Saturday, December 29, 2012

"The Canadian Diva"

Celine Dion is one my favorite singers during the early 90s alongside Michael Bolton. She made her mark during a significant transition from new wave to a whole new genre' of music, particularly focusing on boy bands and other vocal groups.

She is well known for her "five-octave" vocal range, without a hint of effort. She is capable of smooth transitions from low notes to extremely high ones, reflecting both her natural prowess and her professional experiences.

Celine was even compared to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, the former being one of her musical influences. Known as the Queen of Pop during her time, this Canadian Diva will forever be one of my most admired singers of all time.

I even included one of her popular songs in my Ipod and constantly listen to it when I run, hope you enjoy it as well: - "That's the Way It Is"

***all rights go to Ms. Celine Dion and the recording company :)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Free weights or Machines?

Proponents of free weights would say that if you want to build muscle and lose fat, free weights is king. But if you would want the "streamlined" and refined-look, then machines would be best. There are other factors to consider, however. It's not just a matter of equipment, but it's also the poundage, the volume and rest periods that should be taken into consideration.

If you use a machine with sufficiently heavy load, say; 70-85% of 1 RM and do 3 sets of  12 with 1-2 minutes rest in between sets - then wouldn't it achieve the same result of hypertrophy comparable to that when using free weights?

I guess the real benefit of free weights, is the fact that it is unassisted and therefore it will challenge your balance, coordination and core more than machines that are considered: "self-spotting". Free weights also require more refined movements that would enable recruitment of stabilizers, synergists and antagonistic muscles to support and lift the desired weight.

The neural connections between the muscles, the brain and the perceived stimulus is also challenged. It's for this reason (and is common knowledge) that newbies who are merely starting to lift weights for 1-2 months, notice some improvements in terms of strength and to a certain extent - muscular size. This would usually plateau after the said time frame, thus the need for some variations in programming for continuous gains.

Since both machines and free weights are staple equipments in any gym, why not get the best of both worlds? You could either use free weights first, hitting the major muscles- then machines to exhaust those muscles or to focus on the smaller ones. The number of sets, repetitions and rest periods would depend on your goals, i.e muscular size, endurance, strength or muscle tone.

The most important thing to understand is the proper form, execution and breathing. Free weights? or machines? Use both in whatever order or use just one - it totally depends on your goals, how your body responds to it and how you feel at that time.

Keep the faith :)

"The Mentor Behind the Educator"

There have been a lot of cliche's about being a mother and what a mother means to each and everyone of us, but if we sum up all those personal opinions, it all boils down to altruism and pure love. My mother of course, is no exception.

She married at the very young age of 18 at the height of her dreams of having a career, but because she couldn't have her own way - she married my dad through the influence of my grandmother - who's quite a very strict Spaniard and approves of my dad very much.

My sister was born after just a few years and I followed 11 years after. When she was pregnant with me, my father fell seriously ill and was bedridden for three years. It was my mom who single-handedly took care of my father, the household chores, my sister as well as her personal needs and work. It was one of the toughest times my mother had to endure, but she did it nonetheless.

Despite all her sacrifices as a wife and as a mother, she was as steadfast and resilient all throughout. She never let any difficulty get the best of her and instead always wielded all of her will to overcome all kinds of challenges and obstacles. Of course she does have her weak moments just like any human, but she makes it a point not to show this to anyone, not even to us.

By nature, my mother is an achiever whether in school or any kind of work that she was involved with. It's not so much being a perfectionist, but being second-best is and will never be part of her vocabulary. When she starts something, she will definitely do it the best way she can the first time and will finish it no matter what. She is a person who will never compromise her beliefs, outspoken and quite well-versed in terms of legalities and makes her a formidable foe for those who would even attempt to step on her toes.

My mother was considered the driving force behind our family, she gave importance to values, respect, proper decorum and etiquette as well as responsibility, professionalism and high work ethic standards. She was a friend you could talk to about anything under the sun and she can be a friend to our friends as well. She's a counselor, someone to lean on, someone you could tell jokes to even if it's corny and a person who would always want the best for her children, even if it means sacrificing her own dreams and aspirations.

She was our greatest fan in every endeavor and achievement and she was our foremost sympathizer during times of misfortunes and failures. Someone who would take up all the sufferings and pain rather than allow her children to experience them first hand.

Even now that my sister and I are both married, my mom is still a mother to us. She never fails to give us advice about life lessons, frustrations and disappointments. Even if we are miles apart, our bond remains as steadfast as it was when we were younger.

Society usually frowns on the closeness of sons and mothers and labelled it as: "mama's boy". I will never comprehend society as a whole, but will never be ashamed of the immense love that I have for my mother. If not for mothers in general, there wouldn't be any future leaders, future professionals or even future generations.

I do not know when my mother and I would be reunited, but we do find the time to communicate and touch base, so to speak. It is during these special occasions and holidays that I get to miss her a lot and even the family that I was a part of. We grew up full of love, affection and attention from our mother and this is what makes our household, a home worth coming home to.

While growing up, I yearned to have the same qualities that she has and achieve as much as she did. It wasn't just brought about by her expectations for me to be as efficient and strong as she is, but because she just wanted me to be more: "life-resistant" or "life-ready" for that matter.

It's only now that I realize that I am her in my own unique way, as effortless, unnoticeable and unexpected as it could be and I wouldn't have it in any other way. The majority of the knowledge and experiences that I have imparted in my 8 years of teaching, practically came from her. So in a sense, it's as if it has always been her educating the many students that I have encountered, it was her giving advice to some of my friends that needed it the most and it was her who consoled those that needed a shoulder to cry on or cracked jokes to those that needed a good laugh.

