A Push When You Need It


This week one of my students who has been a little bit too relaxed about his TOEFL study has become extremely motivated and started undertaking listening practice of his own accord and systematically logging the vocabulary he is learning, emailing me to tell me his progress. What caused this? Me telling him I’d check up on him and give him more work if he didn’t do it.

Yesterday one of my teenage students promised me he’d actually try in class, instead of giving up before starting, after leaving his listening paper blank. He doesn’t cope with change well and has all new classmates and a new textbook for this year. For him, this is a significant promise and one that I told him I’d watch to make sure he’d keep to.

Sometimes you don’t need a teacher, you need someone to look over your shoulder, check you’re on task and give you a push when you need it.

If you’re one of my students, you get that nudge as part of the service. A lesson doesn’t last for just the lesson; it needs to last for as long as you need it. Without somebody to coach you (and sometimes that coach can be yourself) you can get lazy. Without a cheerleader (and that can be you, too), you can think that you’re doing badly and lose motivation.

If you need a push, ask me.

If you want to tell me how you’re going to study English, leave a comment.

The Ultimate Study Kits


Students tend to spend a lot of money on equipment for studying English. In this post I have listed some of the best kits available for you.

  • The Cheap Kit
  • This consists of:

    • a pencil or pen,
    • a piece of paper,
    • something to read or listen to,
    • which could be a free magazine, newspaper or an advert, or even a conversation you can hear.

  • The bookworm’s kit
  • This is simple:

    • a pencil or erasable pen,
    • Post-It notes,
    • and

    • an English book, either one you own or from a library.

  • The vocabulary kit
  • You should get:

    • something to read or listen to,
    • a pen or pencil,
    • word cards,
    • an English dictionary (not bilingual),
    • and maybe

    • a notebook,
    • and

    • headphones
    • if you are studying listening in public.

  • The millionaire’s kit
  • It would be nice, and even useful to have:

    • A computer,
    • an MP3 player or smartphone,
    • an electronic dictionary,
    • a grammar reference book,
    • a style guide,
    • a thesaurus,
    • noise-cancelling headphones,
    • private English lessons,
    • a ticket to an English-speaking country,
    • and

    • cable television with English movie channels and English drama channels

As you can see, the first three kits are simple things you already have at home. Materials to study from can cost a lot but if you have a library near you that has English books then you can study for free. This is to show that there is a lot of nice stuff that you can buy to help you study but you do not need to buy a lot of things to study English.

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.

Easy Ways to Use English Every Day

“I want to use English,” my students say, “but I don’t have anyone to talk to apart from you.”


“What about writing a diary?” I suggest.

“I never keep to it. I always abandon it after a week or so.”

In which case, here are some other suggestions.

The first one is from my student who makes her to-do list in English every day. It’s a daily habit and it means she keeps using English and it has to be clear.

Next is the logbook, which is not quite a diary, but a list of the things you have done. It might be a list of the study activities you have done, or in the case of the artist Austin Kleon, a list of all the day’s notable activities. I keep one about this website (in English, my mother tongue) and one about my running (in Japanese, my second language). I have found that the more you do this, the more motivated you become to keep going with your goals so it’s definitely worth trying.

If you know any other easy ways to use English every day leave a comment to share your idea with others.

Bad at English?

You are not ‘bad at English’. What does ‘bad at English’ mean?

Maybe your listening or reading comprehension skills are not as good as you want them to be. Practise with easy material and hard material. The easy material is a warm up and the hard material is work. I didn’t say you have to read a whole book at once; do what you can, but do try (and try again).

Perhaps your writing is not as interesting as you want it to be. Did you try? Did you rewrite it? Did you check the spelling or grammar?

It’s possible that you think you don’t speak fluently enough. Do you practise speaking? Do you talk to yourself on English at home? Do you talk to your phone? Do you record yourself? Do you put yourself in situations outside your comfort zone?

You need to be less of a judge and more of a coach. You wouldn’t be unkind about a stranger’s English skills so why would you be unkind about your own?

How many times should I repeat this?

I’m writing this in reply to a Twitter conversation.

When you listen to a video or a CD and don’t understand, how many times should you repeat it or replay it?

As many times as it takes. However, are you taking notes? Can you check words in a dictionary. Can you repeat what the speaker says?

If you can take notes, this helps. You will get hints about conversational topics and maybe even guess how the topic will change.

If you can check words in a dictionary, you can check that you understand correctly.

If you can repeat what the speaker says, you can use your phone to take notes, then make paper notes too.

I hope this helps.

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.