October 2012

How do you Eat an Elephant?

big elephant

One bite at a time.

To create the world’s first dictionary by sound, the first bite was a word list. More than 80% of the English speaking people in the world use only 2,000 words.* The 2,000 most common words in English seemed like the right place to start. I downloaded a list from the internet. That was easy.

The word list needed to be color-coded and divided into ‘sound’ chapters. Based on the EPA Vowel Chart on page 55 of English is Stupid, Students are Not there are 16 vowel sounds inside the names of 16 common colors in North American English.

Download Thompson Vowel Chart Now

16 Colors dictate the 16 chapters in the new dictionary. It took less than an hour to determine the colors of the 2,000 words on the list and another hour to group the words into the word-lists for each chapter. Writing a dictionary is not as hard as I thought it was going to be!

‘This is easy’ is often a precursor to disaster for me and this time was no exception. I started with the Gray word list because Gray happens to hold long ‘a’ and is the first color on the Vowel Chart. The first entry in Gray is the letter ‘A’, how perfect. I started writing a simple definition for ‘A’ and the rubber hit the road. What font should I use? How much detail should I include? Should I include a sample sentence? What level of language would serve the greatest number of students? How many columns should there be? I never did finish the entry for ‘A’ but I did realize I needed help and lots of it.

In 2009 the 2,000 most common words in English into were divided into 16 color-coded word lists, then I put my pet project away. Other books took priority. My dictionary sat on the shelf collecting dust for two years while I figured out what the next bite of that elephant could be.

Until next time,

Teacher Judy

http://on.ft.com/VXxsDY Financial Times November 2007


http://www.manythings.org/voa/words-frequency.htm Voice of America 2000 Word list


Go Big or Go Home

There is satisfaction in completing tasks and there is tremendous satisfaction completing huge tasks. Writing a dictionary is a huge task.

I have to back up for a minute. Every fall there is a big TESL Ontario Conference in Toronto. In 2009 we introduced English is Stupid the 6-Point Guide to Spoken English. (redubbed English is Stupid, Students are Not) and the first edition (1,000 copies) sold out that year. In 2010 teachers asked for more exercises to go with their beloved EIS so Noreen Brigden, a group of ESL teachers and I created the English Phonetic Alphabet Workbook for Chapter One of EIS. At a gala affair at TESL 2011 we launched our new baby.

EPA Wb launch 2011

EPA Workbook

fran judy colleen noreen 2

Dear Fran, Judy, Colleen, Noreen

group 1

Some of the team who made it possible

Love it or hate it - mostly love it

Wonderful ESL Teachers!

















Colleen Ross of CBC was the guest speaker and Fran Marshall hosted. It was a roaring success and tremendously satisfying for the team who worked on the book. God bless the teachers who asked for the exercise book. They showed up and bought it.

In the big picture, it’s The EPA Vowel Chart on page 55 of English is Stupid, Students are Not that is changing the way English is being taught. There is a vowel chart on that page that pairs the 16 vowel sounds  of North American English with 16 common colors that have those exact vowel sounds in their names. GRAY has long ‘a’, BLACK has short ‘a’, GREEN has long ‘e’, RED has short ‘e’, WHITE has long ‘i’, PINK has short ‘i’ and so on. What learning the vowel sounds by color means for students is they remember pronunciation by color not spelling. Students no longer have to struggle with crazy English spelling in order to speak English confidently.

great, date, eight, hey and train… are Gray

cat, laugh, half and plaid … are Black

sister, pretty, women, build, busy… are Pink. It’s magic (which is blackJ)

Download your free copy of the EPA Vowel Chart when you Sign Up on the website: http://www.thompsonlanguagecenter.com

The workbook was a great project but distracted me from what I really wanted to do. Many years ago when I realized every word in English is a color, I wanted to make a dictionary that organized words by vowel sound rather than the alphabet. Because spelling in English is random organizing words alphabetically is silly and traditional dictionaries are useless for students. With English is Stupid flying off the shelves in more than30 countries and the workbook completed, I could finally concentrate on creating the world’s first dictionary by sound.

Who am I kidding? I can’t write a dictionary!

Until next time,

Teacher Judy


More Life on Mars

Judit Tárczy was a newcomer on LinkedIn who made charming requests. What would a picture of the verb ‘take’ look like? How would one draw ‘messy’? I had a catalog of publishable drawings from illustrating English is Stupid, Students are Not so it was a simple matter for me to fulfill her requests. Eventually I asked her what she was doing? Her answer rocked my world. Judit had created a computer program for teaching children English using only games. She had paid for over 1,000 pictures that she had arranged in word boards and reinforced vocabulary and grammar with a variety of entertaining games. I could easily see how children would have fun learning English this way. BTW English is not Judit’s first language!


