Increasing Your English Vocabulary

If you are going to be a great English speaker, you must not underestimate the most important feature of the language: the words!

Grammatical correctness and sentence structure are important, but without knowing actual English vocabulary, success with these skills will be irrelevant.  When you gain knowledge of words in English, you will be able to state your thoughts, emotions, and opinions accurately.

Enhancing your vocabulary won’t be easy—especially if you don’t live in a country where English is the common tongue. You will be less likely to come into contact with English words throughout the course of your day.  Luckily for you, you will have the chance to succeed by taking just a few moments of your day to learn new words.  By practicing the following advice, you’re likely to see significant improvements every week.

Read in English

In order to be a successful English speaker, you will need to practice reading in English.  The very best students of the English language are those who appreciate English literature.  They make the effort to read a significant amount in English every week in various topics.

Now we know: you’re a busy person!  You likely have a career, children, and other activities that add to your life.  However, by taking as like as 30 minutes per day to practice reading English works, you are for more likely to succeed in you goal to be a good English speaker.

This doesn’t mean that you have to run out and and read the entire works of Shakespeare.  Rather, you should choose to read about something you’re interested in.  If you like sports, read an English article about your favorite athlete.  If you love to read social media updates, change the settings on your computer to English and go about your normal browsing.  30 minutes isn’t a long portion of your day to dedicate to your English language study, and you’ll likely see improvements immediately!

Practice Using Your Vocabulary

When you come across new and interesting English words, it might be your first instinct to say “I’ll stick to the words I know.” While this is an understandable mindset, successful English speakers are more inclined to step outside of the box.

When you find English words that you don’t know, make an effort to write them down, look them up in the dictionary, speak them, and write them. Dedicate around 20 minutes per day going over the new words you learned that week and commit to using those words in conversation at least three or four days a week.

Working with your online ESL teacher, you will soon learn how to use each word in context and gain mastery over all of the English vocabulary you’ve been working on.

These are only a couple of strategies that will help you to increase your vocabulary in the English language. Try them out and see how they work for you. If you’re looking for more strategies, contact me and I will be happy to help you develop a vocabulary plan that will work for you.

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Learn Real English: 9 Words for this Holiday Weekend

Learn Real English: 9 Words for this Holiday Weekend

Today, and this weekend, is a holiday in many countries. A friend and I decided to go on hike in the beautiful village of Deep Cove, near Vancouver. As a result of it being a holiday weekend, here are some words I was thinking about and want to share with you!

1. Long Weekend

A ‘long weekend’ is a 3 day weekend, instead of the normal 2 day weekend. This weekend the extra holiday day is today, Friday, so the weekend is Friday, Saturday and Sunday. People here LOVE long weekends!

2. Spring Break

‘Spring Break’ is usually one or two weeks where students do not have to go to class during the spring season. A ‘break’ is a time of rest from work, so this is a time when students rest from their work as students!

3. Get away

Get away (verb) - to escape or break free
Get away (verb) – to escape or break free

Many people who work or study love the long weekend or their spring break because they can ‘get away’ – which means to be free from their work and go far away from their work or the normal stress of their lives! Today there were many people on the hike who wanted to “get away”.

4. Escape the Rat Race

Definition of Escape
escape (Verb) – to be free from a place where you do not want to be, or run and be safe from danger
Definition of Rat Race
Rat Race (noun) – a word to describe the way that people work too hard to get money and power, and how they can not escape this circle of more, more, more….a comparison to rats in science experiments.
Image credit to artist Polyp.

Many people want to get away on long weekends to escape the rat race for a while. People work very hard and the opportunity to get away from their hard work is very welcome!

5. Unwind

Definition of Unwind
Unwind (verb) – to relax

People who are feeling very tired of the rat race and who need a break often say they need to ‘unwind’ (pronunciation of wind is not like the noun, the verb is pronounced,/waɪnd/ ) The idea of unwind is to relax a body that is feeling tight and stressed.

