Writing Prompt Wednesday


Level 1: What do you see? What colors? What people? What things?

Level 2: What are they doing? What aren’t they doing? Write 3-5 sentences.

Level 3: Write a paragraph about how your smartphone impacts your life. If you don’t have one, write about how not having one impacts your life.

Creative writing: Imagine that each of these people is texting one different friend or family member. Write out each of these text conversations.

Academic writing: Write a cause and effect essay about smartphones and young adults.


Photo Credit: Esther Vargas on Flickr


Tip: Pronunciation Is…

14516646523_4c2d8259a5I love teaching pronunciation.

Pronunciation is not what many students think it is.

There are two main categories of pronunciation skills:

  1. the little parts (like /th/, and /r/ vs. /l/)
  2. the big parts (like stress and timing)

Students often think that pronunciation is only the first category.

But did you know that if many people frequently have trouble understanding you, it’s probably because of the second category?

It’s true.

In English, if a word’s stress is wrong, or a whole sentence has no stress, or your intonation is off, communication can fail. Even if your grammar and vocabulary are correct. Even if you pronounce each sound perfectly.

Some English learners say that working on the second category of pronunciation feels like singing. It feels unnatural and a bit silly to speak this way.

But really, embracing the “music” of English will help you communicate more effectively.

Remember, English pronunciation is not only about making our weird /th/ sounds or figuring out /b/ vs. /v/ or /p/. Its rhythms and intonations are important for meaning, too.


For the next week, listen for the “music” of spoken English. Do you hear how some words are fast and some are slow? Do you hear how we “sing” our questions? Do you hear how the most important words are stressed? You can’t pronounce it if you don’t notice it. [Hint: you can start by listening to me read this piece. The link is below.]

Good luck!

Listen to Emily read this post. (I recorded using Vocaroo.com. It will open in a new tab.)

Photo Credit: Steve LV on Flickr



Writing Prompt Wednesday

Happy Thanksgiving!


Level 1: What do you see? How many?

Level 2: What will happen next? Write 3-5 sentences.

Level 3: Write a paragraph that describes how the table was set, how it looks now, and how it will be in an hour.

Creative writing: Pretend that you are the grandmother who sets the table for Thanksgiving every year. Write a journal entry about what it means to you.

Academic writing: (take the week off from it – it’s a holiday!)


Photo Credit: Bev Sykes on Flickr

Advice: Relax

2905900818_dda72d5ab5Many ESL teachers and researchers agree: when students are nervous or upset, they do not learn well. (Some very famous theories are by Stephen Krashen. This is a link to a good resource.)

Everybody’s situation is different. For some people, being relaxed comes easily. For others, they naturally worry for no good reason. For others, they have hundreds of reasons to be upset.

Here are some ideas for a more relaxed mindset in the classroom. Do you see any ideas here you could use?

  • Accept mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody.
  • Love mistakes. Really. They show us what to practice.
  • Be curious. What is that word? What does that phrase mean? Can you understand me?
  • Care about the process. You can’t make yourself learn fast. But you can make many good decisions. You can read five days a week. You can listen on your way to work. Focus on what you can control.
  • Care about progress. Yes, you want to be fluent. But that is a big goal. Think of smaller goals to be proud of, too. Can you use public transit? Successfully ask for directions? Get help at a store? Invite a friend over?

These ideas can make learning a language less scary. Being less scared helps us learn better.

And to all of the many language learners facing stress, sadness, frustration, low confidence, and anxiety: I wish you happiness and peace.

(Listen to Emily read this post here.)


Photo Credit: Rhea Ball on Flickr

Writing Prompt Wednesday


Level 1: What do you see in the picture? What colors? What people? What things?

Level 2: Write a short dialog between the man and the woman in the picture.

Level 3: Write a paragraph describing the scene.

Creative writing: Write a short play about the couple’s visit to the garden.

Academic writing: Where do you think this picture was taken? Use evidence from the picture to back up your inference. (Hint: if you click the photo credit below, you can find out the correct answer.)


Photo Credit: Rachel Samanyi on Flickr

Resource: duolingo

23136012321_1a498a4e9aOne great free resource for learning a language is duolingo.

It is an app and a website.

Duolingo feels like a game. It helps your grammar, reading, listening, and vocabulary.

I recommend duolingo practice to everybody. Maybe it is not enough alone, but it is very helpful.

My Experience

I am using duolingo for Intermediate Russian and Beginning French.

I studied Russian in college for all eight semesters. For one semester, I studied in Russia. I learned a lot but it was very difficult for me. My level was maybe high-intermediate. After college, I quit Russian.

When I began studying Russian with duolingo on my smartphone, it gave me a placement test. Then, in each smaller section, there is the opportunity to take a quiz. If you pass the quiz, you can skip those lessons. This way, you only spend time on what you need.

Duolingo teaches differently than they taught in college. I think duolingo is better. Duolingo’s lessons are more conversational. They are more focused. They are more useful. Duolingo does not ask me to memorize charts. It does not give me a long list of vocabulary words. It does not confuse me.

I started French at the very beginning with duolingo. The basics have been great: clear and focused and useful.

In both Intermediate Russian and Beginner French, I am very happy with duolingo. The lessons are fun and short. They feel like playing a game. They are smart about using vocabulary and grammar. There is always review. They do not give you too many new words or grammar forms at once.

In my opinion, the weakness of duolingo is with speaking. My Russian pronunciation is OK, but I had a lot of practice with real people in college. My French pronunciation is probably a disaster. Duolingo can’t really test my pronunciation (though it tries sometimes). I will need to study with real people to help my French pronunciation.

Overall, I am very impressed with duolingo! I hope you will try it!

(Click here to listen.)


Photo Credit: Tony Alter on Flickr

Writing Prompt Wednesday


Level 1: What do you see in the picture? What colors? What things?

Level 2: Write 3 – 5 sentences about the picture.

Level 3: Write a paragraph describing the picture. Write another paragraph that begins, “It reminds me of…”

Creative writing: Pretend you are the person looking out his/her window and seeing this scene. Write a story from his/her point of view.

Academic writing: Write a persuasive essay to convince the reader that autumn is the best of the four seasons.

Photo CreditPeter Gyöngy on Flickr