Pronunciation Practice

During this term in Listening and Speaking, our level one class has focused on common problems with pronunciation. Through repetitive practice of certain word sounds, our class has definitely improved our pronunciation! We are excited to share some helpful methods of pronunciation practice that we have enjoyed this term.

1. Minimal Pairs:

Sound 1: /i:/                       Sound 2: /I/

Heel                                       Hill

Sleep                                     Slip

Leave                                    Live

Reach                                    Rich

Sheep                                   Ship

Sound 1: /ʃ/                        Sound 2: /tʃ/

Ship                                       Chip

Sheer                                    Cheer

Share                                    Chair

Wash                                     Watch

Sheet                                    Cheat


2. Sentence Use:

Is that the (bell/bill)?

The green (heels/hills) are very high.

Jim wants to (sail/sell) his boat.

Go get the (pen/pan).

She (left/laughed) after the speech.

There is a (bag/bug) on the chair.

3. Tongue Twisters: 

Suzie sold seashells down by the seashore.

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

The thirty-three thieves thought that they thrilled the throne throughout Thursday.

Roberta ran rings around the Roman ruins.

If Stu chews shoes, should Stu choose the shoes he chews?

Wayne went to Wales to watch walruses.

4. Top 10 Pronunciation Tips from

 i. Observe the mouth movements of those who speak English well and try to imitate them.

When you are watching television, observe the mouth movements of the speakers. Repeat what they are saying, while imitating the intonation and rhythm of their speech.

ii. Until you learn the correct intonation and rhythm of English, slow your speech down.

If you speak too quickly, and with the wrong intonation and rhythm, native speakers will have a hard time understanding you.

Don’t worry about your listener getting impatient with your slow speech — it is more important that everything you say be understood.

iii. Listen to the ‘music’ of English.

Do not use the ‘music’ of your native language when you speak English. Each language has its own way of ‘singing’.

iv. Use the dictionary.

Try and familiarize yourself with the phonetic symbols of your dictionary. Look up the correct pronunciation of words that are hard for you to say.

v. Make a list of frequently used words that you find difficult to pronounce and ask someone who speaks the language well to pronounce them for you.

Record these words, listen to them and practice saying them. Listen and read at the same time.

vi. Buy audio books.

Record yourself reading some sections of the book. Compare the sound of your English with that of the person reading the book on the tape.

vii. Pronounce the ending of each word.

Pay special attention to ‘S’ and ‘ED’ endings. This will help you strengthen the mouth muscles that you use when you speak English.

viii. Read aloud in English for 15-20 minutes every day. 

Research has shown it takes about three months of daily practice to develop strong mouth muscles for speaking a new language.

ix. Record your own voice and listen for pronunciation mistakes. 

Many people hate to hear the sound of their voice and avoid listening to themselves speak. However, this is a very important exercise because doing it will help you become conscious of the mistakes you are making.

x. Be patient.

You can change the way you speak but it won’t happen overnight. People often expect instant results and give up too soon. You can change the way you sound if you are willing to put some effort into it.

Emily, Level 1 Listening & Speaking Instructor

Emily, Level 1 Listening & Speaking Instructor


Have you ever heard of the flu or influenza?

December signals winter in the United States. When you think of winter, it doesn’t take much to start thinking about getting sick. Here in Alabama, everybody starts to worry about the flu.

Coincidentally, the level four Reading and Discussion class is currently learning about epidemics. An epidemic is the name for a sudden and widespread virus which affects a large area. There are lots of historical examples that show the danger of a flu epidemic. In 1918, the Spanish Flu killed more people than any flu epidemic in history, almost 50 million. The flu (or influenza) is a virus that goes around in any season of the year, but during cold weather people can catch it easier.

You may have heard and seen lots of advertisements about flu shots. Flu shots are a vaccine. They are meant to help prevent people from catching the flu. Luckily, they are widely available in the United States. If you are interested in getting a flu shot to protect yourself for the cold months, a quick Google search for vaccines in your area is enough to find a provider nearby.

The flu mostly affects very young and very old people.  Even if you are healthy, the flu may affect you, and you may be sick for one or two weeks! Being informed about your health and medical options is very important, especially in a foreign country. The flu shot does not guarantee you won’t get sick at all, though. Furthermore, many people who don’t get a flu shot never catch the flu anyway. But it is always a good idea to be informed about the health options for you, your friends, and family.

Robin, Level 4 Reading & Discussion Instructor

Robin, Level 4 Reading & Discussion Instructor

11 Rules of Grammar

For this blog post I wanted to find something that was fun and easy to read.  It is my constant goal to take one of the hardest and driest subjects and turn it into something that is alive with which we can interact.

11 Rules of Grammar

Here are 11 rules of grammar to help you reach more bravely into the scary world of sentence construction and accurate communication.

