Welcome to another edition of the Culips Blog! Today I’m going to talk all about writing. We here at Culips strongly believe that our podcast can help you improve your English in many different ways. We realize, however, that it may be difficult to become a better writer through listening to our podcast. So, today’s post will consist of two tips of how to improve your English writing.
Tip #1: Take advantage of the Internet. The Internet offers so many opportunities for you to communicate with both English native speakers and English learners. Why not start an online conversation?
We love when we hear from you. I encourage you to send us email or to comment on our blog and facebook posts. We’re more than happy to provide you with some feedback on your writing if you ask.
Another website that is great for writing practice is http://lang-8.com/. On this site, you can post any type of writing (email, blog post, formal essay, etc.) and get feedback on it from English native speakers. The site is free to use but you are expected to return the favour and provide feedback on other users’ writing that is in your native language. I’ve used this site often in the past and I really like it.
A less obvious way to use the Internet for writing practice is through Craigslist (http://www.craigslist.org/). Craigslist is an online classified ads website. I use this site to practice writing in French. I email people to inquire about products (even if I’m not interested in buying them) just for the writing practice! For example, I might ask someone who is renting their apartment if the apartment has hardwood floors or is carpeted. Or I might ask someone who is selling a van how many kilometres the van has travelled.
I’ve found that using Craigslist for writing practice has helped me become a better email writer. I’ve also learned a lot of interesting vocabulary along the way. Why not try it out?
Tip #2: Use an online grammar checker. An ESL teacher right here in Montreal developed the very cool website http://virtualwritingtutor.com/. The Virtual Writing Tutor automatically checks your writing for spelling and grammar errors. The grammar checker will provide you with feedback and suggestions on how to improve your writing.
Although this site works very well, it is not 100% accurate. Automatic grammar checking technology is still a work in progress. So, I recommend that you use this website as a starting point for reflecting on your writing instead of totally trusting everything it says.
I hope that you’ll find these tips helpful! How do you practice writing in English? Do you use any of the methods listed above? Do you have any tips you can share with us? Let us know by leaving a comment!
Until next time!
Have you ever noticed a word from your native language being used in English? English has a long and interesting history. During its evolution, English has borrowed many, many words from other languages. This has helped enrich the language’s lexicon. Often these borrowed words are referred to as loanwords.
The excellent blog Lexicon Valley recently posted an article about loanwords. They included a really cool animation that showcases the lexical impact that other languages have had on English from 1150 all the way to the present day. As you can see, the majority of English borrowing has come from French, Latin, and Greek but other languages are represented also.
Loanwords are so prevalent in English that often 20-40% of the vocabulary items in literary works are cognates or words that have a shared origin. For example, the Old Norse word for sister systir was borrowed by both German (schwester) and English (sister). So, these two words are cognates. The website Cognates.org did a textual analysis on the book Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. They found that over 30% of the words in the book are cognates. Click this link to see an illustrated example of the frequency of cognates in Frankenstein.
Borrowing is not unique to English. In fact, most languages have loanwords. An issue that is discussed often in Quebec (where Culips HQ is located) is the influence of English on Quebecois French. Many people in Quebec feel that French borrows too much from English.
The blog OFFQc wrote an interesting article about what English might look like if it began to borrow heavily from Quebecois French. As you can see, the dialogue example feels English but has a very different flavour due to the inclusion of many loanwords. I recommend you check out this link if you are familiar with French or have an interest in Quebecois culture.
So, what do you think about loanwords? Do they strengthen a language or dilute it? What English loanwords do you have in your native language? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment.
How big is your phrasal vocabulary? We get many emails from listeners asking us about phrasal verbs and expressions. If you find them difficult, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Phrasal verbs and expressions are really hard to learn. For example, understanding the core definition of to give may be simple but learning all of give’s phrasal verbs (give up, give out, give in, etc.) can be a real challenge! Knowing both core definitions and phrasal expressions is important for listening and reading. One way to improve your knowledge of phrasal verbs and expressions is to determine how much you already know. An easy way to do this is with the Phrasal Vocabulary Size Test. It’s free to take and can be found online by clicking this link.