The way she is to me, IS the way I am exactly to my students and my friends. It's a no-brainer that we're so much alike in many ways that I could ever imagine.

So, if people ask me who my mentor is or why I am the way I am - I always proudly tell them of my maternal affinity as well as proclivities. She will always be the mentor behind the educator and the reason for my existence.

"Yo soy hijo de mi madre!" ("I am my mother's son!")

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"More Than Just A Semi-class"

December 23 - I had the opportunity of having a conference class with two students that don't normally "team-up" in my schedule. I chose a random conversational topic and the rest was history. I particularly observed the similarity in English abilities, which made the class more spontaneous and smooth-flowing.

What was more interesting was that one student was quite laid-back and soft-spoken, while the other was very bubbly and upbeat.  These personality differences didn't affect the class at all, it even amplified and made it even more interesting.

The first few questions were answered by both according to their own beliefs and opinions and they were very interactive. It was quite easy for the both of them to throw questions at each other and showcase their communication skills as I listened intently to both speakers.

The last question was the most memorable: "My girlfriend left me. I feel depressed. What should I do?" Since both students were women, I guess "rewording" the question above was in order: "If your boyfriend left you and you feel depressed about it, what would you do?"

The bubbly student answered very casually: "This happened to me before and I knew how it felt like. Maybe because he was more immature than I am or because I was more immature than he is, I don't know. If this happens to me again, I'll just look for another guy."

The other student and I laughed throughout the remaining minutes of the class and "bubbly" student laughed as well, probably realizing how casual her opinion was. I was probably expecting: "Well, I would ask advice from my friend to help me with the recovery process,.." or something along those lines.

 As a result, both students became more comfortable with each other and admired each other's dedication to their chosen fields of endeavor. Even though their professions are very different from one another, one can only admire the level of work ethic, professionalism, commitment and talent these women have shown. They are perfect examples again of women setting the bar in a very traditional country, mostly dominated by men. 

On a personal note, being casually honest really has its benefits- it brings out spontaneity, unexpected laughter as well as another learning experience and this is just one of the perks of teaching English - priceless!


I have been quite fascinated with this song by Damien Rice. I just tried recording a practice session with my guitar and I guess it turned out okay. My voice isn't the way it sounded years ago, especially because of the numerous hours of teaching English online.

Anyway, I'm trying to revisit my old hobby - hopefully with enough practice, I would be able to do better.

This is by the way a Christmas gift to my Godmother and you know who you are :) I

hope you enjoy this humble recording - I'm not really a singer - I just love to sing, especially with my guitar :)

Happy Christmas to everyone! :D

Friday, November 9, 2012

"Weekend Fun"

Another weekend and our day starts with the usual late breakfast while doing the laundry. Sweeping the floor and cleaning the bathroom are the usual routines. Nevertheless, it doesn't matter how routinary our weekend can be because it's what happens afterward that makes it different.

It's either we have DVD marathons, go to the mall, have casual conversations or any simple thing that could make our Saturday afternoon different from the other Saturdays that have passed.

7 days a week and my wife and I only have one day we could spend time together. It's for this reason why we make the best of it or should I say,...make the best fun of it :)

How do you spend your weekend? Hope you have a good one...always! :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


After working out in a local gym, I bought a pregnancy kit for my wife as well as a chocolate cake that she's requesting. I really can't explain what I'm feeling - both nervous and excited.

Nervous, because I would be a first-time father and being a perfectionist - I always think of future events before they happen and prepare for it. But, I thought nothing could really prepare me for something like this. I also feel very excited because I would like to know how our child would look like and I would be teaching her Russian and British accents - hahahaha!!!  - headache for my wife - I'm sure :D

My wife would be doing the pregnancy test tomorrow morning. I do hope that she would have a healthy pregnancy without any hitches or complications. 

I'll just have to listen to Voltes V and Daimos Anime theme songs and that relaxes my nerves.

That's it for now. Keeping my fingers crossed :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sick Days

Woke up today and still felt feverish and my throat felt thick as if I swallowed a pillow. My nose was clogged and I sound like Darth Vader from Star Wars when I speak. I got out of bed sluggishly and went on my routine of washing up and preparing for breakfast.

It's 10:30 and I'm finishing off my breakfast with a bowl of oatmeal and a piece of banana. I practically couldn't taste anything, but I just thought - it's necessary as a pre-workout meal.

Yes, you read it right- even though I felt very sick and feverish, I still decided to go the local gym and work out. If I sweat this out, I can reduce my sick days.

So, sluggishly I went to the gym - literally dragging my feet. It was a 15-minute walk, and the sun was searing hot. It's a good thing that I met some of my oldest friends there and we had a good conversation (like Katsumoto and Algren from the "Last Samurai" -hahaha!)

It's already 12:15 - have to work out already and not waste too much time talking. I did my usual circuit exercises and had very short conversations with my old friend while resting between sets. (multi-tasking - hahah! again!) Sweated really profusely and it felt good. Finished my workout at around 1:00pm and on my way home.

The searing sun was suddenly replaced by a cooler wind and cloudy skies. I should be happier, because I don't need to feel so uncomfortable with the extreme heat. But I actually felt cold as if it's wintertime. I'm still not well - obviously.

Arrived home - finally. Drank my protein drink, prepared my lunch - sweet potatoes and tuna and boiled some eggs. Showered first, then ate lunch. It's like I'm eating wood, there's practically no taste because of my colds. Anyway, I'm positive I'll be better soon enough.

I just look at this old picture of mine to motivate myself:

I took this picture 3 years ago and it was really quite expensive to maintain this kind of mass. But it's very motivating nevertheless. Tomorrow I'll be running early and hopefully I will feel better. 

