Thursday, May 31, 2007

Examples of Past Perfect Tense

I’d like to provide some examples of Past Tense verb usages.

Most of my advanced ESL students avoid using the Past Perfect, although they have studied it and could use it if pressed to do so. ESL and EFL learners don’t have the opportunity to practice the tense and since they don’t have to use it, they will often avoid it. They will often use the Simple Past instead.

Here are some examples of the Past Perfect tense:

He had been at the party for an hour before I got there.

She had enjoyed the movie before some noisy people sat down.

They had studied the Past Perfect tenses before moving onto the Past Perfect Progressive.

We had already eaten by the time she arrived.

You'll notice that all of these sentences could be rewritten using only the Simple Past. This is what my ESL students tend to do, so I try to reinforce the usage of the Past Perfect whenever possible.

More info on Past Perfect lesson plans.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Teaching the Future Continuous

Teaching the Future Continuous can be a little tricky because there are two ways to form this verb tense. The first way is like this: subject + will be + -ing. The second way is like this: be going to + be + -ing.

The ESL Future Continuous (or Future Progressive) is used to talk about an activity that will be in progress at a certain point in the future. For example, “I will be eating dinner when you get home,” or “She will be teaching an ESL class at 6:30 p.m.,” or “I’m going to bed at 11:30, so I’m going to be sleeping at midnight,” or “They’re going to be playing tennis in the afternoon.”

Sometimes, the Simple Future can be used instead of the Future Continuous with little or no difference in meaning.

See ESL Future Continuous for a thorough discussion of the ESL Future Continuous and ideas for teaching adult ESL students this advanced verb tense.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Teaching Future Simple Tenses

The Simple Future or the Future Simple using “will” is a fairly simple verb tense to teach ESL students. It’s formed by adding “will” in front of the base form of the verb. The formula is subject + will + base verb. For example, "I will write about the Simple Future tense."

The other way to form the Simple Future is using “be going to.” For example, "I’m going to read about verb tenses tonight," or "She's going to study English as a Second Language."

Teaching ESL students verb conjugation is only part of the lesson. You also have to teach verb form (affirmative, negative, yes/no questions, short answers, wh- questions) and verb function. The other thing you need to teach is when to use “will” and when to use “be going to.” This is a little more challenging for ESL students.

Here’ more information about Future Simple Tenses.


Monday, May 28, 2007

“Going to” and the Future Tense

The Simple Future tense is formed by adding “will” before the base of the verb. For example, “I will study the Simple Future next week,” or “She will help me learn the Simple Future.” It doesn’t matter what the subject is; just put “will” after the subject and before the base form of the verb.

However, there is another way to talk about the future. I can use the Present Progressive form “to be going to” to talk about the future. I can say, “I’m going to study the Simple Future tense next week,” or “She’s going to help me study the Simple Future tense.”

What’s the difference? Sometimes the difference is so slight that either way can be used to express the future. Generally, however, “will” is used for future predictions. “Going to” is used when there is a definite plan. For example, “I’ll get home at 8 p.m. tonight.” This is my prediction. Traffic may delay me. “I’m going to meet friends after work.” This is a plan. Things may change, but it is still a plan that I’ve made.

These two uses are often confusing for ESL learners, especially since sometimes either one is correct. The most firm rule is that English speakers use “going to” to talk about plans they have already made. Most other expressions of the future can use “will.”

See Will and Be Going To for more info.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Editing Work for ESL Tutors

In addition to teaching adult ESL students one-on-one, another way that I make use of my training and supplement my income is by editing students’ papers. These students normally aren’t my tutoring students, although I do occasionally edit some papers written by my students for their college courses. I don’t advertise as an editor (I only advertise on offering tutoring services), however, I have frequently received responses to my ads asking if I would be willing to edit someone’s paper. It could be a 2-page essay or a much longer term paper.

Before agreeing to edit a paper, I always ask for two things. I ask that the student send me the draft as soon as possible and I ask what the turnaround time is. Before I make a commitment to edit the paper, I want to see how much work will be involved and I want to know how much time I would have. On more than one occasion, I’ve had people send me very lengthy papers that need to be done overnight. I almost always say no to these offers. I refuse to take on someone else’s headache and make it my own. Also, I always agree to a price beforehand. I don’t give an hourly rate. Students always think that editing will take less than it actually does, so I want to avoid any disagreements.

