Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye to ESL Tutoring for 2007

I had my last adult ESL student of the year today. What a dedicated student to want to meet on New Year's Eve!

Actually, all the students I've had this year have shown great dedication on their journeys to become better English language speakers. This is one of the great things about working with adult ESL students; they are usually there because they want to be. I said goodbye to some students with whom I had worked over a year (and I still miss them!) and said hello to a lot of new students.

ESL tutoring, for me, has been one of the more rewarding opportunities I've had over the years. As a private ESL tutor, I don't have the advantages of things like sick leave or health care benefits, but I do have the opportunity every day to interact with wonderful people, and to travel vicariously and cheaply!

I look forward to another year of working with dedicated and interesting English language learners.

Goodbye 2007.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Teaching English Writing Skills

Some of my adult ESL students are university students. Often, the number one priority for these students is improving their writing skills. They are no longer taking ESL courses, but are taking non-ESL courses and are expected to perform/write as native English speakers.

I find that I use the information I learned in high school (a long time ago!) about writing a paper. The same info I learned in my English courses is still the classic way to write a paper (Introduction, Body, Conclusion, topic sentences, etc.).

For ESL students who are working on their writing, I have them write something between classes and send it to me before class. It often takes quite a while to review the paper on my own time. I'm not only looking for structure, but also for grammar tenses, prepositions, etc.

Working with the student during our regular lessons to review the writing assignment often runs over our scheduled time. I try to keep this in mind when I give the writing assignment. I find that two pages are about the maximum I can cover with my ESL students in an hour-and-a-half lesson. And that's assuming there aren't too many student questions!


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Politically Correct Holiday Greetings

On December 25th, I received an email from a former adult ESL student of mine. She had lived and worked in the U.S. for less than one year. She's now back in her home country.

The subject line of the email was "Merry Christmas." I have to admit that in this time of being overly politically correct, it was kind of nice to hear from someone who hasn't been influenced by our culture and the extreme end we've moved to in the last couple of years. (And I used to be one of those people who were slightly offended by store clerks wishing me a "Merry Christmas.")

And just to make sure I address the title of this entry, the "politically correct" expressions we now use in the U.S. include "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings." "Happy Holidays" is used equally for a spoken or a written wish. "Seasons Greetings" if more commonly used as a written expression.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Many of my adult ESL students are working professionals or business students. In a recent lesson with a student of mine who is a CPA, we were talking about vocabulary related to business keeping accurate records. The phrase "CYA" came up. It stands for "cover your ass."

It was great when a week later my student came to class and told me that she'd heard this expression a couple of times in the last week. I don't think that this was the first week that people in her office used the term, it was just that she wasn't familiar with the expression before our ESL lesson. After our lesson, she was more in tune with the word and now she hears it when it's said.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

New Vocabulary for ESL Tutor

Along with millions of other folks, I went to a movie theater today. I saw "Juno." In a review I read, it was called the "Little Miss Sunshine" of this season. I think "Sunshine" is actually a little better, but I highly recommend "Juno" to all. Enough of my movie reviews!

The interesting thing about "Juno" was all the vocabulary that was new to me! A teenager in Minnesota was the main character, and although I could tell what was going on from the context, there were quite a few new words for me. They were words and expressions that I would have to research in order to teach to my ESL students.

Fortunately for me, all of my ESL students are adults who will very likely never need to know this new vocabulary. However, it highlights the fact that the most useful things for any learner to learn (whether the subject being learned is a language or any other subject) are those things that are pertinent to the student's life.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Using CL to Teach Vocabulary is very popular in the area in which I live and teach. In fact, I do all my advertising for new ESL students there (it's free!). You can find anything you want there.

For an ESL teacher/tutor in an area in which is popular, it's also a great resource to teach life skills (how to find a job or an apartment) and especially useful for teaching acronyms and abbreviations and other vocabulary. I stumbled across this fact last week when a student asked me what "420" meant. He was looking for an apartment and found the phrase "420 friendly" in several advertisements. This isn't the sort of thing taught in most ESL classes!

In addition to developing lesson plans to deliver in class, ESL teachers and tutors can also ask students to bring back new words or expressions they find in some of the ads. However, you need to be careful that all students have internet access before giving such an assignment.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Improving ESL Speaking Skills

One of my advanced ESL students told me today that she attended a professional conference last week. This was the third year of her attending this particular conference. She was very pleased to report to me that this was the first year that she spoke a lot to new people. She told me about the self-confidence she felt about speaking English and she attributed her comfort with English to our sessions.

ESL tutoring sessions are often without a specific way to assess student progress. I can often "see" or "hear" progress over several sessions, but it's not so easy for English language learners to notice this progress since it is so gradual. It's wonderful to have an event, such as a conference, for students to notice their progress. It's wonderful for them and it's wonderful for me to hear!


Sunday, December 16, 2007

ESL Teachers Using Students' First Language

Generally, ESL teachers are now trained to speak only English to their ESL students, regardless of the level of the English language learner (this usually requires using TPR for beginners). Since ESL students are from all over the world, this is fairly easy to do since the ESL teacher usually doesn't know all of the languages of his or her students. However, it's not uncommon for an ESL teacher to speak at least one other language at least to some extent.

When I have students whose first language is Spanish, I refrain from using my Spanish speaking skills. When a student has trouble expressing himself or herself because he or she does not know a particular word or phrase, then I encourage the student to use other words. And when I use a new word or expression that the student does not know, I also try to explain with other words.

Occasionally, I find myself "cheating" and using the Spanish word for a new English vocabulary word, but I do it rarely and only if I feel it's necessary (due to time constraints, etc.). However, I still believe it's best to try to stick to English for the benefit of the student.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

ESL Students Taking Notes

As a private ESL tutor, the majority of my students are advanced English language learners who primarily want to work on their speaking skills. And as a teacher and a human, I like to think that some things I say are noteworthy! So it pleases me when my students take notes about corrections I make or new vocabulary (words, phrases, idioms, etc.) I offer.

In fact, although there are all different types of learners (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc.), I tend to have a lot of faith in the technique of writing things down to help you remember them in the future, no matter what the student's preferred method of learning. I will occasionally recommend to a student that he or she take notes; not extensive notes, just reminder notes, at least. The majority of students follow my suggestion, but not all students do.

I think that it's important to remember that learning really is about the student more than about the teacher. So the compromise I make (with myself) is that I take notes during our sessions (it's like writing important points on a chalkboard, but I use a yellow pad of paper) and offer them to my students at the end of our lesson. I do this for both students who take notes and students who don't. Hopefully, this helps my ESL students. I know it makes me feel better!


Monday, December 10, 2007

Nouns, Adjectives, Adverbs and ESL

Many of my ESL students tell me that they want to improve their vocabulary. One of the tricks I teach my students is how learning/knowing one word can often lead to two or three other words.

For example, if I start with the word "thought" and I know that it is a noun, I can guess that adding "ful" to the end of the word may give me an adjective, "thoughtful." In this case, adding "ful" works to make another word. Adverbs can often be formed by adding "ly" to the end of the adjective, "thoughtfully."

Another example is the word "care"." "Careful" and "carefully" follow the same rules as above and form two new words.

Of course, there are many exceptions and this doesn't always work. This just one more tidbit to teach ESL students to help increase their vocabulary.


Friday, December 7, 2007

ESL Students During Winter Holidays

You would think that the ESL tutoring world would slow down in December. At least I used to think so. However, since my first year of private ESL tutoring, I have consistently had many inquiries from new students. I have three appointments with potential students already set up for next week.

Of course, it's holiday time and most "working stiffs" usually get a little time off for the winter holidays. The life and schedule of self-employed people is certainly flexible, but there is always the offset of no income.

So, just a note for self-employed ESL tutor working in the U.S., December is actually a good month to develop your ESL student base.


Friday, November 30, 2007

ESL Student Cancellation Policy

As a self-employed ESL tutor, I have a 24-hour notice cancellation policy. I require that all my students either email or call me at least 24 hours in advance if they are going to miss one of our regularly scheduled ESL lessons. If they don't give me the required notice, they are required to pay for the scheduled lesson.

The way I enforce this policy is by having ESL students pay a deposit at our first lesson. I hold the deposit until our very last class together, or I use it if a student misses a lesson without giving me notice.

In all the years I've been teaching, I think there have only been one or two students who I've had to enforce this policy with. One of my students actually gave very short notice several times and he was aware of what he was doing and paid for the missed classes. I think it was easier for him since his company paid for his lessons. I actually can't remember any other ESL students missing classes without notice who didn't have a really good reason for missing class.

Although I set it up as a strict policy, I do make exceptions when the student has a good reason for not giving notice (e.g., a sick child, a car breaking down, etc.).

I also don't charge students for missing a class when they are sick. I actually prefer that sick students not come to class. The amount of money I'm out for that one class is small compared to the amount I'd lose if I caught a virus from a sick student.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

ESL Website Deception?

