Tourist Information is Study Material


Paris Map by Stefano Creative Commons: Attribution

How much do you really know about the place you live in? Have you ever visited the tourist information office? If you haven’t, you may be missing out on an amazing source of study material. Pick up every free leaflet, map and brochure in English.

You already have some familiarity with things in the town. There will be other facts mentioned in there that help you enjoy your town even more, such as the existence of parks, places of historic interest and leisure facilities you never knew existed.

There are maps to help you plan itineraries for visitors, or even just a walking tour to write in your English diary.

Some of you may be thinking, ‘My town doesn’t have any English tourist information. I can’t do this!’ Yes, you can. In fact, you can do something even better: make your town’s English tourist information. Even with very easy English, this is completely possible. You don’t have to do it in one day; make it a project for your English study. Put it online, using a free blog site such as or and you’re not only helping yourself, you’re helping your local economy and anyone thinking about visiting your town. (If you’re really ambitious, or you are studying web programming you could make a really great site.)

Learn English by Learning to Program


I’ve written about learning new skills such as cooking and learning the specialist vocabulary can help you get great English. How about computer programming? You like computers and the internet because you’re using a computer now (even a phone is a computer nowadays) unless you had someone print out this page for you. Why not learn to program using English?

Learning a few basics about programming or web design is not difficult to do. If you make mistakes, it is really difficult to break your computer unless you are trying to change your computer’s basic functions.

Codecademy is an interesting place to start practising basic programming and all of the instructions are in English.

W3Schools is a useful site for practising web design and Javascript programming.

You could also look into programming Ruby or Python because both have large communities discussing problem solving in English.

Stack Overflow is also a useful site for solving problems. One of my former students said he improved his English by reading Stack Overflow every day.

I want another example!


This was originally a reply to a post on Google Plus but I thought it would also be useful for everyone. Using ‘other’ is difficult for some people because of the level of specificity (knowing if something is special to the topic of conversation) much like ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’. Here are the basic uses.

The other: a specific singular or uncountable thing.

“Don’t buy the red jacket! Buy the other one.”

A different jacket both speakers understand.

The others: a specific countable group of things.

“If we are going to go out tonight we should invite the others.”

A group of people in the same friendship group.

Other: unspecific countable or uncountable things.

“Let’s talk to other people to see what they think.”

Different people.

Another: one unspecific thing.

“I have one car already but I want another for my wife.”

A car, maybe any car.

Links – Webcomics


Everyone knows that comics are great for your English because if you can’t understand words you have pictures to help you guess what they mean. Unfortunately, importing comic books can be quite expensive and reading comics on e-readers can be frustrating, too.

However, webcomics are a great compromise and most are short enough to be read comfortably on a smartphone, too.

Here are two of my recommendations.

Gronk, about a girl who lives with a monster who is not scary and Moonbeard, because I have a strange sense of humour.

Use Parallelism in Academic Writing

Write a diary

In academic writing, there is a tendency for students to write what comes straight out of their head without pausing to think about grammar. While this is fine when one is writing against the clock, it is good practice to use parallelism, or parallel construction, not only at the whole text level (introduction, supporting arguments, opposing arguments, conclusion), but also at the paragraph level. This is not marked down in TOEFL or IELTS but it is looked at in GMAT.

An example of generally acceptable academic writing without parallelism:

The data displays a sharp increase in activity in the summer of each year. Other than summertime, the activity fluctuates and has no overall trend.

With parallelism:

The data displays a sharp increase in activity in the summer of each year. Other than the summer, the data displays fluctuations which have no overall trend.

Parallelism looks less interesting but it is easier to read and understand, which is very important in academic texts.

I have an ebook about academic writing coming very soon.

Stop to Think About Whether You Need to Stop Thinking

Stop Sign

Stop sign –

How to use ‘stop’ with another verb is difficult to remember for some students but there is an easy way to remember how to use it correctly.

Stop + infinitive

Using ‘stop’ with the infinitive (i.e. ‘stop to…’) means pausing because there is another different action that the person or thing does.

I had to stop to think about which way to go.

