Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all Effortless English Club members!

As you know, it is a tradition to make resolutions at the beginning of the year. The word "resolution" has a couple of meanings, but here it means "a strong decision".

Basically, a New Year's resolution is a goal for the next year.

Hopefully, one of your resolutions is to be an excellent English speaker!

How will you do it? Here are a few links and resources to help you get started on this important goal for 2008:

The 7 Rules Email Course
http://www.EffortlessEnglishClub.com/free.html
This is my free email course. In the course, I tell you 7 methods for improving your English speaking fast. The 7 Rules focus on fluency-- which means speaking and understanding English easily and automatically. Use the 7 Rules when you create your English study plan.

Lingq
http://www.lingq.com
Lingq is run by my friends Steve and Mark Kaufman. They have an excellent system, some of it is free and some you have to pay for. The free system allows you to save and review new vocabulary... which is a great service. When you pay, you can talk to their tutors on the internet (using Skype) and also submit writing for correction. I'm using Lingq now to improve my Spanish-- they offer many different languages! Last week I had my first Spanish Skype chat (Ill be writing more about my experiences with Lingq in the future).

KanTalk
http://www.kantalk.com
This is a great language exchange and social site. At Kantalk, you meet other English learners and speakers. You can sign up for group chats, make friends, and schedule individual talks with other members. The great thing is-- its all free :) Like Lingq, Kantalk members use Skype to communicate with each other.

Those three services will give you a strong start in 2008. This is the year you become an excellent English speaker!

Good luck.






Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

American Accent Training- Review

"American Accent Training" is a book and CD set by Ann Cook. You can buy it on Amazon.com. As the title suggests, this is a pronunciation-only system. It is designed for one thing-- to improve your English pronunciation and get you to speak more like an American.

This system has two major strengths. First, it focuses mostly on intonation rather than individual sounds.

Most pronunciation books and CDs focus on the sounds of difficult letters. For example, they spend a lot of time on pronouncing "r" and "l". The result is that students improve these sounds a little, but their overall pronunciation is still terrible.

For most students, INTONATION, not the sounds of letters, is their big problem. Poor intonation is the reason native speakers cannot understand you. Which is why I like American Accent Training-- the program focuses on the most important pronunciation skill.

The second strength of this program is that it is listening based. Surprisingly, many pronunciation programs focus on the EYES instead of the ears. I've seen a lot of books with complicated drawings of the mouth and tongue, for example. All these complicated drawings are useless.

American Accent Training includes 5 CDs, so it is listening focused. And as all Effortless English members know, you learn to speak by listening. You improve speaking with your ears, not your eyes. This is true for pronunciation, as well as fluency, grammar, and vocabulary.

American Accent Training, however, does have one big weakness. It is boring. There are a lot of word lists and sentences to practice, but not of them has any meaning. You spend your time practicing random words and sentences. So, the biggest challenge with this program is finishing it.

I recommend American Accent Training only for students who are advanced and who want to focus all of their energy on pronunciation. If you are very motivated to improve your pronunciation, and can endure some boredom, the program will help you.

For everyone else, I recommend using movies and my english conversation lessons to improve pronunciation. These are much more interesting to use. Simply listen carefully, pause after each sentence, and copy the speaker's pronunciation. Make it a game-- pretend you are an actor!

Good luck with your English learning :)



Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Goosebumps

I often write about the benefits of easy, fun reading. In fact, reading easy novels is the best way to improve your vocabulary. If you can listen to audio books of the same novels, you'll improve your speaking too!

The very best approach is to choose a series of novels. By doing this, you get both the benefits of easy reading AND the benefits of narrow reading. The same is true for audio books and listening

Members often email and ask me, "Can you suggest a series of easy novels".... so here are a few that I recommend:

Goosebumps by R.L. Stine
These are scary novels for children. They are about monsters and mysteries and other fun stuff. The reading level is at an intermediate level- about a 3rd or 4th grade level. The Goosebumps series is a perfect one to start with. In fact, I just started reading my first Goosebumps novel in Spanish-- and I have ordered many more from Amazon.com

The Hardy Boys
The Hardy Boys is a very old series-- I read the books when I was a kid. The novels are about two boys who are private detectives. All of the stories are mysteries.

Nancy Drew
Nancy Drew novels are very similar to the Hardy Boys books, but are targeted to a female audience.

Sweet Valley Kids; Sweet Valley High
This is a very big series of romance books. The Sweet Valley Kids books are the easiest and are written for children. The Sweet Valley High books are for High School level readers, but are not too difficult. I recommend starting with the Kids books and reading a lot of them. Of course, read them only if you like romance novels!

All of these series can be found on Amazon.com

I highly recommend reading a lot of them. Fun, easy reading is a great supplement to my english mp3 lessons. Even if you are an advanced English learner, start the habit of reading easy novels. Then gradually read novels that are a little more difficult.

Choose series whenever possible, because "narrow" and concentrated reading produces faster improvement.

This kind of reading, combined with my english mp3 lessons, will produce amazingly fast improvement in your English. Try it for 6 months-- you will be amazed!


Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Power of Narrow Reading and Listening

Dr. Stephen Krashen is the top language learning expert in the world. He just published a new paper with Dr. Clara Lee Brown titled, "What is Academic Language Proficiency?"

In the article, Drs. Krashen and Brown discuss the best strategies for learning "academic English". Academic English is basically Advanced English. Its the English you need to succeed in universities and professional jobs.

Academic English is the next step after fluency.

So, how do you learn academic fluency? What does the research show?

1. Narrow Reading and Listening
"The narrow reading strategy is to read texts by one author, which helps ensure comprehension and natural repetition of vocabulary and grammar." (Krashen, 2004b).

