English Learning Resources

Hi there! Today I’d like to provide you with a couple of useful resources that’ll help you not only master the English tenses, but the English language all together. Without further ado, I present to you…

English Grammar In Use

English Grammar In Use, the «Blue Murphy». Written by Raymond Murphy, this self-study and practice book is the mother of all English grammar text-books. Not only will you find easy-to-understand explanations, but also the corresponding exercises. I find that the exercises are usually on the easy side, however that way they help you get a firmer grip on the topic before you approach more difficult examples. A must buy for any English learner! (You can view a couple of excerpts here and here).

Memrise

Are you looking to increase your vocabulary? Then memrise is the tool you should use. Using the mnemonic learning technique, where you associate new information with already existing knowledge, learning new words and phrases is a breeze. A plethora of so-called courses help you easily learn – and retain – new words. Take a look here, sign-up is completely free!

Podcasts

Reading isn’t all there is to English – you can’t get around without understanding or speaking it of course! Listen to podcasts such as the BBC’s «The English We Speak» and ESL Pod to improve your understanding and pronunciation. In addition to podcasts, watching English TV (movies, TV Shows – even YouTube videos will suffice!), reading English books or listening to English Audiobooks (I’m currently «reading» «The Help» by Kathryn Stockett) will greatly improve your English!

ESL Library

Even though the resources here are originally created for ESL teachers, students can use them just as well! Take a peak at a few exercises here and here. Although the exercises here aren’t free, they’re of very high quality and well worth your hard-earned money. They cover a vast range of topics, from discussion starters (including vocabulary) and grammar practice exercises (with solutions!). Browse the site and take a look at the bonuses of membership here, and if you’re interested, sign up here (only $30 for 1/2 year)!

Present Perfect Continuous

I have been painting my room for the last couple of hours, I need a break! What have you been up to? – Well… I haven’t been doing much. I‘ve been reading this book my friend gave me, I’ve read about half of it.

We use the present perfect continuous to talk about an action that started in the past, but is still going on in the present. This tense is similar to the present perfect simple.

How is the Present Perfect Continuous Tense formed?

have/has + been + present participle

All you have to do to use the present perfect continuous is… take the present simple of «to have», add «been» to it, and round it off with the present participle of the verb you need (verb+ing e.g. doing, reading…).

  • I have been reading a book.
  • You have been waiting for me for hours! I’m so sorry :(
  • She has been talking on the phone for the past hour.

When do we use the Present Perfect Continuous Tense?

An action continuing up to now

While the focus of the present perfect simple is on the result, the focus of the present perfect continuous is on the duration. We can use the continuous to talk about an action that started in the past, and has continued up until now.

  • I have been waiting for hours! Where the hell were you?
  • She has been painting her room all day.
  • John has been working for them since August.

An action that has recently stopped

If we don’t mention a duration, the tense has a meaning of «lately» or «recently». We often use the words «lately» or «recently» in the sentence to strengthen this meaning.

  • Recently, he has really been slacking off at school.
  • What have you been doing?
  • Have you been eating and drinking enough lately?

Exceptions

  • In British English, the final consonant l after a vowel is always doubled (travel – travelling)
  • If the verb ends in a silent e, it is dropped before the ing. (come – coming but not see – seeing)
  • If the verb ends in ie, the ie becomes y before the ing. (die – dying)
  • The final consonant after a short vowel is doubled (sit – sitting)

See more examples of exceptions here.

Signal Words

  • all day
  • for 10 years
  • since 2001
  • how long?
  • the whole year

Further Explanations of the Present Perfect Continuous Tense

Exercises

Present Perfect Continuous

Present Perfect Simple / Present Perfect Continuous

Present Continuous / Present Perfect Continuous

Present Perfect Simple

I have been in France three times, actually I‘ve just come back from Paris last week. Have you ever travelled abroad? My French has greatly improved since the last time I was there, I can now actually have a conversation without any difficulties!

The Present Perfect Simple tense is used to express a past event that has present consequences.

How is the Present Perfect Simple Tense formed?

has/have + past participle

You simple take the present simple form of «to have» (I have, you have, he/she/it has, we have, you have, they have) and add the past participle of the verb you need (with normal verbs you simply add «ed», when you’re using an irregular verb, the past participle is in the third column).

  • I have been in France.
  • Have you been to Peru?
  • You sure have changed since I last saw you!
  • North Korea has threatened the United States many times, but nothing has come of it.