I referred to an ESL site yesterday that has games. After trying to figure out the Magic Gopher game, I explored the site a little more. On the front page of, there's a "Test Your Level" section. It tests ESL speakers on grammar and vocabulary, etc.

I took a couple of the tests and I know I got everything right (they were simple tests for native English speakers). Interestingly, for every test I took, my result showed that I'm at an "upper intermediate" level. Well, I know that everything was right. They don't let you go back and check your answers; you just have to keep taking more tests to see how you do.

I thought it's a bit unfair to test ESL speakers and then give them results that show that they are at a lower level than they truly are. The results page tells you to practice your grammar by looking at the materials on the website. I just think it's not very honest to give you inaccurate results just to get you to look further into their site.

Aside from that, some of the materials are good. It's a British English site, so be careful if you're trying to learn/teach American English.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Game on An ESL Site

I don't know how this is specifically related to teaching English as a Second Language, but it's on an ESL site and it's quite fantastic.

If you know how it works, please let me know.

Here's the link to an "ESL game."


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Teaching ESL During the Holidays

Things sometimes slow down in the ESL tutoring world during the Thanksgiving holiday. Sometimes I wonder if it's because of the teachers and tutors or because of the ESL students. The American Thanksgiving holiday is not something that's celebrated by many of my ESL adult students. For a few, it's a time to take a four-day weekend and head to Vegas.

Although, I do have one student who has a kindergarten-aged child who insists on all the traditional trimmings. Since he's only five or six years old and has only learned about the basics of the trimmings in class, his mom takes certain liberties in preparing the meal. They have a traditional American Thanksgiving with some Chinese flavor.

Another thing I've noticed over the last few years of tutoring ESL students privately is that I've traditionally gotten several new students in the month of December. I assumed when I started out that December would be a really slow month. I expected January to be a bigger month, but it's never worked that way. Strangely, December is the busy month.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Teaching ESL with a Spanish Surname

I have a few ESL students whose first language is Spanish. I also happen to have a Spanish last name. I don't put my full name in my ads on craigslist, but I usually do use my last name when signing my first email responding to an inquiry from a potential student. Occasionally, Spanish-speaking students are concerned that I may not be a native English speaker.

When they meet me, they discover that I am a native English speaker and we then have a small discussion about how the southwestern part of the United States actually used to belong to Mexico and that there are many, many people in this part of the country whose families have been here for generations.

Just as a tip to other ESL tutors doing advertising, if you have a distinctly "ethnic" name, it may be useful to emphasize in your ads that you are a native-English speaker (although, I include this in my ad and people still have questions) and/or initially do not use your last name.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Americans Saying Thank You

A couple of ESL students with whom I've worked over the years have mentioned to me the fact that Americans say "thank you" a lot. Since I've heard this from English language learners from more than one part of the world, I tend to think that this could be a true generalization about us.

I'm reminded about this as I'm watching my all-time favorite reality show, "Amazing Race." Every one of the teams consistently says thank you to the cabbies (taxi cab drivers) and other people who help them.

I think that it's true that "thank you" does go a long way in the U.S., as well as "please." So these are two expressions I always be sure to teach the use of to my ESL students. They are useful "survival words."


Saturday, November 17, 2007

List of Reduction Sentences for ESL

"Reductions" are those reduced forms of words that native English speakers use when speaking. They are a major reason that non-native speakers say that American English is so difficult to understand, or that we talk too fast.

I try to help help my students become familiar with common reductions. I have a list I found online called, "WEINSTEIN'S (1982) HIGH-FREQUENCY REDUCED FORMS." Even though it's from 1982, it's still the same way native American English speakers speak. In addition to the list that we go over, I also write some sentences in this "nonsense" language (how American English is really spoken) and ask them to tell me how they would be said in Standard American English. Here's a list of sentences I use for one of my exercises.

Yer gonna wanna give ‘er ‘er medicine before ya leave.

Didja wanna hava glassa wine with dinner? (this is also useful for teaching the concept of "distancing" by using a past tense for a present situation)

I dunno.

I hafta go-ta work tomorrow.

Willya go-ta the store fer me?

Whatcher name?

Whadja do last night?

Whaddaya doin’?

Whacha doin’?

Does ‘e love ‘er?

Teaching ESL students about reductions particularly helps them in improving their listening skills.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

ESL Students and Leaving Voicemails

I've had a few ESL students who are reluctant to leave voicemails. For some, they think that their English isn't good enough. For some of us who are old enough, we can probably remember back to when it was just plain awkward to leave telephone messages on answering machines. So maybe we can appreciate our students', or other ESL speakers', reluctance to leave voicemails.

The only time that I insist that students call me (and possibly have to leave a voicemail) is when they are potential new students who I haven't met or who haven't been referred to me. This is just for the sake of safety. It helps me to get a little bit of a feel for the person I may be meeting. I meet my students in a public space, so I have less of a safety issue than someone who meets new students in a private location.

This is just one of those safety tips I want to mention for private ESL tutors.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Using Upper Case Letters in Emails

Many of my adult ESL students want to improve their business ESL skills. This includes speaking and writing skills for a specific purpose.

Writing effective emails is one of top priorities for most of my students. As I've mentioned before, we often review emails they've written in the past week and make corrections. I don't only look at grammar issues, but just as important, we review the "tone" of the emails.

One of the things I rarely have had to mention to my ESL students is how WRITING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS (OR UPPER CASE LETTERS) is equivalent to shouting or yelling at someone. If you're teaching business ESL for emails, I'd recommend mentioning this to students just in case.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

ESL 099 on Yahoo Answers

I got another "Best Answer" on Yahoo! Answers. The question wasn't too tough, but I guess most things aren't tough when you're familiar with them.

The question was, "Does anyone know what does ESL 099 mean?" Written correctly, the question would be, "Does anyone know what ESL 099 means?"

My answer was, "Usually, something like 'ESL 099' is the name of an English as a Second Language course at a community college or university (in the U.S.).

Depending on the school, a level '099' course is probably one of the beginning level courses for the school. That does not mean that it is a beginning level ESL course (for absolute beginner English Language Learners), but that it is one of the school's courses for ESL students to help bring them up to speed to succeed in other college courses."


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Enjoying ESL Lessons

One of the really cool things that happens for me (and I think my ESL students) is when we are at the end of a lesson and I start to use language to indicate that the lesson is coming to a close (for example, "Do you have any plans for the weekend?") and my student says, "Are we finished already?"

My adult ESL students are often surprised at how quickly our one-and-a-half hour lessons go by. (Here's another teaching opportunity for expressions like, "Time flies when you're having fun.") It makes me feel good that my students enjoy our lessons together and that they go by so quickly for us both. These are also the lesson I really enjoy.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

New Intermediate Student and Grammar

I'm excited to have a new adult ESL student who is at an intermediate level. Most of my students lately have been very advanced ESL students. While this is enjoyable in a lot of ways, having more to teach is even more exciting.

With my advanced ESL students, mostly we practice conversation skills and sometimes pronunciation. Only occasionally do we need to review grammar points.

With most intermediate ESL students, grammar review is also a part of our lessons, although the review is more extensive than for advanced students. I actually like grammar and enjoy teaching it.

I look forward to refreshing my English grammar teaching skills.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Using Craigslist to Advertise for ESL Students

As a private ESL tutor, I continue to find my students through posting free advertisements on My postings have allowed me to earn a living teaching ESL to adults for quite a while now.

The effectiveness of depends on the area of the U.S. you are in, or even the area of the world--as it is now available in many cities around the world. I'm fortunate to live and work in an area where a huge percentage of the population, including English language learners, knows about

I would love hear about other options ESL tutors use to find students. Please send me any ideas you have and I will be sure to post them so that they may be useful to other tutors.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

ESL and Tone of Voice

One of the things I bring up with my adult ESL students is "tone." The words that we actually use when we communicate with someone in person only make up a small percentage of what we communicate. Body language and the tone of voice we use can be much more revealing. In fact, I believe I've read that body language actually makes up something like 90% of what we communicate (I think the percentage is smaller, but it is something near this).

Our tone can also convey what we truly mean. If I scream, "I'll do it," to someone who asks a favor, the listener probably will think that I am angry and don't really want to do "it." Or "I'll do it," in the proper tone can convey a true willingness to do something.

The same goes for questions. The tone of a question can convey many different feelings or thoughts. For example, if I yell, "Who did this?," probably no one will want to "take credit." If I say it in a very appreciative tone, the doer will probably get the impression that the thing he or she did is appreciated.

Tone is very important in our communications and can convey our true feelings. Different cultures have different "tones." As ESL teachers and tutors, we may want to make sure that the tone our students use truly conveys what he or she intends.


Friday, November 2, 2007

My Favorite ESL Books

If you're a new ESL teacher or tutor, you may be wondering about the best ESL reference books and ESL textbooks out there. If you work for a school, hopefully they will have a library of books you can use for your students and ESL reference books for yourself. The type of ESL library you can expect will often depend on the budget of the school and whether it's a private language school or a public school.

