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Watching movies is a fun way to improve your listening, but many language learners always watch movies with the subtitles on.  Although subtitles can help you understand what people are saying, there are many other ways to watch to learn English.

Here are 10 tips for watching English movies:

1.            Use subtitles… or NOT!

If you always use subtitles for movies, you’re probably reading, not listening.  Try turning the subtitles OFF – maybe you don’t really need them.

2.            Rewind – watch again and again

Pick a short conversation in the video and listen to it 3 or 4 times.  If you have trouble understanding what people are saying, try this:

  • First, watch with the subtitles OFF
  • Then, watch again with the subtitles ON
  • Watch a final time with the subtitles OFF

3.            Turn off the sound

Wait… what? That’s right. TURN OFF THE SOUND.  Just watch for a few minutes:  Can you guess what people are saying?  How do they feel?  What are the relationships between people?

Watch body language, facial expressions, and try to ‘read lips’ to figure out what’s going on.  Then, watch that part again with the sound on.

4.            Turn off the screen

Movies are visual, so we get a lot of information from the pictures.  If you turn off the screen, you can challenge your listening skills.

5.            Repeat for sound

In the last post, we talked about ‘Tracking.’  Listen to a conversation and repeat exactly what you hear.  Don’t think about meaning – just focus on sound.

6.            Repeat for meaning

At the really important parts of the movie, make sure you understand what’s happening.  Repeat out loud what the actor says.  Focus on the meaning.  Pause the movie – rewind if you have to – and make sure you understand before continuing.

7.            Learn new words

What did she say? If you don’t know a word, look it up.  Try to guess the spelling from the sound (but if that’s really hard, look at the subtitles to find the spelling).  Check your English dictionary for the meaning.

8.            Learn new phrases

How do people get things done in the movie?  Make a list of phrases you hear for things like saying hello, asking for help, getting information, saying sorry, and giving orders.  When the movie is over, try using these expressions in your daily life.

9.            Write it down

For a real challenge, use one short part for a dictation – write down exactly what you hear an actor say.  Use the subtitles to check your sentences.

10.            Be an actor!

Imagine you are in the movie and act out one part of it.  Learn a speech from one actor and pretend you are in the movie.  Have fun learning the words, body language, facial expressions, and gestures and trying them out!

Practice these 10 Tips the next time you watch an English movie and your English communication will improve.  Soon you won’t need subtitles at all!

To work with a Certified Teacher to improve your accent ContactLaura Meet in-person in Toronto or online from anywhere in the world on Skype


Here is another Mini-Lesson:  “Linking Consonant & Same Consonant”

CLICK ON THE PICTURE for an interactive pronunciation lesson on linking:

Mini-Lesson Linking Same Consonants

To work with a Certified Teacher to improve your accent Contact Laura Meet in-person in Toronto or online from anywhere in the world on Skype


Saying "No"

Saying "No" (Photo by Lars Plougmann)

“No” is an important word

Saying, “No” is one of the first things we learn how to say.  Two-year-olds say, “No” as a way to show their sense of self – this is very powerful, as every parent of a two-year-old knows!

The word, “No” helps us put healthy limitations and boundaries on our relationships.

With really close friends and family members, we can often just say, “No” directly.  However, most of the time, we need to be careful about telling others, “No” – we don’t want to hurt their feelings or seem offensive.

Saying “No” directly or politely


  • No.
  • No thanks.
  • No, I can’t.
  • No, I don’t like it.
  • No, I don’t want to.

Direct expressions can sound rude if you use them with the wrong people.  Use direct expressions only with very close friends and family members.


  • Sorry, but I don’t particularly like mushrooms.
  • I’m afraid I’m unable to meet for lunch. I have to work uptown today.
  • I’d really rather not go to the mall.
  • Sorry, I’m not really fond of swimming.
  • That’s very kind of you, but I really have to get prepared for a test tomorrow.
  • Thank you, but it’s not my idea of a good time.

Polite expressions can be used with anyone, which makes them safer to say.  But, if you use these too often with your closest friends, you may seem a little distant or cold.

Practice polite refusals

Practice these expressions for 5 minutes a day this week.  Say them in your own sentences.  When you’re ready, try to use them in your conversations with friends and coworkers whenever you need to say, “No.”  If you’re not sure if you should be direct, remember that it’s better to be polite.

To work with a Certified Teacher to improve your accent Contact Laura Meet in-person in Toronto or online from anywhere in the world on Skype

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Warm up before you practice

Before you run, you have to get your body ready, right?

Practicing pronunciation is like running – it’s a kind of physical exercise – so you need to warm up first.  Warming up maximizes the results of your training!

Here are some warm-up exercises to help you get ready for your daily pronunciation practice.

First, sit comfortably with your back straight – let yourself relax.

