Tips on improving your writing skills

Writing is much more than just putting what you say on a piece of paper.  Writing is more formal than speaking and must follow certain rules.  These rules are about how to organize your writing.  For example, in an informative piece of writing, you should start with an introduction, followed by a development of your topic, and end with a summary.  In the introduction you tell them what you’re going to tell them, in the development you tell them, and in the summary you tell them what you told them.  Each paragraph in your composition should have a single point and start with a topic sentence followed by supporting details, and finish with a concluding sentence that summarizes the paragraph and transitions to the following paragraph where you do the same thing.  Your overall organization can vary from general to specific, where you give a general statement and follow with details and examples, or the opposite way of specific to general, where you give details and examples followed by a generalization.  You can also go from known to unknown, where you start with something the reader already knows and end with something they don’t know.  Another way to organize your writing is to go from least important to most important.  Lastly, you can give a chronology where you start with the first thing that happens and end with the last thing that happens.  In other kinds of writing such as an email or a letter, you should have an opening with a greeting, a body with your important information, and a closing.

Reading English can give you good examples of organization and also samples of different kinds of sentences.  A good piece of writing should have all four kinds of sentences: simple, compound, complex and compound-complex.  If you don’t use all these kinds of sentences, your writing seems boring and uninteresting.

Although you see what good writing is when you read, there’s no easy way to improve your writing than by doing some writing yourself.  You need to practice writing daily to get better at it.  It’s a good idea to keep all your writing in one place, such as a notebook, so you can review it and see improvement over time.

Following are some things you can do to improve your writing.

  • Plan what you’re going to write. Pick a topic and make a short outline, which will make your writing more organized and keep you on track.
  • When you’ve written all that you’re going to write, read it over and make revisions in a second draft. These revisions include better choice of vocabulary, different sentence structure, and correct use of punctuation.
  • Share your writing. When you’re finished with a piece of writing, show it to a native speaker and get some feedback. You can also share it online in a blog that you use regularly, such as  There are also websites where you can have your writing corrected by native speakers, such as
  • Keep a journal. If you’re not ready to share your writing, then start a daily journal. Write about your experiences of the day or whatever is on your mind.  Do this before you go to sleep at night or first thing in the morning so it becomes a habit.  It doesn’t matter so much what you write as long as you write something every day.  Although it may be difficult in the beginning, after a while it becomes easier.  Don’t worry about making mistakes.  Mistakes are how you learn and are perfectly natural in the beginning.
  • Go on a forum, which is an online discussion site.  No matter what you’re interested in, there’s a forum for that. Go to Google and type in “biking forum,” for example, to find people interested in bicycling.
  • Get a pen pal. A pen pal is someone you write to on a regular basis, such as every week. Two good websites for pen pals are PenPal World and InterPals.

Whatever you choose to do to improve your writing, get started now.  What are you going to do today to get started?  Are you going to get a pen pal, join a forum, start a journal?  Start writing now and keep it up.  In a few weeks you’ll be amazed at the improvements in your writing, and you’ll be more confident in your ability.   Remember not to worry about perfect grammar.   That will improve later.  First you want to make writing a habit that you do every day.


informative:  giving information
summary:  review
composition:  writing
point:  sub-topic, division of a topic
topic:  the subject of your writing
concluding:  last
transitions:  goes from one thing to another, ties together
overall:  general
vary:  change
specific:  detailed (opposite of “general”)
generalization:  a statement that includes everything
chronology:  in the order of time
greeting:  saying hello
closing:  saying goodbye
compound:  two independent clauses joined with “and,” “but,” “or,” etc.
complex:  an independent clause joined with a dependent clause
outline:  the basic things you’re going to write about
revisions:  corrections, improvements
second draft:  a rewriting with revisions
punctuation:  periods, commas, etc.
native speaker:  someone who has spoken English all their lives
feedback:  ideas for improvement
blog:  online personal writing that you share with everyone
journal:  a book that you write in every day
on your mind:  you’re thinking about
habit:  something you do all the time because you’re used to it
as long as:  if
keep it up:  continue doing it
confident:  sure of yourself

Study tips

It’s not easy to be a student, but most people are in this position at sometime in their lives.  They do their best to try and learn new material by using techniques that they have found effective.  Researchers have studied the activity of studying and have found techniques that most students can use to increase their learning ability.  Here they are:


You can use a learning technique called “spaced repetition,” which involves breaking up information into small groups and reviewing these groups consistently over a long period of time.  This works especially well with vocabulary.