If you're a private ESL tutor, then you will have to build your own library. I've added to my ESL blog photos and links to the ESL books I highly recommend and have in my personal library.

If you click on the photos of the books, you will go over to Amazon. They have used copies of most of these books. I highly recommend used copies and hitting your local used bookstores to save money.

However, although I've found some really great reference books, I've never found the ESL books I've listed here at used bookstores. I think that once an ESL teacher gets a hold of these books, he or she probably never lets them go!

For more information about these books and others, you can read my ESL Textbook Evaluation page on my website.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Correct Spelling and ESL Students

During private ESL lessons with my adult students, I usually take any opportunity I can to provide "real life" learning. I think I've already written about helping my students to write checks properly and safely.

Another thing that often comes up when my students write checks for ESL tutoring fees is the spelling of the word "forty." More than half of my ESL students over the years have written "fourty." That makes perfect sense, since "four" is spelled with a "u."

This unnecessary change is just part of the English language.

Today, as I deposited some checks at my bank, I found it interesting that the bank teller (a native-born American and native English speaker) commented that whenever she sees "forty" she immediately thinks to herself that the checkwriter doesn't know how to spell. Then her next thought reminds her that it is correctly spelled without a "u."

Just another way that English is not logical, even to native English speakers.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Jokes for ESL Students

I have a list of silly Halloween jokes. Since I teach ESL to adults, this list of Halloween jokes is not usually an integral part of any of my lessons. However, if we have time during our lesson, and if the moment seems right, I pull out the list.

The great thing about some jokes is that they provide an opportunity to introduce new vocabulary, idioms and slang. For example, one of the jokes is:

Q. Why shouldn't witches lose their tempers?
A. Because they will fly off the handle.

Here's an opportunity to teach my ESL students two new ways to talk about someone becoming very angry:

(1) to lose one's temper,
(2) to fly off the handle

Another joke:

Q. What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?
A. Frostbite.

This allowed me to teach two new vocabulary words to most of my ESL students: (1) frost, and (2) frostbite.

Humor is one of the more difficult things for English language learners to understand. So much of our humor is based on cultural references and wordplay. It's a great way to teach vocabulary and, also, for an ESL student to know that he or she is really making progress (at least in some areas).

Of course, humor is subjective. Even if someone understands everything about the joke, he or she may still not think it's funny. That's another story...


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The True Difference Between "Lay" and "Lie"

A couple of days ago, I wrote Lay, Lie, ESL and TV Shows. "DC" took the time to post a wonderful comment explaining the difference between "lay" and "lie." While this may be lost on me, I wanted to post it for my ESL readers, and others, so that it may be of assistance to you. Here 'tis.

"Dogs lay? People lie? But that's not right. Dogs lie (for example, on a bed or on the ground) just as people lie (on a bed or on the ground). I'm not an ESL teacher, but my professional life is based on a good working knowledge of the language. (I'm a writer, editor and publisher.)

When is "lay" appropriate? It's correct to say a person lays a book on a table. But after he does that, then the book is *lying* on the table. Same with a dog. A dog could lay a book on the table. Then the book lies on the table.

When a dog or a person is asleep in his bed, he is lying in bed. When a book is reclining on a shelf, the book is lying on the shelf. (When a person, or even a dog, places a book on the shelf, he lays the book on the shelf. Then the book is lying on the shelf -- just like a book, if it could fall asleep, might be lying on a bed.)

That bit about dogs laying and people lying is pure confusion. It's lie, lay, lain (reclining, whether you're a dog, person or book) and lay, laid, laid (placing something or someone -- whether it be a book, dog or person -- somewhere). --DC"


Monday, October 29, 2007

Just Another Ethnocentric American

I was helping to prepare one of my ESL students for the Cambridge Advanced English exam today. We were practicing for the speaking part. One of my American ethnocentricities came out when I commented about things being more safe in the world prior to 9/11.

She reminded me of all the wars and other difficulties occurring in the world pre-9/11. She commented that she hears the idea that the world is now less safe from many Americans.

One of the great things I get from working with ESL students from around the world is a reminder that even though I think my ideas are not "typically American," I am still a product of my culture and its influences.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lay, Lie, ESL and TV Shows

I was watching a rerun of "Cold Case" last night. One of the suspects in a murder was an ESL teacher. He taught adults. At the beginning of the episode, we saw the detectives interview the ESL teacher/suspect in his classroom. On the chalkboard was written "Dogs lay. People lie." The TV audience may or may not have caught this background scene. I did.

Later in the episode, another suspect corrected himself in an interrogation when he said a sentence that included these words. This tipped off the detectives that there was a connection between this ESL speaker and the ESL teacher.

As it turned out, both the ESL teacher and his student were accomplices to the murder. It was actually the ESL teacher who turned out to be the mastermind behind the murder, and ultimately the murderer. The ESL student was supposed to do the actual dirty work, but the teacher committed the murder before the student could get around to it.

So it was interesting to me that there was actually an ESL teacher as one of the main characters in a TV drama. That doesn't happen too often. Actually, I don't remember it ever seeing it before.

The other interesting thing to me was the use of "lay" and "lie." To this day, this is still one of those things that has not sunk into my head no matter how many times I teach it. I always have to review first before giving a lesson. Then I promptly forget the difference. I think this is the only part of the English language that has consistently given me problems. It's like I have a mental block for some reason. Oh well.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Small Talks" and ESL Learners

One of the most common errors I hear my adult ESL students make is referring to small talk as "small talks," with an "s". Small talk never takes an "s" at the end. It's already a plural (compound) noun.

This is probably the easiest thing that I can offer my ESL students about small talk. I can also offer some basic topics for small talk (weather, traffic, food, sports, etc.). For more advanced ESL learners, the topic can get a little more complicated.

After English language learners master the simple small talk topics, they often want to go beyond the basics. I feel that this is often where cultural differences and even political correctness can come into play.

Thanks to my previous lengthy work and life experiences, helping students to maneuver the topic of small talk through these more complex pathways is one of the things that I feel I'm able to offer my students.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Defining Words for ESL Students

A good English-only dictionary is essential for intermediate to advanced ESL students. I highly recommend Longman Advanced American Dictionaryto all my students.

However, during my ESL conversation lessons, it's not always convenient for my student or me to look up a word he or she doesn't know. Also, dictionaries don't always give the feeling or "flavor" of the word. While the definition may be correct and, sort of, work, it may not be the absolute best word. This is where a native-English speaking teacher can help to communicate the "feeling" of the word.

The other day, one of my students was using the word "territory" to describe a district or area of a large nearby city. I was able to communicate primarily through intonation and body language how "territory" is usually used by native speakers for a lot bigger area than the one he was talking about.

Although not entirely universal, body language and intonation can be very helpful in teaching vocabulary definitions.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Teaching Small Talk to ESL Students

I've mentioned before that some of my advanced ESL students have asked me about making "small talk." Most want to learn about it so that they can use it at work, especially. Every now and then, I take it upon myself to bring up the issue to my students even if they haven't asked me about it.

I always greet my students with the typical, "How are you?" Every now and then, I get a student who gives a very long answer. Well, as most Americans (and others) know, this question is really a form of greeting. The typical response should be something like, "Fine, thank you. And you?"

This doesn't necessarily mean that Americans are insincere. It's just that the initial "How are you?" should be thought of more as a traditional greeting, rather then a real request for information, or even genuine concern. We may follow up with a more genuine question like, "How are you, really?" if we are closer to the person.

If my ESL students aren't aware of this social skill, then they may turn off others when they are really trying to be polite and genuine. So I think it's a useful thing to teach.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

200th Posting to "Teaching ESL to Adults"

This is my 200th post to my blog about teaching ESL to adults. An average of over 250 visitors see my blog every day. I don't know if you actually read everything, but it's really great to know that some people are finding it useful. I've received a lot of great emails from ESL students and teachers alike.

If you would like to have your own blog about ESL, EFL, or any other topic, you can always start your own blog for free. As I've written before, sometimes blogger isn't the best free "blog-ware" out there because of the "Next blog" option. You can also check out Wordpress to start a free blog.

In any case, I'll continue to write about my experiences teaching ESL to adults. For more ESL grammar tips, you can see my regular website at Teaching ESL to Adults.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Meeting a New ESL Student

I met with a new ESL student today to do a free Needs Assessment. I always offer a first free meeting to potential students. This gives me a chance to decide if I would like to work with the student and gives the student a chance to decide if he or she would like to work with me.

The potential student I met today is a philosophy professor from Russia. He's a visiting scholar here in the States. I enjoyed talking to him a lot. I'm really fortunate to have a lot of students who are very interesting and with whom I can have interesting conversations.

I look forward to working with this new ESL student.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Using "I was wondering if..."

I read an email from a friend today. She started the email with "I was wondering if you made it to the show." I was a little confused by the email. I thought she hadn't read a previous email that said that I was at the show. I then thought about it awhile and realized she meant that in the past (the night of the show), she had been wondering if I was present at the show.