I try to provide exceptional work. I make corrections, offer suggestions, and point out things that need clarification or that I totally cannot understand. No matter how long it takes, no matter how many times the student and I have to send the document back and forth, I always make sure that they are satisfied with the outcome.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Prepositions and Dictionaries

“I’m on it.” “Get on with it.” “I can’t talk now, 'Ugly Betty' is on.” “I don’t know if I can carry on.”

Ugh! Prepositions have so many uses. They are in idioms and phrasal verbs, and even when used as a simple preposition, they can have so many different meanings. ESL cloze exercises can be used to help students reinforce some uses of prepositions, but for some uses, they will simply have to be memorized.

A useful tool I just (re)discovered for teaching ESL students about the various uses of prepositions is Longman Advanced American Dictionary. To pass the time the other day while I was waiting for a student, I started “looking up” (a phrasal verb) some prepositions. There was a ton of stuff. I focused on the preposition “on.” There was really a lot of useful information. I am continually pleased with how much information Longman provides. I highly recommended this dictionary to all my students, and I think it’s also very useful for ESL teachers and tutors preparing lesson plans.


Friday, May 25, 2007

ESL and Life Skills

As a private ESL teacher, a significant part of my job is teaching students certain life skills. In addition to cultural norms students have to learn, students living or staying in the U.S. for a any length of time also have to learn basic life skills (the American way), like writing checks. That’s what I helped a student with today. Writing a check with a “carbon” copy.

Writing a check seems so basic to most Americans, even though we probably use debit cards more often now. But if you look at some checks, it’s not entirely clear what goes where.

Any time an ESL lesson plan can incorporate useful spoken or written language (like “pay to the order of”), students will benefits even more. An ESL tutor who is able to teach life skills will be more helpful overall. Of course, you need to look at the student’s needs and decide if it’s appropriate or not to incorporate life skills.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why are Idioms Important?

Many of my advanced ESL students specifically want to improve their speaking skills. Some of them say that although they have been living in the U.S. for several years, they are still unable to understand what people are saying. For example, in a circle of colleagues, they notice that when native English speakers speak directly to them, they speak differently than when they speak to other native English speakers in the same circle. And the student is unable to follow what they are saying to each other.

I’ve observed that one of the reasons ESL learners have trouble in group conversations is that the native English speakers frequently use idioms, aphorisms, phrasal verbs, and colloquialisms. When native English speakers use these, the second language learner is at a loss. English has so many rules that students have learned (and tons more exceptions), but then these rules go out the window when native speakers are talking to one another.

I often encourage (and teach) my students to learn idioms and as many phrasal verbs as they can. This is also my suggestion when students say that they want to increase their vocabulary.

Why are idioms important? Idioms are important for ESL learners so that they can understand what everyone is saying!


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Writing Lesson Plans

I recently finished an article for my new website on how to write the best ESL lesson plans. I went into some detail.

As I was preparing lesson plans for my three private ESL lessons today, I noticed that while I generally followed the guidelines I laid out on my site, as a private tutor, I was able to take certain liberties in my lesson plan preparation. I don’t have to be quite as structured.

Although, with private ESL lessons, more flexibility is essential for more effective lessons. When you’re in a classroom full of students, it’s really essential to prepare as much as you can before the lesson.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Teaching Prepositions to ESL Students

No matter how advanced my ESL students are, prepositions are the final frontier. Why is it that learners of English as a Second Language have so much trouble with prepositions?

If you think about it, prepositions probably have more exceptions than any other grammar points. Another problem is that many prepositions are parts of phrasal verbs, so they don’t follow any rules. You just have to memorize them.

Take the preposition “in” for example. “In” can be logical a lot of the time, but wouldn’t it be logical to be “in” an airplane, rather than “on” an airplane? And yet, we say “on the plan.”

