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.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Have Fun Learning English without Feeling Guilty

Learning English through music and songs can help you improve in ways you may not expect. 

First, learning and singing English songs can be a lot of fun. Many of you who are studying for high stakes  English tests such as TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC,  are working very hard., but you are NOT having a lot of fun while you do it. 

Guilt Free Learning 

Here is a way for you to work on many aspects of your English  without feeling guilty that you aren't  putting serious effort into your learning.  

Working with and learning English songs can help you improve your listening - especially for word endings, hard to hear sounds, fast English and any number of other things depending  on what you want to focus on. 

It can also help you to learn and improve your vocabulary, collocations, expressions and idioms - as they are used in the real world. 

Remembering and being able to Use  New Vocabulary  

Even better, it can actually help you to remember  the words and expressions. Learning
words for a few weeks is OK, but wouldn't  you like to be able to remember them and actually use them?  Most of my students complain that remembering new vocabulary is one of their biggest problems. 

Here is a trick to help you remember those words. Choose songs that you like and learn the lyrics (words) by heart. Yes, memorize them.  But be careful! Don't just learn passively. You  must sing the song out loud as loudly and as often as you can. 

You will be amazed at how fast your vocabulary improves. Not only that - you  will sound much more natural and fluent both in your writing and your speaking - because you are not learning words in isolation, but in phrases, the way they are supposed to be used.  

And  that's just vocabulary. 

Learn to Sound More "Natural" in English

Learning English through songs can help also you improve your pronunciation. Think of all those famous singers who sing in English with no accent at all even when it is NOT their first language

Of course,  I have to stress that you have to sing out loud if you want to do this. But, think of it as "studying." 

Focus on specific issues - word endings "s". "ed" / specific  vowel or consonant sounds, word and sentence level stress, phrasing, pausing at appropriate times. 

You do have to put in some effort. After you listen to and learn the song, you need to start analyzing which words are joined together through linking, which words are stressed, where the singer pauses. 

You can do this by speaking the song out loud while you are listening to it.  Use a piece of paper and mark off the pronunciation points you want to work on. 

Songs as Discussion Points  
Songs can be a great way to introduce topics and issues that you can discuss with one partner or with a whole group. They can make you think of ideas and subject matters that make you think, and argue, agree, disagree - even tell stories of your own. 

There are other major activities you can do to improve your English. I will discuss several more in my next post. 

But, just in case you  don't take me seriously, here is a song in which I have included many activities including vocabulary, grammar and discussion questions. 

Have a little fun. Give it a try.  Share it with your friends. Try out the discussion questions. It will give you an opportunity to talk about something.  

 Let me know what you think. Did you enjoy this? Was it useful? Would you like more? 

Leave a comment in the comment box below. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

What's New and Different?

Hi there folks!  I;m sorry that I haven't posted in a while. I've been extremely busy, but that doesn't mean I have forgotten you. 

Daily Listening Speaking  Activities  

If you are interested in practicing listening and speaking everyday, but don't have an organized plan or system, go to my  HOMEWORK  page.  

I have been teaching Listening and Speaking classes for the past two terms.  Every day I post a lot of specific listening and speaking activities.  I usually try to include a variety of types of listening activities:

Some of these include: 

  • Listening practice ( TOEFL, IELTS,  TOEIC) 
  • Listening and speaking skill based practice 
  • news quizzes ( ESL News and regular news)
  • video quizzes
  • songs 
  • long and short dialogues
  • mini lectures and talks 
  • Podcasts 
  • weather forecasts  
  • TV show recommendations 
  • pronunciation activities

I have also started to add focused grammar listening, and grammar drills aimed at specific problems many students have. 

TV. Movie and News Pages To Come :  

Some of my future plans for the blog include setting up a TELEVISION and MOVIE page with a lot of good information and links about TV shows and movies along with some activities.  I also plan to create a NEWS page with a variety of tips, exercises and links on  how to listen to, read and understand both slow ESL newcasts  created specifically for ESL students, and  regular newcasts  with online interactive activities. 

Please Let Me know How I'm Doing  

How do you like the  blog so far?  Is there anything I'm NOT putting on here that you would like to see or read?  

