English Grammar Pill: Tackling the Present Perfect Tense Through Music

Johnny Cash Image via Heinrich Klaffs / Wikipedia

Johnny Cash
Image via Heinrich Klaffs / Wikipedia

Today’s post is written by Paul Mains, an English Language Trainer based in Argentina. I had the pleasure of getting to know Paul through Gallery Languages’ blog which I curate and write occasionally for. A month ago he asked me if he could write a piece for English with a Twist. I said yes without hesitation. Paul is very successful at teaching English tenses through music and today he grapples with the present perfect tense – the tense all English Language learners love to hate! Over to you, Paul.



English learners everywhere will agree: the present perfect tense can be really complicated! Often times, it can be difficult to know when it’s right to use the present perfect. To help clarify some of this confusion, we’ll take a look at some popular songs that exemplify three of the most common uses of the present perfect. In addition to being fun to listen to, these songs show real-life examples of the present perfect in action, which should clear up some of the questions or doubts that you might have.


Before getting started, let’s check out the basics of the present perfect tense:

Form: present tense of have + past participle

Examples:     He has taught English since 2007.

                      Have you ever seen a beluga whale?

                       Ive just moved to London.

                       I can’t believe that shes never eaten sushi.


Now, onto the music!


Usage 1:  To describe life experiences

A very popular use of the present perfect is to describe your past experiences: to talk about the things you’ve done or the places you’ve been to. The exact time that these experiences occurred does not matter; we use the present perfect to demonstrate simply that they happened some time before the present moment.

Examples:     I have climbed a lot of mountains.

                    She has been to six different countries.


In I’ve Been Everywhere, country singer Johnny Cash talks about some of the American cities that he’s visited in the past. In doing so, he gives us many great examples of this use of the present perfect.

I’ve been everywhere, man.
             I’ve breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I’ve had my share, man.
           I’ve been everywhere. I’ve been to:
Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota . . .

Note that Johnny Cash uses the contracted form of “I have” I’ve — when talking about his experiences. Also, if you’re trying to brush up on your United States geography, this is a great song for learning the names of American cities and states!

We can also use the present perfect to ask about others’ life experiences. When asking this kind of question, we often use the present perfect in conjunction with the adverb ever. The song Glitter in the Air by Pink shows us how to ask questions about others’ experiences using the present perfect. Remember that the auxiliary verb “have” jumps to the front of the sentence in questions!

Have you ever fed a lover with just your hands?

Have you ever thrown a fistful of glitter in the air?

Have you ever looked fear in the face and said, “I just don’t care”?


Usage 2:  
To describe something that happened in the past and continues now

Another common use of the present perfect is to talk about something that started in the past, and is still happening in the present moment. This use of the present perfect is often accompanied by the adverbs for or since to indicate how long the event or action has been going on. Note that “for” is always followed by a period of time (e.g., a day, ten seconds, a while), whereas “since” is always followed by a specific date (e.g., 1492, last week, 5:30).

Examples:     I have lived in New York for two years.

                     She has been a teacher since 2002.


London-based singer Sam Smith’s love song I’m Not The Only One uses the present perfect with the adverb “for” to describe something in the past that’s still happening in the present moment.

For months on end I’ve had my doubts
Denying every tear
I have loved you for many years
Maybe I am just not enough


Comprehension check: In the lyrics above, Sam Smith says that he began to have doubts months ago, and still does now. Later, he indicates that he started loving someone many years ago, and still loves that person today.

Another popular English band, One Direction, also sings about love using the present perfect in 18. However, instead of using the adverb “for”, they use the adverb “since”. Compare One Direction’s lyrics below to Sam Smith’s lyrics above to see the difference between “for” and “since” when using the present perfect:

I have loved you since we were 18
Long before we both thought the same thing


Usage 3: To describe the very recent past

The third common use of the present perfect tense is to describe actions and events that have happened in the very recent past, usually within a few minutes (for events that occurred further in the past, we use the simple past). In this case, we often use the adverb “just” in between the auxiliary (some form of “have”) and the main verb.

