Listening Practice for Intermediate & Advanced Students

(photo by "Credit-cards" by Lotus Head)

(photo by “Credit-cards” by Lotus Head)

Are you ever nervous when you have to talk on the telephone? It is one of the most difficult things to do in another language. Most communication in the real world is non-verbal, so when we talk on the phone, we have to rely only on words. This is difficult when English is not our first language!

Today, let’s practice listening to a telephone conversation. This is from a video by English with Elizabeth. In it, you can listen to a conversation about an incorrect charge on a credit card.

As you listen to the conversation, try to discover the reason Mariam is upset.

Listen carefully to the dialogue.


Do you know why she is upset?

Listen again, and fill in the blanks:

Customer Service: Hello, Visa Card services. Can I help you?

Mariam: Yes, I need to talk to someone about a _________ on my card.

Customer Service: Ok, I can help you with that. I need your _________and ____________ number.

Mariam: My name is Mariam Jones. My account number is _____________ _______ 5555

Customer Service: And for verification purposes, Mariam, could you please tell me the last four digits of your social security number?

Mariam: _____

Customer Service: Thank you. How can I help you today?

Mariam: There is a charge for $_______ dollars on my statement that I didn’t _______.

Customer Service: I see. I can help you with that. What’s the date of the ________________?

Mariam: It was made on January __________. The store is Acme Supermarket.

Customer Service: And you did not _________ at Acme that day?

Mariam: No, I didn’t.

Customer Service: Ok. I’m going to put your card on _________, and you will not be ___________ for the charge of $150. We’ll be sending you a new card in the _________. Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Mariam: How long will it take for me to get my new card?

Customer Service: Um, a week to 10 days.

Mariam: Ok, ______ _____ then thank you.

Customer Service: You’re welcome. Have a nice day.


We hope you never have to call about an incorrect charge on your credit card, but if you do, now you know what vocabulary you can use when you talk on the phone in English!

Reading Pronunciation (Levels 1-3)

Van (image by 天然ガス)

Van (image by 天然ガス)

Is it difficult to read in English? Sometimes, we write and pronounce words differently. For example, you read, “I walked to school” like “I walkt to skool.” Sometimes the spelling and the pronunciation is not the same.

But there is good news! You can learn pronunciation rules that can help you pronounce words correctly. About 80% of English uses pronunciation rules. The other 20% are exceptions.

There is an order to learning the 44 sounds of English.


  • consonants (b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z)
  • 5 short vowels (a, e, i, o, u)
  • words with short vowels (cat, leg, lip, mop, rug)
  • consonant blends (brush, grass, smart, etc.)
  • 5 long vowels (a, e, i, o, u)
  • words with long vowels (late, meet, like, smoke, flute)
  • exceptions to the rules

If you want to start with the letter sounds, click here. (This website is for children, but is the best one for hearing different sounds!)

Today we will look at short A.

Click on this link to hear a story. Practice reading the story. Repeat after the narrator. Does your “a” and his “a” sound the same?


Listen to the story again and write the word.

  1. Dan has a ____________.
  2. The _________ is for work.
  3. He has a _________ in his van.
  4. He looks at the _______ a lot.
  5. He _________ go west.
  6. He _________ go east.
  7. He _________ go north.
  8. He _________ go south.
  9. Dan is ___________ to have a ________ in his van for work.

For more stories, click here.

Next week, we will look at more difficult pronunciation and spelling. See you then!

Parts of Speech: Interjections

(photo by WT instructor JLN)

(photo by WT instructor JLN)


Mmmmm! That smells delicious! What is it?






Yuck! What IS that? It looks disgusting!



We use a lot of interjections in English. Interjections are small words or sounds. They can be loud exclamations or noises you make with your mouth closed.

Here are some interjections we use in English. Usually you hear these more than you write or read them.

Word Meaning Example
Oh! Surprise Oh! It’s 8:00! I’m late!
Uh . . . Hesitation Uh . . . I think . . . uh . . . the answer is . . . uh . . .
Uh-huh Yes, agreement “Did you like the movie?” “Uh-huh.”
Uh-uh No, disagreement “Did you like the movie?” “Uh-uh.”
Ouch! Pain Ouch! You stepped on my toe! That hurts!
Hmmm Hesitation, thought “What’s your opinion on global warming?” “Hmmm. I’m not sure.”
Um Hesitation Hi, my name is, um, Jaimie.

You can see another list here. Enjoy!

This video is a recording of what you just read. Listen to it so you can know how to pronounce the words.

