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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yi Shiwen Fights Back: I Don't Take Drugs

This is a story that refuses to go away. I just posted a story on Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen being cleared from taking performance enhancing drugs cheating. 

But immediately after the 16-year old Chinese swimmer won her second gold medal for the 200 individual medley today, accusations were again being made that she won her medal through "doping." 

Critics Biased Against Chinese Athletes
The normally shy and reserved, Shiwen is fighting back. She has directly denied ever taking banned drugs. She has also accused her critics of  being "biased against Chinese athletes." 

The British newspaper "The Guardian" tells the story much better than I could.

 Ye Shiwen  takes another gold as drug claim storm rages around her
by Esther Addley, Guardian, Wednesday 1 August 2012   

The teenage Chinese swimmer at the centre of a global controversy over allegations of doping accused her critics of being biased against Chinese athletes just hours after winning a second gold medal in Olympic record time.

"In other countries, other swimmers have won multiple golds and nobody has said anything," Ye Shiwen told a news conference following her victory in the 200m individual medley at the Aquatics Centre. "How come people criticize me just because I have won multiple golds?"

Asked directly if she had ever used performance enhancing substances, the 16-year-old said: "Absolutely not." Her own success and that of other young swimmers such as 17-year-old US athlete Missy Franklin was "because of our training, because we work really hard," she said.

The swimmer found herself at the centre of an international doping storm following her victory in the 400m individual medley on Saturday, during which she swam a final freestyle leg of such remarkable acceleration that she overhauled the race leader and finished almost three metres ahead of her, in world record time. She swam the final 50m of the race faster than the American swimmer Ryan Lochte in the men's race.

On Monday, the leading US coach John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, questioned the performance, telling the Guardian: "We want to be very careful about calling it doping, [but] the one thing I will say is that history in our sport will tell you that every time we see something – and I will put quotation marks around this – 'unbelievable', history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved."

"We never questioned Michael Phelps in Bejing " 

His  comments provoked an angry response from China's head of doping control, Jiang Zhixue, who called the remarks "not proper" and said: "Some people are just biased. We never questioned Michael Phelps when he bagged eight gold medals in Beijing."

The swimmer's father, Ye Qingsong, stepped into the fray, telling the Chinese news portal Tencent that while it was "normal" for people to be suspicious, "the western media has always been arrogant and suspicious of Chinese people".

Others also defended the teenager, pointing out that there was no evidence she had used illegal performance-enhancing substances. An IOC spokesman, Mark Adams, said: "These are the world's best athletes competing at the highest level. We have a very, very strong drugs testing programme. If there are cheats we will catch them."

Speculation about doping, he said, was "a sad result of the fact that there are people who cheat. If you cannot applaud a good performance, let's give the benefit of the doubt."

Colin Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association said: "She's been through Wada's [the World Anti-Doping Agency] programme and she's clean. That's the end of the story. Ye Shiwen deserves recognition for her talent. Let's recognize an extraordinary swimmer."

Ye, the world champion, said Leonard's suggestions were "unfair", but said they hadn't affected her. "I want to thank my coaches, and also my teammates and parents," she said. "They have been supporting me a lot. They are the people who can make me strong and that's why I'm not that affected by outside noise. I also feel they [those criticising her] are biased."

She had certainly been composed, in a packed and at times deafening Aquatics Centre, when she lined up to start the 200m IM earlier in the evening. The world of swimming may have spent 36 hours debating the means by which she could have achieved her astonishing 400m victory, but the 16-year-old remained focused, entering the arena with a little wave to the camera and a smile to the 17,000-strong crowd.

Win less Dramatic, but Still Decisive

If it was a less dramatic victory than three days previously, it was still an decisive win. The teenager was not first off the blocks, and turned only in fourth place after the first butterfly length. She pulled back some of the ground in the middle 100m to turn second for home, but as in the earlier race her final freestyle leg proved much too strong, and she moved ahead of the Australian Alicia Coutts to take the race comfortably. Her time of 2.07.57 earned her a new Olympic record.

Coutts took silver in 2.08.15 and bronze was claimed by Caitlin Leverenz of the US. The British record holder Hannah Miley finished in seventh place.

Ye said the training regime that had taken her to this point consisted of two and a half hours in the pool in the morning, and the same endeavour in the afternoon – for nine years.