Examples:     Ive just eaten breakfast.

                      Shes left the office and is now on her way home.


To illustrate this use of the present perfect, we return to another song from Sam Smith. In I’ve Told You Now, Sam Smith describes a situation in which he avoids talking to someone, until he reaches his breaking point and finally says something. His use of the word “now” highlights the recency of the action.

            Why do you think I come ’round here on my free will?
Wasting all my precious time
Oh the truth spills out
And oh I, I’ve told you now
Ive told you now


In We’ve Only Just Begun, The Carpenters, a popular band in the 1970s, sing about newlyweds and their life ahead. They use the present perfect with the adverb “just” to show that the couple’s married life together has started very recently (the adverb “only” is added for emphasis).

            Weve only just begun to live
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we’re on our way



Indeed, the present perfect tense can be a challenge, but hopefully, these songs have made it a little bit less intimidating. Of course, don’t forget to sing along — that way, you’ll get in some speaking practice, too!

If you’d like to hear some examples of the present perfect when it’s spoken, not sung, consider trying your hand at a free English listening test. With a little practice, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the present perfect.


Have you found these songs to be helpful? What are some things you have done to study the present perfect?




Paul teaches English in Buenos Aires and writes on behalf of Language Trainers, a language tutoring service offering personalized course packages to individuals and groups. Try their free English language level tests, and check out their website for other language-learning resources. Feel free to visit their Facebook page or contact paul@languagetrainers.com with any questions.

Paul, Thank you ever so much for showing us how the present perfect can be learned through songs. If you liked Paul’s post please share it and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you want more ideas about the English Language.

Ciao for now

English Skills: Making Small Talk In Business

jfa1761_hiThis afternoon I am off to Manchester for my first ever face to face conference in my teaching career. I am attending the annual IATEFL conference. IATEFL stands for International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (wow, that was a mouthful!). The conference is one of the most important events in the industry and is held over 4 days. I am really looking forward to it.

There will be plenty of opportunities to meet other teachers, speakers, publishers and leading authorities in the ELT (English Language Teaching) world. There will also be plenty of opportunities for small talk.

And this is what got me thinking about today’s post. In our personal and business lives we often have to engage in small talk with people. Small talk is important for a number of reasons. According to Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, it’s the first step to connecting with people and forging lasting and meaningful relationships. It is an easy way to get to know someone, create a positive first impression and gain self-confidence.(Source: The Etiquette School of New York)

Many of my clients ask me to help them work on their small talk skills in their courses. Whilst very capable of holding and maintaining a conversation related to their jobs, many English Language learners find it more challenging to engage in small talk. The main reason they give is that they lack the necessary vocabulary on a range of topics and the expressions to start those conversations. It’s much easier to get straight down to business.

I found this excellent image prepared by St George International and felt impelled to share it with you here. It gives some useful expressions that you can take away and use the next time you find yourself engaging in small talk.

Image Credit: St George International

Image Credit: St George International

If you cannot read these expressions, here they are.

Business Small Talk: Travel

How’s your hotel?
Great location & a comfortable bed – that’s all you need, isn’t it?
Is this your first visit here?
No, I’ve been here before on business. It’s a great city.
Will you have time for some sightseeing?
No, I’m afraid not. I’ve got to run to the airport right after the meeting.
What do you think of the food here?
Not too bad. There’s a great little restaurant near my hotel.


Business Small Talk : Leisure/Sport

Do you do any sport in your free time?
Yes, I go to the gym and I do a bit of jogging, but only to keep fit. How about you?
Do you think that a team from (country) will win the Champion’s League this year?
To be honest, I’m not much of a football fan. I play tennis.
What’s the biggest sport in (country) apart from football?
Well, lots of people are into cycling and basketball is really popular, too.


Business Small Talk: Weather

How was the weather in (city) when you left?
A bit sunnier/colder than here, I’m afraid. 
It’s a bit warm/cold for this time of year, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s fantastic/terrible.
Is it true that it always rains in the UK?
Well, not exactly, but maybe there’s a little bit of truth in that.