Active Voice: The Most Important of the 11 Rules of Grammar

Every human language starts an active sentence with the subject, or the “doer.” In English, the verb (what’s being done) follows the subject. If there is an object (the receiver of the action), it comes after the verb. The formula looks like this: S+V+O. This rule is the foundation of the English language.

Here are some examples:

Mary walked the dog.

The dog liked Mary.

I did not like the dog.


Sometimes you want to link two ideas with a second S+V+O combination. When you do, you need a coordinating conjunction. The new formula looks like this: S+V+O, COORDINATING CONJUNCTION+S+V+O.

Coordinating conjunctions are easy to remember with an acronymic mnemonic device:


  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So Comma

FANBOYS are used when connecting two ideas as one in a single sentence, but don’t forget the comma.

For example:

I do not walk Mary’s dog, nor do I wash him.

Mary fed her dog, and I drank tea.

Mary feeds and walks her dog every day, but the dog is still hyperactive.

The Serial Comma

The serial or Oxford comma is the most controversial of these 11 rules of grammar. Some want to eliminate it altogether while others just don’t know how to use it. The serial comma is the last comma in a list, usually appearing before “and.” The serial comma comes after “dog” in this sentence:

Pets R Us has lizards, dogs, and birds.

Commas separate units in a list. In the above case, each unit only has one part, so it’s easy. Where people get confused is when the units are bigger, but the rule still applies:

Pets R Us has lizards and frogs, dogs and cats, and parakeets and macaws.

Notice that the serial comma comes before “and” but not the last “and” in the sentence. The “and” that follows the comma is only there because it sounds better. Grammatically, “and” is irrelevant. Only units matter.

The Semicolon list of grammar rules has to include the scariest of punctuation marks. It might look funny, but don’t be afraid of the semicolon; it’s the easiest thing in the world to use! Say you want to connect two ideas but can’t figure out or can’t be bothered to use a coordinating conjunction. The two ideas can be separate sentences, but you think that they are so closely connected; they really should be one. Use a semicolon.

Mary’s dog is hyperactive; it won’t stop barking or sit still.

My heart is like a cup of Lapsang Souchong tea; it’s bitter and smoky.

Mary has to walk her dog every day; it is the most hyperactive dog anyone has ever seen.

Simple and Easy

The simple present is the tense you use for any habitual action. The things you always do or do every Tuesday are described with the simple present, which just means you pick the first form of any verb.

Mary likes dogs.

I don’t walk Mary’s dog.

Mary and I drink tea every Tuesday together.

Progressive for Now

The present progressive tense is for anything that is happening right now. All of the progressive tenses are easy to spot because their verbs always end with “-ing” and get a helping verb. A helping verb is just so we know who and when we’re talking about. In the present progressive, the helping verbs are the present tense conjugations of “to be.”

I am drinking Lapsang Souchong tea.

The barking dogs outside are driving me crazy.

Mary is playing with her hyperactive dog.

The Simple Past

When we talk about the past, we have to add an “-ed” to regular verbs to make the second form. Irregular verbs are tricky and have their own sets of rules. Drink, for example, turns to “drank.” Most of the time, though, “-ed” will do.

I drank a lot of Lapsang Souchong tea yesterday, but Mary didn’t.

The dogs stopped barking two seconds ago, and I am feeling better.

Mary played fetch with her hyperactive dog.

Perfect Timing

Practice makes perfect with the perfect tenses. Here are three rules to finish the 11 rules of grammar. If you remember these, you’ll be well on your way to perfection.

Present Perfect

The present perfect can be confusing for some, but it is one of the most important rules of grammar. When people talk about things that have already happened but consider the time in which they occurred to be unfinished, they use the third form of the verb with a helping verb. The helping verb for the present perfect is the present tense conjugation of “to have.”

I have drunk three cups of Lapsang Souchong tea today.

Mary’s hyperactive cur dog has bitten me three times so far.

Mary has walked her hyperactive poodle 100 times this week.

Unfortunately, the only way to know the third forms of verbs is to remember them.

Present Perfect Progressive

When the action as well as the time is considered unfinished, the verb loads up on third form helping verbs (“to be” and “to have”) and changes to the progressive form.

Western countries have been waging wars in the Middle East for thousands of years.

I have been drinking tea all day.

Mary’s dog has been barking like crazy since it was born.

Past Perfect

When two things happen in the past, we have to mark which one happened first. The one that happened first changes to third form and gets the helping verb, “had.”

By the time I drank one cup of Lapsang Souchong, Mary’s dog had barked a million times.

I had not yet eaten breakfast when Mary walked her dog.

Mary couldn’t stop laughing; her dog had bitten me again.