You can study for a few minutes right before going to bed because when you sleep, the brain goes over new memories and strengthens them, so there’s a good chance you’ll remember whatever you review right before falling asleep.

You can study the same information in a different place every day, which makes it harder to forget that information. That’s because the place where you study forces the brain to form new associations with the same material so it becomes a strong memory.

You can store information more securely when you write it out by hand than when you type it, so recopy your most important notes onto a new sheet of paper.

You can learn new material as if you’re going to teach it to someone else.  If you can teach it to another person, you really know it well.

You can study out loud by saying what you’re reading or writing.  You not only see the information, but you also hear it, mentally storing it in two ways.

You can form a study group with a few other students and get together every few days to review the material.  There should be a leader in the group who keeps everyone on target with their goals.

You can quiz yourself, which may be one of the best ways to study.  When you do this, try to think like a teacher and ask questions you think they would ask.  If you have a study partner or study group, you can quiz each other.

You can drink coffee or tea to keep you alert, but don’t work for hours at a time even though you think you can.

You should take regular breaks to refresh your mind and improve your ability to focus.  Five minutes every half hour is recommended.

You can add exercise to your routine.  Research has found just half an hour of aerobic exercise can improve your brain’s processing speed and memory.

You can listen to classical music while studying, which has been shown to reduce anxiety and tension, and when these are lowered, you learn more quickly.

You should never study all night, which impairs your cognitive (brain) performance and increases your sensitivity to stress.  Therefore, in the days before a big exam, you should get those seven to nine hours of sleep a night so you don’t undo all the hard work you’ve done.

You can eat omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in certain fish, nuts, and olive oil.  These supplements boost your brain’s potential.  As a matter of fact, taking a combination of omega-3-and omega-6 fatty acids before an exam actually reduces test anxiety.

You can make flash cards, which are an old but effective technique for learning material such as vocabulary.

You should set specific goals and be very clear about what you want to accomplish during your study times.  When you’ve met your goal, you stop studying for the day.

You should think positively about your ability to learn.  Rather than think of how difficult it is to remember everything, think about how much more you know now than you did yesterday.  Confidence will make you a better learner.

You can take common herbs such as ginkgo biloba, ginseng or gotu kola to enhance your mental abilities.

Finally,  you should know that no matter how old you are, everybody has the ability to learn.  Take a few of these suggestions and start applying them to your studies.  Later, when you are used to those, add a few more.  You’ll be surprised at how well they work.

Click on the audio recording below to hear the lesson.


position:  situation
techniques:  ways to do things
effective:  good at getting results
consistently:  repeatedly, such as every two days
strengthens:  makes strong
associations:  connections, relationships
securely:  solidly, strongly
mentally:  in your brain
on target:  continuing to do the job
alert:  awake, thinking well
refresh:  rest, renew
focus:  concentrate, learn at your best
recommended:  advised, suggested
routine:  habits, things you always do
aerobic:  breathing hard
anxiety:  fear, nervousness
tension:  stress, feeling uneasy
impairs:  makes worse
supplements:  vitamins
boost:  increase, make better
potential:  ability
effective:  getting good results
accomplish:  do, achieve
confidence:  belief in yourself and your abilities
herbs:  plants
applying:  doing, trying

Pronunciation Exercise:  Listen and repeat the above vocabulary on the audio file below.

Tips on improving your listening skills

When you’re learning a second language like English, the first skill that you develop is the listening skill.  All the other skills follow this one.  It’s the easiest skill to develop, and a learner usually makes a lot of progress in the beginning without doing much work.  Later on, however, a learner needs to develop a plan of action to keep on improving in this skill.  Following are some tips on the kinds of activities you can do to achieve this.