Asked whether Phelps's record-breaking medal tally was an inspiration, she said: "I used to believe that he was my idol, he still is. He is so strong that he can have so many medals by himself.

"I hope one day I can win as many. I will do my best."



  • ·        Does Ye Shiwen deserve a public apology? 
  • ·        Is she as good a swimmer as she appears to be? 
  • ·        Are her critics biased against Chinese athletes?

Ye Shiwen:Gold Medalist "Clean"

adapted from a series of BBC stories 

16-year old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, who stunned the world when she broke the world record for the women's 400 individual medley  by more than a second, won her gold medal because of her talent, not  through cheating  says the head of the British Olympic Organization. 

Lord Colin Moynihan said Ye, 16, along with the 100 other members of her team, had successfully passed tests for performance enhancing drugs, was "clean" and deserved recognition for her talent.

Allegations of Doping 

The 16 year old gold medal winner became an instant sensation and the center of a storm of controversy with her phenomenal victory in the pool on day two of the Olympics. Shiwen swam the race in four minutes 28.43 seconds, beating her own personal best by 5 seconds and swimming even  faster in the last 50 metres than Ryan Lochte the gold medal winner of the men' s 400 meter  individual medley. .

Shortly after the race, Leonard a senior U.S. swimming coach and executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association said that her performance was "disturbing" and  hinted that doping had been involved. 

Leonard said the performance reminded him of the East German women swimmers in the 1980s, who were doping on a systematic basis.

Shiwen  strongly denied all allegations of cheating. 
"My results come from hard work and training and I would never use any banned drugs. The Chinese people have clean hands," she said.

China's anti-doping chief has said Chinese athletes have undergone nearly 100 drugs tests since arriving in London, and that not a single Chinese athlete had tested positive.

In addition to receiving support from former swimmers and other Olympic champions, thousands of people all over the world used the Internet to tell Shiwen they believed in her and considered her a star and a champion. 

Accusations against Ye have resulted in an angry reaction from Chinese Internet users who have accused other nations of jealousy. Thousands of Asians posted comments on Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter and Facebook stating that they thought the west was jealous and was trying to persecute Shiwen in particular and China in general. 

London Olympic Committee: Yi Shiwen "Clean, Talented "

Chinese Presenter Backs Chinese Simmer Ye Shiwen

If you want to read more about  Ye Shiwin go to  Profile of Swimmer Ye Shiwin

Sunday, July 29, 2012

ESL Olympics: Empty Seats Scandal

Swimming at the Aquatic centre - London 2012 Olympics: BOA chairman Lord Moynihan says 'we owe it to the British team' to fill empty seats
adapted from The Telegram, the Guardian, the Daily Mail, BBC News 

Thousands of supposedly being "sold out," seats to popular Olympic events are remaining  empty at many popular Olympic Games events because sponsors, Olympic officials and VIPs who were given free tickets  haven't shown up.  

As the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) investigates the reasons why free ticket holders didn't attend the events, thousands of soldiers and school children are being given tickets in order to fill the empty seats. 

Even before the games began, LOCOG was strongly criticized for giving such a large number of  free event tickets to corporate sponsors, Olympic officials and VIPs because the "give away" left so many potential spectators unable to buy tickets. 

Seats at many of the Olympic venues have not been cheap, many starting at $300 a ticket.  

Although thousands of fans have been unable to get tickets for Olympic events because they have been "sold out," thousands of seats continue to remain empty at even at many of the most popular events, including the swimming and gymnastics.

As well, many tickets are being resold for as little as $10 as spectators leave the venues for other competitions.

Angry public wants  no shows to be fined 

Angry members of the public who were unable to purchase tickets have expressed their outrage on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook Many have called for the "no shows " to be fined. 

Colin Moynihand, president of the British Olympic Association has demanded that tickets for the empty seats be resold 30 minutes after the event begins so that fans get an opportunity to cheer for their country. 

Watch  a video of BOA head Colin Moynihand commenting on the empty seats
 Olympic athletes have also called for the organizing committee do do something to make sure that as many spectators as possible can wat5ch the Olympics in person.

Won't name the no shows    

Lord Sebastian Coe, head of LOCOG, who downplayed the seriousness of the empty seats, stating the Olympic venues were "full' did eventually admit that many seats that had been "reserved for the Olympic family" were indeed empty. .  

