Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Spirit

Here at CEC we are getting into the Christmas spirit. Our Christmas tree is up, secret Santas are on the prowl, and Christmas carols are in the background.

Are you in the Christmas spirit yet? If not, now is the time, with less than a week before the Big Day. Here are a few things you can do to help.

Trim your own tree:
No time or money to go out and get a Christmas tree? No space to put it up? If you've always wanted a tree but can't stand the mess and hassle, why not create your very own virtual Christmas tree?

Send a holiday greeting to someone in English! What better way to say "Thinking about you" at the holidays?

And, last but not least, get into the spirit of the North Pole by creating your very own snowflakes!

We hope that the holidays have got you excited. We'd love to hear from all of our readers about how you are going to spend them.
  • What traditions does your family have during the holidays?
  • What foods will be featured on your table?
  • Where, and with whom, will you spend the holidays?
We had a very successful 2007, and now it is time to wind things down and take a much-deserved break! We will see all of our students back here in 2008. Until then, happy holidays and happy new year!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Who vs. Whom. Who will win?

We're back from a long weekend. Hope all the Ecuadorians out there enjoyed the short break from "real" life and drank lots of colada morada!

Today we will look at the difference between who and whom. But before we do, here is a short disclaimer:
Beware, many native English speakers no longer believe in making a difference between who and whom. This is especially true in spoken English, where -- it may be safe to say -- less than 5% of all speakers actually use whom (my own numbers). In fact, people will almost look down upon those who do use whom instead of the more colloquial and ubiqitious who. That said, it is a question that English students consistently ask: What is the difference between who and whom? And a question that more and more English teachers find themselves unprepared to answer.

Who is a pronoun which takes the place of the subject (conveniently called a subject pronoun!). Therefore, it will always be followed by a verb.

1. John, who is my best friend, was not at the party.
2. The man who is standing at the bus stop is someone I used to work with.

In the example 1 above, who is replacing John. We could rewrite the meaning of that sentence into two shorter phrases: John was not at the party. John is my best friend. Notice that here, in the second sentence, is where who replaces John in the example.
In example 2 above, we would have: The man is someone I used to work with. The man is standing at the bus stop. Again, who replaces "the man" in the second sentence. Notice in both the examples that a verb directly follows who.


Whom is an object pronoun, meaning that it will always replace the object of a verb. In other words, it will never be used as the subject of a verb, and therefore will be followed by another subject (pronoun, place, person, object, etc.) and a verb.

1. John, whom I spoke to yesterday, plans to come to the party this Saturday.
2. The man whom I saw at the bus stop was someone I used to work with.

As in example 1 above, you'll notice that whom is no longer the subject of the verb "speak". In fact, if we broke it down into two sentences, you'll notice that whom replaces the object of the action: the person I spoke to. John plans to come to the party this Saturday. I spoke to John yesterday. Notice that whom replaces the second John, now the person I spoke to, and not the person doing the speaking.
In example 2, the sentence would look like this: The man was someone I used to work with. I saw the man at the bus stop. Again, in the second phrase, the man didn't do anything. Whom replaces the second "man", which is simply receiving the action of the verb.

Now, the question comes to mind: if native English speakers are not using this correctly and even getting confused on the use of who and whom, should non-native speakers worry about it? As an English teacher, there is a big part of me that says no. Don't worry about whom. Throw it away, forget about it, and be a happier student! But, then again, the student in me feels proud when I know something the teacher doesn't. So, the only one who can really answer that question, in my opinion, is you.

Post a comment and let me know your true feelings about who and whom!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Practice Vocabulary and Help End World Hunger

Does studying English all day make you feel selfish sometimes? Maybe you don't have the time to spend with your family because you are running off to English class. Maybe you cancel plans with your significant other because you have to spend the weekend preparing for the TOEFL exam. But now there is a way to practice your vocabulary and help feed the needy by going to the Free Rice web site. Here you will be given a word and asked to choose its meaning. If you are correct, they will donate 10 grains of rice to the poor through the United Nations.

It may seem like a little, but you can "play" all you like. Yesterday, for example, 48,720,340 grains of rice were donated. Watch your bowl fill as you play to give you an idea of the difference you are making.

Check it out, learn some vocabulary, and do something for you while helping others!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Free Online English Lessons

English lessons can be expensive. Or maybe you don't have time to attend a class due to a crazy work or school schedule. The Internet has opened up countless opportunities for people like you who want to learn English for free or in the comfort of your own home.

Free English lessons at Learn English Online.
Englishbaby has a new English lesson every day.
English at Home has many features, such as a forum and grammar activities. And it also has a sister site where you can improve your business communication skills.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chat with a Robot and Practice Your English

Do you want someone to chat with who has perfect English, is willing to chat at any time of the day and will never get tired of your questions? Try Dave E.S.L. Bot, a service that will give you a month of unlimited chat time for only $10. Dave's the perfect English partner to talk to and has tens of thousands of words in his vocabulary bank. (Remember to always check a web site before paying for a product - this one has not been tested by us. Still, it is a neat idea!)

There are other free robot chats online. has one. Oliverbot is free also. Splotchy is a bit quirky but will talk to you if your computer is set up properly. And jabberwacky will "learn" conversations and responses the more you use him, thus getting more and more intelligent as you chat. You can even choose his emotions and taint his reactions!

One added plus: you won't be able to make lifelong friends with these robots, but you never have to worry about cyber safety issues.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Online Crossword Puzzles

We've compiled a list of crossword puzzles for those of you who like to play games in English.

The human body: From the BBC "Learning English" web site. You can send them an email and request a crossword puzzle based on a theme you like, too!

Past tense verbs: Practice the past tense of common verbs. There are plenty more on this site, like Animal sounds.
Or try something a bit more challenging, like Phrases with Make or Collective Nouns.

Maybe you are into something Business related? Or short but difficult?

Want to try an authentic crossword puzzle (one made for English speakers and not students)? Here's the Washington Post's, USA Today's, and Newsday's.

Maybe a designer crossword? Here's one which features clues Martha Stewart wrote.

Or something that can satisfy not only your love of words but also your soul?

If you are serious about crossword puzzle solving, you may need a crossword dictionary. At the very least you could use an online dictionary to help out with those clues you don't know the answer to.

Once you get good at the puzzles, why not try and create a few of your own?
This crossword puzzle creator is user-friendly and free! This one allows you to save PDF files of your creation (you have to register to the site). Here is another.

