respond with,"Why not? It's worth a try."  Canadians have brought basketball, the snowmobile, the zipper. insulin, penicillin, velcro, short wave radio, the Canada Arm and countless other things to world.I am sure we will bring more.   

Health Care System

Canada is a country with a government health care system that treats the poor, the middle class and the wealthy in the same way.  In Canada, getting proper health care is considered a right, not a privilege . In Canada, you can have a baby, get treated for cancer, undergo a heart, lung or kidney transplant or receive ongoing treatment for any number of chronic   pre-existing conditions without being afraid of going deeply into debt.  Of course, all Canadians would agree that our health care system is far from perfect, and does need some fixing, but we still have one of the best health systems in the world.  

Education System 

Canada is also a country that has one of the best education systems in the world, and which considers "learning" to be a lifelong activity.  In Canada, students from kindergarden to grade 12 do not pay anything to get a top quality education that focuses on teaching critical thinking. University students here pay considerably lower fees than in the rest of the world, and can obtain scholarships, government grants and loans to help them pay for post- secondary education if they can't afford the fees themselves.

Canada is also a place where adults can go back to school for retraining in any kind of career or profession they want as often as they want up until the day they die. In fact, if they are over 65, they don't have to pay for any education. 

Canada is one of the few countries in the world that offers free second language training      (English as a second language, or French as a Second Language) to immigrants who do not speak English or French well enough to get a good job.


Multiculturalism is more than an ideal in Canada; it's the law. Thanks to the Multiculturalism Act, enacted in 1988 to honor the country's English, French and aboriginal roots, Canada is home to people from more than 200  ethnic  backgrounds. And in 2010 it welcomed 280,636 immigrants, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada..  

Today, millions of us now work with with people from a wide variety of cultures who all have different accents, backgrounds and point of view about everything from child rearing to how hard we should work. 

Our children attend school, play sports, take music and ballet lessons with with children whose parents come from Asia, India, the Philippines, Mexico, Eastern  Europe, Africa and Russia just to name a few. These same children are increasingly marrying men and women from those different cultures and creating even more multicultural families. Today, it is not unusual to meet a Canadian teenager with four to five cultures in his or her ethnic background. My own son has never dated a Caucasian girl in his life.

Living with and mixing with people of so many different cultures has broadened our horizons   and made us more tolerant  and willing to accept that people from other places around the world don't necessarily think the way we do, nor should they have to.

Unlike people from many other places in the world, we don't think  everyone has to be the same, or feel  the same way about issues such as abortion, gay marriage, the hijab, Afghanistan, capital punishment or any other controversial issue.  Of course, we do expect everyone, including immigrants,  to obey Canadian laws, even if they are different than the laws of their own cultures, but this usually applies to extreme behaviours such as spousal abuse or ritual killings.

Becoming a land full of immigrants has also brought us a taste for food and music from other cultures. These days when someone asks me just what a  typical Canadian meal is I have to laugh, and say it could be anything from spaghetti or sushi to pad thai or borscht.   . Ethnic food has become so much part of our diet that samosas are now a staple at a pot luck meal. 

Of course, all of this doesn't mean we are perfect. We aren't. Tensions still exist between people of different cultures and there are still gaps that need to be bridged, but for most of us, the desire and the willingness is there. We simply have to act on it a little more quickly.  

Canada is also a country which continues to accept more refugees, particularly political refugees, from poverty stricken, or war torn countries  than anywhere else in the world. We have a  big heart, and we open our arms to the desperate.  This is something we should value.


Canada is synonymous with hockey and hockey is synonymous with Canada. When we were playing for the gold medal this past winter Olympics 26.5 million Canadians tuned into the game to watch it at some point. That’s 80% of the population. You don’t grow up in this country without appreciating what a great game hockey is. And if you feeling like expressing that you might not be a fan of such a majestic sport, that could be considered treason.

Crowd of 18,000 sings Canadian anthem Oh Canada at the gold medal hockey game  at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver Canada. Move the cursor to 1:16 minutes to get the song. The first part is simply cheering.

Oh Canada with lyrics

I could say a lot more, but I want to let a few others tell you why they love Canada

Read a few posts about why other people love Canada 

Just before the Olympics  American Journalist Tom Brokaw taped an " educational" video clip in order to inform Americans about their neighbours to the north. Any Canadian who has watched it has felt very proud indeed that someone from another country described us so well.

I am and will always remain proud to be a Canadian. I hope those of you who have moved here from other lands and now become Canadian citizens, will become Canadian citizens within the next few years, or have only recently immigrated here fell as proud of Canada as I do and enjoy Canada Day by participating in the many festivities being organized in their own cities.  .

Happy Canada Day! 

Why do YOU love Canada. 

How do YOU feel about this country?   