Many students believe that they must listen to MANY different speakers and read many different authors. But, in fact, this is a less successful method. Picking just one speaker or writer is much better. Why?

Because speakers and writers naturally repeat many words and phrases. Each speaker has their favorite set of phrases. In speech, they naturally use these many times. By focusing on just one speaker, you will automatically get a lot of repetition of new vocabulary and grammar.

In other words, you will learn English deeply. If you want to learn academic English, you should listen to a speaker who discusses advanced topics. For example, in my level 3. lessons, you hear me discuss many academic-level topics related to culture, politics, human rights, and relationships.

By listening to all of the lessons, you naturally get a lot of repetition of common academic words, phrases, and grammar. You learn these deeply, but you don't need to try to memorize them. You learn deeply and automatically. You learn them effortlessly.


2. Don't Study Word Lists or Grammar Rules
We acquire language and develop literacy by understanding messages, not by consciously learning about language and not by deliberate memorization of rules of grammar and vocabulary (Krashen, 1981, 2003).

This is a very important point. To learn Academic Level English, you do not study grammar rules.... and you do not memorize vocabulary lists. As Dr. Krashen says, these strategies are failures. They are not successful.

To learn Academic Level English, you must listen to and read a lot of academic English-- and you must understand it. This seems simple, right?

The important point is that you MUST understand what you hear and read. How do you do that if the English is difficult? First, you can use interesting and fun lessons that help you understand more difficult articles and speeches.

Second, you can start with easy speeches and books, then slowly find more difficult ones. For example, you start listening to easy audiobooks for children. You pick one writer-speaker and listen to all of their books.

Soon, these will seem easy, so you find some books and audiobooks that are a little more difficult. You keep repeating this process, and within a year, you are reading adult novels.... and listening to adult audiobooks.

Finally, you choose academic level books, magazines, and audiobooks that interest you, and you listen to them everyday.

By following these methods, you will learn Academic English. You will understand Advanced vocabulary and grammar. You will correctly use advanced vocabulary and grammar.

And you will never again study grammar rules and vocabulary lists!




Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Deep Learning

My Effortless English Lessons contain three levels. Level 1 lesson sets are at a low intermediate level. The audio and text articles are shorter, and I speak more slowly in the Mini-Story lessons.

Even though these are "intermediate" level lessons, all learners should use them-- even advanced learners. Why? Because advanced learners usually have a lot of basic problems. They may know a lot of vocabulary, for example, but may not know many common phrases that native speakers use.

Advanced learners also have another BIG problem- they often "know" very difficult grammar, but when they speak, they make very simple grammar mistakes. This is because they learned with old methods- they learned to analyze English grammar but they never learned to "feel" correct grammar. They didn't learn it deeply.

So, even advanced learners need to practice the level 1 lessons-- all of them.

Next are the level 2 lesson sets. These still contain fairly short text and audio articles, but I speak faster. The Mini-Story lessons are much faster... and there are some Point of View lessons too. The level 2 lessons increase your "processing speed". You also learn a lot of idioms and phrases.

What is processing speed? Its how fast you understand (and speak) English. For example, you might "know" a lot of vocabulary, but when you hear native speakers you still can't understand. Why not? Probably because your processing speed is slow. Your brain can't understand whole phrases and sentences and it cant understand them quickly. Level 2 lesson sets help you improve.

Finally, there are the level 3 lesson sets. This is the biggest group of lessons. These lesson sets include much more difficult text and audio articles. The Mini-Stories are much more difficult too... I speak quite quickly-- at a quick (but normal) native rate of speech.

When you finish all of the level 3 lesson sets, your processing speed is fast. Also, you know a lot of vocabulary, including common idioms, phrases, and slang.

For all students, it is important to do ALL of the lesson sets. Whatever your level, start with the level 1 lesson sets, and do all of them (one set per week). Then go to the level 2 sets, and then to the level 3 sets. Do not skip any sets or any levels.

You listen to one set every day-- for one week (or more). In this way, you learn everything deeply. You learn to understand quickly. You learn to speak fast-- and effortlessly. You are a fluent English speaker!

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Exciting Things

At the moment, I am on vacation in Honduras. Im on Roatan Island, SCUBA diving for the next week. So far, the diving has been fantastic. I have gotten my Advanced certification, and also certification in Enriched Air Diving (Nitrox).

When I return to San Francisco, we'll be working on several new exciting things. At the moment, our two new teachers, Kristin and Chris, are working on new lesson "albums". Kristin and I are finishing the movie lessons.

As you know, my Effortless English Club lessons include two sample movie lessons. In these lessons, you have the text from a real Hollywood movie. For each scene, there is also a Vocabulary lesson-- I explain difficult phrases, especially idioms and slang. Then there is a Listen & Answer Mini-Story lesson (or more than one). This is the most powerful lesson. In the Mini-Story, we ask a lot of questions while telling a story. You answer the questions. As you hear the questions and answer them, you effortlessly learn vocabulary and grammar.... and you learn them deeply.

Some lesson sets also include a Point of View Lesson-- in which we tell the same story using different grammar (past, future, etc).

Chris and I are working on a Core Fluency Lesson album. These lessons focus on the most common English words, phrases, and grammar. When you finish these lessons, you will master the most common English-- allowing you to speak easily to native speakers. The Core Fluency lessons will be great for learners who want to strengthen their fluency, or for learners who are lower level.

The Movie Lessons will be a great addition to my Effortless English Club Lessons-- you will continue to improve while learning more idioms and common American slang!

So, continue to check this blog for more news about the new lessons.

Meanwhile, the best way to get started is with my Effortless English Lessons. Enjoy English!



Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Greek Family Lessons

"Greek Family" is one of my intermediate level lesson sets. The set has several parts:

1. A real letter from a woman who is married to a Greek man. The woman writes about her problems with his family. Because she is not Greek, they do not accept her. Even worse, they don't accept her children either. The couple lives in America. In many ways, the letter sounds like it was written about the family in the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"

2. An audio version of the letter. All lesson sets include both a text article and an audio version. Audio is very important because you improve your speaking by listening. Listening to native speakers is the best way to improve your speech: your pronunciation, your spoken grammar, your spoken vocabulary, and your understanding.

3. A Vocabulary Lesson: In the vocabulary lesson, I explain difficult vocabulary. I especially focus on difficult phrases and idioms. Individual words are easy to find in a dictionary, but phrases and idioms are often difficult to understand-- unless a native speaker explains them.

4. A Listen & Answer Mini-Story: The Listen & Answer Story is the most important lesson. In this lesson, I tell a story with questions. I ask many, many questions. Most are quite easy. You answer every question with a loud voice. If necessary, you pause your computer or iPod and then answer.

The question technique I use is very powerful, for two reasons. First, the questions create a lot of repetition of important structures (grammar) and vocabulary. Its not enough to hear something one time-- you will forget it. But in these lessons, you hear the important phrases MANY times. You learn them deeply-- so you understand them instantly and automatically.

Secondly, the question technique is powerful because you must participate. You must respond. You must answer. This is like a real conversation. In real conversations, someone asks you a question, and you answer. Most textbooks and tapes don't ask enough questions.. and the student just sits there (or even worse... the teacher says, "repeat after me"-- terrible). In my Listen and Answer lessons, you learn to think in English. You hear a lot of questions and you answer all of them. After using all of my lessons, you will be ready for real conversations!

4. Point of View Stories. The Point of View stories tell the exact same Mini-Story... but each one uses different grammar. By listening to all of them, you practice the Past tenses, the Perfect tenses, and the Future. But don't worry-- you never study boring grammar rules. You don't even need to know the names of the verb tenses. You learn to understand and use them naturally-- without thinking-- just like a native speaker.

By using all parts of the lesson set, you learn English deeply. You learn to use English automatically. You learn effortlessly.

Enjoy!



Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Passion is Important



This week I have a new teacher at the Casa Xelaju Spanish school. She is much better.

Last week, my old teacher never smiled. She had no passion for teaching. But my new teacher smiles often. She enjoys talking. She enjoys communicating. When I talk, she looks at me. She listens. It seems like she likes her job.

At Effortless English, we talk a lot about methods. Teaching methods are very important. We use the best learning methods. We use the most successful methods. We always choose methods based on independent research, so you learn easily and quickly.

However, method is not the only important thing. Passion and enthusiasm are equally important. The teacher must LOVE teaching. The teacher must have passion. The teacher must be interested in teaching.

If the teacher does not have passion, the student will feel it. The student will quickly become bored and tired. The student will lose motivation. This happened to me last week. After only one week with a bored teacher, I was ready to quit the school. On the other hand, after only one day with a good teacher, I feel motivated and happy about learning Spanish.

Our attitudes are very important-- both as teachers and students. We must be passionate, positive, and enthusiastic. As students, we must find teachers who LOVE teaching. We must find materials that are interesting to us. We must take care of our emotions and motivations.

That's why I try to be enthusiastic and excited in my lessons. Sometimes I even shout! Feel my energy! Become more excited about English! Enjoy the stories and ideas and don't focus on grammar!

This is probably the most important "method" of Effortless English: Passion!



Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Basic Flaws of Language Education

My terrible experience at the Casa Xelaju school does have one benefit-- its an opportunity to analyze the failures of traditional language education.

As you know, language programs have a failure rate of over 95%-- which is terrible. Why do they fail so much? What is wrong with language education all over the world?

Of course, I know many of the reasons because I know the research on this topic.

But its interesting to experience this failure again as a student. Its interesting to analyze what the schools do and how they think. In fact, I believe the fundamental problems are mental. The reason language schools fail is that they hold certain incorrect beliefs. These beliefs effect their teaching methods, their attitudes, and their behaviour.

So, what are the basic wrong beliefs that most language schools and teachers hold?

1. "Teachers can (and should) force students to speak"

This is also called the "output" belief. Most teachers think that output (speaking and writing) is most important in language education. Therefore, they try to force their students to speak and write frequently. They do this even with beginning students-- forcing them to speak the language before they are ready.

The problem is, this belief is totally wrong. We don't learn language by speaking or writing. We learn from "input"-- listening and reading. Research shows that understandable input (listening and reading) is the fastest, most efficient, and indeed.. the only way to learn a language.

Does this mean speaking and writing are not important? Of course not. It means that in a classroom, listening and reading must be the primary activities. It means that forcing students to speak is a waste of time.

This belief is really a sign of teachers' impatience. They don't have patience, so they try to push the student to speak, speak, speak before they are ready.

Its also a sign of teachers' laziness. When the students speak, the teacher can do nothing (just nod their head and pretend to listen). But if the students are going to listen, the teacher has to talk and must try hard to help the students understand.

Effortless English is a Listen First method. Our lessons use listening primarily (with some reading). We do this because the research is clear-- listening is the key to learning a language and listening is the key to speaking well.

2. "Teachers can force students to be perfect"

This is another sign of teachers' impatience. They believe that the students must be perfect. Teachers believe that errors are bad, and must therefore be corrected constantly.

They force their students to think ABOUT the language-- about "the rules". And what happens? Their students become nervous and slow. They can't communicate because they are so worried about perfection. They constantly translate and analyze grammar "rules". Their speaking is terrible-- absolutely terrible.

This belief is wrong. Perfection is a lie, and it is not possible. Language learning is a process-- a long process. During most of that process, errors are NECESSARY and NORMAL. Children do not speak their native language perfectly. Even highly educated adults make occasional mistakes.

