The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

An Anti-creativity List for 2015

From the Harvard Business Review

Five years ago I published a version of this tongue-in-cheek checklist on that highlighted how organizations kill creativity. It really touched a nerve​—​people flooded the post with No.examples from their own organizations of how their managers and colleagues stifled innovation. Even clichés like “We’ve always done it this way” seemed to be alive and well back then. Given all the talk in recent years about unleashing creativity in organizations, I wondered whether the same creativity killers are still at work today.  So, I’m posting a slightly edited version of the original video to ask viewers around the world  what’s changed. What happens in your organization today that shuts down creative thinking? Please post your examples of anti-creativity in the comments section. Thanks, and enjoy.

Filed under: 8►DOWN TO BUSINESS, ■ Dream Jobs, ■ Harvard Business Review, ■ Organisational Cultures, ■ Podcasts, Uncategorized

To Add on Your e-Shelves: WhyEnglishMatters Documentary Series

Business Growth

English helps drive business growth.

A vast majority of companies with adequate English proficiency believe they are more competitive globally because of their employees’ proficiency, according to an ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs survey of 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries. 

The Need for English is Growing

The need for English is growing.

According to an ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs survey of 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries, the demand for employees who are proficient in English will continue to grow.


English Proficiency Opens Doors

English proficiency opens doors.

With a solid understanding of English, your employees may build better relationships internationally.

English is the Language of the Internet

English Is the Language of the Internet

The Internet connects people all over the globe and accounts for a greater share of the world GDP than agriculture or energy. Used by more than a quarter of all Internet users, English is the single most used language on the Web.

English as a Common Language Drives Efficiency

English as a common language drives efficiency.

ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs surveyed 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries. They described the role English plays in the efficiency — and therefore the cost effectiveness — of their staff. Communication, collaboration and productivity are all at stake.

English Skills Can Pave the Way to Global Expansion

Explore the Impact of English Proficiency on Global Business

In today’s global marketplace, English is the universal language of business. In our exclusive whitepaper, 66% of companies reported that the lack of an English-proficient workforce posed a challenge for global expansion. Alternatively, 94% of companies with adequate English proficiency have found that English has made them more competitive globally. Putting English proficiency first drives global growth and leads to business success in new markets.

Filed under: 1►LISTEN▼, 8►DOWN TO BUSINESS, ■ Global Issues, ■ Technology & Our Generation

To Learn More, This High-Schooler Left The Classroom

To listen to the interview below, follow this NPR link.

Boy surrounded by the wonder of learning.
 Like a lot of students, 17-year-old Nick Bain says he really likes his school, but sometimes it can feel like a chore.

“It just feels a little bit like you just have to keep doing one thing after another, but without a whole lot of thinking about an education in general,” says Nick.

So one day he decided to write down what he was doing every 15 minutes at the Colorado Academy in Denver.

And in his seven-hour school day, Nick says there were only “2 1/2 to three hours that you actually really do need to be in class,” to get instructions from the teacher. The rest of the time was spent at lunch, getting books from his locker or reading.

“It occurred to me that maybe the way school is now is not the perfect way,” he says.

Motivation As A Powerful Force

Nick saw a TED Talk by education researcher Sugata Mitra about his famous experiment in India. It showed how children living in Indian slums could teach themselves to use a computer.

“It’s just incredible that that sort of intrinsic motivation exists,” Nick says. “It seems like a really, really powerful force.”

That led him to come up with his own unusual experiment in learning. He would spend the final trimester of his junior year learning on his own.

With enough convincing, he got his school and parents to sign off on the plan.

He’d take the same tests and write the same essays as other students, but wouldn’t attend class. He’d be graded on a pass/fail basis. It would be a self-taught and self-paced journey.

Nick would take seven courses, instead of the normal four, including calculus, Advanced Placement physics and advanced French.

He also designed some of his own courses: In one, he worked with local scientists on a climate change project; in another, he built a one-seat model aircraft.

He journaled along the way.

Nick’s Journal — March 24, 2015

“I’m again feeling that I’m not efficient enough, but maybe efficiency isn’t the most important thing. I definitely feel like I’m learning. But there isn’t that sense of constant urgency that causes one to save time in all sorts of ways when one is under the gun. But what that also means is that I can walk through the park, for example, to the gardens without feeling constant anxiousness about things.”

Thinking In French

Nick experimented with different ways to learn. First he tried to learn a bit of a subject every day. That didn’t go so well. Then he asked, “What if I spent 10 hours a day on one subject?”

Eventually, he found that being steeped in one subject all day led to more learning.

He figured that out one day at the Denver Botanic Gardens while reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days — in French.

