This I Believe–Essays from ordinary Americans

Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Listening, Reading, Writing |

It’s difficult to become a good writer without spending a lot of time reading good writing.  And I think we all know the quality of most of the writing on Facebook and Instagram.  So where do you find good writing that’s not 350 pages long? One place where you can read (and listen to!) short essays about hundreds of different topics is at This I Believe.  The website is a revived version of a radio programme in the 1950s where people could listen to essays from famous people talking about their beliefs and motivations.  The new version of the show is similar except the essays are by people from all walks of life.  The goal of the programme–as the Executive Producer says on the about page,–is “not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs. Rather, the hope is to encourage people to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own.” Start reading and listening to essays at This I Believe now! Check the other posts I’ve written about places to read good writing: blogs daily news sites weekly or monthly news sites...

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Karaoke at home

Posted by on Apr 10, 2013 in Listening, Reading, Speaking, Videos |

Doing grammar exercises is not the only way to improve your English!  Sometimes you just want to have a little fun and sing a song.  Karaoke Party is a clever website where you can sing a bunch of different songs for free.  You can search by genre, year or keyword and you will see a flash video with or without the words and a representation of the melody (kind of like SingStar for the PS3).  You can already sing a few songs without registering, if you register you will get more.  There is a paid membership if you want access to all the songs but they have a nice selection for registered users already. Have...

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Real-world dictations

Posted by on Mar 25, 2013 in Listening |

If you want to improve your listening (and spelling) skills, try out this site: Listen and Write.  They have taken media from a wide range of sources, found transcripts, and made them into dictation activities.  This means that you can listen to (or watch, many of the sources are on youtube) a news report, an interview, a song, a film trailer or a TV show and then listen to it in “chapters” so you can focus on 5-10 seconds of text at a time.  It’s a great way to practice your listening while following your...

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Free audiobooks–Librivox

Posted by on Mar 20, 2013 in Listening, Vocabulary |

We all need to practice our listening skills, but it can be difficult.  Listening to the news can be boring.  Watching films or TV shows can be fun, but do we really understand what they said?  Can we remember it?  Sometimes we want to check if we really heard everything. Librivox is a community of people who are trying to record all of the books in the public domain.  This means that all of their resources are 100% free and legal!  It also means that you won’t find Harry Potter there, but for a free resource it is really excellent. How does it work?  Go to Librivox and do a search or just browse their collection.  I enjoy short stories, and I got a lot of results for “short” and “stories” when I searched for those terms.  You can also try terms like “poetry,” “ghost,” or “mystery.”  Click on one of the titles and on the next page you will be able to find links to the text and the recording.  Some readers are better than others (they are all volunteers), so try a different title if you don’t have a good reader.  Read along in the text as you listen, you’ll learn lots of new vocabulary as you improve your listening...

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How to pronounce English names

Posted by on Mar 13, 2013 in Listening, Speaking |

English names are notoriously difficult to pronounce when you can only read them.  For example, how many syllables are there in Loughborough or Leominster (these are towns in England)?  Two!  I know it’s strange, it’s strange to me too.  I come from the US, where our cities have normal-sounding names (that’s just a little joke!). So what can you do?  Here is one of those times when you just need to know the international phonetic alphabet (IPA).  Do you remember it?  Here’s a very nice interactive page from the British Council.  We need this because as we saw with Loughborough or Leominster, it just doesn’t make sense that these letters can all be pronounced in two syllables.  We need some way of communicating the pronunciation. I found these town names on this Wikipedia page of names in English with counter-intuitive pronunciations.  You’ll notice that all of the names are also written with the IPA so that you can easily pronounce them correctly.  What’s that?  You’re not an expert in IPA reading?  Then I have found exactly the tool for you. AT&T Labs have developed an IPA to speech program.  You can enter the IPA characters and the program will pronounce “exactly” what you put in (I’m sure it’s not perfect, but I think it is a good start).  The one problem is that you need to put the IPA inside a little HTML code.  Here’s how you do it. Copy the following code: <phoneme alphabet=”ipa” ph=”kæt”> </phoneme> Paste the code into the box on the AT&T Labs page Now copy the IPA you want read (this is the first bit of funny letters from the Wikipedia page, the second set of letters won’t work) and paste it inside the quotation marks where you see kæt in the original, like this: <phoneme alphabet=”ipa” ph=”ˈlʌfbrə”> </phoneme> Choose the speaker you would like to hear Click the “Speak” button! Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work perfectly (sometimes the voice will read the punctuation), but “Crystal US English” is pretty reliable. If you want to type other words into the speech generator, you can use an IPA typewriter here. Have fun! I’d like to thank “Pablo” for his post on Yahoo! answers which told me how to use the AT&T Labs tool. Resources from this post: British Council IPA page Wikipedia page of English names with counter-intuitive pronunciation AT&T Labs text-to-speech demo IPA typewriter Yahoo answers post by Pablo (for more information about the text-to-speech demo and the html...

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