The test will determine how many phrasal expressions you know out of the 505 most common in English. Here are the instructions on how to take the test. Once you have completed the test, you can use this list to study any expressions that are unfamiliar to you.Another great way to study phrasal expressions is by listening to Culips! Culips members have access to detailed descriptions of the most important expressions that we discuss on the podcast. Click here to become a member now.
The phrasal vocabulary test was created by Ron Martinez, a linguist from San Francisco State University. A lot of research and effort went into the creation of the test and it is a great resource so I recommend that you try it out. The test is hosted on the website Lextutor. Although the website is a little difficult to navigate, it is a fantastic resource and I use it all the time. It offers both learners and teachers of English many really cool tools and I’ll make sure to write about more of them in the near future.
We recently got a great question from a Culips listener via email (Thanks Ana!), so I thought I’d share my answer here, in case other people are wondering about the same thing.
Ana wanted to know more about the verbs to ship and to deliver, and the differences between the two. This is a great questions, especially these days, when ordering things online is becoming so common!
The verbs to ship and to deliver have similar meanings, but there are some small differences. However, in some situations, people use them as synonyms, so it can get confusing.
To ship something means to cause it to be transported by someone else. For example, if you move to another country, you can ship your clothes there by sending them through the mail. You’re not the one transporting the clothes yourself, but you are causing them to be transported by paying the post office to do it for you. To ship something usually means to send it somewhere by getting someone else (like a company) to transport it for you.
The verb to ship is usually only used to talk about transporting something over a long distance, such as from one city to another, or across the ocean. If something doesn’t need to be transported very far, you can instead say that you have it delivered or get it delivered. For example, you could get flowers delivered to your mother on her birthday by calling a flower shop in your town and placing an order.
So this brings us to the verb to deliver…
To deliver something means to take something that somebody gives you and transport it to someone else. So you are the one who ships your clothes to another country, and the postal service delivers them. Even though you’re shipping the clothes, you aren’t delivering them, because you’re not the one who’s actually moving them. Similarly, when you get flowers delivered to your sweetheart, a flower shop employee is the one who delivers them.
When to ship and to deliver are used as synonyms
Sometimes these verbs are used interchangeably. For example, the website of a company that sells chocolates online might say “We’ll ship to anywhere in the world.” But it could also say, “We’ll deliver to anywhere in the world.” This is because the chocolate company might pay someone else to transport the chocolates (that is, the company ships them), or the company might have employees who transport the chocolates themselves (so the company delivers them).
But companies sometimes also say that they deliver even if they pay another company to do it.
Using to ship and to deliver in your daily life
When it comes to normal people (not companies), you should only say that you’re delivering something if you’re actually carrying the object from one place to another yourself. If somebody else transports the object for you, then you’re shipping it or having it delivered.
I hope this explanation is helpful. It’s definitely one of those things that can be confusing in English! If there’s anything about these verbs that’s still unclear to you, let me know in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to clear it up.
Hi Culips fans!
Wow, Culips is really getting into all the latest technology these days.
- You can find us on iTunes: itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/culips-esl-podcast/id279999557
- You can drop by our busy Facebook page: www.facebook.com/CulipsPodcast
- And you can follow us on Twitter: twitter.com/Culips
But the newest development in our vast multimedia empire is that our podcast is now available all over the world on Stitcher!
The Stitcher app (which is totally free) lets you listen to a ton of fantastic talk radio shows and podcasts directly from your iPhone, iPad, Android Phone, Kindle Fire, and other devices. You can even download shows to listen to them later on when you don’t have a wifi or cellular connection. When you do have a connection, Stitcher uses streaming instead of downloading the episode to your device, so you don’t have to use up space on your hard drive.
You can download the Stitcher app for free at Stitcher.com or in the app store of your phone or device.