Have fun exploring these sites. Happy "puzzling"!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cambridge English Readers for Beginner and Basic Students

Reading for pleasure is one way to learn more vocabulary and practice your English. Cambridge University Press publishes original English Readers by level. Here are a few of their titles, with a blurb about the plot:

Ghost Story
The Girl at the Window by Antoinette Moses

For Grace, a ghost in a haunted house, the arrival of a young mother with a baby stirs the memories of the man and child she lost so many years before. But then danger threatens the baby girl and Grace must act decisively.

Murder Mystery

A Death in Oxford by Richard MacAndrew

When Dr Leighton is murdered Inspector Frank Williams and Sergeant Kate Miller set out to track down her killer. Was it her husband, her son or her colleague? All had reasons to hate her but which one killed her?


What a Lottery! by Colin Campbell

Rick Drummond is a music lover without a job who dreams of making it big in the world of music. The people around him think he's just a dreamer, or a loser. When his wife walks out on him it seems the real world is falling around him. But then his luck changes when he wins the lottery. Is this really a change of fortune for Rick or is he about to lose again?

Science Fiction
Let Me Out! by Antoinette Moses

Nolan is a robot created by a lonely electronics expert, John, to run his home, cook and do the ironing. but Nolan is not content; he wants to be human. When he realises that this is not possible, he turns against John, who finds there is no escpe from his malevolence.

The Penang File by Richard MacAndrew

Secret agent, Ian Munro, is dispatched to Penang to stop an assassination attempt on the Prince (a member of the British Royal Family who is there on a state visit). Munro tracks down the assassin, identifies where and how the "hit" will take place, but can he foil the assassination attempt in time?

Dirty Money
by Sue Leather

Joe lives in Canada, in a beautiful, quiet place. His peace is interrupted one day by the noise of bulldozers excavating near his house. He is told that it's a diamond mine. Joe is a journalist for a local newspaper and his neaighbours soon come to ask him to write about the awful noise and destruction. Joe becomes suspicious when his boss won't let him write about it. He starts to invesitgate the mine, but gets himself in harm's way.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Listen to someone talk about Key West, Florida. What things does she say about where she lives?

What city or country do you live in? What is it like?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Take this fun musical quiz

How much do you know about English music from the past fifty years? Take this quiz and see how many of the bands you can get right!

Answers will be posted in the comments section.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cycle 5 Begins with Lines of Students

Cycle 5 began today, but you wouldn't have known it if you had looked at the lines in registration! A friendly reminder: register early and avoid LONG lines. Every cycle near the third exam coordinators come around to the classes to hand out the pre-registration forms. Take advantage and get in early!

On the bright side, next cycle starts on January 14, so there will be more time to register between cycles.

Don't wait until the last minute!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Michael McCarthy in Ecuador

Michael McCarthy, author of the popular series Touchstone, English Vocabulary in Use, as well as various other famous titles, will be in Quito and Guayaquil next week. Come meet the author of these ELT books and learn more about Corpus Linguistics at his seminar, "Spoken Fluency in Theory and Practice", in Guayaquil on October 10, 4-7 pm in Centro Empresarial Las Cámaras, Salón Las Cámaras, or in Quito on October 11, 4-7 pm, Centro Cultural de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. Reservations through the Quito-Guayaquil offices need to be made in order to ensure seating.
From the seminar invitation:
Fluency is a word we use a lot in language teaching and speaking a language fluently is seen as the ultimate goal for many learners. But what exactly is fluency in spoken language? Is it that language just "flows" from us without our needing to practice or rehearse? Is it the ability to speak fast, to speak smoothly, to speak without faltering and hesitating? If so, then many native speakers fail the test. in this presentation we look at notions of fluency, present examples of antive- and non-native spoken fluency, and conclude that fluency is a property of conversations rather than jsut a talent of individuals. We look at how fluency can be promoted in the classroom.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

South American Education Fair

Education fairs are popular among students looking for universities and colleges abroad. There are no education fairs scheduled in Ecuador at the moment, but if you find yourself in Chile, Peru, Argentina or Brazil, you might want to check out the South American EducaitonUSA Fair 2007. If you do go, why not post a comment and let us know what you thought?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cartoons for English Language Learners

Like to read cartoons? The British Council site has a cartoon-of-the-week feature. The cartoons are adapted for English language learners and often focus on a play on words. You can go into their archives for theme-related cartoons, on topics as diverse as animals, restaurants, and sports.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Customized wallpaper

Here is a fun web site where you can build your own reef, then save it and download it as a wallpaper for your desktop. It starts out empty, like this:

You add fish, sea turtles, different kinds of reefs, bubbles, color, etc.

Here is an example of what you can do.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Another winner for our Summer Reading Program

Congratulations to the second winner of our Summer Reading Program: Marco Guayasamín. Marco won a copy of the grammar practice book How English Works by Michael Swan and Catherine Walter, a $25 value!

How can you win? Just read something in English this month and fill out a short form (available in the CEC library) telling us what you read and whether you liked it or not. Give the form to Isabel, the librarian, and get entered in the drawing (prizes will be drawn every Friday and awarded on Monday).

Good reading and good luck!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

And the winner is...

Congratulations again to Anthony for being the winner of a Spanish-English dictionary during our Summer Reading Pogram!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Summer Reading Program Successfully Launched!

Thanks to all the teachers and students who visited the CEC library yesterday and checked out books. We had an amazing response - over 300 students came to see us, ask questions, and browse the stacks. Don't forget to read, read, read all this cycle, and fill out the comment form for each thing you read in Enlgish in order to be eligible for the drawings every Friday!

Winners will be posted here, as well as in our three buildings: EPN (Civil Engineering, 5th floor), Edif. Araucaria (Baquedano 222 y Reina Victoria) and Veintimilla (Veintimilla y 6 de diciembre, next to Tienda Rossa).

UPDATE: And the winner is...

Anthony has won a brand new Cambridge University Press Spanish-English dictionary, a $25 value!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Download Free E-books for More English Practice

Want to read in English but English books are too expensive? Well, if you haven't been using the Internet already, do so! On the Internet you have access to news items, entertainment news, and just about anything you could possibly want. Most of the information on the web is non-fiction, however, and it might seem difficult to find fiction in English. There are a number of web sites that offer free fiction e-books, many of them classics, that you can download to your computer. Try these:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Common Particles in Phrasal Verbs: OFF

Off has various meanings when it is used as a particle* in a phrasal verb. While some of these meanings are literal, many are figurative. Here we will look at a few of these meanings and some examples.