6. Crowds and Crowded

Definition of Crowds and Crowded
Crowds (plural noun) – Many many (maybe TOO many!) people
Crowded (adjective) – when there are too many people

When my friend and I were on the hike today, there were so many people that wanted to get away on their long weekend that the hike was VERY crowded!

7. Parking Spaces

Definition of parking space
Parking Spaces (Plural Noun) – The area where you can park (put) your car

It was not only the hike that was crowded! When we arrived to the village of Deep Cove we had to drive around for almost 30 minutes to find a parking space!

8. Traffic Jam

Definition of traffic jam
Traffic Jam (noun) – A time when cars can not move on the road because there are too many cars

We were lucky in one way. It was a very busy day, but we did not get stuck in any traffic jams. I am sure that in other parts of the city and other parts of the world there were many traffic jams on this busy long weekend, but we got away with no traffic jams!

9. Bumper to Bumper

Definition of bumper to bumper
Bumper to bumper (adjective phrase) – a description of cars in a traffic jam


Another adjective phrase we often use to describe a traffic jam is bumper to bumper. We did not experience a traffic jam today, or see any bumper to bumper traffic.


I hope you enjoyed this long weekend/Spring Break vocabulary lesson. Please share below on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus or wherever your friends are who need vocabulary help! You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Google Plus to continue to get posts about English language learning. Thank you and I hope some of you can join me this summer on an English Language Intensive Travel Experience to learn more Real English!


This and more helpful articles can be found here >

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5 tools to help build your Daily English Routine

5 Tools to help Build your Daily English Routine

Many students ask for a Daily English Routine to help them to improve their English skills

Every student is different.  Learning a language is different for each one of us and your daily English routine should be suited to meet your individual needs.

Are you ready to create your own daily English routine?   Spend some time surfing the internet to find the sites that you like.  If you are really going to follow this routine, you need to like what you are looking at and doing.  Here are some sites that are interactive and encourage active learning (reading and listening alone is not going to help move forward at a fast pace).

1) Memrise

Memrise is an online learning tool with courses created by its community. Its courses are mainly used to teach languages, but are also used for other academic and nonacademic subjects.

*Memrise or another flashcard program should definitely be part of your  daily English routine.

2) Listen and Write – Language Dictation

Improve your listening skills and hear about the news as part of your daily English routine.

3) Using English Grammar Quizzes

Test yourself with 516 free English language quizzes covering grammar, usage and vocabulary for beginner, intermediate and advanced level English students. Simply answer all of the questions in the quiz and press submit to see your score and other statistics.

4) ESL Video Quizzes for Students

Educational resources for English as a Second Language Students to improve their listening, speaking, grammar, and vocabulary skills.

 5) English Central

The EnglishCentral platform combines the web’s best English videos,  IntelliSpeech℠ assessment technology, an adaptive vocabulary learning system and live tutors, delivered seamlessly over web and mobile.

NOW that you have looked at all of these, decide on a plan.  Do you have 30 minutes a day?  Spend 10 minutes each on 3 of these sites.  Mix it up, make a Daily English Routine Schedule that works for you….

Daily English Routine Schedule

suited (adj) right or appropriate for a particular person, purpose, or situation.
*practice using these words in the comments section and I will check them and give you feedback*
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Laughing and Learning : An intro to Puns

Should I write to, two, or too? Well, that depends on whether the word you want is a preposition, a number, or a synonym of also.

How do I pronounce the word tear? It rhymes with ear if you are talking about crying and air if you are talking about ripping.

What did he mean when he said fine? Depending on the context, he could mean that everything is good or that someone had to pay some money.

Did someone just say tense or tents? It’s tense if they want to say they aren’t relaxed and tents if they just got back from a camping trip.

As you can see, English isn’t always easy to learn. It contains many homophones (words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently and have different meanings), homographs (words that are spelled the same but have a different pronunciation and meaning), and homonyms (words that are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings). While this makes learning more difficult, it also gives us the opportunity to have some fun with the language.

