English Language FAQs

How can I practice speaking English if I don't have any foreign friends?

Don't wait till you meet a foreigner to try speaking English. In fact, you can use your magazine to improve your speaking. Get together with a friend whose English is about the same as yours. Discuss one of the articles -- in English! If you make a mistake, your friend may recognize it and correct you. If you hear your friend make a mistake, point it out. You will be teachers for each other! If you both don't know how to say something, make a note of it and ask someone who can help you.

I've written an essay/ letter/ paper in English but I need someone to correct it. Can I send it to you?

Unfortunately the Studio Classroom magazine staff is not able to check the written work of all of our readers. Sorry! We suggest you ask your question at Dave's ESL Cafe, a popular English teaching website. To visit their help desk, click here.

I want to improve my English. What should I do?

This is a good question.There are many ways to improve your English! First, you consider which areas you would like to improve. Writing? Grammar? Vocabulary? Speaking? Pronunciation? Listening comprehension? After identifying where your English needs to improve, then ask a more specific question -- like the ones below.

When I read, there are too many new words I don't understand. It's so hard to get started, and I always have to stop and check my dictionary. What should I do?

Don't stop to look up every new word in your dictionary. Read an entire paragraph or conversation. Underline words you do not understand. After you have read it, try to guess the meanings of the words. Then check your dictionary. You will remember more words this way. Use an English/English dictionary whenever possible.

How can I improve my writing ability?

Choose a sentence pattern from one of our magazine lessons. Write three of four new sentences using that pattern. Examples: I enjoy listening to the songs he sings. They enjoy eating the food she cooks. She enjoys reading the articles we wrote. You can also write sentences with the Key words. Share them with your friends, or keep them in a journal. After studying a conversation in the lesson, write you own conversation on the same topic. Writing takes a lot of practice. Try keeping a journal and writing down your thoughts and activities each day.

How can I speak English? My grammar isn't very good.

Start now! Don't let poor grammar stop you. You will never speak at all if you don't start trying. The sooner you start trying, the faster you will improve. To talk with people, it's not important that your grammar be perfect. It's important that people understand you. They can understand you even if your grammar isn't completely correct. Your grammar will improve as you practice and as you listen to others speak.

I don't know enough English words. How can I get a larger vocabulary?

To remember new vocabulary, use the Key Word cards in the front of the magazine. Cut them out and carry them with you. You can look at the words and sentences whenever you have a spare moment. Another idea is to buy some flashcards (sometimes called memory cards) from a bookstore. On one side of the card write the English word. On the other side write the meaning in English, or write the Chinese word. Then you just test yourself with the cards. Using Word Bank cards and flashcards to build your vocabulary is great, because you can carry your little flashcards everywhere and use them at any time. If you're riding public transit, or if you have a break at work or school, even for 5 minutes, you can study your English. Every bit helps! Another way to help remember vocabulary is to practice using new words in full sentences. You will learn words much more quickly if you are familiar with how they are used. If you only know the word by itself, when you see or hear it used in a sentence, you may forget, or be confused by the other words in the sentence.

How can I improve my speaking ability?

One great way to improve your conversational English AND practice the new words you've learned is to use the discussion questions on our website with your friends. Our website includes discussion questions about each article in the magazine. Find friends who want to practice their English, too, and discuss these questions together. Since the questions are about the article in which you learned the new words, it should be easy for you to find ways to use the new words in your discussion.

How can I improve my pronunciation?

To improve your pronunciation, record the daily program reading, or get one of our MP3 discs, audio CDs or CD-ROMs. Choose one paragraph and record yourself reading it. Then compare the teacher's reading with your own. You will discover sounds you need to practice, and you will learn more about phrasing and intonation. If you want to completely lose your accent, that is very difficult to do. If you can speak clearly and people understand you, don't worry about having an accent when you speak English. But do practice the sounds that prevent people from understanding you easily.

How can I improve my listening comprehension?

To increase your understanding of the teachers' discussion, read the article first. If you do not understand it, read the Chinese translation. Then read the English article again. Do not go back and forth between English and Chinese. Learn English in English. Don't get distracted when you do not understand a word. Listen for ideas and meanings, not just individual words. To increase your understanding, record the program and listen again. Be an active listener. When the teacher asks a question, try to answer it yourself. Make a list of questions about the lesson. Then answer them yourself, or ask a friend.

I can't understand everything the teachers say. What can I do?

If you can't understand everything the teachers say, don't give up! Just do the best you can. As you listen more, you'll understand more. It will help if you listen to each program more than once. Record the radio or TV program or get one of our MP3 discs or CD-ROM discs. Then listen to the program again. As you listen, don't try to understand each word the teachers say. Listen to get the main idea of what they're talking about. You don't have to understand every word to do that. Also, to increase your understanding of the teaching, read the lesson first. If you do not understand it, read the Chinese translation. Then read the English article again. Do not go back and forth between English and Chinese. Learn English in English.

I often hear teachers say that I must think in English. How can I do that?