Next, become aware of your breath.  ‘Watch’ your breath move in and out of your body for a few moments.

Take 3 deep breaths into your abdomen.  Let go of any tension you feel with each breath.

Now, place your hands on your diaphragm (that’s your upper abdomen, just below your ribs) and feel the in and out movement of your muscles when you breathe.  All sound starts with breath, so it is important to be aware of this movement.

Roll your head, gently, in a semi-circle from one ear to the other to slowly stretch your neck muscles.

After that, rub your hands together quickly – until they’re warm.  Then, gently massage any tension out of your forehead, eyebrows, and cheeks. Pay special attention to your jaw, lips, and neck.

Relax your lips and breathe out – let your lips vibrate together, like this – this give your lips a vibrating massage!

Then, alternate a few times between a ‘smile’ and a ‘kiss’ shape with your lips.  This exercise strengthens and stretches the muscles in your lips and cheeks.

Now, move your lips to the left and right, as far as you can go a few times to stretch your lips in a different way.

With your mouth open, move your tongue up, down, left, and right.  Repeat this a few times to stretch your tongue.

Next, stick out your tongue and curl it back a few times to strengthen it.   Your tongue is the main muscle you use to make sound.

Finally, hum. Go through your full range of pitch, from lowest to highest sounds and highest to lowest, like this – go up and down several times to warm up the muscles of your voice.

Doing these exercises before practicing pronunciation helps you:

  • Develop proper posture
  • Become aware of how your breath moves through your body
  • Relax the muscles that create sound
  • Increase blood flow, strength, and flexibility in the face, neck, and chest

Now that you’re warmed up, you’re ready to begin your pronunciation practice.  With repeated practice, you will become more relaxed and aware of your body,  making it easier for you to improve your sound.


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When you start a new position, there’s a lot to learn.  You need to ask your supervisor, trainer, and coworkers many questions in the beginning so you can do your job well.

Look at these 2 requests for information – if you are asking someone you don’t know well, which one is better?

1.  “Where’s the paper for the photocopier?”

2.  “Could you tell me where the paper for the photocopier is?”

Both requests are for the same thing – paper – but  it’s better to ask someone you don’t know well using the second request.  The first request is direct.  The second request is indirect, so it’s more polite.

What are the differences between direct and indirect requests for information?

Direct Requests Are:

  • shorter
  • don’t have a modal
  • simple sentences
  • verb + subject order:  Where IS (verb) THE PAPER (subject)?
  • more casual

Indirect Requests Are:

  • longer
  • have a modal (can, could, would)
  • complex sentences
  • subject + verb order:  Could you tell me where THE PAPER (subject) IS (verb)?
  • more polite

At first, you won’t know many people at your new job, so to be more polite, you can ask for information indirectly.  Once you feel comfortable with your coworkers, you can ask in a more direct way.

Here are some phrases for indirect requests for information:

  • Can you tell me…?
  • Could you tell me…?
  • Would you tell me…?
  • Do you know…
  • I’d like to know…
  • Would you mind telling me…?
  • Please tell me…

Practice direct and indirect requests for information with these examples:

  • When is the staff meeting? / Please tell me when the staff meeting is.
  • How do I submit my timesheet? / Do you know how I submit my timesheet?
  • Where is the lunchroom? / Could you tell me where the lunchroom is?
  • What time is the report due? / I’d like to know what time the report is due.
  • Who should I ask if I have questions? / Would you mind telling me who I should ask if I have questions?

For more practice, think of other situations when you need to ask for information indirectly, like asking a stranger for directions to the mall, and request the information politely.

To work with a Certified Teacher to improve your accent Contact Laura Meet in-person in Toronto or online from anywhere in the world on Skype

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Giving Directions

Do you know what the most common sound in English is?


(Bless you!)

Thank you, but I didn’t sneeze!

“Schwa” is the name of this sound:


Did you hear it?

/ə/ is a short quiet low-pitched sound, so it’s a little difficult to hear.

If you practice saying words with this sound, you’ll be able to hear it all the time.

To make this sound, open your mouth just a little.  Your tongue is in the centre of your mouth.  This is a  relaxed sound, so you don’t need any tension in your muscles.

The /É™/ sound is in prepositions, so giving directions is a good way to start practicing.

Listen carefully for the short quiet sounds of the underlined prepositions in the directions below.  Try to repeat directions to practice the schwa sound.

If someone asks,

“Excuse me.  I’m looking for the Court House.  Is it near here?”

You can say,

“Yes.  It’s on Queen Street, about a 10-minute walk from here.

Walk down Yonge Street for a few blocks to Queen.

Turn right at Queen.

Go past the mall and you’ll see it on the right.”