How does it do that? With puns! Put simply, a pun is a joke that plays with words and their meanings to be funny. And English is full of them. There are other types of puns, but the simplest ones involve homophones, homographs, and homonyms. So let’s focus on these first.

Here’s a quick example:
Why did the spider go to the computer?
To check his website.

Since you are reading this online, I think you know what a website is. However, web and site have their own definitions. A web is something that a spider makes to catch insects. And site is another word for location. So is the spider checking his homepage or the location of his web? The double meaning and confusion is what makes it funny.


Let’s take a closer look at some homonyms and then go over some puns that use them. These words have the same spelling and pronunciation, but multiple meanings:

saw – the past tense of see
saw – a tool used for cutting
The blind man picked up a hammer and saw.
Did he begin to see after picking up the magical hammer? Or did he pick up two tools?

sentence – in grammar, a set of words that express a complete idea
sentence – the punishment given to a criminal for breaking the law
A prisoner’s favorite punctuation mark is the period. It marks the end of his sentence.
Does the period mean that he will be released from prison, or does he just like periods in grammar?

interest – caring about something
interest – the extra money you have to pay back when you borrow money
I used to be a banker, but I lost interest.
Was he a bad banker and lost money for the bank? Or does he just not find the job interesting anymore?


And here are a few homophones. The two words are pronounced the same and can be used in the following puns:

profit – the money that a person or company earns
prophet – a person who delivers messages from God
Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
Atheists don’t believe in God, so they also don’t believe in prophets. But atheism also doesn’t earn any money, so there aren’t any profits.

whine – to cry
wine – an alcoholic beverage made from grapes
What did the grape say when it got stepped on? Nothing, but it let out a little whine.
Was the grape crying? Or did crushing it produce a delicious beverage for us to enjoy?

steak – a piece of meat
stake – a wooden post with a point on one end
You kill vegetarian vampires with a steak to the heart.
Vegetarians don’t like to eat meat, and one way to kill a vampire is to nail a wooden stake into his heart.


So now that you know a little bit about puns, how can you use them to improve your English? Here are a few ways:

Read some more puns (along with explanations) here:

Or, you can increase your vocabulary by reading through these lists of homophones and homographs. To test your new knowledge, write a single sentence that includes both meanings of the. For example:
Fall (to drop to the ground) / Fall (Autumn) – The leaves will fall off the trees in the fall.
Homophone List –
Homograph List –

Once you’ve got a bit more experience reading and understanding puns, try to write your own! Take a word with multiple meanings and see if you can construct a situation where both meanings make sense. Normally we try to make our sentences as clear as possible, but when writing jokes, the humor comes from the ambiguity.


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Daily Grammar

Like fruits and vegetables, grammar is part of a healthy balanced life.  Well, maybe not for everyone, but if you are learning a language, daily grammar activities should be part of your routine.

Many people don’t have time to eat the proper nutrients during the day, so they take vitamins and get their daily dose of  whatever they are missing.  (ex- I take a vitamin every morning to make sure I get my daily dose of Vitamin C.)  “I don’t have time for that”, a commonly heard excuse for not doing something.  Exercise, cooking properly, improving a skill such as a language…  I’d say we are all guilty of  procrastination at some point or another.

I tell my students that they need to exercise their brain daily and fit some English language activity in everyday.  Activity being the key word there.  Listening and reading are great, but those fall into the category of passive learning.  This is easier because you do not have ‘to act’.  Active learning is when you have to produce something, like an answer in a quiz or a spoken response to someone else.

Fitting grammar in every day does not mean that boring heavy text-books have to be a part of your daily life.  It can be a simple little quiz (Active learning FTW!) or a quick review of something you think you know pretty well already.  The key is to make it part of your routine.  Perhaps everyday while you are eating breakfast with your lap-top open (you know you do this!) you can open up a grammar quiz page and do one.

