Friday, January 15, 2016

English Grammar for Speaking: How to Improve Your Skills

Grammar Class for Seattle residents:

English Grammar: Speak with the Right Verb Tenses
Meets on the University of Washington campus
Wednesdays from 7:00pm-8:00pm
Class starts January 20th

English Grammar for Speaking

There are three aspects of grammar that I regularly teach in classes or with private students:

1) Verb Tenses
2) Prepositions
3) Articles 

Today I will talk about the verb tenses. More on prepositions and articles in future posts.

Verb Tenses

First of all, language is a survival skill. If you are just starting to speak English with native speakers, it is very natural to use the present tense more than necessary. Take this sentence for example:

Yesterday, I go to the store.

Well, the listener knows you did the action yesterday. So you have communicated--that's your first priority when speaking a language.

 After you have made some attempts with native English speakers, however, it is best to start pushing yourself to speak with the right verb tenses. If you do not, you may develop the long-term habit of using the present tense too much.

You can set a goal of focusing on one tense for a while and then another tense after that. Review the grammar on your own, and then concentrate on using that tense while speaking to people. Here are some good situations for each tense:

Present Tense--Your regular schedule and your schedule for today. Review the simple present and the present progressive. When you tell people your schedule, try to use both tenses.

Past Tense--Review the irregular verbs. Review the pronunciation of the -ed ending if needed. Of course, just keep this tense in mind when talking about the past.

Present Perfect--This is the tense with have + the past participle, i.e. I have taken the class.
Use this tense to talk about your achievements or recent activities. Also, start conversations with people using Have you ever ... questions like Have you ever traveled to Asia?

Past Perfect--This one is harder to use in daily speech. Review the tense. Think of a good story from your life and figure out how the past perfect can be used with it. Try it out on a friend.

Future Tense--Try speaking the contractions, as in I'll, she'll, he'll, etc. This will help you sound fluent. Also, try using the future progressive to sound casual, as in I'll be going now. See you later!

Conditional Tense--To get started, use could and would to sound polite when making requests, as in Could you help me? or Would you please give me a bag? Then think about giving advice to someone, i.e. If you would let me help you, I could save you some time.

You can review the tenses with lots of speaking questions using my online grammar course:

English Grammar: Speak the Verb Tenses

 Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

How to Learn Pronunciation

Next group class for Seattle residents:

English Pronunciation Now: Speak Clearly
Meets on the UW campus 
Tuesday evenings from 7:00-8:30pm
Starts January 19th

How to Learn Pronunciation

Learning American English pronunciation is all about studying sounds and stress patterns.

American English is not a phonetic language. While we have spelling patterns that we learn, spellings do not precisely match sounds, and some spellings have 5-6 sounds, such as A, O, and OU.

So it is best to learn to listen for sounds and to learn what to expect.

For example, in American English, we use the short O sound, the sound in hot (this is the same sound as the A in father) very often. We use it more than it is used in British English. Americans also emphasize this sound. So understanding how to open the jaw, how long the sound is, and that it is used often can help you to hear it when you are listening to a video or speaking with people.

Stressing the right sound in a word is also very important. Again, there is no perfect system. However, if you study the American English vowel sounds, you will be more likely to hear the stress in a new word. American English uses strong vowel sounds and soft consonants. This is why American English seems more smooth and flat in intonation than British English. So if you train your ear to understand our vowels, your stress will also improve. 

Finally, there is one more layer: stressing words in sentences. When Americans speak publicly, they speak more slowly and they stress words with intention. In public speaking classes, Americans learn to guide the listener to hear the important information. This is quite different from our casual speech which is faster and lighter in stress. Learn about word stress in sentences with the 750 Business Words class. 

Why is Pronunciation so Hard?

Many students ask me this. There are a few reasons:

1) When English is taught overseas, it is not taught in order for the student to move to America :) Students often learn British English pronunciation, and anyway, written English is considered more important. 

2) It is a separate course of study. Most people do not hear sounds and meaning at the same time. Unless you really cared about pronunciation while you learned English, you probably heard the new vocabulary words with the sounds you expected based on your native language. 

Even after teaching pronunciation for over 8 years, sounds and meaning remain separate in my mind. When a students reads an article, and I carefully listen for pronunciation sounds, I do not hear what the article is about--just the sounds. Of course, I'll look back and understand it a moment later. Lately, I have studied some Russian. First I mark a conversation for sounds that are unexpected to me and also for the stress of each longer word. Then I listen and repeat the sentences at least 2-3 times each before trying the whole conversation. And that's just the pronunciation part. At another time, I will drill the meaning of the words, practice spelling them, and learn the grammar.

Monday, October 5, 2015

English Grammar: Speak with the Right Verb Tenses

   This English speaking class is designed to help people with their conversational skills and fluency. 

   It is one thing to learn all the grammar rules in a school in your own country. It is another thing to really use them while speaking to people! 

   One interesting aspect of language-learning is that it is usually possible to survive with the present tense. When a person moves to another country, survival in daily life becomes the first priority. For example, you can say this:

   Yesterday, I am working all day.

   It is clear that you are talking about the past. A native speaker will understand what you mean. This can work with more complex thoughts. Here is an example with a conditional statement that needs the future tense.

   If my manager calls, I start work soon.

   Again, most native speakers will understand the intention of this statement.

   The problem is that survival skills can become habits. Since most of us lead busy lives, short-term habits can then become long-term habits.

