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English Conversation Starters

POSTED ON October 1st  - POSTED IN Language Learning Tips

Do you want to speak in English but you don’t know how to get started? You’ve made the connections, but it can be difficult to actually start the conversation.

Making what is called “small talk” is an excellent way to improve your English because it gets you used to everyday conservations in an informal way. Many of these conversations are very similar, so repeating them over and over again will make you start to sound like a very natural speaker.

Here are the most common English conversation starters for any and all levels:

“It’s ________ today.” Fill the blank with the weather. This one is probably the most obvious, but that doesn’t mean it’s silly! It’s a great way to open the door to further conversation.

Asking about immediate future plans. “What are you up to today?” “Any big plans for the weekend?” Using these questions when asked in a casual way won’t seem like you are trying to hang out, though if the opportunity comes then that’s great!

“I really like your _______.” Compliments are never a bad thing. If you need a follow-up question to keep the conversation going you could ask where they got it. For example, “I really like your earrings. Where did you buy them?”

“How are you today?” or “How’s it going?” + “__________________.” One of the first things English learners learn is the question “how are you”. This is a standard greeting. For our purposes, it’s just a way to get things started. You have to have something else to add afterwards. Be prepared! For example, either of the above can be followed by any of the other conversation starters listed here.

Even if it is awkward for you at first, like with all things English, the more you practice the better you will be. Get out there are start talking!

About the Author

Yvette Smith has been an educator for the past six years. Her speciality is ESL and has taught students of all ages in China, Mexico, and Vietnam.

English Learning Tips for Advanced Students

POSTED ON September 17th  - POSTED IN Language Learning Tips

Once you get to an advanced level it can be tempting to just skate along. After all, at this level, your English is probably very good and you understand grammar in a way that most native speakers can’t match. But even at this stage, there is still a lot to learn.

1. Focus on the deeper meaning.

In written and spoken English, there are always underlying meanings, things that aren’t said but are generally understood by native speakers. Understanding this deeper layer is key to developing your advanced skills. Ask yourself why constantly to start to infer the deeper meanings in everything.

2. Work on your academic skills

If you have advanced skills, chances are that you want to study or work in English. This means working on your academic skills such as notetaking and listening to lectures. This will help you develop the skills you need for school or university in English. It will also help you pass your English exams too.

3. Listen to different accents.

English isn’t just one accent. English is spoken in a range of countries and with an incredibly wide range of accents. Some of these accents can be hard for native speakers to understand, so if you want to really expand your learning, try using resources from different parts of the English speaking world.

4. Speak English in different contexts.

If you’ve learned English in classes, you’ll probably get a shock when you go out into the world and try to use your skills in different contexts. Native speakers will speak more quickly and they won’t make as many allowances if you struggle to communicate. This may be a shock at first, and you’ll feel like a beginner, but the more you practice in a range of contexts the quicker you’ll pick up the different language rules and start to use them naturally.

5. Learn humour and sarcasm.

If you want to build friendships with native speakers, these aspects of language are key. You need to be able to understand and tell jokes and recognise and decode sarcasm if you really want to interact with people on a native level.

For more learning tips, visit our Learning Tips blog.

About the Author

I’m an ESL teacher and a dedicated traveller. I’ve taught in Fuzhou, China and Hanoi and much prefer smaller cities to the larger options. When I’m not on the road, I live in Perth, Australia.  I write about education, ESL teaching specifically, and you can view more examples of my work at





ESL Learning Tips for Intermediate Learners

POSTED ON September 3rd  - POSTED IN Language Learning Tips

Once you’ve moved up to an Intermediate English level, this is where the complexity of the language becomes clear. At this stage of your learning, you need more advanced strategies to help you overcome your more complicated learning issues.

Talk to native speakers.

Chances are that you will start learning English from someone who speaks the same native language as you. This type of learning can be valuable, but it can also create problems. One of the biggest complaints of native English speaking ESL teachers is that their students have learned how to pronounce things incorrectly. And once you’ve picked up bad pronunciation habits they’re very hard to break. So make sure you talk to native speakers and pay attention to how they say things.

Find your weaknesses.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning. You might struggle with listening tasks, spelling or grammar, and discovering these weaknesses gives you the chance to work on them. Once you start doing that, you’ll really see your understanding grow and your English test results improve.