I’m going to start using #EngGrammar on twitter to tag grammar activities.  So make some time and get your daily dose of grammar! 

dose (noun) a quantity of a medicine or drug taken or recommended to be taken at a particular time
procrastination (noun) the action of delaying or postponing something
fit (something) in (phrasal verb) to give a place or time to
FTW (slang) “For The Win” An enthusiastic emphasis to the end of a comment, message or post
*practice using these words in the comments section and I will check them and give you feedback*

Give Yourself a Sporting Chance! Sports Idioms in English

It is funny how big sporting events such the FIFA World Cup, Wimbledon or the Olympics can suddenly turn entire nations sporting mad, even for armchair fans who only cheer on their teams from the comfort of their own homes. Although most people do tend to have a passing interest in sports, we are never as avid fans as when there is a great sporting event taking place.

Someone will be celebrating victory after winning the FIFA World Cup final in Brazil, and although it might not be your team who wins, it is still a good opportunity to learn some phrases or idioms that originate from sports and that have been adopted into everyday speech. These idioms can be used in business situations, social occasions and, of course, during sporting events.

Let’s kick off with a simple one such as, well, kick off. We use this phrase when we want to initiate or start something, but we could just as easily say let’s get the ball rolling, get a head start, be first out of the gate, play ball or even make a flying start.

If you are too eager to get started, someone might use the phrase jump the gun, which usually implies that you have started without getting all of the information required to complete a task properly. You might even score an own goal, by which we mean doing something that has a negative effect, or the opposite of what you intended.

If you get into trouble, it could be three strikes and you’re out, you could be said to be out of your depth, in deep water, or even be for the high jump, but friends or colleagues could offer you support by going to bat for you, or by being in your corner. Be careful, though; the odds may be against you unless you are saved by the bell.

When preparing for an interview for a new job or promotion, you should emphasize how much of a team player you are. You should be ready to step up to the plate to take on a new challenge so don’t drop the ball. Don’t pull your punches when selling your skills and experiences, since you may need to play hardball to convince your boss that you are worthy of promotion. Most importantly, don’t throw in the towel, this could be a whole new ball game for you.

 It’s Not Cricket!

You can have lots of fun, as well as make yourself sound more interesting by using sporting idioms to help to describe many situations. There are far too many to list them all here, as there are an estimated twenty-five thousand idioms in the English language altogether. As you can see from the above text, sporting idioms in particular can spice up your language skills, so let’s take a look in detail at one or two sporting idioms that you may already have come across in business English.

Plain sailing – This denotes a simple or easy situation, although from my experiences there are very few easy situations in real life. Businessmen and women often use this phrase to describe complex decisions or discussions in which they are hoping for a positive outcome.

The ball is in your court – Often used when a decision needs to be reached and the responsibility has passed onto a single person to decide. Sometimes though, it is used by others to strong-arm someone into making a decision against their better judgment.

Call the shots – Usually this signifies who is in charge or making the decisions and where you would go to ask for advice if needed. In cases where different groups are meeting, one might ask the other who is calling the shots in order to discover who they need to impress the most.

Saved by the bell – A term from boxing which signifies when a lucky or fortunate event occurs which has a positive outcome. It describes encountering an event which may have saved you from misfortune, but was totally unexpected.

A level playing field – Often denotes when there is an equal amount of opportunity between rivals, this can apply to candidates with similar skills and experiences who have applied for a new job or promotion, or alternatively be between companies hoping to win a big contract. There is a fair chance for everyone to win or succeed.

 Literally Translated

However, it is not just business situations where these idioms are used. They are used in everyday common language by most of us, so it is important to grasp their meanings as quickly as possible. Idioms exist in most modern languages, but they do not tend to translate very well into anything meaningful when literally translated word-for-word. It is their figurative meanings that are important, which normally cannot be easily understood from the literal meanings of the words.

