Relaxation Exercises to Boost Your English Speaking Skills!

Recently the Inspired English team had an online workshop. We learnt some somatic exercises that could be useful to practise in class with our students in classes.

Why?: Learning English can be stressful and many of our students come to classes for test preparation or are under a lot of pressure to develop their proficiency in English very quickly for professional purposes. Furthermore, often we are unable to be fully present in classes because of worries about the future or thoughts of the past. Body awareness exercises can help to slow things down a bit and to be more present in the moment. Alongside developing skills in writing, reading, listening, speaking and expressing oneself in English, we offer our students tools to manage their stress, anxiety, and nervousness, because these can be barriers to learning effectively.

How?: Below are a few somatic exercises that you can take a few minutes to do before a class, test or meeting. It’s good to learn them when you are not in a stressful situation, so that they are more available to you in moments of pressure.

Breathing:
When we are concentrating very hard or taking in new information, there can be a tendency to hold one’s breath and tense up. First of all ,notice your breathing. Just how it is at the moment, not to change or fix it. Where is the breath going? More into your chest area, abdomen, lower belly, or more into your back or the sides of your rib cage? Pay attention to the inhale and the exhale; focusing on the exhale because this helps one calm down and release tension in the body.

Contact with the surface you are on:
Feel your buttocks on the seat and the weight of your body on the chair and your feet on the ground. Feel the chair holding you up. This can give you a sense of being supported and can help with deeper breathing.

Another exercise you can test out is to take a few minutes to tune in to your five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. We’ll share more about working with the senses to help you become more focused and relaxed in a blog post soon! Stay tuned!

New Vocab:

1. Somatic – Relating to the body

2. Abdomen – The lower part of a person’s or animal’s body, containing the stomach, bowels and other organs.

Exercise: Try one of the exercises above. Does it make you feel more relaxed? Let us know in the comments! 🙂

If you’d like to experience our holistic, online English classes and learn to relax while speaking English, then sign up for one of our private English classes, click here for a free trial lesson! 🙂

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Perplexing Prepositions TO & FOR – A Grammar Lesson

Commonly confused prepositions “to” vs “for” – Fernando is a Brazilian salesperson studying Business English. We discussed prepositions in class today. A preposition is a word used to show the relationship between words in a sentence. Prepositions generally work with nouns to link the noun to other parts of the sentence.

The preposition “to” is used with verbs, (e.g.: “to dance”, “to sing”, “to be”), it also indicates a transfer of some sort (e.g.: I will take my dog to the park [from here to the park], my daughter will go to school [from home to school], I will talk to him [information is transferred from me to him].

“For” is used to show purpose (e.g.: “this pot is for cooking rice”,”this bin is for paper”), and also to show when an action benefits someone (e.g.: “I will cook dinner for you”,”I will walk your dog for you”). Sometimes a sentence contains both “to” and “for” (e.g.: “I will walk your dog to the park for you”,”I will speak to my boss for you”). In Portuguese, there is one word that is used to describe both “to” and “for”: “para”. This makes the difference between these two prepositions particularly confusing for Portuguese natives.

Question: Which prepositions do you find most confusing?

Exercise: Write down some example sentences with “to” and some with “for” in the comments below and we’ll offer you feedback. Practice makes perfect! 😉

If you’d like to improve your English skills and join us for our private, online English classes, click here for a free trial lesson! 🙂

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Passions & Hobbies – A Conversation & Vocab Class

Have you ever been asked about your passions and interests and felt like your mind went blank or that you didn’t know what to say?

Today in class with one of our teens, we looked at a few questions you can ask yourself that could help you discover what you are passionate about. We watched a Youtube video by ‘Charisma on Command’ which gave us the following questions:

  • What makes you lose track of time?
  • What activities in your life do you choose to spend money on?
  • Where do you fear judgement from other people? This could mean that you care about this activity a lot.

We watched another video on Youtube by ‘Learn English’ with ‘Let’s Talk’ which explored a few ways of asking someone about their hobbies, passions and interests and some possible replies if you are asked the same question. These are really useful tools when you are making conversation with someone or meeting them for the first time.

  • What do you do in your free time?
    Answer: I spend a lot of time… + gerund    eg: I spend a lot of time gardening.
  • What do you like doing?
    Answer: I love/like… + noun/gerund          eg: I love football. / I love watching and playing football!
  • What sort of hobbies do you have?
    Answer: I’m really into… + noun/gerund   eg: I’m really into dancing.

