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Archive for November, 2011

Idioms in the Wall Street Journal- A Sampling

Posted by englishlessons on November 18, 2011

Idioms* like “make waves” and “a long shot” are used frequently in English. Tracking idioms in news sources like the Wall Street Journal shows how often they are used and how important understanding idioms is to understanding the meaning in English. A quick survey of just three articles in the Wall Street Journal on a recent Tuesday yielded a total of twenty-six idioms. These ranged from phrasal verbs, like “pin down” to idioms like “bridle at something.”

For non-native speakers of English, idioms can be challenging. It can be very difficult to “catch” the idioms in spoken English if they are new for you. You may hear the surrounding words, but miss the idiom itself. It is usually easier to track idioms in writing as you have the option of reviewing the text. Once you identify an idiom, your next task is to understand it. Sometimes, you can guess the meaning of an idiom from the context in which it is used. You can also check the meaning by typing it into an online search engine along with the word “idiom.”

Using idioms correctly can break down assumptions native speakers make about a learner’s lack of competence in English because of mistakes in grammar or pronunciation. A student told me a story about using an idiom in a job interview in Silicon Valley, Ca. He had struggled in the past in interviews because of his accent. During this interview he told the interviewer that he was creative and knew how to “think out of the box.” He sensed a shift in the conversation and felt that using this idiom effectively had made a difference in how the interviewer saw him. At the end of the interview, he got a job offer. Programs:

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*An idiom is a group of words with a special meaning of its own that is not clear from the meanings of the individual words.

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Posted by englishlessons on November 10, 2011

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English language learning strategies

Posted by englishlessons on November 7, 2011

Students in my pronunciation workshops often ask me about how they can quickly improve their pronunciation. Some students want to memorize all the rules as soon as possible hoping this will be the fastest fix. Memorizing large amounts of information may work when cramming for certain tests, but it’s not as effective for English language learning. There are multiple steps required to improve pronunciation in English. Let me use the stress pattern for compound nouns in English as an example.

Step one – learning the rule
Compound nouns are nouns with two words inside of them, like “newspaper,” ” landlord,'” “carpool,” and “homework.”
In English the stress usually falls on the first part of a compound noun.
So, you hear “NEWSpaper,” “LANDlord,” CARpool,” “HOMEwork.”*
The first syllable is longer, louder, and clearer than the second. If you don’t stress the first syllable of a compound noun, it may be very hard for a native speaker to understand the word.


Your awareness of this rule will raise your awareness of compound nouns in English. It’s similar to the experience you have when you buy a new red car. Suddenly, you start noticing all the red cars on the highways and freeways. You may not have noticed the stress pattern for compound nouns before, but now you notice it frequently. My students often comment that they suddenly start hearing mistakes in stress that they didn’t notice before. At first, students say they hear co-workers, who are also nonnative speakers of English, making stress mistakes. Later, they start to hear their own stress mistakes.

Step two- applying the rule

Your heightened awareness of this rule will help you in applying it. At first, you may only remember to stress the first syllable of words you use at work every day, like “SOFTware.” However, if you focus on this rule, you’ll discover that there are thousands of compound nouns in English, and you’ll start applying the rule more often. You may catch yourself after you’ve said a word, correcting your stress.
For example: ” I’m looking for a pair of sunGLASSES. I mean SUNglasses.”
Over time, you’ll be able to apply the rule more easily in your conversation.

*This lesson is taken from Pronunciation in English- High Beginning+. This interactive program helps you use the important elements of stress, intonation, and rhythm like a native speaker. Pronunciation in English – High Beginning+ teaches the rule for compound noun stress using many different kinds of practices with video, audio, and recording to guide you in learning and applying this rule, along with many more.

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