The Blog

Thoughts about learning foreign languages. News about

Study and use

When have you made the fastest improvements in your language learning? I was thinking about this recently. I remembered that I've improved the fastest when I was:

  1. Studying the language every day by looking up new words, drilling with lists, and reading explanations of grammatical structures
  2. Using the language in my everyday life: talking with people, watching TV, reading street signs, and running errands.

Times when I've done only one or the other haven't been nearly as productive. When I only study, I learn a lot of words or phrases that I end up forgetting later. When I only use the language, my improvement is a lot slower.

I recommend spending about 30% of your time on study and 70% on using the language. What's your ratio? Do you think it works for you?

The key to understanding natural spoken English

Today a friend told me a story. She was doing translation work at a booth in a restaurant trade show. She was translating for the CEO of a company that made high-quality kitchen knives.

This CEO had studied English, but hadn't gotten many chances to use English in real situations. So he was able to understand some things, but needed help with others.

After one customer left, the CEO asked my friend in Japanese, "What was that guy saying? He kept saying 'vanna', 'vanna'."

My friend thought for a second, and then said, "Oh, he was asking what the advantages of using these knives were – 'ad-VAN-tage'."

The key is Stress!

Stress can make English difficult to understand at times. Native English speakers pronounce stressed syllables clearly, but unstressed syllables can be hard to hear....

What's your favorite English-language TV show?


Watching TV is a great way to learn a foreign language. TV shows are great because:

  • They're not too short and not too long.
  • You learn in context. That means that you can see what language to use in a specific situation.
  • They're fun to watch, so you keep coming back to them.


I'd like to know a little about the English-language TV shows you've watched. Here's what I want to know: 

  1. In one sentence, what is the show about?
  2. What's an interesting phrase you remember from that show? 

For example, one of my favorite TV shows is a reality competition show called Survivor. Here's what I'd write about it:

Survivor is about a group of people who live in the wilderness for several weeks and compete to win a million dollars by being the last person not voted out of their...

When and where do you learn English?


I want to know about your English learning environment. When and where do you most often learn English?

Do you study in the morning when you wake up? At night in bed? On your lunch break?

Do you like to listen to lessons on your phone while you're jogging? Do you take an English class at a university? Or do you meet up with a language exchange partner once a week in a coffee shop?

Please share your English study habits in the comments!

We won the "Site of the Year 2011" award! has announced their 2011 "Site of the Year", and thanks to you, PhraseMix won!

Thanks so much to everyone who voted in this competition. Because of your help, PhraseMix won by a landslide.

Voting helps a lot. When we win an award like this, new people find out about PhraseMix and visit. They tell their friends about it, and the site grows. The faster the site grows, the more learning material I'm able to create for you.

If you've never visited EnglishClub, you should go check them out. It's a huge site with all kinds of material for learning English. The site really does have a "club" feeling, with people of all different ability levels helping each other out.

In related news, the results of the Macmillan Dictionary Love English awards were also announced. We...

Learn English faster! Get PhraseMix Premium