  • Watch English TV and news programs. You can turn on the “closed captions” in the beginning to read the words that are spoken, but turn it off when you get to the point where you can understand without it.
  • Listen to English songs.  If you need the lyrics, you can find them online.  This website has many excellent songs that you can listen to and learn so you can sing along.
  • Listen to English news radio.  You can also listen to the ESL news at:
  • Work on listening exercises on different websites.  On this website you can listen to TED talks and do listening exercises.
  • Transcribe (write) a listening text.  You can repeat sections until you get all the words down on paper.
  • Watch lectures online and take notes.  Your notes should include the main idea and supporting details.
  • Listen to TED talks that interest you.  If they’re a little too difficult, listen 2 or 3 times.
  • Volunteer at the library, food bank, community center, child’s school, etc. and start conversations with other people.  Conversations are a way to improve both your listening and speaking skills.
  • Actively listen to other people’s conversations at the bus stop, in a store, in a restaurant, etc., but pretend like you’re not listening because you don’t want to appear to be “eavesdropping.” (listening to someone else’s conversation)
  • Listen to newscasts in “Learning English” with the CBC.  Go to:
  • When speaking with an English speaker, and you don’t understand something, say, “Could you repeat that?, What does that mean?, How do you spell that?”, etc.
  • Attend events that are in English.  You can find them by googling “free events in Vancouver,” for example.
  • Use context (words around the new word) to guess the meaning of new words.  Trust that your guess is right and continue listening.
  • Pause a listening exercise that you are doing, and restate (put it in your own words) what you just heard.
  • When listening to someone, be present and in the moment and pay attention to what is being said.  This is called “active listening” and is the best kind of listening you can do.  Don’t be thinking about anything in the past or future.
  • Listen not only to the words but also to the tone of voice (high, low, loud, or soft).  Also pay attention to facial expressions and body language.  A lot of meaning is separate from the words a person uses.
  • When you’re in a conversation, listen for key points and repeat them.  This shows understanding and also tells the other person that you understand what they’re saying.
  • Listen to English Podcasts on YouTube.
  • Engage in a conversation with a native speaker.  Because the person is right in front of you, it’s easier to understand them, and you have to listening actively, not passively.
  • Join a Meetup group for conversation.  Go to: and search for a group to join (such as “English conversation.”)
  • Listen while you read a transcript.  A good site for this is: www.elllo. org

There are a lot of suggestions on this page, and you can’t possibly do all of them.  The best thing you can do is to choose one of these right now and get started.  If you like the activity, then continue to do a little bit of it every day.  Even ten minutes a day will produce result that will encourage you to continue.

Click on the audio recording below to hear the lesson.

© 2014 Ambien Malecot

Test anxiety tips

Anxiety is when you feel really nervous before a test, so nervous, in fact, that you can’t think of answers that you’re sure you know.  This may happen over and over with each test that you take, so you develop the attitude that you just can’t take tests.  You aren’t alone, however.  Many students have test anxiety but have learned how to manage it so that they can do well on tests.  Of course, a little nervousness before a test is a good thing.  It helps you prepare and focus on something important that is about to happen.  It tells you that you need to prepare, so you study more effectively.  By studying effectively, you feel more confident and your test anxiety goes way down, which allows you to do well on the test.

What can you do, however, if you’re well prepared for the test but still have test anxiety?  Well, there are a number of physical things you can do.  First of all, you should get enough sleep the night before.  It’s more important to go into a test well rested than to stay up late at night trying to cram for a test.  If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain doesn’t work as well, and you can have trouble remembering answers that you know.  Secondly, you can do some physical activity such as taking a walk outside.  When you’re on your walk, notice the sounds and smells around you, the feel of the air on your face, the sidewalk under your feet, all of which will bring you into the present.  When you’re totally in the present, you’re not thinking about the future test, and this will lower your stress.  As a matter of fact, any form of exercise lowers anxiety because the brain releases endorphins, which make you feel good.

