A blast from the past: Notes from a talk I gave to students in 2008

A while back I got an email from the good people at pbworks informing me one of my wikis  was scheduled for “reclamation” since it hadn’t t been used in 11 months. Wondering what this particular wiki (as I have created more than my fair share of wikis in my day), entitled “Practical English,” had on it I clicked through to have a gander. Some sections were interesting. One that immediately caught my eye was follow up notes to a speech that I delivered to students who were finishing their 20 week intensive English program back in 2008. One of the reasons this caught my attention is because I didn’t really remember doing it and it seems I have been making farewell speeches for some time. In fact, one of the most popular posts on this blog in terms of hits is a 2013 farewell speech. The other thing I found eye catching about the 2008 speech  (as referenced in the notes) was the advice I gave as I am not so sure if current me agrees with everything I said at the time. I will share the speech and then follow up with comments from present day Mike. If you have read this blog before you might be guessing I will also share some random thoughts as well. You’d be right. 




Thank you very much for coming to my speech. It seemed like you understood most of what I was saying, but I wanted to be sure to put the links and some comments on the internet for you to see. I hope that it was helpful for you and I also hope that you will continue to improve your English. This page is quite different from my speech, but I think that most of the important points are here.

Suzy and I both said that you need to practice, which is very true. (1) I think that you should think of this as the beginning of your English study, rather than the end. (2) You have made an incredible investment of time and money and now it would really be a shame if you were to waste that investment.

I think that the internet is a resource that many Korean students don’t use enough for improving their English. I think this is strange because Korea is such a wired country. (3) There is a whole world out there in English and you can find anything you are interested in. (4)  

(My favorite website) Wikipedia is a great resource for learning English. (Notice I didn’t use the word study!) Just go tohttp://wikipedia.org/ and search for things that you are interested in. (5) You could search for people or places that you are interested in. You will see natural English sentences and words the way they are usually used. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone so there might be mistakes, but there are mistakes everywhere.

I talked about social networking websites. The most popular one right now is Facebook. I won’t tell you my name on this site because there are some embarrassing pictures of me on there. The URL is http://www.facebook.com/. I think that this could be a good way to interact in English. (6)  I really like the idea of students meeting people from all around the world and using English to communicate. You will learn a lot by simply communicating with people. Other sites that are focused on learning English are http://www.englishbaby.com/ and http://www.livemocha.com/. I am really impressed with Livemocha’s system. (7) There are courses and role plays that are helpful but even better is the system of practicing with people at a similar level from all around the world. It is a great site. (8) 

Another site that I talked about is Skype. It is a free online telephone service where you can talk to anyone in the world. There is an option that you can set (Skypeme) which means that random people can just call you. (9) I think this is a fantastic way to practice spoken English because you can sit in the comfort of your home and practice speaking. You might be nervous the first time, but it can be lots of fun. I like that you get a chance to talk to many people, like in real life. Also, if you don’t like someone, you don’t have to talk to them. I don’t use Skype very often these days, but my name is migriff99. (10)

A website that has been very useful for me is Englishtips.org (http://englishtips.org/) This site is probably a little illegal in Korea. (11) It is a collection of 1,000’s of resources for learning English. You can download books and files absolutely free. You have to register, but it is very simple and easy. If you are bored of studying English a look around this site might change your feeling. It is a Russian site but you just have to click on the British flag if you want English. The search function is very helpful to find your way around.

I talked about ELLO which is the listening site that I think is the best in the world. Actually, my friend made it, but I would recommend it even if it wasn’t made by a friend. Just go to http://www.elllo.org/ to see what I mean. (12) I really like the use of lots of non-native accents and he tries to make the listening interesting. (13)

The most popular listening site is http://www.esl-lab.com/ which is pretty good as well. (14) There are a lot of things to listen to on that site. Two websites that are good for listening to the news are http://www.simpleenglishnews.com/ andhttp://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/index.cfm

They might be a bit easy for some of you, but it is a good place to start if you want to practice listening to news

Something that I didn’t mention in my speech is podcasts. (15) These are radio shows made into MP3 files. This can be a great way to practice listening on the train. Some interesting sites related to podcasts are http://www.eslpod.com/website/, http://a4esl.org/podcasts/

and http://www.eslpodcards.com/. The final one is a combination of a postcard and a podcast, which is pretty cool. (16) 

A final podcast recommendation is a site that is not very active at the moment, but has great potential, Bomb English. This site is two (very well-educated) foreigners living in Korea. They are both fluent in Korean and Korean culture, but they are native speakers of English. They offer a perspective on Korea that might surprise you. They also swear a lot and talk naturally. They don’t write what they will say before they say it, so their speaking is the opposite of the boring dialogs you might find in textbooks. Please be careful with this site because you might be shocked. I recommend the episode called, “Why we hate Misuda.” (17) 

To improve writing I recommended the obvious: write a lot. (18) Don’t worry about mistakes and just make a habit out of writing every day. You will make mistakes but you will find out what is difficult for you to write. Why not send emails to your soon-to-be former classmates? Reading is also a great way to improve your writing. (19) 

I mentioned that students should try to spend as much time reading as possible. Only read what you are interested in. What do you read in Korean? Try to read that in English. It is a great idea to follow one story in English. I mean, read the same story in different newspapers on different days and you will find that your understanding will improve. I strongly recommend reading the whole newspaper in English. (20)

I think it is great if you read something and understand 80%. (21) You don’t need to understand everything. I can certainly say that I don’t know every word that I read in English. That is natural. You need to see words in their natural context many times before you can really know it. This is why I told you to burn your “Voca” books. (22) 

I also recommended graded readers. They are classic or famous books made easier. (23) The harder vocabulary words are taken out but the stories are the same. I think these are great, especially for lower level students. The key here is to make sure to read a little bit every day. You can find these books at most bookstores. Perhaps you could do a search on Englishtips for some suitable books.

