English pronunciation for Vietnamese speakers

100_2180Many English teaching experts say that Vietnamese English students will have more pronunciation problems than speakers of almost any other language.  When I visit medical offices, I know that the staff have studied English for a very long time.  Nevertheless, the nurse at FV Hospital asked me several times if I had a pen or a horse.  I had no idea why she would be asking for such strange items!  Finally, she pointed at the word “pain”.  She wanted to know if I had any pain, or if I hurt.  Many students understand a large vocabulary but have difficulty saying simple words so that they can be understood.  Let’s look at some things that you can do, if you’re in this situation.

One of the biggest problems that many language learners have is final sounds.  Vietnamese words are only one syllable long and they rarely have a distinct final sound.  Tones of each short word convey meaning.  In order to be clearly understood, you MUST focus on the final sounds and practice them, especially the final “s” sound in plurals and third-person singular present tense verbs. Not only do we make these sounds in English, but we often link the final consonant sound with the beginning of the next word, especially when it begins with a vowel.

Another difficulty can be consonant blends (not common in Vietnamese), especially when they contain the letter “p”.  In Vietnamese, p is almost always used in “ph” to make an “f” sound.  It’s very confusing for English speakers to hear someone ask for “helf”.  If you notice that your listener seems confused about what you say, ask for feedback about what they didn’t understand.  Find out more about how to pronounce those sounds.  Until you have clear pronunciation, your excellent English skills cannot be recognized and appreciated.

Common English Pronunciation Mistakes of Vietnamese speakers

Here is a Vietnamese speaker who explains pronunciation in detail.

Students questions and summaries about a trip Simple Past

Every day, someone from somewhere in the world looks at my post about questions and answers about a vacation (simple past).  That helps me to understand that this is a very important and interesting subject for many people.  One of the teachers at my university helped my students with this task.  They watched her videos from her trip and prepared questions.  She came to class and told us more about her 3-week trip to Indonesia.  The students asked their excellent questions.  After she talked to us, they wrote what they remembered from her stories about the trip.  Great work!!

Student questions:

How was your trip?

What was your best bit?

Did you like walking in the mountains?

Who did you travel with?

How many days did you travel?

Did you buy souvenirs?

Could your baby swim?

Did you have any trouble with your…

Did your husband enjoy the trip?

What was the weather like?

What did you like eating?

What does the food taste like?

What did you discover on the trip?

What did you drink?

What was the difference between this place and other places that you’ve visited?

Where was the most beautiful scenery?

Did you have a nice view from your room?

Did you like the weather in Indonesia?

Did you like your trip?

How did you feel about the Indonesian people?
Trip Summaries:

After the class, students wrote summaries about what the teacher said about her trip.  These are some of their many comments:

On her trip, I like the beautiful scenery on the mountain with the lake.  I really like eating seafood and noodles, like in Indonesia.

I want to take a trip like this because I love travelling to new countries, eating delicious food, and buying some souvenirs. If I take a trip overseas, I will discover something new but I’m very tired when I travel by plane.  I hope I will get used to it.

She visited Indonesia for 3 weeks with her family.  I think it’s an interesting trip because she had a lot of time to enjoy it.  She visited two islands.  She went swimming with her daughter.  She says the people there were very friendly. She loves the hot weather because in England, it’s very cold.

She had a great trip.  She went with her husband and her daughter.  She went to the beach and the mountains.  She walked on a mountain. There, she can take lots of photos.

Her trip is good because she had an amazing trip.  She went to Gili Island with her husband and her baby.  She went on the trip for 15 days.  She walked on the beach and she walked on the volcano.  Her baby is so heavy that she gave her to another person to take care of.  Her favourite food is mostly seafood.

I think her trip is very interesting.  She went to Indonesia with her husband and her daughter and 5 other people.  I like her trip to the sea.  The beach she came to is very beautiful and the seafood is very good.  Her family was very happy for 15 days.  I also want to go to that beach.

I think it was a very good trip. It would help me to experience new things. It would get me knowledge about abroad.  I’d like to climb the mountain.  I hope I will go travelling with my family in the future.

It was a long trip and fun.  Through that, I draw a lot of experience. Travelling on long trips needs preparation.

I see that her baby is so cute.  I really like the baby. I think her beach trip is the most fun because I also like going to the beach. I really like her trip.