To learn quickly... to speak well, students absolutely must make mistakes. The research is clear about this-- students who focus on communication, not perfection, learn faster, speak better, and eventually MAKE FEWER ERRORS than students who focus on grammar "rules".

For this reason, we never focus on perfection with Effortless English lessons. We encourage students to communicate. We never analyze grammar rules and we never teach grammar rules. You learn grammar naturally, like a child.

You also enjoy the language. You relax. You smile. You laugh. You think. You learn English by focusing on ideas, stories, and communication.

3. "Error correction helps students speak better"

This is a very common lie. Most teachers think that error correction helps students speak better. Unfortunately, many students also think this helps-- they actually ask the teacher (or a friend) to correct their errors while they speak.

This seems logical,.. but its totally wrong. There is a lot of research about this. In the research, they have two groups. One group receives a lot of error correction. The other group receives none (the teacher never corrects their spoken errors).

After some time (3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years), they test each group. There is NO difference. Both groups still make the exact same number of errors when speaking.

So, obviously error correction is a waste of time. But its worse than that-- because when the teacher corrects your speech, you become nervous. You start thinking ABOUT English. Your speech becomes slower.

So, both groups make the same number of mistakes still-- but the error-correction group speaks slower, understands slower, and enjoys the language less! A terrible result.

This belief comes from the idea of "no pain, no gain". Many teachers think that students must suffer to succeed. They think the pain of correcting errors will make the students better and stronger. They are totally wrong. In language learning its "pain= no gain".

With Effortless English lessons, you are never corrected. Also, we encourage students NEVER to have their speech corrected. Instead, focus on LISTENING TO correct English from native speakers. Your errors will improve when you listen a lot to correct English.

Even better, your speech will improve automatically! You don't need to think about it. You don't need to be nervous. You relax, you listen a lot to the lessons, and your grammar & pronunciation improve automatically-- and effortlessly. That's why we call it "Effortless English".

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Typical Language School


I arrive at Casa Xelaju (the Spanish school) at 8am. I come into class and sit down. I'm very enthusiastic about learning Spanish. Last night, I did all of my homework, plus I studied extra.

The teacher says, "hola". She doesn't smile. She already looks bored. She wastes about 10 minutes going through papers while I wait. I'm the only student in the class, so I have no one to talk to. Finally, she asks for my homework. She reads the essay I wrote and corrects it. This is useful, I'm happy to get feedback on my writing.

Next, she asks me to talk a little about what I did yesterday. I start talking, but she gets a call on her cell phone. She takes the call and starts chatting! She hangs up and then says, "I need to get some coffee, I'll be right back". Ten minutes later she comes back. I suspect she was actually talking on the phone.

She asks me to start talking again. She looks totally bored... no smile, no interest in what I'm trying to say.

Next, she gives me a picture and tells me to describe it. I do my best while she sits in the corner looking bored. Occasionally she corrects my mistakes.

After this, she tells me to read a paragraph. Then I have to do a worksheet and fill in the missing words. Then I do another worksheet, writing answers to short questions. While I write, she stands and looks out the window. She leaves the room several times.

Finally, we have a 30 minute break. I started today with lots of enthusiasm, but now Im bored and annoyed. I'm happy to have a break.

When I come back from the break, she gives me a Word Search and a Crossword Puzzle. A Word Search and a Crossword Puzzle! I can't believe it. I have been teaching for over ten years, and I know that this is a total waste of time. Its a useless way for the teacher to do nothing while the student wastes time looking for words in a block of letters.

Now I know for sure-- my teacher doesn't care at all. She is bored with her job. She has no motivation, no energy, no enthusiasm, and no method.

At the end of the day I must admit that this school is mostly a waste of time. The one good point is that I get to talk in Spanish for the last 45 minutes... which helps boost my confidence and motivation and enthusiasm again.

As I walk home, I'm reminded of Steve Kaufman's words-- you cannot depend on schools to teach you. Learning is your responsibility.

And so it is. I won't let this school destroy my motivation. I know, in fact, that this school is a very normal and typical language school. I have seen these same behaviours at many English schools I've worked at. Of course, I know that every teacher gets tired sometimes. But even on a bad day, I tried to at least have energy and enthusiasm.

After this experience, I finally understand the majority of comments I get from my students. Many people write me and thank me for the lessons. They like my teaching method. The improve their English speaking.

But the most common comment I get is something like, "Thanks so much for your energy and enthusiasm. I love listening to your voice. You make me excited to study English. You make English fun." They like the lessons, but what they really LOVE is the energy and enthusiasm.

After today, I totally understand. Today, I didn't care about teaching methods-- I just wanted her to show some interest in me. I wanted her to enjoy teaching me, and enjoy helping me learn Spanish. Instead, she almost destroyed my excitement for the language.

But this is not the end. I will focus on the few good points of the class (an opportunity to talk in Spanish)... and I will spend my free time listening to interesting Spanish, reading interesting Spanish, and writing Spanish.

I will enjoy the language, and learn it myself!

And finally, I will remember this experience-- to motivate myself to continue improving as a teacher... and to always LOVE teaching English.

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Disappointing First Day

I was very excited to start Spanish classes today. Why?

Because the school in Xela said they used TPR-Storytelling to teach Spanish. As you know, my Listen & Answer Lessons use the TPR-Storytelling technique. This technique is the most powerful, the most effective, and the most efficient language teaching method I know. It is awesome!

Like many English learners, in the past I suffered through terrible Spanish lessons. In school, we rarely listened. We never read anything natural or interesting. In my High School Spanish class, we only studied grammar rules and memorized vocabulary. And so, I never learned to speak Spanish.

Last year, I started studying Spanish by myself. Unfortunately, I haven't studied much. In fact, I haven't studied at all during the last 6 months.

