Friday, 31 July 2009

Learning Method: How to improve your English skills? (Reading)

Chapter 3: The Shortcuts for improving your reading skills

There are two kinds of reading: one for leisure purpose, one for work/test purpose.

For leisure purpose, what you should focus is the understanding of the story. Say, you are reading a novel, do take your time and re-read a paragraph, or a page, or even a chapter if you have missed out something. If you have words you do not know, always try to deduce the meanings from the context. Unlike in a test or exam, author usually do not offer tips and hints, but it is worth trying because you will remember better if you try guessing. If there are too many words you do not know, don't check dictionary for every word yet, only look them up if you see the same word appearing again and again. Of course, don't expect to read the book only once. You should expect to read the book three times to complete the entire process of learning and understanding. Re-reading shouldn't bother you if that is really a good book.

For work or test purpose, there are many types of approach because there are various aims or question types which you need to tackle. I have techniques on handling different types of questions but what I want to share is the general approach.

Say, you can forsee a busy month just around the corner and you soon need to work overtime for many days before the deadline, what you could do now is to train yourself to read faster. Now when I say "train", it means you have to practise continuously. I took about a month of practice almost every weekday whenever I read (eg. blogs, magazines, newspapers, food menus, etc.) to finally acquire considerable increase in my reading speed. There are so many benefits for reading fast:

  1. You can get the key points much faster, thus avoid reading non-useful information.
  2. You can use the same amount of time used in your normal reading and read twice with your increased reading speed.
  3. You spend less time to complete all your formal reading tasks.

So what is my tip? Listen up.

You need to understand that your brain can actually function quite fast, and your eyes can move faster than you can understand, so my tip is to train your eyes to move faster than your mouth or your brain. How much faster? Just enough for you to maintain understanding, so it should be around 20% faster every two weeks for a month. So by the end of the month, if you have been practising well, you should be able to increase your reading speed by 44%.

Once you have acquired this skill, you can imagine your working performance to have a similar amount of increase.

Some people can even apply the same technique and expand it even more to reading lines of words at a time or a paragraph at a time. Well, I can't do that just yet so I am not sure if this is achievable, but I can definitely read much much faster than word for word now.

So, practise more! And enjoy working fast!

Next entry: Chapter 4: The Shortcuts for improving your writing skills

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Learning Method: How to improve your English skills? (Speaking)

Chapter 2: The Shortcuts for improving your speaking skills

When it comes to speaking, many learners think that you must have a partner to speak to in order to practise and improve. My answer is, you should, but not a must. Having someone to speak to, like an English teacher, definitely would benefit you because you should receive feedback from them, and the feedback should be trustworthy. If you don't have an English teacher, get a friend who can speak English well, such as ABC, BBC, CBC, etc. and meet up once a week for lunch or dinner, and all you need is to offer them a treat. If you don't have friends like that, make one! (This is particularly beneficial to the single) However, no matter what, you can still apply the tips which I am going to share with you.

Tip 1: Sing! Sing! Sing!

Singing songs and you will learn to acquire accents, intonation, linking, assimilation and liaison skills. This is a great way to practise even if you have no one to speak to. (This answers the comment on the previous entry) My sister has never been to America, but she has a great American accent, because she sings, sings and sings American songs. You'll be surprised how native you can sound if you apply this method! And the best about this tip is, it is almost at $0. So this tip is always the top of my shortcut list.

Tip 2: Read out a story book loud!

Get a book that you are interested and read out loud! Why?

  1. You will mostly be reading something authentic.
  2. It helps to enhance your level of comprehension as you need to understand the mood and the atmosphere before reading out correctly.
  3. It helps to expand your vocabulary pool.
  4. You don't need a partner.
  5. Even if you don't like reading books, you will gradually fall in love with this really good habit.

Tip 3: Read out a grammar book loud!

This tip has the benefits of Tip 2's point 1 and 4, and in addition to that,

  1. it should be grammar proof (and this is usually not guaranteed for novels or story books).
  2. It helps to improve your grammar while reading, thus killing two birds with one stone.

Tip 4: Speak to your self!

This tip is taken from IELTS preparation. Quoting from the website:

Remember that students can also practise speaking on their own. Even though there is no response or feedback, simply speaking gives the opportunity to try different ways of saying things, which can help to increase confidence. Describing what you see around you and what is happening in the street when you walk or drive somewhere, predicting the events of the day in the morning and then remembering them at night, even telling yourself what you need, and why, as you walk around the supermarket: all these give additional practice in expressing ideas in English and ‘loosening the tongue’.

