Monday, January 31, 2011

Common Error: Use of third-person verbs

It's "Mistake Monday" again, so let's look at another common error! This one is definitely common; in fact, it's probably one of the top three most common errors I notice with my Spanish-speaking students.

The technical name for this type of error would be "forgetting to conjugate third-person verbs," but if that's too nerdy for you, just remember that this problem comes up when you have "he," "she," "it," or a name as the subject of your sentence. Let's take a look:

Common Error: Use of third-person verbs
DON’T say this:Costa Rica have many nice places to visit.
She go to her mother's house every Sunday.
Every time he see her, he bring her flowers.
WHY?-This is a very common error, but just because it's common, doesn't mean it's OK. You have to add an "-s" or "-es" to the end of third-person verbs.

-When you change a verb, you conjugate it. If you don't conjugate your verbs, people will probably understand you, but they'll know you're not a fluent speaker.
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-“Costa Rica has many nice places to visit.”
-“She goes to her mother's house every Sunday.”
-“Every time he sees her, he brings her flowers."

So, today's common error was very easy to correct, wasn't it? If you have any comments, questions, or other suggestions for common errors, please leave a comment below or fill out the contact form. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

HOW TO Start Your Own Blog!

Welcome to Part 2 of 2 in our "Start a Blog" series! If you're motivated to get blogging but you're not sure where or how to begin, then this post is for you. If you already have a blog, or if you're good with computers and technology in general, you can probably skip this post. If there's anything I can do to make the process easier to understand, please tell me.

There are quite a few different blogging services available on the internet, but today we'll focus on how to work with Blogger. Other sites such as WordPress can also be a great option if you want to start blogging, but to be honest, I'm simply not as familiar with how they work. The other advantage to working with Blogger is its integration with Google. If you have a Gmail account (or any Google account, for that matter), then starting your blog is even easier!

Step 1: Go to

Step 2: "Get Started" or "Sign In"
If you don't have a Google or Gmail account, then you'll want to click on the orange "Get started" button and move to Step 3.

If you do already have a Google account (like if you use Gmail, for example), then this process will be even quicker. In the circled box on the right, just enter your email address and password connected to your Google account and click "Sign in."

Step 2B: If you do have a Google or Gmail account, just follow the directions to add Blogger to your account
The process should be very quick and painless, but you can skip to step 4 if you're having troubles.

Step 3: If you don't have a Google account, fill out the form
This shouldn't be too complicated. You'll need an email address, but it can come from another service (I still use my Yahoo address to sign in to Google, for example). 

Most of the other information on the form is pretty basic, like creating a password (be sure to make it strong), providing your birthday, and choosing a display name.

It also gives you an option to receive Email Notifications, which you probably don't need.

After you finish the form, it will probably send a confirmation email to the address that you just provided. I've also had a few experiences with my students where it asked for their cell phone number to confirm that the person applying for an account was real. This may sound suspicious, but from what we experienced, the code was sent to their phone very quickly, and it was legitimate. Either way, if you go to the email account you provided while registering and click on the link in the email, it should take you to the following page, where you actually start setting up your blog:

Step 4: Name your blog and choose an address
The first thing you'll have to do is choose a name for your blog. (Sorry the picture is in Spanish, but since I live in Costa Rica, it stayed in Spanish. Don't worry, though, it's the same in English.)

In this screen, you'll give your blog a title and choose the blog address. For the address, try something that's short and easy to remember.

Step 5: Choose a design--but don't worry, you can always change it later
This screen will allow you to choose a basic design for your blog. Most of the designs have many variations and once you start blogging, you can easily change almost any element of the design. 

So, just choose the least ugly one for the moment, and remember that you can adjust or even completely change it later.

Step 6: Start Blogging!
When you get to this confirmation screen, click "Start Publishing," and you'll officially have a blog! Congratulations!

A Few Tips:
Once you have a blog, adding new entries to your blog is easy. Just click on "New Post," and you'll see a screen like this:
It's pretty straightforward from here. Give your post a "Title," and then just start typing in the big blank space. You can upload pictures or videos using their respective icons. Just play around with it a bit and don't worry; you can always delete or change things. When you've finished writing, click "Publish Post."