Will you stop to pick up some milk on the way home?

Stop + gerund

Using stop with a gerund (‘stop something) is generally used to talk about quitting something.

The doctor told him to stop smoking.

I need to stop working so hard.


Sometimes, using ‘’ verbs that are not gerunds but continuous verbs make things difficult. If the ‘~ing’ does not come at the end of the clause or is not followed by a noun phrase then you may have a case like the one below, which is stop + infinitive.

I had to stop cooking to answer the telephone.

In infinitive forms, ‘and’ often replaces ‘to’.

I had to stop and think about which way to go.

I hope you don’t need to stop to think too much about how to use this verb in the future.

FREE Google Hangout Lesson – Limited to 5 People


Some of you may be wondering if you can take a free Google Hangout lesson with me to try things out. Well, on Sunday, 30th March you can. All times Japan Standard Time (GMT + 9:00). Each hangout is limited to 5 people. You can only take one of these hangout lessons. To book, email me telling me which level you’d like to try. You need a Google Account (i.e. the one you use for Gmail/Google Drive/Google+).

Elementary (15:45-16:15)

Buying Train Tickets

Useful posts: Understanding Time and How to Buy Train Tickets)

Intermediate (16:20-16:50)

Describing Places

Useful posts: Describe places and Comparing Things

Upper-Intermediate/Advanced (17:00-17:30)

Talking About Movies

Useful posts: How to Talk About Movies and Books and Tell Stories Easily Using 4 Parts

Should You Pay To Study?


Should you pay to study? Some students do very well with free study material while others like to have a lot of textbooks. It can be quite expensive to buy a lot of textbooks but there are also advantages. I am going to talk about the pros and cons of studying using free material and textbooks.

The best things in life are free?

There is so much available on the internet for free that anything you want is often just a Google search away. There is music, video, text, speaking practice and even grammar and vocabulary exercises. You can even download books legally from places like Project Gutenberg.

Sometimes you need a little bit more structure to your study and without a textbook, teacher or mentor to guide you it may be difficult to know what you need to study and in what order.

You get what you pay for?

Not all textbooks are equal. Sometimes expensive textbooks are worse than cheaper options. Sometimes you may pay a lot of money to a language school who give a lot less to the experienced or inexperienced teacher in the room than you think. Before you spend your money, think about whether it is worth it. Read some of the textbook in the shop, or ask for a demonstration lesson.

Spending your money can be a great way to keep your motivation up. It’s like all those people who would never exercise if they didn’t pay for gym memberships. However, be aware that a lot of people also pay for gym memberships and never go. If you would like to take a lesson with me, look here.

Myself, I buy nice running shoes and go running on the street almost every day and my wife criticises my Japanese grammar and vocabulary every day. I read free magazines and web pages and make word cards.

Ask People to Repeat Themselves


Last week I showed you how to interrupt politely in a conversation. Now I am going to show you how to ask people to repeat themselves. A lot of students feel embarrassed by this but it is important for conversations between natives, natives and non-natives and also conversations between non-natives only speaking English.

People often miss parts of the conversation. Sometimes it is because of noise or other distractions, sometimes the other speaker is a little too fast. The easiest way to ask someone to repeat themselves is “Excuse me. Could you repeat that, please?”

If you need to have them repeat it again, ask “Could you say that again more slowly, please?”

You should avoid “One more time, please.” if possible because this is not a question but a command and it can appear a little rude sometimes. Don’t worry if you have used it a lot before; you can be better now, and you can still use it if you forget everything else!

At other times, you only need to check what the other person said. For example, “Did you say that you are from England?”

If the person you are listening to said quite a lot and you only want to check the overall meaning you may ask something like “Do you mean that while business is bad we should do more training and then focus on selling when we are busier?”

On the telephone you need to ask for repetition a lot. One way to avoid repetition over and over again may be to ask for an email address. This is because most people’s email address contains their name and their company’s name, so you can get the correct spelling. However, sometimes it really is difficult to hear someone’s name, especially if they have a strong accent. Simply apologise and ask them to spell their name.