In addition to these actions you can take, there are a few mental techniques that you can use.  The first of these is a positive thinking exercise.  Just repeat to yourself, “I am prepared for this test, and I will do well.”  This creates a positive attitude and increases your confidence making the test much easier to take.

Another technique is a breathing exercise.  You focus your attention on your breathing while relaxing your body.  Briefly, you sit up straight with your feet on the floor and your hands on your lap, and you slowly inhale through your nose feeling the breath fill you up from your toes to the top of your head.  As you exhale through your mouth, you imagine all the stress of your body leaving with the breath.  This exercise slows your breathing and your heart rate and therefore lowers your stress.

A third technique is a ten-second vacation.  You imagine yourself in a relaxing place that makes you feel good using all your senses to mentally create this place.  Again, you start by sitting with both feet on the floor and your hands on your lap.  As an example, you picture yourself lying on a beach.  You feel the sun on your skin and the sand under your hands.  You smell the salt air and hear the waves hitting the shore.  The interesting thing about this technique is that your unconscious mind cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not.  Therefore, a fantasy like this is just as relaxing as the real thing.

So far you’ve read about things you can do before a test, but there is also something you can do during a test.  Don’t get upset if you have trouble answering a hard question.  Understand that almost nobody gets a perfect score on a test.  It’s okay to get some questions wrong.  If you’re not sure your answer to the question is correct, just make your best guess and go on to the next question.  Don’t even think about the last question.  Get your attention on the question you now have to answer.  If you got the last question wrong, so what!  You can still do very well on the test.

Test anxiety is no reason to do poorly on a test if you use these exercises and techniques.  Good luck on your next test!

Click on the audio recording below to hear the above lesson.


anxiety:  a strong feeling of nervousness caused by fear of a possible result
attitude:  belief, thought, way of thinking
manage:  make less strong
focus:  concentrate, put your attention
about to:  ready to
effectively:  in a way that produces a better result
confident:  believing in your ability to do well
cram:  try to learn as much as possible in a short time
physical:  of the body
stress:  feelings of worry and fear
endorphins:  chemicals produced in the brain that make you feel good
mental:  of the mind
technique:  the steps you take to do something
confidence:  belief in yourself
inhale:  breathe in
exhale:  breathe out
heart rate:  the number of beats per minute
unconscious:  the largest part of your mind that you are unaware of
fantasy:  an unreal story or situation
during:  at the same time
perfect:  100%

Pronunciation Exercise: Listen and repeat the above vocabulary on the audio file below.

© 2014 Ambien Malecot

Tips on the use of commas

Commas are an important punctuation and are used in a variety of situations.  Here is a list of the situations:

1. Before conjunctions when there’s a following subject:

James is tall, but he doesn’t like to play basketball.
Marie forgot her math textbook, and she has a test today.

BUT: if there’s no subject following, then there’s no comma.
I like to cook but don’t like to clean up afterwards.

2. In a list of 3 or more nouns or verbs:

She bought a skirt, stockings, earrings and a coat.
He got gas, put air in the tires, and changed the oil in the car.

[Note:  the comma before and is optional.]

BUT: if the list only has 2 things, there is no comma:
We need to replace the stove and refrigerator in the kitchen.
John and George like to snowboard and hike together.

3. After introductory words before a main clause: 

Unfortunately, there were many mistakes made.
Furthermore, we have to paint the entire exterior of the house.

4. To separate 2 or more adjectives of equal value: [adjectives that are equal can be reversed or connected with “and”]

He’s a tall, handsome young lad. [handsome and tall can be reversed, but handsome and young cannot]
That man is a sloppy, dirty, ill-mannered person. [all 3 can be reversed]

5. Before question tags:

She’s coming with us, isn’t she?
We can’t use our dictionaries, can we?

6. After introductory dependent clauses:

Because he was repeatedly late, the teacher asked him to withdraw from class.
As I was coming to school, I saw an old friend on the bus.

BUT: When the dependent clause comes after the independent clause, there’s no comma.
He stayed home from school because he was sick.