She travelled in Indonesia.  She went with her husband and daughter along with five other people.  She had a long trip.  She went to the beach and went to the mountains.  She took a lot of photos.  I like her trip because it’s very interesting.  I think her daughter was happy to go to the beach.  

I think her trip is very interesting.  I’d like to swim in the middle of the lake.  I like taking photos of a nice view.  I’d like to go to Indonesia. I love travelling.  I like climbing mountains and staring at the sunrise. I’d like to go there to travel and experience things, the same as her.

I’m very interested in her trip.  She was swimming with her husband and her baby on the beach in Indonesia.  There, she was eating seafood, going canoeing, climbing the mountain, and sightseeing. I like her trip because she could discover many new things.


By elleninsaigon Posted in esl

Reduce your anxiety if you’re taking the TOEFL test

Over the last 9 years, I’ve spent a lot of time helping people to prepare for important language proficiency tests.  Many of those people have taken the same test, again and again, hoping to achieve a different result.  However, they keep finding that their score isn’t high enough, in at least one area.  One reason for this can be because they have not had an expert help them out with their test preparation.  Another common reason is that of anxiety.

One resource that I recommend for people who have really struggled is Glenn Harrold’s hypnosis MP3. You can purchase it and download it very quickly to begin working on reducing your stress.


For others, who are feeling that stress is reducing their score, I recommend taking the time to focus on breathing. Even in the middle of a high-stakes test, it’s relatively easy to take 3 slow, deep breaths before each speaking session.  This will reduce anxiety, slow breathing and pulse, regulate the voice, and clear the mind.  Don’t wait until test day to do this.  Incorporate the practice into every practice session, so that it will come naturally on test day.

All the best on your big exam, and if you want personalized help to improve your score and reduce your anxiety, you can book lessons with me here: https://toeflspeakingteacher.com/ellen-toefl-instructor/




I was so sorry to hear your news: Expressing sympathy

It’s so useful to have some words and phrases for those times when someone shares sad news with us!

About Words - Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

xuanhuongho/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty

by Liz Walter

It can often be difficult to know what to say to someone we know who has experienced loss, illness or another painful event, and even harder if we have to do it in another language. Today’s post looks at phrases we use to express sympathy in a sincere and empathetic way.

Choosing appropriate words will of course depend on how well we know the person concerned, and also the type of event and how upset we think that person is likely to be.

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By elleninsaigon Posted in esl

Ride Recap: Critical Lass Rides to Peddler Anniversary Party

Not too long before I was planning to come to Seattle, I sent a tweet to Madi Carlson, a very enthusiastic Seattle cyclist, to ask if we could plan a ride together. She didn’t just plan to meet me for a ride, but she organized a complete women’s ride, that worked for my sister and I as well as 6 other women, to ride around and see some sights in Seattle!

I checked out choices for bicycle rental and contacted Pedal Anywhere. The owner delivered our bicycles with a cargo bike and also gave us a cycling map for Seattle. He returned to pick up our bikes at the end of the day and accepted our payment at that time.

In the middle, we had a great adventure! I would have been quite nervous about taking the city streets without a local guide. There are many bike lanes in Seattle, but it’s not very clear where and how we should turn to stay on them. We passed Google and Amazon on our ride and we saw a lot of waterfront.

Seattle Critical Lass

We had a terrific Critical Lass Ride to the Peddler Anniversary Party.
See all the photos here:
Flickr album: Critical Lass Rides to Peddler Anniversary Party – March 25, 2017 – 57 photos.

The weather was gorgeous for our group of eight. Starting at Pike Place Market was fun, but it’s more congested than our usual meeting spots.

I made a couple adjustments to the planned route…here’s our 10.4-mile almost loop. The construction on 4th is worse than the construction on 6th currently, so we sadly skipped biking by the oversized Popsicles on 6th, but got a great look at the Amazon biospheres on 4th.

Using 6th also makes for an easy right turn onto the one-block-long protected bike lane of Blanchard. It’s not really worth taking if coming from farther west. Also, it makes for an awkward Copenhagen Left (also called a two-stage left turn)…

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By elleninsaigon Posted in esl

Reading is wonderful!

I’m working with my students to just read for enjoyment because there is so much that you learn about language when it is just you and words that all go together.  Here is a wonderful story about how a homeless teenager became a world-famous author because he wandered into a library and began to read.richard-wagamesebig

Richard Wagamese has had a successful career as a journalist and author, and his books, including Indian Horse and Medicine Walk, have earned him accolades across Canada.