Next entry: Chapter 3: The Shortcuts for improving your reading skills


Friday, 24 July 2009

Learning Method: How to improve your English skills? (Listening)

Chapter 1: The Shortcuts for improving your listening skills

Tip 1: Know your listening materials.
Many learners are too eager to improve their listening skills, they grab whatever might look useful and spend hours and hours practising it. In the end, they took the long distance route. There are a few problems to this:

  1. It might be too difficult.
  2. It might be too easy.
  3. It might be too boring.
  4. It might be too stupid.
  5. It might not be enriching, thus it doesn't benefit the learner.
  6. It might offer strange accents (they often do).
  7. It might not meet your personal needs.

There might be more problems to just the 7 listed above, which is why it is crucial to know your materials before you start.

Tip 2: Know your needs (strengths and weaknesses), choose the right stuff.

Simply, put it, if you don't know your problems, how do you know what materials will help?

Tip 3: Begin with a variety of topics, test your level while discovering your interest.

Once you know what your problems are, you can focus on choosing the right materials to use. However, very often I get "attitude" students, who tell me "I don't like this" or "This is not my cup of tea" before they even try. How do they know they what "tea" suits them if they don't try? Having a prejudice on the once "not-my-cup-of-tea" seriously limited the choice one has. How can one be so sure that they haven't improved their taste over the years? There are always surprises when you allow yourself to expose to more. Once you have found your new interests or new loves, you will improve two times better than you normally do.

Tip 4: Always pick listening materials a little harder than you can cope with.

There is no point you keep practising with CDs or sound clips that you can handle or that are too difficult. Too easy and you don't learn at all; too difficult and your confidence will be at risk. Think of it as challenging MJ's moonwalk before you can walk.

Tip 5: Listen to English songs, whenever you can.

It doesn't matter whether you are concentrating or not, just play the songs, for your leisure or for background music, or just to make your home less quiet. There are both conscious learning and unconscious learning, babies in wombs learn with the latter. You are not too late to do the same.

Tip 6: Listen to (if no time to watch) English drama series, movies, news reports, TV ads, anything.

Like Tip 5, you don't have to pay special attention to it, but always have the sounds around you. This allows you to familiarise with the SPA (Separation, Pace, Accents), these are the problems which can be solved by continuous exposure. If you want native speakers to speak to you, they are always hiding inside your TV screen. This may not be environmental friendly, but who knows, maybe you will understand or enjoy the programs very soon!

All these tips have been applied and shown that they work. Try them out today!

Next entry: Chapter 2: The Shortcuts for improving your speaking skills

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Learning Method: How to improve your English skills? (Introduction)

Learning Method: How to improve your English skills? (Introduction)

Which kind of learner are you?
Let me give you 3 choices:

  1. You are too busy to practise.
  2. You are not so busy but you are too unmotivated to practise your English.
  3. You are not so busy and you spend lots of time to practise, but with no success.
If you belong to group 1, you need to realise that you may still have free time, just that you don't realise. If you realise it, you will fall into group 2 or 3.

If you fall in group 2, you need to ask yourself why you are not motivated, and find a good reason to motivate yourself again. I learn Italian and Spanish simply because I want to watch the Italian Serie A (soccer) and Spanish La Liga (soccer) on TV in their native language, because the English commentary is often not original enough.

There could be many reasons why you belong to this group: maybe you belonged to group 3 in the past, but because you have no success in learning English, so you have almost given up; maybe you don't find learning English interesting; maybe there are others things more immediate and more urgent for you to learn, so learning English is in a lower position in your priority list.

If you fall into group 3, you must read on, this is an entry for you.

I believe that sometimes, there are short-cuts to learning, the question is, does anyone bother to spend time to think of one?

I love to think, observe, rethink, and put the methods into trial, if they work for someone, I will share them. They might not work for everybody, but it is worth a try.


Practise, practise, practise. Every skill comes with continuous practise, from tying shoe laces to producing a piano, no exceptions. You want to win, you need to do homework, put in effort.

At the same time, you must understand that, very often, your gain is not proportional to your level of devotion. That's life! (Can you think of an example to support this?) So if you want to succeed, you must have the will to continue even if you keep failing, and have the mind to persevere even if you feel down and upset. This is never easy, but many people have succeeded, so there is no reason why you can't.

Once you have made your own promise, then you can go and apply the methods or shortcuts.