I usually do this to sweat out my "illness", if there's such a thing. But, it pretty much works out for me since it shortens my sick days, so to speak. I don't particularly recommend this for everyone because of the stress that it causes on the body. 

In my case, it just works - whew!

Well, logging on now for my online job and will be eating boiled egg whites every 2 hours.

Some may think of me as being obsessed, but I call it being passionate :)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Self-learning Strategies for EFL Learners

Most students don't have time because of busy schedules at work, house chores or unforeseen activities. The obvious question is: How could I find the time in studying English?

1) Make time.

   Time is usually against us, but  if we could squeeze in at least 10-15 mins 3x per week or even during the weekends, it could make a big difference. Reviewing your lessons weekly and select those that are personally important to you. You could supplement your lessons using these links: - Online Bilingual quizzes (Japanese-English) - Vocabulary and Grammar - Voice of America Channel (Listening/Grammar/Vocabulary) - Basic Collocations - vocabulary and Grammar

2) Have an online or written diary.

   Record any new words/expressions/phrases or any corrections in terms of grammar and sentence structure. This would serve as a "quick reference guide", because you can remember the most important points and what needs to be improved more. Read it constantly, until you have learned from your errors and integrated the important details in your life. Remember that your ultimate goal is not to memorize, but to understand, utilize and integrate the important points of your lessons. - it should always be progressive.

3) Listen, read aloud and repeat.

   Listening to a recorded text and reading the actual text aloud (while listening to yourself  or recording your voice) should be the backbone of your learning. The holistic approach of learning multiple skills is not only time-efficient, but also a reflection of real-life situations wherein English skills are used simultaneously.

This is primarily a pronunciation site and focuses on the "schwa" or reduced vowel and proper rhythm and intonation. But you can also learn: Vocabulary/expressions, proper sentence structure (correct word order and word choice) and Grammar that is based on relevant contexts.

You can also think of your own self-learning strategies based on your specific circumstances and needs. The key is being able to sustain your language studies without losing interest or having a burnout.

Hope these tips could help - keep the faith!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Duality of Learning

We have started out in life knowing nothing and we are who we are now because of what we have learned throughout our unique experiences, interactions with different people from different generations, different circumstances good or bad or simply from our homes where we grew up.

It's interesting to think back that half of my life was spent studying in schools and universities and back then I thought that after graduating, I could spend a less hectic life away from the academic rigors of the intellectual pursuit of excellence.

Nevertheless, now as an educator myself, it is only now that I get to appreciate the learning process brought about by my experiences with students and life itself. It is very much different from the way I learned in school - less tedious, but more insightful and fulfilling.

Don't get me wrong, I truly enjoyed studying in school back then. But I have to admit that I love the practical learning process now than when I was a student. It's now that I get to realize that to be a good educator, I also have to be the best learner and in being an efficient learner, I could be the best educator in my own right.

So is the same for learners of different ages and circumstances. Learners can be also teachers in their own right, because their experiences are unique and if shared with others is in a sense: "teaching" to a certain extent.

If people ask me what I have learned, I can always say that learning goes beyond the walls of a school, it is not merely academic in nature and it is continuous and progressive. Life is multifaceted and we can all learn from various areas that life has to offer, but most importantly -  sharing or teaching what we learn can enrich  our lives and others profoundly.

We are all therefore learners and teachers in our own right.

What about you? What have you learned lately?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Vocabulary Acquisition

Much of our English learning focuses on memorizing and detailed attention to Grammar and other necessary rules to be able to create well-structured sentences. This is of course the basis of any language learning, but is quite short-sighted and "robotic" in some cases.

Widening our learning perspectives is a good way to learn a language more efficiently and more naturally. As the idiom goes: "there will always be more than one way to skin a cat".

Here are some ideas that you could employ to efficiently improve your vocabulary by making a word or an expression a part of your daily life...for the long term:

1) Rely not only on your memory:

    Although memorizing is the most basic instinct that we use when studying or trying to acquire a new word/expression, but more often than not, it's just committed to our "short-term" memory. When acquiring a new word, it should be "situational". Think of situations, experiences or a related expression in your native language that are already known to you and "analogize" this new word.

ex: "proclivity" - a tendency or inclination to something.

  **you may have an "equivalent" word in your own language related to this that would help you remember it for the long term.
** think of a situation that is unique to you: What is your "proclivity"? Do you have the "inclination" to be strict? or Do you have a proclivity for medically-related issues or topics more than politics?

2) Use it or lose it: 

    The greatest muscle is the brain. Just like with any other skill, whether it be physical or mental; if we don't use what we have learned or gained - we practically become rusty until we forget everything altogether.

How do we prevent this?

Practice. Use it in everyday conversations with your teachers or with fellow learners. Try keeping a notebook or an electronic copy of your lessons and write sample sentences using this word. Practice on your own, sort of like "talking to yourself" and determine what statements you think would be comfortable for you. The repetitive process is likened to "mental gymnastics" and you would be able to naturally remember this word "on-demand" and with ease.

3) Word order/Word choice:

The next step is learning how to construct a logical and natural sentence according to context at that particular moment or situation. This is where your knowledge in Grammar comes to play. If we grammatically classify the word: "proclivity", it's a NOUN and since we already know the meaning and analogized it to something that we already know; it wouldn't be too difficult for us to use it properly in a sentence, or in this case; in a dialogue:

Ex: A: John seems to be awkward in social situations, isn't he?
      B: Yes, he is. But, he does have an interesting proclivity in imitating foreign accents and it's very entertaining!
      A: Really? He doesn't look the type!
      B: Yup, I guess looks can be deceiving
      A: You can say that again!