Business Small Talk: Social and Political Issues

Is unemployment a big problem in (country)?
Well, it is an issue, but it’s not as bad as a few years ago.
Is your government doing anything to encourage business?
It tries to help small businesses with tax breaks, but it could do a lot more. What’s the situation here?
Alcohol causes a lot of problems here. Is it the same in (country)?
Yes, it’s getting worse. But I think it’s a problem in most places, isn’t it?

Can you think of other responses to the above questions? What other topics would you include in small talk?

I plan to engage in plenty of small talk and to learn a lot from my peers at this weekend’s conference. I believe that no matter what field we’re in conferences can help us become better professionals. I wrote a post yesterday on another blog I curate about why conferences are good for us teachers. 

If you liked this post please share it and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you want to receive my posts automatically.

Ciao for now


10 Idioms with an Easter and Spring Flavour to Them

I’m back! It feels really good to be back on firm ground after a week spent on a narrowboat on a canal in Wales.

This was our home for the week.

This was our home for the week.

Having said that, waking up to views such as this is hard to beat.

Good Morning, sunshine.

Good Morning, sunshine.

And cruising along a canal that looks like this is simply heavenly.


But return we must and it’s not so bad when you have the season of spring and Easter to look forward to.

Just before I left for my watery holiday, I posted this infographic sharing 10 spring idioms by Macmillan Education on my Facebook Page.

Its cheerfulness and colour remind me of all that is special about spring – sun, daffodils, bees, tulips, lambs and sheep in the fields (of which we saw plenty in Wales) and green grass. It is also the time to celebrate Easter with all that chocolate in the shape of eggs and bunnies.

I thought I’d expand on this infographic by giving you an example sentence to show you how each idiom is used. You already have the definitions. So here goes.

1. Spring into action
After lying around all morning doing nothing, Charlie suddenly sprang into action.

2. Under the sun
He likes to read about every topic under the sun.

3. No spring chicken
She may think that she looks cool and young in those hotpants, but I can tell you for a fact that she is no spring chicken.

4. A happy bunny
My husband has his beer, the football match on TV and complete control of the remote. He is one happy bunny.

5. Busy bee
Wow! You’ve done all the cleaning, the washing and ironing?! You have been a busy bee this morning.

6. A good egg
I am so pleased that we hired Dylan to help us with the accounts. He works well and fast. He is a good egg.

7. To put all your eggs in one basket
When I worked in investment management, I always advised my clients against putting all their eggs in one basket. Instead, I recommended that they have a well-diversified portfolio of investments.

8. A spring in someone’s step
Clear skies and a sunny day always give me a spring in my step.

9. The grass is (always) greener on the other side
Although it is tempting to think so, the grass is not always greener on the other side.

10. Black sheep
It seems to me that most families have a black sheep somewhere.

If you liked these idioms, you might also like the post I wrote last year specifically on Easter idioms.

Is it spring where you are? Do you like the season? Do you have similar idioms related to spring in your language?

Here in the UK, we are on a long Easter weekend break which starts today. I want to wish those of you who celebrate it, a very Happy Easter. I know that for the Orthodox Church Easter will be celebrated in a week’s time so please take this as an early wish.
Also, a very Happy Passover to all my Jewish readers.

If you liked this post, please share it and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss out on my posts.

Ciao for now


Happy Blogiversary – We Are 2 Today!

BLOG Image_2 Years

And that makes two wonderful years of blogging and sharing with you, my readers.

Two years on and this is what we have achieved together:

  • 178 posts
  • 3064 subscribers (plus 972 on Networked Blog)
  • over 1.7million total views on the blog
  • the most successful post in the last year has been viewed over 96,000 times
  • this blog was chosen as runner up for the second year running for the Macmillan Love English Award for Best Blog about the English Language

Once again, through this blog, I’ve met some wonderful people who have been generous enough to read and comment on my blog posts. I have met some more lovely new clients who I consider friends. I have been introduced to more amazing fellow teachers who have taught and inspired me and continue to do so.