When I did study, I just listened to interesting articles and read interesting mini-novellas. It helped. I learned more from doing this than from one full year of Spanish classes.

But what I've always dreamed of is to learn Spanish with my own Effortless English methods... especially Listen & Answer Lessons.

So... I came to class today full of excitement! Finally, I was going to learn with a great method!

But I was disappointed. While the school claims to use "TPR-Storytelling", in fact they do not understand the method. They also don't use it very much. So what did we do in class today-- we reviewed conjugations of past tense verbs! AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Back to High School.

So I guess I'm not going to get much help with Spanish-- I'll just have to continue learning on my own. If I ever do become fluent, maybe I will create my own
Effortless Spanish" lessons-- to help others avoid the frustration I have experienced.

Meanwhile, I am even more committed to helping English students learn with the best methods possible at Effortless English!



Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sunday Xela

video

Sunday in Xela was a relaxing day. The Parque Central was filled with people. Every Sunday there is a market there, with people selling clothes and other handicrafts. Also, the main catholic church is in the Parque, and its quite large.

In the video I shot, you can see people streaming out of the church. Some (mostly women) are wearing traditional Guatemalan (indigenous) clothing. After church, many people strolled around the market. Ice cream was a very popular treat.. it seemed that everywhere we looked, there were people eating ice cream. Vendors pushed small ice cream carts around the square.

Surprisingly, I didn't get any ice cream. Its a surprise because, as my friends know, I really like ice cream. Maybe I'll avoid gaining weight on this trip!

In general, Sunday was a nice relaxed day. This seems to be the overall vibe of Xela-- relaxed and easygoing. Its a good place to focus on learning Spanish.

I'm also thinking a lot about future lessons and practicing my teaching technique. Being a language student always helps me as a language teacher!


Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Microsoft Censorship Lessons

"Microsoft Censorship" is the title of one of my lesson sets. Its about internet companies who are helping China censor the internet.

Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google all censor results in China. If you do a search for "democracy" or "Tibet" or "Falun Gong" in China, you will not get honest and accurate results about these topics. Most websites related to these topics are blocked.

In other words, these companies are assisting a totalitarian government that squashes democracy, murders protesters, tortures political prisoners, and strongly censors free speech. As such, these companies are, in my mind, active human rights abusers.

This issue, and the issue of human rights in general, is very important to me. The Effortless English Club actively supports human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. We strongly support freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly. We believe these are universal human rights.

We also believe that businesses should actively support human rights instead of helping governments murder, imprison, and intimidate people. These internet companies are just a small example.... all over the world, companies are profiting by partnering with brutal governments.

This is happening here in the USA as well-- where AT&T is helping the US government spy on their customers' phone conversations and emails. Many people seem willing to do anything to make money.

That, to my mind, is a crime. In our own small way, I hope Effortless English can be a counter-example-- a company that supports human rights, ecology, and sustainable economics.

The "Microsoft Censorship" lesson set is my first small attempt to help-- by increasing awareness of what's happening and by talking about universal human rights.

Of course, this is also a great lesson set-- with a powerful Listen & Answer Mini-Story Lesson, great vocabulary, and, of course, a REAL English text & audio article.



Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Day of the Dead

video

We went by the school and got to our host family. The host family is very nice-- a mom and her college student daughter. They were both super patient with my Spanish (even though they speak English, they stuck with Spanish). In fact, Ana (the mom) said she loves to study English. I told her about my Effortless English lessons!

Ana provides three meals a day, which is great. Lunch was black beans, tortillas, salsa, boiled potatoes, and cucumber & onion salad. Quite nice.

After lunch the school had a short tour of the local cemetery. There were 5 of us. The student coordinator (whose name is Kristin) showed us all around. Yesterday was the Day of the Dead, so almost all the tombs and graves had flowers. There were a lot of families there, taking care of the graves, having picnics.. kids flying kites. The families take care of their ancestors' graves on this day.

The front section of the cemetary was full of large tombs.. like they have in New Orleans. Its where the richer families are buried. They have to pay rent for the tombs... if they don't pay, the body is exhumed and cremated and the tomb is rented to someone else!

Many of the tombs had been robbed of their marble, because it can be sold. Almost all the angels on the tombs were missing heads-- they'd been chopped off and sold. However, a couple of tombs had an "angel of death" (a scary looking angel) on top and these were untouched because people feared being cursed if they damaged them.

PS: I am experimenting with video-- trying to get the sound and video quality decent without creating huge files that are slow to download. Any suggestions?


Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Long Trip to Xela

video

We decided to go to Xela, Guatemala to investigate a Spanish school. I'm very interested in this school because they claim to use a method similar to my Listen & Answer Lessons. So, I want to try this school for two weeks and see how they teach Spanish.

We flew out of San Francisco after midnight, at 1:30am. It was a miserable flight. I couldn't sleep, even though I was very tired. My legs hurt and I was crammed into a little seat for over 5 hours. I was reminded, again, how much I hate overnight flights and buses. I've made too many of these miserable trips in my life and really dread them now.

After a grueling night, we arrived in Guatemala City. At first I wanted to immediately get a hotel. But I got a second wind and so we took a taxi to the bus station. I paid too much for the taxi. I always do this when I'm really tired after a long trip-- I get ripped off by taxis and hotels.

The bus ride was over 4 hours and my legs hurt even more. My lower legs swelled and still I couldn't sleep. The bus wound around curves, up and down mountains-- I was constantly jerked left and right in my seat.. my head bouncing with the curves.

We finally made it to Xela, Guatemala (official name of the town is Quetzaltenango). My legs were killing me and my neck hurt too. At the bus stop we got another taxi into the center of town.. and I paid too much again. I was too tired to argue.

