Monthly Archives: February 2015

10 English Learning Motivation Tips, Part 1

Hey everyone!

So we all know that studying and practicing are important, but how do we stay motivated?

Let’s be honest: sometimes we’re tired, or we’ve had a bad day (or week… or month!), or we just don’t feel like studying.sleeping-puppy-2

Unfortunately, without regular study, it will be very hard to improve.  That means motivation is very important!  So here are 10 ways to keep yourself motivated:

1. Make sure it’s fun

Do you enjoy studying or practicing?  If not, then why are you doing it?  Many people study things because someone else told them to or recommended it, or because their teachers said they had to, or because they think they need to study it.  But the best way to study is in a way that’s fun.

Studying something you like is like jogging in a nice, quite park on a cool day: it’s pleasant and is still good for you.  You’re more likely to enjoy the experience and want to do it again.  Studying something you don’t like is like jogging uphill…when you have a cold… with a 20 kilogram weight on your back.  Sure, you’ll still improve, but do you really want to do that everyday?

So make sure it’s fun!  Do you like movies?  Watch them!  Do you like music?  Listen to it, and read the lyrics!  Do you like talking to people?  Find teachers or friends to chat with!  Do what you love, and do it often!

2. Keep it short and simple

When we went to school, we often studied hard, and for long hours, especially for a test.  We often had lots of material we had to go over: textbooks, notes, videos, etc.  But we’re out of school now, so now we get to set our own rules!  Who says studying has to be long and painful?  Keep it short and simple!  Do you only feel like studying for 15 minutes?  That’s enough!  Only want to read a book today?  Then just read that book!  Any exposure – listening or reading – to English is good exposure.  As long as you’re doing it regularly, you are not only building the skill, you are building a very good habit.

3. Keep it challenging

Didn’t you just say keep it simple?  Yes, but that doesn’t mean keep it easy!  Sticking to just one material – videos, books, songs, etc. – is fine, but in order to keep it interesting, you still have to challenge yourself!  If the material is too easy, you won’t progress.  Instead, you’ll get bored quickly.

Be careful though!  If it’s too hard, you’ll also lose motivation.  You want to keep it so that you’re learning something new every time, but not too much.  Make sure you are learning something, that you’ve added something new to your knowledge.  Even if you learned only one new thing after your study session, that’s enough!  Even if you study only four times a week, that’s over 200 new words or expressions you’ve added to your vocabulary a year!

4. Vary it up

A lot of people lose motivation and quit because they get bored: they study the same way every time.  Yawn!  No thanks!

To keep things interesting, think of at least three ways you can study that are still fun for you.  Do you like movies?  Try dictation one day, Ben Franklin listening another, and try reading movie scripts another.  You could rotate them regularly, or just do one until you get bored with it, and then try something else.  The more ideas you have, the easier it is to stay motivated!

5. Take Breaks

Everybody has bad days and tiring days.  Remember, studying should be enjoyable!  If the only thing stopping you from studying is laziness, push through it and study!  But if you are genuinely tired or having a rough time in your life, take a break!  There’s nothing wrong with taking some time for yourself to recharge sometimes.

Also, if you are like me, you will go through phases when you can study everyday, sometimes for an hour or more!  And then you will suddenly be unable to concentrate for even 10 minutes.  That’s ok too!  Not all of us can keep a regular schedule.  Just as long as you’re doing as much as you can, you’re doing a good job.

If you have to study for a long time, it’s also very important to take breaks.  The mind cannot focus on one thing for very long (usually 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the person), so give it a rest sometimes.

In the next part, I will go on to some deeper, more psychological motivation tips.  I hope this part was helpful!  If you want to read some more good advice about motivation, please come back in a couple of weeks.  Take care, and good luck with your studies!



Group Discussions: Home, Complaining

Hello everyone!

We have a very different mix this coming week!

Our Saturday (February 28th) topic will be home.

Monday’s (March 2nd) topic is a very common but negative one (sorry!): complaining!  This is a pretty simple topic, so I’m only going to post three example questions today!


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

1. Do you prefer being home?

2. In English, we have a saying: “Home is where the heart is.”  What do you think this means?

3. What are homes like in other cultures?

Click here for the previous questions and the lexical set!


Here are some questions you may encounter:

Beginner: Are complaints common in Japan?