Coe, who before the Games said he would "name and shame" sponsors and officials who did not use their free tickets has since backed down, saying that it would not be fair to humiliate these people.

Although Coe has continued to insist that the empty seats are only a temporary problem,  organizers have begun filling the seats with with soldiers. Teachers and school children have been offered tickets for less than $10 each, the general public will again be allowed to purchase tickets and fans  be allowed to upgrade their tickets for better seats

Meanwhile  LOCOQ is still investigating the reason for the large number of empty seats, but has not announced any results yet. 

Watch a video of Lord Coe's response to the empty seats controversy 


1.  How do you feel about the fact that there are so many empty seats at the Olympics? 

2.  Do you think no-shows should have to pay for the tickets they did not use? 

3.  Do you think anyone should get free tickets to any Olympic Games?  Who should get
     them?  Why should they get them and how many should they get?
4.  Should the military be given tickets for the empty seats or should they go to someone
       else? who?

5.  So far, how well do you think things are going at the Olympics?

You do NOT need to subscribe to leave a comment  

To comment, click on the word "no comment" below. Write your comment. Then go toe Comment As, scroll down to URL/your name, and write your name. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Learn English with the 2012 Olympics

Welcome to the 2012 Olympics ESL style. Whether or not you think the Olympics are an important world event, or a waste of money, there is nothing you can do about it. The 2012 London games officially began with last night;s opening ceremony.

Since many of you are interested in the games, I thought it would be fun for you to practice a little English at the same time as you cheer for your favourite athletes, or teams  and enjoy enjoy your favourite sports.  

ESL Olympic Resources 

During the next few weeks, I will be posting a variety of resources from and about the 2012 Olympics to help you practice English. Hopefully,you can have fun learning some facts and new vocabulary about the Olympics and Olympic sports, watching some videos and reading different articles about the events at the Olympics.

I will also include many links to different websites where you can get more information as well as play games and do other Olympic related activities.

How about a little Olympic music? 

To get you in the mood, I have uploaded the official song of the 2012 Olympics, "Survival," by a British group called "Muse."  Try the listening exercise below to see how well you understand it.  After you have finished, try the vocabulary activity,. 

The song  "Survival"  was written specifically for the Games and will be played at various sport sessions at official Games locations. Four other songs have been specially composed for the games, and recorded by Elton John vs. Pnau, Delphic, Chemical Brothers and Dizzee Rascal.

People seem to have strong feelings about this song. They either hate it or love it. 

What is YOUR opinion?   Do you think it is a one to be the official Olympic song, or can you think of another one that would be better? Why?  I would love to read your comments.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tips and Tools for Engineers

Do you need engineering resources? 

Check out this amazing website which has free publications, directories of companies, products and services, and industries, tools, including a glossary of Engineering terms.   as well as job sites, search engines and more - all on one site. 

According to the company's website EngNet has been developed by Engineers for Engineers to service the need for easily accessible, accurate information.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Learning English with Mr. Duncan

Learning English with Mr Duncan
Do you enjoy laughing while you learn? If you do, I recommend that you spend some time watching Mr. Duncan on his Learning English videos channel. You will be happy you did. 

Mr. Duncan is a real English teacher who taught English conversation in China for several years. After he returned to the United Kingdom, he decided to create a series of free videos to teach English to anyone interested in learning English on line.  

Why would you enjoy these videos? 
  • They are very funny! It's always good to laugh while you are learning. You remember thing better, so you WILL learn some English. 
  • They are not too long. Most of them are between 4 and 10 minutes long. 
  •  All of the videos have subtitles.
  • His lessons cover many different types of topics: conversation strategies like apologizing, inviting and giving compliments, slang, office words, friends, technology, grammar and much more.
So far Mr. Duncan has created 73 videos on his Learning English with Mr. Duncan channel, but he also has several other video series that are just as interesting, entertaining and informative. 

These are
  • The Word Stop: A series in which Mr. Duncan explains a new word in each episode.
  • Mind Your English  A British TV comedy series from the late 1970's. Mr Brown teaches English to a class of foreign students. Needless to say, misunderstandings and confusion ensue. 
  • Ask Mr. Duncan  : a series of 27 videos in which Mr. Duncan answers questions from viewers about vocabulary, slang, grammar and many other types of topics. 
I strongly recommend watching Mr. Duncan, especially if you need a break from all that serious "academic" English. He reminds me of Mr. Bean and I don't know anyone who doesn't know and like Mr. Bean. 