When teaching ESL students prepositions, you can teach students the general rules, but you also have to ask them to memorize certain expressions, like “on the bus.” And you have to ask them to memorize phrasal verbs, as well. For example, “pick up” and “pick out,” and just a few hundred others.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Present Perfect or Simple Past?

ESL students feel more comfortable using the Simple Past. The Present Perfect is a bit more confusing, and with good reason. One of the three functions of the Present Perfect is very similar, and often interchangeable, with the function of the Simple Past.

The Simple Past is used to express something that started and ended at some time in the past. For example, “I ate breakfast.” One of the functions of the Present Perfect is to discuss something that has happened in the past with an unspecified time. For example, “I have eaten breakfast.” I can use both of these sentences to express what I did this morning.

The assumption with “I ate breakfast” is that the morning is over. I could say, “I ate breakfast this morning.” It’s now afternoon. If I say, “I’ve eaten breakfast,” it means that it’s still morning, or that breakfast is still being served.

One of the problems for ESL learners is that native English-speakers often use the Present Perfect and the Simple Past incorrectly.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Introductions and Goodbyes

When I teach beginning ESL students, one of the first lessons I do is on introductions and goodbyes. I usually do this by providing a script to the student. I read the sentences and ask the student to repeat after me. Here's a short sample of an Introduction script for English as a Second Language learners:

A. Hello, Jenny. How are you?
B. Fine, thanks. How are you?
A. I'm fine, thank you.

And a short Goodbye script for ESL learners:

A. Goodbye, Maria. See you tomorrow!
B. Bye bye, James. Have a nice evening.
A. Thanks, you too!
B. Thanks.

It looks pretty basic, but these types of survival scripts can help ESL learners to feel a bit more comfortable in their everyday lives.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Teaching “How are you?” to ESL Students

Teaching common greetings to ESL student is one of the tasks of an ESL teacher. However, teaching cultural differences is also part of the job description.

Let’s look at the greeting, “How are you?” I’ve found that some of my private ESL students will respond to this question in great detail about how they are currently feeling. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are beginners, intermediate or advanced ESL speakers. Many students don’t know that the socially correct response to this question is, “Fine, thank you. And you?” or some other short variation.

As an ESL tutor, it’s part of my responsibility to make students aware of the culturally appropriate response. However, it should also be done with sensitivity. After all, as ESL teachers we are always encouraging our students to speak and practice their English. In this case, we are telling them to not speak so much. We have to find a balance all around.


Friday, May 18, 2007

What’s the Difference Between ESL and EFL?

ESL stands for English as a Second Language. EFL stands for English as a Foreign Language. Both are about teaching English to speakers of other Languages, which is why the more recent TESOL acronym is used to encompass both ESL and EFL (or TESL and TEFL—the "T" stands for "teaching").

The abbreviation "ESL" is used when the student learning English is in a primarily English-speaking country such as the U.S., the U.K. or Australia. "EFL" is used when the person learning English is in a primarily non-English-speaking county.

In addition to being more inclusive, "TESOL" is often thought to be more correct than ESL or TESL because the student learning English is often not learning English as a second language, but it may be his or her third, fourth or fifth, etc., language.

For more info, see my website article about the Differences between EFL and ESL.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

ESL Realia

Before taking my TESOL certification course, I’d never heard the term “realia.” In fact, Microsoft Word doesn’t even recognize the word.

So what is realia? And how do you use it to teach ESL.

“Realia” simply means authentic materials. For example, for a lesson teaching ESL learners how to read classified ads to find an apartment, an actual newspaper classified section would be realia. In a lesson teaching students to read maps, an actual map would be realia.

Using realia is a very effective way to teach students English as a Second language or English as a Foreign Language, and many other subjects as well. Many learners are kinesthetic, or “hands on” learners, so using a piece of realia to teach the student by doing the task will be more effective. For example, a lesson teaching students to use a phonebook to look up shoe stores will be a lot more effective by using actual phonebooks, rather than just photocopies of the pages in a phonebook.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Correcting ESL Beginners’ Pronunciation

As a private ESL tutor, I have the opportunity to give a lot of feedback to my ESL students. Feedback is one of the things students appreciate about private tutoring.