Meaning 1
go away, leave a place or position
  • lift off: We watched as the giant rocket lifted off.
  • take off: Ed took three days off of work this week.
  • veer off: After the small car hit the pothole, it veered off the road and into the ditch.
  • make off: My ex-husband made off with all of the money in my bank acocunt.
  • run off: Jackie ran off with her high school sweetheart, leaving her family behind.

Meaning 2
remove or get rid of something
  • cut off: Michelle cut off the tags on her clothes before she wore them.
  • work off: Iris gained five pounds on vacation. Now, she is working that extra weight off at the gym.
  • take off: If it is too hot, feel free to take off your jacket.
  • fall off: The pictures fell off the wall in the quake.
  • cross off: I've already crossed several items off of my to-do list.

Meaning 3
start happening or start doing something
  • kick off: The game kicked off a few minutes late.
  • get off: We got off to a bad start, but now we are becoming better friends.
  • spark off: The mayor's decision sparked off rioting in the poorer parts of town.

Meaning 4
finish or complete something
  • carry off: I don't know if she'll be able to carry off the baby shower. It is in one week and she hasn't even sent out invitations yet!
  • log off: Did you log off the computer before you left? If not, someone else could use your account.
  • finish off: John finished off all the food in the refrigerator - and he's still hungry!
  • round off: We're going to round off the trip with a visit to the Panecillo and a light lunch at Pim's.
  • turn off: Please turn off the TV when you are finished.

Meaning 5
separate something from someone or something else, in order to keep it private, stop people entering it, etc.
  • block off: The police blocked off the area while they were searching for the suspect.
  • close off: The road was closed off because of the flooding.
  • fend off: She carries a fly swatter to fend off mosquitoes and bees.
  • fight off: I'm fighting off a cold.
  • scare off: Jenny scares off all her boyfriends by talking about marriage and babies on the first date.
  • laugh off: Clay just laughed off his mistake, but his boss didn't think it was funny.
  • brush off: She's an expert at brushing off criticim. It doens't seem to bother her at all.

Meaning 6
get out of a bus, train, plane, etc. or let someone do this
  • let off: You can let me off at the next corner.
  • get off: When you get off the bus, check to make sure that you are at the right stop.
  • drop off: You can drop off the books after 10 am. Alana will be expecting you.

*A particle is the second part of a phrasal verb (sometimes called a two-part verb) and is either a preposition (with, from) or an adverb (away, out).

Adapted from: Macmillan Phrasal Verbs Plus Dictionary.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Food, Music, Prizes, Books, and More!

Join us at the CEC library for a day of books and fun on Wednesday, August 29, from 9 am to 5 pm. We will be officially celebrating the opening of the library and kicking off the summer reading program: "Ahhh! The Power of Reading". There will be food, music, movies, and more, so stop by (Veintimilla y 6 de diciembre next to Tienda Rossa) and check out a book.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Door Prizes:
There will be a drawing for a prize for all students who check out a book on the 29th. Ask Isabel, the librarian, for recommendations of books appropriate for your level.
Stop by the library during the day and catch a movie with your friends. (The movie schedule will be posted next week.)

Participate in the Reading Program: "Ahhh! The Power of Reading"
For every book you read in English during Cycle 4, fill out a short form and get your name entered in the prize drawings. The more you read, the better chance you have of winning. Drawings will be held on Fridays at 2 pm each week.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

English News Web Site for English Language Learners

Practice your listening and reading skills, as well as increase your vocabulary, by reading and listening to articles at Simple English News. This web site offers a variety of news in simple, easier language than that found in a regular English newspaper. There are unusual news features, words in the news, entertainment & sports news, and even polls asking opinions for everything from "Would you like to travel in space?" to "What kind of cola do you drink when you are thirsty?".
Have fun exploring the site!

Monday, August 20, 2007

No jobs for Anglophones (English-speakers)

The French are known for being protective of their language and a bit "anti-American", but is this going too far? Kim Willsher writes an article for The Guardian about how a number of Anglophones in France feel that they are being discriminated against and not allowed to teach English in select universities because of elitism. Some Americans are crying foul at the French system, claiming that they need to have perfect French in order to pass the exams that allow them to teach English (which, in their opinion, doesn't make sense). While it may not be the exact situation here in Ecuador, it raises some important questions:
  • Should any English-speaker be allowed to teach English, or should they go through rigorous training such as that in France?
  • Is it necessary for English teachers to know the language of the country they teach in?
  • Should public universities and schools restrict the number of native English-speakers that can teach in their institutions, in order to give more opportunities to the non-native teachers?
  • If the number of Anglophones working in a public institution is restricted, is this fair to the students? Will this affect their learning English?
I think we need to hear from the students themselves. Post a comment below if you have an opinion!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"I don't see why you have to have such a crazy language, anyway!"

Frustrated by English? You're not the only one! Have a look at this I Love Lucy short and have a good laugh at some of the inconsistencies of the English language.

Did you catch the quote by Ricky in the title above? Listen again and see if you can hear it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Contest for Improving CEC!

CEC announces its first contest, open to students, for proposing improvements to all the departments of CEC. The contest runs from August 14 to October 1. The best suggestions will be awarded great prizes, from an MP3 player to scholarships, and much much more. If you have a suggestion that you think isn't worthy of winning a great prize, turn it in anyways - there will be a drawing among all entries submitted.

Interested? Fill out this form and send it via email (, or drop it off in any of CEC's three branches (Araucaria, Veintimilla, or EPN). Good luck!

See the contest rules here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

More about Phrasal Verbs

  • Understanding phrasal verbs provides a key to a large amount of other English vocabulary
  • Contrary to popular belief, many other languages also have vocabuary that is very similar to English phrasal verbs.
  • Phrasal verbs , and the nouns and adjectives derived from them, are generally thought of as part of the Germanic component of English vocabulary, but inf fact we find very similar combinations in vocabulary that is derived from Latin and French too. In this case the order is particle + verb, and the spelling is always a single word.
  • It is often said that, in formal contexts, single-word equivalents are more appropriate than phrasal verbs. this advice may sometimes be useful but it is an oversimplification, and if it is followed too closely, it can sometimes lead to unnatural or over-formal language.