The center of town was almost totally empty-- no cars, no people. It was weird. Xela (Quetzaltenango) is supposed to be the second largest city in Guatemala, but it felt like a ghost town.

Using a guidebook map, we walked around and finally found a guesthouse. Luckily it was a very nice place-- a small building with a courtyard. The room was nice and they had a good restaurant too.

Totally exhausted and sore, I finally went to bed. I slept over 12 hours.

The next day in Xela I woke up feeling much better after sleeping over 12 hours. Had breakfast at the guesthouse.... then went outside to look at the town. If was much more active. There were people and cars! It turns out that we arrived on the Day of the Dead-- a national holiday-- which is why the town was empty. Xela is still a quiet town, but not a ghost town after all! We went around the Parque Central, and shot some video.

In general, I think this will be a nice place to relax and focus on studying both Spanish and teaching methods.

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Effortless Japanese Update

Some of our longtime members know that Tomoe and I have wanted to do Effortless Japanese lessons for a long time. In fact, Tomoe actually started working on lessons at one point.

But she stopped. She realized that most customers would be total beginners in Japanese. We talked a lot about the best way to teach total beginners and realized that beginning with TPR (Total Physical Response) would be best.

But there was a problem-- TPR requires video, not just audio. In TPR, the teacher gives commands, and the student responds with actions. For example, a super-simple lesson might start with "Stand Up". The students then stands up.

Of course, the commands get more and more complex as vocabulary and grammar builds... for example, "Walk slowly to the door, knock 4 times, turn around, then return quickly to your chair". The power of TPR is that you learn a lot of vocabulary VERY quickly. Even more powerful-- you learn the vocabulary without translation. Because of this, you learn it deeply, naturally, and understand it instantly.

Once past the complete beginner stage, Tomoe will use TPR-Storytelling-- just as we do in Effortless English.

The good news-- we bought a video camera and microphone! We are currently planning the set and lighting. Tomoe is planning the lessons. When we return from Central America, we will start shooting. Our plan is to shoot the lessons as quickly as possible,... then I will edit them later.

We'll offer the lessons as download videos (similar to the way Effortless English Lessons are sold). You'll watch them on your computer-- or iPod.

I'm very excited about these lessons because I know they will be the best Japanese lessons available anywhere in the world. I know a little Japanese-- very little ;) I tried textbooks, and found them difficult and boring. I tried Pimsleur tapes, liked them, but learned only a very small amount of vocabulary and phrases. I listened to Japanese podcasts-- but found they are mostly talking in English.

To say it simply-- the Japanese lessons currently available suck! They are terrible.

So I am doubly excited about Tomoe's Effortless Japanese lessons. I'm excited to help her with this new project. And I'm excited as a student, to finally learn with fun, powerful, effortless Japanese lessons!

Look for more updates in December about Effortless Japanese.


Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sigmund

Sigmund died yesterday. Those of you who listened to my old podcasts will remember him. He is Kristin's cat, who was diagnosed with cancer over 14 months ago.

At the time, we were told he had only 3-4 more months to live. But Kristin gave him alternative treatments, nutritional supplements, acupuncture, and herbs. He lived for 14 months. During that time, he got love and attention and was able to be with Kristin, with whom he has a special bond.

He died yesterday in their apartment; Kristin was with him.

He was a very sweet and affectionate cat. He loved to put his head on Kristin's shoulder, cover his face with her long hair, and purr.

Kristin has had him since we was a kitten, so of course she is very sad now... as am I. We have been meditating and praying for him, and have been reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying-- a wise and beautiful book about life and death.

Through all of this, I am reminded that love and compassion are for all sentient beings. Its the reason I became a vegetarian, for I do not wish to contribute to the suffering of ANY being.

I believe that animals, in fact, are wonderful teachers and companions. Their innocence and relative helplessness challenge us to expand our loving-kindness to embrace all. For this, I am grateful.

Most of all, I'm grateful for the happiness that Sigmund gave Kristin, and myself.

[I'll post a picture of Sigmund once I get home to San Francisco].

[Audio for this podcast will be available for this post in the future... at the moment I'm out of town and can't record audio].

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bad Choices Lessons

"Bad Choices" is one of my Lesson Sets.

The lessons use a real letter from an advice column/article. In American newspapers, there are many different advice articles. People write about their problems and ask for advice. The author (of the advice article) then tells them what they should do.

"Bad Choices" is a letter from a woman who always dates the "wrong" man. She has a bad habit of dating bad guys. She says she wants to meet nice guys, but instead she always has boyfriends who are bad. She then asks Dr. Tracy, the author, for advice.

I use a lot of Advice Letters in my lessons. Why?

1. They are REAL. These letters are written by real native speakers, about real problems, using real English. You learn REAL English. No fake textbook English.

2. They are CONVERSATIONAL. The style of these letters is very casual and conversational. You do NOT learn formal written English, you learn the English we use in everyday conversations.

3. They have a lot of IDIOMS. Because the letters use conversational English, they always include several common idioms. You learn the common idioms used by native speakers.

4. They are INTERESTING. These are real people and real problems. These letters are interesting (and sometimes funny too :) You enjoy reading and listening to them.

5. They show American CULTURE. You learn a lot about American culture-- especially families, dating, and work-- by reading these letters.

As you know, each Lesson Set contains several lessons. You read the original letter. Also, you listen to the letter because I give you an audio version too.

You also listen to a Vocabulary Lesson-- where I explain the vocabulary (especially the idioms) used in the letter.

Finally, you listen to the Mini-Story. In the Mini-Story, I take key vocabulary (especially idioms) from the letter, and then use them in a completely different story. Why?

Because you remember more when you hear the same phrase in different situations. For example, you first read the idiom in the letter. Then you hear it several times in the Vocabulary lesson. Then you hear it in the Audio version of the letter.

