For parents with kids with language learning challenges – important clarification

In previous posts, I wrote about my friend Melissa Karydas – who designed a learning resource (Looking Learning) to teach her daughter Georgie how to understand the meanings of different words and and how to choose the right words.

Melissa has read my posts and while she was happy that I was singing her praises – she wanted me to make two things clear.

Mel + G

1. She is not a Speech Therapist. She is a motivated mum ( a physiotherapist by training) who has had success in helping her daughter Georgie who has a language learning challenge.

2. She wants to make it clear the commitment you need to help a child with language learning challenges. She wants to help other parents – because she knows what it’s like to be so frustrated when your child can’t master the basics of language.


First you’ve got to give them a vocabulary and the meanings of different words – she says.

Melissa started off collecting huge folders of pictures from magazines to help her daughter.


Do you still have the folders? – I asked

I gave them away to other parents who needed help – Melissa explained.

Melissa has asked me to help her record some videos where she will explain the real challenges and her tips on how to help your kids.

I want to people to know what it’s really like – she says.

Building the vocabulary is a good start – but there’s lots of catching up to do – she says.

A lot of people give up because it’s so hard. I want to show people how to keep on trying and not give up!

TB training group

I know this site Choose The Right Words jumps between two worlds:

1. my world of training executives (especially people from ESL background – English as a Second Language) and

2. Melissa’s world of helping people with language learning challenges.

I can see the similarities because I often use my corporate training techniques to help my son and I use the simple memory devices I use with my son to help these high-powered, super-successful executives

I can see the benefits of Melissa’s visual system to help my clients  in my corporate work (with a modified vocabulary of course).

My son Orlando who has attention challenges and required lots of work to help him remember his schoolwork.

scrabble spelling

Whereas Melissa’s daughter Georgie was very silent and shy until she built a vocabulary – my son Orlando talks incessantly and has trouble sitting still. I have to work hard to get him to remember different words and how to spell.

I’m using some of Melissa’s Looking Learning images  because my son learns visually (especially if there’s some humour).



Anyway, I hope  this blog helps you whether you are:

1. someone who wants to help people with language learning challenges

2. a parent who wants to fast track your kids with their schoolwork

3. someone wanting to learn English

I plan to start recording videos with Melissa  in the next couple of weeks.

Here are the earlier posts about Melissa:


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If you found this post interesting you can follow me and connect with me.

I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips.


tony biancotti


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How to choose the right tense and sound like a native English speaker

How to be choosing the right tense and be sounding like a native English speaker

It’s often the “little things” that make a difference in whether you sound like a native English speaker or writer.

You can do everything else correctly – your words and spelling – but you get one “little thing” wrong and it makes your written or spoken words sound wrong.

For example, the other day as I was checking out a very cool vintage store,  two things caught my eye.

First of all, this cool retro chair caught my attention:

retro chair

And something else – a tell tale sign on the sign on that chair – a sign that the writer was from an ESL background (English as a Second language).

Can you see the tell-tale sign (a classic ESL mistake)  on the sign on the cool chair?

I’m a real word nerd and I notice these little things. I mainly help ESL business people improve their Business English – and this mistake is common in business writing.

vintage chair sign

Yes, it’s using the wrong tense – rather than the simple present tense:

Please don’t sitthe writer uses don’t be sitting.

This mistake is very common in Hindi   where speakers and writers often overuse  the present progressive (the -ing  words in  progress) when in English the present simple is used.

I am not knowing how to be speaking Hindi  – but my research is telling me that the simple present tense is not being used in the native language.

That last sentence deliberately used unnecessarily complex and unnatural sounding tenses.

It should have read:

I don’t know how to speak Hindi – but my research tells me that the simple present tense is not used...

So if you are an ESL writer or speaker – look out for your -ing words and consider if a simpler, more natural tense is a better choice.

Sometime the -ing words are appropriate if you are in the process of performing an action.

But, don’t be using the -ing tenses unnecessarily and…

Please – Don’t be sitting in the cool retro chair.


Also, the comma is used incorrectly – that’s known as a comma splice.

I know I can sound like a nit-picking word nerd ( and I can be) – but I also have a hip and fun, retro-loving side!