This information is provided by LoveToKnow, Corp and can be found on

Daniel, Level 3 Grammar & Writing Instructor

Daniel, Level 3 Grammar & Writing Instructor

Reading Tips – How to Skim or Scan

How do they read so fast?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

If you teach English to International students, I am sure you have heard this question many times. International students want to be able to read as quickly as a native English reader reads and still understand the text. However, what most International students do not understand is that many of these readers are not truly reading the entire passage. In fact, the native readers rarely read every word. Instead, native readers will either skim or scan the passage for information needed to answer general questions about the passage.

If you are an international student and you want to be able to read a passage quickly and understand it, learning the skills of skimming and scanning are vital to this goal. Additionally, these skills are very important for your academic success.  For example, when you have lengthy reading assignments in your classes, you might have to skim or scan in order to determine the main ideas quickly to discuss the passage with your classmates. Furthermore, these skills can be useful on timed tests such as TOEFL or IELTS.

In the Intermediate Reading Class the past few weeks, we have been practicing these skills.  I think many of the students have seen a great deal of progress in their reading and understanding of the text. So, if my students can do it, you can do it also. If you would like more information, check out this useful handout. Happy reading….or skimming / scanning! Whatever you do, just READ, READ, READ!

Check out this link for extra practice and tips on skimming and scanning.


Toby, Level 3 Reading Instructor

Toby, Level 3 Reading Instructor

10 Tips for Better Spelling

We have been working on the spelling of plural nouns in grammar the last couple of weeks, and one of the students asked how to improve his spelling. After thinking about it and looking online for a few things, I thought to myself this is something that all students (not just beginner level grammar students) could use to improve their spelling. It is a few things that I found on a website. If you want more practice, simply search for spelling practice/rules on google, and you will find many helpful things.

Ten Tips for Better Spelling

  1. This may be the best-known spelling rule:
  • i before e, except after c
  • or when sounded like “ay”
  • as in neighbor and weigh
  • Here are some words that follow the rule:
  • IE words: believe, field, relief
  • CEI words: ceiling, deceit, receive
  • EI words: freight, reign, sleigh
  • Some exceptions: either, foreign, height, leisure, protein, weird
  • “CIEN words” are another exception to the rule. These include ancient, efficient, and science.
  1. Here’s another familiar spelling rule: “Silent e helps a vowel say its name.” This means that when a word ends with a vowel followed by a consonant and then silent e, the vowel has a long sound. That’s the difference between rate and rat, hide and hid, and cube and cub.
  1. Have you heard the expression “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking?” This means that when there are two vowels in a row, the first usually has a long sound and the second is silent. That’s why it’s team, not taem; coat, not caot; and wait, not wiat. Remembering this rule will help you to put vowels in the right order.
  1. Learn the basic rules for spelling with plural nouns so that you know whether to use s or es and how to make plurals of nouns that end in y or f.

  1. In general, though, memorizing rules isn’t the most effective way to learn spelling. Most rules have exceptions—and besides, you are best at learning words that you have made an effort to understand. A good way to understand a word is to break it into syllables. Look for prefixes, suffixes, and roots. Practice each short part and then the whole word.
  • dis-ap-pear-ing
  • tra-di-tion-al

After you break apart a word, ask yourself: How is this word like other words I know? Spelling the word traditional may make you think of spelling functional and national. Finding patterns among words is one of the best ways to learn spelling.

  1. It’s also helpful to try making up a funny memory aids. For example, do you have trouble remembering which has two s’s—desert (arid land) or dessert (a sweet treat)? Remember that with dessert, you’d like seconds. Similarly, do you have trouble remembering how to spell separate? Remember that there’s a rat in the middle.

  1. Another kind of memory aid is to make up a sentence in which the first letter of each word can be used to make the spelling word. The sillier the better—goofy sentences may be easier to remember.
  • chili: cats have interesting little ideas
  • physical: please have your strawberry ice cream and lollipops
  1. Make sure that you are pronouncing words correctly. This can help you to avoid some common spelling errors, such as canidate instead of candidate, jewelery instead of jewelry, and libary instead of library.
  1. Put together a list of words that you find difficult to spell. Go over your old papers and spelling exams to track down these troublemakers. Once you’ve got your list in hand, see if some of the tips above will help you.

  1. And lastly: Don’t rely on electronic spellcheckers! They can miss errors—especially when you have used the wrong word but spelled it correctly. To prove it, we’ve taken a sentence and messed up all the words. And the spellchecker thinks it’s fine.
  • “I might need some new shoes for gym,” Harry told our Aunt Ann.
  • “Eye mite knead sum knew shoos four Jim,” Hairy tolled hour Ant

Found on…

P.S. #10 (to me) is by far the most interesting, as I have had many students send me similiar messages…the words were spelled correctly, but the word choice was not correct for the meaning he or she was attempting to communicate. As always…ENJOY!!

Obie, Level 1 Grammar & Writing Instructor

What is Black Friday?