Topic: Stress and Worry

Topic: Body Language 

Ask Mr. Duncan

Friday, July 20, 2012

Improve your English Fluency

A few days ago I posted an article from the Toronto Star about a study indicating that  Chinese speakers continue to struggle with English fluency and pronunciation for many years after they have moved to their new country.

As a long time instructor of both immigrants and international students I believe teachers should be supportive and encouraging towards their students. But, I also believe we have a responsibility to be honest, even when the truth is painful.

During the past 20 years, I have noted that many Asian students do indeed struggle more with fluency than students from other language groups - even after living in Canada for a long time. In fact, a large number are reluctant to speak English at all outside of class.
Note that I'm using the word Asian because I do not want to limit this discussion only to  Chinese speakers. Also note that I use the word many, not all.  

Multicultural members of the a dragon boat team
On a positive note, some Asian students try to do  everything they can to become more fluent and comfortable in English. They make English-speaking friends and join English-speaking organizations like churches and social or athletic groups such as  dragon boat teams. They often become an active part of their English-speaking community.

As a teacher, I am delighted with these  kinds of students. I know that even though they make mistakes, they will be more successful. And I believe their children have fewer problems feeling caught between two cultures as they grow up.
Teachers can't do it all 

There's an old saying, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." In this case, English teachers can provide their students with guidance, strategies and in-class practice to help them improve their speaking and pronunciation, but the rest is up to the student. 
Some students think they'll absorb English through their skin simply by sitting in class and listening to teachers or fellow students talk. Sadly, there is no easy or magic solution. You have to work at it. 

The only way to improve English listening, speaking or pronunciation skills is: practice,  practice, practice. If you live in an English-speaking country, you must actually speak to English-speaking people.

If you live in China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Vietnam etc., join English conversation clubs, watch/listen to movies, YouTube videos, podcasts, and talk to tourists, Internet speaking partners, etc.

English is NOT just a school subject.   

Anyone who plans to live, study or work in an English-speaking country, must stop thinking of English as a school subject like math, biology or economics.

English is a living language. It is NOT  just a bunch of rules you study for a test.

I frequently tell my students that life is NOT a multiple choice test.When you need to talk to friends, customers, co-workers, bosses, clerks or anyone else, you will never have the opportunity to choose one out of four answers and answer a, b or c. 

When you must listen to and understand an English-speaking friend, customer, boss, etc.  you will never be able to respond a,b, or c . You will have to produce meaningful words and sentences.

This means you'll need to learn how to speak comfortably without struggling. It also means your words and sentences must  be clear enough for someone else to understand what you are saying. Finally, it means that you must prove that you understand what someone has said by responding appropriately.

So......if you really want to increase your English fluency and be understood by others, you have to go out and actually live your life in English. 
This means finding ways to use it as many ways as you can every day, even at home with members of your family.

"But I don't have the chance to practice out of class" 

One of my students' biggest excuses to explain the lack of improvement in their English listening and speaking skills is that they don't have the opportunity to practice outside of class.

"It's not my fault that my English speaking is so weak," they often say. "My family doesn't speak English and I don't have any English-speaking friends."

I realize that in cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, San Francisco, London, Sidney etc.
there are  very large Asian communities. Immigrants or international students can avoid speaking real English to real English speakers for years, even for their entire life.

This is because they can shop for food, clothing, household items, rent or buy apartments or houses, or even cars in their own language. They can go to the doctor, have their car fixed, see an accountant, go to  the bank, get a prescription, take their driver's test, or eat in a restaurant without speaking a word of English.  

If you are one of these people, even after five, ten, 15 years in Canada, your spoken English may still sound as if you just arrived last week. Your  understanding of the culture you live in will be limited and you'll have the same misconceptions about native born Canadians, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders and Britons. 

I personally know a number of people, including my next door neighbours, who fall into this category. Although they've lived here for more than 20 years, they only use about 500 English words with great difficulty.                                                                                               
Their children, who were born in Canada, speak perfect English and often have to translate for their parents. I've often heard their18 year old daughter fighting with her mom in English,  shouting that it's frustrating to have a mother who speaks so little English and how she can't bring her English-speaking friends home.

