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How to Keep the Conversation Going

What can you say when you want to encourage people to keep talking to you?

Try making a comment or asking a question – it shows the other person you’re interested in what they are saying.

Here are some examples of what you can say:

Making comments

“No!” – to show surprise.

“I don’t believe it!” – to show surprise.

“Wow!” – to show admiration or surprise.

“That’s incredible / amazing / unbelievable” – to show great interest in the subject of conversation.

“How awful / terrible” – to show sympathy with someone else’s bad news.

Asking questions

“Really?” – to show surprise.

“And you?” – when someone asks you how you are.

“Did you?” – can be used to encourage someone to tell their story.

For example, “I saw her last night”, “Did you?” “Yes, she was with one of her friends, and she….”



June 23, 2008 Posted by | Learn English - Speaking | Leave a comment

Telling A Story

A useful skill in English is to be able to tell a story or an anecdote. Anecdotes are short stories about something that happened to you or to someone you know.

How to start

Traditional stories often start with the phrase “Once upon a time”. However, if you are going to tell your story after someone else has already spoken, you can say something like:

That reminds me!
Funny you should say that. Did I ever tell you about…
Hearing your story reminds me of when…
Something similar happened to me….

How to tell your story

First of all, your story should be quite short. Try to keep it grammatically simple as well, so that it is easy to follow.

Make it easy for the listener to understand by using sequencing and linking words:

Sequencing words
These words show the chronological sequence of events.

First of all, I (packed my suitcase)
Secondly, I …. (made sure I had all my documents)
Previously (before that) ….. I changed some money.
Then… I (called a taxi for the airport)
Later (on)… (when we were stuck in traffic, I realised…)
But before al that… (I had double checked my reservation)
Finally… (I arrived at the wrong check-in desk at the wrong airport for a flight that didn’t go until the next day)

Linking words
Use these words to link your ideas for the listener. Linking words can be used to show reason, result, contrasting information, additional information, and to summarise.

I booked a flight because….
As a result, I was late…
Although I had a reservation, I hadn’t checked the airport name.
I made sure I had an up-to-date passport and I also took along my driving licence.
In short, I had made a complete mess of the holiday.


We can use a variety of tenses to tell stories and anecdotes. Jokes are often in the present tense:

A man walks into a bar and orders a beer.

We also use the present tense to give a dramatic narrative effect:

The year is 1066. In medieval England people are worried that the king, Harold, is not strong enough to fight off a Norman invasion.

However, we generally use past forms to talk about past events. If you tell your story in chronological order, you can use the past simple:

I double checked my reservation. I packed my suitcase, and then I called a taxi.

Use the past continuous to describe activities in progress at the time of your story, or to describe the background.

The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. We were driving along the motorway quite steadily until we suddenly saw in front of us the warning lights to slow down. We were heading towards a huge tailback.

Sometimes, you might want to avoid telling your story as one chronological event after the other. You can use the past perfect (simple and continuous) to add more interest to your story by talking about events that happened before the events in your story:

I double checked my reservation, which I had made three days previously.

I wanted to visit some friends who had been living in France for the last five years.


Try to use a wide range of words to make your story more interesting. Remember that you can “exaggerate” when you tell a story, so instead of using words like “nice” or “bad”, experiment with more interesting words, such as “beautiful”, “fabulous”, “wonderful”, “horrible”, “awful” or “terrible”.

Finally – remember that you are telling a story – not giving a lecture. Look at the people listening, and try to “involve” them in the story or anecdote. Keep eye contact, use the right intonation and try to make your face expressive. You might also want to try practising a few anecdotes in the mirror before “going live”. Have fun!

June 23, 2008 Posted by | Learn English - Speaking | Leave a comment

Improving Your English Pronunciation

Here are some tips to help you improve your English pronunciation.

First of all, don’t worry about not having a native-English accent. It’s important to be able to speak clearly, so that people can understand you. However, it’s almost impossible to sound exactly like a native English speaker if you are learning English as an adult in a non-English speaking country.

However, there are many things that you can do to improve your pronunciation and your speaking skills.

1. Listen to spoken English as often as possible.

Listen to how speakers pronounce various words and phrases and “model” your pronunciation on what you hear.