Let us know how you feel in the comment box below. 
 Send a little love our way. 
 I'd love to hear from you and I'm sure my other readers would too!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

English Grammar Through Songs

As many of you know, I am a big fan of using music as an enjoyable way to practice and test your knowledge of English grammar, listening and vocabulary. 

 An additional bonus is that this kind of focused listening  to "natural English"  will help you to remember the vocabulary and grammar much better than if you use a  vocabulary or grammar book.

The following activity is the first of a series of  GRAMMAR THOUGH SONG posts and a fun way way to practice and test your grammar, vocabulary and listening skills. 

Below, you will find video clips of popular English songs. Each of the songs contains a specific grammar structure. 


Step One: Make a note of  the grammar  point you need to pay attention to in each song.

Step two:  Play the video clip and carefully listen to the song WITHOUT looking at the lyrics. Get a feel for the whole song, then words and phrases. Try to listen to the specific grammar phrase  indicated for in the activity. 

Step Three:  Listen to the song as many times as you want without looking at the lyrics.  Write down as many phrases as you can hear that contain the required grammar expression as well as any new or "interesting" vocabulary expressions.  .

Step Four: If you have trouble hearing the phrases, look at the lyrics to complete each exercise.

Step Five: Check your answers

Step Six:  Sing along until you feel you have the rhythm and stress of the song.

Step Seven: Try to rewrite the lyrics while singing WITHOUT the music. How many of the expressions, and special vocabulary phrases do you remember?

Look for answer keys at the bottom 

#1 Tom's Diner By Suzanne Vega
Listen to and write all the PRESENT CONTINUOUS VERBS you can hear 

# 2 The Logical Song by Supertramp
Listen and write as many ADJECTIVES and ADVERBS  as you can hear

# 3 Because You Loved Me by Celine Dion
Listen and write as many PAST TENSE VERBS verbs you can hear. 

#4  Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For  by U2 
Listen to and write all the PRESENT PERFECT TENSE VERBS you can hear

#  4 We are the Champions by Queen
Listen to and write all the PRESENT PERFECT VERBS you hear. Write any new PHRASES or EXPRESSIONS you hear.  

# 5 Next Year Baby by Jamie Cullum
Listen to and write the FUTURE TENSE VERBS you hear ( both GOING TO and WILL)   Note how going to becomes GONNA.  

Answer Key and song worksheets 

I am sitting, I am waiting, She is looking, He is shaking, They are kissing, I'm pretending, I'm turning, I'm feeling, I'm watching, I'm lying

Adjectives: TOTAL NUMBER ( 19) 
wonderful, beautiful, magical, sensible, logical, responsible, practical, dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical , radical, liberal, fanatical, criminal, acceptable, respectable, presentable, simple   
New Vocabulary: every adjective you don't know. They are ALL useful to know  Go to 

Adverbs: (3) happily, joyfully,  playfully

stood, made, brought,made, found, held, let, saw, was,, saw, lifted, gave, believed, loved, gave, made, touched, lost, gave, stood, had, gave, was, loved, were, carried, were 

I’ve paid my dues, I’ve done my sentence, I’ve…committed no crime, bad mistakes I’ve made a few, I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face, I’ve come through, I’ve taken my bows and my curtain calls, it’s been no bed of roses
We Are the Champions by Queen (lyrics + worksheet  with many activities)

I have climbed, I have run, I have crawled,I have run. I have scaled, I still haven't found,  I have kissed, I have spoken, I have held    
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For


gonna change, gonna drink less, gonna pull up my socks, gonna clean,
not gonna live,  gonna live , gonna read more , gonna keep up, gonna learn,
[ spend less, pay, drink, call ], will I do, gonna say, gonna tell

Idioms: pull up my socks, keep up with

How did you do? 

Let me know in the comment box. I appreciate all your comments. Remember you DO  NOT have to be a member to comment)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tips on How to Listen to the News

Watching or listening to the news in another language is not easy - especially if you are listening to the "real thing,"  rather than a more slowly-spoken ESL version. 

If you are a beginner or even an intermediate ESL student, you should focus  on listening to slowed down ESL versions of the news. There are many to choose from. Simply go to the NEWS links on the right hand side of this blog to find some.  

But, if you are at the advanced level, and trying  trying in an English speaking country, or trying  to get into an English speaking university or college, start listening to the "real" news as often as you can. This can be radio news, television news, or podcast news on the Internet. 

Today, watching  or listening to the news has become much easier than it ever has been because of Internet pod casts and streaming video. In my last post, I promoted one in particular:The National on Demand.  I am Canadian after all

Improving your news listening skills takes some serious practice. But, you can improve if you follow some specific steps. 

