Articles – A, An & The

The 3 articles in English are a, an and the. Sometimes no article is needed.

“A” and “an” are used for singular nouns that can be counted.
“A” is used before nouns that begin with consonant sounds.
“An” is used before nouns that begin with vowel sounds.
Use “the” when talking about things both the speaker and the listener(s) know about.
“The” is positioned before a noun when the listener(s) can easily identify which person(s) or thing(s) are being talked about.
Use “the” when the thing being talked about is the only one that exists anywhere, like the sun, the Earth, or the Eiffel Tower.
Use “the” before superlative adjectives, like “the best,” “the smallest,” etc.

Long-term language learning

One of the questions learners come up with a lot is ‘how long will it be till I am fluent?’. This is quite natural question for beginners – people generally perform better if they have a target to shoot for. However, the temptation for the trainer is to respond with a specific amount of time. The reality, of course, is quite different. Here are some facts which are better to accept sooner rather than later:

Language learning is not linear
There is no finishing line
Living with English is a life-long project
Fluency is relative

So, a more sensible way to look at the question of fluency is to divide language into functional and lexical parts

The functional components of English are finite. We can say that there are around 350 functional words which make up the grammar of English. If we can quantify how many of these words a student is aware of and how many they can use effectively, we can reach a reasonably accurate conclusion as to where they are. The other part is more of a challenge; there are in excess of a million words in the English language. On top of this, English morphs much faster than the languages due to the number of people using it. This means that, really, there is no finishing line that anyone can reasonably be expected to reach.

A fluent speaker can, instead, be judged as one who has a range of tools at their disposal beyond their robust foundation of grammar. One tool may be a specialist lexis with which they can work capably. Another may be a sizable passive awareness of the language through exposure to written materials. They may have a range of idioms which afford them cache in a certain cultural environment. They may be superb story tellers with a gift for describing and sequencing situations and events. However, the one skill which should be held above all others is paraphrasing. It is the abilty to make oneself clear despite a lack of vocabulary which will ensure that, no matter who one is talking to, one can communicate an idea of any complexity. This is at the very heart of what it means to communicate.

Learning Journals for English Language Learners

What is a learning journal?

You may already keep a private diary or journal to record your personal thoughts and observations. A journal may be handwritten or typed, but it is not intended to be published. Unlike weblogs, Tumblr pages and social networkings sites, where we open up those observations to comments from others, a private journal is usually for our own reflection. That means we can write freely and without embarrassment or fear of criticism. Journals used in a class as an instructional tool are referred to as learning journals.

In the article, “Uses and Benefits of Journal Writing,” Roger Hiemstra, a professor of adult education and instructional design, writes that learning journals are used for “recording thoughts, reflections, feelings personal opinions, and even hopes or fears during an educational experience.” Although they are collected and read by the instructor, learning journals are not graded for grammatical accuracy, vocabulary use, organization, or other features of composition. Instead, they are intended for the student to record his or her feelings and opinions at that stage in the class, and for the instructor to be able to see what the student is thinking and feeling.

What are the benefits of journal writing?

There are many benefits of journal writing in terms of educational outcomes and personal growth and development. For language learners, research has shown that regular and frequent journal writing contributes to increased fluency and confidence in language use. When students are not worried about losing points for spelling or grammar, it frees them up to write freely, fluidly, and naturally. Beyond language learning, journal writing has benefits in developing reflection, synthesis, analysis, and other critical thinking skills. In the same article cited above, Hiemstra points out that a journal helps students to realize how their perspectives on a topic change and develop. Additionally, journaling helps students organize their thoughts on a specific topic, set and work towards goals, and improve their analytical thinking.

These benefits come not from simply recording thoughts on paper, but from students participating in a dialogue with themselves and/or an instructor. That requires re-reading and reflecting on what they have written. Finally, journals are an effective way to record and analyze emotions. It is common for students of English to experience anxiety about speaking, stress about getting a certain score on an important exam, or frustration about a slowdown in learning. Writing about these thoughts allows a student to process, and hopefully move on from, these negative feelings.

How do I get started with my learning journal?