Many of my advanced students have some serious pronunciation problems, although their grammar and other English skills are very good. Many advanced students also specifically want to work on their pronunciation and accent reduction. Teachers in the past haven’t spent much time correcting these problems and my advanced students are now dealing with this issue.

As an ESL teacher, I’m sometimes in a difficult situation with beginning ESL students. It’s often very challenging for students to have the self-confidence to speak when they are just starting to learn English. Constant correction tends to paralyze students. They tend to be afraid to speak because they are afraid of the errors they will make in grammar and pronunciation.

I find that I have to reach a balance of which corrections to make and what feedback to give to my students. I tend to not make too many pronunciation corrections unless I absolutely cannot understand the word. With some issues, such as pronunciation of the past tense, I will spend specific time working on correct (or better) pronunciation.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Asian Americans Teaching ESL Abroad

I’ve got another Best Answer over on Yahoo! Answers. The question was:

Is there a chance for a Filipino to teach ESL in Korea and Japan?

My answer was:

My guess is that it's a slim chance, unfortunately. This isn't from personal experience, but from stories I've heard of other Asian-Americans getting jobs in Asian countries. When they have shown up for the job, the schools refused to hire them.

This is only the experience of a couple of people I've known, so it certainly doesn't mean it would happen to you. Maybe things have changed.

If you are looking at EFL teaching positions in Korea or Japan, I would send a photo of yourself or specifically ask them if there are any issues with you being Filipino before you make all your plans to go there.

It's an unfortunate reality, but maybe things are changing. Good luck.


Monday, May 14, 2007

International Phonetic Alphabet

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabet used by people all over the world. Each of the symbols in the IPA has one pronunciation (so unlike the English alphabet!). Because each of the symbols has one sound, people from all over the world can use this phonetic alphabet.

Before I started teaching ESL to adults, I’d never even heard of the IPA! Over the years, probably half of my students have known the IPA. While I haven’t yet memorized the entire alphabet, I have found it very helpful in teaching ESL pronunciation to know a few of the symbols.

However, if you don’t know the IPA and your students don’t know it, I really don’t think it’s necessary or the best use of time to teach it to your students.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

“His,” “Hers” or “Theirs”

Many of my ESL students have studied a great deal of grammar in their home countries. Their knowledge of English grammar is probably better than mine! However, when it comes to “sounding like a native,” I usually win! Not only do I have a really good American accent (which is good, since I’m a native-born American!), but I know what liberties I can take with the language.

All kidding aside, one of the things it would be helpful for ESL teachers to teach ESL students is how the English language is constantly changing (evolving?). Grammar rules that seemed to be written in stone with harsh penalties for violation are no longer absolutes. New words are added to English dictionaries every year. Grammar, vocabulary and meanings all change over time depending on how we use the language on a day-to-day basis.

The pronouns “he” and “she” are being replaced with “they.” “His” and “her” are being replaced with “their.” “Him” and “her” are being replaced with “them.” Twenty years ago, the following sentence would have been grammatically unacceptable, “Someone left their ESL grammar book on the table.” However, because of cultural and social changes, and the way we actually speak, this sentence is now perfectly normal in spoken English and in informal written English.

However, we are still at the point in the history of the English language that formal or academic writings should still follow the old rules of grammar. So the most grammatically and socially correct way to write this sentence would be, “Someone left his or her ESL grammar book on the table.”

These types of “usage notes” or comments about how to use the English language are all included in the Longman Advanced American Dictionary. I find this very useful when I have to prove to a student that I really know what I’m talking about!


Saturday, May 12, 2007

“To Cheat” or “To Cheat On”

If you’re a native-English speaker, you know the big difference between these two verbs (actually, one is more of a phrasal verb). That darn preposition“on” makes a big difference here!

He cheated on his wife.=He had sex (or went out) with another person.

He cheated on the test. Sort of = He looked at someone else's paper for the answers.

He cheated his wife and did not give her all her money. Sort of = He stole money from his wife.