That said, see if you can think of the single-word equivalent of these common phrasal verbs: (Answers at the bottom of this post.)
  1. leave out
  2. go back
  3. look for
  4. put on
  5. call off
  6. bring up
  7. put up with
  8. give up
  9. decide on
  10. get out
Which of these phrasal verbs are probably a better choice than their single-word counterpart? Why?

  1. omit
  2. return
  3. search
  4. don
  5. cancel
  6. raise
  7. tolerate
  8. quit
  9. choose
  10. leave

Friday, July 20, 2007

See you in Cycle 4!

July and August are typically vacation months in Quito, and we are no exception. We will be taking a temporary break from this blog for the next couple weeks (although CEC will be open as normal), and will see you back here at the start of Cycle 4 (mid-August), where we will have some suprises waiting for you.

Dates of cycles for 2007:
Cycle 4: August 13 - October 5
Cycle 5: October 15 - December 13

Remember - you can take up to two consecutive cycles off without having to retake the placement exam.

Have a great summer break, practice your English, and have fun!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Phrasal verbs: Spelling

Once you learn phrasal verbs, you learn other English words as well. Many nouns and adjectives are formed from phrasal verbs. For example, hand out means to give things to different people in a group, while the corresponding noun handout refers to the piece of paper with information on it that is given to this group of people (generally students in a classroom). Or, look at the phrasal verb speak out (to state your opinion firmly and publicly about something), and notice its relationship with the adjective outspoken (expressing strong opinions very directly without worrying if other people are offended).

What are the spelling rules for these kind of verbs? Unfortunately, there are no clear or set spelling rules. Sometimes they are two words, sometimes hyphenated (-), sometimes combined as one word. Here are some guidelines that you can follow:
  • verb + particle (phrasal verb) = two words: make up, look over
  • particle + verb (verb) = one word: download, overlook
  • verb + particle (nouns) = one word or hyphenated: make-up/makeup, carryout/carry-out
  • particle + verb (nouns) = one word: input, downloading
  • verb + particle (adjectives) = hyphenated: jazzed-up, made-up
  • particle + verb (adjectives) = hyphenated or one word: ongoing, off-putting

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fun with phrasal verbs

Most students cringe at the dreaded phrasal verb - a verb that, when combined with a specific preposition (called a particle), changes meaning. English is tricky this way - instead of having more words, words simply get put together to mean different things. Some verbs, like get and set, have 2-3 pages of combinations in the dictionary! Daunting, to say the least. But students shouldn't fret. With a little planning and 5-10 minutes a day, these verbs can be easily conquered!
  • Invest in a Phrasal Verbs dictionary. Macmillan has a good one.
  • Keep a phrasal verb notebook. Have a page for each letter of the alphabet. When you run across (there's a phrasal verb!) a phrasal verb, write it down. Occasionally go back to your notebook and make connections between the verbs.
  • Read, read, read! The more you read, the more vocabulary you learn. This is not just advice - if you want to successfully learn the language, reading is essential. As you read, underline or mark off the phrasal verbs (or verbs you suspect are phrasal verbs). At the end of the chapter, go back and look up the verbs in your new dictionary. Record them in your notebook.
  • Go through your notebook and choose a phrasal verb at random. Try using it during the course of your day, even if it is just in your head.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Facts and Figures about English

  • There are 300 million people who use English as a second language.
  • A further 100 million people speak it fluently as a foreign language.
  • English is used as an official or semi-official language in over 60 countries.
  • English is used in 85% of the world's organizations.
  • While English is the dominant language on the Web (40%), the presence of other languages is growing.
  • Over two-thirds of the world's scientists write in English.
  • Over 80% of all the information stored electronically around the world is in English.
  • English radio programmes are received by over 150 million people in 120 countries.
  • 50 million children study English as a foreign language at primary schools around the world.
  • At secondary level they are joined by another 80 million children.
  • Around the globe English is the main language of books, newspapers, airports and air-traffic control, advertising, business, medicine, technology, diplomacy, sports, pop music, and academic conferences.
  • More than two-thirds of the world's mail is written in English.
  • Many English words have totally changed meaning over the centuries- here are a few examples with their earlier meaning:
treacle- wild animal
villain- farm labourer
cheater- rent collector
sly -wise
taxation -fault finding
naughty - worth nothing
  • Many English words have been taken from other languages. Here are a few examples:
tycoon -Japanese
slim -Dutch
veranda -Hindi
sofa -Arabic
marmalade –Portuguese

Monday, July 16, 2007

Free Study Tips: TOEFL and TOEIC

Studying to take the TOEFL exam? Need to work on your TOEFL-specific vocabulary, brush up on your punctuation and writing skills, or check out some study tips? ESL-Pro has a list of free, downloadable e-books that can help with with anything from tricky elements of English punctuation to tips for summarizing and paraphrasing. You must sign-up (free) for the service, and the site does try to sell other study guides and software, but for those of you looking for some free advice for studying for the TOEFL or TOEIC, this web site may help.
Good luck!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

100 New English Words

Just when you thought English couldn't get any harder - now Merriam Webster has announced that they will be adding close to 100 new words to the English language by the end of this year. So what are some of these words: Bollywood (the film industry in India), sudoku (popular number puzzles, similar to a crossword), and ginormous (a cross between gigantic and enormous).
You can read the short article, as well as hear someone read it aloud, here, at Simple English News.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Learn English - Use Your Cell Phone!

An article about a new service in China: Learn English through your cell phone! The Guardian Weekly has a blurb about this new service, currently only available in China, but maybe we will see something like this someday in Ecuador, too! Imagine having English lessons being sent directly to your cell phone.

Nokia launches English-by-mobile service for China
Finnish mobile phone company Nokia hopes to tap into China's English language learning market and boost sales of its handsets with the launch of an English-by-mobile-phone service. The new education platform is called Mobiledu and will deliver audio and text-based lessons to subscribers' mobile phones.

Full article here.

Nokia plans to charge $0.26 per download. Seem like a good deal? Is this something you would be interested in? Why or why not? Post a comment!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Take a Virtual Vacation

Summer is upon us and with this season, the prospect of travel! This holiday, think of going someplace truly unique: Eritrea - one of the world's hidden gems. This video shows a place that some may never even have heard of! While your pocketbook or work schedule may not allow you to go somewhere this year, why not take a virtual trip? And while you're at it, practice your English! How many different types of English and accents can you find in this video?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Music Videos for Kids (and Beginners!)

