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Home study: words that sound the same but have a different meaning

August 24, 2010 7 comments

HOME STUDY (Intermediate Level)

As some of you do not study the English language at an English langauge school or with a private teacher/tutor, I will post some English learning activities here for you to do at home or somewhere you can get wireless internet (eg a café or library).

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spelling and different meanings. The different spelling of the word indicates the meaning is different. The only way to understand homophones is to know their meanings and use them.

The pair of words given in the following exercises sometimes cause spelling errors as they contain the same vowel sound.

Choose the proper word (from the choice of two given for each sentence) and complete the sentences below. Use your dictionary if you need to. I will post the answers in a few days at the bottom of this post.

1. right/write

Please ________ your name in the __________ side of the page.

2. wait/weight

We’ll have to _________ for the trolley to help us lift such a heavy ________.

3. weather/whether

They’re not sure _____________ the _____________ will improve by tomorrow morning.

4. road/rode

They ____________ the tired horses along the dusty _________.

5. serial/cereal

I had a late breakfast of cooked _______ and watched the exciting ________ on TV.

6. principal/principle

The __________ of the school said that the most important ________ to remember was that, ‘Honesty is the best policy’.

7. presents/presence

The _________ of the police ensured that the stolen _________ were returned to the correct address.

8. sight/site

The building ________ was an ugly ________ for the tourists.

9. past/passed

I am so happy he’s finally _________ his driving test. He’s done so much study and practice in the __________ few months.

Good luck and don’t forget to love your dictionary!

ps If there is a topic you would like me to write about, please let me know in the comments or email me at

Thanks and have a great week!

Maria Mitsu

English Language tutor

Answers: 1. write,right 2. wait, weight 3. whether, weather 4. rode, road 5. cereal, serial 6. principal, principle 7. presence, presents 8. site, sight 9. passed, past.


Important ‘instruction’ words/vocabulary for tests such as IELTS and high-level conversation

July 30, 2010 2 comments

We are constantly confronted with verbal and written instructions. You may have to fill in a form, give or follow directions from one place to another, follow medication instructions, read a map, follow a recipe, follow origami instructions, use a knitting or sewing pattern, follow instructions to put up a tent, build a model aeroplane or navigate a website on the internet.

These instructions help us with doing practical things in life. If we don’t read our medicine instructions correctly, we may over-medicate and put our lives in danger. Similarly, if we don’t follow the instructions for putting up a tent, we may have to sleep in the cold night air or fight disease-carrying insects while we try to sleep.

In a test or exam situation (eg IELTS), it is also very important to understand the instructions. If you don’t read the instructions carefully, you may answer incorrectly and lose many points. Although you may have written 250 words, you will have wasted your effort and precious exam time.

Below is a list of common ‘instruction’ vocabulary. How many of the 34 words do you know? Use a dictionary to help you further understand the meanings of these important words.

  1. answer = reply, respond or react to a question
  2. analyse = look at carefully and discuss the work, section by section
  3. argue = debate something and give supporting or opposing reasons – use opinions, facts, evidence
  4. assess = consider, evaluate, calculate
  5. compare = look for qualities that are similar or resemble each other
  6. comment = offer your remark, opinion or criticism
  7. consider = think about carefully, contemplate, pay attention to
  8. contrast = explain how two things are different/dissimilar
  9. convey = impart, transmit or communicate ideas and information
  10. convince = sway the opinion of the reader(s)
  11. debate = discuss both sides of an issue in order to reach your opinion
  12. depict =  portray or describe
  13. describe = explain or give a detailed account of something in order to paint a picture in the mind of the reader
  14. determine = find out, establish, decide or settle
  15. discuss = talk or write about, debate the issues, introduce alternative viewpoints
  16. explain = make something clear or easy to understand, provide reasons or explanations
  17. explore = investigate something in order to learn about it
  18. identify = name or classify something
  19. illustrate = explain by means of examples
  20. indicate = point out, make known
  21. inform = tell or notify
  22. interpret = give your particular viewpoint or understanding of something
  23. justify = back up your answer/opinion with reasons, evidence or examples
  24. motivate = justify or give reasons for your answer
  25. name/list = give an account of names, events etc without explanation or interpretation
  26. paraphrase = rewrite something in your own/other words without changing the meaning
  27. portray = describe vividly in words
  28. prove = demonstrate the truth by evidence or argument
  29. quote = repeat in inverted commas the exact words that someone else has said or written
  30. relate = show the connection between various aspects
  31. show = support your position with facts or evidence
  32. state = express fully or clearly, specify
  33. substantiate = support or add weight to your answer with facts, reasons or opinions
  34. summarise = give only the main points in the order in which they occur

Remember to read your exam/test questions carefully and correctly just like you would read the instructions for taking medicine.

Further thinking:

If you want to have high-level conversation with others, you need to be able to create meaningful speech. You have to work at knowing how to convey and explain your ideas, discuss your thoughts, explore the other persons opinions, relate what you are saying to what others are saying, state what it is you want to say etc. Use the meanings of the vocabulary above to help you think about and develop your  high-level conversation ability. Take all opportunities to practice speaking. The more you practice, the more you will be able to ‘convey’ your ideas and thoughts.

Want to talk about it? Leave me a comment.

As always, happy learning and do your best! I don’t expect anything more of you!

Best regards

Maria Mitsu

English (as a Second Language) Tutor

Are you like a dog in front of a computer trying to learn something foreign to you?

July 14, 2010 1 comment

Do you feel like a dog in front of a computer? You’re trying to learn something new but it’s foreign to you? It’s frustrating!

Be not afraid. You can learn with a little practice. Okay, so a dog will  never be able to learn from a computer screen but dogs learn with commands. If I command my dog to go to bed, she puts her head down and slowly patters off to bed. Like all dogs, at first she did not know what the command was. I would take her to the laundry where she sleeps, put her on her bed and say: ‘go to bed, good girl’ and pat her head.

Every night I would do the same thing and give her praise for any good behaviour such as walking towards the laundry. Slowly she learnt to understand my command. Now she goes to bed as soon as I say ‘go to bed’. She isn’t always happy to go to bed but she listens every time. She learnt because I praised her for her good behaviour. Dogs like praise in the form of a kind voice and pats on the head (oh and tummy rubs!). It’s not surprise that we humans like praise too.

So how can you learn and feel good about it? Here are my ideas in 5 steps:

Step 1: Get help from someone who can teach you the ‘commands’ of what you want to learn. Be taught by a teacher/tutor, the internet, the library, a book or ask a friend for help. Don’t try to learn on your own if you just don’t understand.

Step 2: Listen. Listen carefully to the commands (I guess that means listen to your teachers!). Even if you are only reading about a new idea/concept/language, you have to ‘listen with your mind’. Try to listen to what the writer is telling you to do or is saying. When you are reading and you don’t understand, get help. There are many teachers/tutors out there waiting to help you.

Step 3: Take action on what you are learning. Just as my dog goes to bed when I give her the command, you must take action when you are taught something new. Do the work (that means do your homework!) and be responsible for your own learning. You might not like it but you will feel good once you have taken action!

Step 4: Be rewarded for your good behaviour. If you have learnt one new foreign word today, feel good and be happy! It will reinforce your learning for the next time you want to learn a new word. Your brain will remember how happy you felt to learn a new word so it will want to feel happy again. The brain always wants pleasure! Praise yourself for your own good behaviour. If you can, find a learning system that rewards you and makes you want to learn more and more.

Step 5: Sleep like a dog because you’re a good person for doing what you needed to do to get ahead in your own learning.

Did you like this blog? Let me know what you think. Write a comment or Tweet me @ClickEnglish (

See you next time!


Back to Basics: Speak by knowing the dreaded verb tenses

Hello! How is your English study going? I hope you are making steady progress.

Some students have asked me how they can learn to speak without worrying about learning grammar again. You need to know how to use what you have learnt in your grammar lessons and then actually use the language! However, sometimes you need to do some good old-fashioned revision to recall different verb tenses.

Here are some verb tenses just to remind you (Don’t worry about the names of the verb tenses. Just focus on the meaning of each sentence.):

TO SPEAK (a habit or repeated action)
Present: She speaks well.
Past: She spoke well.
Present Perfect: She has spoken well.
Past Perfect: She had spoken well.
Future: She will speak well.
Future Perfect: She will have spoken well.

