Learn Word Families to Boost Vocabulary


It is important to know word families for standardized tests like TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS and Eiken. However, word families are not only important for those tests; they give you the ability to choose a different form of a word you know that is similar to a word you are trying to remember but cannot.

In yesterday’s post I said that you should learn vocabulary you are interested in. I think everybody reading this is interested in studying English so let’s use some language about English as an example:

verbal (adjective) – “Don’t just write English, be verbal. You need to speak, too.”
verbally (adverb) – “He is good at communicating verbally but his writing is unclear.”
verbalise/verbalize (verb) – “Babies try to verbalise different things, often unsuccessfully.”
verbalisation/verbalization (noun) – “Verbalisation has been a problem for me while trying to use my second language.”

Why not add these to your word cards?

What vocabulary is important?


Some students worry about the vocabulary that they should make notes of and really try to learn. What vocabulary is important?

There is no easy answer because it depends on the person. If you use English mainly at work, learn vocabulary by listening to podcasts or reading about your industry in English. If you use English with friends, try doing the same thing about your hobbies and your friends’ hobbies too.

If you already know the vocabulary related to your main interests, try reading about things you suddenly become interested in with a quick internet search. Add to that with a podcast search and you should have plenty to work with.

Remember to use word cards and read tomorrow for an easy way to build word power.

Even If and Even Though


A lot of false shortcuts are taught to English students. Lots of words and phrases are said to be “the same” because it is quicker to teach them to beginning and intermediate learners without explaining them. ‘Even if’ and ‘even though’ are not the same but teachers often say they are.

In this first example, ‘if’ causes a conditional; ‘though’ explains a reaction to an action.

Even if you come, you won’t enjoy it.

Even though you come, you don’t enjoy it.

In the second example, ‘if’ is a conditional, explaining an unlikely situation or just an idea; ‘though’ talks about an experience.

Even if you came, you wouldn’t enjoy it.

Even though you came, you didn’t enjoy it.

In the next example, ‘if’ comments on what didn’t happen; ‘though’ comments on what did happen.

Even if you had come, you wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

Even though you had come, you didn’t enjoy it.

In this final example, ‘if’ and ‘though’ have similar meanings but have different nuances. ‘If’ talks about a possible plan whereas ‘though’ talks about a definite plan.

Even if you are coming, you won’t enjoy it.

Even though you are coming, you won’t enjoy it.

This is a bit tricky but I hope you understand this better.

Trouble with A, An and The

A lot of students have problems using articles, the short words a, an and the.


A/an means one single thing
The means one particular thing or some particular things/stuff or things we know and are talking about (or sometimes about animal or plant species.
No article means any things/ stuff.

A and an are often used to introduce topics.
The is often used to talk about a topic already introduced.

You can practise using a, an and the by using news stories.

First, go to an English news site, such as BBC News or The Japan Times.

screenshot_printIf you have problems with articles (the short words a/an and the) there are different ways to learn them.

Print the story then copy and paste it into Word or another word processor.

Go to Edit then Find and Replace. Find ‘a’ and replace it with three spaces. Do the same for ‘an’ and ‘the’. Print your document.


On the printed document write in ‘a’, ‘an’ or ‘the’ then check your answers with the original story.

You can also do this with prepositions (words such as ‘in’, ‘at’ and ‘to’).

Thirteen or Thirty?


So many students ask me how to tell the difference between the teens (13-19) and multiples of ten (20, 30, 40, etc.) when they are listening or trying to pronounce or intone them correctly. This podcast will help you listen to and pronounce numbers more easily.

The quick way to remember them is: thirTEEN and THIRty.

Download the podcast here by right-clicking and choosing ‘Save link as’
15 Jan 2014 Numbers

Preparing to Interpret at Work

preparation sheet

A couple of months ago I was teaching a student at a company class in Tokyo. “Can you help me prepare for a meeting tomorrow, please?” she asked.

Her company had arranged a meeting with a machine salesman from Korea who spoke no Japanese. My student, an intermediate speaker of English – the best in her company, spoke no Korean. Luckily, they both spoke English.

“My problem is, I don’t know where to start,” she explained. The free checklist and preparation sheet at the bottom of this post can help you. First, continue reading.

Go to their company website

Go to the website of the person or people you are going to meet. Go to the English section if they have one. If not, use Google Translate to translate the pages if they are in a language you don’t understand (If you use Google Chrome, you may not need to do this because it might ask you to translate the site). Write down the key information you need. Write down new words or terms that may be useful. You might want to write these on word cards for later study.

Find out specialist and technical terms

Write down any specialist technical terms and data, including units from their website, brochures, catalogues or from your own technical specifications. If there is more than one possible unit to measure in, write down a conversion formula. e.g. Fahrenheit to Celsius is C = F-32*(5/9) F= C + 32*(9/5).

Ask your co-workers what they want to ask the visitor

Ask your co-workers to give you any questions they want to ask the visitor. This will give you time to translate them in time for the meeting.

Think of questions your visitor may want to ask your company

This means that you can find the answer quickly and have a translation ready in plenty of time.

Make a list of things that you need to take to the meeting

To avoid more stress, make a list of things you need to take to the meeting. If you have no whiteboard pens or even a notebook, this can make you panic. Try to relax by preparing in advance. Here is a free checklist (PDF) to help you.

Good luck!

Cook in English

One of the best ways you can study English in a hands on way is through cooking. Think about it: you read a recipe and try to make the dish. If you make a tasty dish, you understood the recipe. If you don’t understand the recipe, you make a mistake and the food tastes bad.

Here are some easy dishes to start with:

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Potato Dauphinoise

The Hairy Bikers’ Bacon and Poached Eggs

Those tricky transitive verbs

A lot of people have problems with using transitive verbs correctly. I often hear things like the following errors:

I didn’t enjoy.

Yes, I like.

He needs.

The reason these are wrong is that they are transitive verbs. This just means that they need an object to make sense. Some of the biggest sources of mistakes are:

ask, bring, buy, close, cut, do, enjoy, get, hate, like, love, need, push, pull, say, tell, and want.

These are all transitive in active use (they have a subject and take an object) and in passive they become intransitive.


I asked Marc. (ask is transitive)

Marc was asked. (ask is intransitive)

One way to find out how to use these verbs is to read, and check the sentence the verbs appear in. Does the verb have a subject? Does it have an object? Would the sentence be clear without the object? Take notes and remember.

See, Watch and Look

The words ‘see’, ‘look’ and ‘watch’ are often confused by students of English because they are so similar. Here are a few examples of each one to help you out.



Used for ‘meet’:

I’ll see you tomorrow.

Instead of ‘meet’ for animals:

I saw a nice dog on my walk.

Used to mean ‘watch’ but with a more casual feeling, indicating leisure:

I saw a great film yesterday.



Indicates action or change:

You have to watch the cake because it might burn in the oven.

Used for going to a location to observe something:

I’m going to watch the boats come in at the dock.

Like ‘look’ but with greater attention:

Watch this! I can juggle five balls.



Observe or read briefly:

I looked at the menu.

Make eye contact:

Please look at me when I’m talking to you.

Describes appearance:

She looks beautiful.


Word cards

Word cards are one of the most useful ways to study vocabulary, in my experience. You can take them with you easily, and remove cards with known vocabulary from the list so you are studying only what you need.

I think it is best to study vocabulary in English only, as much as possible. The best way to do this with your word cards is:

1. Write out a sentence with the word you want to learn on one side.


2. On the other side write the word you want to learn.


3. Next to the word, write its meaning in English or draw a picture.


Remove cards from this pile when you know them and keep them in another stack to look at them every month or so and throw them away when you really do know them.