Thanksgiving is a major holiday in the United States when Americans give thanks for many different things. Moreover, there is a famous day that usually overrides the Thanksgiving festivities for many families  This day is Black Friday. Recently, many of my students have been asking me, “Toby! What is Black Friday?”

Well, Black Friday is a day where many shoppers in the United States wake up very early (or never go to bed) to go shop at stores that open very early in the morning to get the best shopping deals of the holiday season. This day is usually a very long day for retailers who make a large portion of their yearly profit on this major three-day shopping weekend.


If you are interested in finding out more information about Black Friday, check out this video from YouTube that explains it all. It has some very good information, and it is set up to allow you to actively listen for information to help you answer the questions.

Have fun watching this video and Happy Shopping on Black Friday Weekend!

Toby, Level 5 Listening & Speaking Instructor

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

This week in Low-Intermediate Grammar we are studying active and passive voice. Active and passive voice are both important and should be used for different reasons. Let’s look at the differences.

Active Voice

One common sentence structure in English is SUBJECT + VERB + DIRECT OBJECT. This sentence style emphasizes the person or thing that does the action. Look at the example below.

            We will make a decision about our trip soon.

The emphasis in this sentence is on “we”. In other words, the sentence is focused on the people doing the action.

Passive Voice

Passive voice sentences also have common SUBJECT + VERB structure. The difference in passive voice is that the subject is the receiver of the action. Look at the example below.

            A decision about our trip will be made soon.


In this sentence the emphasis is on “a decision about our trip,” not the people making the decision.

There are different reasons for using both. One reason is to emphasize different subjects. A good time to use passive voice is when the “actor,” or person doing the action is unknown. Look at the example below.

            The money was stolen.

In this example, the person who stole the money may be unknown. Therefore, passive voice is used to emphasize the action, but not the actor.


In your writing you should think carefully about what information you wish to send. Any writer must choose the more appropriate voice for each.

Source: Keys to Teaching Grammar to English Language Learners by Keith S. Folse

Kody, Level 2 Grammar & Writing Instructor

NPR is a great site for listening practice!

If you are interested in having another source of listening practice, visit National Public Radio online ( This site has a variety of topics that you can choose from, and has a box you can type in a topic to search for things that interest you. Most of the audio files have a transcript that you can use to follow along with. This would be beneficial for you to be able to see the words and their pronunciations. Before viewing the transcripts, try writing down the Main Idea and some Details (words and other information) that you hear. After writing down all the things you can pick out of the listening, view the transcript and compare the information you wrote down to that in the transcript. So, take some time to practice a little on your own with this very useful resource. As always…ENJOY!!!

Obie, Level 4 Listening & Speaking Instructor

An Entertaining Way to Study English

If you ever want a fun, easy, and entertaining way to study English, AUM’s level 2 reading class recommends propping your feet up, popping a bowl of buttery popcorn, and watching a movie in English.

This week our class has been discussing movies and the increasing trend of computer generated imagery (CGI). By using CGI, filmmakers create characters that are otherwise left to the imagination. We took a poll of our favorite movies and were surprised to see that some of our favorite characters were brought to life by CGI! Some of these characters can be found in movies such as:

The Lord of the Rings


Star Wars

Pirates of the Caribbean


As you can see, CGI characters are taking over the entertainment industry. Our class discussed the possibility of these characters completely taking over the jobs of actors and actresses. Can you imagine a world without Brad Pitt? Our class voted that movies just wouldn’t be the same.

So, which do you prefer?






Here’s a clip to Emily’s favorite CGI enhanced movie:

Emily, Level 2 Reading & Discussion Instructor

American Presidential Elections

If you haven’t noticed, the United States is currently in the middle of a very important season. It’s election season.

Every four years, America chooses its next president. The process has not changed very much in many years, but it is complicated and very expensive.

Currently the United States government has two main political parties. There are other parties, but they are relatively small. Every president in the past 150 years has been associated with one of these two major parties.

The first step in choosing our president involves choosing a nominee from each of the parties. The parties hold elections called primaries to decide which candidate will be the nominee for the party. Once the two nominees are chosen, the parties hold a convention and officially begin the race to the White House.

The candidates or nominees spend a lot of time giving speeches, debates, and appearances in virtually every state in the country. They also raise huge sums of money to run their campaigns and to purchase advertisements promoting themselves.

On election day, which is the first Tuesday in November, Americans vote for their choice for president. The president is not elected based on popular vote, but on Electoral College votes. The Electoral College is a system that gives each state a number based on that states population. When the votes are counted for each state, the majority winner receives all of the Electoral College votes for that state. The candidate with 270 electoral votes wins the election.


Primary – an election to choose a candidate for each party

Nominee – a person who is entered as a candidate

Candidate – a person who is nominated for a job

Convention – a large meeting of a political party

Campaign – organized actions of a politician taken to win an election

Kody, Level 1 Reading & Discussion Instructor