My love for writing and for the English Language and English literature hasn’t diminished. On the contrary, it has grown The discipline of writing has made me appreciate far more the language and allowed me to analyse more deeply the way I teach and to make adjustments where necessary.

I continue to have the time of my life and it’s all thanks to your encouragement, your readership and enthusiasm for my posts. I love the comments I receive from you. Please keep them coming. Thank you all so much for sharing my posts and spreading the word. This blog wouldn’t be the success it is without YOU.

If you’d like me to address any particular aspects of the English Language and literature or anything else associated with the English Language culture, you only have to drop me a line and I will see what I can do.

I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all your support and I am looking forward to continuing this journey with you for many more years to come.

I am taking a week’s break from blogging starting tomorrow. My husband and I are going on a canal boat holiday in Wales. It’s going to be just the two of us and our dog, Buster. I have never been on such a holiday and I am looking forward to steering the boat, opening those locks and visiting another beautiful part of the British Isles. I’ll tell you all about it in my next post.

I will be back at the beginning of April.

Have a good week, everyone.

Ciao for now


Let’s Talk Theatre – Some Vocabulary and Expressions to Talk About the Theatre

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Photo Credit: Pixabay

I love the theatre. Whenever there is a good play on in London, I try my best to go and see it. Of course, living near London and with 241 professional theatres in the city I am spoilt for choice.

On Saturday night, my husband and I went to the Old Vic to see Kevin Spacey in a one-man play, Clarence Darrow. It was a first-class performance given by an astounding actor. He had so much energy on stage and such a presence that he kept you hooked throughout the performance.

This is what one newspaper review had to say: “… Spacey is captivating throughout. He prowls around the small stage, and out into the audience, addressing small sections as the jurors in whatever case he’s recollecting. And wherever he might be — right in front of you or with his back turned on the other side of the theatre — you can’t take your eyes off him, and hang on his every word. That’s the mark of an acting legend, and one whose presence will be greatly missed from the London stage.”

The play was first shown last year but because of its huge sell-out success, the Old Vic decided to stage the play one more time for a limited period. It’s particularly special as Kevin Spacey ends his 10-year stint as the Old Vic’s artistic director this autumn. The entire season is sold out – a testament to how well-regarded he is as an actor (or thespian).

The Old Vic’s stage is in the centre of the theatre and the audience is on all sides of it. It’s what is known as a ” theatre in the round”. The idea is to make the audience feel more involved with what is happening on stage.


Booking Tickets
I booked the tickets a month or so ago online. You can book tickets by telephone or in person at the box office of the theatre. I always book online and collect my tickets from the box office on the day of the performance.

The Seating Plan
Most theatres are divided into different sections. The section that is on the same level as the stage is known as the stalls. The next level is sometimes known as the Royal or Grand Circle. Depending on the size of the theatre, you can have between three to five levels. Stalls, Royal/Grand Circle, Dress Circle, Upper Circle and Balcony. The prices vary according to what seats you choose. The Front Stalls, Front Royal Circle and Front Upper Circles are normally the  most expensive with the Balcony seats being the cheapest as well as seats with a restricted view. I’ve never understood why anyone would choose, let alone, pay for a seat with a restricted view!

The seats in a lot of the older theatres in London have limited legroom which can be extremely uncomfortable for a tall person. In fact, my husband who is tall really struggles and Saturday night was unfortunately excruciating for him. By the interval, he couldn’t feel his feet!

Theatre_Old Vic

Types of Theatre
When tourists visit London and decide to take in a show, they normally opt for one of the West End musicals. Shows such as Mamma Mia, Les Miserables, Cats, Phantom of the Opera and so on have been playing for years in the West End and are a hugely popular with foreign tourists. However, West End theatres don’t only show musicals but also non-musical productions. These productions often start in regional or smaller theatres and depending on its success, they move to the West End.

As I’ve got older, I’ve become more attracted to the productions from smaller, local theatres. Not only are they smaller and offer a lot more intimate audience experience, they offer new playwrights and directors the opportunity to showcase their talents. These theatres commission new plays and encourage different and sometimes daring productions of old plays.