It made me think about my ESL students and how such a phrase as "I was wondering if..." could be confusing. "I was wondering if" uses the Past Progressive tense. Yet, native English speakers often use this as an opening for a request. For example, "I was wondering if you could lend me $10." Another way this could be expressed is "Could you please lend me $10?"

"I was wondering if..." is a way to "soften" a request. However, if a non-native English speaker hears this, he or she would be justified in thinking this is a past tense event.

English is just a bit confusing.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

ESL Students and Political Correctness

As a private ESL tutor of adults, I feel that it's part of my responsibility to my students to answer questions and offer suggestions related to culturally appropriate expressions and terminology. This includes "political correctness." These things aren't usually part of my formal lesson plans. I just address them when they come up.

Politically correct expressions were part of one of my ESL lessons today with one of my advanced ESL students. We were specifically looking at the word "chick" when referring to girls and women. The first step here was to discuss what "politically correct" means and its abbreviation "P.C." We then talked about literal and slang definitions of the word "chick"; and we talked about the context in which my student heard this word being used.

When I have a particularly advanced ESL student, I may spend some time going over the history or background of a particular term or expression or word. The trick here is to remember that most of my students want to improve their speaking skills, so I have to not do too much of the talking!


Friday, October 19, 2007

Great ESL or EFL Sites?

As an ESL teacher, I'm always on the lookout for great ESL or EFL sites that I can use for lesson planning or to which I can refer my students.

If you happen to run across any really great ESL/EFL sites, could you please forward them to me? You can use the "Comments" link below or the "contact me" link under the "ESL Website for Teachers" heading on the right side of this page.

I'll be happy to post those sites on my blog and/or ESL website to let others know about the great ESL/EFL resources you send me.

Thanks! I really appreciate it! And other teachers/students will too.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Teaching ESL to "Somebody" or "Someone"

One of the small things some ESL students ask about is the difference between "somebody" and "someone." Is there any difference?

According to Swan, there is no significant difference between these two words. He says that "someone" is more common and "somebody" is a little more informal.

This is one those differences that it's really difficult to teach ESL students. A native English speaker will usually have a better feel of which to use in a given situation. Someone speaking English as a Second Language may have more difficulty hearing or knowing which sounds a little better.

The difference in the meaning between these two words is really minimal, but it serves as an example of how the advanced use of the English language has to come from experience and maybe even an internalization of the language.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Favorite Movies as ESL Conversation Topics

One of the easy conversation topics I use during my private ESL lessons with adults is my student's favorite movie or TV program. One student recently described her favorite movie to me. It was "The Shawshank Redemption." I haven't seen the movie in years, although I remember the setting and the main actors.

I asked my ESL student if she remembered when the movie took place. She thought it was set in the 1940s or 1950s. I told her that it was significant that an African American man and a white guy would become friends at that time. She asked why.

This topic opened the door for a conversation about "race relations" in the U.S. There's always something to talk about during ESL classes!

It was interesting to me that my student was unaware of the history of segregation and legalized discrimination in the U.S.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day and Teaching ESL

Today is "Blog Action Day." Millions of bloggers all around the world are writing something about the environment today.

The topic of the environment is something that has come up in many of my advanced ESL conversation topics with my students. It's often difficult to separate discussions about the environment with discussions about politics, so we usually take on both topics.

Most of my conversations about the environment have been with my Chinese students. China has such a large population and is developing economically at a very quick pace that it is easy to find topics of conversation related to the environment.

Most advanced ESL students are familiar with the term "global warming." (George, repeat after me, "global warming is real.") It's a useful term to make sure that ESL learners know because it is such a part of our world today.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Total Physical Response and ESL

I'm often asked how I can teach beginner ESL students English if I can't speak their language. I tell them about TPR (Total Physical Response). This is a great method to teach beginner ESL students.

TPR for teaching ESL involves the teacher using his or her body to teach English. A simple example would be walking into a classroom and saying "good morning," and using body language to let the ESL students know to also say "good morning."

If I wanted to teach ESL students what "stand up" means, I would stand up and say stand up at the same time.

In short, in TPR the ESL teacher uses his or her body and/or props and the target language at the same time.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Teaching Nouns to ESL Students

Ask almost any native-born American what a noun is and they will answer, "It's a person, place or thing." We are (almost) all taught this starting in grammar school. It's not until we are young adults and in college that we are taught that a noun is a "person, place, thing, idea or concept," for example, love or beauty.

I heard one adult speaker giving a lecture the other day and she said that a "noun" is something that you essentially can see or feel, that is, it's a tangible object. She said that the other things that we call nouns, like "love" are actually verbs that we are using as nouns. I found that somewhat interesting, but I still think intangibles, like ideas and concepts are nouns in their own right.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Courts and Courtroom Interpreters

I had to show up for jury duty again today. I was in the pool of potential jurors; not actually selected to serve on the jury. The judge and lawyers agreed on twelve people before my name was called, so I have been excused. That means that I can now freely talk about everything I saw in the courtroom.

It was a criminal trial. The defendant was a Vietnamese man in, perhaps, his 40s. He was a small and thin man, missing some teeth. He appeared to be poor. The suit jacket he wore was faded and ill-fitting. He wore headphones into which a certified interpreter said in Vietnamese all that was being said in the courtroom.

The courtroom interpreters are certified persons. They generally have met high standards to gain certification. I don’t doubt that they do a good job.

However, mistakes can be made. Just as people using only English, for example, may repeat something someone else has said and make a mistake in doing so.

So it was very interesting to me that the rules applied in court with regard to interpretation are that the jurors are supposed to take what the interpreter says as the exact interpretation of the speaker. Even if the juror knows the language being interpreted into English and she or he hears something different being said by the interpreter than what was originally said in Vietnamese, the juror is supposed to ignore what she or he has heard from “the horse’s mouth” and is supposed to only listen to the interpreter.

I assume that this is done because what the interpreter says is what gets written into the record. I guess it probably all works out O.K., but it still seems a bit strange to me. It seems that if the juror knows something was erroneously interpreted, that she or he should have a duty, in addition to a moral obligation, to report it to the judge.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Using Slang for ESL Speakers in Court

I've had a recent experience as a juror in a courtroom. I happen to live in an extremely diverse area of the U.S. People from all over the world make their homes here. And even though some ESL speakers may have even gone through college here, there is still some vocabulary, especially slang or idioms, that they may not know.

Native English speakers are often not conscious about what vocabulary may be unfamiliar to ESL speakers.

The judge in my courtroom gave a very long lecture (one hour) about the court procedures. When an ESL speaker was in the jury box being asked questions by the judge, she said that she was concerned that she may not be familiar with some terms. The judge told her that if she did not understand something, she should speak up. "This is no time to be a wallflower," he said.

It stuck me that the word "wallflower" is not something commonly taught to English Language Learners. I wonder if the juror knew what the judge meant. I'm sure she got it from the context, but if I were the judge, I probably wouldn't have said "wallflower."


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

English for People in the Medical Field

Hospital English is a great site with materials for medical professionals studying English and resources for their teachers and tutors.

The site helps with vocabulary, patient counseling models and contains healthcare professional articles, flash cards and lesson plans.

If you're an ESL or EFL instructor and you work with medical professionals, this is a must-see site.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

CELTA or TESOL for Private Tutoring

Really, anyone can call themselves an ESL tutor or teacher and find private clients. There are no licensing requirements (that I'm aware of) as there are, for example, lawyers. Of course, it is certainly a better selling point to actually have some training in teaching ESL.

One way to get training to teach ESL to adults or to children is to take a certification course. When you start to look into certification courses, you find that there are two main certifications: CELTA and TESOL.

CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Possession of either of these certificates shows that the ESL teacher has been through a certificate training program and has been taught the necessary "tools" to teach English.

So which certificate is right for you? Personally, I have a TESOL certificate. Although I had the option of studying for either certificate, I chose the TESOL because that was the ESOL certificate that was more popular in the area in which I planned to teach.

Thinking about where you want to teach and inquiring about the preferred certificate in the area is the approach I would take (and did) to determine which certificate to earn.

I don't have a convenient list of all the TESOL training locations, but here's a thorough list of the CELTA course locations.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

"Grown Ups" and Appropriate Vocabulary

Appropriate word choice not only depends on the situation or circumstances, but also on the age of the speaker. For example, it's a good idea to teach adult ESL students that "grown up," when used as a noun, is really appropriate only when talking to children, or when it is used by children, or when somehow being used in reference to children. The appropriate term for adults to use is "adult."

It would be really strange to hear an adult talking to another adult, and referring to another adult or adults, and use be using the term "grown up."