When do we use the Present Perfect Simple Tense?

Finished Actions 

Someone has done something or something has happened. The exact time is unspecified (you either don’t known it, or it’s unimportant). The action or event often has direct consequences for the present or the future. The present perfect can not be used with specific time expressions (last week, a day ago, when I was a child, when I lived in Peru…), but it can be used with unspecific time expressions (ever, never, already, before, just, often, so far, up to now and (not) … yet). The present perfect has a focus on the result.

  • She has never been to Spain.
  • I have never smoked.
  • You sure have changed since I last saw you!
  • Her Spanish has improved since the last time she was here!
  • I’ve just had lunch.
  • Have you read the book I gave you yet?
  • Has she returned from her trip to Italy?

Unfinished Actions

We can also use the present perfect tense to express the idea that a state began in the past and is still continuing. Common phrases include always, all of my life, all. If we use since or for in a sentence, we are often talking about a duration, and usually use the present perfect continuous tense. However in this case, the verbs we use to talk about unfinished actions so-called non-continuous verbs, also known as stative verbs. You can find a full list here.

  • I have known Mary since 2001.
  • I haven’t been in the Unites States for three years!

Exceptions

  • after a final e only add d (love – loved)
  • final consonant after a short, stressed vowel or l as final consonant after a vowel is doubled (admit – admitted, travel – travelled)
  • final y after a consonant becomes i (hurry – hurried)

Signal Words

  • already
  • ever
  • just
  • never
  • not yet
  • so far
  • till now
  • up to now

Further Explanations of the Present Perfect Simple Tense

Exercises

Present Perfect Simple

Present Perfect Simple / Past Simple

Present Perfect Simple / Present Perfect Continuous

Past Continuous

I was walking my dog, the birds were chirping happily and I felt a light gust of wind blowing softly against my face. Suddenly, I heard a screeching of tires and a car crashed into the fence next to me. While I was wondering how to react, a gun shot sounded out behind me…

The tense printed in bold above is called the Past Continuous, or Past Progressive tense. The past continuous puts emphasis on the course of an action in the past. 

How is the Past Continuous Tense formed?

Past simple of be + past participle

so… was/were + Verb-ing

  • I was walking the dog when I heard the car.
  • Were you studying when she called?
  • He was not reading when the phone rang.
  • The birds were chirping peacefully.

When do we use the Past Continuous Tense?

Past_Cont_1

Interrupted action in the past →  A longer action in the past (past continuous) is interrupted by a shorter action (past simple). → We were chatting when she called. She was taking a shower when she heard the burglar. 

Past_Cont_2

Parallel actions → two actions happening at the same time in the past → He was washing the dishes while she was preparing dinner. While Tim was talking on the phone, Henry was cooking. 

Past_Cont_3

Action going on at a certain time in the past → An action that takes place at a certain time in the past → Last night at 18 o’clock, he was eating dinner.

Atmosphere → The past continuous can be used (like the «imparfait» in French) to describe the background of a situation, to set the scene at a particular time in the past. → The birds were chirping and the sun was shining. 

Exceptions

The exceptions are the same as with the Present Continuous tense.

  • In British English, the final consonant l after a vowel is always doubled (travel – travelling)
  • If the verb ends in a silent e, it is dropped before the ing. (come – coming but not see – seeing)
  • If the verb ends in ie, the ie becomes y before the ing. (die – dying)
  • The final consonant after a short vowel is doubled (sit – sitting)

See more examples of exceptions here.

Signal Words

Words that signal the need for the Past Continuous include

  • when
  • while
  • as long as
  • always
  • constantly

Further Explanations of the Past Continuous Tense

Exercises

Past Continuous (Open all)

Past Simple / Past Continuous

How to Cram for an Exam

How to Cram for an Exam – Cramming Tips and Tricks

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Let me guess: you’ve been putting off studying for the last couple of days and now are virtually forced to study to save yourself from a fatal grade. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Below I’ve assembled some handy tips on how to cram for an exam, no matter what subject.

Location, Location, Location

Grab whatever you need and settle down for a long night at your preferred study location. If your library is still open, lucky you. If not, then find a place far from where you usually relax (we are humans, and we form habits. If you’re used to watching movies, hanging out with friends and chilling in your room, you’ll be likely to fall back to those activities and forget about studying) and get to work.

