Today we start the Blue Level. Good luck! For the next seven months, I hope you are able to follow the lessons on this website.

Here’s a checklist for you to keep track of your progress. It’s also available as a PDF file which looks better when it is printed.


Today is Memorial Day in the United States. On this day, we remember members of the military who have died while defending our country. It’s also a good day to remember contributions made by Americans who died while committed to peaceful causes and who have sacrificed themselves without ever picking up a weapon.


Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer season, even though summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21. Summer is a good time to take on a big project or start some kind of self-improvement project such as losing weight or learning a language. Starting tomorrow, we will go back to the Blue Level and focus on the basics of English. If you’re reading this blog and understand what I’m saying here, you probably already know the basics of English, but there might be a few things you have forgotten. Or, if you know someone who needs to learn English from the very beginning, tell him or her to follow me online and visit the website every day.

I go very slowy in the first two levels, the Blue Level and the Red Level. It takes two months to complete all the lessons, exercises, quizzes, and watch the videos. You also must write everything by hand. Simply looking at a computer screen and clicking isn’t enough. Imagine you are in a classroom and that you are doing those things that people do when they are at school. Learning in a virtual world probably isn’t as good as learning in a classroom, but if that’s all you have, you make the best of it.


You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

I love this proverb. If you want to do something–anything–there’s a very strong possibility that you’re going to break something or make a mistake. Risk-taking is an important part of the learning process. Learning a new language requires that you "break a few eggs." Try not to worry about making a mistake.

The Photos page now has a search engine on it. If you have sent in a picture of yourself, you’ll be able to find it on the website more easily. Remember, the photos of students are scattered across the website–not just in the Photos section but also in the lessons as well.

Today is our last day for proverbs :(. I hope you are able to remember what you have learned this week. The best thing for you to do now is to practice these proverbs as soon as you learn their meanings. Throw them into conversations (if they fit the conversation!) and see how people react. You know what they say….

Use it or lose it.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Most people around the world are familiar with the story of The Tortoise and the Hare. This fable illustrates the importance of sticking to a goal without worrying about speed or what others are doing. This is especially true when learning a language. Don’t worry about how fast or easily others are learning English while you continue to struggle with the language. Focus on your goal. In fact, if you learn something too quickly or try to cram the knowledge into your skull* over night, you might forget what you have learned. The important thing is that you continue to learn, even if the pace of your progress isn’t what you expect. Don’t quit. Keep working on it.

* skull = The bone that covers the brain. If you can get something through your skull and into your brain, you can remember it.

tortoise / turtle
This is a human skull.



Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

This is a very well known proverb. In order to figure out its meaning, you have to know what the idiom, "put off," means.

If you’re following the schedule on the home page, the proverbs for today begin with the letters M, N, O, and P.


If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

This is a popular proverb. You’ll hear it used whenever a bad situation arises. The word "lemon" represents something bad. If something bad happens to you, try to make the best of it. Try to find something good in a bad situation.

Here’s another proverb I like:

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

You can kind of figure this one out for yourself. If you experience difficulty when you try to do something, keep on trying. Don’t quit. This is a good one to keep in mind when learning English!

Click here to listen to the word of the day.

Today we’ll begin the proverbs section by looking at those beginning with A, B, C, and D. Proverbs are brief, memorized (it gets in your head and stays there forever!), and most people are familiar with them. You would be surprised to find out how common proverbs are in everyday speech, so if someone says something that sounds unusual or extremely confusing to you, there’s the possibility that it’s a proverb.

There’s a proverb for almost every occasion. These are two proverbs that express almost opposite beliefs:

Clothes make the man.

How important are the clothes that you wear? Some people say that clothes are important and may even change the way you think about yourself.

Clothes don’t make the man.

Others say that the only thing that’s important is what’s inside a person. Clothes shouldn’t make any difference. What do you think?

By the way, you’ll see the word "man" often used in proverbs. These are old expressions, so the bias in favor of men, but we know that these proverbs apply to both men and women.

This week we will study proverbs that are popular in English. Many of these proverbs are well known among speakers of both British and American English, but there will be a few here and there that are exclusively American. I’ve provided audio for some but not all of the proverbs. If you want to practice saying some of these proverbs yourself, however, I’ll put a recorder on the proverbs pages. How does that sound?

What’s a proverb?


Here’s a new section on the website: Word of the Day. If this is popular, I’ll keep it on here. Let me know if you like it.

Today is the last day we study slang: U, V, W, X, Y, Z.

Next week, we’ll move on to proverbs.