Make the Choice to Practice and Use English  

To improve your English speaking and listening skills you must make an active, conscious choice. This involves stepping outside your own safe community, and participating in the English community. Remember, Canada, USA, Britain, Australia and New Zealand are mainly English-speaking countries.

There are many opportunities to listen to and speak English. I will discuss listening opportunities in another post, but let's talk about speaking opportunities for a minute.

Step Outside your Comfort Zone - you'll be glad you did! 

Speaking English to others involves stepping outside your comfort zone and being willing to take risks, to make mistakes, to be embarrassed.

If you always play it safe in order to avoid feeling foolish, you will be just as terrible a speaker in five years as you are now.  You will also have no one to blame except yourself.

Earlier, I mentioned that not ALL Asians fail to improve their fluency. I've known and  taught many Asians who DO take risks. They volunteer at English-speaking organizations, join parent committees at their children's schools, join English social, sports or youth clubs, or even business associations such as the Rotary Club.

I've even had students who have left good jobs for lower paying ones where they have to speak a lot of English. They did this specifically to improve their English fluency.

These students have no intention of spending their lives in low-paying or boring jobs. They are making a choice to work where they must speak English because although their previous job paid a higher wage, they were only using their own language.

The students who try and make small talk with English speakers or set up English practice time with their children have dramatically increased their English fluency, often faster than  they ever expected.

Yes, they still have an accent, but they can be understood, and that's all that matters. Yes, they still make grammar mistakes, but they're working to improve their oral grammar.

There is no question that sometimes native speakers will be rude to you because you don't speak English well. Learn how to ignore them and focus on those who are not only polite, but willing to engage in real conversation, simply because you started talking to them in English.

Many native English speakers are angry at people who don't even want to try speaking English to them. They feel that those people choose to ignore the language of their new  country. When native speakers find themselves surrounded by people who only speak Chinese, Korean, Japanese etc., they feel very defensive and offended.

Develop a Plan and a Schedule

If you actually want to improve your English fluency, you must develop a real plan and a daily schedule that involves setting specific goals, and building in specific times to practice. It also involves practicing some of the "conversational skills" you learn in class, or online. 
One way to become a little more comfortable with speaking or listening to English is to use some of the information in the SPEAKING  page,  LISTENING, PRONUNCIATION or  MUSIC page.

In the SPEAKING PAGE, watch the videos on the Art of Conversation and Communicating effectively. Also check out common expressions we use for different situations. We call these "conversation management" expressions. 

You may also want to read the following previous posts:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why Chinese Immigrants Struggle with English Fluency

I recently came across an interesting article in the Toronto Star that I think many of you might enjoy.

 As you can see by the title, the article focuses on a problem that is probably not just limited to Canada, but likely exists in other English speaking countries such as the England, Ireland, Scotland, the United States. Australia, New Zealand and others.  

The article has generated a lot of interest and a lot of comments, so I am posting the complete article so that you can read the whole thing before I add some of my own comments in a separate post. 

I suggest that you read the entire article, the links it sends you to, AND as many of the comments as you can so that you can get an idea of what other people think. It might provide you with some insight into what native speakers expect from you 

Why Chinese Immigrants Struggle with English Fluency 
Nicholas Keung
The Star Immigration Reporter

   Mandarin-speaking Zhenyong Li, who came to Canada in 1998, said he 
finds small talk in English more difficult than his engineering jargon.

  Zhenyong Li has no trouble speaking English in his engineering jargon, but the Chinese immigrant says it can still be challenging to carry on small talk.

And yet, casual conversation with native speakers around the water cooler is crucial to language development — and social integration — for those whose mother tongue is something else, especially Mandarin.

A new study found the Mandarin-speaking immigrants it tracked had made “no significant progress” in their English accent, fluency and comprehensibility seven years after their arrival here, compared with their Slavic-language (Russian and Ukrainian) speaking counterparts.

The study by the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy followed 25 immigrants each from Mandarin and Slavic groups, and assessed their listening and speaking skills at years 1, 2 and 7.
“Mandarin-speakers over time did not get much easier to understand when native listeners heard them speak,” said University of Alberta educational psychology professor Tracey Derwing, who co-authored the study with NorQuest College language instructor Erin Waugh.