Friday, October 5, 2007

Teaching "Appropriate" Vocabulary

One of incidental things to teach ESL students about vocabulary, whether it is slang or idioms or individual words, is the appropriate use of the vocabulary. There are some English words or expressions that are appropriate among your close friends, but they may not be appropriate in the work place or in other situations. For example, circumstances "required" me to teach the expression, "I gotta take a leak" to one of my adult male students. I was sure to let him know that this is something that he should only use in very special circumstances.

ESL teachers should always be on the lookout for appropriate, and especially inappropriate use of words by their students. ESL students certainly learn new vocabulary outside of the classroom, but they may not have someone to guide them in the appropriate use.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

English for Love or Money

I've had a lot of young adult ESL students in the past few years. Many have been working towards advanced degrees in business. I've had a good number of CPAs and aspiring CPAs and other business majors. I ask them about how they came to their career decisions. Most have very logical reasons, primarily around making money and creating a good life for their future families.

I'm currently working with a PhD student. She's working on a PhD in business. She used to work as a CPA in Korea. Now she wants to become a professor. She's in her early 30s. She told me today about how she really did not like being a CPA. She didn't care for the business world, but she didn't really feel there were any alternatives.

I think that for people from many countries outside of the U.S., there seems to be fewer options. I think that Americans are becoming more comfortable with non-money making alternatives for careers, and are desiring more to be "happy" in other ways. Maybe that will be one of our future exports.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Forgetting English Grammar

Currently, all of my ESL students are advanced and want to work on their speaking and conversation skills. We only occasionally need to review any grammar points. Mostly, we are focusing on accent reduction, pronunciation and general speaking skills.

I hope that I don't forget all that I have learned about grammar and teaching English grammar!


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Becoming an ESL Teacher

Are you thinking about becoming an ESL tutor or teacher? Do you know where to get started? Are you wondering what your options are? Where to teach? What kind of ESL positions are out there?

Check out the Duties of an ESL Teacher to see if teaching ESL is something you want to pursue.

Teaching ESL to adults has been one of the most rewarding careers I've had. Is it right for you?


Monday, October 1, 2007

Selling Out and Sounding "American"

I met with a potential new ESL student the other day. He primarily wants to work on his speaking skills. He said he's tired of people in his office not being able to understand him. He's fluent in English. English was taught along with his native language in his country, so he's been speaking English since he was a kid. He also went to college and graduate school in the U.K.

The main problem is his accent and pronunciation. But an interesting thing was his insight about not wanting to let go of his accent. He had some emotional attachment to it. He felt almost as if he'd be selling out if he sounded "more American." And yet, he wants to take private ESL lessons to help him with his English.

This was just a reminder to me that learning to communicate effectively in English isn't only about English. There may be a lot of other things going on that can get in the way of improving one's English. The ESL's tutor or teacher's awareness of this may help him or her to be a better teacher.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reading Recommendations for ESL Learners

My ESL students often ask me for recommendations for books to read. I always recommend books by John Grisham. Many of my students have already seen movies that were made based on his books, so they are indirectly familiar with him.

I find that John Grisham books are an "easy" read. He's a great storyteller. This makes it easier and more compelling for ESL learners to read for pleasure and indirectly benefit from being exposed to how English is written.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

ESL Idiom: Plugging Along

Idioms are a very important part of the English language. If ESL learners aren't taught idioms, they will be limited in their understanding of English. Unfortunately, idioms, expressions and slang are endless. The problem is where to start!

I often try to teach my ESL students idioms that are related to their careers, or are otherwise somehow relevant. There are also every day idioms that can be used by anyone. "Plugging along" is one such idiom.

"To plug along" could also be considered a phrasal verb. It is often used when responding to the question, "How are you?" or "How have you been?"

My response to "How are you?" can be "plugging along" or "I'm plugging along." It means that I'm doing fine, nothing is new. I'm just living my life as usual."

Other idioms or expressions with "plug" include "unplugged." This has become a way of saying that music is being played acoustically, without electricity (like an electric guitar).

And other one: "I'm all plugged up." I'll let you figure this one out on your own if you don't already know!


Friday, September 28, 2007

Helping ESL Students Improve Speaking Skills

Most of my private ESL students are very advanced. These students primarily want to improve their speaking skills. They are frustrated with having to repeat themselves to their colleagues. Some try to handle this frustration by sticking to written communications and avoid face-to-face discussions.

After doing an initial Needs Assessment, I decide on the best approach to help my ESL students to improve their speaking skills. Whatever I decide on as the primary focus, I usually draw from three main topics:

(1) Specific sound pronunciation,
(2) Word pronunciation,
(3) Intonation.

This is not to say that there are not other factors in improving one's English speaking skills. There is also vocabulary development (including idioms, slang, reductions, consistent use of contractions, etc.). I use the above three topics when native speakers have trouble understanding my students.

Specific sound pronunciation includes how to make specific sounds of letters. For example, the "th" is often difficult for a lot of non-native speakers. We also discuss the rules for when certain letters are pronounced differently, like how "s" is sometimes pronounced as an "s" and "sometimes as a "z." (See Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds.)

I focus on word pronunciation through conversation practice and having students read aloud during our tutoring sessions.

Intonation is fun. I describe it as the music of the English language. I show students through a "red hat" exercise how putting stress on different parts of a sentence can totally change the meaning of a sentence.

These are the three main areas I focus on to help students be more easily understood by native English speakers, but as I mentioned above, they are not the only issues we work on.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Talking about Small Talk

Many of my advanced ESL students ask me about "small talk." Small talk is the short conversations we have with other people when we first see them or first meet them. Small talk topics include the weather, sports, and traffic. Sometimes "chit chat" is also considered small talk.

The purpose of small talk is to break the ice and for people to get comfortable talking to one another. Sometimes it's just a cultural norm that people take part in.

Many of my students make the mistake of saying "small talks." It's always just "small talk," without an "s." The verb to use is "make." For example, "It's often common for people meeting each other for the first time to make small talk."

It seems like a fairly simple thing for native English speakers to do, but making small talk is one of the topics that ESL teachers should teach their ESL students so that they can feel more comfortable with their English speaking skills.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Subject Lines for Business Emails

One aspect of business English that I teach my adult ESL students is how to write effective emails. In addition to the regular challenges of writing business emails, my students also have to learn about the tone of an email. This is actually important for all email writers, especially when writing business emails.

Another thing that I believe is very important is an effective "subject" heading. The subject heading should be succinct and convey the main topic of the email. The reader should be able to look at the subject line and decide if the email is of interest.

One mistake that many people make, not just ESL learners, is to send an email by hitting the "reply" button from an old message, but not changing the subject line. For example, I may have received an email from an ESL student with the subject heading "My writing sample." I respond to the student about the writing sample (no need to change the subject heading here), but then the student uses this email and simply hits "reply" (without changing the subject line), the next time that he or she wants to contact me. However, the subject of the new email might be a schedule change. In this case, the subject line should be changed to "Schedule change" or other some related phrase.

Always using a subject line that is related to the topic of the current email is good business sense and is one component of a good business email.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Write it Like a Native English Speaker

I worked with one of my ESL students today on her writing. She didn't really make too many mistakes in her writing samples, but she wanted to "write like a native speaker."

I think that there are certain things that many native speakers will say, generally, the same way. However, depending on what is being said, there is great variation in the way that native English speakers speak and write.

If the way an ESL learner says something is not wrong or awkward, I try to encourage them to have more faith in the way they are communicating. Of course, this is something that is more likely to happen with more advanced ESL learners.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Formula to Make Mild Complaints

"Complaining" is, unfortunately, an everyday occurrence, and therefore, it may be considered a survival skill for ESL students.

Here's a "formula" for mild complaints that I've recently taught my ESL students:

The thing about _______________________ is (that) _____________________.

Here are a few examples:

The thing about English grammar rules is that there are so many exceptions!

The thing about delicious food is that it is usually fattening.

You can teach this to adult ESL students by writing the formula for them and then giving them some written or spoken examples. It's usually hard for ESL learners to come up with the two parts themselves, so you can start the complaint by saying, for example, "The thing about my husband is that _________________________." This example seems to work very well for my married students!


Sunday, September 23, 2007

ESL Speakers and Understanding Humor

One of the more difficult things for ESL speakers to master is humor. Aspects of the English language (or any language, for that matter) that make humor difficult include: different definitions for the same word, different stress on a word can make the meaning different, vocabulary limitation, grammar tenses, etc. Just about all the things that an ESL student must learn to read, write, speak and understand English are necessary for ESL learners to, for example, understand a joke told in English.

However, in addition to the language itself, there are also cultural references that the ESL student must know and understand to be able to understand a joke or other humor.

When an ESL speaker does finally start to understand humor in English, then he or she will know that he or she is making progress.

Of course, I'm not addressing the fact that different people, even speakers of the same language and from the same culture, just may not agree about what is funny.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tipping Etiquette for ESL Students

One of the cultural differences that many of my ESL students have to deal with in the U.S. is the concept of "tipping." "Tipping" is when you pay a service worker (waiter, waitress, parking valet, doorman, haircutter, etc.) an amount above the regular cost of the service they perform. The most common tipping scenario for most people is tipping a server (waiter or waitress) at a restaurant. The standard tip amount for servers is 15 to 20%.