And yes, I have a “thing” for retro chairs – like the Mad Men– style Corona Chair!

mad men chair!

mad men chair

If you (or your organisation) would like help improve your Business English – please contact me. I am based in Brisbane and mainly work all over Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.

word nerd CU

If you enjoyed this post – Let’s connect:

If you found this post interesting you can follow me and connect with me.

I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips.


tony biancotti


Linked In – under Tony Biancotti

Or you can click to follow this blog.


Don’t be a “looser” – remember the difference between loose and lose

No wonder people find English confusing

Just try this exercise to see for yourself.

Say the word  – CHOOSE.

Now apply the same pronunciation to the word LOOSE.

Any yet LOSE not LOOSE is pronounced like CHOOSE.

It’s funny I’ve helped serious business people remember the difference between LOOSE and LOSE – and I do exactly the same thing for my 9-year-old son Orlando  with his homework.

word nerd CU

My son learns better through seeing and through tactile learning.

Now he will always remembers how to tell the difference between LOSE and LOOSE.

I heard this LOOSE memory device somewhere else –  and I thought “how cool” and I applied it to help my son with his homework.

belt holes

Just think of a belt and the holes in he belt are like the Os.

When you add another O to the belt and another O to the word turn LOSE into LOOSE  – the belt gets LOOSER on you.


I shared the same memory device with business people from ESL background (English as a Second Language) and they found it memorable.

One exec even shared with me later that he used  the memory device to help his son and once again it worked!

My son thanked me for my learning secret. I’ve got hundreds of memory devices I’ve collected over the years.

Here some other memory devices to tell the difference between: BARE and BEAR, ADVISE and ADVICE and VILE and VIAL.






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English can be especially confusing for people who come from backgrounds with more consistent languages.

Many languages such as Hindi  are more consistent that English with spelling and with where the emphasis falls on different syllables in words.

Language such as Hindi are highly “phonetic” – the pronunciation of new words can be reliably predicted from their written form. Not so with English!

I always remember a super-smart engineer from an African nation pronouncing the S in ISLAND and saying  thing like:

“The new port will be built on the IS-land.

Logically, that makes sense in a consistent language.

People from ESL  backgrounds often make “mistakes” in spelling and punctuation because they apply the “rules” they’ve learned with some words to other words that look similar – for example LOOSE and CHOOSE.


If you enjoyed this post – Let’s connect:

If you found this post interesting you can follow me and connect with me.

I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips.


tony biancotti


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Teaching/Remembering words: Make it visual, make it colourful and make it funny!

Make it visual, make it colourful and make it funny!

That’s the advice from my good friend Melissa – about helping people understand  and remember what  similar (but different) words mean.

WARNING: You may like to save reading this until a time when you are NOT eating! 🙂

Mel + G

Melissa developed her own visual learning system (Looking Learning) to help her daughter Georgie who was born with a language impairment.

Melissa and I often chat about teaching words and language. I’m so interested because my professional communication consultant role includes helping people remember how to choose the right words.


Also, as a dad, I spend a LOT of time helping my kids develop their language.

I often “pick Melissa’s brains” because she  knows a lot about the topic  from a practical hands-on approach and because she cares so deeply about teaching kids.

She knows how hard it can be for the parents – so she’s keen to pass on all the lessons she has learned.

Melissa and her husband Terry have three kids who are now in the late teens and early twenties. My kids are 9 and 6.

Melissa advises (based on her experience):

“Work hard to get the basics right before grade 5 – because the rate of learning really takes off after that!”


Anyway, lucky I have Melissa’s “caring counsel” to help get me through the challenging  school years ahead.

I have so many questions for future catch-ups!

The main thing I got out of this catch-up with Melissa – besides her delicious homemade scones and Chai Tea – was how to help people remember (we were talking about kids – but the principles apply to adults too).

Melissa was particularly proud of her Looking Learning visuals to help understand and remember the difference between similar-sounding words VILE and VIAL


She says she thinks long and hard about how to convey the meaning of words. Kids (and adults) often remember “the extreme” .

Then there’s vial:


I immediately see the benefits in using visuals like this to help teach my son Orlando – who has challenges in focussing and remembering things – unless we take the time and effort.

My wife Monique  and I attended lots of  learning sessions about the different ways different children learn  – and how parents can help their kids by taking more time to make mental connections to help kids remember.

My wife is also passionate about the topic of helping kids learn. Our kids’ education is an important focus of our lives – as is the case with many parents.

