Must Check Out App – Duolingo

duolingo-bannerI must say, I am completely addicted to this app. If you, or someone you know, is trying to improve their language skills then I highly recommend this app called Duolingo. Not only is it free, but you can play it on the go whether you have an iPhone, iPad, or Android device.

What’s So Great?

I’ve been playing Duolingo for the past 3 months and have to say that I haven’t seen a free language course like this one. It teaches you words, vocabulary, and conjugations in a fun way. Like any game, you get points the more you play, which of course, make you feel good inside. You get to interact using pictures, listening skills, and matching. Yes, it is as fun as it sounds!

How Does It Work?

Available in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, and – of course, why we are featuring it here – English. You will learn your first words once you download the app. Click on the pictures and listen to the pronunciation. Then match the words with the appropriate picture.

That’s not all, then you must listen to what is being said, and either write or match the words you hear. You may be doing translation, or writing what you hear in your native language. Be careful though, spelling, syntax and accents are being watched so be sure to pay close attention!

You will progress through different levels, but it’s important to go back and retake other levels to keep your points up – after all, we do forget after a while. Learn the words for different foods, animals, body parts, clothing, colors, and more.

Practice Makes Perfect

After a while, you may be like me muttering to myself in public with my headphones in pushing buttons and repeating words outloud. So the next time you see someone on their headphones talking to themselves, don’t be surprised if they are playing Duolingo.

Try it and let us know your thoughts! For more about learning English, check out the Learning English section for more information on how you can improve.


Commonly Confused Words: It’s all O”K”

texting148186581With words that originate from a variety of cultures and contexts, English has few obvious spelling rules.  As result of the strange and wonderful history of English a single letter can account for some interesting – and commonly confused words – word pairs. K, especially the silent kind (as in knife), is one such letter and here are a few of the most common mistakes to look out for:

Know / No
These two are pretty hard to confuse but, in the age of instant messaging and texting, native speakers do occasionally take a shortcut with the four-letter know and write it as the two-letter no. Just because native speakers do it does not make it right, however! Though the two sound the same they look nothing alike and the verb (know) should always have four letters – silent k and all.

Knew / New
These two words are more commonly confused, both rhyme with “shoe” and may sound exactly the same but there the similarities end. The k in knew, though silent, makes this the past tense of the verb “to know” (mentioned above), while the three-letter new is adjective meaning recent or fresh. To keep things straight just remember the following helpful hint: “A K is a very important letter – you just never knew it!”

Knead / Need
Although the k and a might throw you off, both of these sounds-alikes rhyme with “seed.” The five letter version, however, is only ever a verb,* while the four letter version can be both a verb and a noun. In that case “to need” is the same as “to require” and, in like manner, “a need” is the same as a requirement. Keep them apart using following trick: You may only see knead in a baker’s recipe but when you do you will certainly need it!

*And a very specific one at that, as it means to mix and combine bread dough.

Want to learn more about other confusing words? Check out our other blog posts on commonly confused words and our Learn English section.


Commonly Confused Words: Lighten Up and Take The Lead!

periodic table139690891Between words that look the same, sound the same, or just plain are the same, there are a lot of commonly confused words in English. Fortunately, with our help, you can keep these things clear – and, more importantly, correct. Here are a few word pairs that begin with the letter L:

Later / Latter
Though only a single letter separates these two adjectives, their pronunciations differ as much as their meanings. Later, with one t, means at a future time while latter, with two ts, means the second of two things. Thus you could say “If given the choice between studying math or English later, I would prefer the latter.”

Lead / Led
This pair is one of the most confusing imaginable. That is because not only do the two words have different meanings but one – lead – has two different pronunciations! Lead, when pronounced to rhyme with “red” is a noun describing a metal on the Periodic Table while lead, when pronounced to rhyme with “need” is a verb meaning to guide. Led, meanwhile, which always rhymes with “red” (as with the metal, above) is simply the past tense of to lead (as rhymes with need above). Whew! If you have all that, good job! Context will help you tell them apart but this sentence can help you remember the difference: “I didn’t need to lead but fortunately the red trail led to lead.”

