Katrok and Cat Rock!

You may be wondering why this post carries a photo of a cat playing rock guitar in a traditional village setting!

Well, I’m using this image as an example of a mnemonic. Mnemonics is a memorisation technique that actually has many applications. At school I used the phrase Old Harry And His Old Aunt to remember the mathematical formulae for Sine (O/H), Cosine (A/H), Tangent (O/A). At music college I used FOOLS and the 2 ‘R‘s to learn the rules for harmonisation in Bach chorales (Fifths, Overlapping, Octaves, Leading note, Spacing, Range, Repetition). And more recently I’ve been telling students that the preposition following increase is in (not of) just like the first two letters of increase!

In the example that I’m going to share in this post, I show how I use images to ‘visualise’ words and phrases so as to make them ‘stick’ in my memory.

Visualising words using mnemonics

I used mnemonics to learn the Indonesian slang word katrok. Actually the final k in katrok is often silent, but it’s difficult for students of Indonesian to hear the absence of the final k. If there is a k at the end, we have something that sounds similar to the English cat rock.

Already this is an unusual image – catrock. I pictured a cat playing an electric guitar. And when I added the meaning of katrok, which is an adjective used to describe an uneducated, uncultured, possibly village person, I pictured in my mind the cat playing the electric guitar in a primitive village scene.

Now I never forget the word katrok!

If you have tried this technique, please share your experiences by adding a comment below!

A ‘he’ or a ‘she’?

What a cute baby! Is it a ‘he’ or a ‘she’?

Ok so I admit that occasionally we might not recognise somebody’s gender. But when their gender is obvious then we need to use the right pronoun, at least when we’re taking an exam!

Many languages, including Bahasa Indonesia, use non-sexist pronouns. And many languages use the same pronoun for subjects and objects, and even for possessives! It’s hardly surprising that students find English pronouns challenging, but for IELTS they have to be right!

Some yukky theory:

subject object possessive
he him his
she her hers
it it its

Ok now fill the gaps with suitable pronouns!

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College colleagues

I’m very busy during the week, but at weekends I go out with my colleges.

Indonesian flag This was something I overheard someone say, although I sometimes see the same error in writing. Mostly it’s a pronunciation problem that influences written form.

There’s a world of difference between colleges and colleagues:

  • colleges (3 syllables: /kɒlɪdʒɪz/) – educational institutions
  • colleagues (2 syllables: /kɒliːgz/) – the people we work with

Colleges or colleagues?

A student out for a walk with his colleges(!)

Whoever you are, and wherever you are, you’re extremely unlikely to go out with your colleges! What you mean is:

  • I’m very busy during the week, but at weekends I go out with my colleagues.

But even here there’s a problem. English native speakers are unlikely to refer to the people they study with as colleagues. If the context is education, then a native speaker is more likely to use the following:

  • I go out with my classmates.
  • I go out with people from my class.
  • I go out with fellow students.

If you go out with colleagues, you are going out with the people you work with, and not the people you study with! If you are hanging out with college colleagues then you are probably a teacher or professor hanging out with fellow teachers or professors!

Pedro, Hans, Fritz and Francois

In this post we review country names, language names, nationalities, etc. Students sometimes use the nationality when they mean the country, or the country when they mean the language, and so on. I’ve chosen to focus on four countries in western Europe whose vocabulary most often causes confusion.

First of all here’s a table showing available word forms. Continue reading

My couple or my partner?

There is an excellent cinema in my hometown. I go there almost every weekend with my couple.

Indonesian flag This is an Indonesian student translating pasangan, which can be translated as either couple (or pair) or partner, depending on the context.

If the context is two people who are romantically attached, then these two people – together – form a couple. But be careful! It’s only when they are together that they are a couple. We cannot refer to one of them separately as a couple.

Take, for example Brangelina. All of the following are true:

  • Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie used to be a couple.
  • Brad was Angelina’s partner.
  • Angelina was Brad’s partner.
  • Angelina Jolie often appeared in films alongside her partner, Brad Pitt.

Notice also that in this context – couple meaning two people romantically attached – the word ‘couple’ behaves like a noun rather than a quantifier. But whether it is a noun or a quantifier, we are extremely unlikely to see a possessive before couple (‘my couple’). In fact there is only one situation I can think of when a quantifier behaves like a noun that can be ‘possessed’:

  • This weekend I’m taking my two to the beach.

In this case two means ‘children’. But again, this is very rare.

Returning to ‘couple’, if you’re talking about one member of a couple, use partner!

Mangkunegaran – recounting an experience

I already know the theory – give me the gapfill!


In IELTS speaking part 2 you are required to speak for between 1 and 2 minutes about a topic given by the examiner. Although it is difficult to predict the topic, the generic features of your spoken text are likely to follow one of two types. Here I demonstrate one of these types – recount.

First I’ll talk you through the predictable features of recount and then we’ll look at an example. Continue reading

Linkin’ Text – A pronunciation app

Note! I’m still working on the algorithm and I’d very much appreciate your feedback on how it’s working so far! Please leave comments in the comments box at the bottom of this page.


Indonesian flag Indonesian students are used to separating – when they speak Indonesian – every single syllable, and therefore every single word, so that the boundaries between words are always easy to identify. Unfortunately, native English speakers try where possible to join words together in speech, making the boundaries between words less obvious.

Indonesian flag Indonesians are aware that they can still communicate well in English without linking words the way English native speakers do. However, forcing yourself to link words has at least two important advantages:

  • Identifying word boundaries (when listening) becomes much easier if you are able to produce – in speaking – word boundaries!
  • Linking – or connecting – words gets you a higher score for pronunciation in IELTS Speaking!

Linkin’ text highlights 4 link types:

  • Red shows that a sound has been moved.
  • Blue shows that a sound has been added.
  • Green shows that a sound has been changed.
  • Orange shows that a sound has been omitted.

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Talking about marriage

Marriage often gets lost in translation, so let’s try some very old-school grammar translation!

  1. Read the text and translate it into your first language.
  2. Then – without looking at the original text – try to translate it back into English.
  3. Finally, fill in the gaps with words and phrases from the box.
  4. Click ‘Check your answers’ for feedback.

Continue reading