Dedicate a small notebook to your journal; do not use this notebook for other purposes. Writing by hand will encourage you to write freely without editing or revising. If you must, type your journal, but keep your separate entries together so that you can go back and revisit your past writing. If you are studying independently, record your language learning goals. Write about what you are doing to reach those goals. If you are in a class, write about what happened during the lesson, what you have learned, and what questions you still have. If anything particularly interesting, stressful, embarrassing, or funny happened, write about that. What happened, and how did it make you feel? If the class is boring for you, why is that? How could it be more interesting for you? Write a small amount in your journal several times a week. If possible, write every day.

A good starting goal is to write at least five hundred words each week. At the end of the month, reread what you have written and think about how you have or have not changed during the month.

Prepositions Quiz

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John’s going home prepositions quiz.

Fill in the blanks with the following prepositions.
[LDAdvQuiz 16]

English for Portuguese Students – Comparatives

Why do Brazilians say…

“It’s more cold today than yesterday.”

Because in Portuguese you say: “É mais frio hoje do que ontem.”


É mais frio hoje do que ontem. It’s more cold today than yesterday.

This sounds perfectly correct if you translate it literally.

But the correct way is: “ It is colder today than yesterday.”

 WHY? Let’s see!

In English, like in Portuguese, adjectives normally have three degrees;

The Positive – non-comparative and also known as the base-adjective.- Frank is tall.

The Comparative – comparing two nouns = adj. + “than” – Frank is taller than Mary.

The Superlative – compare more than two nouns = “the” + adj – Frank is the tallest of them all.

And we generally follow the structure as set out above.

But of course we have exceptions like – beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful, or bad, worse, worst, and a few others.

But in most cases we follow the above patterns, adjective + “than”, and “the” + adjective.

Unfortunately/Infelizmente – the exception in English becomes the rule in Portuguese.

I know you also have your exceptions in Portuguese, like:

bom melhor o melhor means good better the best

mau pior o pior means bad worse the worst

But in Portuguese – generally – comparative and superlative phrases mostly rely on the word – mais/more.

Unlike English adjectives, which have special comparative (the -er of bigger) and superlative (the -est of biggest) endings, Portuguese adjectives do not have special forms.

A comparative phrase in Portuguese is basically formed as: mais + adjective + (do) que – means  ___-er than.

Thus, Roberto é mais alto do que João or Roberto é mais alto que João = Robert is taller than John.

A superlative phrase also relies on the word mais/more.

Roberto é o mais grande. –  Robert is the biggest.

Ana é a mais alta. –  Anna is the tallest.

Esses homens são os mais altos. –  Those men are the tallest.

Hopefully you understand now why we translate:

“É mais frio hoje do que ontem.” as “It is colder today than yesterday.”

Please Note: We will have specific lessons where we look at typical so-called “Grammar Goofs” made by Brazilians.

Do JOIN our English classes and enjoy the professional guidance of our highly qualified and experienced English teachers. They are also specifically trained to understand the ESL needs of Brazilian speakers.

English for Portuguese Students – ‘TH’ Sounds

‘TH’ Sounds

That very awkward /th/

Many Brazilians seem to have a problem with this /th/ sound because it does not exist in Portuguese. They then pronounce it as /d/ or /t/ at the beginning of a word or as /f/ at the end of a word.

There are actually two /th/ sounds:

Group 1: The unvoiced /th/

thirsty, think, through, thanks, nothing, bath, math, truth, both, teeth, three, etc.

This /th/ sound is unvoiced. This means that the sound is made in the front of the mouth.

You thus do not need your vocal chords in the throat.

Students normally do not have a problem to pronounce this sound at the end of a word, but usually when it’s at the beginning of a word, like, thanks, think, thought, etc.

Let’s look at the following:

I normally ask my students to pronounce the word ‘both’ and feel the position of their tongue (in relation to their teeth) on the /th/ sound?

Example: bo-th – in which position does the tongue end on the /th/ sound? That is the same position that the tongue must be when you start the word “th-ink”

For example: bo-th (position of tongue)-th-ink = bo-th-ink, = bo-think = – think

This sound might feel a bit odd at first, but with the correct practice you will become perfect.

Group 2: The voiced /th/

The, these, those, there, that, thus, then, brother, mother, etc.

These words contained the voiced /th/ sound. It is the unvoiced /th/sound with a vibrating sound – you can feel this vibration – if you touch your vocal chords lightly as you say the words.

