Tag Archives: General English

Five Parts Of a Story

I’ve been teaching some classes in creative writing lately, and I wanted to share some of the most important details in storytelling.

Every successful story has 5 parts. They may not always be in the same order, but they are always present.

1 – Where does it happen?
2- Who is there?
3 – What is the problem?
4- Why is the problem important now?
5- How does the problem get solved?

By explaining these to your reader, they will be able to follow your story clearly. You can use them in other areas too – I learned them at the Vancouver Theater Sports League as hints for improvising actors, but they also make sense in presentations, job interviews, and other formal situations.


Here, There, Home and Downtown

There’s a secret I want to tell you: home, downtown, here, and there don’t need prepositions with movement verbs! Easy to remember, right?

I hear this a lot: “When I go to home, I…”  <-incorrect English makes teachers sad

Just remove the “to” and it is right: “When I go home, I…” <- correct English makes teachers happy

Here are some other examples:

  • I came to downtown -> I came downtown.
  • She flew to there. -> She flew there.
  • He rode his bike to here.  -> He rode his bike here.

Now you know. Go home, or take the train downtown, and tell your friends about it!

Projections and Predictions

Both of these words are used when we discuss guesses about the future, but they are slightly different. Here’s how to make sense of them.

Projections look at the past and use that information to talk about the future. If you have a coffee every morning, you will probably have one tomorrow too. I know that having a morning coffee is one of your habits.

Predictions look at the present and use that information to talk about the future. If you are angry right now, you will probably be angry tomorrow too. I don’t know if being angry is your habit or not!

Projections sound more believable than predictions. Projections sound scientific, analytical, and data-driven, while predictions sound like magic, smart guesses, or uncertainty.

I predict that your English will be 10% better after reading this post.

Lay and Lie: Common Confusion

Lay and lie are both irregular verbs. If you memorize their forms, then you’ll avoid making common errors.

Simple present:

  • The chicken lays eggs.
  • I lie on the sofa.

Simple past:

  • The chicken laid eggs yesterday.
  • I lay on the sofa yesterday.

Present Continuous:

  • The chicken is laying eggs right now.
  • I am lying on the sofa right now.

Present Perfect:

  • The chicken has laid eggs.
  • I have lain on the sofa.

Online Courses

As you may know, I’m a big fan of MOOCs. (MOOCs are worldwide courses taught over the internet. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course). I found a few that might be of interest to people looking to improve their English or applying to a university in the USA.

Introduction to Public Speaking:

How to Succeed in College:

Applying to US Universities:
https://www.coursera.org/learn/study-in-usa You can find many more courses through www.coursera.org or edx.org. Good luck, and let me know which ones you choose!

Verb Tenses – How To Choose Them

Simple tenses are the most common. If you’re not sure which tense to use, try a simple tense and you’ll probably be right.

Perfect tenses emphasize the result of an action. I have lived in Toronto = I don’t live there now, but I remember life in Toronto.

Continuous tenses emphasize the action.I am dancing = We don’t know when I started or when I will stop, but right now, my action is dancing.

Perfect continuous tenses emphasize an interruption. I had been studying for five hours before my sister called = For five hours, I study. I stopped this action to answer the phone.

Meeting Canadian Friends

Often, my students have asked me about where they can go to meet Canadians. They mention that trying to meet people at nightclubs, movies, or tourist attractions is rarely successful. There aren’t shops where you can select a friend, so where can people meet?

I’m hardly a social psychologist, but I have heard some advice that I can pass on.
– Look for a sport, group, social hobby or activity that you enjoy and can do in Vancouver. Try skiing, swordfighting, an art group, or a book club, for example.
– Take a class that doesn’t focus on English. How about cooking, painting, dance, or acting?
– Vancouver has people who believe many different things. Perhaps a group where you can discuss philosophy, religions, or spiritualism could be a good place to meet people who share or challenge your existing beliefs.
– Volunteering can also be social. Vancouver has many festivals that need planning, charities that need service, environmental action organizations that need help, or political campaigns that need assistance. (This is especially good. You can add volunteering to your resumé to show that you are familiar with Canadian businesses.) Find an organization that you would like to contribute to and apply with them.

Good luck and have fun!

Vocabulary you should know

Learning vocabulary can be a challenge. How do you choose what to learn? If you need words for work or school, search for business or academic word lists. (I’ve covered them before.) But what if you want to learn general words, ones you can use in a variety of conversations?

This is a list of the 1000 most common words in English. By learning these words, you will be able to speak and write with many people about many topics.

Perhaps you’d like some definitions? Here’s a link to a similar list that includes meanings.

Here’s a cartoon where a spaceship and some of its technical parts are described using only the 1000 most common words. The cartoon can be seen in its original site here. The artist also drew a cartoon showing numbers, which I quite like.