And my son learns better  – if I help make the learning FUN.

Luckily FUN is my middle name!

Orlando hasn’t had to learn the word VILE yet – but I just know he will  love the image to describe VILE.

1. I’ll get Orlando to take a mental snapshot of the photo. (Visual connection- plus overall understanding of meaning  first)

2. I’ll ask him to describe what it would feel like and smell like to step in the elephant poo. (Extra strands of connection – using different senses)

3. I’ll get him to say out loud  3 times–

“That’s VILE.    VILE with an E.   E for Elephant”   (the auditory connection + the easy to remember E memory connection”.

Thanks again Melissa – only next time please let me finish my scones before you show me drawings of elephant poo.

That’s too vile!


If you or someone you know has kids who could benefit from help to learn English, please pass on Melissa’s details and Looking Learning website.

Here’s a link to a previous post with most background on Melissa the “mum on a mission”!

Her site can help:

1. People with learning challenges

2. People who just want to fast-track their kids at school

3. People who are learning English as a Second language

Also, you can follow this blog for future tips.




If you enjoyed this post – Let’s connect:

If you found this post interesting you can follow me and connect with me.

I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips.


tony biancotti


Linked In – under Tony Biancotti

Or you can click to follow this blog.


Don’t step into this BEAR TRAP of Business English word confusion!

“More mature”* business people can tend to take proper spelling for granted.

Younger business people think spell check will save them from the bear traps of  word confusion!

But what about word confusion between similar words? Like BARE and BEAR?

Did you know BARE and BEAR have so many meanings – and in the business world (especially in finance, law and insurance) – many people use the wrong BARE!


Please bear in mind that many people from younger generations were taught the bare minimum of English  grammar and spelling (they had so many other things to learn!)

For bosses – the bad spelling and word confusion can be  more than they can bear.

A boss can  get annoyed –  “like a bear with a sore head”!

More mature* generations had spelling drummed into them at school.

(*”More mature” is a more polite  way of saying “older” – the  younger boomers  and Gen X-ers).

I know I had spelling drummed into me and I vividly remember the memory devices my wonderful teachers used!

TB training group

Now, I help lots of super-smart “younger” workers who are so good at most  parts of their jobs – yet they struggle with word confusion and often get sound-a-like words mixed up.

Also, many people from ESL backgrounds (English as a Second Language) get similar words mixed up.

Insurance Policy

Take for example an insurance organisation’s writing:

“The insured BARES the onus of proofing… “

I’m often brought in to help staff

1. be aware of the word confusion mistakes

2. remember  how to choose the right words – including knowing whether to use BARE or BEAR.

I understand how people can get the words mixed up – especially since a BEAR sang the famous song “The BARE Necessities” In Disney’s The Jungle Book.

My “theory” is so many kids grow up watching that movie. I know I did, my brother’s kids did, and my kids did too. No wonder people associate BARE necessities with a BEAR!


I use simple memory techniques to help people remember which word  (BARE or BEAR) to use in different circumstances.


The bAre necessities or the bAre minimum  –  when you have only the bAsics

Where something is uncovered or nAked – once again it’s bAre.

I get people to think of the bAre with an A by remembering the

Canadian group:     bAre nAked lAdies.

They write the name this way:

Barenaked ladies


Even if the  younger business people I help  are too young to be aware of bAre nAked lAdies – they have probably heard of the current and famous theme song they perform =

big bAng theory.

Then there’s barefoot – no covering of the feet – or bAre nAked Feet.

As in the Barefoot Investor

Then there’s also: to bArely make it or  I bArely finished  or I bArely recognised you

Just more than Adequate – just mAde it

2. BEAR – there are many BEAR words


bEar –  can refer to the bear the crEature that lives in a forEst and can Eat you. (I have to find words with prominent Es rather than As!)

bear can also mean  to to carry a burdEn or  wEight    or to suffEr  or Endure something.

Bear is often used in business for expressions such as:

bear the responsibility

or bear the onus

or bear in mind 

I explain in most  office-based business situations (except BARE as in bAsic) you will use BEAR.

With the expression: bear in mind – it means kEEp in mind or rEmEmbEr.

When it means to  suffEr or Endure something (often painful) I use the memory sentence:”

I can’t bEAR this EAR ache!