The Structure of News Stories 

News  Inverted Pyramid
Most news stories in the west use an inverted pyramid approach. All the important information is in the first one, two or three paragraphs. The development of the story and additional details come next. The least important information is at the end. 

Generally each story attempts to answer as many of the WH questions as possible: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, HOW.  If there is enough time, journalists try to get both sides of an issue in a controversial story, or sometimes 3 or 4 different points of view on the issue.  If this is not possible in one newscast; journalists will still attempt to get other points of view in a separate story later in the day, or the next day.  This  is meant to show that the newscasters do not take sides on a story. 

Also, many events in the news involve ongoing issues or problems. Here are a few examples: the European economic crisis, the war in Syria, and the recent arrest of a man accused of murdering a Chinese girl in Montreal and sending her body parts to Ottawa and Vancouver.  

Often the most recent version of what is happening on that particular story will include a short summary of the older events.  If you watch the news regularly, you will already have some background on the story. The "new" content will not seem so strange if you are familiar with the general story itself. 

No Government Censorship 
Another general  rule in western news stories is that government does not have the right to decide, approve or remove the content  of a news broadcast. The decisions are made by the newspaper's or TV broadcaster's editorial staff. Of course, certain newspapers and TV Broadcasters tend to be seen as more conservative or liberal. However, journalists do not express their personal opinitions unless it is in a special editorial, or column. The only people voicing opinions are the people in the news themselves. 

This is different in "feature" stories, or soft stories, which are longer background stories on a variety of topics. Some can be tragic, such as disaster, or war stories. Others can be entertaining.  

Since all news stories attempt to include the answers to the following WH questions, you should concentrate listening to information covered by these questions. 
  • WHEN did this story happen?
  • WHERE did it happen? 
  • WHO or WHAT is or was  involved in the story? (This can often mean more than one individual or organization. Unless the person is famous or extremely well known, the name is not really important. The title of the group or organization, issue or cause that person represents is more important. 
  • WHAT happened in the story. This is usually the longest part and usually involves more than one thing. Usually all of the events relate to the main story or topic, but  there will be details.  What is important is sorting out the important details from the small details.
  • HOW did it happen. Sometimes this is not importantly. Other times, it adds to the details. For example, if the story is about a mass murder, and the police know how, it will be mentioned. 
  • WHY did something happen, is something happening, or will it happen? What is the reason for the problem, meeting, discussion, disagreement, solution etc.? Why  is one person agreeing and another one disagreeing.  
Tips for Listening 
  • Do NOT try to listen to or understand every single word you hear. Even  native speakers can't do this on one listening, or even two, so why should you think  you should be able to. If you make the mistake of trying to do this, you will immediately find it much too difficult and give up almost immediately.
  • Listen with a purpose. Have a piece of paper ready before you listen. Write out numbers or words such as Story #1, Story # 2, Story #3, and leave space so  that you can write down words or phrases.  
  •  Listen to or watch the newscast, or podcast several times. In listening tests, you are only allowed to listen once, but right now you are trying to practice and improve, so listen more than once.

First Listening  
  •  On your first listening, listen to the entire newscast all the way though in order to get a general idea of what each news item is about. If it a video podcast, or simply a video, try closing your eyes and listening carefully without the distraction of pictures. 
  • Concentrate on and pay attention to listening for key words. These are important content words that can help you figure out the content. Examples of these words are: negotiations,. contract, economic recession, convicted, sentenced, military skirmish, attack, retreat etc.  
  •  Write key words as soon as you hear them. Also write down new vocabulary you have not heard before. Don't worry about the spelling yet.    
  • After you have listened all the way through once, write the number of stories you watched or heard, and what you think the main topic is for each story. Don't try to write sentences. Keep it to words and phrases.  Write down any extra words you can remember. 
  •  Before you listen for the second time, write out WHEN, WHERE, WHO, WHAT. WHY AND HOW under each story and its topic ( if you have one). See if you can remember enough to add information on any of the WH categories.  Leave space for your next listening. 
 Second Listening
  • On your second listening, listen to one story at a time and try the following activities. 

  •  Listen to the entire story. Then stop the player. In this listening, you are trying to catch some of the important details.  As you are listening, try to add additional key words and details to your who, what, when, where, why categories.

  • Use short forms of words That YOU  you can understand. For example, for money, you  write $. For the word conference, you could write conf. For "captured", you could write capt. 

