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Friday, March 27, 2020

April 2020 speaking class schedule

I surveyed my students, and they said that my classes meet Governor Koike's criteria of "essential," so we are going re-open on March 28. Here's the schedule for April classes:

Monday and Tuesday night classes are 7-10 p.m.

Wednesday night classes are 7:30-10:30 p.m.

Saturday classes are 10:00-13:00, 15:00-18:00, and 19:00-22:00.

Sunday classes are 10:00-13:00, and 15:00-18:00.

Orientation will be 15:00-18:30 on Saturday, April 18. Attendance at orientation is required for all new students.

Classes are generally limited to five students. You can find more information about prices and policies on the homepage.

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:


Saturday, October 3, 2015

MBA Interview Seminar

John Couke and Adam Markus are hosting an MBA Interview Workshop at E4TG in the afternoon of October 11. John was director of admissions consulting at AGOS, and Adam was director of admissions consulting at The Princeton Review Japan. You will not find better interview counselors in Japan. There are a few seats left. 

Please contact John directly to register!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I got an interesting question from a student in the writing class, and I want to share it, because many Japanese people struggle with this issue:
Mistake: "Lots of employees left and freshmen didn't want to enter the company." 
Question: I understand that you can only say "freshman" for high school or college students, but how would you describe the 新入社員 in English? 
アルク gives many ways to say this, but the fact is that we don't use these expressions often.

This is a cultural difference, not a language issue. In Japanese culture, the idea of a place in the hierarchy (階層) is important and useful. Google has 21,000,000 hits for Japanese hierarchy society.

In American society, the idea is less useful, and we usually don't bother to express it. You could fix the sentence like this:
Lots of employees left, and the number of applicants fell dramatically.
Lots of employees left, and it was difficult to replace them because no one wanted to work there.
I am not a sociologist, but it seems to me that several basic concepts of Japanese society, especially 内・外 (such as 外国人) and 階層 (such as 先輩・後輩、エリート、 and 新入社員) are concepts that you should try to avoid using if you want to write or speak English well. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

I changed my mind

The expression "I changed my mind" can be difficult to use. We had a mistake in class tonight like this:
I tried to study English as Starbucks, but it was too noisy. So I changed my mind and decided to study at home.
The difficulty of using "I changed my mind" is related to the listener's knowledge. It's fine to say:
I went to MacDonald's and ordered a cheeseburger. But then I changed my mind and ordered a Big Mac.
This is OK because the listener knows the menu items at MacDonald's. The listener knows what your options are at MacDonald's.

The original mistake in class tonight can be fixed by telling the listener the options at the start:
I wasn't sure if I should study at Starbucks or at home. I tried to study English as Starbucks, but it was too noisy. So I changed my mind and decided to study at home.
That's fine.

Please use English well!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Much and Many

We find a lot of mistakes with the use of much and many. Actually, the mistakes are mostly with much.

With countable nouns (可算名詞), we use many, regardless of whether the sentence is grammatically positive or negative, or a question:

  • (+) She's got many friends.
  • (-) She has not taken TOEFL many times.
  • (Q) Will you apply to many schools this year?
You can substitute a lot of in any of the above sentences.

But with uncountable nouns (不可算名詞), we use a lot of in grammatically positive sentences:
  • (+) I have a lot of time this week.
  • (+) He made a lot of money last year.
However, we can use much or a lot of in grammatically negative sentences and questions:
  • (-) I don't have much time this week.
  • (-) I don't have a lot of time this week.
  • (Q) Did he make much money last year?
  • (Q) Did he make a lot of money last year?

Please use English well!

Monday, January 19, 2015

False Cognates & False Friends (vocabulary building)

Today's post is a cautionary note about words that look similar, but have different meanings.

The first mistake we had several times in class last week was complex misunderstanding of a task 5 conversation between two students.

  1. The woman planned to see her boyfriend's concert.
  2. Some students translated plan to 予約.
  3. They then translated 予約 to appointment.
  4. They then tried to use the verb appoint instead of the noun appointment, like "The woman appointed her boyfriend to a concert."

So instead of 彼女は彼氏のコンサートに行く予定がある they said 彼女は彼氏をコンサートに指名しました。

How does this happen?

False friends is the term we use for words that started out as related words, but the meanings have diverged over time. Both appoint and appointment come from the Old French word apointier, which means "to arrange." However, the meanings in modern English have diverged:

  • To appoint is 指名する.
  • An appointment is a plan to meet someone, usually a professional, like a doctor, dentist, accountant, or CPA.
What these students should have said is: "She plans to see her boyfriend's concert."

The second mistake we had last week was with the noun present (a gift) and the verb to present (to put before someone). Someone said, "I presented my wife a pink bikini."

Both the noun and the verb come from the Medieval Latin praesentare, which means to show something to someone for approval. The meanings diverged in Old French, and are still separate in Modern English:
  • The noun a present simply means "a gift." 
  • The verb to present means "to show." 
The correct usage for the verb is a talk show host saying "I now present to you Lady Gaga!" Followed by Lady Gaga singing a song live on TV.

What the speaker meant was "I gave my wife a pink bikini."