Smaller Theatres Take More Risk
They are prepared to take more risks than their West End counterparts and that is what I believe theatre is all about. Theatre should be a place where our (the audience) views and prejudices are challenged and where new ideas are introduced. It’s where actors and actresses have the opportunity to test their skills and try out different roles.

Theatre should be about encouraging playwrights, old and new, to try out fresh ideas on the audience. It should be a place of experiment, entertainment and education. It’s also a place where our minds can wander freely with our imagination.

My fellow theatre-goers
I have learnt so much about life over my theatre-going years. Not only from the play but also from watching my fellow theatre-goers. I often go to the theatre on my own. I love nothing more than going to a matinee performance (rather than an evening performance). When I go on my own, I am free to look and observe the people around me. And it’s fascinating just to watch how people interact with each other. There could be people milling in the bar drinking and ordering their drinks for the interval; there could be people catching up with each other’s news or reading the theatre programme and there could be people like me who are on their own and are observing others or simply reading a book. Nowadays, it’s more likely to be their smartphones, though!

A Night at the Theatre Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A Night at the Theatre
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Turn off your phones, the performance is about to start
I love that moment when the lights dim, the audience is shushed into silence and the actors come onto the stage. I take a sharp intake of breath and almost burst with anticipation of what is to come next.

Do you like the theatre? Do you have a good choice of theatres where you live? Or perhaps you have more amateur dramatics theatre (AmDram) or fringe theatres near you?
I’d love you to share your theatrical experiences with me and to share what you love most about the theatre.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please share it. You may also like to subscribe to my blog to receive my posts automatically.

Ciao for now


10 Idioms About Books

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Last Thursday (5 March) was World Book Day. As the name suggests, the day is a celebration of everything that involves the world of books – authors, illustrators, books, publishers and above all, reading.

As part of their celebrations, Macmillan Publishers produced an infographic showing 10 idioms about books. You can see it on their website and download the infographic here as a PDF file.

As I haven’t published an “idioms” post in a long while, I thought that I would share these 10 idioms with you. The definitions used here are provided by Macmillan Dictionary, but the examples are mine.

1. A closed book 
(a) Something you accept has completely ended
“As far as I am concerned, that matter with the council is a closed book

(b) Someone or something that is difficult to understand
“I have never been able to work or communicate with John. He is a closed book


2. An open book
Someone that is easy to know about because they don’t keep any secrets.
“Julia’s life is like an open book. You always know what she’s up to”.

3. Read someone like a book
To understand easily what someone is thinking or feeling
“I can read Angela like a book. I always know what she’s thinking and what she’s about to say at meetings”

4. The oldest trick in the book
A dishonest method of doing something that you know about because it has been used many times before
“It was the oldest trick in the book – one man distracted me while another stole my wallet. I can’t believe I fell for it.”

5. In someone’s good/bad books
Used for saying when someone is pleased/annoyed with you.
“Tommy has been on his best behaviour today. After yesterday’s tantrums, he’s been doing his best to be in my good books all day.”



6. By the book
Someone who strictly follows all the rules when doing something
“We’re not going to leave things to chance.We’re going to run this company by the book.”


7. To bring someone to book
To punish someone when they’ve done something wrong
“I had to bring Tom to book after our meeting. He shouldn’t have lost his temper at Bridget”.


8. Take a leaf out of someone’s book
To copy what someone else does because they are successful at it
” You should take a leaf out of Keith’s book. He has achieved wonders with those children”.


9. Don’t judge a book by its cover
Don’t form an opinion of something or someone only from its appearance
” When I first met Charlotte she had had a really tough two weeks and wasn’t in the mood for chatting and appeared very moody and unsociable. She is not at all like that. One should never judge a book by its cover“.


10. Cook the books
To change accounts or figures dishonestly normally to make money
“It appears that Stanley had been cooking the books for years. He was finally caught last year.”


And there you have it. Do you have similar idioms about books in your native language?