For more practice, imagine giving directions to places in your neighbourhood, like a restaurant, coffee shop, bank, or post office.  Say these directions out loud.  Make sure your prepositions are short and quiet.

*Here’s a chart of the sounds of some common prepositions for giving directions:


Careful Slow Pronunciation

Relaxed Natural Pronunciation









/əv/ OR /ə/









/fər/ OR /fə/















/əvər/ OR /əvə/



/əntə/ OR /ənə/





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“I’m sorry, can you please repeat that?”

Do you need to say this a lot?  Don’t worry – you’re not alone.  It can be really difficult to understand English speakers when they speak naturally.  Sometimes it’s hard for native speakers to understand you, too.

The good news is everybody needs to ask for repetition & clarification (make sure you understand).  Think about when you speak in your first language – how often you say things like, “I want to make sure I understand,” or “Is that right?”  Clarification is a natural part of any conversation.

Here are some ways to ask for repetition & clarification and make sure the listener understands you:

Ask for Repetition & Clarification

  • Pardon me?
  • Can you please repeat that?
  • I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
  • I’m not sure I understand what you mean.
  • Sorry, I’m not following you.
  • I didn’t catch that.


Check if the Listener Understands

  • Do you understand?
  • Do you know what I mean?
  • Do you get what I’m saying?
  • OK so far?
  • Are you with me?

Practice these expressions for 5 minutes every day this week.  Also, try to use these phrases in your everyday conversations to make the communication clear and interesting.  Remember that it’s okay if you don’t understand or the other person doesn’t understand you – smile, use your phrases for clarifying, and enjoy the conversation!

To work with a Certified Teacher to improve your accent Contact Laura Meet in-person in Toronto or online from anywhere in the world on Skype


By popular demand, here is a complete and interactive Phonetic Alphabet Mini Lesson!

CLICK on the picture to practice all of the sounds of English:

Phonetic Alphabet

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The English alphabet has 26 letters.  But did you know that there are actually 45 American English sounds?

This is one of the things that makes English so challenging – the spelling and the sound aren’t always the same!

Let’s look at how to make learning the sounds of words a little easier.  There are 2 basic kinds of sounds:  vowels and consonants


English has 5 vowel letters:

a         e         i         o         u

and one letter that is sometimes a vowel,  y

(In the word ‘why’ the letter ‘y’ is a vowel)

However, there are MANY more vowel sounds.  Think about the sound of the letter ‘A’ in these words:

apple                           about                           any                           ate

Did you notice there are actually 4 different sounds here?

apple’ has the sound /æ/

‘about’ has the sound /ə/

‘any’ has the sound /ɛ/

‘ate’ has the sound /ey/


English has 21 consonant letters, but – you guessed it! – there are MANY more consonant sounds.

For example, the letter ‘T’ has a sound, and the letter ‘H’ has another sound:

/t/ in ‘tea’

/h/ in ‘here’

But if we put them together, we can get two more sounds:

the voiceless sound /θ/ like ‘think’

the voiced sound /ð/ like ‘there’

It is important to notice the real sounds of words – don’t always trust the spelling!  You need to learn the phonetic alphabet in your dictionary.  Here is a sample entry:

dictionary /dIk’ʃə-nÉ™-riy/ noun ( pl. -aries) a book that lists the words of a language…

The important part to look at is the one most people don’t understand: the phonetic spelling:  /dIk’ʃə-nÉ™-riy/

This week, follow me on Facebook to learn more about using the phonetic alphabet and your dictionary.  Click on the “Like” button and you will get a daily lesson on your wall!

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Consonant sounds can be voiced or voiceless. But what does that mean?  How do you know if you are using your voice correctly?

Here’s how you can tell:

Voiced sounds have vibration and Voiceless sounds don’t

First, imagine the sound of a honey bee – make the sound…


Voiced Sound - Vibration

This sound is voiced.

Now, imagine the sound of a snake – make the sound…


Voiceless Sound - No Vibration

This sound is voiceless.

Note that these two sounds are very similar.  The tongue is touching behind the top front teeth.  The only difference is the /z/ is voiced and the /s/ is voiceless.

To check your voicing, place your fingers gently on your neck and make the sounds again.  You will feel a gentle vibration for the voiced /z/ sound.  There is no vibration for the voiceless /s/ sound.

If your still not sure, think about voicing this way:

Most of the time, we use combine voiced and voiceless sounds.  However, when you whisper (like in the library), you usually turn off your voice – EVERYTHING becomes voiceless!

Here are some pairs of similar consonant sounds to practice:

Voiceless Voiced

p                        b

pet                        bet

k                        g

curl                        girl

s                        z

sip                        zip

f                        v

fine                        vine

t                        d

two                        do

To work with a Certified Teacher to improve your accent Contact Laura Meet in-person in Toronto or online from anywhere in the world on Skype