  • As soon as you stop the recording, write out the complete word for your shortened words or symbols. Add any other details you can remember and didn't have time to write down. Remember DO NOT need to understand every word, or remember every detail. 
  • Try to guess the meaning of new words you wrote down based on the topic and the context of the story. Then, look them up in the dictionary to see if you are correct. If you are not, write the definition. 
  •  It would be useful for you to have a vocabulary notebook divided into topics areas, for example, economy, weather, disasters, crime etc. That way you can add the word and the definition in the specific category it belongs to.  
  • After your  second listening of each story, try to write a one or two sentence summary of what the story is about based on what you have already written about the topic key words and answers to the WH questions. 
  • Work with one story at a time. When you finish the first story, listen to the entire  second story and follow the same procedure. Continue until you have finished all the stories. 
 Third Listening
  • If you need to listen to the story a third time, listen to the entire story again and repeat the same procedure as you did in the previous step. 
DO NOT use a stop/start process in which you try to write down every word and go back again and again to make sure you heard each word. Listening to the news, or any video or recording is NOT TAKING DICTATION.  It is learning how to listen for ideas - not individual words. It is also learning how to separate important information from unimportant information.

If you want to improve your listening, you must listen in CHUNKS, not word for word. You will never be able to listen to or remember every word in the real world, so you shouldn't train yourself to do this while you are practicing. 
Remember, even native speakers can't remember every detail of a news story, so don't try to do something even the best listeners can't and don't even want to do. 

Do, however, take notes. No one, including native speakers, is a computer. We do not and cannot remember  details unless we have given ourselves a way to remember them: using key words. 

Listening Comprehension Activity

Follow a lightly different method for the following listening comprehension activity because I have added some comprehension questions.  These questions will help you to focus on listening for specific information.

1.  Watch today's edition of The News on Demand. and follow the procedures in step 1 
     BEFORE you look at the comprehension questions. Write down key words and the
     topic of each story . 

2.; Then, look at the questions for each story, and try to answer the questions.  if you can 
       follow the procedure from above. Then, see if you can answer the comprehension 

 Comprehension questions: 

 Stories  # 1 and # 6

1.   What has Lucca Magnotti been charged with?  

2.   When did he arrive back in Canada? 

3.  How has he pleaded to the charges?

4.   Why did Mr. Magnotti appear in court via closed circuit TV instead of in person? 

5.   Why do the police say Mr. Magnotti has refused to cooperate with authorities? 

6.   Why does Mr. Magnotti's defense lawyer say attorneys will have a difficult time  
       choosing a jury? 

7.   What is expected to happen next in this story?

Story # 2 

1.  What device have border officials stopped using at Canadian airports? 

2.   What did the devices do? 

3.   Why did authorities install them in airports?  

Story #3 

1. What is wrong with the Fraser River? 

2.  What two cities in British Columbia are expected to have problems? 

Story #4:

1.   Why are thousands of people protesting again in Egypt? 

2.   When will the results of the country's recent election be announced? 

3.    What do each of the two candidates claim? 

Story #5

1.  What happened in Texas? 

2.  What do you think the word "vandalize" means? 

3.  What is the name of the famous painter in the story? 

4.  What will the museum  be able to do? 

Story # 7

1   What  negotiations has Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper been asked to join?

 2.   Why is this a positive thing for Canada? 

3.  How much money is involved if things go as planned? 

4.   Will Canada have to give up something to join? What? 

5.  What have European countries said they will at the end of the G 20 Summit? 

 6. Why is this not such a big deal? 

Story # 8

1.  What are soft drink companies doing to get more young people to drink their products? 

2.   What is New York City trying to do? 

3.  What other industry is the soft drink industry being compared to in a recent study?  Why? 

4.  What does another recent study say about young boys between six and 11? 

How did you do?  Let me know in the comment box.

Three Reasons to Watch News Podcasts

Are you looking for a new and easier way to  find out what is going on around the world?

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or CBC, is now broadcasting a 10 minute TV news podcast called The National on Demand.

Only available as a podcast on the Internet from Monday to Friday, the 10 minute newscast features the most important national and international stories of the day. 

Why Watch the National on Demand?    

It Can Help Improve your Ability to Make "Small Talk" 

Watching these short newscasts gives you with the opportunity to keep up with current events " in English. Many of you, especially immigrants who actually want to try,  have problems making small talk with people at work or in other situations. Often this is because you don't know what to talk about. If you live in an English speaking country, it is always an advantage to be able to talk about what is going on. 

Watching short newscasts and being aware of events happening around the world gives you an automatic opening, or even long lasting topic to speak about when you are trying to make small talk. 

It Can Improve your Understanding of "Fast English"

Regular listening and watching can also help you to understand "fast English" One of the most common complaints I hear from students is " that they can't understand the real news because the announcer speaks too fast. 

I believe it.  But, this will continue to be true forever unless you do something to help yourself understand " fast" English. Listening to or watching programs such The National on Demand, or Six Minute News on  BBC is an excellent way to train your ear to become familiar with "fast English,", particularly fast English news. The more you listen to fast English, the more your gets used to the stress, rhythm and intonation of  the way English speakers speak. Keep in mind, this may be fast English, but is correctly spoken  English.  