Thinking in a second language is difficult, because you must be quite comfortable with that language in order to do it. There is no real way to train yourself; it just happens naturally as you get more and more comfortable with English. However, here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Try to answer questions that the teachers or other people ask you in English, without first trying to think of how you would say it in Chinese.
  2. Think of how you would say it in Chinese only when you get really stuck.
  3. You can also try and memorize some basic grammatical structures of English sentences to help you construct your own sentences.
  4. Lastly, keep listening to English. As you hear the way others use certain words and phrases, make note of it and try to use it yourself. Keep practicing!

Please give me some tips on making a speech.

Know your audience. Understanding who you are speaking to will guide you in choosing a topic or topic angle.

  • Set a purpose. Know what you want to accomplish, how you will do it, and why you are presenting the subject to the listeners.
  • Write an outline before preparing the speech. Write the body first. Then write the introduction and the conclusion last.
  • The body of the speech should hold the listeners' attention. Give the main points and back them up with specific viewpoints. Use plenty of details.
  • Make the introduction lively. Use a question, a joke or a short story to draw your audience into the topic.
  • State a strong conclusion. Quote a famous person or challenge the audience to use the information you've just given to them.
  • Practice in front of a mirror. Then present the speech to a friend or relative. You might want to tape-record (or videotape) your speech and listen to it yourself, too.
  • Don't wait until the last minute to prepare.
  • Don't write out the speech word-for-word and memorize it.
  • Don't make your speech too long or too short.
  • Don't make your speech too long or too short.
  • Don't try to cover too much material.
  • Don't go to bed too late the night before your speech.
  • Don't look at your notes the entire time.
  • Don't stand like a statue or move around too much.
  • Don't talk too fast.

Help! I need to make an impromptu speech tomorrow. How can I prepare?

Since you don't know the topic, you probably think it's hard to prepare for the speech. But you can do some basic practice by making impromptu speeches on your own. Try to prepare a two-minute impromptu speech on one of the following topics. Then give it in front of the mirror.

  • A childhood memory
  • Your ultimate dream house
  • Something you'd love to do but will never have the time
  • A famous person you would like to meet
  • What you think you will be doing in five years

Tomorrow when you are given your impromptu topic, plan carefully. Take a minute and write down a few ideas that you might talk about. For example, if your topic is chewing gum, think about things like colors, flavors, why people use it, etc. Then choose the best two or three. Organize them in order of importance. Don't worry about using fancy vocabulary words. Just try to be clear and direct. Stick to your subject.

Can you help me find an English pen pal?

To find a pen pal you can send an email to Kevin Schular. Please include your full name, mailing address, e-mail address and also your interests. His e-mail address is assistcanada@gmail.com.

Which is the best English/English dictionary?

There are many good English dictionaries available. At Studio Classroom we use the American Heritage dictionary. On the Internet, you can look up words in the American Heritage dictionary by using Answers.com.

What's the difference between "may I" and "can I"?

MAY usually refers to "having permission to do something." In other words, you can ask, "May I go now?" meaning "Is it OK for me to leave now? Do I have to wait for you?" CAN on the other hand usually refers to "being physically able to do something." In other words, if you ask, "Can I go now?" it may imply that you are physically able to leave. You are politely asking someone for permission to go somewhere with them.

When do I need to use "the"?

The way to distinguish whether or not to use "the" is to ask yourself if you are talking about a SPECIFIC object. For example, if you say that you're going to church, it means church in general, not necessarily a specific church. However, if you say "I'm going to the church now," you're referring to one specific building. But that rule doesn't always count. For example, you cannot say "go to hospital." You always need to add the. If you say, "I'll go to the hospital tomorrow," you can go to any hospital. In the same way, you wouldn't say, "Go to sea." Usually people who plan on getting in a boat would say, "Let's go OUT to sea." If you simply want to look at the sea, you might say, "Let's go to the sea shore," or "Let's go to the beach."

Where can I find helpful resources on the Internet for learning English?

The Internet has many WWW sites for learning English as a Second Language (ESL). Here is just a sampling. Let us know if you find any of them especially helpful.

A.C.E. English Cafe
Eavesdrop on conversations (at regular speed!), apply for overseas study opportunities and much, much more.

ESL Home Page
A good starting place for learning English on the WWW. This site has exercises on listening and speaking, reading, grammar and writing. Now you can't say you don't have any chance to practice your English!

EnglishClub.com
Yet another site filled with useful resources for studying English. Got a specific English question to ask? Go to the English Club website and ask it! The staff at this site are happy to respond to individual reader questions at their help desk.

Dave's ESL Cafe on the Web
Visit Dave's place for a fun way to improve your English. The ESL Cafe includes helpful information for both students and teachers. Among other things, you'll find sections on idioms and slang and a discussion page. Dave's ESL Cafe is also the host site for the ESL Help Center mentioned above.

Frizzy University Network (FUN) Home Page
Another FUN way to learn English on the web! The Frizzy University Network has links to many good English learning resources.

NOTE: Studio Classroom staff read large volumes of e-mail every day. We regret we cannot offer answers to every English question readers send in. Studio Classroom recommends www.EnglishClub.com as a good website for asking English questions.