Another Tip: Use the "Dashboard" and "Design" Buttons
As you see from the circle at the top of the picture, almost anywhere in your blog you can click on "Dashboard" and you'll see a screen similar to the one on the left. You can see a preview of your blog, start new posts, change profile information, or adjust the blog's "Settings" and "Design." The "Settings" menu is more related to the way you and other people access and interact with your blog, and the "Design" menu is more about its visual aspects.

When you click on "Design," you'll see a screen similar to this one. You can make a LOT of aesthetic changes here, and you can also add different elements  to your blog's page ("Add a Gadget"). 
Once again, just play around with it a bit so you can see the possibilities. You can't really break anything.

A Quick Tip for Teachers:
If you're a teacher, a blog can be a great tool to keep in touch with your students. You can assign homework, post notes, provide links for additional practice, and help your students connect with each other.

The image above shows a blog that I created for one of my classes last year. It was a good way for me to remind students of homework and to post links, but even better, it allowed my students to express themselves in a new way. 
As you see in the red circle on the right, each student started his/her own blog. Each week, I would give them a blog homework assignment. Normally, they had to do some research, respond to a few questions, or write a few paragraphs about the week's class topic. Often, they also were in small groups of 3 or 4 students, where group members would read each others' blogs and respond to their partners' thoughts in the comment section. 
I got great feedback from my students about blogging in general, and I'm sure that you can find even more new and interesting ways to use a blog to help your students learn. If you have any tips for ME, then please tell me!

So, that's it for now. Once again, if there's anything that I can do to make this post easier to follow or more understandable, please be sure to tell me either in the comments section or send me an email

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Why YOU Should Start Your Own Learning Blog!

It seems like everyone and their dog has a blog these days, so is it really necessary for YOU to start one, too? 

Absolutely! Along with other modern, internet-based resources, a blog can be a powerful tool, whether you're a student or a teacher. Plus, it's free!

Why YOU should start a blog...

..if you're a language student:

- A blog can be a convenient and interesting (and possibly even fun) way to stay in contact with your classmates, teacher, and even out-of-class friends.

- Sure, you can use your blog to share your writing, but did you know that you can also use it to share videos, pictures, and even terrible poetry?

- If you're trying to improve your writing skills, the best way to become a better writer is to practice. A blog can give you a place to practice your writing, and you can even keep it a secret; no one has to see what you write, if you don't want them to! Plus, no one has made their writing skills worse by writing on a blog, so what do you have to lose?

- You can join blogging groups or follow other blogs to find out about new language-learning resources.

...if you're a language teacher:

- With a blog, you can provide your students with a centralized place for information; you can post ongoing class assignments, links to other internet resources, course notes, homework assignments, comments, and any other information you want to share with your students.

- Depending on the size and level of your class, you can have your students start their own blogs, and then link the whole class together through your blog. That way, the students have a public forum in which they can write comments, post homework, and communicate with classmates. Plus, it can provide accountability, since the students can see what other classmates are doing.

- We know that there are already a LOT of blogs in the world, but in this case, there's no such thing as "competition," really. If you notice that someone somewhere else has a blog or website that makes yours look like it was designed and written by monkeys, then don't get discouraged! Just put a link to that amazing site on your blog, and try to make yours even better!
...if you're not a student or a teacher:

- Even if you're not a student or a teacher at the moment, you can still use a blog as a journal, a vocabulary log, a place to share vacation pictures, or a way to share your thoughts on anything.

- Plus, everyone else is doing it, so you might as well do it, too!

Now that you're hopefully motivated to start a blog, I'll put up another post later today with directions about how to start a blog, if you don't already know. (I'll give you a hint: it's really easy!)

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Common Error: Confusing "say," "tell," and "speak"

Let's call today "Mistake Monday" and talk about another Common Error!

We've already talked about the eyes (see, watch, look) and earlier today we discussed what we do with our ears (hear and listen). Now let's take a look at words associated with our mouths, namely "say," "tell," and "speak." I notice that my students have trouble with these words, so let's see how we can use them correctly:
Common Error: Confusing "say," "tell," and "speak"
DON’T say this:Please say me your name.
I said him that I couldn't meet for dinner.
What did you just tell?
WHY?-When you use the word “tell,” you usually indicate who is told. There is usually a “personal object”: “Tell me what you’re thinking.” There are a few expressions that can work without the personal object, like “tell the truth,” “tell a lie,” “tell the time,” and “tell the difference,” but you can also add a personal object to all of these, if you want.