I suggest that next time you take an English language lesson, prepare some sporting idioms from your own language to translate into English. You can translate them literally into English, and then choose from the many different English idioms that closely match their meanings in your own language. Finally, remember that the use of idioms is vital in the IELTS exam if you are looking for a score of 7 or more!

For more information on idioms in general, a well as sporting idioms, visit me onFacebook, where you will find daily bites of fun English. You can also find me on italki most days, either teaching or gladly helping out with any English language queries you may have.

For further reading on sporting idioms, the BBC has a page dedicated to some of those most commonly used.

Contact Rachel today! 

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Pretty Amazing Prepositions of Place: In, On, At, and More!

The cat is in the tree.

Do you have problems working out your in from your on; your at from your from; or your up from your down? If so, this fun exercise can help you to figure out which is the correct preposition to use and how to remember them.

First things first: what exactly is a preposition of place? Simply put, a preposition of place is a preposition which tells us where something or someone is located. There are actually only three prepositions of place — at, on and in — but they can be used to describe almost any number of places. These are:

  • At –is used to describe a certain point or place
  • In–helps us to describe an enclosed space
  • On–means we are talking about a surface

Let’s look at a few examples of how we use prepositions of place.

  • Janice is waiting for you at the bus stop.
  • The no-smoking sign is on the wall.
  • I live in New York City.

However, in conjunction with these three prepositions, we can also use prepositions of direction which help clarify exactly where something is located. There are many more of these which are used to confirm when, where and under what conditions something is located. For example, let’s take a further look at our first preposition of place: at.

Janice is waiting for you at the bus stop, by the library.

In this example, we already knew that Janice was waiting for us at the bus stop. But, by using the preposition of direction by, it tells us exactly which bus stop Janice is waiting at. So, by using the two prepositions (place and direction) we are given clearer instructions and information. Let’s move on to our next example.

The no-smoking sign is on the wall between the entrance and the foyer.

Here we are told exactly where the no-smoking sign is located, so we can expect to see it as we walk into the building.

I live in New York City, close to Times Square.

New York is a large city, but the additional information gives us a more precise location. Before we get to the fun exercise, here is a list of just some of the prepositions of direction which we can use in conjunction with prepositions of place:

  •  Above — The picture hangs above the fireplace.
  • Against — The fly flew against the window.
  • Among — I sat among a group of people.
  • Behind — The ball is behind the garage.
  • Between — The playing field is between the two buildings.
  • By — I stopped by the light house.
  • Close to — I wanted a table that was close to the window.
  • In front of — There was a man in front of me in the queue.
  • Inside — Let’s get inside before it starts to rain again.
  • Near — I live near the tube station.
  • Next to — The pharmacy is next to the doctors office.
  • Onto — The pigeon flew onto the roof of my car.
  • Opposite — The restaurant is opposite the car park.
  • Towards — The crowd is heading towards the concert stage.
  • Under — The bag is under the table.

Now, let’s get physical!

To help my students learn and remember these prepositions, I actually ask them to physically place objects in the places which use the prepositions they are trying to remember. So, get yourself something memorable that you can place somewhere in your house or garden:

  • Put a teddy bear on your bed.
  • Plant a pumpkin in your garden by the wall.
  • Put your mobile phone in your purse near the door.
  • Move your neighbour’s pet tortoise into your bathtub.

This physical representation will be much more memorable than any flashcard or list of words. It will stay clearly in your mind when you put your Grandmother’s teapot among the flowers in the garden, or put the cat under the piano stool next to the bookshelf, or even when the pink cushion lands behind the dog on the sofa.

So, practice, choose your object, choose your preposition of place, make it funny if possible, and then you’ll remember it.

Participation and creativity is the key, even if you use really ridiculous places such as in my earor on my head and so on. You could even do this with a friend. Take some silly photos and post them on Facebook! Why not?

