Thursday, July 27, 2017

Salmon and Often

Salmon and Often

I've often noticed that speakers of English as a second language mispronounce salmon.

It looks like it is straightforward enough to pronounce: sal - mon, but in fact the L is silent. To pronounce it correctly, imagine that the spelling is "sammon". It rhymes more or less with 'famine' even though the spelling is quite different. (English is strange that way.)

On the other hand, 'often' is one of those words that has two accepted pronunciations - with or without the 't' sound. This is not a UK/US thing; the words simply has two accepted ways to pronounce it. There are many words in English like this. Like I said, English is strange.

You can listen to the pronunciation(s) of these words here:

The Cambridge dictionary doesn't give the audio pronunciation for 'often' with a t sound, but it lists the phonetic spelling for it.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

2 Common Mistakes

Do you ever make these two mistakes in your English?

Common mistake 1:

A: Would you like a drink?
B: Yes, I like some coffee?

"I like some coffee" is not correct. The speaker means to say: "I'd like some coffee" or "I would like some coffee".

"I would like" is a polite way to say "I want". It is different from "I like".

Common mistake 2:

A: Can I have a napkin?
B: Sure, I get you one.

"I get you one" is not correct. It should be "I'll get you one". We use the future form here, even though it is the near future!

It is easy to make this mistake because "I get" and "I'll get" might sound alike to English learners. However, people who are proficient in English can easily hear the difference!

If you tend to make these mistakes, don't worry - it is quite easy to correct yourself.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Vocab Maze - A Wordsearch Game

Here is a simple and fun game for ESL learners.

You are given a topic and you have to find three related words in a mini word grid.

It's simple, fun, fast and it works on mobile devices too.

Play it here:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Patchwork - ESL Vocab Game

Patchwork is a simple game that is easy to play and suitable for low to intermediate level ESL learners. It is especially suitable for kids.

To play, simply match the different parts of the word from the tiles given. There are two-part words, three-part words and four-part words, too. Topics include animals, descriptions (adjectives), actions (verbs), food, clothes and more.

Play Patchwork here:

Friday, April 21, 2017

What is the size of a native speaker’s vocabulary?

What is the size of a native speaker’s vocabulary?

The answer is not so simple. There are two sides to a person’s vocabulary. The first is the number of words they use on a daily basis. This is their active vocabulary. The second is the number of words that they recognise, but may not use themselves. This is their passive vocabulary.

For instance, most native speakers would understand the word ‘ajar’, which means ‘slightly open’, as in the door is ajar. But it is probably not a word that they use very much. Perhaps they never use it!

Lexicographer Susie Dent says that most native speakers of English have an active vocabulary of 20,000 words and a passive vocabulary of 40,000. I have seen other sources that claim most people have an active vocabulary of as little as 12,000 words.

Still, for an English learner, that is a lot of words to learn to catch up with the natives.

But there is a way to improve your vocabulary without learning new words. That is, to transfer some words from your passive vocabulary into your active vocabulary.

For example, you might be fond of the word ‘maybe’, but you can always try to use ‘perhaps’ more. Perhaps you usually write For example. You could try using For instance instead.

It’s all about making an effort and stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Forty Business English Roleplays

Here is a selection of forty business English scenarios for Business English teachers to use with their students. Scenarios range from asking the boss for a raise to dealing with scheming co-workers. 

The PDF is free to print out and use, or try using the presentation version in class on your smartboard.

PDF version

Presentation version

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Easy Reading Activities

Here are 20 short texts that are suitable for A1 - A2 level learners.

Each one has vocabulary items and a few simple questions.

They are free to use and work on smartphones too!

Click here for the activity.

Click here for advanced reading passages

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Jobs - Elementary Vocabulary Activity

Here is a new activity for learning basic vocabulary related to jobs:

The activity features a glossary and a picture practice activity featuring 20 different jobs. Users listen to the name of the job and click on the correct picture.

This activity is perfect for beginners, or bands A1-A2 of the CEFR standards.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Why is WENT the past tense of GO?

In present tense, it is GO. In past tense, it is WENT. Why is this? The two words look completely different from each other.

In the past, when English was Old English, there were two words for GO. There was GO and there was WEND. The past tense of GO was GAED and the past tense of WEND was WENT.

As time passed, WEND became less popular and GAED became less popular. In modern English, we are left with GO and WENT. GAED and WEND are no longer used. The word WANDER is related to WEND/WENT.

Why do some words become more popular and some become less popular over time? There are many reasons, but mainly they just sound nicer. Perhaps GAED and WEND do not sound as nice as GO and WENT.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Everybody knows the word ‘often’, but have you ever heard the word oftentimes?
Oftentimes is an old-fashioned word that simply means ‘often’. It is old-fashioned, but it has started to become popular once more as the chart below shows.

By the way, as an English teacher, students always used to ask me about the pronunciation of the word ‘often’.

You can pronounce it with or without the T sound – both pronunciations are correct!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Vocabulary: Describing Feelings

Here is an activity for learning and practising words used to describe feelings.

It is a picture activity and it features 25 words. 

Teachers, you can use it on your smartboard or ask your students to access it on their mobile devices. The language is kid-friendly.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Road to Grammar English Test - Find Your CEFR Level

The Road to Grammar English Test is now available.

It is free to take at


  • the test takes around 20 minutes to complete
  • it tests vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening
  • feedback is given in the form of a CEFR level
  • a short, but very detailed report is provided at the end of each test, you will find out your strengths and weaknesses and the description of your level
  • you can take the test on a smartphone or tablet although a laptop is recommended as there is some typing 
  • the test is free to take

Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Final Straw

The final straw
‘The final straw’ or ‘the last straw’ is an interesting idiom. It means the last in a series of negative incidents that leads to disaster. Okay, maybe that is a little difficult to imagine. How about the following:
Imagine a man has a camel and he uses the camel to carry straw (straw as in hay, not drinking straws!). He places pieces of straw on the camel’s back one by one until slowly the camel is hopelessly overburdened. Eventually, the man will place one final straw on the camels back and the camel’s back will break! This is what we call ‘the final straw’. And, yes, another version of the idiom is ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’.
Now imagine Bob’s boss is really mean to him. He shouts at him every day and insults him, but Bob perseveres. One day, Bob wants to take the afternoon off to visit his sick mother in hospital. His boss says no and Bob resigns. This is ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ or, as we said earlier, means the last in a series of negative incidents that leads to disaster.

Poor camels!

Salmon and Often

Salmon and Often I've often noticed that speakers of English as a second language mispronounce salmon. It looks like it is st...