“I’d been reading it, and reading, and I wasn’t really liking it because I wasn’t understanding some things,” he recalls. And then by the end of the day, “I realized I was reading the French as fast as the English.”

He discovered his learning wasn’t more efficient on his own because he was spending every waking hour learning. His mother, Lisa Bain, said this last trimester was the hardest she’s ever seen Nick work.

“It was hard to get him to relax,” she says. “It’s important to have downtime, and school sometimes allows you to have the downtime. But when you are self-directed, there’s no time that’s not something you could be doing.”

Nick’s Journal — March 6, 2015

“Noticed that I’m actually under a lot of pressure. Thought flexibility would make things less of a strain, but actually causes more of a strain. Constantly thinking: Is what I’m doing right now the best possible use of my time, and that seems to make me highly inefficient, actually. So it’s a lot harder than I thought, and less efficient than I thought. Realizing that I don’t ever feel finished with something, that there is always something I can be doing.”

Learning More Deeply

At the same time, Nick said his learning was more satisfying outside of school. It had more purpose and he was learning more deeply.

As the days passed, he started to relax into the joy of learning. He realized he wasn’t feeling that anxiousness he felt in school with a conveyor belt of assignments coming at him.

And because Nick was on a pass/fail system, he didn’t worry about the best way to get a good grade. Instead, he realized he was working hard at something because he wanted to.

Nick’s Journal — March 18, 2015

“I’ve been hesitating to note this (because of the possibility that it might not hold true), but I feel exactly as Nate Newman said he felt at Stanford: ‘This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.’ It’s always risky to say things like that because they may turn out differently with time. But I have never been so enthralled by learning, ever. I wish only that I could do it for years and years.”

The Value Of School

Nick is heading back to class for his senior year this fall, but that’s not because the experiment was a failure. In fact, he kept up with his classmates, passing his exams and classes. But one of the unexpected results of the experiment, he says, is that now he can see his school — and teachers — in a different light. He appreciates the role teachers play as curators of the best material.

“[There are] some huge benefits to learning with people that I really missed and I’m going to be glad to go back to,” he says.

“The greatest thing is really this,” he says of his experience: “I can be 45 years old, or 27, any age, or doing anything and become an expert on anything.”

“It makes me really excited for the rest of my life, I guess, because I know that it doesn’t have to stop when I stop school.”

Nick’s Journal — June 2, 2015

“Today was the last day of school. It did not feel like the last day of school. It was very strange. I rode my bicycle home, ate some fruit (it was a half-day), and wrote a 3 page essay on Kant and Voltaire. I think I would have laughed at myself pretty hard at doing something like this last year at this time.

“I think today is probably an appropriate time to end this log. Maybe I’ll sporadically note developments and general time usage over the next few weeks — at least some data would probably be helpful, I think. Otherwise, I don’t think I should even try to describe in a few broad statements the effect of these past months. Neatly summing it up here would not capture the magnitude of its value.”

Filed under: NPR, School No School

What’s going on under the skin?

This TED-ed series called Getting Under Our Skin is looking at this very topic. Browse through the selection of videos below to learn more about what may interest you. Enjoy the summer, stand up straight, be healthy and get savvier every day!

Filed under: 1►LISTEN▼, ■ Biology, TED


One effective method of learning new languages is simply listening to music sung in that language.

There is something appealing to our senses in doing that – books, magazines, movies and other sources aside. While speaking with a colleague the other day about learning new words in German by listening to music, I was struck by this internal question: what songs would I choose if I were asked to make a list of songs in English to help a foreigner learn new words and phrases. 

For starters, I would choose songs that asked life’s biggest and most common questions, questions that deal with life-long obsessions, myths and even daily reality. One of the most pervasive topics in songwriting through the generation has been oneness:

Here are three of my personal heroes in this regard, three songs that capture a universal expression of the one.

ONE WORD (Joe Cocker), which tells a beautiful story of the meanings of peace in our life – meanings both commonly understood, and also oftentimes misunderstood;

ONE LOVE (Bob Marley), which speaks of the one-ness we experience in being together and comforting each other in times of need;  and 

ONE (U2), a song about discoveries we may be led to make through the inner journey of our lifetime. For starters. 

 Take a listen while reading, if you please. The lyrics to each song are under each player.