Then you listen to the Mini-Story. In "Bad Choices", I tell a crazy story about a short guy who always fights big tall guys. In the story, I use idioms like "no matter how you slice it"... which come from the original Advice letter. So you hear that vocabulary again, but this time in a very different situation.

In this way, you understand it better. But that's not all, because I use a lot of questions to help you remember this new phrase forever. You don't just listen, you listen and ANSWER.

By the time you finish using the lessons in the set, you know the phrases, vocabulary, and grammar very DEEPLY.


[Note-- Audio is unavailabe for this post right now. I am currently in Indiana, visiting my family (and dog). I'm unable to record audio at this time, but when I return to San Francisco, I will record audio for this post and put it on the podcast]

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Idioms

Idioms are phrases that have a different meaning than the individual words in them. Often, it is difficult to guess the meaning of an idiom-- though sometimes you can.

Idioms, however, are VERY important. Normal American speech is full of idioms. Most Americans don't realize that you didn't learn idioms in school. They will use idioms constantly when they talk to you.

This frustrates many students. Even students with high TOEFL scores and big vocabularies have trouble with normal conversation... because they don't understand the idioms.

You must learn idioms. Unfortunately, schools and textbooks don't teach them. I don't know why they don't-- its just another example of how textbook English is NOT real English. Also, you won't learn many idioms from reading-- we use them much more in speech than in writing.

How can you learn idioms?

1. Get a Dictionary of American Idioms
2. Review the 80 Most Frequent Idioms
3. Use American movies to learn idioms.
4. Get Lessons That Use Idioms and real English.

If you want to SPEAK and UNDERSTAND English, not just read it, you must learn idioms. Without idioms, you will never understand normal speech. Without idioms, you will never understand native speakers.

But when you learn idioms, speech suddenly is easy. You understand native speakers! They understand you! Its a great feeling!

Idioms are the key to real English conversation.



Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Kiss

"A Kiss" is the name of the first Lesson Set on the Effortless English Club Album. The central story for "A Kiss" is about a boy who gives his car to a girl to get a kiss from her.

"A Kiss" is a mid-beginner level lesson. The vocabulary is simple. I speak quite slowly in this lesson set. I pronounce more carefully and clearly.

Many intermediate and advanced members may want to skip this lesson. They might think, "This is much too easy for me." But I think that is a mistake.

In my experience, most advanced English students NEED simple practice with very basic English. I have taught many students, for example, who have large vocabularies and great TOEFL scores-- but who constantly make mistakes with common past tense verbs.

For example, many advanced students will use "go" when they should use "went". They know that "went" is correct, but "go" is stuck deep in their brain. They know the grammar rules, but they do not FEEL the grammar automatically.

To correct these very basic speaking problems, you need to use the easy lessons. These lessons will teach you to use correct grammar automatically. You'll also learn to use common vocabulary in the correct way-- without thinking.

Remember, Effortless English is a DEEP LEARNING system. Just knowing a rule or definition isn't enough. You probably know most of the rules, but you still constantly make mistakes when you speak. You don't need to know rules, you need to FEEL the correct forms Deeply and Automatically.

I recommend that ALL members start with The "A Kiss" Lesson Set. And I recommend that ALL members use every Lesson Set for a full week (or more). By listening to the lessons and answering the questions, you learn deeply, and teach yourself to speak correctly without thinking. English speaking becomes AUTOMATIC.

So, whether you are a beginner... or have a huge English vocabulary... start with "A Kiss"!


Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Listen and Answer

Today Kristin, Tomoe, and I went to a TPR-Storytelling (TPRS) workshop. TPRS is the central technique of Effortless English. It is the technique we use in all of our Listen & Answer Stories and Point of View Lessons.

The workshop was taught by Blaine Ray-- the creator of TPRS. He is a master. It was great to get more training from him. It was great to be reminded, again, of the most important principles of language learning.

What are those principles. In my free 7 Day Email Course, I discuss the 7 secrets to speaking English easily, and fast.

But what are the principles-- the MOST basic rules that are behind these secrets? What are the MOST basic principles of Effortless English?

There are three:

1. Understanding (Comprehension). To be powerful, a lesson MUST be understandable. This seems obvious, right? If you don't understand the lesson, you won't learn anything. Yet textbooks and schools are filled with lessons that are hard to understand. Sometimes I even have trouble understanding the grammar explanations in textbooks! I'm a native speaker with 2 Masters degrees, including one in Teaching English... yet these books confuse me! Imagine how a normal English student feels.

At Effortless English, when we say a lesson is understandable, we mean that you understand 99% of it. Not 50%. Not 80%. 99%.

After listening to our Vocabulary lesson, our Listen & Answer lessons, our Point of View lesson, and reading the Text... you understand ALL of the main article or story. And when you understand, you learn-- you learn deeply and you never forget.

2. Repetitive. To be powerful, a lesson MUST be repetitive. This means you hear the vocabulary and grammar many, many, many, many times! As you know, hearing a sentence a few times is not enough. To learn deeply, to understand immediately (without translation), to speak quickly... you must hear words and sentences many times. You must hear them hundreds of times, until they are automatic.

This is deep learning. You forgot most of your textbook lessons. Why? Because there wasn't enough repetition. You learned it, you took a test, then you forgot. Because Effortless English Lessons use a lot of repetition, you learn English and NEVER forget.

3. Interesting. Finally, To be powerful, a lesson MUST be interesting. Obviously! If the lesson is boring, you won't learn. So why are textbooks and schools so boring?!?

Effortless English lessons are interesting, funny, crazy, and controversial. You laugh, you learn, you are excited when you listen to our lessons. Because they are interesting, it is fun to use them. You enjoy English. Its fun!