What are the shortcuts then? Stay connected to this blog (will be out soon)!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Websites: Hong Kong Observatory

Typhoon MOLAVE at 23:12 HKT 18 July 2009

This is one of my favourite websites. I must visit this website at least 3 times a day. Once in the morning, because I need to know if it will rain in the morning (to bring an umbrella, or not to bring); Once in the afternoon, to see if there will be typhoon heading Hong Kong (no need to work but get paid?); once before I leave the office / school, to check out the Air Pollution Index (Mongkok is a very polluted area).

But what I have done most with this website, of course, is learning.

Summer is here and you will need to equip yourself with some weather terms. So, what's there to learn?

1. learn to read Satellite images: Click me[1]

A number of satellites provide images of the movement of the clouds, so you can predict the likely weather of the next few days by YOURSELF!!! The images can be played in animation sequence and that button is a must press.

2. learn to read the lightning location information: Click me[2]

On this page, HKO combines the Google map and time colour dots to show you where the lightning hits, both cloud-to-ground and cloud-to-cloud (can be selected by yourself), thus you can have a better idea how far the storm / rain is from Hong Kong. Umbrella or Non-umbrella?

3. learn interesting phenomenon and their names: Click me[3]

Here you can see a series of satellite images of the past and get to learn some terms of some really special phenomenon while reading.

4. Get a feeling of how the wind blows in Hong Kong: Click me[4]

Want to see how wind blows in different regions in Hong Kong? This is a must go.

5. Get to see different severe weather information: Click me[5]

Here you will get to see the severe weather around the world, such as Tropical Cyclones, Heavy Rain/Snow and Thunderstorms.

6. Find out the regional temperature in Hong Kong: Click me[6]

Want to know what to wear in the morning? You will need to use this page to check the temperature of the places you are heading. By clicking on the name of the district, you can see the temperature plotted against time.

7. Learn to scale temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and other weather: Click me[7]

You will be surprised to see how many different terms to do with raining there are.

I'll leave it to you guys to go and check out.


"You learn better if you find out your own answer." -- Locky

Resources:[1][2][3][4][5][6] [7]

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Vocabulary: Hairstyle Terminology

I remember that around a year ago, one of my students asked me some vocabulary on hairstyle, and I got her a website to read. What I really should have done, was to pick out the most popular ones and elaborate a big more on them, but I failed to do so. Now my blog is up and running, it’s about time to write an entry about it.
First of all, let’s go into the common hairstyles in Hong Kong.

Bangs (US/Canadian) /Fringe
the cutting of the front part of the hair up to or just above the eye brows level. The girl below has blunt cut bangs.

Crew-cut / Buzz Cut / Butch Cut
A close shave on the sides of the head with a short cut on the top.

Once very popular because of the guy you see from the picture. Similar to Mohawk but without the close shave at the sides and very long spikes on the top.

Finger wave
Doesn’t that look like hair twisted with your own fingers?

French braid
Three sections crossed above one another.
French Braid in the making, accompanied by a ponytail
Image from

Japanese Hair Straightening / Rebonding (SE Asia)

Curly hair to straight hair that can poke through your paper!

Hime Cut

Long straight hair below the shoulders + a cut above the shoulders + bangs at eyebrow level.

Nina Wang Kung Yu Sum’s pigtails.

Pixie Cut
shorter hair on the back and sides of the head but longer on the top.
Image from fashionindie

One bunch of hair tied up at the back of the head.

Like Claire Bennet in Heroes the TV series? Isn’t this the style you see around you all the time? If not, check the nearest newsstand for any Japanese fashion magazine.

Stay curious and you’ll learn more vocabulary!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Environment: Glass Recycling

Hotels unite to recycle glass containers (2008/11/17)

A new recycling programme targeting glass containers was officially launched today (November 17), adding new momentum to the Green Hong Kong effort.

“This event is only an important start and we hope that glass recycling can be further extended to more hotels or other sectors in the near future,” the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, said when officiating at the launching ceremony at Piazza of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

“The recycling of glass containers helps reduce waste and conserve natural resources” he said.

The Glass Container Recycling Programme for Hotel Sector is a trade-funded voluntary recycling programme. Eleven hotels - the Eaton, Four Seasons, Grand Hyatt, InterContinental, Langham Place Mongkok, Mandarin Oriental, JW Marriott, The Peninsula, Renaissance Harbour View, Renaissance Kowloon and Sheraton - have volunteered to jointly organise and fund the programme.

Administered by the Hong Kong Hotels Association, the programme aims to recover and recycle beverage glass containers generated by the participating hotels in the course of business. They are large in quantity and easier to handle.

