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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

February 2021 TOEFL Speaking Classes

 Here's the speaking class schedule for February:

Tuesday and Wednesday evening classes are from 7-10 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday are from 10:00-13:00 and from 15:00-18:00.

Orientation will be from 7-10 p.m. on Thursday, February 11 (
(建国記念の日). There might be more than one orientation, depending on how many new students there are. Attendance at orientation is required for all new students.

For the safety of everyone, masks and gloves are required in all classes. 

Donald will teach all of the classes in February.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Advice: "and so on"

We recommend that you avoid certain words or expressions. One them is "and so on."

There are several reasons to avoid a word or expression:
  1. It's difficult to pronounce and there's an easier substitute.
  2. It has a difficult intonation pattern.
  3. It doesn't have any meaning.
Last week, I recommended that you avoid "various"  because of reasons 1 and 3.

"And so on" checks all three boxes.
  1. "On" is usually mispronounced as オン. That's not correct. It's spelled with an "o," but it's pronounced as アン.
  2. The intonation pattern is the 1-3-2 pattern that Japanese people struggle with.
  3. It doesn't mean anything.
Let's use English well (and avoid some unnecessary mistakes)!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Sound-symbol correspondence: E

One of the most frustrating things about English is the weak relationship between spelling and pronunciation. At the request of some students, I'm going to pick up where I left off with the pronunciation of single-syllable words which are spelled with an "e" (音節が一つ "o" 母音).

1. If the pattern is "e" followed by a consonant, it's pronounced [Ɛ]. 
This is the vowel in words like: checked, Ed, end, Fed, heck, let, Mets, neck, peck, sex, Ted, and wet.

Here's a video on the correct pronunciation:

2.   If the spelling pattern is "ea" or "ee" followed by a consonant, it's more complex. Sometimes it's pronounced [Ɛ], other times it's pronounced [i] (カタカナのイ).

For instance, been, head, and stead, are pronounced with the [Ɛ] vowel.

But bead, cheat, each, ear, feed, heat, Leeds, mean, near, peat, seed, teat, teen, and weed are pronounced with the [i] vowel.

Except that "search" is pronounced with the [ɝ] vowel (see rule #5 below).

And "bear" is pronounced with エ.

Isn't English fun!

Good luck with this one!

3. If the pattern is a consonant with "e" or "ee" at the end of the word, then it's pronounced イ too.

Examples include: be, bee, free, flee, me, pee, tee, and wee.

4. There are a few words spelled with "ei," and most of these are pronounced [e] (like カタカナ エ).

These include: eight, neigh, sleigh, weight

Except that "height" is pronounced with the [ai] diphthong. 

But "weird" is pronounced with the [iɝ]

So again, this one is complex.

5. If "e" or "ea" is followed by an R, then the vowel is generally pronounced with the [ɝ]

So we get words like dearth, Ferb, hearse, her, herds, nerd, per, perm, perch, search

Except that "ear" is pronounced with イ.

6. "W" has a strange influence on pronunciation, and words that end in "ew" are pronounced [ju] (like the word "you") or just [u].

Examples are few, hew, pew with the [ju].

And brew, Lew, stew with [u].

In cases like "eCe" where C=consonant (子音)then "e" is pronounced like イ.

Examples include cede, meme, and geese 

I think that's all of the patterns of single-syllable English words which use the vowel "e" (except for word-final e-word patterns like the word "grade." 

Send me an email you think I've missed a pattern. It wouldn't surprise me because "e" pronunciation is complex.

Advice: intentions and accidents

Here's a great mistake from last year:
I put spaghetti sauce on my wife.
Put indicates an intentional action. I think it's fair to assume that he wasn't trying to put spaghetti sauce on his wife. Instead, he probably meant:
I spilled spaghetti sauce on my wife.
In which sentence spill indicates that there was some kind accident, and the spaghetti sauce ended up on his wife.

Some verbs indicate intentions. Others indicate accidents. Some are just descriptive.

Let's use English well!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Let's talk about "It"

(1) "This is my favorite restaurant. I love it!"
"It" = the restaurant. This is easy.

And everyone Japanese person knows expressions like (2) "It's raining," or "It is a hot day." But what does "it" mean in those sentences?

(1) and (2) are different forms of "it." In (1) "it" refers to a specific thing. In (2) "it" = situation. Here are some examples:

A. The earthquake and tsunami destroyed many homes. People were easy to get sympathy.
No: It was easy for people to get sympathy.
The situation: Immediately after March 11, 2011.

B. Runners are easy to get injured if the ground isn't level.
No: It's easy for runners to get injured if the ground isn't level.
The situation: running on unlevel ground.

C. The library was quiet so I could study there.
No: The library was quiet, so it was easy for me to study there.
The situation: the quiet library.