Apparently, in some countries, like Korea, food servers are not tipped. The gratuity (another word for "tip") is included in the cost of the food. I suppose servers in other countries may be paid more than the servers in the U.S.

Americans are very, very familiar with the custom of tipping in restaurants. We learn this in childhood from observing our parents in restaurants.

Some of my ESL students accept this custom and "when in Rome..." I had one ESL student who was in the U.S. for over a year and he still only grudgingly paid tips.

The topic of tipping comes up for me today because I am expecting a furniture delivery any minute. As furniture deliveries are not frequent in my life, I am unsure of the proper etiquette for tipping, or even if a tip is expected. So I searched online.

Apparently, Americans (or at least those who write online) are divided on the issue. Some say you should tip, others say it's not expected. I still haven't figured out the final word; and the amount to tip is even more a mystery. I guess I'll wait and see how the delivery goes and make my decision then.

As an ESL tutor, I don't think I'll be able to answer this question very well if it ever comes up. Apparently this "cultural difference" is even different in my culture!


Friday, September 21, 2007

Difficulties of ESL Editing Work

One of the ways that ESL tutors can supplement their income is by offering their editing services to ESL and other students. As a private ESL tutor, I don't advertise to do English editing work. However, at least once a month, I receive an inquiry about an editing job.

I believe I've mentioned in the past that editing is not one of my favorite things to do. Actually, I love editing. I'll gladly do it for free for friends. I just don't usually like doing it as a paying job.

More often than not, people asking for my editing services will say things like, "It doesn't need much editing; just a few grammar problems." Or, "You don't have to correct too much; I just want it to sound like a native English writer."

While I (think I) understand what people are trying to convey when they tell me that their paper won't need much work, I often feel that people don't really understand what goes into editing a paper. For example, even if there are only a few necessary corrections, I still have to read the whole paper to find the errors. Even if there is only one error on a page, the whole page must be read and understood and checked.

I've gotten used to people making these sorts of statements about their papers. I expect it, and I don't let that deter me from taking a job.

The one thing that I've learned not to do is to not take on someone else's pressure. I had an ESL student contact me today to edit his paper. He needs it by tomorrow "at midnight." However, he hasn't finished the paper yet. He offered to send it to me by 10 p.m. I told him that I wouldn't able to fit it into my schedule; that it would take more time. "But it only needs a few corrections." --Sigh--


Thursday, September 20, 2007

ESL Speakers Using the Past Perfect

The Past Perfect grammar tense is one of the past tenses that my ESL students regularly avoid using. It is one of the more difficult tenses for students to master because it includes a helping verb, plus a past participle. And if you add an adverb, keeping the order straight is always a challenge.

The Past Perfect tense is used to talk about the past when there are two past tense events, or one past tense event and a particular time in the past. For example, "I had given up before she arrived."

I think the other reason that ESL speakers avoid using the Past Perfect tense is because you really can express all that you need to express by using the Simple Past plus words like "before" and "after."

Learning the Past Perfect just allows an ESL speaker to more fully learn and use the language.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Relevant Vocabulary for ESL Students

Most of my new ESL students tell me that they want to learn new vocabulary. That's always a bit of a challenge for me because most of my students are advanced, so I don't know what vocabulary they already know. I usually try to embed new vocabulary into my other lesson plans. Another thing I do is try to find the areas my ESL students are interested in or what they do in their lives. I want the new vocabulary to be relevant to their lives and something they can begin using right away.

Today, I was at a ballgame. While I was there, I was thinking about a couple of my ESL students and some relevant vocabulary. One student I was thinking about is married to a professional poker player. So, the term "full house" might be useful for her to know.

Another of my students is heavily into baseball. So the term "full count" might be useful for him to know (although I'm sure he already knows it!).

These two similar terms just reminded me of how English can sometimes be so precise and one small change can make a big difference in the meaning and usefulness of words.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Notetaking for ESL Conversation Classes

During conversation classes with my ESL students, I takes notes on our conversation. I let students know that during our ESL conversation classes, I'll be taking note of the errors they make in word choice, pronunciation, tense usage, etc. I also make notes about things said correctly, but that can be said in a more native English sounding way. I ask my students to ignore my note-taking and most of them are good about that.

After about 10 to 15 minutes of conversation, I stop the flow of the conversation to review the notes I've made with my ESL student. I find that this period of time usually works well because it allows there to be a flow to the conversation and encourages the student to practice/speak without interruption. There's usually a good stopping point at this time interval. And finally, it allows me to not forget what I wanted to suggest (in case my notes aren't clear to me!).

Students usually take their own notes on the corrections and they often remember something else that they've heard that the want to ask about. I used to put my notes in the recycling bin until a few of my students started asking me for my notes. I gladly give my notes to them. And now I've started giving my notes to students who don't ask. They always seem appreciative. And I'm fantasizing that they diligently study my notes at home!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Correcting ESL Students Part 2

Back in July I wrote about correcting ESL students and how many of my students tell me that they wish native English speakers would correct them. I tell these students that most Americans might think it's rude to correct an ESL speaker and we usually will not do it, unless asked. I advise my students to ask people to correct them; if the relationships is an appropriate one.

For the last couple of weeks, I've been taking a weekend class and I spend a lot of time with my fellow students. We have one student who is from Romania. Her English is very, very good. However, as with most ESL speakers, she has made a couple of English errors. The errors are consistent. I don't know if anyone else in my class has picked up the errors. (It's not a class related to English.)

Interestingly, I have experienced very strongly what I told my ESL students we Americans feel. I feel that it would be very, very rude for me to offer her some suggestions or corrections to her English. It's almost like I would never even dream of doing it.

So, I emphasize again, if you're an English language learner and you want native speakers to correct you, you must ask them to do so.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Toastmasters for ESL Speakers

When my private ESL students tell me that they want to improve their speaking skills, I always ask how they use their speaking skills and/or how they plan to use their speaking skills in the future.

Some ESL students just want to improve their general English speaking skills. Some want to work on making small talk. And many want to improve their presentation skills. They want to feel comfortable making presentations on the job or in the classroom.

For my ESL students who want to improve their speaking and presentation skills, I always recommend Toastmasters. It's a great organization and not very expensive. There are meetings all over the place. All an ESL student has to do to find local meetings is Google "Toastmasters meetings" and their location. I encourage students to try more than one meeting, as they are all a little different. They do all follow the same basic format, but some might be large, some small, and just have different "personalities."


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Drinking Among ESL Students

The other day I wrote about teaching the expression, "I don't drink," to ESL students. Currently, I'm learning from my students about drinking (and I mean drinking alcohol).

I have a few ESL students who are visiting scholars, post-docs and PhD students. Since school is recently back in session at my local university, one of the topics that has come up a lot lately is drinking and getting a little tipsy, if not downright drunk.

One ESL student told me about a recent birthday party she went to for one of the Korean students in one of her classes. All the party-goers were Asian (Koreans, Chinese and Japanese). She commented to me that they were all communicating in English with one another. And they were a little drunk. She talked about how easy it seemed to speak English and how they all communicated so well!

I'm not encouraging getting drunk to improve your English, but it does reinforce to me how improved English language skills are often a result of self-confidence, and bravery. Drinking allowed my student to feel more at ease and not worry about making mistakes (she usually worries about her English-speaking skills even when with other ESL speakers).

Working with a private ESL tutor allows students to build that self-confidence in a more lasting way. And without a hangover!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Professionalism with ESL Students

I always meet my potential ESL students for a free first meeting. This gives the student an opportunity to meet me, and me to meet the potential student so that we can decide whether we want to work together. This first free ESL meeting is as much for me as it is for them. If I get a weird feeling from the student, or just decide that we wouldn't be a good match, then the student has not spent his or her money needlessly. (I really don't believe that all that much teaching and learning can be accomplished in a first meeting with a student without knowing about the student.)

In our first meeting together, I always do a needs assessment. I follow a form that I've developed. Using this form and asking other relevant questions as needed shows the potential student that they are working with a professional. Since they are paying good money for my lessons, this helps to set the tone of what they can expect and it impresses the potential student.

Apparently, I'm one of a rare few ESL tutors in my area that offers a free first session. I don't understand why. It really pays off in the long run in finding quality students and happy students (and paying students!).


Thursday, September 13, 2007

"I Don't Drink" for ESL Students

Since I'm an ESL teacher, I probably pay more attention to the everyday use of the English language than other people. My ears are continually perking up to phrases, expression, idioms, and "strange" uses of English. Even when I walk to my English lessons, I hear or see things that I know my ESL students most likely will not know. In only a five minute walk, I encounter at least a couple of things that would be new to English language learners. If it's something useful or interesting, my next ESL student will benefit from my observation.

