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English Conversation is a Game Called: What Do You Think They Said?
Anyone with teenagers has heard "bad hair day" and "therez nuthin t'eat" and wondered, I think he was speaking English, but I have no idea what he just said. English is not explicit or literal; it’s abstract and implied. Native speakers slur and mumble and struggle to understand each other. In conversation, native speakers take into account an array of signals in a fraction of a second – and then guess. Take a close look at the signals that make up messages. Good communicators are, in fact, good guessers. ESL students should know that speaking English is a guessing game. So have some fun with it.

When your son asks, Whadaya doin’ tonight?, he means he wants to borrow the car.

When a mechanic says, I hafta replace the head gasket, he means it’s going to be expensive.

When an actor on the silver screen says, Tell her the cool points are all out the window and she's got me all twisted up in the game, he means he loves her.

Students need to understand that nobody understands English perfectly.

Everybody guesses!


When native speakers don’t understand something, they just say, What? They are not ashamed.
Cool man with sunglasses standing
Man thinking with hand on chinWhen ESL students are unsure of what’s been said, they feel humiliated and blame their poor English.

The sooner they find out how English speaking works and that English is imprecise and everybody just guesses, the happier and more confident they are going to feel.

Man wearing dunce hat
Students are not stupid.
Man walking with brown briefcase
English is stupid!

Students are embarrassed when they try to speak English because of their accents and grammar. They are afraid of looking foolish. The truth is, accents and grammar play no part in successfully speaking English – so their worries are not real. With this tiny bit of insight,students are empowered and free to communicate in their new language.

Student Workbook Introduction

English looks like this:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet
And so are you.
English sounds like this:
roziz ar red
vilets ar bluw
shuger iz sweet
an so ar yuw


What to Do!

OK, so English is stupid. English speaking and English writing are not the same. What can you do? To speak English, students must do four things:

  1. Listen to hours and hours of English speaking: television, radio, movies & videos, real people talking.

  2. Learn the sounds and the rules of spoken English.

  3. Think about the differences. English reading and writing are not the same as talking.

Used by permission. ©Thompson Language Center

LRNGO users in over 190 countries

Stacked TOEFL boks
Most TOEFL Course Sites Would Fail the Test
Let us help YOU with your search for the right TOEFL tutoring site

(Frequent Warning Signs of Sites to Avoid)

By far the most widely spoken language in the world and a common avenue towards business and academic success, English has become the de facto lingua franca of the world’s economies, classrooms, and workplaces since its rise to international ubiquity in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Consequently, a panoply of numerous and varied English testing programs has sprouted across the world, teaching the language to as many different people and backgrounds as there are potential jobs and opportunities promised to English-speaking applicants. The majority of these programs attempts to prepare people for one of the most widely accepted and advocated of English certificate assessments: the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), which is administered by the internationally recognized testing company ETS (Educational Testing Service). ETS is also responsible for providing college graduates with the GRE, and high school students with AP exams.

While the TOEFL upholds universal standards of English proficiency and excellence, the multitudes of learning sites each proclaiming their ability to prepare any candidate for optimum performance at exam time are often less than optimal themselves. With confident proclamations like "Experience YOU can trust" and "Let us help you with your results, future, success", you would expect the many testing sites offering TOEFL tutoring to pass the standards of English set by the exam for which they’re helping people succeed. Unfortunately, this is too often not the case, as many examples of grammatical error and typos feature prominently in TOEFL tutoring sites across the internet spectrum.

Is this due to carelessness, or is it that some of these sites are run (and also taught) in non-native speaking countries by non-native speakers looking for a quick buck from people who want to improve their English who wouldn't know the difference? In other words, is poor grammar an indicator of the quality of service? You be the judge. With an aim to help spotlight these sites and raise awareness for English proficiency, below is a sample of some of the innumerable mistakes that are featured on TOEFL prep websites.