So if I say "cheat on someone," it means to have sex (or go out) with another person. If I say "cheat someone," it means, essentially, to "steal" something from them. If I say "cheat on something," it means, essentially, "to do something wrong."

Teaching phrasal verbs to ESL students is essential. But there are so many! Some of the more simple, everyday phrasal verbs are things like “pick up,” “take off,” “look after,” etc. If ESL speakers make mistakes with these verbs, it may not be as serious as making a mistake with “cheat on!”


Friday, May 11, 2007

Homework for Adult ESL Students

As part of the Needs Assessment I do when I first meet a potential new student, I always ask if the student has time for, or wants, homework between our lessons. The adult students I work with often have full time jobs and families, and little time for homework.

However, since I only meet my students one or two times a week, I often encourage students to do some homework during the week. If a student really does not think that he or she has any time at all, I ask them to at least try to be conscious during the week of the grammar point, pronunciation, or whatever we are working on that week. I think it’s really difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to become proficient in a new language if they are only concentrating on it for a couple of hours a week.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Adult ESL and Games

Are games effective for teaching ESL to adults? There are thousands of websites with ESL games for adults, so there must be a demand. During my TESOL certification class, I was taught a few games to use for teaching adults English as a Second Language. And when we asked our instructor about using games to teach ESL to adults, the instructors were adamant about the use of games. But how do adult learners feel about using games to learn ESL?

Every ESL student that I’ve spoken to about using games for ESL learning have told me that they do not appreciate games in the classroom. They are almost adamant about games being a waste of time. Yet, ESL teachers insist on using them. Perhaps there is a balance or a limit to how many games (or what type should be used in the classroom).

As a private one-on-one tutor, I don’t use games to teach my students. I probably would occasionally use some games if I taught more than one student at time. Depending on the personality of the students, I may use games employing competition or games using cooperation. In either case, I would use them very sparingly.


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Teaching Vocabulary to ESL Learners

In my first meeting with potential new students, I do a Needs Assessment. This involves me asking a lot of questions and listening closely not only to the answers, but the accent, pronunciation, grammar, word choice, etc. I also ask the potential new ESL student to tell me what they feel their challenges are and what they want to learn. One of the toughest things I hear from new students is that they want to nearly new vocabulary.

“Vocabulary” is such a wide category of things to learn! Where do we start? When teaching vocabulary in an ESL classroom, the teacher often has a pre-set list of vocabulary words that the students must learn. Usually, at least some, if not all of the chosen vocabulary words will be new to at least some of the students.

For private, one-on-one tutors, choosing vocabulary to teach is more difficult. If you were to bring in a list of vocabulary words, it’s possible that the student may already know all the words. Then what do you do? Another challenge is finding vocabulary words that are relevant and useful to the ESL student.

My approach to teaching new vocabulary (usually) is to send the student an article (usually from Yahoo! News) that is interesting or relevant to the student’s life. It’s then the responsibility of the student to highlight (and preferably look up) any words or expressions or usages they do not know or are unsure of.

I also read the article beforehand and highlight the words or phrases that I think will be new to the student, or that I want to make sure they understand. Often, the student will miss some things, especially phrasal verbs, so I want to be prepared to ask the student about these. During class, we then discuss the vocabulary the student and I have highlighted. I check to see that the ESL student understands the definition and how to use the word or expression in a sentence and in context.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Speaking Slowly to ESL Students

Should ESL teachers speak more slowly to ESL students than they do to native-English speakers? This is a question that often comes up for ESL teachers and ESL tutors. All the teachers I’ve spoken to about this issue have different thoughts.

Some ESL teachers believe it is important to slow down when speaking to ESL students. Some teachers feel it does a disservice to the learner of English as a second language if the teacher speaks slower than usual. In the “real world,” people don’t always slow down for non-native-English speakers. If they do anything different, they usually speak louder, as if that helps.

I lean more towards the thought that speaking slowly to ESL learners doesn’t help them to make progress and participate fully in English-speaking culture. I find that I change the speed of my speech depending on what I’m teaching my students, and the level of my students. I do believe that it’s necessary and helpful for my ESL students if I speak at my normal speed at least some of the time. Allowing learners to hear a native-English speaker speak at a “normal” rate of speed sharpens their listening skills and helps them to be better prepared for communication outside of class.