And talking about books, what are you reading at the moment? Do you know how to talk about books in English? If you don’t, you may want to check out this post I wrote last year.

If you liked this post please share it and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you’d like to receive my posts as and when they are published.

Ciao for now


Farewell My Friend – A Poem To A Cherished Friend

Photo Credit: Flickr/Rejik

Fresh Memories Photo Credit: Flickr/Rejik

Last week, my husband and I attended the funeral and memorial of our neighbours’ daughter. She was only 23. I don’t have to tell you how devastated the parents feel at losing their only child.

The funeral/memorial was attended by well over 300 people, mostly by Christina’s friends from school and university. David and I, together with her parents’ friends, were the oldest in this congregation. It felt so wrong to see so many young people gathered on this sad occasion.

Around 10 of her friends, including her boyfriend shared their memories of her. There was much laughter and also many tears as we reflected on a life taken away far too soon.

Apart from the poignancy and sadness of the occasion, what struck me was how articulate and eloquent these young people were. They all spoke so beautifully, but above all the words and phrases they chose to describe this larger than life young woman and to express their feelings for her astounded me. There has been so much talk recently in the media about how inarticulate this generation of young people are. With their incessant use of  text messaging, snapchat, What’s App and so on, they have forgotten the art of expression either in verbal or written form.

Well, this group of young people proved just how wrong the media are. I was astounded by what I heard. One particular person who stood out for me was a young man who quickly penned a poem to Christina whilst waiting for his flight on his way to the UK from Australia.

This is Adam Greaves’s poem to Christina.

There’s a place between here and forever
Where a lilac shadows the Grove
Where junipers blossom and flourish
And beauty never fades or grows old

It’s a land of ever summer
Where rainfall never goes
And the trees are as old as the stars
Where beauty never fades or grows old

Now when the moon fades to black
And the sun falls out of the sky
And the birds fly East in the winter
And the rivers all run dry

I hope you’ve found peace in this grotto
Where you travelled tenacious and bold
Where some day I’ll come and meet you
Where beauty never fades or grows old

I don’t think that as a 23-year old I would have had the maturity or the eloquence to write such a poem in haste or at leisure. The words are simple and yet so powerful and poignant. I don’t have to tell you that many tears were shed after listening to that poem.

Christina, you got more mileage out of your young Life than Life could ever have got out of you. Life had no choice but to make a quiet exit. You are a remarkable woman and will never be forgotten. It was a pleasure to have known you albeit for all too brief a time.

Thank you for reading.

Ciao for now


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Time is Money: 12 Time Metaphors We Use in Our Daily Lives

Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay

It’s already 1 March!!! Where has the time gone?! One minute I was bringing the Christmas tree down, the next minute I’m making preparations for spring and Easter.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, time seems to be flying by a bit too quickly for my liking. In this day and age of instant communication where the need to respond to email, What’s App messages, Snapchat, Facebook and text messages is no longer an option but an absolute requirement. This expectation to respond immediately has meant that our days have become busier and busier so much so that 24 hours in a day are often not enough to accomplish all that we want to achieve.

Time has become a precious commodity or a limited resource both in our personal and working lives. There are in fact a lot of metaphorical expressions in English that show how valuable time is.

In this post, I’ve selected 12 expressions related to time that I found in Ian McKenzie’s book “Financial English” that are frequently used in English. I have used a business context for the examples.

1. Take time
Don’t worry. I know things haven’t been easy and that it will take a little more time for things to pick up, but things will turn around.

2. Time left
How much time have we got left to present our findings to the board?

3. Run out of time
We need a decision from the bank. We’re running out of time.

4. Spare the time
I really cannot spare more time on this project.

5. Worth the time
I don’t think this account is worth the time we’re going to need to make it viable.


6. Save time
It will save us a huge amount of time if we were to forewarn our suppliers of the changes ahead of the meeting.