Grammatical problems:
"A lot of students prefer to take the help of private tutors in order to get better results." -www.hotcoursesabroad.com

Failure to adhere to rules of punctuation and structural sentence standards:
"You will learn strategies for every question type of every section to earn a top score, the TOEFL registration process and things to do on test day to ensure a smooth exam experience, everything." -www.notefull.com

"The best qualified instructors in the industry require teaching excellence." -www.sherwoodtest.com/experience_you_can_trust

Spelling errors and typos:
"Our course gives your FOUR timed and graded TOEFL practice tests so you know what to expect before you take the exam." -www.testden.com

"The TOEFL is for people who need to demonstrate their level of English proficiency which is required by many univerisities in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as government agencies, scholarship programs and licensing/certification agencies who use TOEFL scores to evaluate English proficiency." -americanexamservices.com (When the site you’re trying to learn English from in order to enter a university fails to spell "universities", you might want to consider other options.)

Fortunately, the TOEFL official website also provides its own prep courses and course content similar in intention to the SAT Bluebook and online practice materials published by the College Board for the autodidact. Unfortunately, however, the target audience for most of the aforementioned TOEFL sites are people in need of personal tutoring and close instruction. In these cases, tutoring sites that provide connections to individual tutors offer English-learners the chance to schedule one-on-one contact with a variety of different instructors either online or locally.

What we can learn from these explicit examples of human error is that tutoring sites can be prone to over-eager promises and technical fallacy. The likelihood of English-learners picking up on these slight mistakes is small, but it still doesn’t excuse test prep sites from elementary spelling and grammar errors. If anything, these small mistakes discredit the websites and institutions seeking to help students achieve English excellence, and should be highlighted as much as possible.

The TOEFL can be a daunting task for foreign students hoping to matriculate into their dream colleges. Remembering to keep an eye out for potential red flags in a company’s website can save you time and money better spent on more effective tools and services. As for the test prep websites making these easily fixable errors; try to take a simple spell check or editing overlook!

Calling out test prep sites and their neglect can help raise the standards of test prep offerings in general, and hopefully prevent future instances of careless English malpractice. This is particularly important because of the traffic demographic these sites accrue from students trying to learn the language. Constantly learning as they are reading, these students are most susceptible to the influences of incorrect English. Companies carelessly forgetting to adhere to the standards they purport to teach can propagate interferences to the process through which people complete their TOEFL certification. In other words, if your purpose is to teach adult students to be proficient in high level English, your website should practice what you preach.

Photo Credit: Alex Liivet, KniBaron
Both images were cropped and merged into a single image.

LRNGO users in over 190 countries

Man and Woman communicating with heads open
How to Learn English Speaking via LAMP Method
In order to master a complex matter like learning a new language, most people agree that an individual should immerse oneself in the language and culture, and practice the language daily. For this reason, it’s not surprising that learning platforms using methods that promote a social setting rather than an academic one are gaining in popularity. The Language Acquisition Made Practical (LAMP) method is one solution for immersion and practice in a social setting that has withstood the test of time, and this is one of the many reasons why some individuals advocate Tom and Betty Brewster’s thirty-nine-year-old method; it involves speaking repetition, a key component to immersion and practice. Below is a sample of how effective the LAMP method can be for English learners.

The four key steps of the LAMP method:

  1. Pick Phrases and Use Them Daily
  2. Learn the Phrases
  3. Practice the Phrases with Other People
  4. Assess and Choose New Phrases

Step One: Pick Phrases and Use Them Daily
It is recommended to pick phrases that would most likely appear in everyday conversation. For example:

  • Hello, how are you?
  • My name is (Courtney).
  • What is your name?
  • Hello, my name is (Courtney).
  • I am learning English.
  • It is nice to meet you.

In order to succeed in the first step, it is important to learn and use phrases and not just words. Remember, a complete phrase includes a subject and a verb. For example:

  • Word: Hello
  • Phrase: Hello, my name is (Courtney).

Also, keep the number of phrases used to a minimum of three to five. An overload of information defeats the purpose of learning. After you have decided on which phrases to use for the day, write them down on a piece of paper. Don’t forget to write the date! If you know a native English speaker, have them read the phrases aloud to get a better idea of how each word is pronounced. It’s essential to be able to make the basic sounds. The good news is there are only 39 total unique sounds that make up every word in the American English language. If you learn to make those sounds, people will understand what you are saying when you speak.

Next, translate each phrase in your native language to understand the meaning in English. It is recommended for beginners to write the translation next to the English phrase. As you become more confident in learning English, write your translations on the back of the paper. Write down any difficulties and development in English as a visual aid to track progress.