One of the terrific features of the News on Demand is that it has a library of hundreds of previous newscasts. This means you can listen to a variety of different newscasts over and over again as often as you want. 

It Can Help Improve Your Topic Based Vocabulary  
Finally, regularly listening to and watching a program such as News on Demand  can help you to increase your topic based vocabulary.  News programs usually use the same vocabulary for topics such as the environment, economic issues, international conflicts, labour issues, crime etc. So, the more you hear and pay attention to specific words, the easier it will be to remember them.

Remember, one of the most important aspects about learning and remembering vocabulary is familiarity. If you keep hearing a word or an expression like " the government has banned banned smoking, drinking, eating,( prohibited, will not allow, not permit),  or  contract talks have fallen through, or broken down ( they have failed) 10 times or more, you are much more likely to remember what they mean than if you have only heard it once. The word banned means prohibited, or not allowed. 

To watch the 10 minute podcast go to The National on Demand .   You can also subscribe to the newscast and receive it every day as an  itunes podcast   or through an RSS subscription feed.

For information on how to get the most out of watching an English news program, read my 
next post: Tips for on How to Watch or Listen to the News. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Leap of Faith That Is Paying Off


Last February I took a leap of faith and started this blog in order to give my students the opportunity to practice some of their English skills outside of class. At that time, I knew absolutely nothing about blogging, or about posting different types of resources on line, but I was eager to learn.

Although I was hoping my students would enjoy and use the blog, I really had no idea whether they would or not.  I certainly did not expect anyone else from Canada or anywhere else in the world to even know that this blog existed, especially since I haven't promoted the site.  

Celebrating 20,000 hits 
However, today, 16 months after writing my first post, I have reached 20,000 hits on the blog. I am thrilled that every day I seem to be getting an increasing number of people using  some of the resources available on the blog. 

As you know, I am constantly adding new material, and this summer I plan to add a lot more of my own quizzes and sound files now that I am learning how to use some of this technology.

I would like to say a big thank you to all of you from Canada, the U.S., France,  Australia, Russia, Korea, The United Kingdom, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Zealand, Thailand Turkey, and even China, where I occasionally seem to sneak in via some of my students here in Vancouver.
I know many of you are struggling to improve your English in any way you can, and I realize that it is not easy, so I congratulate each and every one of you for being motivated enough to make the effort to use this blog. I look forward to keeping you  as regular users.

Please let me know if there are any specific  resources you would like, and I will make every effort to  come up with them. Also, please leave comments about how you think I have bben doing in meeting your needs so far, and what I could be doing better.   

Thank you all once again,  


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hope: With A Little Help From Our Friends

Today I am posting, the first of what will become a regular feature called Video Feature of the month. I hope you enjoy it.    

Have any of you ever participated in a fund raising  project or donated  money to a charity  such as the Canadian Cancer Society, or an organization like  the Red Cross, which helps victims of disasters, famines and wars all around the around the world?

The word fund raising is important in English because it is such a part of the culture in North America. Even children as young as five years old begin fund raising for their schools when they go out selling chocolate bars, or plants in order to raise money for a special sports program, another computer, or a special trip to another city.

It is easy to see the results of our fund raising when it is for something immediate like a school project, or a sports team. Unfortunately, we often don't see the results, or even receive thanks for a lot of the money we give to charitable organizations. All we can hope is that the money is spent wisely on what is important, and not squandered  or stolen by corrupt officials.

The following video is a wonderful example of how assistance and hope can be provided through effective  fund raising by members of the public, help from organizations such as The Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, governments and volunteers from around the world.

Japanese Earthquake 

On March 11, 2011 Miyagi Prefecture in Japan suffered a terrible earthquake and tsunami, which is now commonly referred to as 3.11, just as the attack on the World Trade Centre is simply called 911).

This video is a special thank you from the people of the Tohoku area who suffered such terrible losses  during that earthquake and tsunami, but who are rebuilding their lives with hope and courage. It is their way of telling us how much they appreciated the fact that we cared enough about them to send money to help them recover from a disaster none of us would ever like to face in our own lives.

To find out more or to donate 
If you want to read more about the Japanese relief program, or donate money to help, go to the following website to see all the different options for your donations go to the Huffington Post: How to Help Japan Earthquake Relief .

Send this to your Friends

If this video helped you remember how important it is to have "hope" in our lives, or made you feel something, send it to all your friends so that they can appreciate it too. 

What's Your Opinion ?  

Here is a short opinion question for you to practice your English writing: 

Do you think it is important for individuals to help others who are in a much worse situation than they are, or should this only be the responsibility of governments?  Explain your reasons.  Write your answers in the comment box below.

Thank You, I really appreciate your comments. 