The glass containers collected from the participating hotels will be delivered to a glass recycler in Tuen Mun where they will be crushed into glass sand to replace natural river sand in the production of paving blocks.

EPD's Press Release

Now is this enough? My parents returned to Hong Kong and have recently threw away more than10 glass bottles because they were red wine lovers. Mum also cleaned the kitched and threw away the bottles of
  1. soy sauce,
  2. chilli bean sauce,
  3. curry sauce,
  4. Japanese Ramune,
  5. eye cream,
  6. Italian tomato sauce, etc.
If one family as green as mine must throw away so many bottles, how many bottles do we need to throw away for 2 millions of families in Hong Kong?

Is it really so difficult to add another plastic collector bin next to the existing yellow, blue and brown ones?

I've found another website which lists out the collection points for glass and others, but the locations are so remote. If you have no car, you will have a hard time carrying the glass around.

I've also found an entry replied by the consultant of the company mentioned in the article printed above, reading it really gives me a feeling of how "helpful" the government is.

"Hi Ching,

Thank you for your compliments and words of encouragement.

We are taking the initiative to protect the environment by recycling waste glass and waste glass bottles. However, in doing so, our production cost will be higher than if we are to use river sand for the production of ourenvironmentally-friendly paving blocks. In using glass sands, we have to grind the waste glasses into very fine particles of less than 3 mm in diameter, at which dimension the glass sands would become non-abrasive and safe to handle. This is a much costly method to produce our paving blocks.

Despite of the higher cost, our company has decided to use recycled glass because our company, being a responsible corporate citizen of HK, should be contributing back to HK. We should take the lead to protect the environment and try to set an example that the private sector should not always put cost inthe first place but rather should join forces with the Government to clean upthe environment.

The companies and individuals who donate their waste glass bottles to us understand our constraints. Therefore they clean the glass bottles and deliver them to our factory, because if we are to provide the transportation the cost will become overly inhibitive. In taking an active role to assist us, they are able to encourage us to continue this ¡§money-losing¡¨ operation. We hope that in due course other companies can join us in the recycling of wastes that have no commercial values.

Our factory¡¦s address is DD. 134, Lung Kwu Sheung Tan, Tuen Mun . We would appreciate that donors are to call our company at tel: 26698166 before they come to give us the cleaned waste glass bottles.

Besides recycling waste glasses, we are exploring the possibility of recycling of construction and demolition wastes. If you should find this project of interest, we shall be pleased to keep you posted of our developments.

We are most pleased to note that you have made such a good effort to set up a blog and team up with a niche of eco-concern citizens. It is with the collaboration of environmentally-conscious people like yourselves that we can move forward for the betterment of the environment.

With warm regards,
Henry Chiu
Laputa Eco-construction Material Co. Ltd.


When will the goverment finally go and help these eco-friendly companies? My girlfriend keeps saying that the plastics we put into the recycle bins are actually thrown to the dump sites like all other trash, I don't want to believe that to be true.


grind -- to make sth into smaller pieces by pressing between hard surfaces
abrasive -- not sharp
constraint -- limits
in due course -- at a suitable time in the future
demolition waste -- waste from torn buildings
niche -- a place suitable for people of the same interests
eco-concern -- care about the the environment
betterment --improvement

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Slang: Red Hot Hong Kong Slang's English Equivalent (Updated)
(Updated on 10th July 2009)
Apart from all those "cool" benefits I mention in the class about the use of slang, I guess people just have a natural, inborn appetite for slang, all sorts of slang.
Anyway, here I would like to share the red-hot Hong Kong slang’s English equivalent and some direct translated words with you.
HK Slang
Direct Translation
parts of speech
English Equivalent
gag / joke
"O" Zeoi2
O Mouth
“Body check”
medical checkup
Ceoi1 Seoi2
Blow water
to chatter / to talk rubbish
verb / noun
to stamp (on a envelope)
Ceot1 Maau1
Out cat
to cheat in an exam / a test
Faat3 Mui4
Rich Mould
to mould
to flick
Fu4 Luk1
Symbol work
Gaau1 Soei2 Fai3
to pay water bill
to pay the water bill / to urinate
Gau3 Daam2
to have gall bladder
to have guts / to be daring
Gau3 Goeng1
to have ginger
to have guts / to be daring
Gu1 Lei1
to hack (around) / to kill time / to slack
Hoeng1 Gong2 Goek3
Hong Kong Foot
Athlete’s foot
Lousy / Tacky
discount or special offer
Sau1 Dou3 Fung1
Got wind
to get the wind of sth
Syu4 Mak1
Potato brand
to slice / to chop
to vomit after gettinig drunk
Zoek3 Cou2
Wear grass
to exile / to be on the run
Here are some examples of Chinglish which are used by English speaking countries:
Special thanks to Maggie for helping me in this entry.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Book: English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy

English Grammar in Use

Some of you who graduated from my earlier courses should have heard of this book from me, but if you haven't, here's my recommendation.

