Let’s talk! questions and answers about acquiring English


in Let's Talk!

What would you like to know about acquiring English?

I created Successful English to help English learners – people like you – improve their English by themselves. To become autonomous, or independent. When I write, I try to answer three questions: what should they do? why is that important? how should they do it?

Today, I’d like to listen to your questions! What would you like to know? What would help you become a better English learner? If I believe an answer to your question will help you and others, I’ll answer it in a LEARN article sometime soon.

I know that some people hesitate to write on a web site like this, so here’s a little help:

  1. Click on Leave a Comment
  2. Begin your question with I would like to know.
  3. Choose a question word – who, what, when, where, why, or how.
  4. Finish your question.

It’s that easy! And you can ask as many questions as you want!

I’m looking forward to reading your questions.

Warren Ediger

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Jopher Lins May 27, 2010

I would like to know when use “in”, “on” or “at”?

Agnaldo Silva May 27, 2010

I would like to know about how study and Learn English while having fun .

Hiro May 27, 2010

Hi, Warren. Nice to see you. This is Hiro from Japan. I great appreciate your web site. Well, I would like to know how to improve my writing and speaking English. The reason I need the way is that I intend to take TOEFL test. Please let me know. Thanks in advance.

Ed. May 27, 2010

What is the difference between acquire a language and learn a language ?
What is extensive reading ?
How is possible a child first learn to speak and after to write ?
How to measure your English development ?

Antonio Guidi May 28, 2010

What is the difference among to say:
“I don’t have any money”
“I haven’t got any money”
“I don’t have money”
“I haven’t money”?
is it wrong the last one?

Mohammad May 28, 2010

Hi Warren,

I would like to know more abou the ways that we can monitore our progress? I know my English skills are getting better but how much? Which area I need to work more? And so on.

Rodrigo May 28, 2010

Hi Warren! How’s it going?
First, thanks for help us.
I’d like to know what method can you recommend us, in adition to read and listen as much as we can. I’ve been doing it for about a year and thanks to that I can write this post. I improved a lot since that. But I’m still having troubles, specialy when I try to listen americans talking a normal rate of speech. However, I can’t deny that your recomendations are really useful. But, if exists another so useful as yours, I’d like to know.
From the heart of South America, Paraguay!

Warren Ediger May 28, 2010

Jopher & Antonio – I don’t usually talk about grammar on SE because my focus is on the process of acquiring English and preparing for tests, like the TOEFL (I do talk about grammar with my students.). However, let me suggest a good place to go for help with grammar: it’s a simple site called Guide to Grammar and Writing.

Jopher, look in the Index for “prepositions”; Antonio, look at “non-count nouns” where they talk about “usage.” By the way, your first sentence is the best; the last one is wrong, as you thought.

Warren Ediger May 28, 2010

Interesting question Agnaldo! And it gives me an idea for a new article. Maybe I’ll call it The Pleasure Principle or The Ecstasy of English! I will write about it.

Warren Ediger May 28, 2010

Ed and Mohammad – That’s a very important question – how to monitor progress. And it’s one I’ve been working on. I will write about it soon.

Warren Ediger May 28, 2010

Ed – I wrote about acquisition/learning in The Basics; it’s article #1.

Did you Google “extensive reading” (remember, I’m trying to help you become independent)? There’s a good ER web site. Short answer: it’s the kind of reading I write and talk about, often called free voluntary reading. Look at the link at the bottom of The power of reading and listening.

Warren Ediger May 28, 2010

Hi, Rodrigo! I’m writing an article, probably for next week, that will answer at least part of your question. Meanwhile, you’re doing the right thing; keep doing it and be patient. BTW, you’re right: you’ve improved a lot!

Rodrigo May 28, 2010

Alright! I’ll be waiting! Thanks again!

Warren Ediger May 28, 2010

Hi, Hiro! Thanks for your note. I answered some of this in Rethinking the TOEFL. Our fluency comes from reading and listening, so that’s a must. In addition, we need to develop specific skills, like essay writing (in any language) and test-taking skills. I would suggest using a tutor to identify what you need to work on and how to improve the specific areas that you need help with.

The best TOEFL preparation book for developing academic skills is the Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT from ETS. You can order it from ETS, Amazon, and other online booksellers.

AREF May 31, 2010

Hi, Warren! very hot thanks for you at any subjects that’s you’re doing to help us. frankly I’m very comfortable to see this website, I just want to know can I test toefl from my home on the net or I must going to Examination Centres,If the answer was from my home ok Who will been sound speaker with me Automatic speaker or Man is on at a specific time to asking me.
the final question Where can I get the certificate toefl.

From yemen but I’m living in Saudi Arabia.
I hope to answer my questions as soon as possible.

Warren Ediger June 1, 2010

AREF – If you want general information about the TOEFL, look at this article. This page – TOEFL Practice Test – will give you all the details about the practice test. After you get to that page, click on Practice Test Details.

Andreu Martínez June 3, 2010


Warren I’m a follower of your website. I’m a person who is trying to do two things:

* Get an advanced English level living in a country where Spanish and Catalan are the dominant languages (it’s a long race, I know it).

