Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Have you ever heard of the TED talks?

They are something like an 'Open University' concept of 10 - 20 minute videos for you to learn about something from an expert in the field. They are known for their excellent quality.

Some bright spark has set up a site called ESL TED Talks ( This site features TED videos and an accompanying ESL worksheet.

The site mentions that the videos are for 'intermediate to advanced' learners. Personally, I would say UPPER-intermediate to advanced. But if you have any students at this level, they could really benefit from this site.

Friday, August 05, 2011

The History of English in 10 Minutes

Here is an interesting link. It's a YouTube video playlist featuring ten one-minute videos by the Open University.

Altogether, they make up the 'ten-minute history or English'.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Text Analysis Tool for ESL Teachers

I have just completed a nifty little tool for ESL teachers who enjoy using various texts with their students.

Using the he Text Analysis Tool (, you can copy and paste in a text from a word document or webpage and the tool will analyse it for you. The tool will give the text a rating using both the CEF standards and the IELTS standards. At the same time, it will generate a vocabulary list of suggested words to review before reading. You can even click to get the definitions for words on the list via, which will generate all the meanings on a single page.

The tool works by comparing each word in the submitted text to a list of the 10,000 most commonly used words in English. Based on each word’s position on the list, an algorithm is used to rate the difficulty of the text. The rating has been calibrated (roughly) against the CEF and IELTS levels.

Monday, July 11, 2011

English Conventional Usage

This is a topic I have been interested in for a while.

I've long understood that English works by 'conventional usage'. That is to say that a word means whatever everybody understands it to mean, as opposed to what some controlling body wants it to mean.

Hence, a word can change meaning. Something which goes 'against' English grammar can become acceptable, such as a split infinitive or using 'and' at the beginning of a sentence.

If everybody started using the word 'dinosaur' for breakfast (see:, then dinosaur would become an acceptable word to use for breakfast.

The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing has this to say (page 243):

Words Are Not Endowed with Fixed and "Proper" Meanings

When people object to how someone else uses a word, they often say, "That isn't its proper meaning." The word disinterested, for example, is frequently employed in the sense of "uninterested," and those who dislike this usage argue that the proper meaning of disinterested is "objective, unbiased. "

In such arguments "proper meaning" generally signifies a meaning sanctioned by past usage or even by the original, etymological sense of the word. But the dogma that words come to us out of the past with proper meanings—fixed and immutable—is a fallacy. The only meanings a word has are those that the speakers of the language choose to give it. If enough speakers of English use disinterested to mean "uninterested," then by definition they have given that meaning to the word.

Those who take a conservative attitude toward language have the right, even the duty, to resist changes which they feel lessen the efficiency of English. They should, however, base their resistance upon demonstrating why the change does make for inefficiency, not upon an authoritarian claim that it violates proper meaning.

As a user of words you should be guided by consensus, that is, the meanings agreed upon by your fellow speakers of English, the meanings recorded in dictionaries. We shall look at what dictionaries do in Chapter 29. For now, simply understand that dictionary definitions are not "proper meanings" but succinct statements of consensual meanings.

In most cases the consensus emerges from an activity in which individual language users participate without knowing that they are, in effect, defining words. The person who says "I was disinterested in the lecture" does not intend to alter the meaning of disinterested. He or she has simply heard the word used this way before.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Uncountable Nouns

I've got a triple release for you today, original RoadToGrammar materials on uncountable nouns: an e-book, an e-learning module and an Android App, all free:

Part 1: Uncountable Nouns, free e-book: 

Part 2: Uncountable Nouns, free e-learning module:

Part 3: Uncountable Nouns, free Android App:

Friday, May 27, 2011

5 Useful Links for ESL Teachers

Here are some links that I have compiled recently that may be useful to ESL teachers:

1 A vocabulary profiler:

Dig out unusual words from a text

2 Tweet Speak

A site that has audio recordings of tweets so that students can hear 'real language':

3 This article argues against Chomsky's idea of a 'universal grammar' (which I also disagree with)

4 A business English lesson on Brazil's economy (with video)

5 An English lesson based around Justin Bieber (if you happen to have teenage girls in your class!)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Word List - Figurative Language

I'm going to start posting some word lists for ESL learners, beginning with this one:

This is a list of words and phrases connected to figurative language. I've always found that advanced learners have a lot of questions about these words. All definitions are from the open source dictionary ( Please go ahead and use the list as you wish.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Grammar Nazi

An interesting new phrase that has appeared in the last couple of years is 'Grammar Nazi'.

A Grammar Nazi is a person who enjoys pointing out mistakes that other people make when writing messages on the Internet. Ironically, most 'grammar nazis' focus on spelling mistakes rather than grammar mistakes. For example, many people mistakenly spell 'grammar' with an 'e' (grammer).

When the phrase Grammar Nazi first appeared, it was always used as an insult - 'Don't be a grammar nazi!' However, more recently, people are proud to be grammar nazis. Just search for the hashtag #grammarnazi on Twitter (or click here) and you'll see what I mean.

Is RoadToGrammar run by a Grammar Nazi?

No, I'm happy to say. I have always maintained that good grammar is a tool for ESL learners. If your grammar isn't perfect, you should just do your best to communicate. I'm also not in favour of teachers who spend too much time teaching grammar. That's one reason why I made this site, so that learners can practise grammar outside the class and focus on conversation practice inside the class.

I do wish Americans had better spelling skills, though!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Linking Directly to a Quiz

Road To Grammar is a Flash-based website, meaning that to navigate you don't need to go from one webpage to another. You'll notice that the URL at the top of the page is, no matter which quiz you are doing. Hopefully, this makes the site faster and easier to use.

Now, what about a situation where you want to ask your students to do Quiz #3, for example. You don't want to have to tell them to go to and then click on quiz number 3. You want to give a direct link.

Simple. Just give them this link: to go directly to quiz 3. To go directly to any quiz, just add a question mark and the quiz number after the URL.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A really fast dictionary

I recently found this excellent site:

Ninja Words claims to be 'A really fast dictionary... fast like a ninja.'

However, it's not the speed that is interesting, but the ability to generate word lists very quickly. Let's say that you want to get the definition of 'geography' but without using the search function, you can just type the following in the address bar:

So far so good? Now to generate a list of definitions, we just need to add commas. Try this link:

So you could use this to generate a word list, copy, paste and print it out or pass the link on to students. Don't forget to use a service like if you need to shorten it.

New Word Game: Fonetix

Here is a new word game to try. Use the word parts on the tiles to form a word before the timer runs out. Try for a bonus or high score....