Our Blog

6 writing tips from Mark Twain

cropped-avatarMark Twain* is widely regarded as the greatest American writer of his time. He was often asked for advice on the art and craft of writing. Sometimes the famous humorist would respond seriously, and sometimes not. Here, in remarks drawn from his letters, essays, novels, and speeches are 6 of Twain’s most memorable observations on the writer’s craft.

Mark my words

3 learning styles – which one are you?

cropped-avatarOne of the most common and widely-used categorizations of the various types of learning styles is Neil Fleming’s VAK (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) model.

Generally, students tend to favor one learning style more than another, but most people are a mix of two or maybe even three different styles. If you understand how you learn best, you can use specific learning methods to retain what you learn in class. Different learning styles require varied methods to keep you motivated and successful in the classroom.  Let’s expand on these three learning styles.

See, hear, touch more

10 tips on how to think in English

cropped-avatar“Think in English!” Most English learners have heard this suggestion and it often causes great anxiety. How can I possibly think in a language I am new to? When I don’t really understand all the grammar? When I don’t know many words?

Training yourself to think in the language you are learning – in our case, English –  is one of the best ways to come to grips with learning a new language and being comfortable in actually using it, that is, speaking it.

Most beginning English learners translate from their own native language into English in their heads. This can cause problems when conversing because, as you’ve probably seen for yourself, not all words or phrases translate exactly from one language to another. But, if you can train your brain to start thinking in English, you just might find that conversations become a little bit easier. Here are some tips that might help:

1. Start small 

This is as simple as using the words that you already know. And it’s as easy as thinking “I want a banana for breakfast” or “Should I do my laundry today?” or “Please can I have a puppy for Christmas…”

More thoughts in English


cropped-avatarIt was my mum who passed on her love of English to me.
Born in Germany, she trained as a teacher during the war and completed her full Cambridge exams. This facilitated a job as an interpreter with the British Expeditionary Forces at war’s end. It was here that she met my dad, a captain in the British army during the war and whose job it now was to help Germany re-establish cultural and artistic ties with the U.K. and other European nations.

Mum was very meticulous and always totally dedicated to expanding her knowledge of the English language. For instance, she would keep a tiny dictionary squirrelled away in her undergarments and if a particular word she hadn’t before encountered needed to be translated, she would excuse herself, visit the loo and flip through the dictionary till she found the answer.

Occasionally, she would pick the wrong meaning. Once, she translated “a mature gentleman” as “a ripe gentlemen,” but generally these mistakes only served to whet her appetite for learning new English words and expressions even further.

The family emigrated to Australia in the 1950s and mum got a job with the Education Department. As a secondary school teacher of English at a country Victorian school in Australia, the school kids always had a lot of fun with mum. Who knew (if one weren’t a native speaker, well-versed in American cowboy movies) that it was pronounced “possy” and not “poss” – as in, “the sheriff and his posse…?” (There was also much furtive snickering when mum referred to a rooster as a cock, completely ignorant of the ribald meaning of the word.) The kids all enjoyed the game of “spot the spelling mistake,” winning 20 cents whenever any one of them could point out something mum had mistakenly written on the blackboard. Nobody became rich this way! As a child, I have fond memories of sitting at mum’s feet, being quizzed on the latest Education Department spelling list. It has stood me in good stead ever since.

A pet peeve was the mispronunciation of “longevity” – one of the commonest mistakes in existence! One would think it might be perfectly forgivable to pronounce a word having the meaning of “LONG life” as LONG-jevity, but no, rest assured, it is, indeed, LON-jevity. What she would have made of a particular football commentator who came out with “long-term jevity” when referring to a player’s career, is anyone’s guess!!!

In her later years in a nursing home, I could always rely on several phone calls a day querying the meaning of words or phrases she’d heard on the radio or TV, only for her to hang up the moment the meaning was explained to her. And call again the next day with the same question…

My mum passed on to her daughter her love of all things to do with the English language – from grammar to word derivations to the fascinating history of the language.

She passed away a month ago, several weeks short of her 92nd birthday. Now THAT was a long-bleedin’-jevitous innings! Rest in peace, Mutti.

Karaoke, anyone?

cropped-avatarWe all know at least one Japanese word – karaoke! For those of you who have never suffered the ignominy of standing in front of an inebriated pub audience as one valiantly struggles through a song which is far to high in pitch, let me say that karaoke can often be a very traumatic event!

Karaoke is a mix of two words — kara (“empty”) + oke (short for “orchestra”). The first karaoke machine was created in the 1970s and soon found its way into pubs, bars and clubs. Originally, karaoke was not much more than a gimmick in the background, designed to attract drinkers into the hotel bar and keep them mildly amused while queueing up for refills.

In the 1980s, the “karaoke jukebox” business started and partygoers could hire these machines for their own private functions and get-togethers. In hotel bars, too, karaoke soon became the main attraction.


