Use Kindle and Kobo to Study English


Even if you don’t own an e-book reader (or ebook reader), you can still download free samples to your smartphone or your computer.

Download the app and go shopping in the Kindle store or the Kobo store (search for your local store) and download free samples of books. You’ll need to sign up but if it’s useful for you, it’s not really a big deal. You have the ability to highlight and search dictionaries for the words you don’t understand, which you can’t do in the middle of a real book shop.

You can then take notes in Evernote or make word cards.

Find Time To Read


I’ve talked about having enough study time in a previous post. Sometimes it is easy to feel that you don’t have enough time to read. You have a family, a job, other studies, a social life, etc. All this stops you from having time to read.

In this article, from the business blog Fast Company, you can see that there are strategies that you can use to get time to read or study.

One thing I especially agree with is that you can stop reading a book after ten pages and quit it. Sometimes life is just too short for some books. There’s always another day, month or year to try reading it if you feel you must.

Travelling to work is an obvious way to get time to read but how about waiting in line at the post office? Between appointments at work? In the bath?

Describe Places

This is a suburban town on the outskirts of Tokyo. It is a residential area; there are a lot of houses and apartments. There aren’t many businesses here, but there are some.

This is the urban centre of Tokyo. There are a lot of skyscrapers and other large buildings, and the buildings are densely packed together. There isn’t a lot of space. There aren’t many trees.

This is in the mountains. In the wilderness there are almost no buildings, just mountain huts. There are trees, grass and rocks. There aren’t many people, just animals such as deer and rabbits.

This is by the sea, because my home town, in England, is on the coast. There are birds called kittiwakes which have their nesting grounds here.

I hope this helps you describe places using geographical vocabulary and ‘there’ with ‘be’ and countable and uncountable nouns.

Please leave a photo of a place you like and a comment to describe the place.

Starting to Read English


This post is for beginners. It may be useful for others, too.

For good English you need to read English. Reading English is hard. Sometimes there are words you don’t understand. Don’t quit. You need to do more work when you are starting to read English.

Sometimes you choose to read, sometimes you have to read for work or study. This post will help make your reading more effective.

If you are reading a book, magazine or newspaper, write notes in the book or make copies of the pages and write on the copies. If you are reading a web page, print it out.

  1. Read the part you need to read. Don’t worry about it. Just get to the end.
  2. Get a highlighter pen and a pencil. Use the pen to highlight words you know a little but not 100%. Use the pencil to black out words that you do not know at all.
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  4. Try to think of words you might know to replace the blacked out words. Does the sentence make sense? If not, or you still have problems…
  5. Check the highlighted words. Can you remove them and have the sentences still make sense? If not…
  6. Erase the pencil from your unknown words. Use an English dictionary to check the meaning. Try not to use a bilingual dictionary. If you do not own an English dictionary, you can buy this one
    or use this website.
  7. Write notes for the new words. I think word cards are the best.
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If everything is still too hard, put your reading away, take a deep breath, and try it another time.

Links – Money Talk


These links are about money and how we talk about it.

22 Phrases That Only Wall Streeters Will Understand via Edulang

Banking language by

This one isn’t about English but it is about business. The English Empire: A growing number of firms worldwide are making English their official language. At The Economist, via Ross Harrison

Become a ‘Specialist’ to Improve Your Vocabulary


Previously I’ve written about studying what you find interesting. This has built-in motivation and will help you talk about the things you do every day.

However, sometimes you want to learn new things. To do this, become a ‘specialist’. Focus on a topic and learn vocabulary about it by listening and reading about it. This may be a long project, definitely more than one week. Don’t worry about spending too much time on this project; worry about whether it is interesting enough.

Brainstorm vocabulary ideas first

What words do you think you are going to read/hear? Perhaps it would be a good first step to use a dictionary to translate from your first language to English if you don’t have any ideas at all.

Take notes while you read and listen

Try to write what you read or heard in your own words. Do you agree with it? Will you try out the idea that you read about or heard?

Make word cards for new vocabulary

New vocabulary from any reading or listening should go onto word cards. You might also want to add these new words to a glossary, a list of specialist words and what they mean.

Carry on until you are a ‘specialist’

You might want to start a new specialist topic while you are in the middle of another. It’s possible but it is a lot of work. Why not write it down and start it when you feel you know enough about your current topic. You know when you have finished if you feel you have improved your vocabulary enough to tell your friends about your specialist topic in English.

From my own experiences I have found this to work, while studying photography, running and fitness training in Japanese. All are really fun, as is my new specialism, psychology.

Leave Your Comfort Zone to Learn More


Comfort Zone: a place or situation where everything is comfortable and familiar.

You can already read English well enough to understand this blog.

This blog is not reading practice; it is part of your reading practice. I know that ‘real’ English (as opposed to ESL textbook English) is difficult but life is difficult, too. If you want to get better, you have to leave your comfort zone.

Trying costs you nothing. You can’t fail, because trying means you win. If you have problems this time, remember that next time will be easier.
Let me know what you try in the comments.

Read Poetry to Develop Vocabulary


One of the most pleasurable ways to develop your vocabulary is to read poetry. A short poem can give you something interesting to think about and you can see different ways to describe things, people and feelings than you might have thought.

A poem can be read on a short commute, in line at the post office or, well, anywhere. There are some great resources on the internet. You can also listen to poetry on the internet, too.

Writer’s Almanac has a poem a day and a podcast.
Radar Poetry has an audio player on its site, too. Some of the poems are difficult, some are easy to understand.

On Twitter, you could follow Poetry Verve and Poetry_Society.

If you have any other ideas, leave them in the comments, please.

Focus Your Input for TOEIC, TOEFL and IELTS


Sometimes you aren’t studying English. This is certainly true when you are studying for tests like TOEIC, TOEFL and IELTS you study specialised kinds of English. What you study depends on the test.

TOEIC tests English for business (as well as everyday English).
TOEFL and IELTS test academic English.

The best ways to study for these tests are to read materials similar to the tests’ reading materials and listen to podcasts about relevant topics. For TOEIC, listen to business and news podcasts. For TOEFL and IELTS listen to podcasts about arts, social sciences and science for TOEFL and IELTS.

Sites I recommend for TOEIC:


Take Notes of Grammar and Vocabulary

Don’t forget to take notes of new grammar structures and make word cards for new vocabulary. Remember also to learn whole word families because these tests sometimes test your knowledge of word families. If you study these as you go, it should not be a problem.

Understand Passive Verb Forms

For all these tests you should learn to understand the passive verb form because it is used frequently in formal business English and in academic English.


He improved his English test scores by reading serious news articles and listening to college lectures. Not passive.

His English test scores were improved by reading serious news articles and listening to college lectures. Passive.

The basic construction is:

THING + ‘BE’ verb + ACTION verb (done to the thing) + DETAIL/CONDITION (optional but more common).

For a long-term skill increase you should study different materials anyway. However, to get a higher score in standardised tests such as TOEIC, TOEFL or IELTS, you need to understand the style of their reading and listening materials.