I caught a part of "The View" on TV this morning and Whoopi Goldberg said, "I don't drink." It made me think of how an English language learner would interpret this sentence. Of course, it means, "I don't drink alcoholic beverages," but you'd never hear this longer sentence from a native English speaker. All native speakers will know that "I don't drink" means "I don't drink alcoholic beverages."

I think this is a useful English phrase for ESL or EFL students to understand and to use, if needed.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Practical English Usage for ESL

Practical English Usageis in its third edition now.

This is the one book that I highly recommend to all my intermediate and advanced ESL students. I also highly recommend it to all ESL and EFL teachers. I use this book very, very regularly.

I have the second edition. One of my ESL students brought the newest edition to class the other day. Wow! This newer version is awesome. It's laid out in an even more user-friendly way than the last edition and it includes useful sections on pronunciation that were were not in the last editions.

This is a must-have book for all students and teachers of English as a second language or English as a foreign language. However, I wouldn't hesitate to pick up a used copy of the last edition if money is an issue.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

“Am I Too Old to Learn English as a Second Language?”

Most of my ESL students are advanced English speakers. They are really quite good! But, of course, some are better than others. And some make more measurable progress during our sessions than others. I’ve noticed a trend over the years.

It seems that the ESL students who come to me from their late teens through their late 20s have much stronger English speaking skills my older students.

However, I believe that English language learners of all ages can improve their English language skills. When I taught ESL at an adult school, we had students in their 70s who made progress!


Monday, September 10, 2007

Teaching "Suggest" to ESL Students

“Suggest” is one of the more difficult verbs for my ESL students. I will often hear, “She suggest me to study English.” It is one of the more difficult verbs to use because there are a few different ways that it can be used. I think that English language learners tend to confuse parts of one rule with parts of another with regard to this verb.

Here are the grammar rules, guidelines and examples I lay out for my ESL students when this issues arises.

1) “Suggest” cannot be followed by an object + an infinitive; for example, “She suggested me to study English.” This is incorrect.
2) “That” clauses and “-ing” structures are commonly used; for example, “She suggested that I study English,” or “She suggested studying English.” These are correct.
3) Direct and indirect objects: Direct objects can be used after “suggest;” for example, “I suggest Longman Advanced American Dictionary.” “Suggest” is not normally followed by an indirect object without a preposition. For example, “Can you suggest a good grammar book to me?”=Correct. “Can you suggest me a good grammar book?”= Incorrect.
4) Direct suggestions: “I suggest that you study English” or “I suggest you study English” are correct.

For more info about the rules for using difficult verbs and other difficult grammar points, I suggest Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

"Talk to" or "Talk with"

For ESL students, prepositions are "the final frontier." What I mean is that they are the most difficult thing for English language learners to master. It takes forever to get them all correct.

Not only are there a ton of prepositions, but there can also be subtle nuances that a non-native English speaker may not pick up unless he or she is living in an English-speaking country for a long while.

For example, the prepositions "to" and "with" can both follow the verb "talk." Both are correct. However, there may be some subtle differences depending on the speakers and the relationship they have. For example, if the boss of a company says, "I need to talk to you," I might be a little more worried than if he or she says, "I need to talk with you."

"To," when using the verb "talk" is more of a one-way thing. One person is doing most of the talking and is in (at least) slightly more control than the person being talked to. "With" has more of a give-and-take meaning. We are both going to participate in the conversation as equals (or at least it makes it seem that we are equals).

Probably the better preposition to teach ESL students with "talk" is "with." It is more neutral and, perhaps, more equal-sounding than using the preposition "to" with this verb. Using "with" will work better more times than using "to." The odds are in favor of "with."


Saturday, September 8, 2007

What if You Don't Know the English Rule?

What do you do when your ESL students ask you a question and you don't know the answer?

A lot of times, the answer truly is "because it's English." There isn't always logic or even a rule that covers how native speakers use English, especially spoken English.

But if there is a "real" answer, or you suspect there is, and you don't know the answer, I believe the best thing is to tell the student you don't know and you will look it up and get back to them.


Friday, September 7, 2007

Problems with ESL Learning Products

I was looking at some e-products to recommend to some of my ESL students. "E-products" are things like e-books ("electronic books") that can be downloaded from the Internet. Some ESL topics I've seen are things like how to improve your pronunciation, reduce your accent, learn grammar, learn new vocabulary, etc.

Some of these ESL products are free. Some sites charge money for their products.

Here's my problem with most of the ESL learning tools I've come across so far: they have English mistakes in them! Now, I don't claim that I never make a typo, or even a grammar error, on my blog or on my ESL site. I sometimes don't have the time to go back and edit my writing. BUT, I'm not charging anything to read my words! The good and the bad are free here.

I've also noticed errors by other ESL tutors advertising for students on (I actually made an error on an ad once and someone was helpful enough to point it out to me. Thank you!)

I just think that if you are selling a product to help people learn English, then you have to use correct English! And if you are a student studying English, beware of products that have errors in the sales pitch! They'll probably have errors in the thing you pay for, too.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Ideal Length of ESL Lessons

I teach private ESL students one-to-one. I offer my students the option of one-hour, one-and-a-half hour, and two-hour lessons. I've found that the optimum time for a private ESL lesson is one-and-a-half hours. I highly recommend to all of my potential students that they take the one-and-a-half hour option and I give a significant price break for this option. Most of my students take this option and it works very well. They often remark on how quickly the time went by.

The reason that I prefer one-and-a-half hour lessons is that one hour ESL lessons are too short and two hour lessons are too long. I believe that my students and I are able to accomplish the greatest amount of learning in this time period, without either of us becoming too exhausted.

Most of my students are working adults who I meet after their long work days. Two-hour ESL lessons are just sometimes too much extra work for the day.

I have had some students who travel very far and for this reason they prefer the longer two-hour lesson time period.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A.M. and P.M. for ESL Students

...and everyone else.

A question that came up with one of my ESL writing students was how to write the time when using "a.m" or "p.m." In my experience, I've seen (and used), for example, "9am", "9 am", "9a.m.", and "9 a.m." Everyone understands what time you are referring to if you use any of these.

However, for formal writing, there are two correct ways: 9 a.m. and 9 A.M. There is a space between the numbers, periods between "a" and "m"' but no spaces between the two letters. This is according to Longman Advanced American Dictionary, my favorite ESL dictionary.

Incidentally, "a.m" is an abbreviation for "ante meridiem," meaning "before noon." "P.M." is an abbreviatin for "post meridiem," meaning "after noon."


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Teaching ESL and Giving Back

There's no doubt that English language skills have the potential to improve people's lives. As an ESL tutor, I enjoy the benefits of self-employment: I get to "travel vicariously," I get to meet a lot of great people, and I get a great feeling of self-satisfaction. Teaching is also a way for me to contribute, to give back. Now, I've found another great way to give back and make a difference in the world. was featured today on the Oprah show. It's a website where you can make a very small loan (at least "small" for most of us) of only $25 (US) to people all over the world. The people you loan your money to are entrepreneurs in poorer countries; and you get to personally choose the person you loan your money to. These small loans can make a world of difference in people's lives.

Please check out their website to get more information.


Monday, September 3, 2007

ESL-Once in a Blue Moon

Native English language speakers use idioms on a daily basis. In fact, we use them so regularly that we aren't even aware that some of them are idioms, or slang, or even euphemisms.

One expression that is based on reality is "once in a blue moon." An example of this idiom would be "I only tutor ESL students from Germany once in a blue moon." This means that I do tutor ESL students from Germany, but only occasionally.

Literally (or almost literally), a blue moon refers to the second full moon that occurs within a calendar month. This event only happens about once every two-and-a-half years. As for why astronomers call a second full moon in a month "blue," you'll have to visit someone else's blog!

Idioms are extremely useful for English language learners to learn. I'd say that every single day someone communicates in English, they will use or encounter an idiom and/or slang.


Sunday, September 2, 2007

ESL, Mobile, and Cell Phones

Is it a cell phone or a mobile phone? Here's another one of those American versus British vocabulary differences. The majority of Americans say "cell phone," although some are starting to say "mobile."

I think that for English language learners, the best vocabulary to teach is the one that is used in the culture where they'll be living/visiting/studying. Although, the American English versus British English differences are useful for students to know.


Saturday, September 1, 2007

ESL Conversation Topic-Baseball

I've never been very interested in team sports. Individual sports have been more my thing. However, a few of my private ESL students have been very interested in baseball, in particular.

As I've mentioned before, the best conversation topics for ESL classes (or private tutoring sessions) are things that your students are interested in or things that will help them with daily life or on the job. To date, I haven't had any professional baseball players (maybe someday), but I have had serious fans. There's a certain enthusiasm that some students have when talking about some topics, like baseball.

I've learned a great deal about baseball in the U.S. from conversations with one of my Japanese students, in particular. He knows more about the game in this country than I can ever hope to know!

It's another one of those cases where I'm able to learn from my students and my students are able to improve their English language speaking skills by talking about something they feel passionate about.