2. Learn the phonetic alphabet.

Use the phonetic alphabet page (at the beginning of most good dictionaries) as a guide to pronouncing new words.

3. Don’t forget to learn the word stress of a new word.

Every English word has its own stress, or intonation. For example, the word “believe” has two syllables (be and lieve), but only the second syllable is stressed. We say be’lieve and not ‘be lieve. Your dictionary will show the syllable stress by an apostrophe (‘) before the syllable to be stressed.

Word stress is important. In fact, it is more likely that someone misunderstands you because of wrong word stress than because of the wrong pronunciation of a sound.

4. Work out which sounds cause you most problems in English.

Depending on what your first language is, you may have problems with certain sounds. For example, French speakers have difficulties with “th”; speakers of Mandarin have difficulties with “r” or “l”, and Arabic speakers have difficulties with “p” and “b”.

5. Practise the sounds you find difficult.

A useful exercise is a “minimal pair” exercise. For example, if you have difficulty distinguishing between “p” and “b”, try practising pairs of words which are the same except for the sound “p” and “b”:

For example, “pair” and “bear”; “pond” and “bond”; “pie” and “buy” etc.

6. Be aware of intonation and sentence stress.

Not all words in a sentence have equal stress, and generally only the “information” words (nouns and verbs) are stressed.

‘Where’s the ‘pen I ‘gave you?

‘Where’s the ‘red ‘pen I ‘gave you?

Where’s the ‘red and ‘blue ‘pen I ‘gave you ‘yesterday?

The unstressed words (such as “the”, “I”, “you” and “and”) don’t carry as much “weight” as the stressed words. They become much smaller in length, and are almost abbreviated. For example, “and” becomes “un”.

Changing stress

Sentence stress isn’t “fixed” like word stress. In fact, you can stress words that are normally unstressed in order to highlight different meanings.

For example:

I ‘love you. (Love, rather than just like.)
‘I love you. (With the stress on I to highlight that it’s me rather than another person who loves you.)
I love ‘you. (And nobody else.)


There are a couple of easy to remember rules about intonation. Usually our voices go up at the end of the sentence to show a question, and down at the end to show a statement.

Intonation is also important in “tag questions”:

You know him, don’t you? (With rising intonation on “don’t you?” to show it’s a question)
You know him, don’t you. (With falling intonation on “don’t you” to show it’s a statement you expect the other person to agree with.)

7. Learn to recognise spelling patterns.

For example, “tion” on the end of a word is pronounced “shun”, while “sion” can be pronounced “zhun”. There are often many ways to pronounce a particular spelling pattern, but it certainly helps to know what the variations are. For example, the pattern “ough” can be pronounced “uff” as in “enough” and “tough”, or “or” as in “ought” and “bought” or “oh” as in “although” and “dough”.

8. Don’t rush.

If you speak too fast, the danger is that you could skip over some words, fail to pronounce them completely, or mix them up. If you speak too slowly, you might end up sounding unnatural. But it’s better to speak slowly and clearly than too quickly.


June 23, 2008 Posted by | Learn English - Speaking | Leave a comment

Giving orders and instructions

How can you ask someone to do something for you in English without sounding rude? Here are some of the ways that you can give orders and instructions.

1. Use the imperative form

We use the imperative form to give orders, warnings and advice:

Be quiet!
Take care!
Listen to me carefully!

Because it can sound rude to give direct orders (especially if you are talking to an adult), we “soften” the imperative form with “let’s” or “please”:

Let’s go now.
Please listen to what I’m saying.

2. Use a modal verb to turn the order into a request

We use modals to change the mood of a sentence. For example, “You should help her” is more polite than “Help her!”

Other modal verbs you can use to make requests are:

Could: Could you make me some tea?
Can: Can you come here please?
Will: Will you shut the door please?
Would: Would you wait here until the doctor is ready for you?

3. Use an introductory phrase to soften the order

Instead of using an imperative, you can use a phrase instead. Here are some common ways of phrasing an order, in order of the most indirect to the most direct:

Would you mind possibly… (+ ing) (Most indirect)
Would you mind possibly moving your car? It’s parked right in front of mine.

I was hoping you could … (+ infinitive without to)
I was hoping you could spare me a few minutes this morning.

Do you think you could … (+ infinitive without to)
Do you think you could do this photocopying for me?