7. In dates, addresses, and city-countries:

He was born on Sunday, June 25, 1989.
They live on West 22nd Street, Vancouver, B.C.
They visited their friends in London, England.

BUT: When there’s only a month and year, no comma is used
They got married in June 2005.

8. After long introductory prepositional phrases: [longer than 5 words]

On the morning of her first day of school, Sandra woke up early.
During the snowstorm in January of last year, there were many car accidents.

9. Around extra information adjective clauses:

My last teacher, whom I liked very much, taught us about popular psychology.
Vancouver, which lies on the west coast of Canada, is a major port city.

BUT:  When the adjective clause has necessary information, there’s no comma.
Would all the students who need bus passes please follow me.

10. Around interrupters (including names): [interrupters are words that are added but aren’t necessary]

Margaret Thatcher was, as they say, a formidable woman.
The decor was excellent.  The food, on the other hand, was poor.
Michael, what do you think of our new kitchen?

11. Around (or after) appositives:

Bermuda, a popular honeymoon destination, is a two-hour plane trip from New York City.
A brilliant young boy, Andrew was admitted into the special school.

BUT:  if the appositive is only a name, no comma is used.
My friend Alice is coming with us.
Her brother Gary will be in charge.

12. Before “which” when the following adjective clause modifies more than just the last word:

The clown slipped on a banana peel, which made all the children laugh.
Jessica left the club and went home early, which is unusual for her.

13. With quotes:

Jonathan said, “I’m seeing a girl in the neighboring town.”
“I was able, she told me, “to complete all my work.”

14. Before end-of-sentence words that add information:

 She wants to go to the movies, too.
His father is chief of police, you know.

© 2014 Ambien Malecot

Tips on using the apostrophe

Mistakes are often made by people who don’t really know how to use an apostrophe ( ), so here is an explanation of its use.

The apostrophe is used in 3 situations.

1.  It’s used to indicate possession.  Put s after the name or word that possesses.

Pauls parents are visiting for the holidays.
The Johnstons house is three kilometers out of town.

Note:  If a name ends in an s, then add s.

The Joness boat sank off the coast of Panama.  [When saying the name, you actually say 2 s’s]
We going for dinner at the Harriss.

The one exception for possession is the word its.  This possessive word has no apostrophe because it’s is the contraction for it is.

I only have one shoe.  Where is its mate?
I don’t like this room.  Its color is terrible.

But if a word is plural and ends in an s, then just add an apostrophe without another s.

She lived at her parents house while she was going to university.
Both of her sisters boyfriends are doctors.

2.  It’s used to show that a letter has been dropped in a contraction.

They arent coming to our party.  [arent = are not]
Dont forget to lock the door behind you.  [dont = do not]

Sometimes you will see words that have an apostrophe in place of the g in -ing because that’s how people really pronounce it.  However, this is only done in informal writing or when quoting someone.

“Would you like to go dancin tonight, sweetheart?”

Note:  The word o’clock always has an apostrophe.

The movie starts at six oclock.  [In very old English this word was the contraction of of the clock.]

3.  It’s used to make numbers and letters plural.

Her son got three As and two Bs on his report card.
There were a lot of 10s and 20s in the cash register.

But don’t use it after years.

In the 1990s personal computers became popular.
This building dates from the early 1900s.

© 2013 Ambien Malecot

Spelling tip – the doubling rule

Here is an easy way to remember which consonants at the end of verbs are doubled before adding –ed, –ing, or –er.  If the verb is one syllable, and there is one vowel before one consonant at the end, then you double the consonant before adding an ending.


stop            stopped             run            running            swim            swimmer

Don’t double when there are two consonants or two vowels.


rest            rested                         dream            dreaming

NEVER double:  c, f, h, j, q, v, w, or x

With verbs of two or more syllables, only double when the accent is on the last syllable, in other words when the last syllable is stronger than the others.


exit (accent on the first syllable)            exited

omit (accent on the last syllable)            omitted

One problem area is with verbs that end in –el such as travel and cancel.  In North American English the rule above is followed, but in British English it isn’t.  In North American English the ‘l’  is not doubled (traveled, traveling, traveler), but in British English it is (travelled, travelling, traveller.)

