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The key to understanding English tenses!

29 Jan 2013

Every language has some difficult bit.

It's that one aspect of the language that you'll be working on over and over again the whole time that you're learning it.

For English, it's verb tenses.

Counting the way the teachers usually do, English has 14-16 tenses. (There's many ways to count them!)

No matter what the exact number - the point is that English has a very complex verb system. I get TONS of questions from English learners about which tense is correct in a particular sentence.

A couple weeks ago, during one of our English lessons over voice chat, a learner (Hi Marcin!) asked me:

Why did you say: "I was using it as an example?" Why not: "I used it as an example?" You weren't talking about it very long - shouldn't it be past simple instead of past continuous?

The answer is actually quite simple. And it ISN'T a grammar explanation. ;-) Really! I won't need to draw a picture or show you a chart.

In fact, all this confusion comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about English tenses, which itself stems from years and years of teachers explaining the tenses in a particular way.

Today, I'm finally going to clear up this misunderstanding!

Read more to learn the key to understanding English tenses!

Vlog: Dziękuję i zapraszam na rozmowy po angielsku

24 Mar 2012

Tylko chciałbym podziękować wszystkim za świetną odpowiedź na mój ostatni blog i filmik. I zapraszam Was na nasze cotygodniowe rozmowy po angielsku na Bibliobirdzie.

Oto jest harmonogram spotkań na czacie głosowym i instrukcje, żeby połączyć się z serwerem.

British vs. American English

13 Mar 2012

I frequently receive emails or comments like:

I just started learning English but it's British English. Will I have trouble communicating with someone from the USA? Can you easily understand British people? What is the difference between American and British English?

It's true that there are lots of dialects (I wrote about my dialect a while back), accents and other variations of English (ex. creoles, such as Jamaican).

But is the variation of English that you learn important?

Read more for my response! Virtual English school

13 Dec 2011
GoEnglishGo Logo

Real world English schools are great. You enter a new environment where the primary language is English. It's easy to forget that you're still in your native country. And you get to make new friends who also share your passion and interest in English.

But traveling to an English class is also very inconvenient. Depending on where you live and work, it probably takes considerable time to get there. And when you leave, the English lesson ends. You might have a homework assignment, but outside the magic of the classroom, it's less compelling.

With a virtual school, you lose the effect of the environment and much of the social interaction. But you are able to study at any time of the day or night. And you don't have to lose any time traveling there!

This article is about an online language school,, which is run by an American from Texas, who now lives in Kraków, Poland.

(Full disclosure: while the founder of this school is a personal friend of mine, I'm not receiving any monetary benefits or commissions for writing this review.)

Read more the full review!

English: Our borrowed language

18 Oct 2011

This is a guest post written by Alice Cuninghame on behalf of St Georges International. For students keen to learn English, learn French or learn German London language school SGI provides a great mix of top-class teaching and facilities and a vibrant social programme.

Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw, capital of Poland. Photo by Henri Sivonen.

English is often referred to as a ‘mongrel’ language. It borrows words from other languages shamelessly, sometimes keeping them as they are, sometimes adapting them to make truly English words.

English has its roots in the Germanic family of languages, which includes German, Dutch and most of the Scandinavian languages. Unlike those languages, it borrows heavily from others outside the ‘family’. For historical reasons, French and Latin have had a particularly strong influence on English over the years.

More surprising is that English borrows some words from distant Poland. Increasingly, Polish borrows from English too. That is less surprising, given the worldwide domination of the English language, and the large numbers of Polish migrants heading to the UK in recent years.

Read more for some examples of Polish words in English!

"Black Is the Color" - A folk song

13 May 2011
Read this text with BiblioBird!

I heard this song for the first time when I was in Ireland in 2004. It's a folk song of unknown origin but most likely from Scotland because of the reference to the Clyde. Like most folk songs, no two versions are exactly alike and my version is no exception. :-)

Watch me perform "Black Is the Color":

Read the lyrics below!

Do English speakers make mistakes on purpose?

19 Apr 2011
Read this text with BiblioBird!
Ad for print shop in a newspaper
Language mistakes can be ironic! Photo by hugovk on Flikr.

I recently received the following message from VloganieToTakieDanie on YouTube:

Hello, David

I was thinking about something recently: making language mistakes on purpose. In Poland, many people get annoyed when someone makes a language mistake, especially when it's a very common mistake. We hardly ever make mistakes on purpose and when we do, it's only as a joke.

In English, I see mistakes made on purpose quite often, such as in the title of the Timbaland song "The way I are" or when I hear someone say "we gonna" instead of "we're gonna." Don't native English speakers get irritated when they hear such things? I'd like to know the general opinion as well as your opinion.

Have a nice day,

Read more for my response!

5 English mistakes commonly made by Poles

12 Apr 2011
Read this text with BiblioBird!
Mistake? Or genius!? Photo by Tuija Aalto

While teaching English in Poland and having language exchanges with Polish people over Skype, I've noticed that there are a few English mistakes that a lot of Poles seem to make.

While other nationalities certainly make these mistakes too, because of my familiarity with Polish, in most cases I can point to some characteristic of the Polish language that the speaker could be transferring to English.

Don't worry, none of the mistakes I'm going to discuss are critical! Native speakers will still understand, even if you make a few of these mistakes. :-)

Read more to see five mistakes that Poles commonly make when speaking or writing English!

Milwaukee, Wisconsin's unique English dialect

1 Feb 2011
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Dog wearing cheesehead
An average cheesehead from Wisconsin. Photo by Chrissy Wainwright.

There are several English dialects. Within the United States, these dialects don't vary that much, but there are differences.

I'm from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has its own peculiar dialect. It's starting to die out now that most young people speak a more standard version of English. Even so, everyone can still understand it.

Read more to learn about some of the unique phrases in my dialect of English!

Vlog: Jak uczyć się angielskiego w ten sam sposób jak uczę się polskiego

4 Dec 2010

Dzisiaj znowu mówię o tym jak uczyłem się języka polskiego i przedstawiam, mój projekt dla nauki języków obcych (na razie tylko języka angielskiego). Też mam prezenty dla wszystkich, którzy utwarzają konto na stronie do jedenastego grudnia. Obejrzyj filmik, żeby dowiedzieć się więcej!

Czytaj transkrypcję poniżej.