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Updated: 2016-09-13

TIPS & TRICKS ...for Learning  

中国版本  Francais


Learning to learn effectively, in both time and effort, is becoming ever more important in today's Global Village... a society based on knowledge rather than as previously on ownership of land or manufacturing.  These Tips & Tricks are offered to help you improve not only your learning skills, but also your English vocabulary and more importantly English speaking skills.


We wish you success in your journey to higher knowledge... and improved skills sets.



It's not what is poured into
a student that counts,
but what is planted.
Linda Conway
A mind is a fire to be kindled,
not a vessel to be filled.

Use "an" or "a" ?

Seems that many students are confused as to which one to use as they practice their grammar... and their conversational skills.


Well here's an easy way to help you remember:



So if a word starts with one of these letters (a e i o u), then you must use "an"... usually.  Just remember that language is transitional, that it changes based on the region from which the person came from.  So it is possible to hear, and even read, something like "an hour ago", even though "h" is not one of the "a e i o u" group. 


Fun and "safe" practice to one and all.



Memorize or Understand ?

Many students love language competitions, especially English language competitions, or maybe they're pushed by their parents. So it is only natural that these "competitors" memorize as many stories or speeches as possible so that they can "appear" fluent. And of course there is always the belief that winners of such competitions have an advantage over others in getting into a better school.

Notice we say "appear" ! Memorizing and understanding are not the same thing.

Memorizing serves to remember things that are important. 

Think of a fantastic poem that you read... maybe it motivates you... maybe it will make it easier for you to find that perfect lady.


Think of some facts or information that you need to use over and over in your studies and/or work, even in your career. These are things to memorize.

Memorizing without understanding the meaning of what you are reciting will not / not make it easier for you to create intelligent sentences as you communicate with others.


Understanding leads not only to better communications, but also to higher levels of passion and creativity... and, eventually, wisdom.

Confucius understood this :

"I hear and I forget.

I see and I remember.

I do and I understand."

It is even more important in today's global society !




Understanding a Story... HOW TO...

  1. Read the story a first time to enjoy and get some understanding. 

  2. Read a second time and underline words or phrases that you do not understand.

  3. Review the vocabulary until you understand the meaning of the words and phrases, and the whole story.  Keep in mind that individual word meanings may change once they are combined with other words such as in a phrase.

  4. Use a dictionary if you need to.

  5. Now re-read the story a third time.

  6. Circle what you think are the "keywords" in the story.

  7. Write down the "keywords" or phrases on a separate paper.

  8. Using the "keywords" and/or phrases, write down a few sentences that will describe the story in "short form" to someone else. This can also be done verbally... if you have the advanced skill set.

This is called writing a "summary", a "brief" or a "synopsis". 


It can be used for any writing that you come across and that you wish to share with others, who may not have the patience or time to read the original piece.

This skill set is also very useful in other communication situations and would give you an advantage over others when seeking employment.


Note that you can use this technique as a first "step" to quickly improve your communication skills by combining it with the MP3 speaking exercise highlighted below.


Happy reading... and speaking !





Learning Basics - Studying

Learning is a stressful activity for many people who find it very difficult to study, to remember and eventually to understand.

Learning Basics involve not just the techniques and tasks, but also the attitude that you bring to learning. This segment talks about the task of studying.


Think back to those times when you were in front of a teacher-trainer-professor.

As the teacher speaks, you try to force your mind to remember what is being said and to understand the knowledge presented. The teacher is busy either talking a mile a minute or writing on the white board (blackboard?). so much information, so little time. And you end up being too busy writing notes as you try to also listen to the teacher's words. Any questions ? You probably have quite a few. But can the teacher take time to answer you ? No ! He is too busy talking and talking because he has too much knowledge to pass on to you. He must follow the curriculum ! Everyone ends up trapped in the information age, with most thinking that students must spend every waking minute studying to "understand" the topic.

But in such an environment it is not possible to even remember everything, let alone understand the knowledge presented to you.

And teachers and education specialists have created the curriculum ! A curriculum that includes class study time to make sure that you study and not "play around". A curriculum that includes test after test to make sure that you "understand" the knowledge presented to you. A curriculum that includes so many hours of classroom teaching and study that your mind overflows like a glass of water filled with too much....  A curriculum that leads to students memorizing their lessons as an easy way to pass tests, even though they do not understand the meaning of what they have memorized as there is not enough time to truly study the material to get a deep understanding that can be built upon into a mastery of the subject.

