What is effective studying to you? What is the process? What are the results?

What are two ways you are learning English that are ineffective?

What are two ways you are learning English that are the most effective?


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Advice: Physical Problems

2993507037_b6cea87ba6Today’s advice is simple: if you have trouble seeing, hearing, moving, etc. – tell your teacher!

When I know a student of mine has trouble seeing, I can easily make fonts bigger on the computer screen, projector, and on hand-outs.

When I know that a student has trouble hearing, I can easily make sure to write down key points, speak a bit more loudly, and check for understanding.

When I know that one of my students has trouble moving, I can easily change classroom activities so that they don’t have to go anywhere. They can stay still and comfortable.

If I don’t know about these issues? I don’t change anything. And my students are uncomfortable and under-served.

Please let us know what you need!


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Photo Credit: mike krzeszak on Flickr

Pronunciation Meets (Hides) Grammar

3792703838_76f1ce142eLast month I posted about helping verbs. I described how we use them. And I told you that they are the key to building English verb tenses.

Today, I wanted to tell you: helping verbs can be hard to hear.

Function and Content Words

We can divide all the words in English into just two categories:

  1. function words
  2. content words

Function words are grammar words. “The,” “was,” “if,” helping verbs, and so on. Yes, they need to be there. They make our sentences understandable and orderly, but they don’t make them different. In other words, they don’t really carry most of our meaning.

Content words carry the meaning. “Swim,” “chicken,” “cried,” “bought,” “stop.” They are super important. They are the reason we have chosen to say anything.

De-Stressing Function Words

English is a stress-timed language. This means that we stress and give extra time to content words. And we de-stress function words. It’s like word stress, but on the sentence level. It gives English its rhythm.

So I might write something like, “I am going to go to the mall later today.”

But if I say this to you in normal conversation, it will probably sound more like, “I’mgonna Gotuthe mall latertoday.”


Helping Verbs Exist! Really!

I’ve heard from students directly and through other teachers that it’s hard for students to hear Present Perfect. Colleagues have also told me that some students think Present Perfect is almost never used. But it’s used a lot! They just have trouble hearing it.

Here’s what happens:

They learn in class that Present Perfect is “I have been to Russia.”

But what we say is “I’ve been to Russia.” This is a contraction.

And the way this contraction sounds in normal speech is, “Ivbeen to Russia.

This sounds to many students like “I been to Russia.” The helping verb is so short and subtle that many don’t hear it at all. Students with native languages that don’t tend to end words with consonants (Mandarin, Vietnamese, and others) may have extra difficulty with this.



My advice to ESL learners is to take both written and spoken English seriously. They are surprisingly different.

If you’re bookish, spend extra energy getting into conversations or watching English language TV. Listen hard for helping verb contractions. They will not be fully enunciated. Also, try reading sentences out loud in the spoken style, with a lot of contractions and linking.

If you’re an auditory learner, take the extra time to go over written English and notice the verb tenses. Are you saying all of the helping verbs, at least in contractions? Do you write all of them? Try saying a sentence out loud, then writing it down with its fully spelled-out grammar.

A set curriculum or group classroom will probably not have just the right balance for you to connect spoken and written English. They’ll help! But pay extra attention to what you need, and don’t be afraid to ask your teacher for advice.

Listen to Emily read this post (3:30).  (A new window will open.)


Photo Credit: gfpeck on Flickr

This post appeared first at English with Emily.

Tech: Microsoft Word

I’ve noticed while teaching at the college that some of my students don’t know a lot about computers.

If you’re reading my blog, maybe you’re very comfortable with computers… but maybe not.

Just in case it helps you, I’m going to write a few posts with information about really helpful computer skills. I will tag them “technology.”

Today, here are basics on using Microsoft Word. Word is most often used to write papers for school or letters that you want to print out.

(I did not make these videos! I’m just linking to them here.)

Videos – Microsoft Word Help

  1. Cut, Copy, and Paste – how to select text, put it somewhere else, and make copies of it
  2. Undo, Redo, Repeat – how to fix your mistakes or repeat things you want to do again
  3. MLA Format – how to set up your academic paper correctly in MLA 2017 format





Helping Verbs

6207557180_44a06c846fThe key to success with English verb tenses is in helping verbs, or auxiliary verbs.

In most of our verb tenses, we use more than one verb in a sentence to show:

  • time
    (past, present, or future)
  • aspect
    (simple, continuous, perfect, or perfect continuous).

We string the verbs together like a strand of beads.

The helping verb(s) always go first. The main verbs always go last. It’s a very reliable pattern!

Most students learn Simple Present first, and then Simple Past. Unfortunately, these are misleading. They do not always use helping verbs.

All of the other verb tenses (12 total) use at least one helping verb every single time.

Building Verb Tenses

In general, the main verb provides the dictionary meaning (and sometimes time and aspect also).

The helping verb(s) do not provide dictionary meaning – they just give the full picture of time and aspect.

Example 1:

I ran.

Verb = “ran” – shows meaning “run” and the past time and simple aspect


Example 2:

I did not run.

Helping Verb = “did” – shows past time and simple aspect

Verb = “run” – shows meaning “run”

Example 3:

I am running.

Helping Verb = “am” – shows present time and continuous aspect

Verb = “running” – shows meaning “run” and continuous aspect

This is how we build verb tenses in English.

This is the pattern. Right here, in this short post, is the key. You’ll see it again and again as you study the twelve verb tenses.

If you’re getting confused by the details, go back to the basics. Remember that in English we like to string our verbs together to build verb tenses. We always put them in a predictable order, with the helping verb(s) first.

Look for the pattern and you’ll find it!

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. The verb ends in -ing. Does that mean Present Continuous?

    It may or may not.

    Present Continuous depends on two verbs: am/is/are + verb-ing.

    It is not enough to look at one verb alone! You need to see what is before it.

    Other possibilities are that the -ing verb is a gerund or part of a different Continuous or Perfect Continuous verb tense.

  2. How is it possible for “I have had” to be correct?

    Firstly, yes, this is correct. For example, “I have had a headache all day.” Sad, but grammatically correct Present Perfect. It sounds normal to native English speakers.

    The helping verb goes first, then the main verb. So even if they’re the same word, it’s simple to identify which is which.

        Helping Verb = have – shows present time and perfect aspect

    Verb = had – shows meaning (possessive) and past time

  3. What is the difference between Present Continuous and Past Continuous?

    The only difference in form is the helping verb.

    Present Continuous has a present helping verb. It means the time is the present.

         I am running.

    Past Continuous has a past helping verb. It means the time was in the past.

         I was running.


Photo Credit: Sarah Joy on Flickr

This post appeared first at English with Emily.