Little kids will get a kick out of these videos made especially for them! Beginner adults may also like them. Best of all, there are Mac and PC versions. You can save the podcast on your own computer, too. Learn about colors, parts of the body, greetings, and the names of countries in English.
Have fun!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Online Dictionaries

Dictionaries can be expensive to buy. They are heavy, cumbersome, and inconvenient at times. But there are a number of online dictionaries that you can use.
  • a free online dictionary complete with thesaurus, games, and even featuring languages other than English
  • Merriam Webster Online: click on the speaker icon next to the word and hear the correct pronunciation, play a word game, do the daily crossword, or learn a new word each day. Lots of stuff here!
  • Cambridge Dictionaries Online: Here you can search the various Cambridge University Press dictionaries, including the Learner, which has graded language and clear examples of how the word is used.
  • get links to dictionaries for other languages, as well as an acronym finder
  • alphadictionary: play word games, find instant translators, sign up for the word of the day, take your chance at a virtual spelling bee, learn the most common false cognates in English, learn where the slang you hear is coming from, read a funny language joke, and much more.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Online Vocabulary Quizzes

"Without grammar, little can be conveyed. Without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed."
-D. Wilkins

Vocabulary is essential to communication. Try these vocabulary quizzes - great for beginners and low-intermediate learners.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language

Why are you studying English?
It's a question that often comes up in English class, placement exams, and even daily conversation. For those of us studying English, it is something we have probably already asked ourselves.
Common reasons for studying English are to get a promotion at work or to have better job opportunities, to fulfill university requirements, and to enhance one's personal and cultural experiences. But did you also know that people who speak a foreign language have better overall communicative skills, even in their mother tongue? It not only improves your communication skills, but also has an effect on intellectual growth in general. It makes people better listeners. It opens doors to other cultures and gives you the opportunity to meet people you otherwise would not know. It fosters flexibility in thinking and sensitivity and tolerance to other people and situations. And if that's not enough, it's just plain fun!

Click here to see more about the benefits of language learning.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Since: Adverb, Preposition, and Conjunction

Since is often used to indicate time, but it can also be used for giving reasons, and in this sense is interchangeable with because. Be careful, however: because is not always interchangeable with since.

Giving reasons (conjunction): since=because
  • I like this park because it is close to my house.
  • I like this park since it is close to my house.

Passage of time
  • I have been working here since 2005. (preposition)
  • Since I was a child I have loved the Beatles. (conjunction)

From then until now; at a subsequent time (adverb)
  • Jenny left class at 9 am and hasn't been back since.
  • Mary graduated last year. She has since gotten a job and moved to California.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Improve your Pronunciation

Oxford University Press has a site for students who want to practice their pronunciation. Practice vowels, consonants, diphthongs (2 vowels or consonants that make one sound), regular past tense endings, and more. Hear the British pronunciation of the words by clicking on the word or icon. Repeat until you feel comfortable saying the sound. Play Stress Monsters - which is set up like a real video game, to practice syllable stress.
Have fun!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Estamos Unidos Radio Show

Estamos Unidos is a new radio show being put together as a joint effort by the U.S. Embassy and the IMAGCOM Group. The one-hour show will showcase the stories of Ecuadorians who have lived in the United States and U.S. citizens who live in Ecuador. The purpose behind the show - appropriately called "Two Nations - One Friendship" - is to create a space where people from the two cultures can share anecdotes and experiences. It will be in Spanish, so you won't be able to practice your English by listening, but there is sure to be something interesting for English language learners, too! If you like English music, tune in, as there will also be music from each country.

The show is broadcast on Saturdays and Sundays. For list of stations and times, click here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sufficiency Exam at CEC

Reminder to CEC students - after passing Advanced Two or Academic One, you should think about taking the Sufficiency Exam. Here are some pointers of how to study for it:
  • Look at phrasal verbs and two-part verbs. Remember that some verbs have double or triple meanings, so use the context to understand what they mean.
  • Become familiar with spoken American English. Listen to movies or radio shows for 5-10 minutes a day.
  • Improve your general vocabulary by reading something in English every day - a magazine or newspaper article, a blog on the Internet (like this one!), or the chapter of a novel. Don't look up every word, but try to understand the meaning through context.
  • Study the grammar topics from the Interchange levels. Pay special attention to the use of prepositions and verb tenses.
  • Relax during the test, and take your time answering. In the listening and reading sections, don't always choose the most obvious answer. Pay attention to the special context and analyze whether your answer may be correct.
  • For the listening section, you don't need to understand every word spoken. Listen for details that will help you choose the correct answer. Example: How long... the only possible answer would be an amount of time. How many times... the answer would be a number.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Study Abroad Opportunity

If you are interested in studying abroad, and are over the age of 17, then studying English in an intensive university program may be the right option for you. Juniata College of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania has an intensive English program for people who want to study English in a college in the U.S. One of the perks of this program is that, once you have studied or mastered enough English, you can stay on and be rolled into the regular undergraduate program. You will need a student visa to study here, so it is important to start your paperwork ahead of time.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Prospective Teachers

Why are you learning English? Is it for a job? Is it because you plan to work or study abroad? Is it because you simply like the language? There are as many reasons for studying English as there are people, but one thing you all have in common is that, once you've mastered the language, you could become potential English teachers. Maybe this option is the one for you.

In Ecuador, many college graduates find a hard time getting into their field. But, if you know English, you always have something to fall back on, since there never seems to be a shortage of institutions needing English teachers or tutors. One thing you will need to teach English, however, is a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Teacher Training Certificate. CEC-EPN's TEFL course can help you with this requirement. This 120-hour certificate is officially recognized by Juniata College of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, and is offered 2-3 times a year. The price you pay for this course is a steal in comparison with other courses of the same caliber. Better yet, Ecuadorian residents get a 50% discount!

If you have an interest in teaching English, or are already a teacher yourself and would like to learn new techniques, trends and methods in the field, our TEFL course is right for you. Check it out at our web site, leave a message here in the comments field, or send me, Kari, an email message with TEFL in the subject line and I can get you more information.

CEC also welcomes people from other countries who would like to come and obtain their TEFL certification while learning Spanish and traveling Ecuador. Contact us today!