Monday, May 7, 2007

Sounding Like a Native

Many of my advanced ESL students tell me that they would like to work on sounding more natural and would like to speak like a native-English speaker. If necessary, we work on pronunciation, intonation, and accent reduction (accent imitation?).

ESL speakers can move towards "sounding like a native" by working on the above three areas. Another way to help improve your students' speaking skills is through the use of idioms.

I think that one of the easiest ways for speakers of English as a second language to speak more like native-English speakers is to use contractions. "I've," "I'd," "you'd," "you're," "they're," "there's," "she's," etc. This just takes practice on the part of the student and reinforcement on the part of the tutor.

I've noticed that many ESL speakers will take apart contractions when reading aloud. For example, "There's a man on the corner" will be read as "There is a man on the corner." If this happens in class, the tutor can just point it out to the student. Usually, the student isn't even aware that he or she has taken the contraction apart.


Sunday, May 6, 2007

Accent Reduction for ESL Speakers

Who doesn’t have an accent? Do Americans have accents? What is an American accent? Who has an American accent? People from Minnesota? New York? Georgia? California? The San Fernando Valley?

Natives from each of these places have accents. Most Americans can generally discern where a speaker with one of these accents if from. We even make fun of some American accents. Being a California native, of course I think Californians don’t have accents at all!

Many ESL speakers try to reduce the accents they have from their first languages. In the field of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) we use the term “accent reduction” frequently. Many of the students I’ve had have come to me to work on their accents.

What if ESL teachers were to take the approach of “accent imitation” rather than “accent reduction?” What if the focus was on teaching students how to imitate American accents, rather than trying to get rid of the ESL speaker’s accent? I wonder what the effects, if any, would be on the psyche of ESL learners. Would it help them to learn faster? I don’t know. Just wondering.


Saturday, May 5, 2007

Business Emails for ESL Students

Many of my ESL students live and work in the U.S. Their English skills are proficient, however, they want to specifically improve their business English skills. Among these skills is writing effective business emails. While their grammar and vocabulary may be alright, it’s the tone of the emails that most ESL speakers need to improve.

Finding the right tone is difficult even for native-English speakers. Most of us have learned that playful sarcasm does not come across well in a two-dimensional email. We’ve had to learn to deal with this form of communication to effectively communicate our ideas or to get what we want. For an ESL speaker, finding the right tone is even more difficult. The nuances of the language are difficult to discern.

The way that I help ESL speakers to write more effective emails is to review their emails in class with them. I explain the feeling that their emails convey and confirm whether this is what they intended. I also ask them what the relationship is with the person they are emailing. Sometimes, if their English is not very advanced, I may have to ask what the main point is that they are trying to communicate.

After discussing the meaning, feeling, relationship, etc., of the email, I then show alternative ways to write the email. We usually review a week’s worth of emails (usually about two pages) in one session. I recommend that the ESL student then make notes of phrases or expressions that we’ve used on their own, so that they may use them in future emails. In future classes, we again review the previous week’s emails to look for uses of what we’ve already studied and also to look for new challenges.

BTW Happy Cinco de Mayo!


Friday, May 4, 2007

Teaching Adults ESL

One of the difficult things I find as an ESL tutor for adults is the limited amount of time that some adults have to devote to learning ESL. Some of my students are visiting the U.S. for the purpose of improving their English for their careers at home. These students are usually able to meet me two or three times per week. Many of my students live and work in the U.S. They have full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities. For these latter ESL learners, meeting more than once a week is difficult.

In my advertisements for new ESL students, I usually write, “I strongly recommend that you commit to at least two lessons per week. I believe this is the minimum required for you to make notable progress in English.” If potential students cannot commit to at least two lessons per week, I stress at our first meeting together that their progress is highly dependant upon them working outside of our class to improve their English skills.

