Monthly Archives: January 2015

Top 10 Fifteen-Minute (or Less!) Ways to Study English, Part 1

How’s it going?

Studying and practicing a language regularly is one of the most important ways to improve.

But guess what the biggest complaint I hear from English learners is?  You guessed it!

“I’m too busy!”

This complaint is (kind of) understandable.  Most people have jobs.  Especially in Japan, these jobs can take up a lot of their time.  This doesn’t even include the over time work, the commute, company meetings and get-togethers and, for many people, families.  With all this, it’s a wonder they have enough time to take lessons once a week!

But this excuse is based on a misunderstanding.  That misunderstanding is that regular study has to be long, hard and intense.

Not at all!  In fact, if your current study methods are making you tired, you’re studying too hard!

In order to stay motivated, it’s important that study is fun.  Just 15 minutes a day, even just 10 minutes… even just five minutes is enough!  Just do it.

But what can I do with just five minutes?  I’m glad you asked!


Here’s my list of top # ways you can study with just 15 minutes (or less!)

Number 1: Keep a journal

You can use any medium for this, from the notepad application on your cellphone (but I think Evernote is better) to a notebook to various kinds of social media, but spend about 5 minutes a day just writing in English.  If you are a beginner, just write about what you did that day or the day before.  If you’re a higher level English speaker, challenge yourself: describe something in detail, or talk about how you feel, or about a movie you watched or a book you read.

Number 2: Use Twitter

Any kind of social media is great, but twitter is especially useful for English learners.  Why?  For several reasons:

  • It’s concise; you only have 140 characters to use, so you have to keep your messages short.
  • It’s friendly and social.  There are so many non-native speakers like you using twitter to practice English, not to mention English teachers and English language resources there just waiting to help you!
  • It’s constantly updated.  There is always something new on twitter, from tweets about English idioms, to grammar, to listening skills to great websites about learning English.
  • It’s easy to use and free.

I absolutely love twitter, and have met so many great, hard-working people on there.

Number 3: Check out Rachel’s English

If you want to work on your listening and pronunciation, Rachel’s English is the best website.  I’m a native English speaker, but I’ve learned so much from her.  I always refer my students to her website when they want to practice pronunciation.  She has tons of video, most of them only 3-10 minutes long, on various aspects of pronunciation.  Check it out!

Number 4: Talk to yourself in English

This one might make you feel strange, especially in public, but speaking English is the most important communication skill you need to have conversations, and it’s not always easy to find a partner.  The best way to do this is to sit down with a recorder (preferably at home) and start talking!  Here are some tips on how to do this effectively:

  • Choose a topic ahead of time.  But don’t write everything down!  Remember, you don’t need to work on making speeches, you need to work on talking fluently.
  • Don’t censor yourself!  The goal is to get used to talking freely, not correctly.
  • Speak at your own pace.  Remember, this is one time nobody is listening and waiting to respond, so there’s no need to talk fast.
  • Keep it short!  The key is to do it, not finish it.  Start at one minute, and increase it slowly, little by little.
  • Talk about something you enjoy talking about.
  • Review it afterwards.  After you finish, listen to it and notice what you could do better for next time.  Use that for next time!
Number 5: Keep a lexical notebook

A lexical notebook?  What’s that?  It’s a notebook where you collect all the vocabulary and expressions you will need to talk about a topic.  For example, a lexical notebook about baseball might look like this:

  • Baseball
  • base
  • hit
  • bat
  • catcher
  • home run
  • double play
  • slide into first base
  • athletic

And so on.  If you have just five minutes, sit down and look at your lexical notebook.  Is there anything you can add to it?  Write them down!  Are there any expressions you can think of in Japanese that you don’t know how to say in English?  Write them down!  Can’t think of anything?  Practice what you have in your notebook!  Write sentences using the expressions, or write a story using the expressions.  Remember, it’s important to be able to use what you know, not just remember it.

Ok, that’s it for now!  Come back in a couple of weeks for the rest!  See you then.


Group Discussions: Habits, Secrets

Hello everybody!

Our Saturday (January 31st) is habits!

For Monday (February 2nd) we have an interesting topic :  We talked about honesty and truth last time, so this time we’re going to talk about secrets.


Here are the new questions (new lexis is in italics):

1. Are there any habits you should develop but haven’t?

2. Are habits necessary to be successful?

3. What are some good habits if you want to improve your English?

Click here to see the old questions and the lexical set!


Here are some questions you may hear at the next group discussion lesson:


1. Is privacy very important to you?

2. Do you keep a lot of secrets?


1. What kinds of things are important to keep secret from people you don’t know well?

2. Does the internet make it more difficult to keep secrets?  How so?


1. Is keeping a secret the same as being dishonest?  Why or why not?

2. If someone you knew did something bad, would you keep it a secret?  Why or why not?

Additional Useful Lexis






Keep (a secret)








(Not) Be supposed to V(-O)

Today’s English idiom: Once a…, Always a…

Hey guys!

Ages ago we discussed celebrities (ok, not ages ago, but about 6 months ago).