And if you register in the Stitcher app with your Facebook account (this is optional), you can comment on our episodes right in the app. We always love to hear from you!
So give it a try and let us know what you think. Download the Stitcher app or check out the Culips ESL Podcast Station at: http://stitcher.com/s/profile.
We recently did an episode about klutzes, where we told you all about clumsy people and the expression we can use to talk about them. In one of our example dialogues, we used the word vase.
If you’re a Culips member, you might have seen the note about this word vase having two pronunciations. Here’s a little audio clip I made using the two pronunciations so you can hear the difference. Both pronunciations are perfectly acceptable.
Hope this helps!
Do you like seafood? Are oysters common where you live?
In Canada, peak oyster season happens in the fall. Last weekend, we saw some boxes of fresh oysters in the grocery store and decided to try preparing them for ourselves! Before that, I’d only ever eaten oysters at a restaurant. There’s a popular restaurant in Montreal called The Oyster Shack that serves all kinds of oysters, but this time we wanted to test our own kitchen skills! My fiancé also practiced his photography skills by taking some great pictures of our little oyster adventure.
One of the best ways to eat oysters (at least in my opinion) is raw. First you have to carefully pry the oyster open (this is called shucking the oyster). We used a butter knife, but professional chefs have special tools designed just for this purpose. Then, add a little lemon juice and hot sauce (or some other kind of seasoning if you prefer) and you’ve got yourself a delicious appetizer!
We had lots of oysters to work with, so we also decided to bake a dish called Oysters Rockefeller, which is made up of oysters that have been shucked and topped with other yummy ingredients (like cheese, garlic, and bread crumbs), then baked in the oven.
Oysters Rockefeller was invented in 1899 by a chef in New Orleans in the US, and was named after John D. Rockefeller, the richest American at the time, because the sauce was so “rich” (that is, creamy and full of flavour).
Have you ever tried preparing oysters? Have you eaten them raw?
Thanks to Ryan King for the photos!
Over at the Culips Facebook page, we’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about why in English we don’t use the preposition to with words like home, downtown, and outside. (You can check out the Culips Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CulipsPodcast.)
So why do we say “I’m going to school” but not “I’m going to home”? Instead, we say “I’m going home,” with no preposition.
As many English teachers (and probably all English students!) will tell you, English can sometimes be a weird language, and there are some things about it that you just have to get used to by listening and reading as much as you can until things start to sound natural to you.
But that explanation isn’t very helpful when you just want to know WHY something is the way it is. So here’s my attempt at explaining why we don’t use the preposition to with certain words, like home, inside, and away.
When we say, “I went home,” the word home isn’t being used as a noun. It’s not a specific, physical place the way that school is. It’s more of an abstract, general idea. So in this case, the word home is actually an adverb (“an adverb of place” is the technical term), which doesn’t require a preposition. There are other adverbs of place like this too, and we don’t use a preposition with any of these words either.
Some examples are:
• inside/outside – It’s too cold out here. Let’s go inside.
• downstairs/upstairs – Can you please go downstairs and turn the TV off?
• downtown/uptown – Yesterday we went downtown to do some shopping.
• here/there – How was your vacation in Hawaii? I really want to go there someday!
• somewhere/anywhere – I don’t feel like going anywhere today. Let’s stay home.
• abroad – Last year I went abroad to study English.
• away – Go away. I don’t want to talk to you right now.
• back – I forgot my hat at the restaurant, but I went back and luckily it was still there.
But unlike with the words listed above, you can also use the word home as a specific place, but then you have to add the preposition to, and you also have to specify whose home it is. For example, if your friend came over for dinner, you could say, “She came to my home last weekend.” If you only said “She came home last weekend,” it would sound like you both share the same home. For example, you could say, “My wife was visiting her parents out of town, but she came home last weekend.”
We can think about this abstract/general concept to explain why we sometimes do and sometimes don’t use a preposition with home, but the truth is, it can be confusing. This is definitely one of those things that you just get better at the more you use and hear the language, but maybe this little explanation will help you to remember until then!