This is a snippet of one of our personalised classes, this one focused on conversation and grammar and vocabulary skills with one of our intermediate teenage students, given by one of our creative online teachers – Teacher Jessica.

Vocab:

1. Hobby: An activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.
2. Interest: An activity or subject which one enjoys doing or studying.
3. Passion: Something that arouses great enthusiasm in you and makes you feel alive!
4. To be into something: To be interested in or involved with something (expression).
5. To go blank: To be unable to think of something.

Question: What are your passions? What makes you feel alive?

If you’d like to improve your English skills and join us for our private, online English classes, click here for a free trial lesson! 🙂

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Travel Journals – A Writing & Conversation Class

In today’s lesson, Nina completed her Travel Journal. This writing exercise was inspired by a recent trip she took with her family to New York State, U.S.A. Although her brother lives and works there, this was her first trip to an English-speaking country and thus a great opportunity for her to communicate the language in real life situations and put into practice everything we have covered in classes. Nina wrote about her experiences visiting some well-known and interesting places in and around New York City, such as: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the National Museum of Immigration, the American Museum of Natural History and a camping trip near the Peconic River. The highlight of Nina’s vacation, however, was a road trip to Niagara Falls! Nina also showed me some photographs she had taken during her trip to aid her explanations of the places she visited.

Writing a Travel Journal is a great way to reflect on trips taken abroad, the experiences shared with family or friends, the many lessons learnt and to share any recommendations you may have for people who have never been to these places before, who may be inspired to do so. If you are interested in becoming a travel blogger one day, this is a great exercise to begin with. For writing exercises like this one, we use Google Docs in lessons, which is a very interactive platform as it allows us to follow our students’ writing on the spot and add any necessary corrections.

This is a view into one of our personalised classes, this one focused on conversation and writing skills with one of our teenage students living in the Ukraine, given by one of our expert online teachers – Teacher Haanee.

Question: Have you ever written a Travel Journal before or have you created a travel vlog? Tell us about it in the comments below! 🙂

If you’d like to improve your English skills and join us for our dynamic, private, online English classes, click here for a free trial lesson! 🙂

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Retirement & Retrenchment – A Business English Class

Various news sources agree that millennials will change careers at least 4 times. In this context, I had a discussion with Phillipe, one of our advanced, French students, about the various ways people can leave a job. We discussed retrenchment, which means that the employee loses their job through no fault of their own but rather because the company no longer requires that position to be filled. In most cases, people receive a payout when they are retrenched. Retirement refers to a person reaching retirement age and leaving their job because they will no longer be working but will be enjoying their retirement whilst living off a pension or an income derived from their investments. When an employee is “fired” because of failure to effectively perform their job, we call it dismissal. Resignation means that a person has chosen to leave their job in order to pursue another job or become self-employed. People usually need to serve a notice period when they resign, it is not as easy as saying, “I quit!” and walking out the door.

This is an example of a business English class based on the students interests, needs and the natural flow of conversation. A lot of the time we prepare material in advance and send this to our students before the class, so they can practise at home and get ready for the lesson. Other times, we simply start a discussion and we see what naturally comes up. You’ll notice that lots of useful vocabulary was highlighted in this class – words that are necessary when talking about later phases of one’s life and career. This class was given by one of our highly skilled teachers who works with high-level students – Teacher Candice.

Question: If you could continue to work till the day you die, would you choose to do so or would you rather retire? Why or why not?

Exercise: Make some example sentences with the words that are in bold above. You’re welcome to post them in the comments below and we’ll offer you some corrections and feedback.

Click here to improve your English skills and schedule private classes with the Inspired English team. 🙂

If you’d like to improve your English skills and join us for our dynamic, private, online English classes, click here for a free trial lesson! 🙂

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Film Reviews – A Conversation Class

Lana and I have enjoyed discussing films together in our classes. Lana is an advanced student and so for our first lesson together, I recommended that she watch the film Eat, Pray, Love as a home task, including writing a film review about it. She really enjoyed the film and wrote a great review, which we went over together in class, adding notes and corrections. Since she wants to work on improving her vocabulary, we then went on to talking about personality traits. Lana always likes to make her own sentences using any new words she comes across in lessons.

In today’s lesson, we discussed the second film I had recommended called Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I asked Lana to focus on describing the main characters of the film using some of the personality traits we had covered in previous lessons, or any other adjectives that she might already know. Lana had also written her own short story for homework using some of the new vocabulary she had learnt, such as: down-to-earth, methodical, humble, stingy, untrustworthy, easy-going, high-strung and obnoxious. This was a wonderful exercise, which allowed her to be creative while also reinforcing her vocabulary and grammar skills at the same time.