CEC library

Don't forget about the CEC library. It is a great resource for students and teachers alike. There are a number of grammar books and readers, as well as hundreds of authentic novels. Remember - you don't have to read an entire novel. Read the first chapter, or a short story. Some of our books even come with the CD and CD-Rom, so you can listen and read along. There is even a small French and Spanish section. Go to the reading room (located adjacent to the library) to find a quiet place to study. The librarian is there during the day to answer your questions, help with homework, or just recommend something interesting to read. You can go and practice your English, too, since she is an English teacher herself! Visit the library today!

Location: Seis de Diciembre and Veintimilla (next to “La Rossa” Corner Store)
Hours: 8:30 - 14:00 AND 15:00 -17:30
Reading Room Hours: 9:00 -13:30 and 16:00 -17:30
Telephone number: 254-4666
email: itobar (AT) cec-epn (DOT) edu (DOT) ec
DOT= .

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Grammarman to the Rescue!

Read about the adventures of Grammarman. Here are some cute comics that you can read along with. Good sound effects, too. For those who don't care for reading or who want listening practice, watch the movie! Here is a sample:

Go to the grammarman web site for more episodes.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Expressing Surprise and Interest

Native speakers of English often use short interrogatives in speech as a way to express attention, interest, or surprise. Study the examples below:

"The party was terrible."
"Was it?"
"Yes, I had a horrible time! There was no music!"

"Gina had a nice vacation."
"Did she?"
"Yes, she went to the Galapagos Islands."

"I've seen that movie five times already."
"Have you?"
"Yes, with my sister. She loves Harrison Ford."

"I don't understand the assignment."
"Don't you? Here, let me explain..."

Negative replies to affirmative sentences can show emphasis when someone agrees with you.

"It was a great performance."
"Wasn't it? Renee's voice was superb."

"She's gained some weight."
"Hasn't she? She must be eating better."

Friday, June 15, 2007

Good vs. Well

Native speakers of English often confuse good and well, and it is common to hear good instead of well, especially in speech. So, what is the difference?

Good is an adjective, and thus modifies a noun. It can also be used after linking verbs such as be, feel, taste, look, smell.
  • This coffee tastes really good.
  • Rebecca is known for her good behavior.
  • Fred does a lot of good deeds. He belongs to three or four charities.
Well, on the other hand, is usually an adverb. It modifies a verb.
  • She did well in practice yesterday.
  • She speaks French well.
  • Karen cooks very well for a third-grader.
The confusion between the two words probably comes from the fact that, when talking about how someone feels or looks, we can use well (in this meaning it is used as an adjective).
  • Sarah felt well enough to go to class today, but she didn't look well.
  • Do you feel well?
These are some good exercises to practice how well you understand the difference between these similar words.
  1. Harry speaks ________ French, but he doesn't speak Italian very ________ .
  2. The internet is a ________ place to get updated news.
  3. Martha plays the guitar very ________ . She isn't a very ________ piano player, however.
  4. Mary doesn't look ________ . Is she sick?
  5. This cake tastes so ________ .
  6. Jan dances so ________ that she was chosen to appear on a TV dance program.
  7. My teacher is ________ , even though she couldn't explain the difference between good and well very ________ .
  8. I feel ________ about my test. I think I did ________ .
  1. good / well
  2. good
  3. well / good
  4. good
  5. good
  6. well
  7. good / well
  8. good / well

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Many Uses of the Verb Can

Can is a modal verb. It can be used in a variety of situations, depending on the context. Let's look at some of these meanings.

ABILITY: (to be able to)
  • Can you drive?
  • Can you play the piano?
  • Can you speak French?

PERMISSION: (to be allowed to)
  • You can park here.
  • You can hang your jacket up in the closet.
  • You can have dessert if you finish your peas!

REQUEST: (informal requests)
  • Can you tell John that I'll pick him up at noon?
  • Can you close the window, please. I'm cold!

POSSIBILITY: (possibilities in the present, not in the future)
  • You can find the information in a dictionary.
  • You can order a beer when you are 21.

OFFER: (polite offers of help)
  • Can I help you with those boxes?
  • Can I help you finish the project?

Courtesy of and adapted from Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Problem with Wikipedia...

Have you ever used Wikipedia? Have you thought of it as an amazing, informative site, or one "broken beyond repair"? Apparently, one of the founders of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, believes it is no longer reliable. He openly criticizes the Education Secretary, Mr. Johnson, for saying that children should use Wikipedia as a good source of information.

He told The Times:

“I’m afraid that Mr Johnson does not realise the many problems afflicting Wikipedia, from serious management problems, to an often dysfunctional community, to frequently unreliable content, and to a whole series of scandals. While Wikipedia is still quite useful and an amazing phenomenon, I have come to the view that it is also broken beyond repair.”

Sanger has launched a new web site,, and says that, even though the public will also be able to contribute, the site will be more reliable academically.

See the full article in The Times.

So, how do you research information? Do you use wikipedia?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Free Grammar Lessons to Your Inbox

Want to practice your English grammar but forget the web sites? Don't have time to search the Internet for what you're looking for? How about having English grammar lessons e-mailed directly to your inbox? Wouldn't it be nice to have someone else remind you to practice your grammar? Better English will do just that! Simply put in your e-mail address and these free lessons will come to your inbox a couple of times a week. They are business-oriented, so perfect for those of you in the business world!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Do you know the words to...?

Many students use music as a means to learn new vocabulary and practice their English. Check out this link for a fun activity, using the famous Beatles song With a Little Help from my Friends.

Friday, June 8, 2007

More Grammar Practice for Beginners

The BBC has a great site for beginners to practice their grammar. Look at factsheets (explanations) about the grammar point, play games to see how well you know the material, then test yourself with an interactive quiz. There are also worksheets you can print off to work on at home.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Grammar Games for Beginners

The New English File series has a web page with great grammar games for beginners. Practice prepositions, numbers, questions and negatives... there is something for everyone! And not only for beginners - English File also has a section for intermediate and upper-intermediate students. (You will need Flash Player to play the games. Download it here for free.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

ESL Depot: Web Site for Teachers and Learners

ESL Depot is a web site that offers many resources for teachers and learners of English. You can find games, books, e-books, dictionaries, pronunciation practice and software for sale. If you are looking for something to help you practice your English, and want to have fun doing it, check out this web site. There might be something there for you. And they claim to ship free worldwide! Now, you can't beat that if you are living outside of the States!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

World Environment Day

Today, June 5th, is World Environment Day. So, how do you celebrate this day? Some ideas:
  • street rallies
  • bicycle parades
  • essay and poetry contests in school
  • green concerts
  • clean-up campaigns (mingas for the Ecuadorians)
  • recycling efforts
  • tree planting
What are you going to do to celebrate?