You're not going to master this, but you should be sensitive to (1) what a person makes happen versus (2) what a situation makes happen.

Let's use English well!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020


We're going to follow the Abe administration's declaration of emergency and close from April 6 until at least May 6. I'll post the next schedule when we make that decision, but we won't be accepting new students until after Golden Week.

What should you do to prepare for TOEFL in the meantime?

  1. Listening is the most important language skill, and it's the least stable TOEFL section score. Working on that should be priority #1. The best practice is dictation. And when you get good at that, reproduction is faster and more interesting.
  2. Vocabulary is another area people need to improve. The general advice is N+1. Your level is N; you should read materials that are "+1," or SLIGHTLY above your current level. Read things that are interesting to you, but cover all your bases (all of the arts and sciences). Wikipedia is your friend. 
  3. Grammar is another language skill that many people need to improve. My general advice is to simplify your grammar. Unfortunately, the Japanese school system seems to believe that complexity = good. That's dumb. TOEFL is a communication test, not a complex grammar test. Aim to use natural expressions, not just complex ones.
  4. Fluency and intonation are important for the speaking section, and I'm going to try to make some videos to explain some key ideas later this week. I'll announce them on the blog when I post them to Youtube.
  5. Don't study for long periods. Research shows that you have 15-20 minutes of high-level attention. After that, you lose focus. So break your study up into 15-20 minute chunks. At E4TG, we always say 期間より頻度. That's good advice.
Be safe and be focused. If you work on these things now, you'll be well-prepared for our TOEFL speaking classes when we resume.  

Friday, March 20, 2020

Classes postponed

Due to the corona virus, we're going to take a short break for a week or two, but we'll make up all the missed lessons as soon as I feel confident that we can do so safely. Everyone stay safe!


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Sentence-initial transitions

I know that many elementary teachers say "Don't use "And" (or "So" or "But") at the start of a sentence. My elementary teachers told me the same thing. But there are a lot of English teachers in Japan who just parrot their own elementary school teachers' admonition without really understanding the reason their teachers told them that. The question is "Why do elementary teachers tell kids not to use "And" at the start of a sentence?"

Elementary-age kids are not sophisticated writers. Of course. They are learning the conventions of the language. They'll write things like: "I went to the mall. And I bought some shoes. And I ate ice cream. And then we played video games. And it was fun."

In other words, they are writing like they speak. And as you can see, the "And~" at the start of the sentences becomes annoying and redundant. That's why teachers tell kids not to do it.

But that doesn't mean that it's always wrong to use "And" at the start of sentences, just use these sentence initial conjunctions judiciously.

Don't believe me? Google it.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Narrative Techniques

According to my students, Japanese language classes in junior and senior high school don't cover literary and drama techniques. These aren't common TOEFL topics, but they are sometimes on task 4 or 6. Each time we do one in class, people struggle.

So here's a list of narrative techniques from Wikipedia. As far as I can recall, I learned the principles under plots and perspective in junior high school, and the principles under style, theme, and character in high school.

Good luck!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sound-symbol correspondence: O

One of the most frustrating things about English is the weak relationship between spelling and pronunciation. At the request of some students, I'm going to go through some of the patterns. Today I'll explain "o" pronunciation in single-syllable words (音節が一つ "o" 母音). "O" has many patterns and also many exceptions:

#1. In oC and CoC words: "o" = [a]
C = 子音
Examples: on, ox, got, hot, lot, snot, bomb

These words are some of the most common "o" pronunciation mistakes.

Exceptions happen when the final sound is made with the lips (p, b, f, v, n, and m). In these cases "o" = [u]

  • In "tomb" and "womb," "o" = [u]
  • In "move," "o" = [u] but in "love," "o" = [ə]
  • A further exception is "comb," "o" = [o]

#2. In CooPBFVNM, words: "o" = [u]
C = 子音
Examples: poop, boob, poof, soon, boom, woof, proove, 

"Groove" doesn't fit the pattern exactly, but same principle applies: when you have a labial (lip) consonant at the end of the word, "o" = [u]

#3. In CoCe words: "o" = [o]
C = 子音
Examples: Cole, Dole, nope, stole, vote, dote, grove

#4. In CoaC words: "o" = [o]
C = 子音
Examples: goat, moat, groat, boat

#5. In Cood, Cook, and Could words: "o" = [ʊ]

C = 子音
Examples: good, stood, book, took, could, should

The ʊ vowel is pronounced like [u], but with flat lips.