TO BE SPEAKING (a continuous action)
Present: Who is speaking?
Past: Who was speaking?
Present Perfect: Who has been speaking?
Past Perfect: Who had been speaking?
Future: Who will be speaking?
Future Perfect: Who will have been speaking?

DO YOU SPEAK? (a question with a form of to do)
Present: Do you speak Japanese?
Past: Did you speak Japanese?
Present Perfect: Have you spoken Japanese?
Past Perfect: Had you spoken Japanese?
Future: Will you speak Japanese?
Future Perfect: Will you have spoken Japanese?

SHE DOESN’T SPEAK (negation of the verb with a form of to do)
Present: She doesn’t speak Japanese.
Past: She didn’t speak Japanese.
Present Perfect: She hasn’t spoken Japanese.
Past Perfect: She hadn’t spoken Japanese.
Future: She won’t speak Japanese.
Future Perfect: She won’t have spoken Japanese.

Now try to create a dialogue using the example sentences! Good luck. You can do it!

Punctuation is so important!

May 16, 2010 2 comments

Punctuation can change the meaning of sentences. Learning to use punctuation is just as important as learning grammar rules.

You’re going. is not the same as You’re going?

Not again. is not the same as Not again!

Lucy and Joe’s parents. is not the same as Lucy’s and Joe’s parents.

He said I’m mad. is not the same as He said, ‘I’m mad’.

When writing, please check your punctuation. It must match the meaning you want to pass on to your readers.

Categories: Tips and Tricks Tags:

The best advice you will ever receive


Nike is a multi-million dollar industry and this quote has played a big part in Nike’s success. Why don’t you make it a part of your success? When you need a bit of courage, think of Nike and JUST DO IT.

What’s your favourite quote?

Categories: Tips and Tricks Tags:

How to end procrastination

March 15, 2010 2 comments

Sometimes I sit at my computer feeling overwhelmed with all the work I need to do. So instead of working, I tell myself. ‘Let me just check my email for a few minutes then I will get started on my studies’. Then I get distracted: ‘Oh, look at this link. A cute dog wearing boots, how cute! I should send it to my friends.’ ‘Oh great, Taka just texted about karaoke this weekend! I best reply now’. Before I know it, time has flown by and 30, 40, 50 minutes have passed. They were precious minutes that were not used to do the work that gets me closer to my goals. I had procrastinated…again.

Our brains want to feel good now (instant reward) and studying does not usually seem ‘fun’ or rewarding. So we procrastinate and avoid doing the study. Instead, we do something that makes us feel good this moment like chatting or texting a friend or surfing the internet for something new. We need to learn to manage our emotions and our need to feel good this minute.

Our real rewards are: passing a test, finishing a report, speaking a foreign language with fluency, graduating, getting a dream job. Although the rewards are in the future, we have to work hard each day to reach them. Nobody can learn a new language or subject without many days, nights, weeks, months and maybe years of study. Understand how important daily tasks are in reaching your goals.

Who do you want to become? For example, you may with to become a fluent speaker of the English language. Remember who you want to become when your focus moves away from your goals.

How to End Procrastination:

1. Manage your emotions. The rewards of our hard work and study will show up in the future, not today. If you feel anxious or overwhelmed about your studies, accept your feelings and start studying anyway. You will not feel better by delaying your studies until tomorrow or the next day.

2.  Avoid instant rewards and distractions like phoning a friend, emailing, listening to music, surfing the internet or playing with your mobile phone. Switch off your mobile phone. Make your study area quiet so you can focus on your studies.

3. Imagine the future and reaching your goal. Imagine you already reached your goal. How does it feel? Remember this feeling as you sit down to study.

4. Help yourself become who you mean to be. Bring it to your attention and remind yourself every time you lose focus on your studies. Write your goals and ‘who I want to become’ on a piece of paper or card and place it where you can see it every day.

I hope this helps you procrastinate less. I would love to know: can you switch off your mobile phone while you study?

(many thanks to  Steven Kotler and Timothy Pychyl  who inspired this blog with their articles on the latest in motivational research at

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