I can guarantee you won’t forget your prepositions of place after that! For more information on prepositions, visit me on Facebook where you will find daily bites of fun English. You can also find me on italki most days either teaching or gladly helping out with any English language queries you may have.

Contact Rachel today! 


Using a whiteboard to improve your English

I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times… Surround yourself with English!  How about on the walls of your home!?!

White board for English

Invest in a small whiteboard (or a big one!) and use it everyday to write down new vocabulary words to improve your English.  Everyone has a different style of learning and remembering new words, so do what is right for you.  Here are some suggestions:

  • The definition
    • If you are at a high enough level, write the definition in English.
    • If you still need the help, use your native language– but try to use that the least amount possible.
  • Sentences using the new words
    • Anyone can memorize a word, but to actually be able to use it correctly is another story.
    • Look it up and take note of the sentence structure used in example sentence and BAM! you get a grammar lesson as well.
  • Common phrases or idioms that involve the word
    • You want to speak as natural as possible, so do a bit of research and see how the word is used in “real-life”.
  • Pictures
    • Have fun and draw something to help you remember the word.
  • Questions you think of and want to ask your teacher later on

This method is a great way to bring that passive vocabulary to active.  The small amount of time you spend writing the word and the sentences… that alone is going to help you to remember it, not to mention all of the times you will see it in the day.  Subscribe to a word of the day service and constantly be on the lookout for words to add to your board.  (click below)

Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary



When to double a consonant before adding -ed or -ing to a verb

When add -ing to a verb to form its present participle, and -ed to regular verbs to form the past simple. When doing this, we sometimes double the last letter of the verb, as in these examples:

  • stop ⇒ stopped, stopping
  • refer ⇒ referred, referring

Sometimes, however, we don’t double the last letter, as with the verb visit:

  • visit ⇒ visited, visiting

To understand this spelling rule, it’s first necessary to know the meaning of vowel andconsonant:

vowels = a  e  i  o  u
consonants are all other letters (b  c  d  f  g, etc).

Here’s the rule:

When to double a consonant before adding –ed and –ing to a verb
We double the final letter when a one-syllable verb ends in consonant + vowel + consonant.* stop, rob, sit stopping, stopped, robbing, robbed, sitting
We double the final letter when a word has more than one syllable, and when the final syllable is stressed in speech. beGIN, preFER beginning, preferring, preferred
If the final syllable is not stressed, we donot double the final letter. LISten, HAPpen listening, listened, happening, happened

In British English, travel and cancel are exceptions to this rule:

travel, travelling, travelled; cancel, cancelling, cancelled.

* We do not double the final letter when a word ends in two consonants (-rt, -rn, etc.):
start – starting, started; burn – burn, burned.

* We do not double the final letter when two vowels come directly before it:
remain – remaining, remained.

* We do not double w or y at the end of words:
play – playing, played; snow – snowing, snowed.


This and other helpful Spelling Tips can be found here >




Farther vs. Further

Do you use farther and further interchangeably? You’re not alone. These two terms have very similar meanings and English speakers have been using them interchangeably for centuries. However, there are subtle differences between the terms, and the prevailing distinction that informs good usage is fairly straightforward. Let’s take a look.

The widely accepted rule is to use farther to discuss physical distances, as in He went farther down the road.

Further should be used for figurative distance or to discuss degree or extent, as in I wanted to discuss it further, but we didn’t have time. Additionally, you canfurther, or advance, a project, but you cannot farthera project because farther does not have a verb sense. Further also has an adverbial sense of “moreover; additionally,” so you can say Further, you hurt my feelings, but not Farther, you hurt my feelings.

While the above is a general guide to good usage, the physical vs. figurative distance distinction is not always adhered to in popular usage, a fact that you will find reflected in our definitions for these two terms. However, knowing the difference between good usage and popular usage will set you apart in formal settings and in the company of style-guide devotees.

We hope this explanation has furthered your understanding of these two terms!

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