There are also the bear words related to dirEction:

get your BEARINGS/Lose your bearings

BEAR right


Bearings can also be mEtal balls

With so many BEARs and BAREs  – you can see how confusing English can be so confusing?


My good friend Melissa Karydas created a visual learning system  called Looking Learning to help teach her daughter how to remember confusing words like bear and bare.

Mel + G

I’m suggesting to Melissa that we team up and  combine our experience and create a similar visual learning device for executive and business English – because learners (OF ALL ages)  remember better with VISUALS. Sometimes you use the visuals in combination with audio and physical (touching/hands-on) learning.

My son learns best “through his hands” and visuals. He doesn’t remember if something is taught with “just words in the air”.

I get him physically make the words out of Scrabble tiles and then remember the image of the word he created! And it works!

It’s great how my corporate work helps with my kids’ homework – and vice versa!

scrabble spelling

So back to Business English!

In the example:

“The insured BARES the onus of or proofing… “

it should be the word BEARS.

I’m aware these memory devices may sound childish and simplistic – but please BEAR in mind that very clever clever business people find the devices easy to recall.

If your organisation would like help in making sure your people choose and use the right words – please feel free to contact me.

I can analyse samples of your writing to find the problem words OR you can tell me the common problem words and I can come up with visual ways to help your people remember.

word nerd CU

I’m used to working in complex high-level professions (law, finance, insurance, engineering) – and simple memory devices help people remember how to  choose the right words and avoid embarrassing mistakes.


If you enjoyed this post – Let’s connect:

If you found this post interesting you can follow me and connect with me.

I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips.


tony biancotti


Linked In – under Tony Biancotti

Or you can click to follow this blog.



One of the most common Business English word confusion mistakes – here’s an easy way to fix it >

Can you guess: what’s one of the most common word confusion mistakes –   for ESL (English as a Second Language) business people?

To native speakers this may seem so basic – but to ESL speakers/writers this mistake is  so common.

The mistake is: confusing ADVICE and ADVISE.

Mistakes such as:

Please advice us…

Thank you for your advise .

My advise to you is…

I advice you to…

TB training group

When I help organisations improve their writing, I’ll study samples of writing and look for “areas to improve”.

When I work in Asia (and even when I help people from French and Spanish backgrounds I see so many examples of writers mixing up advice (the noun) and advise (the verb).

Both words are proper words – so spell check doesn’t pick up the error.

It’s funny. I’m often helping these super-bright business people – and using such simple childlike memory devices to help them – often the same memory devices I use when helping my kids with their homework.

Often these little memory tricks are the same ones my wonderful teachers used when teaching me. I remember these tricks so many years later!

The ESL business people – especially the the busy senior execs – tell me they appreciate these simple memory “tricks” that help them  remember how to choose the right word.

An easy way to remember:

(remember the previous post about using a word you know as a prompt/anchor to remember something more complex?)


ICE – is a noun. Therefore advICE is the noun. AdVISE is the verb.

AdviCe is the thing. AdviSe is the verb  – the act of doing – giving the adviCe.

We asked him for his adVICE.

He will adVISE us on the best options.

Another memory device is:

N (noun) comes before V (verb) in the alphabet.

C comes before S.

PractiCE  (N) comes before practiSE. (V)

These memory devices will help you with other confusing c/s words that can be nouns and verbs.

Please try it for yourself. Identify the verbs and the nouns. (with some words you can hear the difference)


Practice/Practise (in the US , writers use practiCe for both noun and verb. Even in Australia, the Practise words is disappearing from use and writers are using practice for both noun and verb)

I’m confident this advice will help. I advise you to practise using the ICE memory device – because practice makes perfect.

(Did I get these correct? – please check)


Hi, I’m Tony Biancotti and I’ve  been helping people understand English and choose the right words since I was a student in the United States in the late 1980s.


I’m an Australian and I lived in the US after I won a scholarship to study Journalism at a top Journalism School.

Even though English was my first language – many Australian expressions were inappropriate in the US!

I made lots of mistakes – but I learned from my mistakes and I developed a deep sympathy for “foreigners” having to adapt to a different culture.

I experienced life as a “foreign” student and made lots of friends with other “foreigners” who were also studying in the US.

Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, and South American students would often confide in me and ask me lots of questions about how to speak and write English correctly (and all sorts of other interesting cultural questions too!)