Make Little Progress 

“They made very little progress in their pronunciation and fluency. They still had many pauses and hesitation.”
Participants in the study — all possessing the same overall language proficiency, well-educated and with similar language training here — were shown pictures and asked to describe them in their own words, while being evaluated by 30 listeners to eliminate any bias or subjectivity.

Researchers also found the Mandarin speakers had had significantly fewer conversations of 10 minutes or more with native and non-native English speakers than did the Slavic participants.

The Mandarin speakers were, as a whole, more reluctant to initiate conversation and appeared to be less aware of current local events than the Slavic speakers.

The Slavic speakers, as a group, the report said, were more assertive and more deliberate in their effort to learn English. They also had an advantage because of interests shared with the larger community (ice hockey, for example), which helped with conversations.

Li, who came here from Shanghai in 1998, said Mainland Chinese learn their English from
textbooks through reading and writing, and have no opportunity to drill their listening and speaking skills outside the classroom.

“If you cannot listen or speak proper English, you feel discouraged to participate in a conversation because you are afraid others don’t understand you,” said Li, 52, who has a master’s degree in engineering  from the California Institute of Technology and is a manager of a Markham consulting firm.

The Chinese Professionals Association of Canada in Toronto has introduced several programs to address the language gap, which focus on pronunciation and “soft skills” in communication.

“It’s vital to be able to carry small talk,” said its president, Hugh Zhao, who moved here from Shenyang in 1989. “Small talk leads to common understanding and other big topics. It’s not enough just to talk about the weather in Canada.”

Zhao, a computing manager at the University of Toronto, said the Chinese language is very different from the English alphabet, and so are the cultures attached to those language.
Also, silence, which for the Chinese is a virtue reflecting humbleness, is not valued in the West, where people tend to appreciate participation and outspokenness.

Not Active in Class 

“(Mainland) Chinese students are not active in class because, if they understand it, they don’t want to show off. And if they do not understand something, they don’t want to ask and show their ignorance,” Zhao said.

“Sometimes, people are just afraid to make mistakes and decide not to speak. We have to learn not to be afraid to embarrass and humiliate ourselves.”
Derwing said English-language training for immigrants must focus more on listening, speaking and pronunciation skills, as well as the so-called soft skill of engaging in casual conversation.

“Communication is a two-way street. The burden of communication should not be on immigrants’ shoulders only,” she added. “Canadians should not just zone out or shut down when they hear somebody speak with an accent.”

 Here are three of the first comments on the article:  

Cold Hard Truth
"...... Ms. Derwing Tracey Derwing paints a pretty cold picture of Canadians with her closing comments, which border the gratuitous. Given that the average "Joe" doesn't understand the finer points of culture models and the significant differences between Canadian and Chinese cultures, I'd say the people responsible for teaching English to (albeit desiring) immigrants are doing pretty well. It's up to the immigrating parties (Chinese in this case) to adapt to the culture they've joined, screw up their courage, put their narcisism  to rest, and just open their mouths so they can learn while talking, just as we do when we're children and learning English as our first language. After all, the immigrants chose to come: the lion's share of the burden ought to be theirs. If they feel ill-done-by, they know where the nearest airport is.

Lingo Steve 
Not surprised. As someone who speaks 11 languages, including Mandarin, and knows many Mandarin speakers here in Vancouver, i would say the main reason Mandarin speaking immigrants don't do well in English is that they are not very interested. I have, however, met motivated Mandarin speakers, who chose to immerse themselves in the local scene, interact with locals etc. and they learned to speak very well. Poor success in language learning is almost always because of the attitude of the learner."  

Rex Saigon 
SFH makes a great point: too often the language spoken at these CPAC ( Chinese Professional Association of Canada) is MANDARIN!!    NON-CHINESE should be the ones looking at volunteering to lead informal discussion groups — strictly in English — for Mandarin speakers (or any others!) who TRULY want to learn OUR country's native tongue. Such classes might not be for absolute beginners, but those with a rudimentary understanding looking to enhance casual communication skills. Having fellow Mandarin-speakers teach such classes is theoretically fine, so long as those teaching are ABSOLUTELY FLUENT in English, something I find far more likely among Cantonese speakers than Mandarin speakers in Canada at this point in time. Perhaps classes led my people fully fluent (meaning NO accent) in English are already provided, but I have to wonder, especially considering the culture's tendency toward like leading like.