Saturday, June 2, 2012

ESL Writing : Supporting an Opinion

Here is an opportunity for you to comment on a controversial issue in Canada that is  drawing a lot of attention around the world.
  1. Quebec Student Strike
Students in Canada's province of Quebec are now into their 112th day of a strike to protest against a tuition fee increase of $1,625 over the next five years.

Although the provincial government has passed a strict law limiting students right to  hold demonstrations unless they give a detailed plan about their activities a week ahead of time, students have refused to return to school and have continued to hold large public protests. 
Several days ago, both sides sat down to try to negotiate some kind of settlement; however, the talks have since broken down and the students remain on strike.The protests have affected the tourist industry, as visitors stay away from cities such as Montreal and Quebec  City to avoid the ongoing demonstrations.

Quebec Undergraduate fees lowest in Canada 

In March 2011,the Quebec provincial government  announced it was raising tuition fees by $325 a year over five years starting in September  2012.

Quebec students, who now pay $2,890 a year to attend university, currently have the lowest tuition fees in Canada and will continue to pay less than all other Canadian university  students even after the five year increase. Average fees for the rest of Canadian are now $5,366 a year, with Ontario students paying the most at $6,640.  Even with the fee increases, Quebec students will still only be paying $4,700 a year in 2017.

For information on tuition fees across Canada go to  Statistics Canada Tuition Fees Across Canada , or  CBC Graphs about Tuittion Fees in Canada  

Growing Public Support in Quebec

The students originally tried a variety of methods to protest against the fee increases, but when the government refused to back down, they formally went on strike on February 12th, three and a half months ago. Timeline  of the Quebec Student Strike  

As things stand now, almost half the population of Quebec supports the students. A recent poll showed that 43% of Quebecois feel that the province should freeze student tuition fees at their current rate. A number of social justice organizations, including the United Church of Canada, has publicly announced their support for the students. 
The strike has been an ongoing news story right from the beginning and a recent Vimeo video  of a "Pots and Pans " Demonstration by Quebecois from all walks of life has gone viral on Facebook and other social media sites.

For information on what makes Quebec and its protests so different from the rest of Canada click on the following story from the Montreal Gazette.Quebec Student Protests Have Deep Roots, 
For more information on the whole situation you can go to the following web sites: 
What is your opinion about the strike? Do you agree with the students' protest OR do you feel they should obey the provincial government and return to their classes. Support your answer with reasons and details.    

Write your answer in the comment box. Feel free to use any information in the post or in the other resource websites to support your opinion, but do NOT  simply COPY words and sentences word for word as support. Use your OWN words to say the same thing. Paraphrase . 

Friday, June 1, 2012

4 Common ESL Errors to Proofread for

Every time you proofread and edit careless mistakes in your writing, you are demonstrating that you care about your writing, take it seriously and are not expecting someone else ( a teacher) to do all the work for you.

In addition, if you are preparing to work in an English setting, you are learning and practicing an essential skill you will use every day of your life in the  "real world." 

Once you begin working for an English employer, you will be expected to write notes, memos and even reports that are error free. At no time will you be able to rely on a teacher  to point out where you have made mistakes. You will have to know how to proofread and correct errors on your own.  This is why you need to start taking responsibility for learning how to proofread as well as you can NOW, not at some later imaginary time.  

If you never practice proofreading  under pressure while you are studying and can get the help of an instructor, you will never learn this essential skill that could make the difference of whether you get and keep a good job or not.   

Here is a list of five of the most common errors ESL writers tend to make in their writing, and some specific strategies on how to look for, find and correct each one of them .

Verb Tense Errors

Most of what we write fits into a specific time frame:past, present or future.  For example, if you are writing a report, or a narrative, you will mainly be using the past time frame because the situation occurred in the past. You may introduce it in the present, especially if you are making generalizations or discussing the situation as an event with past and present implications. You may write a conclusions once again making generalizations, recommendations or discussing how the past still has an effect on the present, but the main body of your writing will be in the past time frame. This means you will mainly be using simple past, past continuous, past perfect and past perfect continuous verb tenses. The major verb tense you use will be the simple past.  The other tenses will be used for emphasis or to clarify that you are focusing on a continuous action, or an action that occurred before the one you are writing about. 

Tense consistency is important in English writing, so even if something is still true about what you are writing about, we often continue to use the past tense because we are referring to "that" time in the past, and the situation was true at that time. Using a present tense verb would interrupt the flow of the story and confuse the reader. 

Of course, we CAN and DO switch time frames if we have a good reason to do so, but we need to signal that we are shifting time frames by using an appropriate transition, or adverb of time. For example if we want to contrast the past to the present, we should indicate that we are changing time frames by using  words like " n ow", "today", "these days." 

