The Rice University Intensive English Program encourages students to find ways to practice English skills outside of class. Keep coming back to this page as the program continues to add activities, web sites, and tips for practicing English.
This is a classic way to improve your listening comprehension. You can see the people on TV. This helps you understand what they are saying and why. Newer televisions allow you see captions at the bottom of the screen. If your TV has this feature, you can read what is said as you listen. If you start listening with captions, try to gradually give up captions. Eventually, you want to listen and understand without captions.
If you have a VCR or DVR, you can record a program. Watch it first with captions. Then rewind and watch it without captions. Can you understand it now? If you have a favorite movie, you can purchase that video. After you understand the main idea of the story, watch a 5-minute part with captions. Rewind and watch it without captions. Repeat for the whole movie.
You can find show times and channels at the TV Guide web site.
LISTEN TO THE RADIO
88.7 FM KUHF
Many of the listening exercises that we do in Levels 4-Advanced come from National Public Radio. This is a respected news source designed for native speakers. You can hear interesting news stories in Houston by tuning your radio to 88.7 KUHF on weekday mornings from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and Sundays 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. There are also other excellent shows. For more information, to hear the broadcast or see transcripts, click here. If you don't live in the Houston area, you can find the station nearest you by entering your zip code in the box located in the upper left hand corner of the NPR homepage.
Engines of Our Ingenuity
One very interesting program is called Engines of Our Ingenuity. A professor from the University of Houston explains the origin of human inventions like the telephone or the stamp. It only takes about 3 minutes. You can listen to it on the radio at 7:35 am and at 3:53 pm. You can listen to it again and see the transcripts by clicking here.
This is a program about Latino culture and accomplishments in the United States. Saturdays 12:00 noon –12:30 pm.
A Prairie Home Companion
This is a program of funny stories and songs. Saturdays 5 – 7 p.m. and Sundays 12:00 noon – 2 p.m.
News Radio 740 AM KTRH
This local Houston radio station offers news and talk shows throughout the day. It is on the AM dial of your radio. For more information, click here.
Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab - Listening practice for beginning through advanced levels
National Public Radio - Interesting stories
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MAKE SMALL TALK
You can practice English by talking with Americans even if you don’t know them. Many Americans feel comfortable talking to strangers while they are waiting for something or if they have nothing better to do.
Choose people who are not busy and who look friendly. If you start a conversation and they don’t respond, you haven’t lost any money or time. If they continue the conversation, you have gained a great opportunity to practice English and maybe a new friend.
NOTES ABOUT SAFETY
Of course, please be smart. Do not talk to people who are drunk, who are in a dark, isolated place, or otherwise seem dangerous. If they ask you to go somewhere with them or make you feel uncomfortable, it is best to say, “I don’t feel comfortable with that” and end the conversation.
Here is a sample beginning of a conversation as you wait for a bus or in line at the grocery store or post office:
You: It’s hot /cold/rainy/beautiful today, isn’t it?
You: It’s just like this / not like this in name of your country, where I am from.
If the person wants to talk, hopefully they will ask you more about your country.
In a Shop Idea #1
If the store clerk isn’t busy and looks friendly, you could ask him/her for advice.
You: I’m looking for a sweater/ shirt . . . for my mother /sister/ friend . . .. Could you help me find one?
You: Which one do you like better? Do you have anything heavier/ lighter / bigger/ smaller? Do you have anything cheaper? Will there be any sales in the near future?
In a Shop Idea #2
If you don't recognize a produce (fruits and vegetables in a grocery store, for example), you can ask friendly, relaxed clerks and customers for help.
You: Excuse me. I’m not from the United States and I’m not sure about this. Could you tell me what this tastes like? Which kind of apple / lettuce do you like best?
At a Party
If you are invited to a party, you may know the host or hostess, but not the other guests. Here are some ways to start a conversation with other guests that you do not know.
- How do you know the host?
- Have you known each other long?
- How long have you lived in Houston?
- What brought you to Houston? (Why did you come here?)
- Do you like it?
- Have you seen any good movies lately?
- What are your hobbies?
- What do you do? (What kind of work do you do?)
CALL A LOCAL BUSINESS
You can practice speaking and listening by calling a local business and asking for information.
If you know the name of a business, you can find the phone number by looking in the White Pages Business Telephone Directory or calling Directory Assistance at 1-4-1-1. Depending upon the phone service, the call to 1411 Directory Assistance may be free or may cost 50 cents to 1 dollar. The person at Directory Assistance will ask you for the city and the name of the business or person. It’s helpful to know the name of the street as well.
If you don’t know the name of a specific business, you can look on in the Yellow Pages Telephone Directory under a business category. For example, you could look under Restaurants. After the alphabetical listing of restaurants, there is also a list by type of food (Italian, Mexican, Chinese,…)
Calling a Restaurant
Here are some questions you can ask:
- When are you open?
- Where are you located? (nearby intersection)?
- What kind of food to you serve?
- What is the price range?
- [For expensive restaurants] What is the dress code?
- [For moderate to expensive restaurants] Are reservations necessary? Can I make a reservation for (number) of people at (some time)?
CALL A FRIEND
Here are some ways to start and end phone conversations in English. Try it!
Call your classmates if:
- you have questions about the homework
- you want someone to go with you to a movie, restaurant, etc.
- you want to practice English
How to begin a phone conversation:
A = answerer P = person you want to speak to C= caller
C: Hello. May I speak to _________? OR Is __________ there?
A/P: This is he/she. OR Just a minute.
When the caller is speaking to the correct person)
C: Hi. This is ________. How are you?
P: Fine. How about you?
C: Fine. (begin your conversation)
How to end a phone conversation:#1
X: Okay...thanks for your help.
Y: You're welcome. OR No problem.
X: I'll talk to you later.
Y: Okay. Bye.
X: Well... It was good to talk to you.
Y: Yes. I enjoyed talking to you.
X: I'll see you in class.
Y: Okay. Bye.
APPROPRIATE TIME to call: In the US, you may call acquaintances from 9 am to 9 pm. You may call at other times if you are good friends and have discussed when you should/should not call.
Tongue twisters are great for practicing pronunciation. Check out these web sites:
Tongue Twisters for the ESL/EFL Classroom
English Club Pronunciation
The Tongue Twister Database
ESL : Pronunciation : Tongue Twisters
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Reading helps improve reading skills and builds vocabulary. You will find many interesting articles in the following web sites:
CNN - Up-to-the-minute news reports
Houston Chronicle - Houston's major newspaper
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- Come back to visit this site for ideas for practicing writing.
Dictionary-Thesaurus- online dictionary and thesaurus
The following web sites have practice tools for listening, speaking, reading, writing and grammar:
Dave's ESL Cafe
Karin's ESL Party Land
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