-The word “say” has almost the same meaning as “tell,” but with “say,” we usually don’t indicate who is told. The word “say” usually comes before a clause, as in: “You didn’t say that you were hungry.” OR “Kiersten said, ‘Hello!’

-“Speak” means to talk formally, and it often uses the words “to” or “with” if a personal object is indicated: “I spoke to John about his bad behavior.” OR “Could you please speak with him to clear up this matter?” Also, speak can indicate language ability: “I don’t speak Japanese.”
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-“Could you tell me your name, please?”
-“What did you just say?” OR “What did you just tell Mary?”
-“I told him that I couldn’t meet him for dinner.”
-"What would you say if I told you I was a vampire?"
-“She told John that he should stop telling lies about her."

I hope this explanation helps you out! If you have any questions or comments, be sure to write me a message in the comments area. Thanks for reading, and good luck!

Common Error: Confusing "Listen" and "Hear"

We recently talked about see, look, and watch, so today let's move from our eyes to our ears and focus on another common error that language learners make:

Common Error: Confusing "listen" and "hear"
DON’T say this:I'm sorry, but I wasn't hearing to you.
Hear! I think I listen a car coming!
Did you listen that noise just now?
WHY?Much like the difference between "watch," "see," and "look," the difference between "listen" and "hear" has a lot to do with intention:

-You naturally hear things; "to hear" is to perceive sounds that reach your ears by using your sense of hearing. You normally don't plan to hear: it's spontaneous.

-To hear of/about something means to have knowledge related to that thing.

-If you listen, you carefully or continuously hear something. You have to pay attention to listen to something. If you have an object that follows the word "listen," be sure to add the word "to."

-Additionally, "listen" can be used as an interjection, but "hear" generally can't.
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"Listen to this music. It'll change your life."
-"Sorry, but I didn't hear what you said. I wasn't listening."
-"Have you heard about Pete? He got fired for always coming to work late!"

That's it for today. If you have any questions or comments, please tell me!
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Podcasts are one of the best listening tools available for language learners. If you've not heard of a "podcast" before, it's basically a sound file that you can listen to on your computer or any device that can play a sound file (like an ipod or a cell phone). Podcasts are convenient because they are often short and focus on one aspect of language, and they can normally give you exposure to authentic language, including vocabulary and different accents.

You can listen to or watch podcasts directly on a program's internet page, or you can manage them through itunes, like I do (it seems easier to me that way). Still, if you prefer to go to the pages, I'll provide a link to each of the podcasts below.

There are many, many podcasts out there, so if you have any additional suggestions to add to the list below, I'd love to hear them. I'll list a few language-learning podcasts below that I like to recommend to my students, as well as some that I enjoy listening to in my free time.

--Podcasts to Learn English--

BBC Learning English

In my opinion, the BBC Learning English site is one of the best overall resources for learning English. The site is produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation and is updated very frequently. There are many pages on the site to check out, but they also have a wealth of downloadable resources like podcasts, pdf files, and even videos. The whole site is like a little city full of English fun so if you're serious about practicing your English skills outside of class, be sure to check out this site.

--Podcasts to Learn Other Languages--
While you're looking at the BBC, be sure to check out its site for other foreign languages. This site is great because it has news, audio, video, and even language courses for various other languages like German, Spanish, Chinese, and quite a few others. They have dedicated sites for larger languages, but also basic phrases for 36 different languages! You could spend weeks or even months browsing the pages there and becoming smarter!

German Language: Deutsche Welle

Deutsche Welle is sort of like the German equivalent of the BBC. It has a lot of news, culture, and entertainment shows that it broadcasts around the world. Also like the BBC, it has language learning resources. So, if you're tired of studying English, try German! Then you'll wish you had stayed with English!

I've spent a good chunk of my life learning German, and it's nice to listen to the language to keep it fresh in my head. If you don't have much German experience, though, their program Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten ("Slowly Read News") could be a good place to start. As its name implies, it's a news program, but the presenters speak nice and slowly.

