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  • 10 of the Most Common English Idioms and How to Use Them

    Idioms can stump you when you are new to a language, but they can also be fun to learn. Here are a few of the most common idioms and how to use them in your creative life and beyond. Drop them into casual conversation and impress your native-speaking friends!

    1. Steal someone’s thunder.

    Lessen someone’s praise or authority by preempting someone else’s attempt to impress.

    I was presenting my ideas for the script, when Dave stole my thunder with his big announcement.

    2. Last straw, or the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    The final, unpleasant event in a series that makes the situation unbearable.

    After all the rehearsal mishaps, the lead actor quitting was the last straw; the show folded.

    3. Let sleeping dogs lie.

    Do not disturb a situation that would result in trouble or complications. Do not talk about things that have caused problems in the past.

    His family never talks about his wild artist years. They prefer to let sleeping dogs lie.

    4. Kill two birds with one stone.

    To accomplish two different things in one action.

    That shot establishes her character and initiates the plot–we killed two birds with one stone.

    5. Take with a grain of salt.

    Take things less seriously.

    Submitting your work is part of the process, so you have to learn to take rejection with a grain of salt.

    Or, look at something with reservation, skeptically.

    This new biography on Hemingway is entertaining, but not very factual–you should read it with a grain of salt.

    6. At the drop of a hat.

    Without hesitation, immediately.

    She told the director she could start filming at the drop of a hat.

    7. Back to the drawing board.

    When an attempt fails and you must scratch all previous work and start all over.

    My first attempt at building the sailboat did not work, so I had to go back to the drawing board.

    8. Bite off more than you can chew.

    To take on a task that is too big, or more difficult than you can handle.

    I think he bit off more than he can chew by directing and starring in his first film.

    9. Cry over spilt milk.

    Complaining about or regretting a loss or mistake that cannot be fixed.

    I was really upset about dropping my laptop, but then I realized that I was crying over spilt milk.

    10. Every cloud has a silver lining.

    Be optimistic, even the worst situations or events can offer some good.

    When I lost that role, I thought it was the worst thing in the world, but every cloud has a silver lining. That same casting director called me in for this role.

    BONUS: Have an eye for…

    To be good at noticing certain details or have a knack for a particular aesthetic discipline.

    If you have an eye for painting, check out Useful Creative Arts Words, so you can talk with confidence about your favorite artists.

    September 19, 2017 • Language Tips • Views: 76

  • 5 Common Mistakes in English — And How to Learn From Them

    When you’re learning a language, making mistakes is part of the process. As you practice you will get better at recognizing when things sound right. So take every opportunity to say the sentences out loud; think like an actor and recite them like you were practicing for a play. Have fun!

    1. Mixing Up Watch, Look, and See

    These are related verbs with slightly different meanings and usage that can easily confuse the non-native speaker. Here are some ways to understand their different uses:

    • Look – implies intentionality, and often requires a preposition–look at, for, in, etc.
    • See – the act of sight, intentional or not, often used idiomatically, as in “See you later.”
    • Watch — to look at something carefully, usually at something that’s moving.
    • Note that you can see something by mistake, but when you look at something, it is with purpose.

    Examples:

    Did you see me in the latest Spiderman movie?

    You bet! We watched it three times yesterday.

    Be sure to look for me in Superman XXII!

    2. Knowing When to Loan or Borrow

    If you are the owner of the item in question, you will loan it — you are in the position of putting it into someone else’s possession for a while.

    And if you really like your friend’s something, you will ask to borrow it from them.

    Examples:

    I noticed that you have an amazing alien costume in your closet. May I borrow it for the film shoot?

    Sure. I can also loan you the spaceship that I keep in my backyard.

    3. The Case “Of” in Subject-verb Agreement

    Sometimes a prepositional phrase indicated by “of” misleads you in your verb choice. Remember to look to the noun that precedes “of” for your number agreement.

    Examples:

    Only one of her movies has won at Cannes. (one is the subject)

    The list of awards given at Sundance is staggering. (list is the subject)

    4. To Apostrophe or Not to Apostrophe

    Sometimes it’s confusing to know when and how to use the apostrophe (‘), because some words, like it’s/its and your/you’re sound alike. However, if you remember what the uncontracted words are and substitute them, you will never be mistaken.

    It’s = it is

    You’re = you are

    Your and its indicate possession: Your dog loves to chase its tail!

    Examples:

    You’re (you are) going to have the time of your life!

    It’s (it is) the best musical of the year because its songs are so memorable.

    5. Back to the Future With Will

    Lots of verbs use auxiliary, or helper verbs to convey tense. These include: has, had, is, am, are, was, and were. But will is unique in conveying the future tense, so be sure not to confuse it with other such helpers. You will not go to the store yesterday, unless  you have a time machine!

    Examples:

    I will be very nervous in front of all those people.

    You will knock their socks off!

    September 12, 2017 • Language Tips • Views: 84

  • Dive Into the Logic of English Spelling Rules

    English spelling can sometimes feel rather arbitrary, but rest assured there are rules to help you guide your pen or keyboard to the correct choice. We’ve compiled some of them to help get you started in recognizing patterns and taking note of exceptions.

    I before E except after C

    This rule is so useful and popular that it’s almost a jingle. It can help you spell words like conceive, believe, thief, grief, and debrief.