Step Two: Learn the Phrases
Listening is the gateway to effective communication and a beneficial way to see if the information presented has been comprehended. Practice and immersion are futile unless listening is a part of the equation. Say the phrases aloud to yourself to help get an idea of how each word is pronounced. Keep repeating the phrases by dividing the phrases into different subsections to enhance listening and learning. Shake things up by practicing with a friend; he or she may be able to help if you make a mistake with pronunciation. For example:

  • Divide long sentences into shorter phrases.
  • Say each shorter phrases several times.
  • Combine short phrases into complete sentences, and repeat several times.
  • Say all of the phrases without assistance from a person and or notes.

Step Three: Practice the Phrases with Other People
It is important to practice your daily phrases with as many people as possible for about two to four hours. Committing two to four hours a day will help reinforce your quest in becoming fluent in English. Try not to get discouraged if you happen to meet impolite people. They exist in every language, and for every impolite person, there are nine more friendly people who will be willing to help. Speaking with people you are not familiar with can be difficult; however, stepping out of your comfort zone will produce nothing but positive benefits for you. You never know, you may make a friend or two while learning at the same time.

Step Four: Assess and Choose New Phrases
After a long day of practicing, now it is time to reflect on your day. Think about your successes and difficulties. Write down the phrases that you mastered, and the phrases that you had trouble with throughout the day. Below are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • What did I learn?
  • Did I pronounce each word correctly?
  • What words did I struggle with today?

Use the phrases you had extreme difficulties with for the next day, and continue using them until you are comfortable with moving on. If you had no difficulties: congratulations! Take this time to select the phrases you will use tomorrow. Here are some suggestions:

  • Greetings
  • Dates and times
  • Hobbies
  • Holidays
  • Asking permission

Remember, practice makes perfect. In order to achieve success in using the LAMP method, you will have to use these four steps every day to reach your desired fluency. Becoming fluent in a language will not happen overnight, and mistakes are bound to happen. In fact, they should even be encouraged, because turning those mistakes into learning experiences will make fluency in English seem much closer and attainable. Use the golden rule of LAMP to help you in your journey of learning English: “Each day learn a little, and use it a lot.”

Photo Credit: IDaccion Illustrator
Removed upper right corner text

LRNGO users in over 190 countries

Girl holding I Like My Teacher Sign
Why Do We Need More English Teachers in the USA?
A need for English teachers in the United States? One would think there would be an abundance of English teachers in the U.S. since English is the official language. Nevertheless, there is strangely a need. One need that has statistics to back up the claim is for a specific kind of teacher: Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) or English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers. The demand is a response to the growing number of expats, immigrants and refugee children and adults that are entering the United States every year. The demand is so high, that there is a huge shortage of individuals that have the qualifications to become TESOL or ESL teachers.

Some certification programs overseas require applicants to only have an undergraduate degree in any field to be eligible; however, the requirements are much stricter for applicants in the United States. For instance, most certified teachers obtain an endorsement or add-on certification in TESOL or ESL, or acquire a Master’s degree for TESOL, ESL, or applied linguistics. The prospects for more individuals considering a career in teaching English as a second language seems to grow, but in my opinion, there is also a critical need for general English teachers in the United States.

Though there is not a formal study stating there is a need for general English teachers, a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy discovered 32 million adults in the United States can’t read. That is roughly 14% of the current population that are unable to read in their native language. The United States tied with twenty-four other countries for the 28th place in world literacy in 2003; however, the country placed dead last among those twenty-eight countries (meaning this technically makes the United States 51st on the list).

The statistics get much worse when we take into consideration that the current literacy rate has not changed in over ten years, and there is no current data available through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization website. Why isn’t the United States in the top three or better yet, number one in literacy? One could argue that there are many factors, but I believe the answer is the lack of focus on literacy.

Yes, every year on September 8th there is a day called International Literacy Day that puts a spotlight on the importance of literacy; however, it is only for one day. The emphasis, especially in academics, seems to be on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) or business-related programs, while basic English and the humanities are left by the wayside. Don’t agree? The images below could be used as proof that campaign strategies are needed for more English teachers in the United States.

