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Write and be better at it!

We have been giving you fun and easy ways to improve different skills. Today, we are going to tell you how you can better your writing. Writing is one of the hardest skills to practice because nobody wants to write essay after essay and then it is very hard to find someone to revise them. The following ideas are things you can do from the comfort of your own home, even from your bed!

The first thing we recommend is doing crossword puzzles. They are a great way to enrich your vocabulary and to get you to focus on spelling. These puzzles not only have linguistic benefits, but they can help sharpen your cognitive skills, help you focus and test your memory. Don’t spend too much time on a clue, and if you get stuck, move on to the next one. Don’t stop because you don’t know an answer! You can start with crossword puzzles designed for students for example, this one that will help you practice the simple past tense  and this one that focuses on the differences between American and British English.

To improve your writing, it’s good to write. Yes, that sounds repetitive (we know), but you need to practice. Why don’t you write a blog about something you love? With a blog you’ll get the chance to have a real audience that shares your interests. If you don’t want to share your work with anyone, then keep a journal. Before you go to bed, write a couple of sentences or paragraphs about your day or about what you learned and enjoyed. You can make it a little more challenging by reflecting on something you read or saw in the news. This will make you feel more confident about your writing.

Another great tip is to read. Read. Read. Read. Reading will have a direct impact on the way you write because it will help you reinforce grammar, sentence structure, and learn new words. It doesn’t matter if you like reading food blogs, celebrity gossip or about sports and world news, just read (in English!)

The last idea we want to share is getting a penpal. Penpals are people who regularly write to each other. There are different free and paid sites where you can create a profiles, find friends and then write letters or emails to them. Let us know how it goes and happy writing!

Mariana Aguilar Ramírez
Mariana is a Pedagogy and Research summer associate at Voxy completing her Master’s degree in Learning, Media and Technology at UMass Amherst with a Fulbright- García Robles grant. She is passionate about instructional design, educational technology and has been teaching ESL in Mexico for many years. She has studied foreign languages all her life and is now tackling German. She loves to travel and spends a lot of time in the kitchen perfecting her ice-cream making skills.

prepositions of position

8 Pairs of Easily Confused English Phrases

One of the most frequent types of mistakes that students of foreign languages make has to do with preposition use. Though prepositions can often be translated from one language to another, it’s usually hard to predict which one is used in what situation when learning a foreign language. It doesn’t help that prepositions can sometimes completely change the meaning of what you’re trying to say, especially in certain set expressions. Here are some pairs of phrases that seem pretty similar, but actually mean very different things.

If you can think of more pairs like this, please post them in comments. Also, feel free to add new sentences that use these phrases in different ways!

1. Hang up / hang out
To “hang up” means to end a phone call; to “hang out” means to spend time relaxing, usually with a friend.
If he hangs up before I’m done talking, I will be too mad to hang out with him this weekend.

2. Look up / look forward
To “look up” means to search and find information about something, usually in a dictionary or some sort of database. To “look forward” to something means to be excited about an event that will happen in the future.
After looking up the plot of Woody Allen’s latest movie, I’m really looking forward to seeing it!

3. Get into / get over
To “get into” means to become involved or interested in something. To “get over” can either mean the opposite of this — to lose interest in something — or it can also mean to recover from something, particularly an illness.
After I get over this flu, which is making me so weak, I’m going to get into biking again.

4. Throw out / throw up
To “throw up” means to vomit, whereas to “throw out” means to dispose of something that is no longer being used. Hint: In this case, “out” and “away” can be used to express the same meaning, so to “throw something out” and to “throw something away” both mean to put it in the garbage.
If my cat throws up on the floor in my living room, I’ll have to throw away the rug that’s in there.

5. Run into / run over
To “run into” someone can have the literal meaning of colliding with their body, but the phrase often means to meet or see someone unexpectedly. To “run over” something means to drive a vehicle over that person or thing.
I was so excited when I ran into my friend that I forgot to look both ways when crossing the street and a car almost ran me over!

6. Put down / put off
To “put down” another person means to insult them or make them feel useless or stupid. To “put off” something, usually some sort of event, means to postpone it.
I put off going out to lunch with my friend because the last time I spoke with her, she kept putting me down.

7. Hand in / hand out
To “hand in” an assignment means to submit it; to “hand out” means to distribute to a group of people. Here, because “in” and “out” are opposites, the two phrases have somewhat opposite meanings. However, be careful, as this is not necessarily always the case.
The teacher handed out the test to all of his students and told them to hand in the answers before the day was over.

8. Break into / break up
To “break into” a place means to forcibly enter it, and is usually used with a place that you should not enter or to which access is usually restricted. To “break up” with someone means to end a relationship.
If your girlfriend breaks into your house in the middle of the night uninvited, that’s probably a pretty good reason to break up with her!

Maya Barzilai
Maya is a Pedagogy and Research summer associate at Voxy. She recently graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in Linguistics and Arabic. She loves not only learning foreign languages, but also learning all about the different languages of the world and what they have in common. Maya is passionate about sharing her love for languages with others and watching as more and more people become empowered by the knowledge of another language.