A fantastic idiom came up:

“Once a(n) ___, always a(n) ___.”

I didn’t get a chance to go into this one in detail during the lesson, so I wanted to write about it here on my blog!  Hope it’s useful.

First off, how do we use this expression?

Once a(n) N1, always a(n) N1.

N1 represents a noun.  As you can see, we use the same noun in both parts of the expression.


  • Once a liar, always a liar.
  • Once a father, always a father.
  • Once a criminal, always a criminal.

You may also have noticed that it is basically a very long interjection.  In other words, it’s not actually a sentence, but we do not use it in a sentence either.  It is used by itself.

It can be used with adjectives, though it usually isn’t.


  • Once a stinking criminal, always a stinking criminal.
  • Once a bad boyfriend, always a bad boyfriend.

Ok, so that’s how to use it correctly.  But what does it mean?  When is it used?

It is used to refer to a person, people or people in general.  It means that as soon as a person becomes something, they cannot escape that identity.


Okay… that’s not very clear is it?  Let’s take a look at an example to see.

“Once a liar, always a liar.”

The speaker must be referring to at least one person, but s/he may be referring to several people, or people in general.  He means this:

“If someone becomes a liar, they will always be a liar.  There is nothing they can do to change that.  Even if they only lie once, they will still be a liar for the rest of their lives.”

There is another way in which it is used.  The expression is also used as a warning or declaration of predicted future behavior.


Umm… so what does that mean?

Well, let’s look at the same example:

“Once a liar, always a liar.”

This expression is often used by a speaker to a listener to warn the listener about the behavior of someone else.  It may be, for example, about a friend of the listener’s.  In this case it means:

“Your friend lied to you.  That means s/he will definitely lie to you again.  If someone lies once, they will always continue to do it.”

Here is another example

“Once a surfer, always a surfer.”

The speaker is saying that after someone becomes a surfer, they will love or enjoy it so much they will never stop being a surfer.

As you can see, the expression is much shorter!

So when would a native speaker use such an expression?  Let’s see.

“My son is now an 18-year-old man… It may sound odd, perhaps not, but a part of me mourns his childhood. Those beautiful moments of innocent wonder are gone forever… But that makes me no less a dad. No matter what the future holds: once a father, always a father. Your heart is forever involved and nothing on heaven or on Earth will change that.” (slightly edited, here is the original text).

Here is another example:

A: “I can’t believe he lied to me about that.”

B: “I know.  It’s terrible.  You should really break up with him.”

A: “Break up with him?  But I love him!”

B: “Well, you know what they say: once a liar, always a liar.”

A: “Yeah, I know…”

I hope that helps!  If you have any questions about this expression, let me know!




Group Discussions: Bias and Prejudice; Honesty and Truth

Hello again everyone!

Our topic this coming Saturday (January 24th) is Bias and Prejudice!

Our topic this coming Monday (January 26th) is a very important one: Honesty and Truth.


Here are some questions you may hear during the discussion (new lexis is in italics):

1. What’s the worst form of prejudice?

2. Have you ever personally experienced prejudice?

3. Do you know anyone who is extremely prejudiced?

Click here to see the old questions and the lexical set!


Here are some questions you may hear during the discussion:


1. Is it ok to lie sometimes?  Can you give an example?

2. When is it ok to be partially truthful?


1. What is the difference between a white lie and a regular lie?

2. Can truth be cruel?  If so, when?  If not, why is it kind?


1. What is truth?

2. Why are people dishonest?

Additional Useful Lexis:


















A half truth

SVOVing-O (Ex: I appreciate you being honest)


That’s it!  Hope to see you then!

Top 5 (or 6) Questions My Students Ask me about Studying

1389749_41381472As a private English teacher, I find the biggest issue with my students is that they don’t take their work home with them.  In other words, many of them assume that spending an hour a week with a teacher is enough to help them grow as English learners.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.  Just like anything else that takes time and effort – exercise, diet, a musical instrument, etc. – becoming a better English speaker requires studying at home, by yourself.

Fortunately, though, many of my students realize this.  However, how to use that time wisely is not always so easy to figure out.  I get lots of great questions from my students about how to utilize their time effectively.

Here are the top 5 most common questions I get from my students about studying:

Question #1: Should I study everyday?

Answer: Yes!

But, more realistically speaking, you should study as often as you can.  In order to develop your memory and, more importantly, recall, the mind needs to practice the skill repeatedly, preferably in novel ways.  The more often the skill is practiced, the faster your mind will become used to it and the easier it is to recall the ability.  Too much time in between study sessions and the connection will weaken.  Even just 5-15 minutes a day is better than nothing.

Question #2: But I’m so busy every day.  What if I just study a long time once a week?

Answer: This is largely a waste of time.

Again, without consistent and constant practice, you will only retain information short-term.  It may help you to remember some things for a few days, even a few weeks, but not much longer than that.  Remember, English is not just information, it’s also a skill.  Usually after about an hour, our ability to retain what we learned declines rapidly.  Trying to practice it for long periods of time will just result in burn out.