If you have a couple of minutes spare…
If you have a couple of minutes spare, the office needs tidying up.

I’d like you to…
I’d like you to file this correspondence for me.

I want you to…
I want you to finish this by tomorrow.

4. Use sequencing words

You can use sequencing words to make instructions clear.

Firstly, make sure the appliance is disconnected.
Secondly, open the back with a screwdriver.
Then, carefully pull out the two black cables….

June 23, 2008 Posted by | Learn English - Speaking | Leave a comment

Speaking Lesson Series: Talking about fear

There are many words and expressions for talking about fear.

afraid: “Are you afraid of the dark?”
frightened: “I’m frightened of spiders.”
scared: “He’s scared of making mistakes.”
feel uneasy: “I felt a bit uneasy when I walked home in the dark.”
spooked: “My cats are easily spooked before a thunderstorm.”
terrified: “She was absolutely terrified when she heard the noise.”
petrified: “The building began to shake and we were all petrified.”

a terrifying ordeal
send shivers down my spine
give me goosebumps (goosebumps are when you skin has little bumps on it)
make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up (dogs also do this when they are scared)
scare the hell out of me
be scared shitless / shit scared (British slang – vulgar)
be bricking it (British slang – vulgar)
frighten the life out of me
shake with fear
jump out of my skin

One of the best horror films I have seen is “The Blair Witch Project”. It tells the story of a terrifying ordeal in the woods of northern USA. Some of the scenes in the film sent shivers down my spine, especially the one when the students run out of the tent in the middle of the night. When they go back, one of the guy’s rucksack has been emptied. When that same guy goes missing the next day, it gives you goosebumps.
There are some fabulous sound effects, especially the ones of the wind blowing and howling. When you hear the crying voices at the end of the film, it will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Perhaps the scariest part of the film is at the end, when you see one of the surviving students literally shake with fear in the corner of the basement. It certainly frightened the life out of the girl when she saw him, and I jumped out of my skin at the end when the camera stopped filming. The film scared the hell out of me for weeks afterwards, and I’m ashamed to say that I wouldn’t go into an empty room in the house unless there was someone there with me.

Source: http://www.english-

June 21, 2008 Posted by | Learn English - Speaking | Leave a comment

Talking about the weather

It’s true! British people often start a conversation with strangers and friends by talking about the weather. As weather is a neutral topic of conversation, it’s usually safe to use it to strike up a conversation – at the bus stop, in a shop, or with a neighbour over the garden fence.

Some examples of conversation starters

“Lovely day, isn’t it!”

“Bit nippy today.”

“What strange weather we’re having!”

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to stop raining today.”

Attitude to weather

Although British people like to complain about bad weather, they generally put a brave face on it.

If someone complains about too much rain, you might hear:

“Never mind – it’s good for the garden.”

If someone complains that it’s too hot, you could hear:

“At least my tomatoes will be happy.”

If the conversation has been about general bad weather, perhaps someone will say:

“Well, I’ve heard it’s worse in the west. They’ve had terrible flooding.”

Predicting the weather

We can make predictions about the weather, using a range of forms – not just the “will” or “going to” form:

“I think it’ll clear up later.”

It’s going to rain by the looks of it.”

We’re in for frost tonight.”

They’re expecting snow in the north.”

“I hear that showers are coming our way.”

Human attributes

We also attribute human features to the weather, almost as if the weather can decide what to do:

“The sun’s trying to come out.”

“It’s been trying to rain all morning.”

“It’s finally decided to rain.”

Understanding the forecast

Many British people are keen gardeners, and they keep a close eye on the weather forecast. Here are some of the weather features which can worry gardeners:

a hard frost
blizzard / galeforce conditions
prolonged rain
blustery wind
a drought

Here are some more temperate conditions which gardeners like:

mild weather
sunny spells
light drizzle

June 9, 2008 Posted by | Learn English - Speaking | Leave a comment

Word Stress

Although I learned “sentence intonation,” to be honest with you, I did
not learn “word stress” at all in Indonesia.