7. Waste of time
We’ve had to input all the data again onto the system. It’s been a such a waste of time.

8. Spend time
Look, we’ve spent a great deal of time on this tender. We cannot afford to lose it now.

9. Allocate time
We need to allocate sufficient time on this task to ensure it gets done properly.

10. Lose time
There’s no time to lose. We need to head to the airport now.

11. Invest time
We’ve invested a lot of time on cultivating this connection. We cannot abandon it now.

12. Give time
If you could just give me more time, I promise I’ll get the figures to you by tomorrow.


Thank you for taking the time to read this post! If you liked it, please share it. And if you’d like to receive my posts automatically into your inbox, why not subscribe to my blog?

Ciao for now



Source: Financial English (Second Edition 2012), Ian Mackenzie, Cengage Learning

Writing Tips: How to Write Better Academic Papers

Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay

Most of my clients are business people and more often than not need to work on their business writing, for example, emails, reports or proposals. However, I’ve had the occasional client who needed to work on their academic writing for their Master’s Degree or PhD. Business and academic writing have very different requirements and whilst I have more recent experience of business writing, I had to go back to my university days in order to help my clients with their academic writing needs. It was a most stimulating and challenging experience but one filled with trepidation as I wanted to make sure that I was giving my clients the best kind of support.

So, I was delighted when Robert Morris approached me recently with an offer to write for my blog and chose the subject of academic writing.  In his post, he shares some valuable online resources you could refer to as well as giving you some tips on how to write an excellent essay. I dare say that a lot of native speakers could do with following these suggestions, too. 

So without further ado, I present you Robert Morris.

There are tons of guides, manuals and instructions that ESL students can follow when they try to write essays, but they always struggle with the completion of academic content. The standardized format of academic writing and reference is not easy to master for a foreign student. Don’t worry; you can still write great papers if you use the right tools and follow specific steps that will guide you through the process.

The best essay writing online resources

Before you can start tackling the essay writing process, you should take a look at these online tools that will make the assignment simpler for you.

Rob Whyte, the founder of this website, is an English professor who teaches English conversation and composition. He is also a professional writer you can learn from. At ESLWriting.org, you’ll find useful articles and eBooks that will help you understand the concept of academic writing in English.

Explore Writing
Although this website is focused on all categories of writers, ESL students can still benefit from its resources. Besides the category of Essays, you can explore other sections of the website, such as: fiction, journalism, general writing hints, personal writing, poetry, script writing, and more.

The Easy Essay
This automated information organization program will help you create a solid base for your essay. As a result, you will create a logical piece of content based on strong arguments.

All you need to do is choose a word, and you’ll get a map of related words that will help you come up with genuine ideas on how to approach the topic. This is one of the most effective brainstorming tools you can use before starting the writing process.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Photo Credit: Pixabay

A guide to essay writing

Now that you have the right tools to support you through the process of academic writing, you can follow these tips and complete an outstanding paper:

Step 1: Think about the type of essay and choose a topic!
ESL students are usually confused by the different types of essays they have to write. Before you can start with the research process, you should understand what you are expected to write. After that, you can feel free to pick a topic that will inspire you to write the paper.

Step 2: Locate resources
Depending on the type of essay you are working on, you will need to look for resources to support the discussion. If you are writing a personal essay, you can feel free to skip this step. The discussion of all other types of academic content should be supported by relevant facts.

Step 3: Work on the structure
If you want to write a successful paper, you need to create an outline and stick to the planned structure. This step will help you move from one paragraph to another without trying to think of new arguments along the way.

Step 4: Start writing
Stick to the outline you’ve created and elaborate each point with clean, readable sentences. Don’t be afraid to reorganize the arguments if that would result with a better logical flow.

Step 5: Reference!
This is one of the hardest aspects of the academic writing process, mainly because it’s based on strict rules that don’t allow you to improvise.

Step 6: Bring it to perfection.
The spelling, grammar, and structure of your essay should be flawless. Make sure to check the content several times and correct all mistakes. This is an important step that will increase the overall quality of your essay.


The tools and tips listed above will help you tackle the challenge of academic writing with ease. As an ESL student, you are facing difficulties that require a more efficient approach. Don’t overlook the important stages of the process, and remember that you can surpass any obstacle when you rely on the right tool.