“One Word (Peace)”

A man stands on the corner holding a sign
People yell at him as they drive by
I wonder what they read, made them so upset
I looked at the sign and all it said:

One word: Peace
In the neighborhood, peace
One word: peace
In my own backyard, peace

A man in a foreign land kneels to pray
And wonders where the bombs will fall today
Our leaders tell me to fear him you see
Love conquers all is what I believe

One word: Peace
In the neighborhood, peace
One word: peace
In my own backyard, peace

Everybody’s talking about it
Everybody’s got to have their say
But to achieve it, there is only one way
And it starts with me and the word and the word is:

In the neighborhood
One word: peace
In my own backyard
One word

One word: peace
In the neighborhood, peace
One word: peace
In my own backyard, peace


“One Love, One Heart”

Let’s get together and feel all right
Hear the children crying (One love)
Hear the children crying (One heart)
Sayin’ give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Sayin’ let’s get together and feel all right

Let them all pass all their dirty remarks (One love)
There is one question I’d really love to ask (One heart)
Is there a place for the hopeless sinner
Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own?
Believe me

One love, one heart
Let’s get together and feel all right
As it was in the beginning (One love)
So shall it be in the end (One heart)
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
One more thing

Let’s get together to fight this Holy Armageddon (One love)
So when the Man comes there will be no no doom (One song)
Have pity on those whose chances grove thinner
There ain’t no hiding place from the Father of Creation

Sayin’ one love, one heart
Let’s get together and feel all right
I’m pleading to mankind (one love)
Oh Lord (one heart)

Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Let’s get together and feel all right



Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same
Will it make it easier on you now
You got someone to blame
You say…

One love
One life
When it’s one need
In the night
One love
We get to share it
Leaves you baby if you
Don’t care for it

Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Well it’s…

Too late
To drag the past out into the light
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

Have you come here for forgiveness
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head

Did I ask too much
More than a lot
You gave me nothing
Now it’s all I got
We’re one
But we’re not the same
Well we
Hurt each other
Then we do it again
You say
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt

One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
One life
But we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

One… life



Filed under: 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, 6►THEME CHEST, 9►EXTRA, ■ Arts/ Music/ Dance, ■ Empathy, ■ Lyrics, ■ YouTube

Breaking the language barrier | Tim Doner | TEDxTeen 2014

Laguage in its sense, in essence, represents a cultural world view. And if I can impart you with anything today […] it’s this:

you can translate words easily but you can’t quite translate meaning.

Illustration by Dawn Kim/TED |

Featured illustration by Dawn Kim/TED


During the past few years, I’ve been referred to in the media as “The World’s Youngest Hyperpolyglot” — a word that sounds like a rare illness. In a way it is: it describes someone who speaks a particularly large number of foreign languages, someone whose all-consuming passion for words and systems can lead them to spend many long hours alone with a grammar book.

But while it’s true that I can speak in 20 different languages, including English, it took me a while to understand that there’s more to language than bartering over kebabs in Arabic or ordering from a menu in Hindi. Fluency is another craft altogether.

I began my language education at age thirteen. I became interested in the Middle East and started studying Hebrew on my own. For reasons I still don’t quite understand, I was soon hooked on the Israeli funk group Hadag Nachash, and would listen to the same album every single morning. At the end of a month, I had memorized about twenty of their songs by heart — even though I had no clue what they meant. But once I learned the translations it was almost as if I had downloaded a dictionary into my head; I now knew several hundred Hebrew words and phrases — and I’d never had to open a textbook.

I decided to experiment. I spent hours walking around my New York City neighborhood, visiting Israeli cafés to eavesdrop on people’s conversations. Sometimes, I would even get up the courage to introduce myself, rearranging all of the song lyrics in my head into new, awkward and occasionally correct sentences. As it turned out, I was on to something.


I moved on to Arabic, which I’d study every morning by reading news headlines with a dictionary and by talking to street vendors. After that it was Persian, then Russian, then Mandarin … and about fifteen others. On an average day, I’d Skype with friends in French and Turkish, listen to Hindi pop music for an hour and eat dinner with a Greek or Latin book on my lap. Language became an obsession, one that I pursued in summer classes, school, web forums and language meet-ups around the city.

By March of 2012, media outlets such as the BBC and The New York Times featured stories about me, “The Teen Who Speaks 20 Languages!” For a while, it was a fantasy; it made what many thought of as a bizarre hobby seem (almost) mainstream, and gave me a perfect opportunity to promote language learning.

After a while, though, my media “moments” felt more like gruesome chores than opportunities to spread the word. Most news shows were interested only in the “dancing bear” act (“You wanna learn more about the Middle East? Cool… Say ‘you’re watching Channel 2’ in Arabic!”) As lighthearted as that might have been, it left me with an uncomfortably personal lesson in modern media: when the goal is simply to get the viewers’ attention, the real importance of a story often gets lost in translation.