Please let me know what I am doing well and in which areas I could improve. Although this blog is something I do for love of my students and ESL learners all over the world,  I don't get much feedback online. One comment from a reader makes all the work I put into this worth something. 

If you don't know how to leave a comment, go to the left hand side of he page and read the post I wrote on How to Write a Comment 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day: Canadians Spending Less Time Outdoors

A leafy landsdcape in Toronto's Rosedale-Moore Park (Torstar News Service file photo) 
By Staff Torstar News Service

All  over the world most people believe that Canadians spend a lot of time outdoors. But, unfortunately, they are wrong. 

But, today on World Earth day - a day when we’re supposed to be celebrating the earth -  a new survey has revealed that Canadians are spending less time in our parks and forests.

The 2013 Global Green Space Report, produced by outdoor product manufacturer Husqvarna, interviewed 4,676 people in nine countries, including Canada, Sweden, China, Russia, the U.S., Germany, Australia, Poland and France in November 2012.

More than 90 per cent of the respondents said they believe forests, parks and gardens have a positive effect on quality of life, with 89 per cent going so far as to call them a human right.

Green Space Less Popular Around the World 

But despite this, the time people spend in green spaces is decreasing all over the world, with people in five of the nine countries studies spending less “forest time” than five years ago.

Of Canadians, 36 per cent say the time they spend in forests has decreased during the last five years, with 29 per cent saying the same about parks.

“It’s alarming,” says Scott Ride, president of Husqvarna Canada. “This is Canada … who would have ever thought we’d start ignoring our parks and forests, but we are.”

He says there has been a “sea change” from previous generations and the survey indicates the even the backyard is being ignored, with 74 per cent of the Canadians polled saying their kids spend less time there than they did as youngsters.

Local parks are faring no better, with 79 per cent of Canadian parents saying their kids spend less time in those green spaces than they themselves did as children.  Ride says he believes that the population has become too enamoured with the city and all its entertainment, as well as computers.

Biggest  Obstacle: Distance from Parks

'The study says “distance from a park or forest” is the greatest obstacle to Canadians spending time in green space, with the number two reason being limited time due to workload.

But while some have distanced themselves from nature, many are seeking it out. The study found 39 per cent of Canadians would be willing to move from the big city to be closer to nature.

One who did is Keith Carman, 37, a musician and sales rep who grew up in Milton and couldn’t wait to get to Toronto, which he did in 1994. But after having his fill of hectic city life he moved with his wife and 11-year-old son to a 200-acre farm near Guelph last year.

“I feel grounded being here,” he says of his century farmhouse and surrounding land. “I have these beautiful sunsets that aren’t blocked by buildings and at night I have a dark sky full of bright, shiny stars.”

He says there are three different conservation areas within a 10 or 15 minute drive and that he hikes, canoes swims and explores, not to mention the camp fires and adventures he has on his own land.

How do YOU feel about this? 
 Discussion/writing questions 

  • Do YOU spend less time outdoors than you used to?  Why? 
  •  Do your children spend less time outside than you did when you were a child? Why? 
  •  What effect can this have on your health, your quality of life,  your mood?  Explain
  • What effect does this / might this have on your attitude towards the environment in general? Explain 
  • What are the benefits/ advantages of spending time outdoors for you and your children? 
  •  What specific activities can people do outdoors that they can't do indoors?  Does everything have to be a sport? 
  •  What specific steps can people take to increase the amount of time they spend outside? List  them and discuss how you could set up a schedule or program to make sure you do it.  
  • Are there any cities or towns in your country that have a lot of parks, or which are close to forests and other green spaces?
  •  Should cities create more parks and green spaces? How could they do this?  
  •  Would you be willing to move to a smaller place that had more access to the outdoors? 
   Group Speaking/Planning Activity: 

With your group plan a park for your city that would contain areas and activities for all age groups, very young children, children, teenagers, adults and seniors. 
  • What would the park look like? 
  • What activities could people do?  
  • How much would it cost?  
  • Give yourself a budget and see if you can stay within that budget. If you can't, decide which items would have to be cut.  

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