ESL and IELTS Help 4 U

Archive for the ‘About IELTS’ Category

Learning to write well in English is challenging!

Many students struggle with forming a sentence with a proper subject and verb.

But a good writer must go beyond this point.

After the first draft of an essay, a good writer looks at each point the essay is making and every sentence used to make that point.  Do all the sentences look the same?

Dan is an engineer. He studied very hard for many years. He went to Chiang Mai University and graduated from the Faculty of Engineering. His father is an engineer, too. Dan’s father told him about being an engineer. Dan was interested and decided to become an engineer. An engineer has to be good at mathematics. Dan was not good at math. Dan’s father hired a tutor to help him. Dan is grateful to his tutor for helping him become good at math. He is not sure he would have passed mathematics without his tutor. Dan knows his tutor helped him to become a good engineer.

There is nothing wrong with this paragraph. Each sentence is correct. But the structure of each sentence is the same. A few changes make the paragraph better.

As a young boy, Dan already wanted to become an engineer. His father, who was an engineer all his life, told Dan many interesting stories about his career. Dan liked these stories and decided he would become an engineer, too. But there was one problem. In order to become an engineer, Dan had to be good at mathematics. He wasn’t. He struggled in math at school. So Dan’s father hired a tutor, and Dan spent many extra hours studying with his tutor to improve his math. Finally, after many years of hard work, Dan graduated from Chiang Mai University with an engineering degree. Dan will always be grateful to his tutor for helping him fulfill his dream.

This second paragraph uses different sentence structures. Different structures make the thoughts flow more smoothly.

Some sentences are long. Others are short which makes the paragraph more interesting to read.

New words have been used to add interest. The idea of Dan “fulfilling his dream” adds emotion to the paragraph. Telling us that Dan struggled brings the reader into the paragraph because we all know what it means to struggle.

Finally, the points in the paragraph were rearranged. The second paragraph begins with Dan’s childhood and takes the reader from there to graduation. This helps the reader because it begins at the beginning and takes the reader through to Dan’s graduation.

There are many ways this paragraph can be written. But hopefully, this example of varying sentence structure will be useful the next time you are writing an essay.

I know that working on your sentences means that you have to work longer and harder. But as you practice, it will get easier and easier. You’ll begin to think differently, and creative sentences will be the first sentences you think of when you’re writing the first draft.

It’s not easy but it is very rewarding! You will know that your writing is the best it can be.


There’s a lot of talk about confidence when we’re talking about students learning English. Students want to build confidence.  Parents often told me they wanted their children to be more confident when speaking English.  Confidence-building is a class!

But what exactly is confidence? The word “confidence” is the noun form of the verb “to confide.”  When you look up “confide” at, some form of the word “trust” appears 8 times: trust, entrust, intrust, trustworthiness, trustingness, trustfulness. Look up these words if you don’t know them.

One of my most favorite meanings for the word trust is to allow without fear.  We don’t make ourselves confident. We allow ourselves to be confident. Confidence is something we already have. We only need to allow it to come forward.

Many people associate confidence with success. If we’re confident, everything will work out the way we want. This is often not so.  Life often works out differently than we planned. Does this mean we can never be confident? Of course not!

Others think confidence is about being number ONE, the strongest, the smartest, the best, able to beat all others. Well, there is only one number one. What about everyone else? Is it possible to be number 2 or 52 or 192 and still be confident? Of course it is!

Some think confidence is something we put on like a coat. Look and act confident no matter what. Never show you’re afraid or nervous. Is this real confidence? No.

Confidence is allowing us to be who we are and knowing that who we are is valuable.

Confidence is knowing that we’re always learning and learning involves trying and not getting it quite right and trying again.

Confidence is knowing we’ll feel afraid when we try something new and trying it anyway.

Confidence is not worrying so much what others think.  When we’re okay with ourselves, what others think isn’t very important.

Confidence is the ability to confide in oneself — to be truthful and trustworthy with yourself which then helps you be truthful and trustworthy with others.

As we allow ourselves to be more confident, our English lessons become easier. We’re more relaxed so we learn more quickly.

We can speak an English word, say it incorrectly, laugh and try again.

We have more energy to put into our studies.

We’ll take more risks in speaking out and in our writing.

No matter where you are in your English study, you are fine! Keep going! Keep learning and using what you learn! Enjoy!

Buddha’s Brain is the title of a book by an American doctor, Rick Hanson, who has studied Theravada Buddhism for many years.

In his book, Rick tells us how our brains are “wired” to remember negative situations and events much more clearly than positive ones.

In other words, if you fail a test, you will remember it much longer than you will remember all the tests you passed.

If you tried to speak to a foreigner and then forgot your words and felt soooo embarrassed,  you will probably feel this same way again the next time you try to speak to a foreigner and the next time and the next.

This is important information for anyone who is trying to learn something difficult — like English. Why?

1. Learning is faster and easier when the brain can work freely. When negative experiences from the past cloud our brain, our natural learning ability is blocked.

2. When we’re studying English or trying to speak in English and we get anxious (worried is the word most native Thai speakers would use), we’re really in the past and not in the present.

3. Knowing that this anxiety is not about the present moment frees us to let it go and, when we do this, our knowledge can come forward. This is when we find we know more than we think we know!