“You are a very friendly and helpful American!” my foreign student friends would tell me with big, beaming smiles.

word nerd

Fast forward to the present – and I am working extensively in Australia and Asia – helping “Westerners” communicate effectively with people from different Asian backgrounds AND helping people from all sorts of  ”foreign” backgrounds choose the right words for their business communication.

English can be such a confusing language – so many words look or sound similar PLUS there are so many “colloquial” and slang expressions that baffle people who have English as a Second (or Third) language.

This project was inspired by discussions with many of my friends who are media and language professionals.

Many “foreign” students study hard to write and read English – yet often have challenges in speaking the language and choosing the right words – often words that are technically synonyms but not appropriate in the context.

The goal is to create an expert (and friendly) resource where people can dare to ask any questions they have.

Please feel free to either contact me “privately” with any questions or comments or examples you would like to share or ADD your comments to any of the posts.

Twitter @tonybiancotti

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How my friend’s learning resource can really help you choose the right words

I caught up with my friend Melissa Karydas who is a remarkable woman.

I am in OAR of her!   OR should that be ORE . OR should that be AWE? So many sound-a-like words to choose from!

Melissa can come across as modest and quiet – but she is a determined little dynamo – a mum on a mission.


Melissa’s husband, my law school buddy Terry, told me about Melissa’s labor of love. – lookinglearning.

This idea of lookinglearning was something I was very, very interested in – given

  1. my profession in helping executives choose the right words for business, and
  2. my commitment as a dad to help my kids (especially my son) with school work.

Melissa and Terry have three wonderful children (now in their late teens and early twenties).

Their first-born, Georgie, had a language impairment. Melissa  became a “mum on a mission”  doing her own “research” and  developing her own method of teaching Georgie what different words meant.

Mel + G

Melissa is a physiotherapist by training and  she started a 10-year-quest to  study  helping kids with language impairment and how to use images to teach Georgie language – and it worked.

Melissa is also a keen and talented photographer (just like her kids and her husband) and she either took photos or created images to illustrate the meaning of different words. Her system is called lookinglearning.


It started out as a personal mission to hep her daughter – and Melissa later saw how it could help other people –

1.people with kids with language or learning difficulties

2. people wanting to fast-track their kids at school

3. people from ESL backgrounds (English as a Second Language)

English can be such a confusing  and inconsistent language with so many sound-a-like words that are spelled differently!

For example: words like awe, or, oar and ore.


My 9-year-old awesome son Orlando takes extra time to focus and remember how to spell different words – so I was so interested in learning about Melissa’s system.

I’ve been using all sorts of techniques like scrabble squares and superheroes to make learning more fun and meaningful for my son . Just trying to learn words by rote doesn’t work for many kids.

Kids learn better by seeing  what words mean – especially abstract concepts.

Melissa and I chatted about how nouns for concrete things are easier to show than abstract things and adjectives, adverbs and verbs.

She shared how she links something abstract to a concrete thing like a volcano and what it looks like. Fore example, what it looks like to be in awe when you see a volcano.

(Melissa enlisted her family to model for some shots!)


I plan to use Melissa’s system to help my son and to fast-track my clever 6-year-old daughter Cleo.


I can also see how a modified version can help many of the senior executives I train (especially those from ESL backgrounds –English as a Second Language)

In a previous post I wrote about how choosing the wrong word can derail important business presentations.

Of course, the vocabulary would be different for kids and the corporate world – but I can definitely see the value of her system to help ESL.

Anyway, if you are interested, here’s a link to Melissa’s Looking Learning.

Please pass this on if you know anyone else who can benefit –

1. people with kids they want to help with school work, or

2. people with language impairments or learning challenges, or even

3.  people from ESL who want a fast way to learn English.

You can connect with Melissa and follow her on twitter: @MelissaKarydas.

I plan to get her help in explaining how to choose the right words in other situations.

I often help execs remember – by using real stories of embarrassing word confusion or inappropriate use. Melissa had plenty of these funny/but dangerous stories too that I will share in future posts.

Melissa, her husband Terry and I go back a long way – playing in bands at uni.

It’s only recently, I found out she is such word nerd too!

I admit I’m biased about my friend – I think she is AWESOME!


If you enjoyed this post – Let’s connect:

If you found this post interesting you can follow me and connect with me.

I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips.



Linked In – under Tony Biancotti