Intermediate: Is complaining helpful or necessary?  Why or why not?

Advanced: In English we have a say: “The customer is always right.”  Do you agree with this?  Why or why not?

Additional Useful Text:




That’s it!  This one is a pretty light one.  Hope to see you at the lesson!

How to use “recently” in English

Hey everybody!

My students, as well as other English learners, often use the word 1″recently”, but unfortunately, they often use it incorrectly!

Sadly, this is often not their fault.  Many teachers often teach it incorrectly!


Shocking, isn’t it?

First of all, there are three verb tenses you can use “recently” with:

  1. Present perfect continuous (I have been doing something)
  2. Present perfect simple (I have done something)
  3. Past simple (I did something)

Cool!  Now we can start using it, right?

Ah… nope.  It’s not that simple.  We also need to know how to use recently with each one.

1. I did something more than one time in the recent past, and I am still doing it now

If I did something every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for one month, and I still do it now (and I plan to continue doing it in the future), I would use the present perfect continuous form.

So, for example, if I studied English about 20 times this month and I plan to continue doing this, I could say:

“I have been studying English (a lot) recently.”

2. I did something one or more times or was in a state in the past, but I’m not now and I don’t plan to in the near future.

If I did something once last week, and maybe once yesterday, but have no plans to do it again, I would use the past simple.

So, for example, if I studied English a few days ago (and maybe yesterday, too), but I have no plans to do it again any time soon, I could say:

“I studied English recently.”

Also, if I felt something in the past, but don’t feel it now, I would use the past simple.

For example:

“I was sick recently.”

This means I was in this state for at least one day in the past, but I’m not any more.

3. I was in a state in the near past, and I am still in that state.

If we were in a state in the past and we are still in that state (it’s continuing), we would use the present perfect simple tense.

So, for example, if I was sick two days ago, yesterday and I’m still sick now, I could say:

“I have been sick recently.”

I made this (really bad) infographic.  I hope it’s helpful!

How to use Recently in English

Group Discussions: Changes, My Life

Hey everybody!

Many of the discussion topics are very impersonal.  For our next discussion topics, I’d like to talk about YOU more!

Our Saturday (February 21st) topic is changes.

Our Monday (February 23rd) topic is your life!


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

1. Why are some people good/bad at dealing with change?

2. What changes does the world need?

3. Is the world changing faster than before?  Why do you think so?

Click here to see the old questions and lexical set!


Here are some questions I might ask you:


1. Where were you born, exactly?

2. Did you like English in school?


1. What is one of your earliest memories?

2. Do you still have any friends from childhood?


1. How would you describe your experience raising children?

2. What was the best decision you’ve ever made?

Additional Useful Lexis:




Grow up


These days

What is/was N like?

Hope to see you for this discussion lesson!  By the way, if any of the questions are too personal, feel free to refrain from answering, or requesting a different question!

Top 10 Fifteen-Minute (or Less!) Ways to Study English, Part 2

Hey guys!  I’m back with the next five tips on how to study if you’re super busy!

Let’s get started!

Number 6: Review one thing from your notes

Do you take English lessons?  I hope so!  If you do, do you take notes (or does your teacher provide you with notes)?  I hope so!  Do you review those notes?  I didn’t think so!

If you’re like me, you have tons of notes just piled up, disorganized.  No problem!  Just pick one interesting, useful thing and practice it!  Look it up in your dictionary.  Look for it on google.  Practice saying it in a sentence, or write a few sentences using it.  If you have the time, think more deeply about it: are there any similar expressions?  How are they different?  When could you use the expression?  Have you heard or read it before?

Number 7: Read reviews in English

Reviews are great reading material for English learners: they’re short, natural, useful and interesting.  You can read all kinds of reviews online:

Book reviews on GoodReads

Movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

Travel reviews on Travelocity

Reviews are a short, natural, fun way filled with useful vocabulary and expressions.  If you’re feeling brave enough, you might want to contribute your own reviews!

Number 8: Verb conjugation drills

This is a pretty boring but simple practice to build your fluency and grammar.

Conjugating verbs can be difficult.  It’s important to get good at it so you don’t get stuck in the middle of a sentence!

Start with just the present and past tenses.  Make a list of verbs, maybe on index cards, with the present tense on the front and the past tense on the back.  Mix them up and then pull one up randomly.  Say the past tense out loud, and then check it on the back to see if you were right.  You can also do the opposite (look at the past tense side and try to recall the present tense).