Judy, Judit and Peggy met on LinkedIn and flew to England to meet.

If you have ever heard me speak at conferences or respond to pronunciation topics on social media, you’ll know I think IPA is ridiculous. I replaced it years ago with the logical, keyboard-friendly English Phonetic Alphabet. EPA is available free to anyone who is interested. Well I was chirping away on a teachers group trashing IPA when Peggy Tharpe responded. She listed her considerable credentials (www.AmericanPronunciationCoach.com) before defending IPA by saying she found the system useful. I blasted her because I am passionate and rude (proudly Irish heritage). Peggy shocked me by asking for a copy of EPA. She shocked me again the following day when she emailed, “I looked at your system and you are right, EPA is better. In fact, I only thought I was using IPA and what I really use is a modified phonetic alphabet that looks exactly like your system.” What an impressively courageous woman. I secretly filed her name away on my expanding list of radical teachers.

I am the Simon Cowell of spotting ESL teaching talent 🙂

Until next time,

Teacher Judy



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The Full Monty. Step by step, blow by blow 360 page speaking course based on the patterns of English premiered in English is Stupid Students are Not. This was the course book for Speaking Canadian English as taught at Sheridan College and adopted by McMaster University for their online student course. Contact Judy@ThompsonLanguageCenter.com for information on Teacher Training packages to get the most out of this ground-breaking speaking system.

English is Stupid

Spes – Adult Continuing Education Student

ChallengeEnglish is stupid:

In 2002, Spes Musampa, her husband and their three children immigrated to Montreal, Canada because French was their second language. Spes worked as a sales representative for a large distribution company. When her husband was transferred to Toronto, Ontario Spes had to search for a new job. She had a great resume with loads of experience, but she spoke no English and was too self-conscious to try. 

How She Heard about Us:

Speaking Canadian English (now known as Speaking Made Simple) was offered at a Sheridan College and it included the technical basics of speaking, expressions, opportunities to speak in class and mock job interviews.

What She Did:

Spes registered for the speaking program and bought English is Stupid, Students are Not the course textbook. As an educated woman Spes’ ability to read, write and even understand English was good. Her downfall was speaking. In class Spes learned her French accent was charming and minor grammar mistakes did not impede her ability to make herself understood. She developed her ear for word stress and expressions and she made opportunities to practice outside of class.


With the deep understanding of how conversation works and some strategies for self correcting Spes was confident in her job interview and able to let her past experience and ability shine. She got the job and works as a bi-lingual representative for a national weight-loss company. Spes manages a large sales territory – in English.

How Does This Story Affect You?:

Many adult ESL students can read and write English. That is what is taught in school. Without the distinction between written and spoken English traditional ESL programs expected fluency to follow spelling and grammar. It never does. In order to speak English you have to study speaking English and very few places can teach you that. Look for Speaking Made Simple online in December 2013.

“My colleagues understand me better, I am confident making sales calls and I have been promoted to Regional Sales Manager – in English”

A Voice in the Dark

Life unfolds fairly normally for months or years on end then one day something happens and you just know your life will never be the same.

I was going through my email and scanning LinkedIn group topics to see if anything interesting was afoot. We need to develop a radically different approach to teaching English jumped off the screen. Rita Baker submitted the challenge and provided a link to her website. (facebook.com/GlobalApproach?filter=1) Her first video opened with “English is easy It has to be or children couldn’t learn it.” and “We have to stop telling students things that aren’t true for example, there is no ‘i’ before ‘e’…”  I thought, this woman is brilliant – she sounds just like me!

Rita Headshot

I was more than impressed, I was hooked. I watched every one of her videos successively.

Rita Baker compared education to piles of puzzle pieces that take a lifetime to put together because we are never taught the context or given the picture on the box. Her Global Approach comes from the other direction. She teaches the picture on the box. In record time her students walk away with the tools to make English make sense with or without a teacher for the rest of their lives. One of her blueprints plots every possible English grammar combination on a single sheet of paper using three triangles. Why didn’t I think of that?

I raved about her program on LinkedIn. I knew she was onto something big and I wanted her to feel heard and supported. Finding one kindred spirit was like proof of life on Mars. It changed everything. I was no longer alone in my struggle to change the way English is taught. More than that, meeting Rita had triggered some primal Spidey sense. I began to comb the internet for other radical thinkers.

Until next time,

Teacher Judy