We’re so happy at Culips! Our podcast is being featured on the Language Portal of Canada’s webpage. It’s nice to be recognized by our home country! If you’re interested in what they have to say about us, check here.
Happy birthday to us! As of March 2012, Culips is four years old, and we want to celebrate with you!
So much of what we do here at Culips is online, so we wanted to try something a little different to mark this special occasion.
Everyone loves getting a postcard in the mail, right? So we’d like to send some out to our listeners! And we’d love to get some postcards from you too.
So here’s our idea: Send us a postcard from wherever you are in the world, and we’ll send you one back from beautiful Montreal, Canada, with a hand-written message from one of the Culips hosts.
1) Just mail your postcard to the following address:
4663 Christoph-Colomb Ave
Montreal, QC H2J3G7
Don’t forget to include your name, your full mailing address, and any personal note to us that you’d like to add. And make sure you choose (or make) a great-looking card, because we’ll be posting some images of them (just the side with the picture, not the side with your writing or contact information) on our website!
2) Send us an email at email@example.com
Everyone who sends us a postcard will receive one back from us in return, but just in case you can’t send a postcard for whatever reason, we’ll also be accepting some requests for a postcard by email.
Send us an email by March 31st at firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name, your full mailing address, and any personal comments you might have for us. We’ll choose 10 of the people who email us to receive a postcard.
In April, we’ll choose 5 of our favourite postcards or emails to receive a FREE one-year Culips membership, so be sure to keep an eye on Culips.com in April to see if you’re a winner.
*We won’t keep your mailing address once we’ve sent the postcards, and we’ll never sell them or share them with anyone else.
So drop us a line by mail or email and get a one-of-a-kind reply with a personal touch!
Hope to hear from you soon!
The official first day of spring, according to the Gregorian calendar, is March 21st. Spring in Montreal is an interesting time. The winter snow starts to melt away as the weather slowly starts to get warmer. Unfortunately, the melting snow also reveals all the garbage that was buried underneath it, making the city look a little dirty until the city workers have a chance to clean it up.
In the spring, we typically have a mixture of really sunny, warm days that make you think that summer’s on the way, and cold windy ones that remind us it’s not here just yet. While we don’t have to wear our thickest winter coats and scarves anymore, we still need to put on light jackets with sweaters underneath. Nonetheless, we’re eager to spend time outside again, and you’ll often see people eating or drinking on terrasses (the French word for terraces, open spaces for tables and chairs outside) around the city.
Now, in April, the trees are still bare and there is also quite a bit of rain and humidity toward the end of the month. But as the saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers.” So it won’t be long until we can put our umbrellas away for a while and enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather.
My name is Dasilva and I’ve joined the Culips team primarily to help out with the blog. I’m originally from Montreal, and I’m interested in a lot of things: music, photography, travel, and especially writing. I’ll be posting short pieces every two weeks about what’s going on in our city and its neighbourhoods; about local artists, cultural events, and other fun stuff. Hopefully, through the blog I’ll be able to let you see a little bit of what Montreal is like, while helping you with your English at the same time. Feel free to send me your comments and suggestions!
Last Saturday I went to my first Igloo fest with a friend. In case you’ve never heard of it, Igloo fest is a yearly winter event in Montreal. It’s a series of outdoor concerts in the old port (one of the oldest parts of the city) where you can not only see international djs perform but also see some sculptures, grab a hot-dog, or have a few drinks at a bar made entirely out of ice!
I took a few pics so you can see what I’m talking about, but you could also check out the official site.
On the night that my friend and I went it was pretty cold, but jumping around at the Stanton Warriors show (two djs from the U.K.) soon warmed us up. If you like electronic music and dancing outdoors in the snow, this is definitely an event for you. Just make sure to bundle up in your warmest winter gear before you go.
Do you remember the time before portable music? Only being able to listen to music while inside?