But Richard may never have become a writer, were it not for the kindness of a group of librarians in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he stumbled into the public library at the age of 16, seeking shelter and refuge from a life on the streets.

Richard talks to Candy about books that shaped him as a reader and a writer and gives an update on an upcoming movie based on one of his books.

How a Library Helped Richard Wagamese Become a Writer

By elleninsaigon Posted in esl

Tips on selecting effective authentic reading materials

I’m working with some of my high beginner students to practice reading for enjoyment so I’ve been reading a lot about reading! Here’s one of the blogs about teaching reading with “authentic texts”: real reading material, not material that is written just for ESL learners.


Many teachers like to use authentic materials in class, and they can obviously be a wonderful source of language. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to offer some thoughts and tips on how you might go about selecting and exploiting these materials, to maximise their benefit to students.

Nunan (1988) defines authentic materials as those ‘which have been produced for purposes other than to teach language’, so that might mean emails, blogs, statistics, timetables, advertisements, instructions, labels, menus etc as well as articles from newspapers and magazines.

Relevance and interest

Have you ever done any research into the literacy practices  of your students? In other words, what they actually read (and write) in their daily lives, in their first language as well as in English. Ask students to keep a note of everything they read, including cereal packets etc, for a couple of days. You may be surprised, and…

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By elleninsaigon Posted in esl

Two nights in Manila

If you can visit another country, you should do it! I had the chance for a very short visit to Manila in the Philippines and it was really interesting. My friend and I visited Guam Island for a week and we transferred planes in Manila so it didn’t cost any more money to stay there for 2 nights.  We stayed at a hostel near the airport and we arrived pretty late in the evening. The next day, we spent the whole day looking around Intramuros, an old Spanish walled city, the museum and main park, as well as Mall of Asia (a lot like West Edmonton Mall)!  We travelled by jeepney, which was very cheap, to get around the city. We saw very poor areas and we also took a train to visit a big mall with very expensive stores. There was a lot of history in the city and there were also many American businesses. I was very surprised to see so many guns because every business and building had guards with guns. For a short trip, I saw a lot!

The Refugee ‘Welcome Kit’ Nods to a Kinder Canada—and a Harsher World · thewalrus.ca

This is a long and lovely essay about Canada’s greeting to refugees.  It was written before the inauguration and the dramatic rise in refugees walking or swimming across the Canadian border. The federal government has stayed pretty silent on how to handle the recent changes in policies, south of the Canadian border.

Parkas, art, and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms embody an aspirational vision for our country

Source: The Refugee ‘Welcome Kit’ Nods to a Kinder Canada—and a Harsher World · thewalrus.ca

Glenn Kubish: Inside Coffee Outside

I’m not sure exactly when I started drinking coffee outside with these crazy humans but I started marking it on my calendar in April/2015.  I was a summer cyclist at that time and I was just starting to heal from my second fracture out of 3 in 10 months.  I was curious about meeting other cyclists to drink coffee outside.  Being part of this little community has changed my life for the better in so many ways!  Sometimes I’m alone in the dark but sometimes, I’m almost crying with laughter!

Sometimes, we meet for a Friday beer and a lot of laughter.

Sometimes, we meet for a Friday beer and a lot of laughter.

Doc Darren got a pizza oven that he could bring by bicycle so we had breakfast pizza outside one wintry morning!

Doc Darren got a pizza oven that he could bring by bicycle so we had breakfast pizza outside one wintry morning!

Sometimes, we meet on the southside to accommodate cyclists from the other side of the North Saskatchewan.

Sometimes, we meet on the southside to accommodate cyclists from the other side of the North Saskatchewan.

This community has so much diversity and zest for life. Once two or more of us are gathered, the passionate discussions begin.  It’s astonishing how much ground you can cover in a half hour or so, early Friday morning.  Hanging out with our crazy bike gang has motivated me to become a winter cyclist on all but the very worst days. Various members have enjoyed winter and summer bike races of various kinds.  A couple of us share a canoe.  Our age and career range is pretty wide.  If you have the opportunity to join a magical little community like this, grab it with both hands!!

The video:

Source: Glenn Kubish: Inside Coffee Outside