   English Grammar: Speak with the Right Verb Tenses is a great course for people who want:
  • to develop good speaking skills soon after arriving in the U.S. 
  • to unlearn habits of using just one or two tenses 
   This course is offered at the University of Washington and meets on Thursday evenings starting October 15th. If you are not in Seattle, it's also available online here

   Use this opportunity to improve your conversational skills in a safe, supportive environment. And have fun too!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Run of Hope and More


Join my friends and I for the Run of Hope this Sunday. If you are in Seattle, walk or run to raise money for pediatric brain tumor research. These tumors in children are devastating to families, but at the run, you can meet many people who have turned tragedy into hope. If you're not in Seattle, make a donation!

The Run of Hope: Register or Donate

English Classes at the University of Washington

Fall quarter English classes are starting in October. These classes usually fill up, so register soon to make sure you get a seat. 

English Grammar: Speak with the Right Verb Tenses

Class starts October 15th and meets at 7:00pm on Thursday evenings for 6 weeks. In this conversational class, learn about the verb tenses in a practical way, and get lots of speaking practice. We study present, past, future, progressive, perfect, and conditional tenses.

English Pronunciation Now: Speak Clearly

 Class starts October 20th and meets at 7:00pm on Tuesday evenings for 6 weeks. During this class, we learn about all the major pronunciation sounds: R, L, T, TH, A, I, O and more. We also study syllable stress and word stress in sentences.

English Idioms: 100 Casual Expressions

Class starts October 20th and meets at 6:00pm on Tuesday evenings for 6 weeks. You can take both this class and the pronunciation class to get 2.5 hours of fun, effective English training. Learning idioms, casual expressions, will help you understand Americans and add some great phrases to your speech!

Use the links above to register for the classes or call 206-543-4375. Review the times and see the discounts for taking more than one class here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Run of Hope

   Three years ago, my friends lost their son in a 28-day battle with a brain tumor. 

   Recently, they hosted their first fundraising event for pediatric brain tumor research. It was held in a beautiful location on Elliott Bay in Seattle. You can just see Mount Rainier in the distance.

   They invited friends and held a silent auction. As a result, they raised $19,000. The doctor who worked on their case spoke about how difficult the surgery is now, how hard it is to tell parents they will lose a child, and how they are turning to the intricacy of nature to find the cure.

   There is new work being done at Children's Hospital that is truly intriguing. The venom of a scorpion in Egypt seems to be drawn to cancer cells. If an artificial form of this is inserted into the body, cancer cells can be lit up so that surgeons operate much more effectively. The hope is that someday we will look back at the present and wonder how doctors ever operated without it. 

   Currently, this research is not well-funded, as there is a lower mortality rate from pediatric brain tumors than from other diseases. And yet the loss of a child is so devastating! It has changed my life, and I am just a friend looking on. 

   In a book recently, I read that when one suffers a trauma, there are only three choices. 1) To turn the emotions inward toward oneself; 2) To turn them outward and lash out at others; 3) To become a warrior for the cause.

   My friends chose the third option, and I am so proud of them. 

   If you are in Seattle, join us for The Run of Hope this Sunday or donate to this great effort.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Day in New Delhi 7: Practice with Syllable Stress and Word Stress

* To start at the beginning of this essay and learn more about stressing words in sentences, go to the blog from 6/19/15. *

Stressing Words and Pausing Between Phrases
With this essay, A Day in New Delhi, stress the words in bold print and pause at the slashes / . Also pause for the punctuation marks. Additionally, practice syllable stress--the correct syllables in longer words are shown in bold print.
Get more practice with word stress: 500 Words Pronunciation course or 750 Business Words Pronunciation course. Or take English classes online.

 As he began / to fiddle with the game, I told him / that there were instructions attached. He shook his head distractedly / as if he already knew the rules / or did not need them. I retrieved a book / for myself / and adjusted the plane seat / so that I could lean back. Yet I was too preoccupied to read, and I gazed at Nathan / between paragraphs.
   When we dated, he lived in a genuine bachelor pad. The living room of his condo / consisted of a two-seater sofa, a low glass table / and a large screen TV / mounted to the wall / on the far side / of the otherwise empty room. When I bought him two small, potted plants,* he placed them on the tiles / before his fireplace / and declared the look artistic. There were no pictures in the house, save a few of his daughter. One glass frame / showed three pictures of Eva / that had been taken / in a professional studio. She was about five years old / with short, thick, wavy hair, and she wore a lacy white dress with white stockings. Maybe she had lost a tooth / because she was smiling / without showing her teeth, and there was a humorous glint in her eye / as if she were keeping a secret. In the other picture, she was about two years old, pressing her fist against her mouth / and staring at the camera / with wide, milky eyes. Nathan stood behind her, almost unrecognizable to me. As a young man, he had worn his hair quite short, and his face was thin / and rather serious. I had pressed him / to tell me about his life back home, but he only shook his head / and said that everything was very different, as if he had no idea how to articulate / the environment of his native land.
   When we arrived in Guwahati, the airport seemed full of relatively small, brown people. The people of New Delhi / were similar to Americans in height and build. The locals here / were about 5'5" or shorter / and more narrow proportionately. We retrieved our baggage / and went outside / to look for Nathan's brother. Several military men in camouflage / loosely carried machine guns. I asked Nathan about this, and he said there had been trouble in the region / which was over now. From among the strangers, a pleasant young man with a thin goatee / introduced himself / as Nathan's brother, Al. We waited / while Al went to get the driver, and soon a station wagon / pulled up beside us. The parking lot was full of potholes, and the area was dense with homogeneous faces / whose subtle differences / expressed a melting pot / of the Asian continent. For the first time since I had known him, Nathan / looked like everybody else.  

* In the descriptions, there are often two to three adjectives preceding a noun. We like to emphasize the adjectives in descriptive phrases like these. Sometimes we will emphasize the nouns too.