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Learning through explanations and learning through examples

When some aspect of English confuses you, what should you do about it? Should you ask a teacher or consult a book? Or try to figure it out for yourself?

If you've been reading PhraseMix for a while, you probably already know what my answer is going to be. In the past, I've written about why you need to practice English, not just learn it. But this answer may be helpful anyway.

Think of a question like one of these:

  • When should you use "did" and when should you use "have done"?
  • When do English speakers use passive sentences ("be __ed")?
  • What's the difference between "just" and "only"?

The reason that these are interesting questions about English is that the answers are complicated. If the answer were easy, you wouldn't need to ask about it. (No one asks "What's the difference between...

The business of PhraseMix


I'd like to write a little about the business of PhraseMix: where we are now and where I'd like to go.


I started PhraseMix two and a half years ago because I had an idea for a better way to learn languages.

From the beginning, it's been a part-time project for me. I work on it in the early mornings, the evenings, and the weekends. (My full-time job is at a magazine publsiher.) 

For the first two years, I didn't make any money from PhraseMix. It may have seemed that I was doing PhraseMix purely out of the kindness of my heart. In fact, I knew from the beginning that I wanted PhraseMix to be a business that generated profits.

Why did I want PhraseMix to make money? I do believe that education should be accessible to everyone, so why don't I just make it completely free?...

Welcome to the NEW PhraseMix!

For two and a half years, I've run PhraseMix on a simple blogging platform. It was useful, but I was always limited in what I could accomplish.

For the last 6 months, I've been working on learning how to build webpages. I've re-built PhraseMix as a custom application. Doing so will allow me to start adding a lot of cool features that I wasn't able to before.

Right now, there are a few major changes to note:

  • PhraseMix now looks a lot better on a mobile phone. Try accessing the site from your smartphone.
  • The lesson categories have been improved. I've done some re-organizing of the categories and made a nice page showing all the lessons in each category.
  • PhraseMix Premium users can now listen to the example sentence and the scene description for each lesson!  You can listen to a...

How do you feel about calling yourself "fluent"?

Do you feel comfortable calling yourself "fluent" in English?

I started thinking about this topic recently when I was telling someone about my experiences living in Japan. She asked whether I'm fluent in Japanese, and I started to give my usual complicated answer.

I'm never sure what to say. On one hand, I have no problem getting by completely in Japanese. I can ask for the things I need, share my opinions, enjoy TV shows, and read signs. On the other hand, there are a lot of ideas that I can't express. There are a lot of topics of conversation that I can't follow along with well. And I can't put a sentence together nearly as well as I used to when I was using it every day.

When people ask me "Are you fluent in Japanese?" I usually explain a lot of what I've just described. I don't...

Notes from the PhraseMix Tokyo Meetup

Last week, I was able to get together with a group of 8 PhraseMix readers in Tokyo, Japan for a little meetup. We had some food, chatted in English, and even tried to play a game (which I'll discuss below).

The best part for me was getting to hear how everyone uses PhraseMix and what they'd like to see. Here are some of the interesting points that I got from it:

  1. I was surprised to hear that most of the readers at the meetup used the daily email as their starting point. They said that they read the emails each day and then clicked through to read more about the phrases that interested them.

    The daily emails that subscribers receive are actually automatic. They are generated by each day's lesson post. Hearing this made me think that maybe I should put some extra effort into them :)
  2. ...

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