Introductions and conclusions which often include generalizations about things that are always true, references to something in the past and which still continues, or recommendations often use present, present perfect or even a future tense. 

We frequently use the present time frame,which includes the simple present, present continuous, present perfect and present perfect continuous, to write about facts, opinions ideas, truths, generalizations etc, especially as they refer to all the time, not just at one time in the past. Although we generally use the simple present more than the other tenses, we do use them to focus on whether what we are discussing is ongoing, had a relationship with the past or started in the past and is strongly continuing - at least temporarily.  We also shift to a past time frame when we want to refer to past incidents as they apply to what we are writing about, or a future time frame when we want to make predictions. 

Still, although we may use different tenses in a piece of writing, we use them in a consistent and logical way. Using the wrong verb tenses, especially present for past, affects meaning and therefore affects communication. Verb Tense mistakes are serious errors. Students MUST make an effort to  understand time relationships in writing, and to proofread for verb tense errors.  

To Proofread for verb tense errors 
  • Underline EVERY  real verb in your writing.
  • Ask yourself what major time frame you are working in. Is it present? past? future? 
  • Determine whether each verb accurately represents the time frame. Are you being consistent with using past time verb tenses in a narrative, or are you throwing in some present and present continuous tenses when you shouldn't?
  • Determine whether a specific verb should focus on a continuous action, or whether it is referring to a past event.
  • If you are using direct (quoted) speech, do the verb tenses reflect the exact  tenses the speaker used?
  • If you are using reported speech, have you shifted your verb tenses back?
  • If you are using conditional sentences, remind yourself of the verb tenses for both halves of the sentence for 1st, 2nd and third conditional.
  • If you are writing in the present time frame, ask yourself if  you need to use simple present, continuous or a perfect tense. For example if you are talking about change, or about something that started in the past and still continuing are you using a perfect, or a perfect continuous tense? 
  • Double check the verb tenses in your introduction and conclusion. Are you referring to ongoing situations, making recommendations. Use the appropriate verb tense. 

Errors in Verb Form 

English verbs have many different verb forms . ESL Students frequently make verb form errors when they omit present or past participles, add extra participles, add the verb TO BE in front of an active verb, use the wrong auxiliary or helper verb, use inappropriate modals, use ING on simple forms, or use incorrect verb forms.

 A verb Form error is NOT a verb tense error.  An ESL writer may be using the correct verb tense, but omitting one part of the verb tense phrase. For example, if a student wants to write something using the present perfect continuous, the verb must contain both HAVE + BE+ a present participle.  I have been working. Companies have been polluting.  If the student writes I have working or companies have been polluted, he or she is making a verb form mistake. ESL writers commonly make many different kind of verb form errors, depending on what their original language is. As such, they must specifically look for this type of mistake. 

Here are a few more examples of VERB  FORM errors

Incorrect:   I usually am arrive  at school on time.  

Correct:      I usually arrive at school on time.  We do not put "be" in front of an active verb 

Incorrect:    Soldiers have fighting in Iran for a long time.  

Correct:       Soldiers have been fighting in Iran for a long time. This is the present 
                    perfect continuous, so you must use the participle as part of the verb phrase. 
Incorrect      She said she could waited for me.

Correct:       She said she could wait for me      

To Proofread for Verb Form Errors 
  • Check each underlined verb completely . 
  •  Have you used passive voice when you should be using active voice? Are you using an active verb when you should be using a passive verb? Are you missing the "be" on your active voice verb? For  active vs passive, look for active/passive on the GRAMMAR PAGE.
  • Have you used the whole verb phrase, or are you missing an auxiliary.  For example,  have you used "be" with all continuous  verbs?  Add it.
  •  Are you using the correct auxiliary, should you be using "have" instead of "be"?
  • Are you putting a "be" in front of an active verb? Remove it. Remember active verbs NEVER  take "be" unless they are continuous verbs.
  • Check your irregular past tense verbs.  Are you using the correct past or past participle version?  
  • Check all MODALS (can, could, would, should, will,etc.)  Are you using "ed", or an irregular form on the verb? Are you using "ING " or TO ? Get rid of it.  Replace it with the  simple form of the verb.
  • Check all your gerunds (ING) and infinitives.(TO). Read them out loud. Do they sound right? Remember, most verbs  that refer to the future .
  • Have you used the simple form instead of a gerund as a subject? Add the ING.
  • Have you forgotten to add the "TO"   when you need an infinitive, for example in expressions like I need to go vs I need go. 
  • For more information and practice on verb form errors go the following link:EDITING  VERB FORMS  , or go to the   PROOFREADING and EDITING PAGE. 

Run On Sentences and Comma Splices

In English every sentence must start with a capital letter and finish with a period, NOT  a COMMA as it can in some languages. A run on sentence occurs when you join two independent clauses without a joining word or punctuation. A comma splice occurs when you join two independent clauses only with a comma.  