Not everybody likes grammar, especially when most people believe that grammar is dull, tedious and difficult. Well, I can't disagree more. I find grammar really interesting, because I see it as Mathematical formulas in the English world.

This book by Raymond Murphy, has got to be the best book around for grammar. It has a few version, but generally, I would recommend by students to take a look into the Intermediate ones to see if it is suitable for you before you purchase the advanced level.

What I really like about this book, is that it has all the grammar points clearer laid out, which is particularly useful when it comes to learning different ways of using tenses.

It comes with simple exercises for your practice, adequate for one to gain full understanding after each practice. Some versions of this book come with answers or CDs, so you will have to look into your budget before purchasing.

You can also take a look at 3 Units of this book through this link by Amazon.

This book is actually one of many in the series, so if you are looking for more questions to work on, you may also want to take a look inside the Supplementary Exercises books.

I know that there are also Chinese-translated versions in the bookstores. I don't know how good they are after translation, but you may also want to compare the English and the Chinese before buying.

Whatever your decision is, this is definitely a best-buy for anyone who must improve their written or spoken grammar.

What are you waiting for? Get your Sunday book now!! Joint Publishing and Commercial Press are having great offers with HSBC credit card and coupons!


Picture resources:

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Education: Analysis of HKALE Use of English Results 2009

This year's HKALE results were released on the 30th June 2009. I guess apart from the parents, nobody really care much about this news, but for me, I am really interested in the performance of the students in their English papers. And so I hurried to the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority website, and read up on the official press release.

And this is what I read,

"This year, a total of 38,647 candidates entered the examination, representing an increase of 1% on last year. Of the total candidature, 74.9% attempted the examination for the first time and 22.9% entered as private candidates."

"Same as last year 0.9% day school first attempters attained A for AS Use of English while the percentage of candidates receiving E or above was 76.4%, representing an increase of 2.1% over last year."

And take a look at the following table, I added the TOTAL column myself:

Analysis of Results of Day School First Attempters in Use of English


Okay, what can you see from the above data? Does that look pretty nice? From the first sight, I felt like, "that's not too bad!" They are almost all big number! So, like the press release, they are doing better! 2.1% more students passing is really a lot!!!

But then a careful look, hang on! This is acculumated percentage table!!! They just add up the percentages as it goes from left to right, so if you want to find the real percentage for each grade, you need to minus the big number from right to left, so it should loook like this:


From here, you can see much better than, well, yeah, the percentage of students getting Grade F has lowered by 2.2%, and almost half of these have gone to Grade E, while the rest are distributed to the Grade B,C and D. But still, I am more demanding than just the B,C or Ds, so I pretty much only care about the Grade A students.

Why hasn't the percentage gone up? You see, less than 1 percent of the students are getting Grade A, that means 38647 x 74.9% x 0.9% = 2605.19427 --> 2605 first attempters got Grade A for Use of English.

Is that a big or a small number?

I don't know, we take total area of Hong Kong (6054.5 and then see how often you will meet someone who got a Grade A for their Use of English (6054.5 / 2605 = 2.3 per, which is roughly 2.3 of them per 140 standard football fields (0.105 km*0.068 km = 0.00714 in Hong Kong.

You will get to meet 2.3 of them in per 140 standard football fields??? The chance is that you won't be able to see them even if you are standing on flat ground of the same area.

Anyway, less than 1% is really low. I will only go for this percentage if you ask me choose this or the lottery.

But of course, I am being too picky, there are many others who can speak good English, so you shouldn't be upset about not being able to find someone to speak English to.

However, my point is, say, 3 years later, when these 2605 students have graduated from universities, what is their contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) going to be?

FYI, they are 0.0372% of the estimated 7 millions Hong Kong population.

Cruely speaking, if only the top English speakers would have a hopeful future (which is definitely unlikely), the future looked pretty grim. Luckily, Mandarin is playing a more and more crucial part of the money world. So my advice is, if these Secondary School students really cannot handle English, they must go and master their Mandarin.

Either way, they both take hard work and lots of practices, that's for sure!