Are you a global citizen? How much do you know about environmental issues? Take this quiz and find out - these issues affect us all. Post your score in the comments section when you are done!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Online Games

Do you like to play games online? Try JoyTube for some fun trivia and word games!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Learn Grammar and Have Fun!

Like to play word games? Want to practice your grammar at the same time? Here is a list of some online games you can use to practice your grammar - and have fun doing it!
Have fun and learn lots!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Exotic Fruit Translations

CEC students sometimes wonder how to say the names of their favorite foods. It can be difficult translating foods, since different regions name things differently, while other regions may not even know about the food in question! So, for Ecuadorian students, we have compiled a list of some of the translations for those more exotic and difficult-to-translate foods. This post will focus on FRUITS:
  • tomate de árbol: tamarillo
  • grosella: Tahitian gooseberry
  • uvilla: cape gooseberry
  • taxo: banana passionfruit
  • achotillo: rambutan fruit (similar to lychee)
  • guayaba: guava
  • guaba: no translation found, I guess we have to call it guaba and try not to get confused with a guayaba!
  • ovo: similar to a natal plum
  • babaco: babaco or champagne fruit
  • maracuyá: passionfruit
  • naranjilla: naranjilla
  • granadilla: sweet granadilla or golden passionfruit
  • tuna: cactus apple or prickly pear
  • capulí: black cherry
  • guanábana: guanabana or prickly custard apple
  • oritos: baby bananas
  • maduro: sweet plantain (very ripe plantain)
  • plátano verde: plantain
  • chirimoya (cherimoya): custard apple

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Test-taking Tips for the TOEFL iBT

  1. Become familiar with the format. Review the amount of time you have for each section.
  2. Remember: the TOEFL iBT tests not only language skills but academic skills, such as how well you take notes, remember information, can compare and contrast information, etc.
  3. Within the test, the same skills are tested over and over again.
  4. The same kinds of questions are repeated throughout the exam. Recognize this early on so that you feel more comfortable with the types of questions being asked.
  5. Don't worry if the reading topics seem unfamiliar - you can be assured that all the information needed to answer the questions will be included in the passage.
  6. Don't "get lost" in the details. Understand and take note of the main points.
  7. Answer the questions in the writing and speaking questions. Be direct and get to the point quickly. Your answer should be transparent (easy to understand).
  8. Use your organizational skills in the writing and speaking sections. Take notes on how you will organize your thoughts before you begin speaking/writing.
  9. Use vocabulary and grammar structures that you know you can use correctly. This is not the time to try something new and unfamiliar.
  10. Be sure to answer all the questions. Guess if necessary.

Tips from

Monday, May 21, 2007

Listening Site for Beginners

Beginners may be overwhelmed with the English on the web, but there are some good listening sites for beginners, too! Check out VOA'S Special English web site for listening activities that are slower and with limited vocabulary and grammar. Now beginners can practice their listening skills, too!

Friday, May 18, 2007

More Videos for English Students - This is a great web site for English students! Watch short videos, according to your level. Beginners included! The Smallest Restaurant in the World, Are You Married?, Ray's Indoor Bike Park - these are just some of the titles of the videos available. A great resource for teachers, also.

Practice Vocabulary at Home!

Do you need to learn more vocabulary? The best way to learn vocabulary is by READING. There are other ways, however, to improve your vocabulary and review words you see when reading or in class. Here are some tips:

  • Make a vocabulary "flip pad." Put a verb on each page. Add words that you can use after it. (For instance: write the verb DO, and afterwards common words that follow DO, such as your homework, the dishes, some reading, etc.)
  • Go to the drugstore and look at the objects on the shelf. Tell yourself the names of these objects in English. What helath problems are they for? Can you remember the names of the health problems in English?
  • Label broken items in your house. Look around your house. Put the name of problems you see on a sticky note (Post-it) and put it on the object that needs to be fixed. Remove the notes when the problem is fixed.
  • Find a fashion magazine and label as many of the different styles, materials, patterns, colors, etc. as you can in 15 minutes.
(Ideas taken from Touchstone.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007


The war in Iraq is objectionable, but no matter what your opinion is about it, you can't help but feel for what this guy is going through! Have you ever been misunderstood because of your "accent"? This is a funny video that any English speaker can relate to.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Do You Speak English?

Quite a funny little video! Shows how ridiculous the question "Do you speak English?" is.

Focus on English Listening Web Site

Here is another link to a web site where you can practice your listening skills. Focus on English is a web site where you can hear native speakers and develop your conversational English skills.
  • Learn useful idioms.
  • Learn common words and phrases.
  • Test your vocabulary skills.
  • Practice responding to real-life English conversations.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Note taking skills - Improve your TOEFL score!

Note taking is an important part of college life. The better your notes are, the better you will understand the subject presented. The TOEFL iBT exam stresses this importance. On the TOEFL exam, better notes could mean a better score, since you will be more organized and prepared for the speaking and writing sections. Here are some basic techniques for note taking:
  • Date your notes. Use a pen, not a pencil.
  • Keep all your notes in one place - a large notebook divided into sections by subject is a great place to consolidate your notes, and will make it easier to cross-reference them.
  • Listen for "signals" that will tell you if what the speaker says is important. Phrases like, "The most important point is...", or "Remember that..." or "It's essential to realize that...", etc. are all indications that what the speaker is about to say is important, and should be written down. Things that are repeated or put on the board are usually important.
  • Don't copy everything the speaker says. The average speaker speaks at a rate of 125-140 minutes, but the average note taker writes about 25 words per minute! Listen to what the speaker says, then analyze it, judge it, compare it to what you already know. Only then summarize what he/she said in your own words.
  • After the lecture, write your own summary of the most important points of the class. Put key words and phrases in your own words, using the language of the subject if possible. Use different colors. Make each page look different. Star or highlight the most important points. Write questions you still have about the material.
  • Once you have summarized the class in your own words, review the notes you took. Try to summarize the class using your notes from above. If you have trouble, go back to your class notes and review. Review often.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Listening Practice with ComAudio

At ComAudio you can listen to many different kinds of audio items - poetry, songs, stories, etc.. Read the texts at the same time. Learn new vocabulary - to find the meaning of a word, click on it and then click the
Find button. Here you can also test audio books before purchasing them.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Funny Videos

Some funny videos to practice your English with and get a laugh!