Friday, August 31, 2007

Providing Added Value to ESL Students

A number of my private ESL students are working professionals. Many of them want to improve the tone of their writing, especially in emails. We often review their "sent" emails in class.

However, sometimes my ESL students need to send particularly important emails before we have a chance to review them in class. I offer to review and edit such emails for my students free of charge. This doesn't take too much time for me and it delivers a valuable service to my ESL students.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Teaching "Marry" to ESL Students

For some reason, almost all of my ESL students--all levels--say "marry with" when they're talking about marrying someone. They will say, for example, "I married with my wife in 2003." It's a logical way to say it, I think. However, the verb "marry" is never followed by "with."

Another way to teach ESL students how to use this verb is with "to get married."

Here are some correct ways to use "marry."

He married her in 1999.

They got married in 1999.

She is married to him.

They are married to each other.

They got married to each other in 1999.

He got married to her in 1999.

They divorced in 2000.

They got divorced in 2000.

She divorced him in 2000.

They divorced each other in 2000.

But I digress....


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Teaching ESL and Loving It

Sometimes my "job" as an ESL tutor is almost criminal! I get paid to have great conversations with interesting English language learners from all over the world. I get to "travel vicariously."

As a private ESL tutor, the majority of my students are advanced ESL students and mostly want to improve their speaking skills. I'm glad to oblige. I'm also fortunate that I've had a lot of life experiences and different careers throughout my life. I'm fortunate to know at least a little bit of most things. And it's particularly great when I don't know too much about something, because I can then ask my ESL students and they are happy to talk about things they know and teach me new things.

If you're considering a career change, teaching ESL or EFL is definitely a great possibility.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

ESL Conversations about Americans

During my conversation lessons with ESL students who have been in the U.S. for a short while, I often ask them about their impressions about the U.S. What were they expecting before coming here? What did they expect to find? What ideas did they have about Americans? (Of course, I usually wait to ask such questions after we've established some rapport. I want them to speak freely and not worry about offending me.) I then ask about their current experiences and observations. What turned out to be true? What's false?

One of the general themes in the answers of all my ESL students is how diverse the U.S. is. They tell me that they thought that Americans were primarily white. When they come here, they see and experience our abundance of hyphenated Americans (Mexican-American, African-American, Italian-American, Japanese-American, etc.)


Monday, August 27, 2007

The Best ESL Conversation Topics

For the ESL or EFL teacher, one of the challenging parts of a conversation lesson is getting some students to talk! The ESL teacher has to choose a topic that appeals to the majority of students. I'm fortunate because I teach English language learners one-on-one. Sometimes it's easier to get one person to speak than it is to get a whole class of ESL students. Getting an EFL classroom to speak may be easier. The challenge there is to get the students to speak in English!

As I said, the best conversation topics are those of interest to the English language learner. The topics could be of interest because the student needs the skills for his or her job, or in order to more easily live in an English speaking culture. The best ESL topics will be those that are relevant to the student's life.

When an ESL student knows that he or she can take what is learned in the tutoring session or in the classroom and apply it in real life, then the student will be more likely to want to participate in the discussion.

Other ESL topics that could get students talking include things that students know about (e.g., their family, their home culture, their jobs, etc.) and things that are controversial (e.g., abortion, the death penalty, and other standard debate topics). I also use Compelling Conversations when I need a very thorough list of ESL conversation topics and questions.

One of the important things for ESL tutors and ESL teachers to remember is that the student(s), not the tutor/teacher should do most of the talking in a conversation lesson.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Learning Vocabulary from Television

I often encourage my ESL students to watch television. Although watching TV is usually a mind-numbing process, for English language learners, it's another way to practice English listening skills. It also (for better or worse) teaches about American culture. Sitcoms are particularly useful for learning new vocabulary and idioms. TV news can also be useful, although most of my ESL students tell me that they have trouble understanding TV news. The stories are often out of context so the English learner cannot use the context to understand what's going on.

I was just watching a Sunday national news program. One of the stories was about adults who take care of their aging parents. One of the lines in the story was, "She took care of her aging parents until they both passed." Although an English language learner could probably figure out what this sentence means, it was interesting to me that the reporter said "passed" instead of "passed away." "To pass away" is the more common euphemism to talk about death; yet, any native English speaker would have no trouble understanding this sentence. I wondered if a non-native speaker would completely understand.

Incidentally, I looked up "pass" on Without using "pass" as part of a phrasal verb, there were 75 definitions! Seventy-five definitions for the word "pass!" How's a person supposed to learn English?!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

ESL Students and Self-Confidence

As a private tutor of adult ESL students, I think the most important thing that English language learners get from our sessions is increased self-confidence. Most of my advanced students have excellent grammar skills, a pretty good vocabulary and fairly decent pronunciation.

The thing that ESL students are lacking is self-confidence. They're afraid of making mistakes out in the world. Just by providing a safe place for them to have conversations and practice their English speaking skills, their self-confidence improves immensely. I've noticed that it only takes three to four months of regular practice with me for their self-confidence and speaking skills to significantly improve.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Transition as a Verb

One of the things that is so fascinating to me as an ESL teacher is that the English language is continually evolving (or at least changing). As most of us were taught as children, "'ain't' is not a word." (And yet, it's now in the dictionary. Although most educated people don't use it, or if they do, they use it selectively.) The word "google" used to only be the name of a search engine. Now it's a verb. "I googled you last night."

In the past, we also only used the “generic” “he,” “his,” and “him.” That changed to "he or she" and sometimes "s/he." Now, using “they,” “their,” and “them” as singular pronouns is common and used in informal conversation and writing. It is perfectly acceptable to most people and “Usage Notes” are discussing this point in dictionaries (see Longman Advanced American Dictionary).

This word came up in one of my ESL lessons with an advanced ESL student. I was pretty sure that "transition" could be used as a verb. She had never heard it used as a verb. We looked in my dictionary and it was not there. Yet, I felt fairly certain that I'd heard this word as a verb before.

When I got home, I searched the internet for other dictionaries and other sites about this topic. Some people are absolutely adamant and even offended by the idea of "transition" as a verb. Most of the sites I saw "transition" used as a verb were discussing the issue of transgendered people. Some medical sites use "transition" as the verb to talk about the process of a person "transitioning" from one gender to another.

Transgender issues and sexual reassignment are a fairly recent phenomenon in our history. I tend to think that as society changes and deals with more issues, our language will change to enable us to talk about these topics.

Whenever I teach ESL students about non-standard English (even if it's only using reductions), I always explain how the language is changing and caution students about using new terms.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

ESL Blog and Blogger's Navbar

As most of you may know, the ESL blog you are reading here is hosted on "Blogger." Blogger is a free service that belongs to Google. It's a really great way for anyone to have their own blog, whether it's about teaching English as a Second Language or anything else in the world.

The one very unfortunate thing for many people, especially teachers or others who work with children, any many others of us, is that the Navbar (the line across the top of the page that says "Search blog," "Flag blog," and "Next blog") is required by Blogger. It used to be optional when I started this ESL blog.

It used to be a great little resource or interesting for internet surfers because it would randomly pull up another Blogger blog that had been recently updated. You might find someone's blog in another language, certainly about other topics besides ESL of EFL. It was like a little mini-travel portal (a wormhole?) that would take you to another part of the world.

Unfortunately, now the "adult content" people have discovered Blogger and are essentially "spamming" the rest of us. They are creating tons of blogs with adult content, from which they can make money. And they are adding and updating them regularly.

So now I have noticed that if I hit the "Next blog" button, more than half the time I'm taken to an offensive "adult content" blog. Google and Blogger don't seem to care about this. They don't give us regular bloggers a way to block this offensive content.

I have considered using only my regular website (Teaching ESL to Adults), over which I control of the content, and abandoning this blog. However, I have put a lot of effort into this blog and I am hoping that Google and Blogger will eventually reconsider their policy of not allowing certain types of blogs to be blocked.

In the meantime, please be careful of using the "Next blog" button and I apologize if you come upon offensive content. Blogger does not make it very easy to complain to them.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Using "A" or "An" for Acronyms and Abbreviations

Articles are very difficult for ESL and EFL speakers to master. There are only three: a, an, the. However, there are way too many exceptions.

Aside from the exceptions, one of the extra challenging areas is determining whether to use "a" or "an" when using acronyms or abbreviations. ESL students are taught to use "a" before a word (noun) that begins with a consonant and "an" before a word that begins with a vowel. But what do you do with something like "RFP" or "MA"? Both of these begin with a consonant, so it seems that an "a" should be used. However, when looking at acronyms or abbreviations, we don't look at the first letter, we "hear" the first letter, or we look at te first sound.

The first letter in "RFP" is an "R." When I say this letter, it sounds like "arr". The first sound is a vowel. The same applies for "MA." The sound is "emm." Another vowel beginning sound. So for both of these abbreviations, I would use "an."

For example:

She has an MA in English.

I need to complete an RFP before I can submit my application.