Saturday, 30 August 2014

The life of a corporate ESL trainer.

Most of my students are French-Canadian and therefore have difficulty remembering to pronounce the S endings of plural nouns.

I made this little comic using for their amusement. Enjoy!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Expressions and phrasal verbs: Online practice quiz

In English, we use a lot of expressions (sometimes called idiomatic expressions or idioms) and phrasal verbs to communicate.  

Expressions can often be traced back through history and often vary from one geographic region to another.  Therefore, don't assume that an expression used in England will be used in the United States.  However, there are many expressions that are used by English speakers all over the world. 
Examples of expressions include:
  • between a rock and a hard place (When you are left with only two bad options)
  • a backseat driver (someone who is not in control but likes to give all the orders) 
Image source:

Phrasal verbs are a bit different but are an essential component of the English language.  They are combinations of a verb and at least one preposition. 
Examples of phrasal verbs:
  • to pass out (to faint / lose consciousness)
  • to pass away (to die) 
  • to sleep in (to get up later than usual) 
Some useful sites for learning new expressions and phrasal verbs are and

Here is a brief exercise that will help familiarize you with some expressions and phrasal verbs commonly used in the workplace.  The definition of the expression needed is included in brackets at the end of each sentence. 

Linking words / transitional devices 3

Image courtesy of
Pixomar /
Here is an online matching exercise that will help you gain familiarity with linking words and transitional devices.

You will be given part of a sentence or paragraph and a linking word or transitional device.  Using the information given, drag and drop the correct ending from the table above into the space.

Words  / devices covered in this exercise are:
  • as for
  • that being said
  • therefore
  • besides
  • namely
  • particularly
  • yet
  • in other words
  • nevertheless 

To review a categorized list of linking words / transitional devices, click here.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

How long does it take to learn English?

"How long will it take me to reach the ___  level?"

"When will I be fluent?"

"One of my employees has been on language training for a year and still isn't fluent. 
 What's wrong with him?"

The question of how long it takes (or should take) to learn English comes up frequently in workplace language training.  If your employer is paying for your training, he or she will want an estimate of how long you will be out of the office and approximately how many hours of training you will need. Language schools are usually happy to provide an estimate after an oral assessment because they know that this is how business works and they are not going to get a contract without  doing so.

There is nothing wrong with this, but clients (students and employers)  must not put too much weight on an assessment or estimate given after a brief oral interview and written test.  These tools can determine where you are at the moment in your second language, but they cannot predict how long it will take you to reach a benchmark.

Here's an race analogy- 

  • Jessica is at the 300m mark on a 1000m racetrack.  
    How long will it take her to get to the finish line?

    Image courtesy
How would you answer this question?  My point is that an oral interview combined with a written test only tells us where a student is right now, i.e. point A.  In order to properly answer the question, we need much more information.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Listening practice 2: Generation gap in the workplace

You will hear a conversation between Britney, a young employee, and her manager, Harold.  For those of you preparing for the SLE-TOP, this is a good activity to practice part IV.

℗ Heather Belbin and Reamonn O'Connell

After listening to the conversation twice, provide a brief summary.  Be sure to include a) the topic of conversation b) Britney's thoughts and opinions c) Harold's thoughts and opinions d) how the conversation ended.  This is a good time to practice reported / indirect speech.

Recommended viewing: Here's a great video about generation Y in the workplace.

Also, if you would like to watch a Hollywood movie on the topic, you should check out the 2004 flick In Good Company, starring Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace. 

Recommended reading:

Questions for further discussion:
  • Whose side would you take in this discussion between Britney and Harold?  Give reasons.

  • What age-related stereotypes are expressed in this recording?  To what extent do you agree or disagree with them?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Present Perfect or Simple Past? Talking about Living People

Here is an interactive exercise on the present perfect vs. simple past.

The original text can be found here.

Many business websites provide short biographies of their employees.  These biographies are usually written by the employee himself/herself, although they often use the third person singular (he, she).

Pretend that you have been asked to write a biography of yourself in the third person.  Be careful to include the correct tenses.

If you need some inspiration, check out some of these examples:

About Pinchas Zukerman, Music Director, National Arts Centre (Canada)
About Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer of Canada
About Michael Phelps, awesome swimmer. 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Crossword Puzzle: Verbs and Vocabulary

Update: Click "read more" at the bottom of the post to see the answers. 

Using the clues provided, fill in this crossword puzzle.  
You will have to print it in order to complete it.  

Puzzle created by H. Belbin using the Puzzlemaker at

3. The simple past of the verb FALL
5. The salutation that should normally be used in a letter to address a female recipient. Rhymes with "fizz"
7. Another word for pay services / remuneration.
10. A small thing used to hold several sheets of paper together
13. A synonym of IN SPITE OF
14. A person's first name is sometimes called a _________ name.
15. The plural of PERSON
16. A _____ code is a set of guidelines that exist to advise employees of the types of clothing are not permitted in the workplace.
17. The simple past of the verb WRITE
1. A formal complaint filed against one's place of employment.
2. FELT is the simple past of this verb
4. The plural of WOMAN
6. The opposite of IN FRONT OF
8. A person's last name/family name is sometimes called a __________.
9. A type of workplace bullying and intimidation that is normally against the law.
11. A device used to attach sheets of paper together
12. The plural of CHILD