How to Test Your Progress

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There are so many different standardised tests available to test your English skills: the Cambridge certificates, TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS, BULATS and, here in Japan, the Eiken/STEP test.

For a lot of people, these tests are pointless. If you need the certificate to get a job or a college place, go for it. If not, read on.

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How to Take Lecture Notes

Campus Week

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This week it’s Campus Week at Get Great English. I know the term hasn’t started yet but think of it as a little time to prepare before packing bags, unpacking, moving into halls of residence or a flat.

When you are at university you need to take lecture notes. This is something you can practise online with video lectures (about your field of study or some elective courses you might take) so you develop the skills you need before you start university.

Continue reading How to Take Lecture Notes

Practise Grammar Using Your To-Do List

Write a diary

I have written before about using your to-do list as a way to practise English but why not use your to-do list for more repetitive grammar study? You could use this system for present perfect tense, modals and contrasting the simple future, present continuous and simple past tenses.

  • Present Perfect Tense

  • Simply add the item to your list in a negative present-perfect sentence. e.g. ‘I haven’t done my homework.’

    I haven't done my homework.

    When it is finished, can write a new note in the positive form. (I know you could simply cross out the negative part, i.e. ‘I haven’t done my homework.‘, but you can get more practice by writing a new note.)

    I have done my homework.

  • Modals

  • You can practice modals by writing a sentence such as ‘I should do my homework.’

    I should do my homework.

    As your deadline gets nearer, write a stronger modal, like ‘I must do my homework.’

    I must do my homework.

    If you have any incomplete items, write another note, such as ‘I had to do my homework but I didn’t.’

    I had to do my homework but I didn't.

  • Contrasting Simple Future, Present Continuous and Simple Past Tenses

  • This is similar to the modals example. For new items, write a future tense note (both ‘will’ and ‘going to’ are fine but obviously not together). e.g. ‘I will do my homework.’

    I will do my homework.

    Any incomplete tasks can be written in present continuous tense. e.g. ‘I am doing my homework.’

    I am doing my homework.

    Any finished tasks can be written in simple past tense, such as ‘I did my homework.’ or ‘I finished my homework.’

    I finished my homework.

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Four Costly Business English Mistakes

Business English


Usually I tell my students, “If you make a mistake, nobody dies.” For most people, English mistakes in a conversation don’t have significant effects and in business conversations you are probably fine. However, there are four kinds of mistakes that business people routinely make and may cost them money.

Spelling Mistakes

This should be easy to avoid. Most businesses use Microsoft Word and you can definitely install the English spelling and grammar checker, or you can ask the IT manager. The grammar checker is not always reliable but the spelling checker is very accurate. Go through each error one by one – do not click ‘Correct All’ – because the spell checker will change any names to real words.

Machine Translation

Google Translate works quite well between European languages but between European and Asian languages it is dreadful. The grammar, especially word order, is strange. This tells customers you couldn’t be bothered to try to translate your document. If you need to translate something, give the document to a company employee with a high level of English and ask them to try it. Give them at least twenty percent more time than you think they need because everyone underestimates how much time translation takes. If they are not a confident translator then you should hire a professional. It is not cheap but that is the cost of doing business.

Lack of Proofreading

You must proofread documents. Check they make sense to your readership. Depending on the type of document, you may need to have a high level of accuracy; contracts ought to be 100% accurate but short emails may have grammar and spelling mistakes as long as they can be understood and they are not the first contact with your customer. If you don’t have the confidence to proofread your own documents, consult a professional. (I also offer this service – email me for details).

Unclear Vocabulary

Nobody expects a non-native speaker to be 100% proficient in their conversation all of the time. However, people expect presentations and speeches to contain the correct vocabulary and to communicate effectively. If there is a word you need to use in a presentation or speech that you need to check in a bilingual dictionary ensure you also check it in a monolingual English dictionary. If you still don’t know how to use the word, try a different word that you do know how to use or change Google’s language settings to English and search for examples of the word in real sentences by native speakers. Then, input your sentence into Google and if there are a high number of results it is probably correct. If you aren’t sure, hire a proofreader, such as me.

If you follow these steps you should limit your mistakes to only the trivial ones that rarely matter. Remember to proofread everything and if you are unsure of your proofreading, ask a professional.