New Vocab: 

  1. Down-to-earth: Someone who is practical and reasonable with no pretenses, you can trust them easily.
  2. Methodical: Orderly and systematic in thought and behaviour.
  3. Humble: Someone who is modest about their own self-importance.
  4. Stingy: Unwilling to give or spend, not generous.
  5. Untrustworthy: Not able to be relied on as honest or truthful.
  6. Easy-going: Someone who is relaxed and tolerant in their approach and manner.
  7. High-strung: Nervous and easily upset.
  8. Obnoxious: Extremely unpleasant and rude.

This is a glimpse into one of our personalised, conversational Inspired English lessons with Teacher Haanee.

Question: Have you seen either of these films? What was your impression of them?

Exercise: Make sentences with the list of words above (down-to-earth, methodical, humble, stingy, untrustworthy, easy-going, high-strung and obnoxious). Be as creative and silly as possible, so that you can’t possibly forget these new words!! We’ll offer some feedback in the comments. 🙂

Click here to improve your English skills and schedule private classes with the Inspired English team. 🙂

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Grammar Challenge #25 – Answers revealed and explained

 

For our followers on Instagram and Facebook, here’s another opportunity to check your answers and see some of your own common errors! It’s worth taking the time to read through the explanations and if you have any questions at all, feel free to ask us. Let’s get started! 🙂

Here are the answers:

  1. It’s an exception to the rule.
  2. They were suspicious of each other.
  3. I must look it up in the dictionary.
  4. The library’s pretty near (to) my home.

Let’s delve deeper:

1. While exclusion and exception sound similiar, they do have different meanings. This common error is simply a confusion between these two nouns, so it’s just a case of remembering their meanings. The expression above is very common and is used frequently in both spoken and written English. So, just to clarify their meanings: Exclusion is used when something or someone is removed completely and is taken out of the equation / situation. For example – The women were excluded from the temple activities. While exception is used when there is a restriction so that something is taken out of a category, group, statement or rule that would otherwise be included. Here’s an example that is 100% true and annoying! – English grammar is full of exceptions, which is incredibly annoying when you’re trying to get to grips with the language!

2. Adjective and preposition collocations can be tricky to remember in English! We recommend that you make a note of the combinations that you find difficult to recall and re-write them in example sentences. Make sure to read them out-loud too so that it really sinks in, even if you feel slightly crazy when doing so! When we use the adjective ‘suspicious’, it’s usually followed by the preposition ‘of’ and then someone or something. For example – I am suspicious of people who come across as extremely friendly, I often get the sense that there’s a whole other side hidden within their personality!

3. Phrasal verbs are a major component of everyday spoken English, so try and include them in your speech! 🙂 To look up a word means to search for its meaning in the dictionary and it’s a term I’m sure as an English learner, you use frequently! We generally look something up, so that the noun is in between the verb and the preposition. It doesn’t have to have a noun afterwards, but if it does, you’ll need to use the preposition ‘in’ beforehand. For example – Often when students ask me the meaning of a particular word in class, I ask them to look it up in an online dictionary first and then we discuss the meaning together and I check their comprehension. Here’s an example without a noun following the phrasal verb – Thomas was sure he had returned his books to the library, even though he had received a penalty for apparently not having done so. He ended up going into the library and asking the librarian if she could check it directly on their system. Since she was such a kind and helpful lady, she said to him, ‘I’ll look it up right away, no need to wait!’ and it turned out he had returned the books after all.

4. Near is never followed by ‘at’ and yet it can be followed by the preposition ‘to‘. Here you have a choice and often native speakers drop the preposition altogether. For example – It’s pretty important to me to live near (to) my parents, as I realize the importance of spending time with your loved ones.

Stay tuned for more grammar challenges on our Instagram and Facebook pages.

Stay inspired with Inspired English!

 

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Grammar Challenge #24 – Answers revealed and explained

For our followers on Instagram and Facebook, here’s another opportunity to compare your answers from our last grammar challenge to the correct answers posted here. Make sure to read through the explanations and if you have any questions at all, feel free to ask us. Let’s get down to business! 🙂

Here are the answers:

  1. My friend felt incredibly ill on her wedding day and the next/following day she felt fine.
  2. I received a postcard from my aunt.
  3. Some people are allergic to nuts.
  4. We flew to London.

Let’s delve deeper:

1. We use tomorrow if we are talking about an event in the future. In the example above, both actions take place in the past. Therefore ‘tomorrow’ becomes ‘the next day’ or ‘the following day‘ when used in the past tense. This is important to remember when telling a story that took place in the past, in order to avoid confusion with tenses!