4) Pronunciation: 

   Although vocabulary centers primarily on spelling and proper sentence structure, if you mispronounce it, nobody would be able to understand you. The combination of vowels and consonants in words like "proclivity"could be quite confusing, so it's best to: "syllabicate"

pro-cli-vi-ty \pr'-KLIV-i-tiy\

  a) practice pronouncing this word constantly in front of a mirror

  b) "listen" to yourself and correct your pronunciation constantly if it's not consistent with the correct vowel and consonant sounds above
 c) pronounce slow at first, then faster until you could pronounce it more naturally and with ease

5) Words are very situational: 

   Since the word: "proclivity" is a Noun. It can be used in a variety of situations, whether for hobbies, general situations, activities, sports, or even when it comes to personality traits. 

There are also some collocations that you need to understand in terms of correct contextual usage. There are many types, but for now - we will focus on Adjective-Noun pairs.

ex: "desperate" - Adjective + "situation" - Noun

  = "desperate situation" is  a very common collocation and it sounds very natural

**It's very unnatural to use this word like this: "desperate illness"

Now, in terms of the word: "proclivity", what Adjectives do you think can we use for this Noun? Possibly, "intense" or "unique". Like: "intense proclivity for..."/"unique proclivity for..."

6) Read, read, read

   Read different articles and different lesson types or even online newspapers or anything that catches your fancy. Reading is one way of exposing yourself to different vocabulary and collocations as they are used naturally in different contexts. Similarly, in conversations we can be exposed to different contexts. Everything that you do therefore should be purposeful and goal-oriented - in this case: learning and acquiring new words or expressions.

Now that you know the most practical way of learning words, it's now up to you to use them and learn as much as you can. 

Keep the faith!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"University of the Ages"

Known as the largest Catholic University, University of Santo Tomas, UST or colloquially known as: "Uste" for Thomasians like me, is also the only university with the title of "Pontifical", "Royal" and "Catholic" to it. It's complete name: "The Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, The Catholic University of the Philippines", represents not only it's unique heritage but also its social ideals and staunch religious beliefs.

It is the oldest university in the Philippines and in Asia that literally stood the test of time - 400 years to be exact, whose corridors and classrooms have been the home of illustrious personalities like: Jose Rizal, our national hero and former President of the First Commonwealth, Manuel L. Quezon.

Historically, the title "Pontifical" was given by Pope Leo XIII; and the title "Royal" was given by King Charles III of Spain; while "Catholic University was given by Pope Pius XII. Titles that not only command respect and awe, but also immense admiration for the Dominican priests, educators, staff members, students and especially the graduates of this dynamic university for which the founder: Fr. Miguel de Benavides has entrusted to.  

The Main Building - where the Department of Biology is located and where I spent 4 yrs of my colorful university life. It is also the first earthquake-resistant building in the Philippines.

I had the chance to visit my alma mater recently and except the photo above which was professionally taken, I took some pictures and was glad to have had the opportunity to see my university through the lens of my camera, well cellphone camera to be exact.

Here's a lucky shot that I made and even included Fr. Benavides' statue right smack in the middle:

The tower at the center of the Main Building has a cross on it and I remember funny incidents wherein a white Mercedes Benz suddenly parked right in front of the entrance and a woman dressed in a white wedding gown hurriedly asked: "Is this the church?" or outsiders making the sign of the cross as they pass by this building (I was in high school back then). The topmost floor of the Main Building is where the Biology laboratories are located. This was where I had countless hours viewing specimens under the microscope, drawing and labeling them at the back of my laboratory manual and marveling at preserved specimens of different Phyla and Sub classes (Taxonomy - loved this!). 

The "main" entrance of the Main Building and the grand stairs at the very center leading to the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences that hosts a collection of different historical artifacts, artworks and biological specimens (a two-headed goat, two-headed python and a very long python starting from the entrance leading to the very end of the museum, amongst others). There are also two access stairways on each side leading to the classrooms and offices of the different departments located there. It's basically the same old building that I was familiar with, except for the I.D. scanner that wasn't there 20 years ago. Imagine what another 20 years would be like.

Since I don't always get the chance to come here, I decided to visit the Department of Biology and hoped that I could meet my old professors. I had a look around the classrooms and corridors and there weren't any students at that time. More so, the professors I knew were either retired or weren't there. Oh, well. Tough luck - it was worth a try. While looking at my immediate surroundings, I just had the fondest memories of setting up exhibits along the corridor to get ready for the "Science Week" and we were all stationed in each of our exhibits to showcase our research and answer random queries from fellow students who were either curious or were gathering data as part of their homework given to them by their professors.

It was how I exactly remembered it:

Department of Biology (door to the right)

classrooms and specimen cabinets (left)

This is how the corridors look like when there are no classes. Imagine the opposite. Yep, it's practically teeming with students donned in white, each of whom finding their respective classrooms or simply roaming around the hallways just to meet their friends,....girlfriends or boyfriends....amidst the piercing look of some strict professors. (kidding!)

I then decided to head back the entrance and visit the church, which most outsiders don't realize is a few yards away from the Main Building. I couldn't blame them though, it's the Main Building that has the cross on top of it, while the Central Seminary (where potential priests stay and study), where the church is located doesn't have one:

entrance to the UST church

I also noticed some changes in the facade. It was greatly improved and beautified with elegant landscaping and tiles shaped like a "half-sun" fronting the entrance (top picture). The life-sized "400" above represents the quadricentennial status of the university and another one is located at the Espana gate:

It was a shame I wasn't able to attend the Quadricentennial celebration last year. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a part of the special celebration of the 400 years of history, excellence and existence of my alma mater, sadly - I had work at that time. Still, it makes me proud to be a Thomasian and be an inspiration to all those I have the opportunity of meeting. (will all modesty aside! - hehehe)

One of the most important historical structures that has been declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines (apart from the Main Building, Central Seminary and Football Field) is the replica of the Arch of the Centuries right in front of the main gate of the university. The original one located in an old spanish fort, Intramuros was destroyed in WWII.