Schwa: The Secret to Perfect Pronunciation in English

image by fabiform

image by fabiform

Hello! Last week we talked about long vowels in English. Two weeks ago we talked about short vowels. Today we finish vowels. Let’s talk about SCHWA! Schwa looks like an upside-down “e” in phonetic transcription.


What is “schwa”? “Schwa” is the most common sound in English. How many sounds are there in total? 100? 500? No. Just 44. There are 44 sounds in English. And “schwa” is the most common sound.

“Schwa” sounds like “uh.” Every vowel — A, E, I, O, and U — can make the sound “uh.” It’s a relaxed sound. It is the sound on unstressed syllables.

Watch this video and practice with the teacher:

Stressed or Unstressed? 

In some other languages, you say every syllable the same. In English, some syllables are stressed and some are not stressed. (What’s a syllable? A part of a word with only one vowel. “America” has 3 syllables: A / me / ri / ca.)

There are at least 8 different ways to put stress on words. This article has that information.

Schwa only happens in words with two or more syllables, except “a” and “the,” which can both sound like schwa. The unstressed syllable receives the schwa sound.

  1. Pass me a banana.
  2. Where is the book?
  3. What is that book about?

How do you spell schwa? 

The bad news is, you can write schwa with all of the vowels. It makes spelling difficult. Tenacious, replicate, percolate, etc. all have a schwa sound. Schwa is represented by ALL of the vowels!

For some interesting facts on schwa, click here.

For some more pronunciation practice, click here.

Long Vowels in English

You know that can you pronounce every vowel (A, E, I, O, U) 3 different ways. Last week we looked at short vowels in English. Today we will look at long vowels.

Long vowels say the name of the letter. Watch this video to see how to pronounce them correctly:

One of the difficult parts of English is spelling. You can spell long vowels in many different ways. Let’s look!

A E I O U / OO
make Pete bike note rule
wait meet tie coat fruit
day meat night toe few
eight sky throw blue

The most common way to find a long vowel is the “vowel + silent ‘e'” pattern.

MAKE, PETE, BIKE, NOTE, RULE all end with “e.” The “e” is silent. You don’t pronounce it. The first vowel says its name.

Here is a video that shows how short “o” changes to long “o.”

When you read, look for the “silent ‘e’.” You will see how you change the pronunciation.

We will look at “schwa” next week!

Short Vowel Pronunciation in English

Hat, hit, hot, hut . . . can you hear the difference? Many students have trouble pronouncing short vowel sounds in English. Today we’re going to look at them.

If you speak Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Serbian, or any other phonetic language, you are lucky! In phonetic languages, you pronounce a letter the same way you write it. For example, you always pronounce the “a” in casa (“house” in Spanish) the same, always. Casa, estante, argumento, plato . . . the sound of “a” never changes.

But English is different!

There are five vowels in English: A, E, I, O, U. You can pronounce each vowel 3 different ways: long, short, or schwa (“uh”). We will look at long vowels and schwa later. Today we will look at short vowels.

This video shows how you move your mouth when you pronounce short vowels in English.

If you want basic short vowel instruction, you can look at It is a website for children learning how to read English, but it has excellent pronunciation!

This video can be good practice for you. First, listen to the words. Then try to write them without looking at the words:

It is important that you know how to pronounce short words correctly, so that you can pronounce long words better.

These words have short vowels in them. Can you pronounce them?

  • cat
  • egg
  • dip
  • pot
  • mug
  • chapter
  • percent
  • chimney
  • chocolate
  • supply

Next week we will look at some long vowels. Please let me know if you have any questions!

The Lady or the Tiger?

(Reading/Listening practice for Levels 5, 6, and ERV)

Kingdom (photo by

Kingdom (photo by


Tiger (photo by J. Patrick Fischer, Wikimedia Common)

Imagine a magical kingdom where a king lives with his daughter, the Princess. The king has a strange way of dealing with justice. If someone is accused of a crime, they don’t go to court. They don’t talk to a lawyer. They don’t talk to a judge.

Instead, they go to a huge arena with two closed doors.

Behind one door is a beautiful woman.

Behind the other door is a tiger.

If the criminal opens the door and finds the lady, he marries her.

If the criminal opens the door and finds the tiger, the tiger eats him, and he dies.

Do you think this is a fair way to deal with justice?



In the story “The Lady or the Tiger,” written in 1882 by the American author Frank R. Stockton, the princess’s lover is put into the arena. The princess knows which door has the woman. She also knows which door has the tiger. But which will she command? Does she want the tiger to eat her lover? Or does she want him to marry another woman, a woman she hates? Which will she choose?