2. Verb and preposition collocations can be tricky to remember in English! We recommend that you make a note of the combinations that you find difficult to recall and re-write them in example sentences. Make sure to read them out-loud too so that it really sinks in! When we use the verb ‘receive’, we usually receive something from someone. For example – I received some awful news from my aunt. The preposition ‘from’ comes before the person or organisation.

3. Allergic is an adjective and therefore it needs the verb ‘to be’ before it. We have noticed that students sometimes forget to add the verb ‘to be’ before adjectives in this kind of sentence structure.

4. When talking about direction and movement, the proposition ‘to’ is best suited. Especially when it comes to verbs that are focused on travel, it is always best to use the preposition ‘to’, for instance: ‘He travels to France fairly regularly.’

We’ll be back with more grammar challenges soon on our Instagram and Facebook pages.

Stay inspired with Inspired English!

 

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Grammar Challenge #23 – Answers revealed and explained

 

For our followers on Instagram and Facebook, here’s another opportunity to compare your answers from our last grammar challenge to the correct answers posted here. Make sure to read through the explanations and if you have any questions at all, feel free to ask us. Let the learning begin!

Here are the answers:

  1. Women are good at multi-tasking or so they say.
  2. Before going to work, I stopped at a cafe.
  3. I play tennis now and then.
  4. I’m unsure about how I’ll spend the weekend. / I’m unsure (or not sure) what I’m going to do this weekend.

Let’s explore this further:

1. For regular verbs, the plural form simply gets an ‘s’ at the end, like ‘bird’ and ‘birds’, however there are also many irregular plural verbs. Their plural forms need to be memorized, such as women, mice, children, feet, etc. These verbs do not need an ‘s’ at the end of them. This is the case with the plural noun ‘women’, so bear this in mind the next time you use it! The same can be said for ‘men’, without an ‘s’!

2. If you want to use a verb directly after the preposition ‘before’, make sure that you use a gerund, which is a verb that acts as a noun and always ends in -ing. For example: ‘Before leaving the house, make sure that you’ve turned off the lights!’

3. In this sentence, the wrong tense has been used. When speaking about habits or routines in our life, even if they are not incredibly regular, we use the Present Simple tense. We often include key words in these sentences like ‘now and then’, ‘often’, ‘regularly’, ‘every day/week’. If you wanted to use the Present Continuous tense, like in the incorrect sentence above, then you’d use it if you were talking about something that is happening right now or something that is going to happen in the future, but of course you’d have to leave out the time indicator ‘now and then’.

4. The most natural way to say this sentence would be the second version we’ve given above – I’m not sure what I’m going to do this weekend. This is how native English speakers talk all the time in everyday conversations. The first option we’ve given you is also acceptable, it’s just a bit more formal. However we cannot use ‘pass’ with ‘weekend’, as some students do. We can use pass with ‘time’, for example: I don’t know how to pass the time now that I’ve retired from work.

Stay tuned for the next grammar challenge on our Instagram and Facebook pages.

Happy learning!

 

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The Importance of Speaking when Learning English

Language, at its base, is simply an exchange between people. This happens whenever you engage with language at all, in any way. When reading, you are participating in an exchange between the author and yourself. When you watch a movie, you are in communication with all the actors, the director, the screenwriter – everyone who took part in the making of the show. You are even having a kind of exchange between different aspects of yourself when you speak to yourself!

For most students learning English in non-English speaking countries, the majority of their time studying is spent in their native tongue. This is to be expected – people feel most comfortable getting information in the language they understand best. Unfortunately, what it often means is that people end up being able to understand written English extremely well, but fall short when it comes to understanding spoken English and, most importantly, speaking it themselves.

So what does this mean for your learning process?

It’s simple – your priority, when learning any language, should be using it as much as possible. There are three main ways to do this… read on for some useful tips!

 

1. Think in English whenever you remember to! Don’t ever underestimate the power of creating and using sentences in your own mind. The things you think about most often are usually the things you speak about most often, so any internal practice will help in the outer world.