FREE LESSON: Is hearing the same as listening?

Many students of English use “listen” and “hear” as if they were the same. Don’t be confused; there is an important difference! Intention is the difference between listening and hearing.

Listening is something that you do on purpose; you listen to music and listen to your mother. Your parents and your teachers always want to know whether you’re paying attention; they ask, “Are you listening to me right now?”  Hearing often refers to volume and sounds. When you go to a rock concert with friends, you might yell, “What?! I can’t hear you! The music is so loud I’m going deaf!”

Imagine a spy snooping outside the door, trying to listen in on a secret conversation. This act of eavesdropping shows the difference between listening and hearing. If the walls are too insulated and the door is soundproof, he might be disappointed to report: “I was listening outside the room for an hour, but I couldn’t hear a thing!”

Nowadays, with telecommunications as a part of daily life, we often have to check on the quality of the signal or connection: “I only have a few bars (of cellular reception); can you hear me?” Or just before the call drops, you hear your friend complaining, “I’m sorry–you’re breaking up–I can’t quite hear you.”

You can also get clarification or check whether you have understood someone by asking, “Did I hear you correctly…?”

Esther Liu
Esther  received her TEFL certification through the University of Cambridge and has studied Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Latin, Mandarin, and most recently Python. Passionate about educational linguistics, instructional design, intercultural communication, and new media, she also loves alphabetizing, biking, farming, food, people, piano, theology, traveling, and ultimate frisbee. An incurable ENFP, Esther believes in tech startups and is stoked to be a VoxyTutor and blogger!


Money Idioms

Money idioms are everywhere and apply to so much more than just money! So get your cold hard cash ready as we dive into some money idioms!

1. Break the bank – to use up all of your money

Example: John knew that renting the ocean view apartment would break the bank, so he settled for a smaller apartment.

2. Bring home the bacon – to earn money for a family

Example: His wife chooses not to work, so Robert has to bring home the bacon.

3. Cash in on (something) – to make money from an opportunity

Example: The former athlete cashed in on his popularity to open a nightclub in his name.

4. Give (someone) a blank check – to let someone do whatever they want (as if the amount on the check were left blank)

Example: The professor gave the students a blank check with the only requirement being that they turn in their project on time.

5. Turn on a dime – to make a turn in a very small area

Example: The car handles very well and can turn on a dime.

6. Bet your bottom dollar – to bet all that you have because you are certain you will win

Example: I would bet my bottom dollar that Rachel will show up late again today.

7. Look like a million dollars – to look very good

Example: As she stepped out in her wedding dress, she looked like a million dollars.

8. Pinch pennies – to be very careful with money, to be thrifty

Example: My grandfather always pinches pennies; he never spends money if he doesn’t have to.

9. Put in your two cents – to give your opinion about something

Example: You can put in your two cents after I am finished going over all the facts.

10. For peanuts – for very little or no pay

Example: The students had very little money, so they were willing to work for peanuts.

Are there more money idioms that you hear regularly? Share with us!

Jessica Weeg
Jess is a Public Relations Associate at Voxy, and recently graduated from Indiana University (Go Hoosiers!). She enjoys travelling, cooking, and playing volleyball. “The culture of this company is unbelievable. Everyone is having a lot of fun and working very hard- we’re going to accomplish some great things this summer!”


10 Funny English Idioms

We get it, idioms are weird, and often have nothing to do with their literal meaning. But here is a list of ten of the funniest English idioms and how to use them!

1. The lights are on but nobody’s home – used to describe a stupid person

Example: She really has no clue- the lights are on but nobody’s home!

2. When pigs fly – about something that will never happen

Example: Yea, right! You will get Taylor Swift to ask you on a date when pigs fly!

3. To have Van Gogh’s ear for music – to be tone deaf (Van Gogh only had one ear!)

Example: Xavi really shouldn’t play the piano- he has Van Gogh’s ear for music.

4. To pig out – to eat a lot very quickly

Example: After the marathon, the runners pigged out at a dinner buffet.

5. Everything but the kitchen sink – almost everything has been included

Example: Maria was trying so hard to get the question right, she was throwing out everything but the kitchen sink!

6. To put a sock in it – to tell someone noisy to be quiet

Example: Jane was yelling while I was studying so I told her to put a sock in it.

7. To have a cast iron stomach – to have no problems eating or drinking anything

Example: I think I would be sick if I ate all that food, but Joe seems to have a cast iron stomach.

8. To drink like a fish – to drink heavily

Example: The group at the bar seems to being having a party and you can tell he’s the birthday boy because he is drinking like a fish!

9. Use your loaf – use your head, think smart

Example: Come on Parker, use your loaf! I know you can solve this problem!

10. Finger lickin’ good – extremely tasty

Example: My mom makes the best steak! It’s finger lickin’ good!

Are there any other weird idioms that you find funny? Share with us!

Jessica Weeg
Jess is a Public Relations Associate at Voxy, and recently graduated from Indiana University (Go Hoosiers!). She enjoys travelling, cooking, and playing volleyball. “The culture of this company is unbelievable. Everyone is having a lot of fun and working very hard- we’re going to accomplish some great things this summer!”