Let me know what YOU think AFTER you have read the article and some of the comments. 

Here are some of the questions I would love to get your answers to: 

1.   Do  YOU agree with the results of the study? Why or why not?
2.   Do you agree with the reasons given for the problem? Why or why not ?  

3.   What is your reaction to some of the comments to the story? Do you agree or 
      disagree with them?  Why or why not:? 

4    Are you surprised about some of the comments? 

4.   What are some possible solutions to this problem? 

5.   Is it necessary for Chinese speakers to take steps, or is it all their teachers' fault? 

6.   Canadians and Canadian employers clearly think "soft " skills are important. What 
     is your opinion? 

7.    Do YOU think these "soft skills" are important, or should employers hire you even 
       if you don't have them? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Speak English for "Just A Minute"

Are you trying to improve your spoken English or get a better mark on an important speaking test such as the IELTS?

Are you interested in improving one specific aspect of your speaking?     

Watch the following video for some instructions on a speaking game called Just a Minute. This is a game that help you improve your speaking skills while you have  fun at the same time.

In the game, you can focus on all aspects of spoken English, OR simply one aspect at a time, for example, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation OR fluency.  In order to play. you need at least one partner, but playing with three people and even four people also works well.

This is a useful game to play in an English classroom. but the great thing about it is that you don't have to play it in class. You can play it with your friends anywhere you want - at home, on the bus or subway, at the beach or at the park. All you need is a series of topics and the instructions on how to pay the game. 

Watch and listen to the instructions:   

Watch two native speakers playing Just a Minute 

Here are a few more suggestions:

Watch or listen to yourselves

Try video-taping or audio taping yourself. For example, you could use a regular  video camera, or simply the video function of your smart phone. After playing several rounds of Just A Minute, stop, watch yourself and be prepared to discuss things you did right as well as areas where you need improvement.  Remember, many athletes do this all the time in order to improve their performance. Make sure you find both the good and the bad. No one does everything wrong, so you need to acknowledge the positive aspects of your performance. 

Focus on specific problems:

Focus on improving on specific areas you have problems with in grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, fluency. For example, if you have trouble consistently using the past tense(s) when you speak, choose topics that force you to use the past tense. Here are a few to get you started: your first day in school, first time away from home. first kiss, first date, first cigarette, first punishment, first teacher.

If you have problems with constantly saying uh...uh...uh..., focus on trying not to hesitate.  Change the rules so that instead of taking your place the first time you say ah, your partner simply counts the number of times you do it. Keep a record, and focus on reducing the number of times you stop and hesitate with ah..ah... In the Toastmasters organization, this person is called an ah counter. 

Practice New Vocabulary  

If you are trying to practice using new vocabulary, make it a rule that specific words MUST be built into your one minute speech. Even if you speak perfectly for one minute, you lose a point if you don't use ALL of the words.  These could be any kind of words: words about the environment, parenting, psychology, crime, descriptive adjectives, power verbs , etc.

Don't Get too Anxious  
As the speaker in the first video said, no one is perfect. Native speakers can have problems with this game, especially when it comes to repeating words, so don't expect too much of yourselves. Make sure you are serious about practicing, but make sure you have fun at the same time. Try to make some of the content entertaining and funny. Laugh at yourself and your mistakes.

Choose Appropriate topics

Choose topics are small and narrow enough for you to be able to come up with something without having to think too hard.  For example, the topics of  sausages, bottled water, showers, shoes, lip piercing are all topics that you can probably start talking about immediately. Controversial topics such as capital punishment and  euthanasia, however, are better topics for prepared speeches in which you can do some research.

Develop Some Strategies

There are a number of strategies you can use to help yourself improve speaking about anything spontaneously. One of them, is to keep up with things that are going on around you - not just  news, but interesting developments in the areas of psychology, science, technology, child care .....  The more you know,  the more you can say.

I will discuss other strategies you can use in another post, but in the meantime, go to the SPEAKING PAGE  for more information on preparing for important advanced level speaking tests,  making presentations or simply holding a conversation.

One Minute topics

I have several lists of potential ONE MINUTE TOPICS topics that I am currently revising. I will post them within the next day or two.