This was the arch that served as the main entrance of the university during the Spanish Colonial times  in Intramuros ("walled city" in Spanish) and this replica was built to remind future students of the rich history of what this university has been a part of as well as the well-known figures who have been an alumni of this university. (Jose Rizal and former President Quezon).

The football field below (beyond the trees) is just a few yards from this arch and is where I have had my arnis and softball exercises as well as military drills as required before in the curriculum (4th yr. high school and 1st yr. college). I would spend hours with my male classmates under the searing heat of the sun and do what the drill master asks as to do. Whew!

Twenty years have passed since I first walked in the gates and corridors of the high school and university I graduated from and indeed, a lot has changed. The walkways, parking lots and even the Central Library which is now fully airconditioned and everything is computerized, like the I.D. scanners in the entrances of the colleges. 

There will be a lot more changes in the years to come, but the Thomasian spirit which embodies its core ideals and catholic values as well as the highest level of competence that are imparted to students in each of their chosen professions will always remain.

I am and will always be proud to be a Thomasian!

Viva Santo Tomas!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pronunciation Awareness Training

 As a language instructor, I try to always put myself in the shoes of English learners and understand the difficulties they encounter, especially in learning proper pronunciation.

I do not consider myself a foremost authority in EFL instruction, but through my unique experiences from teaching foreign nationals that is almost close to a decade, I came to understand and realize that there are patterns to these pronunciation difficulties.

Aside from patterns, there are also simple and practical solutions to it without being too technical and would add on to the confusion or being too simple without understanding the intricacies of the underlying causes of these difficulties.

How then should we find the right balance in learning pronunciation in a practical and "easy-to-digest" manner, while at the same time making it insightful?

Here are some practical suggestions to your pronunciation woes:

1) If you encounter a word that is difficult to pronounce, "syllabicate".

     a) pronounce the word slowly
     b) listen to the beat of each syllable as if you're listening to music
     c) each syllable corresponds to 1 beat
     d) write down each syllable and tap the table or the back of your hand to each beat.
     e) check the dictionary to confirm the main stress and proper vowel and consonant pronunciation

*** a syllable is a language unit that consists of the combination of consonant and vowel sounds

    ex: demonstration: de-mon-stra-tion (4 syllables)

           simple phonetic representation: \deh-m'n-STREI-sh'n\

                           3rd syllable: Main Stress - the strongest sounding syllable in a word

2) Practice - once you have identified the number of syllables as well as the main stress of the word,  you have to say it repeatedly - slow at first and making it faster as you become more comfortable with it.

3) Record your voice - since pronunciation is not just acquiring the "American accent", but also gaining more awareness and realizing if you made a mistake or not, recording your voice as you pronounce a word would be a valuable reference. You could make comparisons and make the necessary adjustments if there are still some inaccuracies. Moreover, the realization that you gain is essential during conversations. This means that you're more "connected" with the words that you're saying and how you say it. If you make a mistake, you should be able to detect it and correct it promptly - because you are now more "aware".

4) Observe - Enhancing your awareness is all about resourcefulness and creativity. When doing some pronunciation exercises, you can use a small mirror right in front of your face as you can observe closely how you open your mouth, the shape of your lips (rounded or unrounded - Vowel sounds) and to a certain extent, tongue position. Articulation of sounds depends on these elements as well as how your mouth "feels", whether "tense" or "relaxed" (vowel sounds). Observing your mouth, listening to yourself as well as processing these information that you gather is a very efficient way to establish an "active" connection between your mind, the words that you say and what actually happens inside your mouth when you pronounce different words.

5) Take it for a spin - Now that you have acquired what is necessary to improve your pronunciation, use it when having a conversation with your teachers or with friends who are also English learners. Nothing is more valuable than learning from experience. If you make a mistake, just correct it and try again. Teachers most especially, would gladly help you with your difficulties and "fine-tune" your learning strategies as well as give you more insightful tips to aid your learning.

I also have found a very specific study done by Michael Kistler and Joseph Sandkamp who presented useful information between the differences of Japanese "Katakana" English and the Standard American English.

The study is really meant for teachers, but I don't see the reason why students shouldn't have access to it. After all, as I have said in my other blog - we can all be teachers in our own right, because we are all students and we never stop learning.

I hope this would give you the necessary realization as well as empowerment that learning a foreign language shouldn't be too difficult to the point of feeling hopeless about it.

Keep the faith!

Monday, September 3, 2012

"Quotable Quotes"

What makes a quote quotable? Why are some quotes easier to remember while others are easier to forget? Is it because of the words used? or is it because of the combination of words that make up the context?

Whatever the reason may be, a quote is generally the unique opinion or thoughts of a person regardless of rank, gender, age, beliefs or status. It symbolizes the various perceptions of life itself, based on specific experiences and what that person has learned from it.

Some quotes are funny, some are abstract, but most are sources of inspiration and learning opportunities. Most quotes are famous because of the obvious popularity of the person who said it and a lot of people value and fiercely "immortalize" it, but ironically that quote merely represents the innermost thoughts of that person: not for fame, but for wisdom.