Remember, a comma IS NOT a period, nor is it a semi-colon (;)  You cannot use a comma in front of a new sentence that starts with a transition such as therefore or however. You must use a semi-colon or a period  (.) As well, a comma has NO MEANING by itself. It will never mean, and, but., so, when, or because.

If you have two independent clauses that don't have a relationship with each other, simply end the first sentence with a period and start the next sentence with a capital letter

If you  have two independent clauses that do have a relationship with each other, join them with a coordinate conjunction, (and, but, so), a transition (as well, therefore, however), or a subordinating conjunction ( when, because, although, if)


Run On  ( no punctuation)
I want to return to my nursing profession  I need to improve my English skills  

Comma Splice ( only a comma)
I want to return to my nursing profession, I need to improve my English skills .

Corrections: There are many ways to correct the problem 

I want to return to my nursing profession, so I need to improve my English skills. 
I want to return to my nursing profession; therefore, I need to improve my English skills   
If I want to return to my nursing profession, I need to improve my English skills. 
I need to improve my English skills so that I can return to my nursing profession.

How to Find Sentence Fragments or Comma Splices 
  • Circle every comma and period in your writing.
  • Ask yourself if the comma should really be a comma, or whether you should be using a joining word or a period. If you have joined two ideas that are not related to each other, use a period and start the next sentence with a capital letter. 
  • If there is a relationship between the ideas, ask yourself what kind of relationship it is. DO NOT simply add "and'.'  The conjunction "and" does not mean result, time, or contrast. You need to think about the "real" relationship between idea. 
  • If there is a time relationship use a time subordinating conjunction such as: when, after, before etc.
  • If there is a cause and effect relationship use because or so, or therefore with a semi colon to separate the ideas. 
  • If there is an unexpected difference or result, use although.
  • If there is a conditional relationship use "if" 
  • Look at the ideas between your capital letter and your period. Do you seem to have two different separate ideas without a joining word?  Either put in a period, or join them with a connecting word.  
Sentence Fragments 

All sentences must have a subject and a real verb. They must also include a complete idea that makes sense in English. If you have a sentence that is missing a subject, or a real verb, you have a sentence fragment, an incomplete idea.  If you have a subordinate clause that starts with when, if, because, although etc that is NOT connected to a main idea, you have a sentence fragment. Once again, these are incomplete ideas, or half finished ideas because they only answer when or why questions. 

One of the most common type of sentence fragment errors ESL students tend to make is forgetting to use the verb "TO BE" ( is, are, were)  in sentences, especially in front of adjectives. 


Incorrect:     Although I admire my supervisor, he always late for work. 
Correct        Although I admire my supervisor. he is  always late for work 

Incorrect      Most of the people in Canada very kind and friendly to strangers.  
Correct        Most of the people in Canada are very kind and friendly to strangers. 

Another very common ESL mistake is forgetting to add a subject, especially "it", or "who" in adjective clauses. 


Incorrect   Most people know that is important to study if you want to get good grades 
Correct     Most people know that it important to study if you want to get good grades. 

Incorrect   The teacher gave me such good marks said I had a lot of potential. 
Correct     The teacher who (subject) gave me such good marks said I had a lot of 

How to Proofread for Sentence Fragments
  • Read every sentence and clause carefully out loud. Listen for missing subjects and verbs.
  • Make sure that every sentence and clause has both a SUBJECT and a real VERB, a verb that takes verb tense, and is not a gerund ING, or a participle or an adjective.  
  • Check every adjective in your writing to make sure it has a "BE" verb in front of it.
  • Check all clauses that begin with the word that. Make sure there is a subject such as "it" in the second half of the sentence. Many students think the word "that"  is a subject.  It isn't. You still need a a subject in the next clause. 
  • Make sure all subordinate clauses with before, after, because, even though, if etc. are attached to a main idea clause and not just hanging all alone.
  • Make sure that all long sentences  with adjective clauses contain two parts, a main idea AND a clause. 
  • Check any sentence that starts with the words here, or there. Both of  these words are adverbs, not nouns or pronouns. They cannot be subjects. Add a real subject. 

One way to practice proofreading  and editing errors is to do practice exercises using other people's writing. The more you begin to use strategies to find errors, and are able  to correct them, the better you will become at proofreading and editing your own errors. For practice in proofreading and editing, go to the  PROOFREADING and EDITING PAGE,  or  the  COMMON ESL PROBLEMS page 

Stay tuned for part 2 of Common  ESL errors when I will discuss subject verb agreement,  plural nouns, articles and misuse  of "and." 


If you have any suggestions, comments or questions, please write them in the comment box below. You do not have to be a registered member of this site to comment.