Note: You can do exactly the same exercise as above – with the word “both” – but this time when you end on the unvoiced /th/ sound, you add a vibration – like the buzzing sound of a bee.

And that buzzing /th/ will be the starting sound of the words starting with the voiced /th/

This will take quite a bit of practice, but your pronunciation will improve dramatically once you’ve mastered this sound.

English for Portuguese Students – Possessives


Possessives in Portuguese – like nouns – can either be masculine or feminine.

You also know possessives take on the gender of the noun that it refers to.

For example:

You would use “seu” or “sua” according to the gender of the possession – be it masculine or feminine.


  1. Your mother – sua mãe
  2. Your car – seu carro

So you see we use the possessive adjective “your” irrespective whether the possession is masculine or feminine.

Also in English we do the opposite.

We use the gender of the possessive adjective according to the gender of the possessor/owner and not according to the possession.

The possessive noun is thus determined by whether the possessor/owner is masculine or feminine – he or she, his or her.


In Portuguese, “carro” is masculine and you would say “seu” regardless of whether the possessor is masculine or feminine.

In English this is different.

  • Is it John’s mother? Yes, it’s “his” mother.
  • Is it Mary’s car? Yes, it’s “her” car.

This should be fairly easy to understand, but Brazilians still seem to be confused by it.

  1. Let’s look at another difference when using the possessive form in English.

Esse é o livro de John or Aquele é o livro de John

Lit. That is the book of John.

In English we say:

That is John’s book.

Thus in English this possessive statement would normally be reversed.

Also in English we would use the apostrophe – s to indicate possession – i.e. John’s book

What about your use of dele and dela?

  • A casa de Maria e bonita. Eu gusto da casa dela
  • A casa de Joao e bonita. Eu gusto da casa dele

In English:

  • Mary’s house is beautiful. I like her house.
  • John’s house is beautiful. I like his house

Note in English we have:

  1. The apostrophe -s, and
  2. The reversal of the possessive adjective and noun.

casa dela = her house

casa dele = his house

Note: Exactly the same principle would of course apply for the plural forms, deles and delas

English for Portuguese Students – Fazer


Make’ versus ‘Do’

In Portuguese you have a very useful word ‘ fazer’ which can mean a few different words/verbs in English.

Brazilian speakers however, normally struggle with two specific meanings/verbs; ‘to make’ and ‘to do’

In English “fazer” can mean both “make “ or “do”. But in English “make” and “do” are not interchangeable, in other words, they do not necessarily mean the same thing.

You have to learn when to use ‘make’ and when to use ‘do’.

Let’s look at some general rules:

We normally use the verb “do” to express daily activities or routines,


  • to do housework
  • to do dishes
  • to do homework
  • to do the cooking

With these examples you see that nothing is ‘made’ or constructed (construir) It is simply the completion of a chore.

Now look at the following examples

  • Hyndai makes cars
  • Please make some tea

Note: We use the verb “make” when something is made/produced/manufactured (construir).

The following two simple sentences will illustrate the differences clearly:

“They do the dishes” and “They make the dishes”

In the first sentence they ‘clean/wash’ the dishes, and in the second sentence they ‘manufacture’ them.

There are of course exceptions to this rule with some general expressions, but, unfortunately, you must simply learn them, for example:

  • To make a telephone call.
  • To make an appointment.
  • To make plans for the weekend.
  • To make a decision, or
  • To make up your mind.
  • You can also make mistakes (but your teacher can ask you) to do the corrections.

Note the following:

In Portuguese you say: Faz uma prova “Do” or “make” a test? What do we say in English?

  • We take a test – in the USA
  • We write a test – in England
  • We take or write a test in Canada or South Africa.

Here are a few other translations of ‘fazer’ in English.

  • Fazer uma pergunta – Ask a question.
  • Fazer algum dinheiro – Make some money
  • Tente fazer algo – Try to do something
  • Fazer uma pausa – Take a breather/break
  • Fazer anos – (to make years) to celebrate a birthday
  • Fazer a barba – (to make a beard) to shave
  • Fazer compras – (to make purchases) to shop/to do the shopping
  • Fazer as pazes – to make peace.

Please read our blog regularly. During the month of March we will look at some more problems that Brazilian speakers have when they learn English.

Do try and practice your English with a native language speaker – everyday! Take care!