ESL Cafe — Language, Culture, and Faith:
Educational Resources for Learning Language

update:  Because it's now 2017, you can skip the section below (about 2009) and go to the Language Resources.

We want to help you learn how to improve your Conversational English — your skill in LISTENING (so you can understand other people) and SPEAKING (so you can be understood by other people).  We have two ways to help you, usually with discussions (plus short periods focused on "instruction") and occasionally with a "class" that is more structured.

Who are we?  ESL Cafe was (until December 2009) offered through Blackhawk Church as a semi-independent Blackhawk Affinity Group that was "a friendly informal gathering of international students and scholars, plus Americans who want to meet people from new places, to talk about our languages, cultures, and experiences.  Internationals can improve their language skills, while enjoying snacks and drinks."  These continue to be goals for the people who served in ESL Cafe, although we no longer exist as a group.

    ESL Cafe is now closed.  What can you do instead?
    • International Club meets every Sunday at 12:15 pm;  we eat (delicious food in a potluck buffet) and talk (about culture, language, personal experiences, faith,...), and you also can play ping pong;  afterward we guarantee (*) to give you a car-ride home.   /   * a guarantee is "a pledge [promise] that something [giving you a car-ride home] will be performed [done] in a specified manner [way]." (definition from Free Dictionary)
    Where?  We meet in The Underground, on the lower level of the building in its southwest corner. (map)
    How?  You can take our Yellow Bus (schedule) to the worship service at 10:45 (*) and stay for International Club or you can drive your car (directions) and arrive whenever you want.   (* you can hear and/or watch an audio or video file of many previous sermons, instantly or after download)

    • International Friendship Center (located near UW Campus, at Lake & State opposite the southeast corner of Memorial Library) offers conversation and classes (about language, culture, and religion).
    • a variety of Events and Bible Studies from International Fellowship (major events + weekly activities) and other groups plus [but with links that no longer work so I've removed them] a Combined Calendar (with events for internationals) and other Christian Sponsoring Organizations.
    • also, UW's International Conversation & Coffee Hour - Fridays 12-2, during Fall & Spring Semesters

PRACTICAL INFORMATION about life in Madison and "how to do things" here.
ACTIVITIES INFORMATIONfun things to do in Madison and nearby areas of Wisconsin and Chicago. 

    Language Resources for your Self-Education
    If you want to improve any skill, practice is essential.  No matter what we do in ESL Cafe — whether it's discussion or instruction (as in a class) — our time is limited.  Therefore, if you want to improve your English a good strategy is to do "homework" that is designed to develop your own skills of self-observation so you can "give feedback to yourself" on your own speaking.  Similarly, for listening you can find strategies that will help you learn how to understand others during the typical fast-paced conversation you find in America.

    Here are a few of the many resources available on the web:
    Word-Pair Practice for Speaking and Listening: choose a lesson (24 are available), click Start-arrow, then Practice (listen and then you SPEAK) and take the Quiz (LISTEN, then choose which word was said).
    ESL Videos by Jennifer (with "English Pronunciation Lessons" and four other categories in Playlists) are very high quality.
    video about two types of TH (unvoiced and voiced)
    a pronunciation drills-page from Encarta

    Handouts from ESL Cafe, written by Craig Rusbult, about Conversation Skills and A Problem-Solving Approach to Pronunciation to help you learn Pronunciation Skills.

    CONVERSATION TOPICS — If you ever wonder "what can I talk about?" (in English or Chinese), LOTS of interesting ideas (in 140 categories, so there is something for everyone!) are at Conversation Questions;  and many other interesting ideas (for lessons, games, jokes,...) are in the top-of-page navigation bar.

    UW WRITING CENTER — high quality help from experts at UW: homepage & sitemap with information about classes (arranged by topic) & individual instruction (with 3 links to click + an Overview)

    DVDs:  Use these for practice so you can watch and LISTEN at a faster conversational speed.
    types:  entertainment (fictional drama), documentary, educational, ...;  movie reviews (of older "classics" with varying quality) not new modern releases;  church sermons at Blackhawk Church (you can watch audio or video files instantly or after download)
    where:  Madison Public Library, UW Libraries (College or Memorial?), Blockbuster & Netflix, retail stores, ...
    tips:  use subtitles in English, not Chinese, so you can connect what you know about reading English with what you're trying to learn about listening to English (and speaking it) [but if you use subtitles, be sure that you depend on LISTENING to get the meaning, that you use the subtitles only for feedback, to check whether you are hearing correctly];  use the "stop" and "replay" options [this can be useful if you listen and then, after a brief reversal-for-replay, check the subtitles to see if "what you heard" matches "what you see" in the subtitle-text";  or you can reverse this order by reading first and then listening;  these DVD features (subtitles, stop-and-replay) are advantages of DVD (or internet resources), compared with TV or radio.