Please Slow Drively Bad Spelling

Bad Spelling School Sign

Bad Spelling Independence Road Sign

Bad Spelling Public School


Photo Credit (Top Photo): GCB Grey

LRNGO users in over 190 countries

Letters of the alphabet dancing
English Sounds vs. Letters
I often think the letters of the English language can be more confusing to those learning the language than they are helpful when it comes to the sounds. For instance, let's look at all the different ways you can spell just one sound alone, the short u or Schwa vowel: above, ugly, the, what, love. Not convinced? Ok, how about the short e sound: bed, said, friend, head, led, lead (the element). Even more confusing, right? Oh, and let’s not forget the potential confusion spawned by homophones: words that are pronounced the same, but differ in meaning and spelling:

ad (advertisement) and add (put together)
fair (appearance), fair (place that has entertainment and activities), and fair (reasonable)
hear (to perceive by the ear) and here (in or to the place)
peace (period of no conflict) and piece (a portion)
see (sight) and sea (large body of water)
The fact is, in many cases there are so many different ways to spell the same sound of the English language, it's no wonder that people learning to read and speak the language often suffer from brain strain. They may feel like there are more exceptions than rules, and end up concentrating more on rote memorization of letter combinations than actually acquiring the sounds and associated meaning that make up the language. So how did it get so complex? Let’s take a look back.

If we look at the history of language, it began as the need to communicate through sounds. Then pictures, and later letters, were used to keep a record of those communications. A book entitled, “The Story of English,” gives an entertaining overview specifically of the development of the English language, which might help you understand why certain letters and sounds are used for certain words (p.47).

According to “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, three Germanic tribes, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, invaded the British Isles in 449 AD and are responsible for introducing the English language into Britain (p. 55). What is fascinating is the extent to which English itself is a hybrid of many different languages; mainly, Latin, French, Old and Middle English, Dutch, and Greek. In fact, over half of all English words have Greek and Latin roots. For example, let's look at the word mother in the following languages:

English: Mother (muh-ther)
Latin: Mater (ma-ter)
Greek: Mitera (me-te-ra)
French: Mere (mer)
Old English: Modor (muh-dor)
Middle English: moder (muh-der), mother (muh-ther)
Dutch: Moeder (muh-der)

As you can see, the word mother varies in spelling; however, they all have similar characteristics. All of the variants of the word mother begin with an M and each one has short vowels: mother, mater, mitera, mere, modor, moder, moeder. Of course, this is may be no consolation to those coming to English from an Asian language, but for a European native speaker, you can see why the fact that English is a “hybrid” language (complexities and all) might be helpful.

Another reason behind the pronunciation of words is social classes. The Story of English gives an example of how upper- and upper-middle-classes changed the pronunciation of certain words to differentiate themselves. Words like boiled, coiled, and soiled were once pronounced biled, kiled, siled. This can be very confusing since biled and kiled looks similar to the past participles we consider today as billed and killed.

Geographically based accents and dialects are also strong influencers behind the different pronunciation of words. Did you know there are eight different dialects in North America alone? You may have heard of some of them, for instance: Canadian English, the Southern accent of the South, and the Boston accent.

Ever feel like you need an interpreter when you travel to another region of the U.S. even though the language is still English? I have heard with my own ears the impasse in understanding between a native of Louisiana and an English speaker from Pennsylvania. American English really can sound like many different languages!

Etymology is not only a compelling field of study, but it might also be a source for helping you understand why words are not always pronounced the way they look. Of course, a good resource for discovering the origin and etymology of English words is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). As previously mentioned, The Story of English by Robert McCrum, Robert MacNeil and William Cran is also a useful resource and an entertaining and fact-filled book that gives a complete examination of the history of the English language.

As far as assuaging the feelings of new English learners about the complexities of the language, however, it may at least be helpful to realize that for all the many spellings you will need to memorize, there are a limited number of corresponding sounds you will need to master.

How’s that for the proverbial glass being “half full”?

Source: McCrum, Robert, Robert MacNeil, and William Cran. The Story of English. Third ed. New York, NY:
Penguin, 2002. Print.
Photo Credit: Lance Shields (aka Juria Yoshikawa in SL)

LRNGO users in over 190 countries