Next, try the affirmative and negative forms.  Look at the affirmative form on one side (for example: have) and try to recall the negative form (don’t have).

Once you can do this fluently, combine all four!

  1. Present affirmative (have)
  2. Past affirmative (had)
  3. Present negative (don’t have)
  4. Past negative (didn’t have)

When you look at one form, try to recall the other three!  It’s a tough challenge, but if you can do this fluently, your communication skills will improve immensely!  You can even add more verb conjugations in the future if you want:

  1. Future forms (will have; won’t have)
  2. Perfect tense forms (have had; haven’t had; had had; hadn’t had)
  3. Modals (can have; can’t have; could have had; couldn’t have had; should have; shouldn’t have; should have had; shouldn’t have had, etc.)
Number 9: Change your settings to English

A couple of my very serious students have tried this, and I think it’s a fantastic way to improve your English: change your settings on your electronic devices (computer, cell phone, etc.) to English!  This will force you to look up or use context to learn a lot of new terms!  In addition, you’ll be able to explain your devices functions better, using natural English.

Number 10: Think in English

This is probably the highest level challenge.  When you have nothing else to do, and you find yourself daydreaming or thinking to yourself, do it in English!  Any time you encounter a word or expression that you don’t know how to say in English, write it down in Japanese and look it up or ask your teacher about it later!  This is probably the most mentally exhausting way to practice English in your free time, but if you can think in a foreign language, imagine how much easier it will be to speak it!

That’s it!  What did you think of those tips?  Do you have any more of your own?  Shoot me a message and share your ideas with me!  I can’t wait to hear from you.

Group Discussions: Happiness, Internet

Hello everybody!

Since our next Saturday lesson is on February 14th (Valentine’s Day!), I decided to talk about happiness again!

Our next Monday (February 16th) topic will be the internet!  We’ll talk about what it is, as well as the good and the bad about it!


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

1. Who is the happiest person you know?

2. How do you cheer yourself up when you are down?

3. Who are you happiest to spend your time with?

Click here if you want to see the old questions and the lexical set!


Here are some possible questions:


1. How often do you use the internet?

2. Have you ever bought anything on the internet?


1. What do you use the internet for?

2. Has the internet made your life more convenient or less convenient?  How?


1. How can we use the internet to improve our English?

2. Overall, has the internet improved our lives?  Why or why not?

Additional Useful Lexis:






Personal Information

(Internet) Provider(s)






Be infected








Give out








Be available on N

Be satisfied with N

Can you believe N?

Face to face

Put N online

Take advantage of N

Today’s English Idiom: Kiss up to

Hey again!

Today’s idiom comes from a discussion we had on hobbies.  Strangely enough it’s not really related to hobbies though…

Here’s the idiom:

“Kiss up to s/o”

S/O stands for “SomeOne”


Nope, sorry, not that kind of kiss!

“Kiss up to” means to say or do something which you do not want to say or do in order to make someone like you.


For example, when it’s time for a promotion, people might start kissing up to the boss.  In other words, they might start saying things to the boss or doing things for the boss, even though they don’t want to say or do those things.

For example, they might compliment his/her clothes (even though they don’t like them) or say “Have you lost weight?” even though the boss hasn’t lost weight, or they might buy the boss flowers or candies or other gifts.

This English teacher provides some more great examples!

Here’s another example of kissing up in action!

Hope that’s helpful!  Let me know if you have any other questions!

Group Discussions: School, Community

Hello everybody!

This Saturday (February 7th) we’ll talk about school.

Our next discussion topic on Monday (February 9th) will be community!  So let’s talk about our neighbors, neighborhoods and communities.


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

1. What can be done to make more students enjoy school?

2. What’s the most important thing you learned at school?

3. If you could go back to school again, what would you do differently?

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


Here are some questions you might hear at the next lesson:


1. Are there a lot of people your age in your neighborhood?

2. Do you know the people in your neighborhood well?


1. What do you like about your community?

2. What is important about having a community?


1. How can people make their community better?

2. How can you maintain your privacy and live in a community?

Additional Useful Lexis:






Get together

Raise (children)



In s/o’s community


Not too much this time!  Hope to see you at the next group discussion lesson!