Change it up.

If your skills aren’t advancing it might be because you haven’t upgraded or changed your learning materials regularly. So if you usually only read school books, find a novel in English. If you only watch movies, try watching the news in English. The more English you’re exposed to, the more your brain will learn.

Focus on context.

Learning grammar or vocabulary out of a book doesn’t really help you use it. At this stage, you need to use your language in a natural context. So if you’re learning to talk about food, go to a restaurant or watch an English cooking show. You want to be able to use the grammar and vocabulary without having to think about the rules because you use them naturally. This will only happen when you completely understand how they’re used in real life.

Expect setbacks.

Some people learn English for years and then get to a point where they can’t seem to get any further. It can be tempting to give up at this stage, but if you do then all the work you’ve done will be forgotten and wasted. If you’re really struggling, try to find another way to learn, but whatever you do, don’t give up.

About the Author

I’m an ESL teacher and a dedicated traveller. I’ve taught in Fuzhou, China and Hanoi and much prefer smaller cities to the larger options. When I’m not on the road, I live in Perth, Australia.  I write about education, ESL teaching specifically, and you can view more examples of my work at

The Beginner’s Guide to Learning English

POSTED ON August 20th  - POSTED IN Language Learning Tips

When you’re just starting out learning English, there’s a lot to learn and the idea of it can be daunting. To make it easier, there are several strategies and tips that can take you from beginner to talking in no time.

  • Set goals for your learning.

The purpose of your learning can determine what part of English is most important to you. If you just want to talk in English, then focus on speaking. If you need English for school or work, then you probably need to do more work on writing and reading.

  • Buy a good dictionary.

The best way to learn is to be active. So buy a dictionary and learn on your own as well as in your lessons. Look up new words and use them as often as you can.

  • Make English part of your life.

Practising English once a week in your class isn’t enough. You need to read English, speak English and listen to English as often as you can to improve and get used to the way it’s supposed to sound.

  • Don’t be afraid of mistakes.

If you’re making mistakes, it means that you’re trying and learning. So pay attention when you make them, learn about the mistake, and don’t make the same one again.

  • Have fun with your learning.

It shouldn’t be all textbooks and tests. If you enjoy word puzzles in your native language, try them in English. Play English games, listen to English music and watch movies in English. The more you enjoy learning, the faster you will learn.

  • Take control of your learning.

Your ESL teacher will help, but whether you learn or not is really up to you. Take responsibility for your learning by doing the work, getting help when you need it, and doing as many extra exercises as possible.

If you do all of this, before you know it you will soon understand enough Basic English that you will be able to take an English exam and move up to the next level!

For more about learning a language, visit our Language Learning Tips blog.

About the Author

Gayle Aggiss is an ESL teacher and a dedicated traveller. She’s taught in Fuzhou, China and Hanoi and she much prefers smaller cities to the larger options. When she’s not on the road, she lives in Perth, Australia.  She writes about education, ESL teaching specifically, and you can view more examples of her work at











Text and Message Like a Native

POSTED ON August 6th  - POSTED IN Language Learning Tips

These days, most communication comes via technology and social media. This means a lot of texting and messaging!

Just like what probably happens in your own language, when sending messages in English, there are lots of slang and shortened ways of saying what you mean. Here you will learn the most common of these. That way, you can recognize them when they are written to you, and you can use them yourself.

Shortened Words

Why waste time typing things all the way out when you can do “short-hand”? Here are the most common:

You = u Ex. Do u want to go to the movies with me?

Are = r Ex. What r u up to?

Later = l8r Ex. See you l8r!

Words that end in ing, drop the g – doin, goin, thinkin, etc. Ex. What r u doin?

Spoken Transfers

 When we send informal messages, we often write how we would speak. This applies to things like “wanna” and “gonna”. Ex. What do u wanna do l8r?


Acronyms are by far the largest category when it comes to texting like a native speaker. There are a ton, but knowing a handful most commonly used ones will be just fine.

ILY – I love you

IDK – I don’t know

ASAP – As soon as possible

IDC – I don’t care

LOL – Laugh out loud

JK – Just kidding

RN – Right now

NVM – Never mind

Grammar Rules Need Not Apply

In messages, you’ll see no apostrophes, no periods, no capitals, and many more things that you have learned you “always” need when communicating through writing. Messaging is completely different! Of course, you are welcome to write correctly, but don’t expect others too! You’ll get the hang of it but just observing and reading texts from your English speaking friends online.