  • Try describing things in your head. (“This is a cup of tea. It’s my cup of tea. It’s a delicious cup of tea! I wish I had thought to make my tea with honey before.”)
  • Whenever you catch yourself thinking something, try translating the thought into English. (“I can’t believe my mom said that to me the other day!” or “I’m so excited about my holiday tomorrow!”)
  • After you feel comfortable with those two, try having full conversations with people in your head. We spend a lot of time round different people and you can imagine having conversations with all of them! When you’re waiting for your coffee or sitting on the bus or doing your shopping, pick a person and imagine chatting to them about something. The more passionate you are about the conversation, the better. For example, when I was learning languages, I would imagine uncomfortable or difficult situations so that I would have to have a heated debate or fight with the other person (in my head, of course!). Perhaps I would pretend that the person making my coffee spat in my cup before putting the coffee in, or the lady behind me in the supermarket accidentally pushed her shopping cart into my ankle (but then blamed me!). The more excited or passionate you are about the imagined conversation, the more meaningful the language use is to you.

 

2. Speak to yourself as much as possible! Often, we can’t find conversation buddies, but that’s no excuse to not use your language skills. If you are shy, it’s okay to just limit this to when you are on your own. If you are brave, do it all the time! Everyone talks to themselves from time to time, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about!

  • Narrate what you are doing as you go about your day. Talk yourself through your morning and evening bathroom routine as you are washing yourself and brushing your teeth. Can’t understand yourself with a mouthful of toothpaste and toothbrush? That’s okay – say so! It’s the actual creation of sentences that’s important in this exercise, not the clarity of your speech or your pronunciation.
  • Sing English songs to yourself in the shower or while you’re driving. The rhythm and speed of music does wonders for helping you practice your own English speaking rhythm.
  • Speak to your pets, your plants, your car… whatever creatures and objects around the house you find you have something to say to! Dogs and cats are great listeners, and it has been proven again and again that plants grow better when you speak to them. And we all know that, sometimes, we need to express our frustration with a broken or badly working appliance! I know that I swear at my internet connection at least 3 times a day, so why not do it in English?
  • Talk to yourself in the mirror. Tell yourself you’re great, that you’re going to have a fantastic day, that life is wonderful, that you’re enough and doing the best you can. Positive affirmations have long been proven to be beneficial for your state of mind – why not let them be beneficial to your English as well?
  • Record yourself speaking with your phone voice recorder or camera. It is such good practice and really wonderful to be able to actually hear yourself speak. In doing so, you will notice all sorts of things you didn’t realise you were doing well, and might pick up on some places where you could improve or that need more practice. Consider starting a daily recorded diary. If you’re feeling brave, you could even publish it on Youtube! Lots of language learners do this for the sake of the community that they build with followers to their channels. You never know, you might even get some helpful tips and suggestions from people!

 

3. Communicate with other people every time you get the chance to. Nothing beats actually talking to other people when it comes to practicing your language skills. When you’re speaking to someone else, you can’t ever predict what they’re going to say in response to your words, so you have to learn to be speedy and agile with your thinking and speaking.

  • Try to find people in your area who are also learning English. Speaking English with other people who speak your mother tongue is often the least intimidating way to practice, as you can always swap back to your own language if you are confused or can’t find a word. It’s important to be strict with yourself, though! That moment of tension and discomfort is where you learn the fastest, so perhaps try setting rules for yourself. English only for 5/15/30 minutes, or prizes if you can explain what you mean without resorting to your mother tongue.
  • Set up a language exchange. There are lots of websites online which connect people who are wanting to learn languages. It is often easy to find a native English speaker who would gladly spend an hour a week speaking with you in English in exchange for an hour a week speaking in whatever languages you speak and can offer to teach them.
  • Join a facebook group or follow an instagram account that sparks your interest. It is wonderful to make friends at the best of times, but if you can bond with a native English speaker over your mutual love of model trains or stamp collecting, all the better! Not only will you be practicing your language, you’ll have a chance to learn all sorts of subject-specific vocabulary which might not crop up in everyday conversation.
  • Enroll in a group conversation class. Having guided conversation with a teacher and other learners from around the world is so enriching and extremely productive. You will have the valuable experience of interacting with lots of different accents and learning about all sorts of different cultures and places. On top of that, having a class held by a teacher means that there will be more structure and you will definitely walk away feeling you have learned something new.
  • Find a native teacher. One-on-one conversation classes with native English speaking teachers will catapult your language learning to the next level. A teacher working with just you will help you work on your own specific errors, bad habits, pronunciation and anything else that comes up that you need. A teacher will be able to support and guide you through your process so that you become a confident and capable English speaker in no time!

 

I hope some of these tips are useful to you and that you will put them into practice in your daily life. Remember, the more you speak, whether in your head our out loud, the faster your language skills will improve and the better your English will be.

Good luck with your learning and hopefully I’ll speak to you soon!

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