When I was beginning to discover languages, I had a romanticized view of words like “speak” and “fluency”. But then I realized that you can be nominally fluent in a language and still struggle to understand parts of it. English is my first language, but what I really spoke was a hybrid of teenage slang and Manhattan-ese. When I listen to my father, a lawyer, talk to other lawyers, his words sound as foreign to me as Finnish. I certainly couldn’t read Shakespeare without a dictionary, and I’d be equally helpless in a room with Jamaicans or Cajuns. Yet all of us “speak English.”

My linguistics teacher, a native of Poland, speaks better English than I do and seems right at home peppering his speech with terms like “epenthetic schwa” and “voiceless alveolar stops”. Yet the other day, it came up that he’d never heard the word “tethered”. Does that mean he doesn’t “speak” English? If the standard of speaking a language is to know every word — to feel equally at home debating nuclear fission and classical music — then hardly anyone is fluent in their own native tongues.

Reducing someone to the number of languages he or she speaks trivializes the immense power that language imparts. After all, language is the living testament to a culture’s history and world view, not a shiny trophy to be dusted off for someone’s self-aggrandizement.

Language is a complex tapestry of trade, conquest and culture to which we each add our own unique piece — whether that be a Shakespearean sonnet or “Lol bae g2g ttyl.” As my time in the media spotlight made me realize, saying you “speak” a language can mean a lot of different things: it can mean memorizing verb charts, knowing the slang, even passing for a native. But while I’ve come to realize I’ll never be fluent in 20 languages, I’ve also understood that language is about being able to converse with people, to see beyond cultural boundaries and find a shared humanity. And that’s a lesson well worth learning.

Watch Breaking the language barrier, Timothy Doner’s talk at TEDxTeen 2014.

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 3►SPEAK▼, ■ How to Learn Languages

Aristotle and the Philosophy of Everyday Life

Many of the sayings we use daily were first coined by Aristotle (384-BC – 322 BC).
His studies in living the Good Life (nothing to do with Felicity Kendall looking seductive in dungarees and wellies) included advice like; moderation in all things, friends are worth more than gold and one swallow doesn’t make a summer. Fair enough, but how can we stop just quoting him and start living Aristotle’s Good Life? Much of his thinking seems surprisingly contemporary. He covers mindfulness, the value of teachers (his habit of wandering around the grounds of the school he founded, the Lyceum, in Athens, with his pupils trotting after him, led his pupils to be referred to as ‘the peripatetics”, or “people who travel about”) and the difficulties of adolescence.
So here’s BBC Radio 4’s guide to Aristotle’s ‘Good Life’

1. Value your friends

“For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.”

2. Keep learning

Aristotle considered happiness to come more often from “those who are highly cultivated in their minds and in their character, and have only a moderate share of external goods, than among those who possess external goods to a useless extent but are deficient in higher qualities.” So that’s something to bear in mind when you go over your overdraft limit.

3. Reward yourself for overcoming personal struggles

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.”

4. Value teachers

The mean-spirited phrase ‘those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach” is a corruption of Aristotle’s ‘those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.” Aristotle saw happiness, fulfilment and a sense of civic duty all arising from education, and felt that “those who educate children well are more to be honoured than parents, for these only gave life, those the art of living well.”

5. Do it, don’t just talk about it

Actions speak louder than words. “Virtue is more clearly shown in the performance of fine actions than in the non-performance of base ones.”

6. Practise mindful meditation

A thought is just a thought. It doesn’t need to be acted upon. “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

7. And finally…

Aristotle’s ultimate, and most difficult realisation. “Happiness depends upon ourselves.”

Filed under: 1►ACTIVITIES & ELT RESOURCES, 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ Books, ■ The Path of Metaphor, ■ Thinking Space

3 Ways to Speak English


Noam Chomsky on Language Aquisition

Filed under: 3►SPEAK▼, ■ YouTube

Why TED is “cleaning” every single one of our video files — all 1,700 of them

Originally posted on TED Blog:


By Gwen Schroeder

When you watch a TED Talk, you see a speaker on a stage sharing a big idea. But for us in TED’s post-production department, we see each talk as the final product of a complex recipe. The speaker and their words are the most important ingredient, of course. But there are other, less-obvious ingredients in the video too — like the TED intro, the thank-you to our sponsor, the closing outro video message, as well as the lines of text overlaying the video itself, called “lower thirds,” that contain the speaker’s name, the date and the location where the talk was given.

Recently, though, we realized that we baked in a few too many ingredients. We need a simpler video file with fewer extras tacked on. Which meant we need to remake our library of 1,700+ talk videos without those extras — starting from scratch with the…

View original 803 more words

Filed under: TED

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