Think of it this way: If you want to be a good tennis player, should you practice regularly, or once a week?  If you want to build muscle, should you work out for three hours once a week, or 3-4 times a week even for just 30 minutes?

Question #3: Sometimes I’m not really motivated to study.  Shouldn’t I only study when I feel motivated?

A: No.  You should study regularly.

Certainly, it’s more fun to study when you’re motivated, and you’ll probably learn more, but it’s also really important to develop a habit of studying.  The longer you do anything consistently, the easier it is to do it even when you don’t feel like it.  In fact, if you continue to study long enough, you may even hate missing a day of studying!

It’s perfectly natural for your mind to resist studying regularly at first.  If you’re doing it consistently for the first time, your mind actually has to exert effort to develop this new habit, and that can feel extremely tiresome.  You will probably think of a wide variety of other things you could be doing, or rationalize why you don’t have to study today, or why it would be better to start tomorrow.  The sad thing is, tomorrow often never comes.  Start today, and take that first big step towards developing a life-changing habit.

Having said that, it is important to rest sometimes.  If you are burnt out, or exhausted or going through something difficult, don’t force it.

Question #4: What is a good way to study?

A: This question often means two things, one of them very good, the other not so much.

The first question is usually: “Can you provide me with some examples of good study methods?  I’m open to trying anything.”  This is a great question.

The second question is “What is the ultimate study method that is 100% proven to be better than any other study method in existence?  This is a limiting question, because it makes some assumptions that aren’t true.

  • Assumption #1: There is one method that is better than all others.

I’m sorry, this simply isn’t true.  Which methods work best is highly dependent on what type of learner you are, what your goals are, what your experience and current ability is as well as what areas of language competence you want to improve.

  • Assumption #2: All methods are equally effective for all people.

On its surface, it seems quite obvious that this cannot be true, and yet this is one of the assumptions being made when asking this question.  If it were true, I could answer this question: I could provide the same answer to everybody who asks this question, regardless of their personality, current abilities or goals.  But I can’t.  I need to know you better: why do you study English?  What can and can’t you do now?  What do you want to be able to do?  What kind of person are you?

  • Assumption #3: One method will take care of every aspect of English learning.

This is probably the most common assumption I encounter.  Many people look at languages as one thing, rather than a composite of numerous elements that each require specific skill-building methods and all come together to create a competent speaker.  Building your listening is different from building your vocabulary is different from building your grammar.  There is no single method that will address all of these things.

Because this is such a complex question, I will be addressing it in a future blog all on its own.

Question #5: Should I use this textbook/newspaper/CD/whatever to study?

Answer: Maybe.  It depends.

Follow up question: It depends?  Well… what does it depend on?

Follow up answer: Several things.

  1. Your current ability.  Is the material too easy for you?  Too difficult?
  2. Your goals.  Why are you using that material?  Did you determine it would be best for achieving your goals in language learning?  Or did someone else tell you that material would be best?
  3. Your interests.  Do you like the material?  Is it interesting to you?  Do you enjoy reading, watching or listening to it?

Depending on your answers to these questions, the material may be perfect for you, or it may be worthless.  The key points is:

  • It should be challenging, but comprehensible.  It should push you to look up new words and build new skills without taking too much time to do so.file2491277420286
  • It should be in line with your motivation for studying English.  If you want to learn how to chat with foreigners, then a newspaper is not really going to help you with that.  It will bore you and you will lose motivation.  On the other hand, if you are looking to build your vocabulary, a newspaper will probably help you achieve that goal.
  • Most importantly, It should be interesting to you.  Please do not begin reading a 600 page textbook on chemistry if you don’t care about science.  Likewise, if you love fiction, go ahead and try reading that John Grisham novel.


There you go!  I hope this was helpful and informative.  If you’d like any further references for my answers, or if you have any further questions, hit me up in the comment section, or find me on twitter!  I love helping learners out!

I want to leave you with this YouTube video:

This guy has some great advice on English learning!

Group Discussions: Friends & Friendship, College

It’s a new year, and time for some new topics!


Our discussion topic on January 17th (Saturday) at 2pm will be: Friends and Friendship

Here are some new questions you might hear (new lexis is in italics):

1. Have you ever lost a friend?

2. Are there any long-lost friends you’d like to meet again?

3. Has a friend ever turned on you?

Click here to see the old questions and the lexical set!


Our first topic on January 19th (Monday) at 3pm is: College!

Here are some sample questions you may hear during the lesson:


1. Are colleges in Japan usually co-ed?

2. Did you join any clubs in college?


1. What is a typical day at college like in Japan?

2. What was your major?


1. How do people decide which college to go to?

2. Do you think a college education is important?  Why or why not?

Additional Useful Lexis:
















Participate (in)


Slack off






Be (just/only) a matter of N

Be part of N

Can’t seem to V

Do something different(ly) with N

How did you decide…?

Pull an all-nighter

As usual, if you have any questions, please let me know!  Hope to see you guys on January 19th!