Eliminate all Distractions

Turn off your phone, turn off your computer (unless you need it, in which case you should disable the internet or at least restrict access to sites you know will distract you). In short, eliminate all possible distractions.
I would love to listen to music whilst studying, but I know I work better without it (small test: write down two lists of 20 items each, give yourself one minute each to memorize as many items as possible. Memorize the first list with, the second without music. Depending on the result, you study better with or without music!).

Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, yeah

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During breaks, before you begin your studying session and directly before your exam, take a minute to stretch your muscles, run up and down a flight of stairs, do some push-ups, whatever you prefer: just do some exercise. Exercise gets blood flowing, relaxes you and increases your alertness.

Cinnamon and Peppermint Scents

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«The scent of peppermint or cinnamon in your car might make your morning commute less frustrating and you more alert when behind the wheel.» That’s according to the results of a study led by Dr. Bryan Raudenbush, an associate professor of psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, WV. Get yourself some peppermint or cinnamon gum, and chew it whilst studying. Chewing peppermint (or cinnamon) gum is actually a double plus, since chewing gum improves memory. Your memory will be improved, and you’ll be less frustrated and more alert! Can’t get any better than that, now can you…

Prioritize Key Topics

You’re cramming mate, you’ll not be able to study every aspect of each idea and remember every miniscule detail. Instead, try to understand the main concepts. Make a list of everything you’ll be tested on and prioritize. Group similar points together and plan how long it’ll take you to review each topic. Divide up your time efficiently and intelligently, cramming is your last chance to pass your exam!

Memorization

This isn’t a post on different memorization techniques (although one is coming up!), it’s on how to cram for an exam. You can rhyme (like I just did there, cram and exam), use mnemonics, flashcards, association, verbal memorisation, memorization by repetition etc. If my last resort is cramming, then I usually use a bunch of different techniques, and try to understand the main concepts. A couple of my classmates and friends are usually online (doing the same), and I explain the most important topics to them in my own words.

Take A Break

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I find the pomodoro technique (no need to buy a product, a normal timer will suffice) very effective for me. You study for 25 minutes and take a five minute break. After every session (work and break), the work time decreases while the break increases. Then you start again from the beginning. During the breaks you should relax, and try to let your brain process the new information. Perhaps do a bit of exercise, eat a bit and drink something.

Food and Drinks

Eat small snacks during your study breaks. Enough to keep you going, but not too much, otherwise you’ll dose off. I recommend nuts, chips, crackers, raisins, candy bars etc. Drink plenty of water, and, if needed, consume a couple of energy drinks along with your obligatory coffee to keep you awake. Important: Eat a good, filling breakfast the next morning. It’ll keep you awake and give you enough energy to get through the exam (and hopefully until lunch!).

Practice Possible Exam Questions

Did your teacher or professor provide you with a practice exam? Solve it, multiple times (but only after you’ve completed studying the key topics. Additionally, come up with possible questions on your own or search for different exercises online.

Drugs

Personally, I’ve never taken any drugs such as adderall or ritalin to improve my study and absorption skills, although I would enjoy trying them, once (his famous last words). I’ll write about my experience sometime, but in the meantime I recommend you only take such drugs if you are in absolute need of them (as they do have some nasty side-effects…). If you make it with drugs, you might wonder if you would have ever made it without them.

Cheating?

Cheat if you like, it’s your choice. I dislike cheating, and only resort to it (if at all) if I feel like I haven’t had any other chance to study and that the fault is not mine (e.g. the professor crams his exam into an already incredibly busy week, although the next (rather slow) week would have worked perfectly fine for him).

Now Finally, Sleep

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Don’t fool yourself, you won’t get a relaxing, nine-hour sleep tonight. However, a bit of sleep is important to help your brain process new information and will assist you in retaining learned material. Try to get at least one entire sleep cycle in (the first cycle is around 90 minutes). You can find out when you need to hit the sack with sleepytime.

GET TO WORK!

Now: stop reading and get to work. Follow my tips and tricks on how to cram for an exam, and you might just pass your exam tomorrow! Good luck, and remember, next time, just start studying beforehand!