    INTERNET RESOURCES FOR LISTENING:  a strategy of listen-and-read (or read-and-listen) also works when using Text-and-Audio with lessons (intermediate & with quiz & slow/simple & phrases for conversation) plus news stories from Voice of America (to read while hearing, right-click and choose Open Link in New Window) and China Radio International;  with Audio Bible you can listen to chapters of the Bible (the New Testament, which is specifically about Jesus, begins with the book of Matthew and follows the Old Testament that is generally about Jesus);  all of these are listed on a links-page where you can find more to explore; offers videos with interactive transcripts (click on text and the video moves to that point) covering a wide range of topics and prominent people, including Rick Warren (a life of purpose);  you can hear and/or watch an audio or video file of sermons from Blackhawk Church, instantly or after download.

    Quiz about two types of TH (is it voiced or unvoiced?) -- but this is the only "pronunciation quiz" they offer;  it can help you understand the distinction between the two types of TH.
    When should you use the two types of TH-sounds? (voiced and unvoiced)
quoted from Doctor EnglishThe difficulty however, is knowing when to pronounce the voiced or the unvoiced “TH”.  This depends on the position of “TH” in the word.  In the initial position, the "TH" is voiced in function words such as pronouns, articles, and demonstrative adjectives (they, them, etc.).  In the medial position, it is voiced when followed by "er" or a final silent "e" (feather, mother, etc.).  In the final position it is voiceless with one exception: "smooth". [or "breathe"]

I.O.U. — We will add other web-resources later, so check back here occasionally.






on paper



often scholarly * ;  visual (see with eyes)

through air



oral conversation;  auditory (hear with ears)


goal is to

goal is to
be understood

* scholarly reading/writing can be in journals or internet forums;
  and reading/writing is also used for conversation, as in emails

      • Temperature Conversions from Celsius (Centigrade) to Fahrenheit, and vice versa
      • American Football Explained — with a 1-page handout — and the next time this topic is offered I'll explain football in the context of a "story" that shows why Americans find this game so exciting, and why I think that (compared with other sports) football requires the most intelligent research-and-analysis in order to plan strategies and to make decisions in the battles of offense-versus-defense.
      • Science and Christian Faith — One week, Craig and Katie led a discussion about this interesting, important topic, asking:  What questions do you have?  Do you wonder if there is evidence for the existence and actions of God?  Do you think that if "it happened naturally" this means "it happened without God"?  If the Bible claims that God does miracles (does the Bible claim this?) and if science says miracles do not happen (does science claim this?), would it be a conflict?  What can a Christian believe about evolution?  We can talk about these questions, plus other questions that you ask.   /   Here are some relevant web-pages, written by Craig:   Science and Christian Faith (this page — which is also available in easy-to-print PDF — was written especially for our discussion in ESL Cafe)     Is there a conflict between science and religion?    Is there proof for the existence and actions of God? (and if not, why isn't God more obvious?)     What can a Christian believe about evolution?

    ESL Class from ESL Cafe
    During fall semester 2009 (September to November) we offered a 5-week set of classes:
    WEEK 1 (Sep 27) — Barb Christensen for PRONUNCIATION SKILLS and some CONVERSATION SKILLS.  Barb is an expert in teaching language, and is the owner and teacher for Speech Advantage which offers 10 ways to improve your Listening Habits & Speaking Skills plus Being Understood and much more and links to resources in other websites.
    Oct 4 — Improving Your Vocabulary, taught by Shere-Ling and Kiki.
    WEEK 2 (Oct 11) — LISTENING SKILLS taught by Shere-Ling Kraus-Yao.
    Oct 18 — two "walk and talk" tours inside and outside the church building.
    WEEK 3 (Oct 25) — A Problem-Solving Approach to Improving Pronunciation (plus an introduction to CONVERSATION SKILLS) by Craig Rusbult, as outlined in his handout about Pronunciation Skills and with more detail in A PROBLEM-SOLVING APPROACH TO PRONUNCIATION.
    Nov 1 — discussion about language, culture, and/or personal experiences.
    WEEK 4 (Nov 8) — PRONUNCIATION SKILLS (with a variety of tips for "being understood" when you speak) by Andy Poulos, who teaches ESL at UW-Madison.
    Nov 15 — discussion about personal experiences and culture, led by Kiki Lempp.
    WEEK 5 (Nov 22) — CONVERSATION SKILLS taught by Kiki and Craig, with summaries of previous classes, plus ideas selected from handouts about CONVERSATION SKILLS by Craig Rusbult.
    comments, by Craig Rusbult, about sources of knowledge:  The ideas in my two handouts (re: pronunciation & conversation) come from a variety of sources;  ideas in PRONUNCIATION SKILLS are mostly "common domain" knowledge from a variety of internet sources (many saying the same basic things) plus my own ideas in the Problem Solving Approach to Improving Pronunciation;  CONVERSATION SKILLS contains "general knowledge" plus my own ideas, and it also summarizes many ideas from Barb Christensen (check her links above) as in her explanations for WHY it's useful to speak slowly.

also: mixed ideas (pronunciation + conversation) assembled by Carol Jorgensen from notes given to her by Shere-Ling (with ideas mainly from California Language Institute)

This homepage (written by Craig Rusbult) is