These are the three Basic Principles we discussed today at the TPRS workshop. We learned a lot and hope to improve as teachers-- so that our lessons always get better.

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Learn English With Movies


Members of The Effortless English Club have asked me,
"What do I do after I finish the lessons? My speaking is much better, but I want to continue learning. Do you have more lessons?"

Unfortunately, I don't yet-- however, Kristin and I are working on new lessons right now. These lessons use an American movie to teach you real English.

Every scene of the movie has a lesson set that includes: Text of the script, a Vocabulary Lesson, 2 or more Mini-Story Lessons (including some Point of View Lessons), and Audio from the scene. Some scenes also have Commentaries.

By using all the lessons, you understand all of an American movie. Also, you learn a lot of slang & idioms from the movie-- the kind used everyday by Americans.

But you don't have to wait for our lessons. You can use this same method yourself, with any movie. Movies are a great way to learn-- but you must use them correctly.

Most English students don't use movies correctly. They rent a lot of American movies, watch them, return them, and then rent more. They may understand the basic story of each movie, but they don't improve their English.

Here's a better method for learning with movies:

1. Rent or buy ONE movie

2. Watch all of it, with subtitles in your own language

3. Next, watch only one scene of the movie (a scene is usually 2-4 minutes long). Use ENGLISH subtitles.

4. Rewind. Watch the same scene again. This time, pause for every sentence. Write down phrases/words you don't understand.

5. Use your dictionary to learn these new words. Search the internet for strange phrases (probably slang or idioms).

6. Watch the scene again at normal speed-- 2-3 times. Turn the subtitles OFF. Try to hear and understand the new phrases.

7. Watch the scene again-- 2-3 times. Pause after every sentence, then say the sentence yourself. Don't just "say" it. Copy the actor! Try to sound and move exactly like them. Copy their emotion. Copy their face movements. Copy their voice. This will improve your pronunciation.

Using this method, you can probably learn 1-3 scenes per week. Don't go too fast. Learn deeply. Repeat steps 3-7 everyday. If a scene is difficult, you can do this again and again for several days. Its important to learn every scene very deeply.

It may feel slow, but when you finally finish a whole movie, your English is fantastically better! Use this method, it is very powerful.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Guatemala & Honduras

Next month, Tomoe and I will be going to Guatemala and Honduras. I'm excited about both places.

In Guatemala, we will go to an intensive Spanish school. The school advertises that they use TPR-Storytelling, so I'm quite excited. I may finally be able to learn with a method that is close to the way I teach English. I hope they really use the method in the correct way-- because when used correctly, it is the best language learning method I know. That's why I use this method in most of my lessons at Effortless English.

The name of the school is Casa Xelaju, and its located in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. We'll stay with a host family, enjoy the town, and study Spanish 4 hours a day.

Unfortunately, we're only staying a couple of weeks-- not enough time to become fluent in Spanish. Mostly, this is a test trip... I want to test their teaching methods and see if they are really using TPR-Storytelling. If so, we will return again for a much longer time.

The Honduras trip is pure fun-- we're going SCUBA diving. Tomoe just got her open water certification. I got mine in Thailand. We will spend over 10 days diving off the island of Roatan. Its supposed to be great-- lots of beautiful coral reefs.

I love diving. Floating underwater is a lot like meditation-- it calms your mind and body. I feel a little like an astronaut when I dive-- floating weightless in a strange new world.

On Roatan, we're planning to get our Advanced Open Water certification. That will allow us to dive to 35 meters. Also, we'll be able to do night dives.

Which is important, because we are planning a big diving trip to Thailand next March. Many of my friends will be going-- we're planning to get a live-aboard boat and spend several days diving in the Similan and Surin Islands (some of the best diving in the world-- as most Thai people will tell you :)

I'm also looking forward to visiting Thailand again-- I miss it. Part of our visit will be business. I want to eventually open an "English Resort" (not a "school" ;) in South Thailand.... a place where people could come from all over the world to learn English and enjoy it. We'd learn using Effortless English methods... in a beautiful tropical area, while learning about Thai culture and ecology, Muay Thai, and SCUBA diving. That's my dream project-- to build an Effortless English Resort where learning English is so fun, you do it as a vacation!

But first, we're off to Guatemala and Honduras.

Read My Old Articles...

New readers of my blog can find my old articles at:

The Effortless English Archives

You'll find my story, my experiences with schools in Thailand, Japan, and the United States. You'll also learn how my teaching methods have grown over the years. And you'll find a lot of useful links.

Heroes

I want to express my support and admiration for the heroes in Burma-- the monks, the students, the men & women who are fighting, non-violently, for freedom, democracy, human rights, and the true dharma.

Thousands of these brave and peaceful people have been killed by the horrible military government. The people in Burma knew what the military would do. They know their lives were at risk. They knew the government would imprison, torture, burn, and kill any who stood against them. Yet, the monks and people stood anyway.

The events in Burma remind us what is truly important. Let us support the Burmese people any way we can-- with our thoughts, by giving to Human Rights groups, and by pressuring our own governments (and companies) to cut support for the military government.

To this effect, I am working on a new policy for Effortless English. We will give a percentage of every membership fee to Human Rights organizations.


Meanwhile, please support these Recommended Burma and Human Rights Groups:

Amnesty International
Campaign For Burma
Democratic Voice of Burma
Human Rights Watch


Take care... AJ

Welcome To The New Blog

Hi. My name is A.J. Hoge and this is the new Effortless English Club blog. In this blog, I'll write about learning English, teaching English, member's stories, cool stuff for English learners, and myself.

I hope those who have bought my lessons and those who have joined my free
7 Day Email Course, will enjoy this blog. I will continue to give you suggestions and tips for learning to speak English better.

I will also share more about myself, and the Effortless English story.

Welcome!