Well, I still remember my first portable cassette tape player; it was a hand-me-down from my older sister. It was amazing to me to be able to listen to the radio and music while walking around outside. Then I remember getting a portable CD player. I felt so fancy and modern.
The last time I went to visit my parents, I saw my old CD player and it looked so big and bulky. After this, I moved on to (much smaller) MP3 players, and now I listen to music and podcasts on my cell phone; everything in one small device!
It still amazes me that now, with such small devices, we can listen to music and podcasts wherever we want. At the last Culips meeting, we were discussing an email from a listener. She mentioned that she listens to our free Culips ESL podcasts while she’s out walking her dog. We got an email from another listener who listens on the train to work.
Where do you listen to Culips? We’re going to make a short video using photographs of Culips listeners listening to Culips all over the world in all kinds of places. If you’d like your photo to be a part of the video, send us a picture of yourself listening to Culips anywhere, whether it’s the place you normally listen, or the craziest place you can think of!
Here’s a picture of me listening to Culips last weekend while enjoying the warmth of the fire at my friend’s cabin. We’ll be adding more pictures to our Facebook page soon!
I just finished listening to this week’s Culips ESL podcast episode, hosted by Harp and Maura, and I really enjoyed it! It’s a Chatterbox episode about the art of telling stories in English.
If you haven’t heard the episode yet, check it out here (for free, as always): The art of telling stories in English
In this episode, Maura and Harp both share some funny, interesting stories from their own lives and discuss how people tell stories in English in general. They give you some great ways to grab people’s attention at the start of a story and talk about how people often exagerate when telling a story.
Listening to Harp’s and Maura’s stories put me in the mood to tell a funny story of my own. My story relates to language, so I thought I’d tell my story in the form of a Culips blog post!
So, do you want to hear a funny story?
A couple of years ago, I was visiting one of my favourite places, the Science North Science Centre in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. They have all kinds of neat science exhibits there, including some live animals that are native to Canada, like beavers, porcupines, turtles, snakes, frogs, flying squirrels, and birds.
I was visiting the Science Centre with my mom and we were exploring the area with all the animals. I was looking at a beautiful bird, called a rough-legged hawk, and my mom was looking at something else. I had never seen a bird like that so close before, and it was really neat. I wanted my mom to come over and look at it with me, so I said “Hey mom! Come see this. It’s so cool!”
She came over and we looked at the bird for a while, then moved on to the next part of the exhibit. As we were walking away from the hawk, a little girl, maybe about 8 years old, walked up to the cage and said to her mother, in French, “Maman! Regarde! C’est une socool!” which in English translates to “Mom! Look! It’s a socool!”
The little girl had overheard me calling my mom over before, but because she didn’t speak English, when I said the bird was “so cool” she had thought I was telling my mom the bird’s name! I wish I could have heard the rest of the conversation between the little girl and her mother, because there’s no such thing as a bird called a “socool”!
This story gave me a good laugh when it happened, and it reminded me how easily misunderstandings can occur in different languages.
Do you have a funny story that you’d like to share? It could be about a language misunderstanding, or about anything at all! Share it in the comments section of this blog post!
It’s summertime in the Northern Hemisphere and in Montreal that means that it’s time for all kinds of festivals and outdoor events like sidewalk sales. A sidewalk sale is a special event where all the stores and restaurants on a certain street or in a certain area move outside and sell their things in front of their stores, on the sidewalk.
I had a neat cultural experience this afternoon in Montreal’s Chinatown (an area where many Chinese and East Asian immigrants and families live). There was a big sidewalk sale happening in Chinatown, so my boyfriend and I went to explore the neighbourhood a little and to see what interesting things we could discover.
One of the most interesting things we saw was a little shop selling a special kind of candy called dragon’s beard candy. It’s called “dragon’s beard” candy because the sugary candy is pulled and stretched again and again until it’s thin and wispy like the hairs of a long white beard. Then the thin strands are wrapped around a yummy mixture of peanuts, sesame seeds, chocolate, and coconut.