“Word stress is your magic key to understanding spoken English. Native
speakers of English use word stress naturally. Word stress is so natural for
them that they don’t even know they use it. Non-native speakers who speak
English to native speakers without using word stress, encounter two

1. They find it difficult to understand native speakers, especially those
speaking fast.
2. The native speakers may find it difficult to understand them. ”

“There are many two-syllable words in English whose meaning and class change
with a change in stress.
The word present, for example is a two-syllable word. If we stress the first
syllable, it is a noun (gift) or
an adjective (opposite of absent). But if we stress the second syllable, it
becomes a verb (to offer). ”

You can also find a web link to help you reduce your accent. We may think
that we speak English fluently. However, if we still have “strong” Java,
Sunda, Batak, Bali, etc accent, native speakers may not be able to
understand us properly. 🙂

If we would like to improve our English, we should study not only basic English
grammar but also English style and English usage. You may think that your grammar is good. However, please understand that language is part of culture and daily life. If your grammar is good but native speakers do not use “your” English style, you may not be able to communicate seamlessly with them. Unfortunately, we do not learn proper English style in Indonesia.

One of the best books to learn English style is “The Chicago Manual of Style” published by the University of Chicago. Fortunately, this book is now available online. Please visit

“The bible of the publishing and research community is now available on your
desktop. The Chicago Manual of Style Online is completely searchable and easy to use, providing quick answers to your style and editing questions.”

Other sources:

Good luck,

Ahmad Syamil

June 7, 2008 Posted by | Learn English - Speaking | Leave a comment

Tounge Twisters…. ( Have a Try )


1. If you understand, say “understand” . If you don’t understand, say “don’t understand”. But if you understand and say “don’t understand”. How do I understand that you understand? Understand!







2. I wish to wish the wish you wish to wish, but if you wish the wish the witch wishes, I won’t wish the wish you wish to wish.







. Sounding by sound is a sound method of sounding sounds.






. A sailor went to sea to see, what he could see. And all he   could  see was sea, sea, sea.








. Purple Paper People, Purple Paper People, Purple Paper People






. If two witches were watching two watches, which witch would watch which watch?






. I thought a thought.But the thought I thought wasn’t the thought   I thought I thought. If the thought I thought I thought had been  the thought I thought, I wouldn’t have thought so much.







. Once a fellow met a fellow In a field of beans. Said a fellow to a fellow, “If a fellow asks a fellow, Can a fellow tell a fellow What a fellow means?”







. Mr Inside went over to see Mr Outside. Mr Inside stood outside and called to MrOutside inside. Mr Outside answered Mr Inside from inside and Told Mr Inside to come inside. Mr Inside said “NO”, and told Mr Outside to come outside. MrOutside and Mr Inside argued from inside and outside about going outside or coming inside. Finally, Mr Outside coaxed Mr Inside to come inside, then both Mr Outside and Mr Inside went outside to the riverside.












. The owner of the inside inn was inside his inside inn with his inside outside his inside inn.






. If one doctor doctors another doctor does the doctor who doctors the doctor doctor the doctor the way the doctor he is doctoring doctors? Or does the doctor doctor the way the doctor who doctors doctors?  

“When a doctor falls ill another doctor doctor’s the doctor. Does the doctor doctoring the doctor doctor the doctor in his own way or does the doctor doctoring the doctor doctors the doctor in the doctor’s way”







. We surely shall see the sun shine shortly. Whether the weather be fine, Or whether the weather be not, Whether the weather be cold Or whether the weather be hot, We’ll weather the weather Whatever the weather, Whether we like it or not. watch? Whether the weather is hot. Whether the weather is cold. Whether the weather is either or not. It is  whether we like it or not.







. Nine nice night nurses nursing nicely. 






. A flea and a fly in a flue Said the fly “Oh what should we do” Said the flea” Let us fly Said the fly”Let us flee” So they flew through a flaw in the flue







. If you tell Tom to tell a tongue-twister his tongue will be twisted as tongue-twister twists tongues.






. Mr. See owned a saw.And Mr. Soar owned a seesaw. Now See’s saw sawed Soar’s seesaw Before Soar saw See,  Which made Soar sore.Had Soar seen See’s saw Before See sawed Soar’s seesaw, See’s saw would not have sawed Soar’s seesaw. So See’s saw sawed Soar’s seesaw.But it was sad to see Soar so sore Just because See’s saw sawed  Soar’s seesaw





June 6, 2008 Posted by | Learn English - Speaking | Leave a comment