Click on the audio recording  below to hear the lesson.

© 2014 Ambien Malecot

Texting shortcut tips

With text messaging, or “texting,” it takes too long to type all of the words that you need, so people have developed shortcuts so they can save time.  By using these shortcuts, you can say a lot by texting only a little.  You can even program your iPhone with these shortcuts.  Just go to “Settings,” – “General,” – “Keyboard,” and then “Shortcuts.”  Here you can input all of these shortcuts.  Then all you have to do is type the shortcut and your iPhone will type out the whole expression.  Here’s a list of the most common text message shortcuts.  The ones in blue can also be used when you’re talking because most English speakers will understand these shortcuts.

Click on the audio recording  below to hear the lesson.

AAMOF = as a matter of fact [used before a truth or fact]
AKA = also known as [used when someone uses a different name]
AMAP = as much as possible, as many as possible
ASAP = as soon as possible
AWTTW  = a word to the wise [used before giving advice]

B/C = because
BF = boyfriend
BFF = best friend forever
BION = believe it or not [used before something unbelievable]
BLTN = better late than never [when you do something later than you should have]
BRB = be right back (I’ll be right back) [you have to take a short break]
BTDT = been there done that (I’ve been there and done that) [you have had a similar experience]
BTW = by the way [you want to change the subject]

CMIIW = correct me if I’m wrong
CUL  = see you later

DEGT = don’t even go there [you don’t want to hear a negative story]
DIY = do it yourself
DOB = date of birth
DTRT = do the right thing

EGBOK = everything’s going to be okay [used to comfort someone who’s upset]
EOD = end of discussion [you don’t want to talk about it anymore]
ESP = especially
ETA = estimated time of arrival [you want to tell someone when you’ll arrive]
For example:  Running late.  Eta 20 mins.

FAQ = frequently asked questions [frequently = often] [questions everybody asks]
FC = fingers crossed [you hope what you said is true]
FCFS = first come, first served [the person who’s late doesn’t get anything]
FOAF = friend of a friend
FOMO = fear of missing out [fear of not doing something that could be fun]
FTBOMH = from the bottom of my heart [used when you have strong feelings of love]
FTF = face to face
FYEO = for your eyes only [you want the person to see it but keep it a secret]
FYI = for your information [you want to inform someone]

GAL = get a life [someone is much too interested in someone else’s life]
GBH = great big hug
GF = girlfriend
GFI = go for it
GFU = good for you [you’re congratulating someone on a job well done]
GL = good luck
GNSD = good night, sweet dreams
GOOH = get out of here [you don’t believe what someone tells you]
GTG = got to go  [you have to stop texting]

HAND = have a nice day
HSIK = how should I know?

ICBW = I could be wrong
IDBI = I don’t believe it
IDC = I don’t care
IDK = I don’t know
IDTS = I don’t think so
IMS = I am sorry
IMU = I miss you

IRL = in real life [not on the internet, but face to face]
ITA = I totally agree
IYD = in your dreams [your answer is definitely no]
IYDM = if you don’t mind [you’re asking someone to do something for you]

JFF = just for fun
JMO = just my opinion

KIT = keep in touch [you want to keep communicating with someone in the future]
KWIM = know what I mean? (Do you know what I mean?) [to find out if the other person understood you]

LMIRL = lets meet in real life [to set up a face to face meeting]
LOL = laughing out loud (I’m laughing out loud)
LYL = love you lots (I love you lots)

MIA = missing in action [you don’t know where someone is]
MSG = message
MYOB = mind your own business [you’re unwilling to give the answer]

N/M = never mind [it’s not important]
NAGI = not a good idea
NBD = no big deal  [the problem is really small]
NMP = not my problem [the problem belongs to someone else]
NOYB = none of your business  [you’re unwilling to give the answer]
NP = no problem
NPNG = no pain, no gain [when the result is not easy to get]
NRN = no reply necessary [when you don’t want a reply to your message]

OJ = only joking
OMDB = over my dead body [the answer is definitely no]
OMG = oh my God, oh my gosh, oh my goodness [used when you are surprised]
OMW = on my way (I’m on my way) [you haven’t arrived yet]
ONNA = oh no, not again [the same thing has happened again]
OOTD = one of these days [at some time in the future]
OTOH = on the other hand [used when you start listing opposite things]
For example:  Vancouver’s a beautiful city to live in.  Otoh, it rains a lot.