The word "screw" is commonly found in daily language here in the United States, but you have to be careful how you use this slang word because many people believe it’s not appropriate, especially when in the presence of someone who is older than you are (parents, your grandmother, neighbors, teachers, etc.). As with most slang, it’s very popular among young people.

screw This is a screw.

The word "screw" is used a couple of different ways. Perhaps most common is when describing a mistake. In this case, add the preposition "up" — screwed up.

  • The waitress screwed up my order.
  • He’s always screwing up and blaming others.
  • I screwed up my test.

You can also make this into a noun:

  • This kid’s a real screw up.
  • She afraid her daughter is becoming a screw up.
  • He hangs around a bunch of screw ups.

Another way to use "screw" is to describe when someone makes your life difficult, intentionally or unintentionally:

  • The cashier screwed me by giving me the wrong change.
  • The company screwed its employees when it cut their pay.
  • We got screwed by the government.

Here are a few more ways to use it:

  • That guy has a screw loose. (He’s crazy.)

  • This is a screwy situation. (This is confusing.)
  • Please don’t screw with me. (Don’t make me mad.)
  • She screwed up enough courage to talk to her boss about her hours. (She decided to do something difficult and talk to her boss.)

I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from students on the Word of the Day feature that appears in the newsletters, so I’m thinking about really making it a daily feature with a new page. What do you think about that?

Word of the Day: cope

The verb "cope" is similar to "manage" or "deal with" We use it describe how a person takes care of a situation, usually a difficult situation. For example:

  • She’s not coping very well with the death of her mother.
  • How do you cope with three jobs?
  • How long has he had to cope with his disease?
  • I can’t cope with this!
  • People who cope with their problems through alcohol or drugs are just creating more problems for themselves.

The slang pages for you to review today are M, N, O, and P.

The words "icky" and "iffy" are good examples of slang that has been around for a long time. While some slang words might be popular for a five to ten-year period and then disappear, I can remember hearing these words when I was a child.

The word "icky" is actually an adjective that parents use with their children to describe something that is unpleasant or disgusting, such as food or insects:

  • That’s icky. Don’t touch it.
  • She doesn’t want to eat her spinach because she thinks it’s icky.
  • Why do you say this is icky? I think it’s good.

The word "iffy" means that something is not certain. The possibility of something happening is not very high. It’s also used as an adjective:

  • Whether or not they go on vacation this year is iffy.
  • Martina is feeling kind of iffy about her job these days.
  • This is a very iffy situation.

Other slang words for today are on these pages: I, J, K, L


This is a new video. It shows how to use an adjective clause to describe a location.

Can you identify the adjective clauses in these sentences?

  • This is the building where she works.
  • This is the building she works at.
  • The place where he lived burned down.
  • The place he lived in burned down.
  • The school where they learned English is now closed.

We’ll start the week off with a little bit of slang. Go to pages A, B, C, and D, in the Slang section of the website. By the end of the week, we’ll have gone through the entire alphabet.

American slang is here today and gone tomorrow. At least some of it is. This is the language of the people. The examples I have provided are some of the most popular uses of slang, but I’ve just scratched the surface. The best way to learn slang is to actually live in the United States, but then you would have to meet and talk with people who use it regularly. Movies and TV shows feature a lot of slang. So do comic books.


This is a new reading exercise for the Violet Level. The subject is the Heidelberg Project which I described in April’s blog.

Thanks to everyone who found mistakes in my lessons this week! I think I’ve fixed them all. If you ever find a mistake or a typing error, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Sometimes I crank out the pages for the website kind of fast.

* crank out: create; make; produce something.


If you watched this video about adjective clauses used with indefinite pronouns a few days ago, try this new quiz and see how much you can remember.


This is a new video that explains how the verb "go" can be used to ask about the quality of an event or experience:

A lot of people emailed me yesterday to ask about additional quizzes for idioms. I do have some. I’ll send out another email today with the links to those quizzes.


Did you receive today’s emailed quiz? If not, make sure you are signed up to receive email from this website. You can sign up on the homepage.

What are you into? Is there some kind of activity that you enjoy doing? If so, you can use "be" + "into" to talk about it:

  • Terry is very into yoga.
  • They’re into gardening.
  • He was into wrestling for a long time but then switched to football.
  • He’s really into her. (He likes her)

You can also use it with the negative:

  • Roger isn’t into chemistry. That’s why he’s failing.
  • I’m not into this party. Let’s go.
  • She’s not very into him.

The idioms for today begin the the letters I, J, K, and L.


Here’s a new video that shows you how to use an adjective clause with an indefinite pronoun:

The idioms for today start with the letters E, F, G, and H.