    Exceptions include ancient, caffeine, foreign.

    Also note that in words such as neighbor and weigh, the sound is that of A not E, which can help you remember the exception.

    Doubling and the 1-1-1 rule

    Some verbs, like stop, change to stopping, while others like start simply add -ing. The 1-1-1 rule can help you know what verbs double their final consonant. The rule states that if the verb has one syllable, one vowel in the middle, and one consonant at the end, then that consonant doubles when you add such suffixes as -ing, -ed, -er, -est.

    Splat + er = splatter

    Fat + est = fattest

    Plop + ed = plopped

    Jar + ing = jarring.

    Some consonants do not generally double. These include K, J, V, W and X.

    But you say, what about the word divvy? This means to divide something amongst people, as in, “The thieves divvied the loot.” But the word is considered slang in most dictionaries.

    Keep the E or drop the E?

    In English, suffixes (-ful, -ness, -ly, -ing, -ance) can be very helpful for transforming words from one part of speech to another, for example from a verb to a noun or adjective. But knowing how to do this can be tricky. With words that end in E, you must drop the E when adding a suffix that begins with a vowel, but not when it begins with a consonant:

    Hope + ing = hoping

    Hope + ful = hopeful

    Love + able = lovable

    Love + ly = lovely.

    Final Y changes to I, unless the suffix begins with I

    Similar to the above, a relatively stable rule exists for adding suffixes to words ending in Y. The Y changes to I, unless the suffix begins with an I, for instance -ing, as in flying.

    Fancy + ful = fanciful

    Pretty + ness = prettiness

    Defy + ance = defiance.

    How do I make this noun plural?

    You usually add S to make a noun plural, for instance insect > insects. But when the word ends in Y, you may have noticed that sometimes it changes to -ies, and sometimes not. In order to figure out what to do, look at the letter before the Y; if it is a vowel then you simply add an S, but if it’s a consonant, then you must change the Y to I and add -es.

    Essay > essays

    Butterfly > butterflies.

    What spelling rules have you found helpful in your journey to fluency? Let us know in the comments.

    September 5, 2017 • Language Tips • Views: 87

  • 6 Popular Ways to Practice English

    August 25, 2017 • Language Tips • Views: 117

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  • 5 Useful Cinematic Words

    Photo by Branden Baker

    At The ESL School at NYFA we focus our vocabulary words to help students prepare for a successful transition to visual and performing arts schools. Whether you are headed to The New York Film Academy or just want to have a grasp of the arts, these vocabulary words will help!

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    June 7, 2017 • Language Tips • Views: 209

  • Film Fridays: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

    Most students have probably considered playing hooky at some point. While we don’t condone it, we definitely understand the need to sneak in a midweek break on occasion. Who better to school you on the perfect way to spend your day off than the cult idol and master of schemes, Ferris Bueller? Recently, students at The ESL School at NYFA’s New York City campus were introduced to the expression “playing hooky” (not to be confused with playing hockey!). Students shared some interesting stories about weaseling their way out of work. While we would normally share some quotes from our students here, we thought it best not to make public any of their adventures…

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    May 23, 2017 • Culture Fridays, Language Tips • Views: 188

  • 5 Useful Creative Arts Words

    The ESL School at NYFA is the English language school for creative arts. We take every opportunity to infuse our curriculum with creative arts activities, classes, and vocabulary. Here are five of our favorite vocabulary words from the month of May.

    1. avant-garde (adj.) – used to describe a person or art that uses new, experimental, or radical ideas.  Ex: Emiko’s new short film is avant-garde. I’ve never seen anything like it!
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    May 12, 2017 • Language Tips • Views: 288

  • English Through Music and Song Elective

    In this elective class, music and song treat the English language as a meeting point and a commonality rather than as a barrier. Students of different proficiency levels come together every Monday and Wednesday for an hour to listen to new songs and melodies, engaging with the English language in a different kind of way. The songs range in genre and style from popular music to blues to rap to feel-good, easy listening. In the course of 12 weeks students listen to artists like Adele, Macklemore, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, and many more.

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    April 27, 2017 • Language Tips • Views: 283

  • National Poetry Month at The ESL School at NYFA

    April was National Poetry Month and The ESL School at NYFA (ESN) has been celebrating the simplicity and complexity of its various forms. Students have been demonstrating their creativity with projects such as developing haikus and deconstructing modern song lyrics. Poetry, like all creative art forms, allows the viewers to find themselves as well as lose themselves in the process. The ESL School at NYFA San Jose began an exploration with haiku, which is a traditional form of Japanese poetry. Focusing on syllable count and mood allowed the ESL students to understand the music of the language, appreciate implied meaning, and tell a story with limited words.

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    April 1, 2017 • Language Tips • Views: 186

  • Free Resources to Help Improve Your English

    Looking to improve your English language skills? You’re not alone: according to TESOL, around 1.5 billion people are currently learning the English language around the world. You’re in good company!

    There’s no better way of improving your English than by speaking and reading it as much as possible, but there are some useful resources online that can help you along the way…

    … and best of all, these are all totally free.

    1. Project Gutenberg and LibriVox

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    March 27, 2017 • Language Tips • Views: 312