Another general hint–Think in English as much as you can. (24) Train yourself to see the world in English. When you do this, you will also discover what you don’t know how to say in English. 

Remember Einstein’s quote, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  (25) 


Notes from 2016: 

  1. Who the hell is Suzy? I don’t think it is this Susie (from some recent posts). I guess that was placeholder name all the way back then as I am sure I never worked with anyone named Suzy.
  2. Trite but good point. I wonder how many followed this.
  3. I am still surprised by this.
  4. True, but is it so simple? Are there skills and strategies and language needed to do this? Is this something that could or could have been included in such a program?
  5. So nerdy to have Wikipedia as a favorite site.
    Of course now I might suggest Simple English Wikipedia and also students making edits themselves.
  6. It seems a bit quaint to be telling Ss about Facebook like it is some brand new thing but back in the day (the Cyworld days) not a lot of Korean people were on Facebook.
  7. From afar and from 2016 it seems like this type of site never really got too popular with students. I am not sure and would love to be corrected on this.
  8. Is it? Really?
  9. As far as I know, Skypeme never really took of for students or the general public. Again, I could be wrong.
  10. Still my address.
  11. By probably a little illegal I mean “illegal.” I’d be lying if I said I never downloaded a book from Englishtips but I am not sure if I’d recommend such a site these days. Maybe I’d recommend Free and Fair ELT instead.
  12. Still a great recommendation. I am looking forward to seeing ELLLO founder Todd Beuckens at the 2016 KOTESOL International Conference.
  13. In 2008 I would have predicted by 2016 there would be an abundance of nice resources for listening with non-native speakers doing the speaking.
  14. I have no idea what I based the “most popular” line on. I have not thought about that site for ages. I guess it is fine but it doesn’t really excite me and has not been part of my recommendations for a few years now.
  15. Podcasts! Nice recommendation, Mike!
    I feel like I saw a nice list of recommended podcasts for students recently but I couldn’t find it in an intense 4 minutes of googling. Suggestions welcome.
  16. I forgot about this one!
  17. This was an interesting pod and I thought they had a lot to offer students.
  18. Perhaps a little simplistic but yeah writing is good for writing.
  19. I think this is solid advice but I am not sure if I made it clear enough or provided enough proof or reasoning. I am not an official member of the “Cult of ER” but I do believe it has a lot to offer and I wish I sold the case a bit better in my notes and in the speech itself. Maybe the paragraph that follows was convincing enough.
  20. The whole newspaper? Even the classified and ads? Doesn’t that conflict with the previous point about reading what is interesting? Anyway I like the idea of reading about the same event from different sources and on different days. Lots of lexis related to the topic would likely be repeated.
  21. Nice idea but that number might be a bit low.
  22. We’ll have us a little book barbecue in the yard. They’ll see the flames for miles.
  23. I know 2008 is not soo long ago but I felt a twinge of pride about recommending these all the way back then.
  24. I don’t  even really know what this means nor if it is good advice.I wonder what other people think about this one. From here the advice seems a bit empty and potentially unhelpful without clear examples or strategies.
  25. I like to think this quote was not quite so banal back in 2008. I also like to think I wasn’t completely convinced Einstein had said this or that I’d have been easily persuaded by the plethora of myths out there about Einstein and what he said. 


  1. mariatheologidou

    Perhaps what you meant by thinking in English is “don’t translate word for word from Korean to English”. At least, that’s the way I mean it whenever I encourage someone to stop thinking in Greek. I also of course encourage them to do lots of the things you’ve mentioned as well, but I have to say games, vloggers and 5SOS are -naturally- more popular than my advice! 🙂

    PS: Note 22 🙂

  2. M. Makino

    The thinking thing is common enough advice with little enough certainty on what exactly it means that it’s probably worth studying for a journal article. I myself tend to think it means letting unconscious processes make more of your decisions for you, ie yielding to automatization, but as Geoff Jordan pointed out recently that term isn’t defined either, plus how does one consciously decide to process something unconsciously? I agree that for many people it just means “don’t apply the translation strategies you learned in high school”.

  3. Sandy Millin

    Hi Mike,
    Interesting reading!
    I don’t know if my blogpost is the one you were thinking of for podcasts for students, but I’ll advertise it anyway 🙂 http://independentenglish.wordpress.com/podcasts It has a guide and a list of recommendations.
    With the thinking in English thing, I’ve never consciously tried to think in any particular language, but I do know that when I’m in full flow in a different language I only end up being aware that I’m thinking in English when I can’t think of a particular word. Those are languages I’m already around B2/C1 in though. In the lower level ones, I try sometimes to use the language more, for example by speaking to myself, so I guess that involves thinking in the language, but I’m not sure how else you could go about it.

  4. Hana Tichá

    What an inspiring post, Mike. It occurred to me that it would be a great idea for every teacher to write up such a post at some point of their career, i. e. to come up with a set of opinions and beliefs on how the language they teach is learned best, and then come back to it once in a while and write a new draft (or add notes, as you did). They (we) would see clearly how their ideas have evolved over time. At each and every point, they would see which beliefs have stood the test of time and which have made way for new concepts. One way or another, to my mind, this post illustrates that teaching is highly flexible and they way we teach is to a great extent based on what we believe at a certain point of time. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Pingback: A perspective that might surprise you … | How I see it now
  6. Pingback: My workspace “practicalenglish” is inactive, and is scheduled to be reclaimed | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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