* Learn how to learn and acquire a language (for improve the way how I’m learning English).

So I could say that I have got along the last years a good knowledge with regard this subject (how to acquire and learn a foreign language).

… [this comment was edited] …

I want to explain you that I started with [the ESL Podcast] that you mention in your website, and was via this web and via Jeff that I found out your web. I want to say that Jeff and Lucy are excellent teachers and have an excellent website that I totally recommend.

Thank you very much for your advices, your work and for help us.

Best regards,

Mohammad June 6, 2010

Hi Warren,

I liked your idea about importance of reading in acquire a language. Now I got the habbit of reading at least 15 minutes every night! However, I have two questions. First I was wondering if reading a scientific paper (or books in my research area) can work as well. Second, when I read books I don’t know some words. Still I am not sure if I should look them up in dictionary or not. Also, sometimes I read some sentences which I like their structure I am wondering if it is a good idea to write them down somewhere and use them for my writing later.
And finally, usualy it is said the most important thing in improving your speaking or writing skills is to think in English. Do you have any idea about that?


Mehrdad June 6, 2010

Hi, Warren! It was my pleasure to meet you the day before yesterday. Really thanks for your invaluable points.
I would like to know what the best way to watch a movie (in CD or DVD) is. I mean if it is better to watch it with or without subtitle. If you recommend subtitles please mentionif it is better to choose English or my language’s subtitle.
Best regards,

Warren Ediger June 6, 2010

Mohammad – Congratulations on your reading habit! It’s the best investment you could make in the development of your English.

Yes, you’ll benefit from reading scientific papers – from reading anything – as long as you can understand what you’re reading. Generally we consider 5% or fewer unfamiliar words acceptable (5 or fewer unfamiliar words out of every 100 words).

I’m working on an article that will give a more complete answer about using a dictionary. My short answer is to be patient, keep reading, and trust your brain to accumulate what it needs to acquire unfamiliar words. After you see them a few times, they will become “yours.”

The problem with writing down sentences is that you will rarely encounter a situation in which that exact structure is needed. Again, trust your brain’s natural ability to acquire things, like sentence structures, as you read and listen. If you do, they will ultimately be available to you when you need them.

The most important thing for improving your speaking and writing is listening and reading. As you acquire more English, you will have less need to depend on your first language.

Warren Ediger June 6, 2010

Thank you, Mehrdad. It was a delight to meet you and Sanaz last week.

In general, I don’t encourage the use of subtitles for a couple of reasons: (a) they aren’t always exactly the same as the words being spoken; and (b) in my opinion, they add “noise” to the program or movie and most of them are already noisy naturally (Noise is something that distracts, or takes our attention away from something else.).

I think subtitles would be most helpful for watching slower-paced movies or programs, where there is less action and more time for your mind to process all the information. The best thing to do is to choose programs or movies that can be understood without subtitles.

If you do use subtitles, they should be English. English learners should avoid strategies that require them to go back and forth between English and their first language (and English classes should be taught in English). They should experience English in a way that is understandable – using simple English at first and “graduating” to more difficult English as they improve.

namcuahiem June 7, 2010

Hi Warren.
. I have a question about reading and listening English.
When I have a new podcast or audio, first I listen it several times without reading until I understand the main idea. Sometimes there are some new words (I don’t understand the meaning) or words that I don’t know how to spell it in the podcast. Then I read the full transcript while listening, but I always feel bored when I do this.
Should I continue to read and listen at the same time?
. Another question I have is about Vocabulary, how to review new words?
When I find new words by reading or listening, There are 2 choices:
1- Find the meaning and write it down and review everyday (maybe occasionally)
2- Just understand the meaning of it and the main idea of the topic, and maybe I’ll see it again somewhere. When the times are enough, as you said, it will be mine.
Can you give me a suggestion? [ … comment edited … ]
SuccessfulEnglish.com is really great. Thank you, Warren Ediger.

Warren Ediger June 7, 2010

Thank you, namcuaheim. What would help you the most to understand the podcast? Reading and listening at the same time? If so, that’s what I would recommend. After that, if you want to read and/or listen to it some more, go ahead; you’ll pick up a little more English each time. But don’t do it so often that you get bored. You’ll acquire more English when you enjoy the process.

Have you read the little article – Inside the brain – that I wrote about what happens when we read or listen? It’s an imaginary look inside the brain, but it’s based on what we know about the process. I think that will help answer your question. In general, I suggest being patient. If you keep reading and listening, you will see or hear those words again. Each time the connection will get stronger until, as you said, it becomes “yours.”

I’ll take a look at the web site you mentioned. A note for everyone: as a matter of policy, I don’t permit links to other web sites in comments. You can read my comment policy in ABOUT.

Warren Ediger June 7, 2010

I want to thank everyone for the questions! I will answer several of them – those that need longer answers – in LEARN in the next week or two. Check back in a day or two for the first one. If you want to be notified, subscribe to the SE Twitter or RSS feeds; to do that, click on FOLLOW at the top of the page.

Comments on this topic will close in about three days.

Warren Ediger

Comments on this entry are closed.

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