Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Sunday, April 22, 2007


One of the toughest things about learning a language is finding the time and energy. Most of us can work hard and focus on a language for 4-6 months at a time.

But if you're like me, its hard to keep going longer than that. With Spanish, my efforts have been sporadic. I have tended to do very well for about 3 months at a time. Then I get busy with classes in San Francisco, the Effortless English Club, the podcast, and my personal life.

Its been especially hard as I develop the Club website. Its a lot of work for one person. So, inevitably, my Spanish efforts suffer. For the past 3 and a half months, for example, I haven't studied Spanish at all.

In the past, I would have quit. But this time, I keep coming back... even if I have a long break. The reason is that the study methods I'm using are much more enjoyable. Also, because I'm using a Listen First natural approach.. I find that I still remember most of what I studied in the past. So its very easy to start studying Spanish again... even after a 3 or 4 month break.

But perhaps the biggest change for me has been with my attitude. In the past, I always put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted to be fluent in one or two years. If I couldn't do that, I just got frustrated and quit.

This time, with Spanish, I don't feel pressure. While I have made goals, I don't get stressed if I can't reach them. I have a much more relaxed attitude... and I have a much longer view. I know that even if I study sporadically-- if I keep doing it when I can, I will eventually become fluent. Already, I can use very basic Spanish to communicate basic information. That's a big improvement from all my past efforts. In the past, when I used traditional study methods, I was never able to communicate.

The main point for me is to never give up. I view Spanish learning as a lifelong activity now. I know my life will get busy at times, and I won't be able to study. That's OK. Because with a Listen First Effortless approach, I know I won't lose what I have already learned. I know that I can come back to Spanish when my life slows down, and I'll be able to easily continue again.

As you study English, remember that learning English is a life-long activity. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes you will get busy and you won't have time to study. Sometimes you may take a long break. No problem. Just continue using a Listen First Effortless method of study-- and your English will continue to grow.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Podcast Changes

The Effortless English podcast will be changing over the next few weeks. I've decided to overhaul the format to make it more useful and interesting to students. When I originally started the podcast, I had mostly an audience of English teachers and very advanced English learners.

However, over the past several months, the podcast audience has grown a lot. Most people who listen to the podcast are English learners... and they are a mix of intermediate and advanced learners.

To help these learners, I will be doing more frequent podcasts. I hope to increase to about 4 per week. I will focus on two main points: 1. Casual conversational English and 2. Motivation and Learning methods.

I'll probably do about 3 conversation lessons per week-- each focusing on slang, idioms, and real "street" English. I'll introduce a new word or phrase, explain it, help you pronounce it, and then tell a very short mini-story to help you learn how to use it.

In addition, each week I'll continue to do one podcast focused on motivation, inspiration, and learning methods. Motivation is very important. I know its easy to get tired, or to lose your energy and enthusiasm for English. I'll encourage you and help you keep that motivation high!

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Sunday, April 15, 2007


Today I started using a vocabulary review program called Jmemorize.

Basically, its a computer flashcard system... but it schedules the review to maximize long term memory. Its a very simple program, but I find it useful.

Of course, I am not using it to review random lists of words. I always learn my Spanish vocabulary from articles and podcasts. Once I meet a word in a real context, I sometimes save it for later review.

To be honest, I've never liked doing vocabulary review. Usually I prefer to just listen to the article again as a way of reviewing.. instead of focusing on individual words.

But sometimes it can be helpful to review words or phrases that just aren't "sticking". For these, a program like Jmemorize is helpful. You can download Jmemorize for free at: http://www.jmemorize.org/

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Remembering Naturally

I have not studied or listened to Spanish for four months. Four months without any Spanish input.

In the past, when I studied languages with traditional methods, this kind of lapse happened all the time. Im a busy person. But more to the point, I tend to do things in spurts. Ill study hard for several months, then take a few months off. Its just the way I like to work.

When I used traditional language study methods, this was a disaster. After a 2 month break, I would forget most of what I had studied. I lost a lot of vocabulary. I lost a lot of listening comprehension. Usually, this discouraged me, and I would give up. I quit. I quit Spanish. I quit Japanese. I quit Italian.

But this time, I'm using a Listen First, Effortless method to learn Spanish. I don't study grammar rules. I don't memorize vocabulary lists in textbooks. In fact, I don't use textbooks.

Learning this way, I find that once I learn something, I keep it forever. I don't forget.

Today, after a 4 month break, I listened to about an hour of Spanish. I listened to some of my old audio files. I was happily shocked that I could still understand them very well. I hadn't forgotten. In fact, I was amazed at how easy it was to start again after such a long break.

This is very encouraging. By using an Effortless method, I know that when I learn something I really learn it. I will have it for the rest of my life. So even if I get busy, or take a long break, I will not go backwards. I will be able to start again at any time, and I'll immediately start at the level I had stopped at.

This makes language learning seem easier. I know I can do it in bite-size chunks... at my own pace.

All that time spent using textbooks is a waste, because you will forget most of what you study.

To learn and keep English for life, use a Listen First, Effortless method.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Community, Not Marketplace

I have recently re-thought my idea about making a Teacher Skype Marketplace on Effortless English. I have decided not to do this in the future.

Why not? Well, I have two main reasons:

1. Commercialization
I don't want to commercialize the member site. I want The Effortless English Club to be a true community... in which all members are working together to develop the site. I don't want it to be a "marketplace". Our lives are commercialized enough. And I must already charge members a fee to join. After that, I don't want to have more ads in the member site.