Lessen / Lesson
Fortunately, these two are much easier than most to keep clear. Though they are pronounced almost exactly the same way, lessen is a verb meaning to reduce while lesson is a noun meaning what you learn. Hopefully this lesson has helped to lessen your worries about English!

Lightning / Lightening
All you need to do to keep these two apart is a little counting. That is because lightning – the name of the electrical flashes that happen during storms – has only two syllables while lightening – a form of the verb to lighten (as in to decrease in weight or color) – has three. The extra e in lightening changes the word from light-ning to something closer to lie-ten-ing and, of course, context will tell you which one to use. If it’s not raining you probably are not going to use the two syllable version!

Want to learn more about other confusing words? Check out our other blog posts on commonly confused words and our Learn English section.


Idioms In Depth: Idioms for Every (Part of the) Body!

big mouth164319275A lot of English idioms come from the things we see in the world around us every day. Because of this it makes sense that a lot of the most common expressions in the English language incorporate our bodies. Here are some of the most common idioms with body parts:

A Big Mouth
This idiom should need no translation. People who have big mouths, after all, can be found in every culture – and in each one they doubtless have difficulty keeping secrets! That is because “a big mouth” has nothing to do with volume and everything to do with discretion: “a big mouth” is the kind of person who talks too much and says things that are better left unsaid.

By Heart
We will be the first to admit that this one is a little counterintuitive. Indeed, while you might expect that “by heart” has something to do with emotion it actually has to do with memory. In fact, to know something “by heart” is to remember something perfectly. Maybe “by mind” just did not have the same ring to it!

To Cost an Arm and a Leg
While nothing really costs an arm and a leg it certainly seems that way when the price is very high. This is especially true when prices are rising (as in gas or gold) on things that we once cheaper. To help you remember, think of it this way: studying to improve your English may feel like it costs an arm and a leg but a good command of the English language can be priceless!

A Long Face
Unlike “to cost an arm and a leg,” “a long face” really can be long – or at least longer. This is because we use the idiom a long face to describe a frown or other sad expression which, when you compare it to a smile, actually makes the face a bit longer. Go ahead, put on “a long face” and try it out. With any luck you will see what we mean and that frown will not stay there for long!

Learning English isn’t easy! If you liked this blog, check out our other common idioms here.


English Exam Overviews: The ECPE

examen-michigan-ecpeWhile similar in name the ECCE exam (and likewise offered by Cambridge Michigan Language Assessment), as the following overview reveals the ECPE is a distinct exam designed to meet the needs at a unique subset of English language students.

What is the ECPE and what makes it unique?
Like its brother exam the ECCE, the ECPE was original developed by the University of Michigan and, accordingly, tests students on their mastery of American-style English and its conventions. This naturally makes it ideal for English as a Second Language students with an interest (or experience) in using English the United States for professional or academic purposes. The “P” in ECPE stands for Proficiency and this, indeed, has significant implications for would-be test-takers. Proficiency is in this case means that the exam is calibrated at the C2 – advanced – level and this makes it an ideal choice for university- or professional-minded test takers.

How is the ECPE scored?
Scoring on the ECPE shares make of the characteristics common to the Cambridge Michigan Language Assessment group of exams. That means that both the listening grammar, cloze, vocabulary, and reading (GCVR) sections of the test are scored electronically and reported on a scale that ranges from 0 to 1000 while the speaking and writing sections are assessed separately by human grades according to a pre-established rubric on a scale of A to E. While passing grades must be achieved in all areas to receive a certificate of proficiency, highest marks in all sections entitle a student to receive a “Certificate of Proficiency with Honors.”

Where can I take the exam and how do I register?
Though offered around the world, registering for the exam nevertheless requires advanced planning as the ECPE exam is administered at Cambridge Michigan Language Assessment test centers only two times each year. To find out more, check their list of approved testing centers in your area and contact the most convenient testing center directly. Of course, if you have any other questions about the make-up and layout of the exam check our full overview!