The owner of the shop and his assistants make the candy right there in front of you, so in addition to getting to eat some really interesting, delicious candy, you also get to see how it’s made, which is really entertaining!
If you’d like to read more about dragon’s beard candy, here’s an article about the shop we visited in Montreal’s Chinatown: Dragon Beard Candy in Montreal and around the World.
What kinds of festivals and events happen in your town in the summer? We’d love to hear about them!
Browsing – To look through
To come across – To Find.
A few days ago I was browsing through the New York times website when I came across a really interesting article. The article was on the city of New York and all of its linguistic diversity. Apparently, there may be as many as 800 languages spoken in the city. 800! That’s really incredible, isn’t it? A lot of these languages also happen to be endangered ones (i.e., langauges that will probably disappear in the next 20 or 30 years). Because of this, a linguist in the city has started a project to record all of these languages that are under threat found in the area. It was really interesting to read the article and think about how globalization has changed the world and places that we used to consider traditional. Can you believe that the same person who started this project went to Indonesia to find speakers of Mamuju, a small langauge spoken over there, and although he was unable to find anyone there, when he came back and attended a family wedding there was a guy sitting right next to him who could speak Mamuju?!! Situations like that really blow my mind. I mean who could have guessed that something like that would happen.
Are you interested in different languages apart from your own and English? What other languages would you like to speak? Here is a link to a video about the project.
Do you ever get a song stuck in your head? You keep singing it over and over in your mind.
Last weekend I edited the Catch Word episode about the word wannabe. In it, Jessie and Maura talk about the singer Lady Gaga and how someone might be a Lady Gaga wannabe and dress like her and say provocative things like she does. It’s an interesting episode so check it out here if you want to know what a wannabe is.
Well, ever since I listened to that episode I’ve had Lady Gaga’s song Poker Face stuck in my head. Here’s a short clip of the song. If you’re interested in learning more about what a poker face is, check out our Catch Word episode titled Stone, where Maura and I discuss the idiom poker face.
When a song is stuck in my head, I often find myself humming it out loud too. To hum a song is to make the tune of the song without opening your lips and singing the words. I’m really bad at singing (and actually even at humming), so people can never recognize what song it is.
What song is stuck in your head?
Here are some expressions used in my blog!
To get out of shape – To become unhealthy
To hit some weights – To lift weights; to exercise with weights
To get back into the swing of things – To get used to a routine
To have a lot on your plate – To be very busy
Downtime – Free time
You know, recently I’ve been feeling a little out of shape. I haven’t been hitting the gym as much as I’m used to. What’s worse, I’ve been eating really late and buying things that probably aren’t so good for my health. It’s just been one of those stressful periods, I suppose, where I have so much on my plate that I can’t manage to sit down and have a proper meal. If I’m not at work, I’m at school. If I’m not at school and I’m at home, I’m doing my homework or working on something. There never seems to be any downtime in my life. I really just can’t wait ’til things slow down. When I have time I’m going to go back to the gym and hit some weights and try to get back in shape. Sometimes, it takes a few weeks to get back into the swing of things when I start working out again, but after about a week or so, my body adjusts and I get a pretty good routine going.
So what kind of junk food do you eat when you’re busy? I would love to hear about your routines as well. Hope you guys will post some. I’ve got to run for now. Take care Culipsers.
Hello Everyone! Happy New Year!
In some places midnight has already passed…Happy New Year too you! As I write this, in Montreal the party has yet to begin. The weather was super cold a couple days ago, but luckily it has warmed up and is currently only -5! People are ready to get bundled up (dressed in warm clothes) to go out and celebrate New Year’s.
All of us at Culips are looking forward to bringing you even more, funky new episodes and other fun functions on our site in the new year! Robin, Jessie, Harp and I hope to be in more contact with you!
Thanks for listening! We truly appreciate it! And….HAVE A GREAT NEW YEAR!