Here are some notable quotes to live by:

 * "Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein

 * "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" -   Eleanor Roosevelt

 * "Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential" -    Winston Churchill

 * "Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment 
        where excellence is expected." - Steve Jobs

 * "Chance favors the prepared mind" - Louis Pasteur

Some quotes are even based on a movie and my personal favorite, "The Last Samurai":

      Katsumoto: "Do you believe that a man can change his destiny?"

      Capt. Algren: "I believe a man does what he can, until his destiny is revealed."

Since we all have different perceptions and reactions to life's challenges and circumstances that we are surrounded with, we can all share them with each other and learn more in the process. We usually focus on knowledge and forget about the importance of wisdom, which act as a "guide" for our intellect and which matters the most.

After watching a film that had a profound effect on me, I came up with my own quote:

"All of us can be teachers, trainers, scientists, engineers or anything we envision ourselves to be. Each and everyone of us started out as students, regardless of gender, financial status and especially age. It does not matter therefore how early or late you started, the important thing is - you initiated the first step."

"No one's integrity is above the other, we should all live with mutual respect (Ip Man 2) since we all started without nothing - we will eventually leave without anything." (added my own :D)

"True learning starts with humility"

What about you? Do you have any quotes of your own? Why not share your "two cents worth" of wisdom? 

You will never know the extent of your influence or inspiration you could provide for others who need it the most.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Conversation: easier than you think"

It has been the usual bane of English learners to speak using grammatically-correct sentences as well as choosing the right words to say in the right context, order and word form. There are some statements that could be grammatically-correct, but not really appropriate for that context.

A common example:

"My stomach is ache." (incorrect word form)

  - "ache" in a sense can be quite appropriate, but it's best to use the Adjective form of this word: "aching" or the easiest word: "painful"

The correct sentence therefore should be: "My stomach is aching." or "My stomach is painful."

There are some cases that the difficulty lies in the Be-Verb "is", case in point:

"It's depend" and "It's become" - If the contraction is fully written, it would look like, "It is depend." and "It is become", which should actually be: "It depends" and "It becomes".

Learning strategy:

Many of you will say: "I have been studying English for a long time. What could I do to improve faster?

1) Breaking your habitual mistakes should be your priority. Taking notes of your errors or when teachers correct them is a good learning opportunity.

2) Constant practice is vital to ensure maximum retention as well as for long term integration. You have to be accountable for your learning and find the time to practice constantly and use whatever you learn during conversations with teachers.

3) It takes months or even years to learn a language. The key is persistence and perseverance and constantly correcting any mistakes that you make.

4) Error-detection and correction should be part of your communication skills, so that you can always choose the right word in its right form if in case you make a mistake.

5) It's not really important how long you are learning English, but it's the quality of what you learn. For some individuals though, having a time frame would keep them motivated. Learning therefore should be individualistic according to your specific needs and level.

Learning Mindset:

1) We all studied English in school and we learned it out of some necessity that is related to getting passing or even high marks. We have to "unlearn" what we were accustomed to and realize that English is a very functional language and therefore, should be a lifestyle.

2) How then could you expose yourself more to the English language? The environment that you are exposed to is a very important factor in learning and assimilating a language. We can "simulate" an English-speaking environment not only through your online lessons, but also through different forms of media (movies, internet, magazines, newspapers, TV shows).

The content of course depends on your level. If you couldn't handle difficult words from a movie or a newspaper, there will always be easier movies (animation) or easier online newspapers:

that you could access. You can always study more difficult content as you improve.

3) Immediate application should also be a priority. It means that whatever new words or expressions you learn, should be immediately used during conversations with teachers in your online lessons. In this way, teachers can also correct any statement errors and you can learn further. Your studies therefore are more progressive this way.

4) Join or even organize an "English group" with fellow learners or with friends. You can also write blogs and organize a network of "educational blogs". In this way, each member of the group would be able to support each other's learning by sharing ideas and tips as well as offer assistance with whatever difficulties each of you might encounter.

5) Your hobbies could be a source of learning opportunities. If you're a music-lover, use that to your advantage and listen to American music. You can always choose the easier songs and even use "YouTube" to watch videos of your favorite artists. You can listen to the song as well as observe how they mouth out the words of the song. If you still couldn't understand, then type the title of the song and find videos with subtitles in it. Too fast? You can always click "pause" or "rewind" the video. It's just a matter of resourcefulness, creativity and patience.

6) Don't give excuses. If you really want to learn English, then do everything "humanly-possible" to learn it in whatever means necessary. Remember that the efforts that you give is equivalent to the benefits that you reap.

7) If your learning is job-related, then you could request your teacher to have a "role-play". If you're a tour guide by profession for example, you could request the teacher to be the tourist and you could be the tour guide. The words that you learn as well as the type of statements you use will be very specific to your profession. There are also sites that could offer role-play exercises:

8) Have fun. Learning English for a long time can result to boredom and therefore could make you feel that you're stuck in a rut. What should you do then? You can either: take a break from the whole thing and do something else, like your other hobbies or you probably just need to take a vacation somewhere. or Try learning English using a different approach: You can use word games like:

or google other online word games and learn new vocabulary in a fun way.

9) Okay, now that I have learned a lot. How can I prevent not forgetting them? It's human nature to  remember the last word/expression or grammatical concept that you have learned. The real challenge is assimilating as well as utilizing what you have learned for the long term.

There are no shortcuts, but constantly using what you learn with fellow-learners or teachers online. Experimenting with different statement patterns  as well as "playing" around with words and expressions by trying to combine them in one statement is a good way to know if you are improving or not. Based on your confidence level and whether you feel awkward or not, you will know if you could use words better than before.