PDA = public displays of affection [kissing, hugging, or holding hands when others can see]
PDQ = pretty darn quick [as fast as possible]
PLS = please
POV = point of view [the position someone sees something from]
For example:  From my pov I think she’s crazy to quit school.
PPL = people

Q+A = questions and answers [similar to FAQ]
QT = quiet [“on the qt” means “it’s a secret”]

RE = regarding [this is the topic of your conversation]
For example:  I have a question re the homework for this weekend.
RIP = rest in peace [used after you say the name of someone who has died]
RUOK = are you okay?

S/O = someone
S/TH = something
SBB = stupid beyond belief [you can’t believe someone did something so stupid]
SFSG = so far, so good [until now everything is okay]
SOP = standard operating procedure [the way something is always done]
SOS = same old story [a story you’ve heard many times before]
SPST = same place, same time [for a repeated meeting]

TA = thanks again
TBC = to be continued [you’re not finished and you want to continue later]
TBNT = thanks but no thanks [you politely refuse an offer]
TIA = thanks in advance [you’re thanking someone for something they will do later]
TIE = take it easy [relax, calm down]
TLC = tender loving care [you want someone to be gentle with something]
For example:  Please treat my guitar with tlc.
TM = tomorrow
TMI = too much information [someone told you something you don’t want to know]
TTYL = talk to you later
TX = thanks

USU = usually

VIP = very important person

W/ = with
W/O = without
WDYM = what do you mean?
WDYW = what do you want?
WIIFM = what’s in it for me? [what will I get when I do you this favor?]
WKD = weekend
WOMBAT = waste of money, brains and time
WTG = way to go [congratulations on a job well done]
WU = what’s up? [what’s happening]

X&O = hugs and kisses

YAC = you available to chat? (Are you available to chat?) [do you have time to text?]
YBS = you’ll be sorry [you think someone is doing something wrong]
YD = yesterday
YOLO = you only live once [said as motivation to do something]
YW = you’re welcome

Study these shortcuts and when you think you’re ready, do the following exercise.

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© 2014 Ambien Malecot


Reading tips

My students often ask me how they can become better readers.  I tell them that the more they practice, the better they will get.  In other words, they need to read more.  One way to do this is to get any English newspaper and read it everyday.  Here in Vancouver, we have 2 free newspapers, which you can get on many street corners.  They are written in a simpler English but not an overly simple ESL English.  Even 15 minutes of reading a day can make you much better even over a short 10-week period.  The advantage to reading a newspaper is that you may already know the news stories because you have read or heard about them in your first language.  If you are now going to school to learn English, you can go to the library there and find ESL novels.  Just ask the librarian to show you where they are.  These books are often popular stories that you may have already read in your first language, but they are written for people learning English, so they are much easier to understand.  Yes, you will see new vocabulary, but if it’s a novel at the correct level for you, it won’t have more than 6 new words on one page.  That means that a whole novel will introduce to you hundreds of new words.  Every time you read one of these new words, you remember it a little better and increase your English vocabulary.  Having a good vocabulary will make you a better reader.  I always tell my students not to use their dictionaries when they read.  I tell them to guess at the meaning of a new word and keep reading.  It’s much better to read continuously than to stop every time there’s a word that’s new to you, forcing you to use your dictionary.  Stopping six times on every page will make reading a chore, and you won’t enjoy it.  Reading should be fun!  When you learn how to guess at the meaning of a new word, your reading will be much faster, and you’ll be more interested in the story.  How do you guess?  You look at the words around the new word and figure out what kind of word it is (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc.).  If you decide it’s a verb, for example, then you know it’s some kind of action, so make a guess.  When you see the new word a second time (and you will), guess again and see if it’s the same guess you made the first time.  If it is, then you’re probably right about the meaning of the word.  If it isn’t the same, then and only then will you need to use your dictionary.