4. There are ways to be present. Ways to bring our mind into the present and release the past. Meditation helps whether you do it by sitting for a time each day or taking a few seconds many times a day to become quiet.

In future posts I will write about some of Rick Hanson’s strategies for releasing the mind from past experiences. For now, just know that your worry is not about you and what you know but about past experience. This will free you to learn more, faster and more easily.

Have a gorgeous day!

In the final section of the IELTS listening test, you are asked to listen to a lecture. The lecture is fairly long…or it seems long…:). And the topic of the lecture is almost always new to the student.

Please remember that listening is a process of receiving information, hearing it and taking it into the brain.

It’s not about attacking each word with your hearing to make sure you understand it. If you grab onto each word…as soon as you hear a word you don’t know, you will  stop listening and start trying to figure out that word. And, of course, the IELTS test goes right on and you find yourself lost.

So part of listening practice is learning to sit back and receive.

Here’s a website which will really help you. It’s called TED, Ideas Worth Spreading.

TED is a nonprofit which brings smart, creative people with revolutionary ideas and projects together for short lectures.  Over 700 of these lectures are on the website. They are no longer than 20 minutes, and they cover a wide range of topics.

So here’s my suggestion. Go to the website: At the top of the page, you can click on “Themes.” This will take you to a page where, on the left hand side, you will see a list of topics. Choose a topic that interests you and click again. Choose a talk and listen several times.

Then, next to “About this talk” at the top right of the page, click on “Open interactive script.” Here you’ll see the entire talk written out.  Compare what you think you know about the talk from listening to the written version. Find the confusing words and look them up. Then listen again.

Try this plan with two or three talks a week. Get into the habit of using the Ted Talks to help you listen more thoroughly and understand more completely.

Enjoy! I think you will love these listening opportunities!

The IELTS essays are challenging.  And when you write yours, you don’t want to look like this:

You want to look like this:

So…first, you get your topic. Then, usually one of two things happens.

1. Ideas fly around in your head.

2. You have no idea what to write.

In case number 1, your job is to get all those ideas and thoughts on paper. Write them all down. Notes or doodles or drawings are fine. No need to organize. Just get them in front of your eyes so you can see them. This will clear your mind. Then you can organize. Then you can begin to write.

In case number 2, your first task is to calm yourself. Breathe. Allow your breath to clear your mind. Look closely at the topic and separate it into sections. Begin to ask yourself small questions about each section. Answer one question at a time.

For example, let’s say this is your topic: Athletes come in two forms. Some are on teams, others participate in sports where they play alone. What are the benefits and challenges of being an athlete playing on a team and playing alone?

Maybe you’re not an athlete. Maybe you don’t care for sports at all. You think this is a topic you know nothing about.

But the key is not about athletics as much as it is about working at anything alone or in a group. You have had this experience. You know what it feels like to work with others and by yourself.

What is it like for you when you work as part of a group? What do you like? What are the problems?

When you are working alone, how does it feel? What do you like? What are the problems?

When you answer these questions, you have the points for your essay.

An IELTS essay is about your ability to think, organize and present. It is your opinion about the topic so there are no right or wrong answers. You can do it! You can think your way into the question, apply your own experience and write a clear, clean essay.

Have a beautiful day!

Improving your vocabulary is always

After writing the post on “how often” I continued to think about different words. I thought about the words that my students used over and over.

Often students would use the phrase “very good” or “very well” when they were really trying to say something was…

meaningful: something that adds meaning or effects

valuable: something that adds value or worth

crucial: critical importance

essential: necessary

fundamental: something that has to do with the basic facts or principals

key: an essential component

significant: an important effect or meaning

critical: extremely necessary

important: of significance or value

or vital: urgently needed

These words all mean “important” but each adds a slightly different meaning.  Here are some sentences to help you see how you might use them.

Today is an important day. It’s the first day that our team will meet and begin to work together.

We hope that everyone will make a valuable contribution to the team project.

Good teamwork skills are critical to our success so one of our fundamental goals is to improve our ability to work together as a team.

The attitude of each team member will be key to our success.

It will be vital that everyone attend and participate in each team session because each person brings a essential skill to the process.

Together, we will look at the most crucial issues facing our school.

In order for our project to succeed we will need to create meaningful and practical guidelines for students to follow.

If we are successful, we could have a significant impact on the future of our school.

Now…this is really important! Knowing new words is valuable but using them is essential! So look up these words. Begin to use them in your conversation and writing. Practice. Learn. Most of all, enjoy!!!

Most students feel like this the day before the IELTS test:

Their heads are full and overflowing with information. They are worried about doing well.

Of course, it is stressful to take a big test like the IELTS. Everyone will be “feeling the pressure” as we would say in English.

Many students will study up to the last minute, staying up late the night before the test, reviewing and memorizing.

Actually, by the day before the test, you know all you’re going to know. You won’t learn one more thing in the last 24 hours.

You will benefit more by giving yourself time to rest and relax. Get your mind off the test. Watch a funny movie! Have dinner with a friend. Go to bed early and sleep as well as you can.

You want to rest and relax your mind just like you rest and relax your body. If your mind is well rested, it will work better for you when you get into the test.

Good luck! Have a wonderful day!