You can read and listen to a version of the story here. It contains an mp3 version that you can listen to as you read, to help you with pronunciation and fluency. If you want to read the original version, click here, but understand that it uses very old English.

What are your thoughts after you read the story?

What would you do if you were the princess?

Conversational American English

Two friends are talking. 

One friend says, “What are ya gonna do tomorrow?”

The other replies, “I dunno. What do ya wanna do?”

“I’m not sure yet. I think I hafta do something for my mom cuz she asked me to. I wanted you to help.”

“Sorry, I can’t. Look, I’ve gotta go right now. Gimme a call later, OK?”

“OK. Bye!”

This way of speaking is called “Relaxed Pronunciation.” Americans use this style of speaking often. We use abbreviations (I’m, he’s, there’s, etc.) in conversation, and in writing, too, sometimes. But we rarely write relaxed pronunciation unless it is a text with our friends. In speaking, though, we use it often.

This website has hundreds of examples of relaxed pronunciation. The following list is shorter: 

Relaxed Pronunciation Standard Pronunciation  Example
 GONNA  going to  I’m gonna go at 5:00.
 GOTTA  got a (have)got to (have to, must) I gotta date tonight, but I gotta be home before 8:00.
 HAFTA  have to (must)  We hafta study more if we want to pass the test!
 HASTA  has to (must)  He hasta call me, because I’m not gonna call him!
 SHOULDA  should have  You shoulda called me yesterday; why didn’t you?!

Other examples are:

dunno = don’t know

cuz, cos = because

ya = you

gimme = give me


You will hear relaxed pronunciation a lot! It’s a very casual way to speak. Only use it with your friends, not with your boss! And don’t use these expressions when you write, only when you speak!

This video has great pronunciation practice! Try it out!

In the comment section, rewrite the above conversation with Standard Pronunciation.

Good luck!

American Pronunication

Do you worry about your pronunciation? 

Do you have problems understanding what people tell you?

Is it difficult to distinguish between some sounds? 

Is it difficult to produce some sounds? 

If you started to learn English after age 13, you probably have an accent. Learning a new language means teaching your tongue, teeth, and mouth to move in different ways than “normal”. Children understand languages quickly. They don’t have an accent. Adults learn differently. If you learn a language as an adult, you will probably always have an accent. This is normal. Don’t worry about trying to sound 100% American when you talk. Having an accent is part of who you are. It is part of your identity. So don’t worry if you speak with an accent.

However, just because you will never get rid of your accent doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to correct your pronunciation! You should always try to speak clearly so people understand you. Many sounds in English are similar, and need to be practiced!

For example: “cheese” and “she’s” may sound similar to you. But really, they are different. They begin with different sounds.

I recommend that you visit this website. On the left, there is a list of “minimal pairs.” “Minimal pairs” are words that sound similar in English, like “lake” and “rake” or “hat” and “hot.”

Click on the “minimal pair” that you want to study. You can click on the word to hear how to pronounce it.

If you need more pronunciation activities, please let me know!

Good luck!

Pronouncing Contractions

Sometimes  English pronunciation is difficult. One problem is pronouncing contracted words.

Contracted words have an apostrophe [ ‘ ]. These are some examples of contracted words:

  • I’m
  • He’s
  • Isn’t
  • Can’t
  • Shouldn’t
  • Doesn’t

These are some examples of un-contracted words:

  • I am
  • He is
  • Is not
  • Cannot
  • Should not
  • Does not

There is a difference between contracted words and un-contracted words. We use contractions to make the words shorter.

Look at these two sentences:

1. She’s not hungry so she won’t eat.

2. She is not hungry so she will not eat.

The meaning of the sentences is the same, but the pronunciation is different.

This video shows the sounds of contracted words. The speaker is not a native English speaker, but you can understand her well.

This video has no sound, but shows how to write contractions.

This video is a funny video for children about contractions.

When you read in English, make sure you pronounce the contractions correctly.


This is a poem by Shel Silverstein. Click here for the picture!

It’s Hot!

It’s hot!
I can’t get cool,
I’ve drunk a quart of lemonade.
I think I’ll take my shoes off
And sit around in the shade.

It’s hot!
My back is sticky,
The sweat rolls down my chin.
I think I’ll take my clothes off
And sit around in my skin.

It’s hot!
I’ve tried with ‘lectric fans
And pools and ice cream cones.
I think I’ll take my skin off
And sit around in my bones.

It’s still hot!

How many contractions do you see?!