Click on the audio recording  below to hear the lesson.


period – length of time
advantage – the part that makes something easier
novel – a book that tells a story
popular – known all over the world
introduce – show you
increase – make bigger
vocabulary – all the words that you know
dictionary – a book with the meanings of words
guess – give a word a meaning even though it could be wrong
continuously – without stopping
chore – a job you don’t want to do
action – doing something

Pronunciation Exercise:  Listen and repeat the vocabulary on the audio file below.

© 2012 Ambien Malecot

Multiple choice test tips

I’m sure you’ve taken a multiple choice test before.  You know.  The kind where you have to choose the correct answer from a list of 4 different answers: A, B, C, or D.  Although these kinds of tests look easy, they may be difficult because they are often tricky.  To increase your chances of getting a high score on one of these tests, you can apply the following tips.

1.  Because the most common answers are B and C, if you have no idea at all which answer is correct, choose one of those, but always choose the same one (either B or C).  The reason for these “guess answers” is because A is the answer only 23% of the time, and the same is true for D.  However, both B and C are the answers 27% of the time, so you have a better chance of guessing a right answer if you choose B or C.

2.  Any answer choice that’s very different from the others is wrong, and you can eliminate it as a correct answer.  The reason is because a good test maker can easily make up one or two incorrect answers that look like the correct answer, but something is always wrong.  However, even a very good test maker has trouble thinking of a third wrong answer, so what they make up is often very different than the correct answer or the two almost correct answers.


This cake tastes ____________ than the others.

a.  good
b.  better
c.  the best
d.  well

A, B and C are all part of the same adjective group, but D (an adverb) isn’t part of that group, so it can be eliminated.

3.  If two answers are almost the same, the answer is one of those two and not the others.  For example, test makers like to reverse two words in an incorrect answer, so the correct answer and this answer look almost the same.


He said to his parents, “Don’t wait up for me.”

a.  He told his parents don’t wait up for him.
b.  He told his parents to not wait up for him.
c.  He told his parents not to wait up for him.
d.  He told his parents wait not up for him.

B and C are almost the same.  Two words (not, to) are reversed in B and C.  Therefore, either one could be the right answer, and you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right.  By the way, C is correct.

4.  The answer with the most repetitions in the other answers is correct.


Today there are a few clouds.  Yesterday there were more.

a.  It’s not as cloudy today as yesterday
b.  It’s more cloudy today.
c.  It’s less cloudy today as yesterday.
d.  It’s not more cloudier than yesterday.

The correct answer (A) has more repetitions than any of the other answers.  For example, It’s is repeated in all four, not is repeated in D, cloudy is repeated in B and C, today is repeated in B and C, as is repeated in C, and yesterday is repeated in C and D.

5.  There is a correct way to guess at an answer, and if you use this method, you will guess correctly more times than if you have no method at all.  First, eliminate any answer choices that you know are wrong, but only if you’re sure they’re wrong.  You don’t want to eliminate the correct answer, so be careful.  Then choose the first of the remaining answer choices.  For example, if you know that A and B are both wrong, then choose C (the first remaining answer).

Of course, there’s no substitute for studying, but if you have to, you can use these 5 tips to increase your score on any multiple choice test.

Click on the audio recording  below to hear the lesson.


tricky:  having a wrong answer that looks right or a right answer that looks wrong
score:  the number of right answers
eliminate:  to remove or get rid of
make up:  create in their minds
repetitions:  two or more of the same word
method:  way of doing something
remaining:  still there, not eliminated
substitute:  thing you can do instead

Pronunciation Exercise:  Listen and repeat the vocabulary on the audio file below.

© 2014 Ambien Malecot