Motivate Yourself to Study

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Do you frequently have motivational issues when it comes to studying for class? Do you procrastinate, ie. try to put off studying for as long as possible (funny how much fun cleaning your room is now, huh?). Well, you’re not alone. I hope these tips on how to motivate yourself to study will help you overcome this issue :)

  1. Remove all distractions. Computer? Turn it off. Phone? Silent. TV? Why the hell do you have the TV on when you want to study? Turn that thing off! Get rid of anything you know will distract you.

  2. Organize yourself. Gather all the instruments you need (pen, paper, books…) and go somewhere quiet (your room, your dorm, the library, a café…). Don’t forget food and drink! It’s important to eat and stay hydrated during intensive study sessions (yes, that’s what you’ll be doing!).

  3. Imagine your future. Where do you see yourself in a couple of years? I like the idea of living in Paris, riding my bike (or taking the metro) to small shops, spending time in cafés with friends, and running my own internet marketing business. No matter how crazy; if you like it, imagine it. How do you get there? Study. Study hard. (If studying isn’t the answer, what are you doing here?).

  4. The end results make it worth it. See? The end result may be you living your dream. Studying often isn’t the most enjoyable way to pass your time, but there’s no other way you can reach your goals.

  5. À propos goals, set yourself some. What do you want to achieve? Differentiate between short-term goals (such as 85% in the coming exam) and long-term goals (graduate high school with honors).

  6. Reward yourself. Studied hard, and reached your goal? Celebrate that shit! Promise yourself something ahead of time, and if you reach the goal you set yourself, fulfill that promise. I for one enjoy food like no other, therefore I often set myself goals such as «If you score 90% in the coming Chemistry exam, you’ll get to cook ‘Tom Ka Gai’ soup» (a fantastically delicious soup by the way).

  7. To quote Nike, «just do it». I mean seriously, sit your ass down and get to work. Start with 15 minutes, take a break, and keep on studying. You know that first «boost» is the hardest, as soon as you’ve started you’ll be alright.

  8. Friends. If you have difficulties studying alone, get together with a (some) friend(s). Study, don’t just hang out!

  9. Listen to music. Crank that shit up and start studying. Here’s some motivational music you can listen to.

  10. Start with the toughest task first.

  11. «Fake it till you make it.» Fake your enthusiasm, and you’ll be surprised! A genuine feeling of enthusiasm will soon overcome you.

  12. Success. Remember that feeling of success? Long for it.

There you go. You’ve probably read every last word of this article as you actually have some studying to do, but instead you’re procrastinating.

You googled something along the lines of «how to motivate yourself to study» as well, meaning you’re probably pretty desperate, and more likely than not, your exam is tomorrow (if this is the case, check out my awesome cramming tips). Either you’re motivated to study or not, it doesn’t matter. Sit down, and get to work.

Past Simple

Last week, I bought a dog. Kim Jung Il died last year. I liked your facebook page. Tina walked my dog yesterday.

When we talk about events and actions that happened in the past, we usually use the Past Simple tense (also known as the simple past).

How is the Past Simple Tense formed?

Verb + ed / irregular verbs

  • I ate breakfast.
  • You called your mother.
  • She didn’t eat breakfast.
  • worked a lot.
  • They wrote a letter.

When do we use the Past Simple Tense?

Past_Simp_1

Completed action in the past → an action that started and finished at a specific time in the past (the action takes place once, never, or several times), can also be a habit in the past→ I broke my computer yesterday. She washed her bike. He went to the movies every weekend.

Past_Simp_2

Series of completed actions → actions in the past taking place one after the other → I ate breakfast, drove to work, and greeted my boss. 

Past_Simp_3

Duration in the past → a duration (indicated by expressions such as for three years, for twenty minutes, all year) which starts and stops in the past → She studied French for two years. They slept all afternoon.

Past_Simp_4

Action in the past interrupting another action → an action in the past that takes place in the middle of another action → When I was taking a shower, the phone rang.

Past_Simp_5

Past facts/generalizations → we can use the past simple to talk about facts that are no longer true → Tom was small as a teenager, but now he’s very tall.

Exceptions

  • after a final e only add d (love – loved)
  • final consonant after a short, stressed vowel or l as final consonant after a vowel is doubled (admit – admitted, travel – travelled)
  • final y after a consonant becomes i (hurry – hurried)

Signal Words

  • yesterday
  • 20 minutes ago
  • in 1995
  • the other day
  • last Saturday

Further Explanations of the Past Simple Tense

Exercises

Past Simple (Open all)

Past Simple / Past Continuous