About the Author

Yvette Smith has been an educator for the past six years. Her speciality is ESL and has taught students of all ages in China, Mexico, and Vietnam.


5 Apps That Will Improve Your English

POSTED ON July 23rd  - POSTED IN Language Learning Tips

Apps are one of the best ways to help you on your journey of learning English. They are convenient because you can use them on your cell phone, which is something that you always carry with you. Apps are also a lot of fun as many of them are designed like games. Check out these 5 that come highly recommended:


Duolingo has always been a favourite. It’s simple to use and keeps you motivated to learn by being fun and actively tracking your progress. It works on all four skills in a way that makes you feel like you are playing a game. This app is for beginners and intermediate level learners.

British Council- Learning English

British Council has a quite a few different learning apps, so have a look to see which one is best for you. These range from apps with videos about England’s culture to learning US grammar.


Quizlet is a popular website that is also an app. You can use flashcards that have already been made by someone else to practice your English skills. There are different flashcard games you can play. If you upgrade, you can have access offline.


Like Quizlet, Memrise also uses flashcards, but they make it more fun. Memrise helps you to actively and easily remember new words and phrases. It features videos with native speakers so you can also see language in action.


TED isn’t made for English language learners, but if your English level is upper intermediate to advanced, TED is for you. You may already be familiar with TED talks, which are short presentations on any topic, in your own language. Why not listen in English? You’ll probably learn something new and improve your listening skills. TED also had TED-Ed, where the videos are set up as comprehension lessons, which is also a

About the Author

Yvette Smith has been an educator for the past six years. Her speciality is ESL and has taught students of all ages in China, Mexico, and Vietnam.


The Best Way to Learn is to Teach

POSTED ON July 9th  - POSTED IN Language Learning Tips

There is a quote that says, “If you want to master something, teach it.” Learning is great. By now you know a lot about how to learn and different ways and things you can do to help you remember English. Here’s one more: teach it.

Don’t for a second think you aren’t good enough. Here are some ways you can teach what you know in order to truly master it:

  • If you understand something, actively help your classmates in class.
  • Find someone younger than you/at a lower level than you and teach them something they don’t know or correct them.
  • Join a speaking club and give suggestions to your speaking partners.
  • Join an online learning English page or group and share your knowledge by commenting frequently.
  • Tell a friend who is also learning English about a new phrase you learned and how to use it.

It only makes sense that you will work harder to understand and be more aware of the material you are teaching, whether you know it or not. You will be forced to really dig into the “why” behind whatever you are teaching and use it yourself until it becomes completely natural.

What’s more, you will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when you see your “students” succeed, even if it is something as simple as using a new word you showed them. Become a teacher in your own way and don’t be afraid to do it. It only brings benefit to both you and the person you are helping.

Are you looking for more learning tips? Make sure to visit our Language Learning Tips blog. Or are you a teacher? Check out our teaching tips here.

About the Author

Yvette Smith has been an educator for the past six years. Her speciality is ESL and has taught students of all ages in China, Mexico, and Vietnam.


Language Ego: What It Is And What To Do With It

POSTED ON June 25th  - POSTED IN Language Learning Tips

“Language Ego is the identity a person develops in reference to the language he or she speaks.” – Alexander Guiora

For students who learn English as a second language, learning how to communicate is essential. However, that is not an easy task for everyone. Many students do not have the confidence to use the language orally and feel stressed whenever they need to produce it.

In the scientific and professional literature on the acquisition of foreign languages, the term ego can be found. When we learn a foreign language and when we use it in oral or written form, we are in some way transformed into another person. Why? Well, because our knowledge of a foreign language limits us, and in communication, we can not express ourselves with the same ease as we would if we were speaking in our mother tongue. Consequently, we cannot be equally witty, ironic or eloquent, so we often feel bad. That is not us in our full glory. Therefore, you should invent a new self!

When I meet my students for the first time and when we introduce ourselves, I suggest my pupils make up a new name for themselves. It can simply be an English variant of their name – for example, my name is Milica so the closest possible variant, and the one that would be the most similar in terms of pronunciation, is Melissa. However, I could also be Miley or Mila, even Miranda. And that’s the point – to take and embrace the name you like. Maybe it sounds funny or exaggerated but try it. If you cannot come up with a name for yourself, ask your teacher for help. Believe me, when you say this name several times, you will feel closer to that language and culture, which can be very motivating.

Want to get more useful learning tips? Visit our Language Learning Tips blog. And if you’re an educator, we have some great teaching resources here.

About the Author

Milica Madić, freelance blog/article writer from Serbia, with experience in teaching and working with young learners.


How to Learn Useful Phrases

POSTED ON June 4th  - POSTED IN Language Learning Tips

In English, there is a large number of fixed phrases and expressions that are sometimes not easy to understand, but they are very useful, even necessary. These phrases are a part of the cultural heritage of a nation, present in the speech of most people in one region and they are often not a part of the lexical fund of a language.

Applicable phrases are those expressions or whole sentences that sound natural, and you can use them in a variety of situations. I will give one example – the phrase “That sounds good.” We can use this sentence when we decide to which café we want to go, which movie to watch, when a friend tells us about a new job,  or someone invites us to dinner and says what they will prepare for us.

Often overlooked is the fact that a rich vocabulary consists of using individual words and full phrases. These phrases are especially important to English learners who start later in life. Older students devotedly practice grammar and try to remember independent, singled out words, but in communication, they constantly get shut down because they lack natural expressions. In contrast, those who have learned English through cartoons, computer games, movies and music, know and use these phrases, which makes others feel like the speaker is advanced when, in fact, students who learn like this often struggle with grammar. By saying this, I am not trying to say one method is better than the other. Moreover, both types of students have their advantages and disadvantages. Successful learning is when you take those advantage of and minimize the imperfections.

Now, instead of trying to translate this expression in your head and lose valuable time trying to decipher each of its parts, focus on the sentence in its entirety – say it out loud as a whole a couple of times and I guarantee it will be easier for you to remember it this way.

There is a lot of these phrases and they are all around you – in the texts you read in a textbook, even in language exercises for grammar and vocabulary, and, of course, when talking to those who know more than you. It does not only have to be a teacher, but also some of the students from your class. You just need to be open to the idea that the language is all around you and it is waiting for you to casually pick up useful little things one at a time. And of course, you cannot immediately learn them all – one to two phrases a week, or even a month, is quite enough.

They will also help you to learn to translate less frequently and they will also strengthen your language ego – you will feel better and more successful in communication.

About the Author

Milica Madić, freelance blog/article writer from Serbia, with experience in teaching and working with young learners.


Mental Translation And Why You Shouldn’t Do It

POSTED ON May 21st  - POSTED IN Language Learning Tips

Mental Translation is reprocessing words, phrases or sentences from the language you are trying to acquire into your native language.

When learning a foreign language such as English, students tend to get into their own heads too much and try and translate every sentence, usually word for word.

Do not translate! If you want to do one good thing for yourself as a language learner, then try your best not to translate sentences from your mother tongue to English in your head while talking to someone. Why? There are many reasons.

Firstly, you are constantly encountering barriers and thinking to yourself how much “you do not know”. You make pauses every now and then to look up a word, ask your teacher for help or check the dictionary for that one expression that you will use once, and almost certainly forget later. Secondly, translation is a skill that you probably haven’t quite mastered. Chances are high that your mother tongue and English are not mirror languages, so one word or phrase in your native language will not have a direct and absolute pair in English.

The best thing you can do, when you are in class or in a situation that requires communication, is to try and use the things you have learned and that you know as correctly and as accurately as possible. Look at it this way – learning a language is like building a house in the old times. You have to do everything yourself, from floor to ceiling, from door to bed, which requires effort and time.

Mental translation is like constantly attempting to do work from your home despite the fact you do not have the right conditions, and when you are looking for help for that translation all of the time, it is like you are persistently borrowing things from your neighbour. You borrow a tool to do some repairs, then bring it back and then borrow it again in five minutes, and this can go on indefinitely. In time, you will have everything you need in the house, but by then it’s far more desirable to use what you already have and to work even harder on making a new one. This is not an easy road, but in the end, you will are left with a fully-functional house.

Click here for more language learning tips. Are you a teacher? Then check out our Teaching Tips.

About the Author

Milica Madić, freelance blog/article writer from Serbia, with experience in teaching and working with young learners.