Here’s a new quiz for the Yellow Level. Do you know how to change the present perfect tense to the past tense? I’m giving this quiz to one of my classes today. Do you think it’s easy or difficult?


It’s about time you learned how to use these idioms: A, B, C, D.

Just as I did with the expressions section, I’ll add some audio to the examples for the idioms.


Tulips and a few daffodils have finally blossomed in my yard.

This week we’ll study idioms that are popular in the United States. idioms are usually verb phrases that combine a verb and a preposition. Some idioms are single words, some are expressions, and some originated as slang that then came into widespread usage. Most of the idioms listed on this website are verb phrases, but if you go to other sites, you’ll notice that idioms might be identified differently. The important thing is that you become familiar with idioms and learn to listen for them in conversation.

Today I’ll be working in my yard, getting everything ready for planting. We’ve had a late spring here in Minnesota this year. The ground is finally warm enough to do a little work.

The last set of expressions are for the letters U, V, W, X, Y, and Z.

Is the learning of a new language up your alley? If something is "up your alley," that means you are well-suited for the activity. You can do it, or you are good at it.

Read more about popular expressions on the following pages: Q, R, S, T.


I realize this is a lot of reading, but I’ve included some audio to help lighten the load. These expressions begin with the letters M, N, O, and P.

Keep your eye on the ball.

This means that if you want to succeed at something, you must always remember what your goals are. Try to stay focused on accomplishing tasks that lead to your main objective. Don’t become distracted. I think this expression, "Keep your eye on the ball," comes from baseball. A batter must "keep his eye(s) on the ball" in order to hit it with his bat. If he doesn’t, he won’t be able to hit it.

The pitcher throws the ball to…
…the batter.

Your assignment for today is to review expressions beginning with the letters I, J, K, and L.

Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Is this an expression or a proverb? If you talk to an American, he or she might say it’s an expression; someone else might say it’s a proverb; others will say it’s a phrase. Whatever you want to call it, everyone knows what it means when it’s used. What do you think this means? Click here to find out and listen to your teacher read it out loud.

The other pages for expressions today are F, G, and H.

Today we’ll study popular expressions that start with the letters A, B, C, and D.

Instead of using one’s own words, the death of Osama bin Laden is an occasion when you might hear people use expressions to describe an emotional response. Sometimes it’s just easier to use a popular expression when the general public shares the same feelings about an issue. That’s why it’s important for you to learn what these expressions mean. Here are some examples of that:

  • An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth: When someone does something especially bad, the revenge or punishment for that action should match the offense. It’s doubtful the U.S. military ever considered the capture of bin Laden. They killed him. The U.S. has also killed hundreds of other Al Qaeda members around the world and will probably continue to do so.
  • The bigger they come, the harder they fall: It took almost ten years to find bin Laden. A person with a lot of power, strength, money, etc. is difficult to take down — but eventually that person will face defeat.
  • His days were numbered: From the time of September 11, we knew that OBL (Osama bin Laden) would eventually be captured of killed.


An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

This is a popular expression used in the United States. It’s very likely there’s a similar expression in your first language. What does it mean? Click on the link to find out.

During this first week of May, I’ll direct your attention to the expressions section of the website. It’s important to learn various expressions used in the United States because they’re very popular in conversation. If you don’t understand what an expression means, you might feel left out of a conversation had among friends or coworkers.

As for the rest of the month after this first week, we’ll also study idioms, slang, and proverbs. Each week will feature language that’s popular in spoken English here in the United States.

This American Speech section of the website is intended for intermediate and advanced learners of English; however, beginning level students are certainly welcome to go there. It’s important to keep in mind that some expressions, idioms, slang, and proverbs originate in British English, but of course, we claim them here as our own.

After the month of May, we will return to the Blue Level in June and go through each of the seven levels, one month at at time until we complete the seventh level, the Violet Level, in December (See the chart below). If you have gone through all seven levels, you’re welcome to repeat them. Repetition helps a student remember things that have already been learned. And if you know someone who wants to learn English from square one, tell that person we will start with the Blue Level in June. The website is more fun when we have a large group of people visiting and learning all at the same time.

The 2011 Schedule for Lessons  
June arrow
Blue Level 
July arrow
Red Level  
August arrow
Yellow Level  
September arrow
Green Level 
October arrow
Purple Level 
November arrow
Orange Level 
December arrow
Violet Level  


Click here to go to April 2011. During that month, we studied prepositions. I also posted pictures and video of a famous art project in Detroit, Michigan.