Think of it as if you're riding a bike or when you learned how to speak Japanese. It took weeks, months or even years of learning to balance on a bike or speaking straight Japanese sentences. But you have learned it nevertheless. Once you have learned it, you will not forget it - provided that you use it.

10) Learn spontaneity. It's also part of our nature to "memorize" a script or a few phrases and try it out when having a conversation. We of course should start somewhere, so to speak. Beyond this, you should try to use as many words and expressions that you have learned and just let your ideas flow, while observing logic and correct grammar. Conversation is not really about impressing your listeners with how much words you know, but what's important is you convey your thoughts and feelings as effectively as possible.

Remember this: K.I.S.S. = "Keep It Short and Simple" - simple words in simple statements. If you're confident enough to use idioms and slang, by all means do it. As long as it doesn't disrupt the logical flow of your words.

I hope I have helped you out in some way in learning how to converse effectively. These practical solutions offer insight not only in terms of the learning aspect, but also help you realize what your strengths and weaknesses are as well as knowing what works and what doesn't. In other words, with every mistake that you make, difficulty you encounter and small triumphs that you experience, is a step closer to knowing yourself better and figuring out an efficient and effective learning strategy that is unique to your needs and level.

English is a lifestyle, so make it count :)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mental Blisters

I've been working out for quite some time now, 10 yrs to be exact. The weight room has been my second home for me. I always enjoy the clanging of the plates, dumbbells, machines, and the gut-wrenching grunts of iron addicts bench pressing 200lbs or doing squats with 350lbs on their shoulders.

I never really lifted as heavy as these guys, because I'm not really a competitive bodybuilder or powerlifter. The principle behind these poundages is not really the weight that you can move, but it's the mental strength to go beyond your inherent weaknesses and push yourself to the limits.

Now that I'm taking up kettlebell classes and have been running for 2 weeks now, this definitely goes beyond my comfort zone of weight-training. It's no longer counting sets, repetitions or poundages, because it's how long you will last doing the same thing repeatedly.

Kettlebells for example combines the benefits of both weight-training and cardiovascular workouts. Endurance training has never been this efficient and effective. You could complete a workout in as little as 30mins and leave you gasping for air and your tongue hanging on the side of your mouth.

But once you master this seemingly challenging Russian tool, (no, you won't turn into a KGB operative) you will definitely be asking for more.

The other side of my cross training is running. I just decided to challenge myself to run starting from gate 2 of the village where I live and traversing through several meters of a steady and inclined road leading to the main throroughfare. After several meters, I would be arriving at a popular mall - SM Fairview

then I would just make two right turns leading to where I started. Aside from the usual curious looks from people, I was just enjoying that early morning run on a Holy Thursday. There were also other runners at that time and instead of spending time in the beach or going somewhere for vacation, they instead dedicated that time for running.

The first round was a breeze and didn't even feel exhausted, but once I started the 3rd round, my feet already had blisters on the inner sides, I was sweating profusely, and breathing very hard. Nevertheless, I told myself that I could complete the 3rd round, even if my legs are turning into logs and I had to lift each leg with all of my might to maintain my pace.

The heat of the summer sun was already setting in, even if it was just 8 in the morning. I never realized that I was already running at a steady pace for 2 1/2 hours already! The blisters in my feet were already intolerable, but I didn't mind it one bit and continued my run.

Upon reaching the last stretch of a few meters, my feet were already screaming with pain. My mind was blank, but I literally forced my mind to block the pain and applied what I have learned in weight-training that the body will follow what the mind says.

Thankfully enough, I finished the last round and although a little bit dizzy and exhausted, I just controlled my breathing and everything stabilized in just a few minutes. I walked back home to my village with a smile in my mind, savoring the accomplishment in what seemed forever to finish.

I still have those blisters in my feet up to now, but it's no longer bothersome and I could walk normally. The sense of fulfillment and that natural "high" of being able to complete a run of more than 5km as well as overcoming your doubts and apprehensions is definitely worth more than the blisters and the searing heat of the summer sun. (I'm a little darker now, because of that)

Our bodies are always in a state of homeostasis. It will always be in its comfort zone and once an imbalance is  detected in a particular system, all the other systems compensate to off-set this imbalance. May it be cramps, hyperventilation, profuse sweating or blisters, it's just the body's way of saying that you're human and you have limitations.

Where then does the indomitable will of the human spirit come in? It's that last 500 meters amidst your blistering feet, the last set of your bench press of 80kilos, the last stretch of your long swim or the last 100meters of your bike ride. Your body is equipped with defensive mechanisms (pain, dizziness, out-of-breath, etc.) to tell you if you are still capable of the current task that you are engaged in, but the will of the human spirit can also tell you that you capable of doing more.

The run I have made is just the first of many and I have tested the limitations of my body and my mind. What did I discover? Blisters are only a product of perception, the reality of your body reacting to the task at hand.
It's painful, annoying and can make you stop. But giving in is not an option and once you tell yourself that, all that is left are the blisters in your mind called doubts, pain, exhaustion, that could relentlessly be overcome by sheer courage and firm resolve.

Running is just one facet that represents the ups and downs of everyday living. Through all the insurmountable challenges of daily life, it is the human will that could be harnessed to overcome the most dismal and frustrating occurrences in our lives.

If others have done it and I'm starting to do it, I know you could do the same.

Friday, March 30, 2012

"Ageless Aspirations"

It's inspiring to have met a mother of two who was just a simple housewife for several years and because of some twist of fate, her life changed in more ways than you and I can imagine.

Her name is Midori. She decided to take up courses related to embryology and reproductive health in 2002 and graduated 2004. She then got her PhD in Embryology from Ochanomizu University thereafter in 2007. What's mind-blowing is that she didn't plan it nor was there any conscious aspiration or prodding from her parents that lead up to who she is now.