More on Listening Practice

CNN Stories Archive is a great place to test your listening and reading skills. You can read, listen to, or watch a clip of the news item. There are interactive activities to test comprehension. The story can be seen in its complete version or its abridged (shortened) version.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

More Listening Practice with ELLLO

ELLLO stands for English Language Listening Lab Online. This web site is a great place for students of English to practice listening skills. There are more than 1000 activities archived on the site, and a variety of activities updated every Monday. Here are some of the site's features:

Interviews: Hear English-speakers talk about their jobs, families, lives, hobbies, etc. There is a good variety of English spoken, so students can hear many different types of English.

Newscasts: Short news stories with accompanying comprehension questions. Funny, motivational, debatable - there is something for everyone in these mini news stories!

Surveys (Mixers): Hear 6 people answer the same question. Again, a variety of English is presented: Australian, American, British, Swedish, etc.

Songs: Read the lyrics as you sing! Lyrics displayed on the monitor karaoke-style.

FOR BEGINNERS!!! Listening games: Listen to a short clip and find the matching picture.

This web site is very interactive, and fun for students and teachers alike. Visit every Monday and improve your listening skills!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Make a PBwiki as easily as a peanut butter sandwich

What is a wiki? It is a collaborative web site, where many people can submit and edit ideas.
Who can use a wiki? Anyone! It is an especially helpful tool for students and teachers. CEC teachers use a wiki to share ideas for class. Students can create a class wiki, use a wiki to post comments about a class or to upload and share writing assignments. Anyone who has the password to the wiki can edit it or add new material to it, including photos, files, and links.

Check out the PBwiki tour! It takes seconds to set up and is easy to use.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

English Readers: A Good Way to Get Started Reading in English!

Cambridge English Readers is a series of books intended for a diverse range of levels and English students. The titles below are the ones we have available at the CEC library.

Cambridge English Readers
The Double Bass Mystery by Jeremey Harmer, Level 2
The Ironing Man by Colin Campbell, Level 3
Nothing But the Truth by George Kershaw, Level 4
Trumpet Voluntary by Jeremy Harmer, Level 6

If you are unsure what level you should read, take the online placement test. You can also download a worksheet to check your comprehension.

Other readers we have:
The Man With No Name by Evelyn Davies, Elementary
The Cleverest Person in the World by Norman Whitney, Elementary
A Marriage of Convenience and Other Stories by W. Somerset Maugham, Intermediate
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Intermediate

You can check out these books at the CEC library Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 14:00 and 15:00 to 17:30. The library is located at Veintimilla y 6 de diciembre, next to the Tienda Rossa. You can also call the librarian, Isabel, at 254-4666. You must have a picture ID and be a currently enrolled student to check books out.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Do You Like Crosswords?

There are a number of crossword puzzles on the internet that you can use to learn new vocabulary and test your knowledge.

The BBC has a crossword puzzle for English language learners. Be warned, however, that it is a bit difficult!

Another one using VOA special English words. Some include picture hints, also.

Or - our favorite - check out the list of crossword puzzles at this web site. This one includes puzzles for all levels, including Beginners!

Keep a journal of the new words you learn. Practice using one new word a day.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Web site review

Look at esldepot's extensive collection of activities for practicing and improving your English. Post a comment about your favorite activity!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Starting an English Club

Practice your English in a real-life setting!
Make new friends!
Start an English club!

The setting can be casual, the frequency determined by the members. Having an English club should be stress-free, so meet when you can. has some great suggestions about how to start an English club. It includes advice on where the club should meet, who should join, how often the club should get together, and even ideas of things to do! It suggests ways to get native English speaker involved in your club, and has links to games to play or topics to discuss.

Have fun with English! Start a club!

(Visit for more fun ways to practice your English, from improving your skills (like listening and reading), to seeing cartoons in English.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Become Better at Listening

Practice your listening skills at Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab. You can find listening activities for all levels here, on a variety of topics. Each dialog also has activities to check your comprehension!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Letter Writing - A Vanishing Art Form

Do you use e-mail or "snail mail"? The last time I wrote a "real" letter was... well, a long time ago.
Does anyone write letters anymore?

Sometimes it is unavoidable, especially when corresponding formally to a university, job, or authority. But while e-mail is often informal and immediate, "snail mail" must be written a bit more formally. Before you go to the post office, look at the phrases below to be sure that you are using the correct degree of formality (or informality) in your next letter.

Thank you for your letter of (date) concerning...
I am writing to inquire about...
I am writing to inform you that...
I am pleased to inform you that...
I regret to inform you that...
I hope this information has been of use.
Please give my regards to (name of person).
Thank you for all you have done.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thank you for your letter about...
I'm writing to ask about...
I'm writing to say that...
I'm pleased to say...
I'm sorry to tell you that...
I hope this has been useful. / I hope this helps.
Regards to (name of person).
Thanks for all your help.
Hope to hear from you soon.

Note that formality often depends on the verbs used, and that more formal language does not use contractions.

Taken from Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, study pages.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Spring Soup: Fanesca

The Easter holiday is upon us here in Ecuador, and we wouldn't be celebrating the holiday correctly if we didn't include a recipe for the traditional Fanesca dish Ecuadorians enjoy at this time of the year.

The dish is rich but delicious. It is made of twelve grains (representing the twelve disciples) and garnished with hard-boiled eggs, small empanadas, and fried sweet plantains. Dried cod (bacalao) is added, due to the tradition of not eating red meat during the week preceding Easter Sunday (Semana Santa, or Holy Week). The soup stock is made of squash and milk, which gives it a creamy consistency. For some, it is an aquired taste, and recipes may vary from house to house and city to city. (Some families add cabbage, for instance, while others say that "true" Fanesca doens't contain cabbage.) After eating the dish (and seconds or thirds), Ecuadorians will often eat molo (mashed potatoes on a bed of lettuce leaves) and arroz con leche (rice pudding) or dulce de higos (sweet figs in heavy syrup) for dessert. Due to the amount of food, it is reminiscent of U.S. Thanksgiving.

Interested in trying some? Here are a few recipes to try: recipehound's version (contains rice!),'s recipe (rice and peanuts), and a recipe in Spanish (closest to the Fanesca I've tried). Post your comments and tell us what you thought!