Some ESL learners still choose to meet with me only once a week. After working with some of these students for a couple of months, I often start to feel a bit unsatisfied (I don’t know it that’s the best adjective, it’s some uncomfortable feeling). I don’t see the student making enough progress. Sometimes I feel that I am taking their money without being able to deliver. Oh well. I deliver the lessons and it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to learn the language, if that is their desire.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

ESL Survival Expressions

A few days ago, I wrote some survival questions for beginning ESL students. I’ve also found that due to cultural differences, it’s a good idea to teach ESL speakers a few expressions. Here are a few things I think speakers of other languages should learn right away when they start studying English in the U.S.

1. “Bless You”

This should be said whenever someone sneezes. It doesn’t matter if you know the person sneezing or not. For example, you are sitting on the bus and a stranger next to you sneezes, you should say, “bless you.” Incidentally, this courtesy (and cultural norm) doesn’t just apply to ESL speakers. Everyone should say this when another person nearby sneezes. Of course, there is that awkward situation that we all have when someone sneezes three, four, five, etc. times. That's something even native-English speakers have trouble with. When someone says “bless you,” the appropriate response is “thank you.”

2. “Thank you”

Culturally, American native-English speakers probably say “thank you” more than any other people on the planet. I’ve been told by some ESL students that we seem disingenuous with all the “thank yous” we say. We can’t help it! For the vast majority of us, we really do mean it! We’ve been brought up to say thank you for everything. And if we don’t say thank you, we seem rude. If another person doesn’t say “thank you” to us, then we tend to feel the other person is rude. “Thank you” can probably never be said too much by ESL speakers if they want to fit in culturally.

3. “Excuse me”

This is an expression that Americans use for all sorts of things. For example, we can say “excuse me” when we accidentally bump into someone on the bus or if we want to get someone’s attention. We can also say “sorry” when we bump into someone.

4. “Sorry” or “I’m sorry”

Not only is “I’m sorry” a very useful expression for ESL speakers to learn, it would also be more helpful if more Americans used this more often.

Please write to me if you think there are other essential survival expressions for beginning ESL students to know.


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Some Phrasal Verbs on Yahoo! Answers

I'm often searching Yahoo! Answers for questions people ask about learning ESL or other English grammar questions. One of my answers was recently chosen as Best Answer by the asker of the following question about phrasal verbs:

"Which is correct English and why? : Turn up the volume or Turn the volume up? Turn off the water or turn the water off. Turn up the volume or Turn the volume up. Turn off the water faucet or Turn the water faucet off. Which of these is correct and why?"

Here was my answer to this English question:

"They are all correct. You are using what are called "phrasal verbs." A phrasal verb is when you have a regular verb (like "turn") and combine it with a preposition (like, "off"). The phrasal verbs you have used are called "separable." That means you can separate the main verb from the preposition. So you can put the subject (like, "the water faucet") in between the two words making up the phrasal verb.

Some phrasal verbs are "inseparable." For example, "to count on someone" means to "to rely on someone." You cannot separate "count" and "on" in this case."

Phrasal verbs are particularly difficult for people learning English as a Second Language, and for native English speakers, as well. I'll write more about phrasal verbs in the future.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sample Job Interview Questions

Many of my ESL students live and work in the U.S. (as opposed to those who are here in the U.S. specifically to study English). I give a lot of instruction on writing resumes, cover letters and preparing for job interviews. Below is a common list of job interview questions that we practice during our ESL tutoring lessons.

For more information, see Job Interview Skills for ESL Speakers.

Sample Job Interview Questions

1. Tell me about yourself?

2. What accomplishment are you particularly proud of?

3. Why did you leave your last position? Why do you want to leave your current position?

4. What did you enjoy most about your last/current job?

5. What was/is the most difficult part of your last/current job?

6. Where do you see yourself in five years?

7. Do you plan to pursue a graduate education?

8. Tell me about a time when you had to make a critical decision in your supervisor's absence. How did you handle it?

9. What are your strongest skills?

10. What are your weakest skills?

11. Tell me about the last time you had a short deadline and how you handled it.
12. When did you handle conflict with your boss, colleagues, or subordinates? Tell me about it.

13. What strengths do you bring to this job that other candidates might not?

14. What are your long- and short-term career goals?

15. Do you have any questions?