We call this standardized learning. It is based on the premise that listening is easy for classes of 50 to 80 students, but where it is impossible for all the students to inter-actively participate. As well, it also makes it difficult for students to remember most of the content of the lesson. Can this be called a waste of time for students, maybe even a waste of resources, both manpower wise and finance wise ?

But that is the system in China, and students must cope. 

Many people are already looking at how to change the system to make it "better".

So this article will concentrate on how to survive... to be successful in such a system.

The following is based on the premise that...

  • average study habits

  • = listening is so easy... remembering is so difficult... and leads to remembering around 20%

  • good study habits

  • = listening carefully and watching (pictures, charts, images, video) is great... but too often distracting... but much better than just listening... and leads to remembering around 40%

  • better study habits

  • = listening carefully and watching combined with writing... now that is difficult and distracting... but much better than just listening and watching... and leads to remembering around 60%

  • best study habits

  • = listening carefully and watching combined with writing... and asking questions and talking to others... now that is what we are talking about... and is the best method to "digest" knowledge... and leads to remembering around 80%

As you can see, efficient study relies not only on listening and note taking, but also graphics, re-writing notes, asking questions and talking about the subject to others.

Remembering is like seeing; improvement in either function does not depend upon how much we use it but, rather, how we use it.

The first and most important rule for remembering is: cultivate the habit of close attention to the thing you wish to remember. Be sure you have a clear, sharp impression of the knowledge being given to you, which you will need to know at a future time. If you wish to remember a fact, make it meaningful to you.

To make it meaningful to ourselves, we should try not only to get a strong impression but to obtain as many different kinds of impressions as possible. For example, try reading your lesson aloud. In doing this, your eye takes in the appearance of the printed word, your ears pass the sound of the words to your brain, and even the tension of the muscle of your throat add their bit to the total impression which your mind is expected to store away.

Try to visualize the information. Either remember a diagram or a picture of the material to be remembered, or take short notes about it, which you can visualize.

Think about the new knowledge. A fact doesn't belong to you until you have used it ! In making use of this principle, plan to spend not more than one-half of your study period in reading your lesson. Use the other half in doing something with what you learn. To repeat a previous comment, think about what you have studied, write down notes on it, and explain it to somebody else.

Reviewing new knowledge is important, but remember that it is better if we pause a little between periods of study. Take a break once in a while. Do some physical exercises or sports activities, even it only for a short period.

And what about classroom note taking ?

When we take good notes in the classroom we remember things well enough when we reread them that we rarely end up having to look at our notes ever again. But this does not apply to everyone. Some students will have to go one step further... writing a short "essay" about the material learned in class.

In a study published earlier this year in Science magazine by Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt, they asked 200 college students to spend five minutes reading a short passage about a scientific subject. Afterwards, they were either told to re-read it several times, as if cramming for a test; make “concept maps” of the material; or spend 10 minutes writing a free-form essay about the passage.

One week later, the students were given short-answer tests on what they remembered, and asked to draw logical conclusions from those facts. Students who originally wrote essays performed best. Next came the crammers, then the concept mappers.

To summarize, Learning Basics involve not just the techniques and tasks of learning, but also the attitude that you bring to learning.

The task of studying includes:

  • listening attentively

  • writing good notes using mostly key words and phrases

  • reproducing any graphics presented by the teacher, or creating your own graphic(s) that links the class lesson to your current knowledge

  • writing a brief summary of the class content once the class is finished... but only a few sentences that should take you no longer than 5 minutes

  • after class study should include a review of your notes and doing the prescribed homework

  • you should then write a short "essay" of the new knowledge gained in the class lesson

  • you should also find someone to talk to... about the class lesson and your understanding of the content and how it connects to knowledge you already understand

  • remember to also take breaks as needed whenever you feel the beginnings of a headache, or at a minimum every hour of study. The breaks do not need to be long. A short break to get some water and walk around talking to family or dorm-mates is enough as it will allow you to be distracted from your excessive concentration on studying, for a short period, and will refresh your mind





    Understanding BIG Words

    When looking a big word, look carefully and you will notice that usually it is composed of other words.

    You can break such big words into their smaller words to get the meaning of each word which will usually give you some hint as to the meaning of the big word.

    Of course, you should still confirm this by checking it on your e-dictionary.

    This process is useful mostly for a quick understanding of a big word that you need to understand at the moment.

    Remember that any word can represent a different meaning depending on the syntax of the sentence it is in.





    Pronunciation New Words

    Most of the time the new word will include familiar syllables that you have learned & practiced previously.