Robert is a professional essay writer at custom writing service NinjaEssays, loves reading, learning and painting. You can follow NinjaEssays on Twitter, Facebook and Google+

Thanks very much for this post, Robert. I hope you find the tips and suggestions Robert has shared here helpful. I will certainly be checking out the online tools.

If you found this post helpful, please share it and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to get my posts directly into your inbox.

Ciao for now


Gong Xi Fai Chai! Let’s Practise English Personality Adjectives with the Chinese Zodiac.

BLOG_New Year

First of all, I’d like to wish all my Chinese readers a warm Gong Xi Fai Chai /gong zee fah chai/ (Happy New Year). Listen to the correct pronunciation here.

Today marks the beginning of the new lunar year in the Chinese calendar. Over the next few days, Chinese around the world will be celebrating with their families with sumptuous feasts and events like the dragon or lion dance. In fact, the great migration has already started with millions travelling back to their families.

It is also the Year of the Goat or Sheep. The Chinese Zodiac has always been a source of fascination for me. Growing up in Malaysia where the second largest ethnic group is Chinese we took part in Chinese New Year festivities with great enthusiasm.

We also took our zodiacal signs and their associated personality traits very seriously. As I was thinking about the year of the goat and the other zodiacal signs, I thought that the personality traits would be a great way of introducing you to English personality adjectives whilst at the same time introducing you to the Chinese zodiac.

So, without further ado, let’s start. There are 12 zodiac signs in the Chinese horoscope. Each sign relates to an animal and to the lunar year in which you were born. The Chinese believe the animal ruling your birth year has a profound influence on your personality and destiny.

The 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac are in the following order Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep/Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar/Pig. Each sign corresponds to a year and is repeated in 12-year cycles.

You can determine your sign by referring to the year of your birth and matching it to the chart below:

BLOG_Chinese Zodiac years

Each sign has positive and negative traits.

RAT - Intelligent, adaptable, quick-witted, charming, artistic, sociable. Can be selfish, ruthless, controlling, scheming

OX –  Loyal, reliable, thorough, strong, reasonable, steady, determined. Can be stubborn, narrow-minded, demanding, rigid

TIGER – Enthusiastic, courageous, ambitious, leadership, confidence, charismatic. Can be restless, clumsy, hot-tempered, impatient.

RABBIT -Trustworthy, empathic, modest, diplomatic, sincere, sociable, caretakers. Can be moody, shy, lazy, opportunistic.

DRAGON – Lucky, flexible, eccentric, imaginative, artistic, spiritual, charismatic. Can be arrogant, violent, brash,controlling.

SNAKE Philosophical, organized, intelligent, intuitive, elegant, attentive, decisive. Can be a loner, bad communicator, possessive, distrustful.

Photo: Wikipedia

HORSE – Adaptable, loyal, courageous, ambitious, intelligent, adventurous, strong. Can be fickle, rude, gullible, stubborn.

SHEEP/GOAT -Tasteful, crafty, warm, elegant, charming, intuitive, sensitive, calm. Can be moody, a worrier (noun), a complainer (noun), and or too soft.

MONKEY Quick-witted, charming, lucky, adaptable, bright, versatile, lively, smart. Can be vain, clumsy, trickster, snobbish.

ROOSTER – Honest, energetic, intelligent, flamboyant, flexible, diverse, confident. Can be critical, egotistical, rough, opinionated. 

DOG – Loyal, sociable, courageous, diligent, steady, lively, adaptable, smart. Can be lazy, cold, stubborn, quarrelsome.

BOAR/PIG – Honourable, philanthropic, determined, optimistic, sincere, sociable. Can be naive, gullible, materialistic, clingy.

So there you have it. Do you recognise these personality traits in yourself? More importantly, can you think of other adjectives, both positive and negative, that would describe yourself that aren’t mentioned above?

If you’d like more information on the Chinese Zodiac signs, take a look at this source.

That’s all folks. I hope you have fun exploring the Chinese zodiac and studying the above adjectives.

Ciao for now.


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