She intentionally went out of her comfort zone (out of necessity) to pursue a career that she wasn't even familiar about. Just like any newbie who's starting out, she went through a lot of difficulties while working in a lab where she was employed before.

Issues leading to misunderstandings, altercations and the usual institutional challenges bourne out of natural human tendencies. Due to her strong will and outspoken nature, it wasn't difficult for her to speak her mind and confront the issues hurled at her. Midori of course, is just being Midori, who is very much different from most women in Japan.

Currently, she is an accomplished Embryologist with several papers published in leading medical journals, e.g. the Reproductive Health Journal. She is now working on her new research and preparing for the IVF conference in Osaka regarding "Recombinant Albumin" this September '12.

Regardless of the obstacles, cliche's and sometimes self-doubt or people who don't believe in your goals, Midori is one of the best examples of empowerment  especially for the women of a very traditional, Japanese society. Her individualistic points-of-view, beliefs and convictions are worth emulating and deserves the utmost respect.

Many of you may ask, why have I written a kind of biography for someone like Midori? It's not only to inspire and break the cliches of any "boxed-in" thinking of any traditional society, but also to break the barrier of age and gender that even men could emulate, respect and admire.

It's also a reminder that persistence, patience and diligence are the important ingredients for reaching our aspirations, but it all boils down to passion that Midori has inexorably and relentlessly shown.

I should know, because I am passionate in fitness and teaching and started out late in life. As they say, age is just a number and we all started in life knowing nothing regardless of the accolades and achievements that we have gained. It never really is too late and there's always something new to learn.

If Midori could make a huge difference in her life, anyone of us could also do the same thing and that's inspiring to know.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Ingenious mind

Artists of the Renaissance became widely known because of their distinct styles and techniques that were unique to their era. Most of the tools and media were limited due to the technology of their time, but these artists managed to produce the most notable and acclaimed works of art in history.

The modern-day artists have access to limitless variety of tools and media that gave birth to various forms of artistic expression. It has been centuries since the earliest form of art and regardless of the span of time and huge disparity of styles, it is creativity that acts as a common medium that paints immortalized works of art with every stroke of the brush on the canvass.

Whether it be art, music, theatre arts, writing or any profession, creativity knows no bounds. It is for those who believe that with imagination come limitless possibilities. Those who are able to wield the potential of ingenuity, open doors of learning opportunities as well as a path to self-discovery.

If applied to everyday living, creativity presents an alternative avenue and is presented in its most practical form: resourcefulness. We learn how to live with whatever we have and use whatever is available to solve the most serious and the most trivial issues in life. For example, instead of using the usual bandage or gauze for a patient with a puncture wound, we could use a handkerchief or tear a part of his shirt as a temporary bandage.

If we want to boil water, but there is no tea kettle available, then why not use a frying pan? As long as we don’t add oil to it and fill it up to the brim. Kidding aside, we are faced with a variety of issues and obstacles and we all have choices to make. Ingenious decisions may not be a work of art or what society accepts as “normal”, but if thinking out-of-the-box to effectively address a predicament gets the job done, then why not?

Being creative can sometimes raise eyebrows, but it’s because they don’t have a full understanding of the process and therefore fail to realize the potential of inventiveness in everyday living.

The brush is an indispensable tool for painters, the media that they use (oils, acrylics, pastels, mixed-media, etc) and their unique styles only takes form when applied on canvass. Computers are vital for graphic artists, cameras for photographers, exercise equipment for trainers, instruments for musicians and knowledge, wisdom and emotional intelligence for teachers.

Each with his/her own media and creativity that are common elements to concretize every individual’s unique styles on their chosen canvass of professions and lives.

Life is a canvass, paint it creatively well.

Resilience in Adversity

It is through adversity that our true strength is revealed, it is through suffering that we are reminded of our humanity, it is through pain that our character is molded and strengthened. As inevitable and sometimes inordinate as it may seem, it is part of each and everyone’s reality.
What is prosperity without adversity? What is success without failure? What is the good without the bad? Everything in life exists in pairs, black and white, life and death, happiness & sorrow, ambiguity and lucidity, and so is the same with adversity.

Knowing, as they say is half the battle, and understanding and accepting these facts is easier said than done. The irrevocable realization of such truths has been a result of unique and arduous journeys that some of us have partaken throughout our lives and careers.

Part of these adversities occur from within, whether it is self-doubt, insecurities, inadequacies or imperfections and is usually magnified by external experiences from inequities and most of the time, circumstances not under our control. We would probably think that we are at the losing end with every adversity that we encounter, but in every failure, disappointment or embarrassment is a point of realization that we are being tempered for a higher purpose and not just go through life haphazardly.

I totally agree that it’s not easy to see this when we are experiencing an unpleasant situation and we would even be in denial about it. But after the storm has passed, it should be clear to us that nothing is wasted – everything has a purpose, even adversities.

Life is never easy, but there are “lifeboats” that reach out to us to give us a hand or even a clue of how we should be able to cope with each obstacle. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look. 
Some may be as popular and celebrated men of history, the likes of Winston Churchill who despite insurmountable odds was able to win the war with the Allies.

Others like Lance Armstrong, was able to overcome cancer and win the Tour de France seven times.  There are also others who are as ordinary as you and me who have experienced different levels of obstacles that are probably a fraction of what these men have undergone and despite that, it is an experience worth learning from and a chance to strengthen our will even more.

So the next time you go through precarious and overwhelming situations, take the bull by the horns and use all means to overcome it, however dire it may be. The indomitable will of the human spirit should never be underestimated; it’s a great force worth tapping into.