This is an almost-daily news program that focuses on stories and issues related to North and South America. It's about 10 minutes per show, and I find it to be pretty interesting, especially as something to listen to while in the car. There are also similar shows for other world regions like Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Germany.

This is definitely geared to people who have interest in the German language. Each 10-minute episode focuses on a specific topic (something "Colors," or "The Cologne Dialect") and interviews people about the topic. Then they dissect the language to find idioms and interesting phrases, and also discuss etymology. I like it, but if you're not a nerd, you might not dig it.

This is sort of like a Swedish version of a news show for language learners. It's definitely not as slow as the German show from Deutsche Welle, but it's definitely clear ("Klartext," as you can probably guess, is Swedish for "clear text"). I really enjoy listening to this daily, 10-minute program when I'm driving in the car or walking around. It's also a good "confidence-booster," which is great when you're learning a language!

OK, this is actually in English, but that's OK. It's still a generally good news show, with an obvious focus on issues related to Sweden. It's normally around 30 minutes; often, I only listen around 5 or 6 minutes, when they talk about the weather. Then I exclaim something like, "Wow! Today in Stockholm, the sun rose at 8:45 AM and set at 2:45 PM! Crazy!"

--Fun/Entertaining Podcasts--

Radiolab? Isn't that the British lounge-pop group that sounds vaguely French? No, that's Stereolab. Radiolab, on the other hand, is an excellent podcast about science in everyday life. Its regular episodes are around an hour long, and its "shorts" are about 15 minutes. Both are excellent, educational, and highly entertaining. They're also good for language learners because the spoken English is very clear. This is probably my favorite podcast.

If you life in the USA, you've likely heard (or at least heard of) this radio show. It claims to be the most popular weekly podcast in the U.S.
In each hour-long show, they focus on a specific theme and present three or four short stories related to that theme. It's supposedly about "normal" people, but because of the way it's presented and the high production values, it's quite entertaining. Check it out!

I've also just started checking out a couple of podcasts my brother Paul recommended to me. They seem good so far, although they're not really about learning English (but one's about Spanish):

(Update, 1/24/2011: I've checked them out now. The Coffee Break Spanish is indeed quite good for beginning to intermediate learners, and I liked it quite a bit. The other two were quite entertaining, but I should say that both --but especially the SModcast-- were pretty vulgar. SModcast was especially explicit in parts. In any case, neither of those seem very ideal for language learning, but if you're a native speaker who's into pop culture, you may enjoy them.)

The Complete Guide to Everything
Coffee Break Spanish

If you have any luck or problems with any of these podcasts, I'd like to hear from you. Also, if you have other recommended podcasts, especially for language learning, then please comment. Thanks for reading!

(Image Credits: I took the picture of the headphones. All other images from the respective podcasts' sites, except for the black and white SR logo, which is from Wikipedia.)

Common Errors Archive

Here is a list of the Common Errors we've talked about in the blog, in chronological order. I'll continue to update the list as I publish more common errors, and you can always come back to this list by clicking the tab that says "Common Errors" at the top of the blog.

24-Jan-2011: Confusing say, tell, and speak

24-Jan-2011: Confusing listen and hear

18-Jan-2011: Confusing borrow, lend, and loan

24-Dec-2010: Confusing see, look, and watch

12-Dec-2010: Question Word Order

Common Error: Confusing "Borrow," "Lend," and "Loan"

You're in English class taking notes, but you just made a mistake. The girl sitting next to you has an eraser, but you can't remember how to ask her if you can use it. What do you say?

People often misuse the words borrow, lend, and loan. This mistake is not the kind that causes major misunderstanding, but it's still a common error that my students often make. Let's have a look, shall we?

Common Error: Confusing "borrow," "lend," and "loan"
DON’T say this:Can you borrow me your pen?
I am going to see if I can lend some money from Peter.
WHY?-To borrow something means to take it.
-To lend or loan something means to give it to someone.
-Additionally, all three words can function as verbs, but only loan can also function as a noun.
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"Could you please lend/loan me your pen?"
-"Could I borrow your pen?"

That's it for today. If you have any questions or comments, please tell me!
Thanks for reading!