2. The Linguist
There is already an excellent site that offers Discussions with native speaker tutors: The Linguist. The Linguist offers both group discussions and individual discussions on the internet, using Skype. In fact, I still periodically do discussions with them.

I have always thought that Effortless English and The Linguist complement each other. In fact, I encourage my members to also join The Linguist in order to get speaking practice and writing correction. In truth, they do a great job and its much simpler to just refer my members to them for tutors. Click here to Learn English With The Linguist

What I envision for Effortless English is a true learner-designed community. Now that we have a membership base and the basic site design, I'm trying to give more control to the members. I want them to have more control over lesson topics, materials, layout & design, recruitment & marketing,... in fact, everything.

I have no desire to repeat the hierarchical structure of traditional schools. The truth is, traditional education is failing across the board. Recent posts by Tom Peters and Seth Godin have attacked business schools for being irrelevant. My own Social Work program (a Masters degree) and Journalism program (Bachelors) were also irrelevant.

The truth is, the old hierarchical, passive method of education is no longer useful. Sitting in a class listening to boring lectures is a waste of time... whether you are studying English, business, social work, or journalism. Real learning happens on the job, in life, through mentors, individually, and in learning communities.

These are the kinds of communities you find at Effortless English and The Linguist. These are communities that support self-study... where members are equal, enthusiastic, and responsible for their own learning.

If you are tired of learning or teaching the old way... join the future.. join a learning community online.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

TPRS Wiki Lessons

To help both English teachers and the members of Effortless English, I have created a public Wiki for lessons.

The Effortless English Wiki allows anyone to add or edit lesson materials. Other teachers and learners (including me) can then use those lessons as they want.

By lesson, I do not mean a typical grammar-centered analytical "ESL Lesson". Rather, Effortless English lessons consist of two parts:

1. A Core Text
This is a 1-2 page authentic article: an original essay, a Wiki article, a "fair use" article, a letter or email, etc. Simply write the Text... and put the more difficult words or phrases in bold.

2. A Mini-Story
This supports the Core Text. TPRS mini-stories are very short (1/2 page to 3/4 page) stories that use 6-8 of the target vocabulary words from the Core Text. Other than the target vocabulary, the mini-story should contain very simple and direct English. This way, the mini-story helps learners understand the vocabulary more easily.. and helps them understand how to use it.

I've got a sample Lesson on the Wiki already.

To join in, simply go to the Effortless English Wiki and click "Register" in the top-right corner. You can then add to or edit the Wiki as you want.

Click here to go to the Wiki.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Teachers Wanted

The Effortless English Club is looking for passionate, fun, enthusiastic English teachers with an interest in "natural" teaching approaches.. especially TPR-Storytelling.

As a member, you can download existing lessons on the site- use them directly in your class or use them for inspiration for your own lessons. This is a great way to save preparation time. Also, by listening to and using the Effortless English lessons, you might learn new teaching methods and techniques... especially TPR-Storytelling.

You can try a Free one month membership by going to: www.effortlessenglish.com.

Even better, if you create an Effortless English lesson yourself, and I use it on the Club site, you will get a 6 month membership for Free. If you create 2 or more lessons that I post to the Club site, you will get a Free 12 month membership.

In the next several months, I will also be working to help teacher-members make an online tutoring income. How? By chatting with Effortless English members online, using Skype. The style and approach you use will be up to you. As will the price you charge. I will simply provide a Forum where teachers can advertise their services (and contact info) to members and learners can find online tutors and discussion leaders. Over time, I hope to develop this as a craigslist-like service to help online learners and online teachers find each other.

At the moment, we are still in Beta mode, so all of this is totally new. But if you'd like to join and become involved in building our English learning community... join at www.effortlessenglish.com

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Casual English

It is well known that spoken Japanese has many different styles-- often roughly divided into a "polite-formal style" (-mas/desu) and a "casual" style.

But textbooks and teachers rarely discuss the same division in English. Schools almost never talk about the very different styles of spoken English-- yet the same division exists.

In fact, the more I have taught, the more I've realized that the difference between everyday spoken English (casual English) and formal English is big. Its a very big difference.

Textbooks and schools teach formal English. In fact, they often teach a written style of English. Students learn to speak "written English". They learn to pronounce English as if they were reading. When we read, we usually pronounce every word separately and clearly. When we read, we are often using a quite formal style of English.

But in everyday speech, we use a totally different kind of language. First, we do not pronounce every word separately. We speak in phrases--- groups of words are pushed together and pronounced as one.

I'll give you one example. My friend Wat was talking to an American customer and the customer asked him "You beer?" Wat was confused... he said, "What?". The customer said, "Tomorrow... you beer?" Finally I helped Wat and said slowly, "Tomorrow, will you be here?" Wat understood me because I pronounced every word separately.. but in fact, we almost never do that in normal conversation.

Our vocabulary choice is also different in normal conversation. We tend to use a lot of "phrasal verbs" when speaking. "Phrasal verbs" are two (or more) word verbs. We often say, "I messed up"... instead of "I made a mistake". We often say, "I bumped into Jane yesterday",... instead of "I met Jane yesterday".

This is not slang. For a native speaker, this is basic spoken English. An American child understands and uses this vocabulary and pronunciation.

So why aren't schools and textbooks teaching it? I have always wondered why they try to make students fly before they can crawl. In my opinion, the first step is to understand basic conversational English. The next step is to be able to use basic conversational English.

Only after a learner can do this should they worry about the TOEFL exam, writing super-complicated essays, and reading difficult research papers.

The spoken language is the base. Learn the fundamentals first. Master the fundamentals first. Then you will find that advanced English is much easier to understand and use.

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