Euphemistically speaking…

cropped-avatarThe dictionary tells us that a euphemism is “a polite or mild word or expression used to refer to something embarrassing, taboo, or unpleasant.”

The word comes from Greek euphemismos: “use of a favorable word in place of an inauspicious one; superstitious avoidance of words of ill-omen during religious ceremonies; “speak with fair words, use words of good omen.”

The ancient Greeks and Romans, but most of all the Greeks from Athens, were careful not to use words that might attract bad luck, so they called the prison, ‘the chamber,’ the executioner, ‘the public man,’ and the mythological “Furies,” the female deities of vengeance,  ‘the kindly ones’ or ‘the venerable goddesses.’

More reading between the lines

Paired conjunctions

cropped-avatarOne strategy for improving your command of the English language and enriching your expression is by using paired conjunctions. These little morsels are often used in both written and spoken English to make a point, to discuss alternative ideas or to give an explanation. You will recognise them instantly:

  1. either/or;  2. neither/nor;  3. both/and;  4. not only/but also

As with most things to do with English grammar, there are rules to follow when using paired conjunctions:

1. Either/or is used with two subjects. The second subject decides whether the verb is to be plural or singular.

e.g. Either the dog or the two cats have scratched the furniture. OR: Either the two cats or the dog has scratched the furniture.

2. Neither/nor is used with two subjects. Again, the second subject decides whether the verb is in the plural or singular form.


Common English Abbreviations

cropped-avatarI don’t know about you, but since smartphones landed in our laps – (what did we do before then?) – it’s been getting easier and easier to pepper our writing with shortcuts, textspeak, emojis and all sorts of ROFLs, OMGs and IMHOs*. Who’s got time on their hands nowadays to be writing lengthy, newsy missives in longhand? To use a quaint English saying, commonly heard in Australia, “Not this little black duck!” Which means, “Not me!”

Here is a recap of the most common abbreviations in English. You wouldn’t want to use them all the time, but they are definitely appropriate and necessary in certain situations. Your language fluency will be taken to a whole new level!


Don’t you just LOVE phrasal verbs?

cropped-avatar(Said no ESL student ever…)

Let’s recap on these pesky bits of grammar, shall we?

Phrasal verbs are verbs that combine with one or two particles, which may be adverbs or prepositions, to make new verbs.

A lot of common verbs do this and many of them can combine with several different particles. Each one changes the meaning of the verb.

  • Shall we give away our old clothes to charity? (give them to someone else)
  • They kept on arguing so in the end, I gave in. (decided to agree with them)
  • I’m on a health kick. I’m trying to give up alcohol. (stop doing or using something)

More peskiness here!

The English days of the week

cropped-avatarThe English days of the week are part of an astrological tradition of naming the days after the Sun, the Moon and the five visible planets. What’s different in the English system is that the names of Germanic gods were chosen, rather than the Roman gods that were thought to rule over the planets.


Rest of the week


cropped-avatarPeople whose first language is not English but who want to apply to a university or business school in an English-speaking country are often required to take a standardised test in order to prove their proficiency in the English language. The same holds true for many immigration programs.

Two standardised tests are generally accepted for this purpose: the IELTS and the TOEFL.

More reading practice!

Those funny names: Yahoo and Google

cropped-avatarThe word “Yahoo used to mean different things – not just the name of the internet behemoth of today. Commonly, it was something a cartoon character yelled when excited or what your grandmother called those rowdy kids you hung out with, who never took their shoes off in the house.

Goldminer YahooIn fact, the word originated as the name of a Neanderthal-type race of people in Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel, Gulliver’s Travels.


10 Easy Tips For English Fluency (2)

cropped-avatarGreetings! We hope your Christmas and New Year was restful and joyous. Our best wishes to you all for the year ahead.

Continuing on from the first part of this post, here are the other 5 tips to help with your English fluency.

6. Use it or lose it


There’s an expression in English: “Use it or lose it,” which basically means if you don’t practise an ability, you might forget it.

Read more

10 Easy Tips For English Fluency (1)

Sometimes the patterns in English grammar are obvious, but other times English doesn’t make sense at all. For example, why are “read” (reed) and “read” (red) the same word, but pronounced differently depending on whether you’re speaking in the past or present tense?

1. English is weird – accept it and move on!


If you haven’t seen this ‘hoary old chestnut’ about the peculiarities of the English language, here are the beginning lines. (A quick internet search will unearth the entire poem if you are interested):

Read more here

A-to-Z of transplanted, stolen and bastardized words (2)

cropped-avatarHere is the second part of our article on how some of the most common words in the English language were (as has been written but loosely paraphrased here) pursued down alleyways, beaten up and dragged, kicking and screaming, into our everyday speech.

H is for…

Hidden here…