    So just break down the new word into those familiar syllables and try pronouncing them to form the sound of the new work. As you repeat the new sound, your mind will usually help you in correcting your pronunciation as it remembers the individual sounds... and maybe even a time when you heard this new word spoken by others on a CD, in a movie-DVD, in a classroom or even in person by a foreigner.




    Pronouncing "ed" verbs

    Many people, and not just Chinese speakers, have difficulty in pronouncing certain words "correctly".

    Remember that, just like most other languages, there are regional dialects where these words are pronounced differently. There is no such thing as the "perfect" pronunciation. The best way to improve your speaking skills is to practice, either with friends or family, or in classes, or with foreigners. But these can be difficult, or worse... expensive. The MP3 Exercise (above) is an ideal way to do so at minimal cost and at your convenience... without losing face.

    Some of this relates to pronouncing past tense verbs... ending in "ed". The following chart will guide you in how to pronounce these often difficult words.


    If the base verb ends in one of these sounds*:

    example base verb*:


    with -ed:


    the -ed as:

    extra syllable?


    want wanted / Id/ yes


    end ended
    unvoiced /p/ hope hoped / t/ no
    /f/ laugh laughed
    /s/ fax faxed
    /S/ wash washed
    /tS/ watch watched
    /k/ like liked

    all other sounds,

    for example...

    play played / d/
    allow allowed
    beg begged

    * Note that it is the sound that is important, not the letter or spelling. For example, "fax" ends in the letter "x" but the sound is /s/; "like" ends in the letter "e" but the sound is /k/.



    The following -ed words used as adjectives are pronounced with /Id/:

    • aged

    • blessed

    • crooked

    • dogged

    • learned

    • naked

    • ragged

    • wicked

    • wretched

    Special thanks to, and BBC Learning English for their excellent resources.





    M P 3

    The following is an oral exercise that you can do in the safety of your home… at no cost except for a book of interesting short stories and either an MP3 or other recording device… and a commitment to improving your English speaking skills. Simply pick a short story that is interesting to you. Before bedtime, prepare your recorder… and make sure you have a minimum of 15 uninterrupted minutes to dedicate to this exercise. Follow this routine:

    1. Read the short story out-loud.

    2. Record your speaking.

    3. Listen to your recording.

    4. Note that part of your mind will “tell” you of some of your “mistakes”… about the tone and/or the pronunciation of your spoken words.

    5. Read out-loud the same short story again… the same passage if from a long story or article.

    6. Record your speaking again.

    7. Listen to your recording again.

    8. Repeat steps 1 to 5 for another 3 to 4 times… to reach a minimum of 15 minutes of practice.

    9. Time to stop... to sleep… your mind, your subconscious, will take over once you fall asleep.

    Depending on how often you do this during the week, you will… WILL “hear” (and feel) an improvement in your speaking skills (pronunciation and fluency) within 2 to 3 months.

    To “show” you how much you have progressed, we recommend that you keep your first “recording” on your computer to be used as a “reference” to your progress by comparing it once in a while with a newer recording.

    This exercise is a small part of the package of activities that is included in the “Homestay China” program that I developed a couple of years ago. You have my permission to tell others about this exercise… one of my goals is to get more Wuhanese to speak better English. Hope you agree and will share.





    Group support

    Create a personal “support team”… of friends (Foreigner and/OR Chinese) and family who can speak English, a little or a lot is not important… it is the conversation practice that you want. Also practice speaking exercises with colleagues and family. Use Dialogues and “Making Sentences”. Or get together and have one person read an English article or short story which the other person then translates.





     Read up on new words

    Review one or two pages of an English-Chinese dictionary each evening. Write the newer words, ones you are not familiar with, into your notebook (see above). Follow the process outlined above.





    Notebook for new words

    Buy or create a notebook wherein you will write new English words and/or phrases... those that you have heard and read and that you do not completely understand. You then find the related translation in your language and write it (ie. in Chinese) next to English word. Now, write a sentence in English that describes the meaning of the new word. Later, say every week or two weeks, review the words & sentences.




    It is the supreme art of the teacher

    to awaken joy in creative

    expression and knowledge.

    Albert Einstein





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    TIPS &



    Free Education

    ...a listing of websites offering free educational courses and programs


       LinksTo help you find that much needed information on the internet


    Homestay a solution to improving faster



    Studying-Learning interview highlighting techniques

    to learn better


    Memorize or Understand ?



    a Story...

    HOW TO...


    Learning Basics

    - Studying



    BIG Words



    New Words



    "ed" Verbs


    M P 3


    Group Support


    Read Up On

    New Words


    Notebook for

    New Words