#6. In Co, CoE and CoW words: "o" = [o]
C = 子音
Examples: bow, fro, go, hoe, mow, so, grow, tow, toe

There are exceptions though:

  • "to," "two," and "too" are all pronounced [tu]

#7. Some CoW words: "o" = [au]
This is a diphthong (二重母音)

Examples: ow, growl, fowl, plow

It can be confusing:

  • Like rule #6, "bow" is [bo] if it's a weapon (noun)
  • Like rule #7, "bow" is [bau] if it's an action (verb)
#8. In CoY and CoiC words, "oy" = [oi]
Examples: boy, coy, foil, moil, toy

I will probably have to come back and edit this, but I think it's pretty complete as it is.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sound-symbol correspondence: I

One of the most frustrating things about English is the weak relationship between spelling and pronunciation. At the request of some students, I'm going to go through some of the patterns. Today I'll explain "i" pronunciation in single-syllable words (音節が一つ "a" 母音). There are only two different pronunciations and three patterns:

#1. In CiC words: "i" = [I]
C = 子音
Examples: Brim, chick, fig, him, limb, pins, win

In the following video, Rachel uses "EE" instead of [i] and "IH" instead of [I]. But that's just a spelling difference.

#2. In CiCe words: "i" = [ai]
This sounds the same as "アイ."

Examples: bribe, chime, fine, knife, lime, slide

#3. In Cind words: "i" = [ai]
This sounds the same as "アイ."

Examples: bind, find, grind, mind

It's certainly possible that I missed other single-syllable "i" patterns. Please let me know if you think I did!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Sound-symbol correspondence: A

One of the most frustrating things about English is the weak relationship between spelling and pronunciation. At the request of some students, I'm going to go through some of the patterns, starting with the letter "a" in single-syllable words (音節が一つ "a" 母音).

Rule #1: if the spelling is CaC, then "a" = [æ]
C: 子音

Simple examples: bat, cap, dam, fax, gaff, hat, lamb, man, nab, pat, ran, Sam, tax, vat, wax, zap

Complex examples: class, dragged, flack, glass, hacked, lags, maps, nags, prams, rats, scratch, tracks, wags

Here's a video that explains æ:

Rule #2: in CaCe or CCaCe, "a" = [e]
[e] = え

Examples: bake, crate, drake, fate, gate, hate, Jake, lame, made, Nate, prate, rake, stake, tare, vane

Rule #3: CaiC = [e]
[e] = え

Simple examples: brain, claim, gain, laid, maid, paid, rain, stain, train, wain

Complex examples: bakes, crates, grated, fairs, mares, prates, rains, stains, taken

Rule #4: ang = [eŋ]

Example: angles, bang, fangs, sang

Here is a video explaining [ŋ]:

Rule #5: ank = [enk]

Examples: ankles, bank, Frank, tanks, thank

Rule #6: aw = [ɔ]

Examples: awe, brawl, draws, law, raw, saws

Rule #7: alk = [ɔk]

(really: the "l" is silent)

Examples: balk, chalk, stalks, talk

Rule #8: ay = [e]

Examples: bay, days, fray, hay, may, stay

Rule #9: ar = [ar]

This is the only time a single-syllable word that is spelled with an "a" sounds like ア.

Examples: are, bar, fart, heart, mark, parse, start

I'm pretty sure that's all the single-syllable patterns. Please let me know if I missed some.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Independent Writing

As I've explained on the homepage, templates are not a good idea for writing (or speaking). On this past weekend's test, after the independent writing question, the directions said something like:
"Answer the question and do not reproduce an answer you have memorized. "
The Official Guide says the same thing. You've been warned!

Monday, March 14, 2016


We did a few months of IELTS speaking classes earlier this year, but we're discontinuing it for now. Here's what we found:

  1. Student levels in the IELTS class were quite a bit lower than levels in the TOEFL speaking classes. I think lower-level students self-select IELTS, thinking it will be easier.
  2. IELTS reading and listening sections seem easier than TOEFL; TOEFL speaking and writing sections seem easier than IELTS.
  3. We think that in the long-run, it's better to take TOEFL than IELTS. While TOEFL reading might be more difficult, it also prepares you for GMAT reading better than IELTS does. While TOEFL listening may be more difficult, it prepares you for studying in an English-language classroom better than IELTS does.
  4. We also think that universities are becoming aware that IELTS scores seem inflated. MIT Sloan Fellows recently told one of our applicants that he needed TOEFL 100 or IELTS 7.5 (rather than 7.0).
At any rate, our TOEFL speaking classes are typically at full capacity until October or November. If this year follows the same pattern as previous years, we can run an IELTS class next fall, but for now, we're going to focus on TOEFL.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Younger TOEFL test-takers

Since I started E4TG in 2007, I have never accepted many high school or college students. However, a high school graduate with good fluency and fair intonation applied in December 2015, and I invited them to join TOEFL speaking classes in January. It went well, so we will start to accept high school graduates who already have high-intermediate or better English speaking skills.

Here is the testimonial: