My Top-10 Resources for Teaching Pronunciation Physically and Visually

I am a strong advocate of the physical approach to pronunciation teaching. I mean, how can you pronounce a sound if you have no idea about what’s involved in the process? Articulation comes first, and only then it is followed by imitation. So if you want to teach pronunciation physically and visually, here is the list of 10 invaluable resources for you to use:

  1. Introduction to Articulatory Phonetics: Vowels and Consonants.
    These are two short but informative videos aimed at teachers and linguistics students that give you insight into how vowels and consonants are articulated.
  2. Seeing Speech
    This is a product of collaboration between researchers at six Scottish universities, including my alma mater, Edinburgh University. The sounds on this website are visualised in three different ways: MRI, ultrasound, and animation. This is a great tool to use in class.
  3. SPAN: Speech Production and Articulation Knowledge Group
    This is a project similar to the one above. Some differences are: MRI only; separate words and sentences are recorded as well.
  4. Tools for Clear Speech and Sounds of Speech
    These are two different resources for animated versions of English IPA sounds. Both of them are using American English, which means that some vowel sounds are missing though.
  5. Interactive Pronunciation Animations
    This one is good for introducing the sounds of British English to young learners. Funny cartoons contextualise each sound and make it memorable.
  6. English Club’s Learn English Pronunciation
    This page offers a range of resources, from an interactive phonemic chart to various pronunciation games, that will keep your students engaged.
  7. The Sounds of English
    This is basically a ready-made British English pronunciation course on YouTube. Not a single sound is missing! What I like the most about these pronunciation videos is that they focus on contrasting sounds and minimal pairs as well. Can be used both in class and at home.
    Good for practising minimal pairs and getting ready-to-use lessons on American English pronunciation.
    This is an amazing website that lets you listen to the pronunciation of whole sentences, not just single words. You can search for any phrase, e.g. a famous movie quote or just some common everyday expression, and listen to all possible pronunciations. Other resources you can use for this purpose are TubeQuizard and (the second one is limited to three phrases per search).
  10. Tongue Twister Database
    I personally think that tongue twisters are a great way of practising pronunciation, from single sounds to the features of connected speech to stress and rhythm. This is probably the biggest tongue twister database out there.
  11. BONUS! A 15-minute morning pronunciation practice with the amazing Hadar Shemesh. As someone who is taking singing classes and studied drama and acting (for a short while though), I know that your vocal apparatus needs to be warmed up before you can use it fully. This video introduces a range of exercises for the muscles involved in speech articulation. A tip from me: don’t resist yawning – it’s unavoidable!

Know any other useful resources? Give me a shout, and I’ll add them to the list 🙂
Have a question? Get in touch, and I’ll help you out 🙂

Banana? Banana!

This is a lesson plan I presented during the last ELT Lesson Jam, organised by Myles Klynhout, Rachel Tsateri and me.

Intonation. One of the trickiest aspects of pronunciation to master. Yet, so much depends on it. Even the simplest, the most innocent words, pronounced with a certain intonation, can sound rude and even threatening. So, how to raise awareness and provide our students with an opportunity to practice intonation?


What I do is I say the word ‘banana’ in different ways – neutral (flat tone), unsure (rise), surprised (fall-rise), and irritated. Students have to identify the emotion involved in each different case. I then ask them to say the word using these emotions. After that, I offer them to brainstorm other emotions and try saying ‘banana’ using them (e.g. ‘enthusiastic’, ‘bored’, ‘surprised’, ‘relieved’, etc.). They then work in pairs saying the word ‘banana’ and trying to guess the emotion.

Step 2 is a role-play (image 1). Each pair of students gets a scenario. They have to role-play it, but they can only use the word ‘banana’ (they can use this word as many times as they wish). They have some time to rehearse (you can monitor and help out). After that, each pair has to perform their role-play in front of the class, and the listeners have to guess what is going on (roughly). The student whose guess is the closest to the original scenario gets a point. The student with the highest score wins (you can give some award to them).

Step 2. Role-play

Step 3 is real-life dialogues. Student A asks a question, and student B replies with different intonations. Student A has to guess how student B feels. You can rearrange the pairs ad conduct this activity one more time.

Step 3. Real-life dialogues

Step 4 is, obviously, a freer practice. Students share some short stories about moments when they experienced strong emotions. They have to use intonation as an instrument to make their stories as vivid as possible.

So You Wanna Do Delta Module 3?

I started Module 3 nine months after I sat Module 1 exam. Same as before, I took a course with the Distance Delta. Academic writing is not among my strengths so I needed a lot of guidance and feedback.

The course was organised in chunks, and there was a deadline for submitting each part (approximately 2 weeks for each part, apart from Part 2 because it requires some extra time to collect the data you will need for Parts 3 and 4). We also had a couple of weeks to work on the final draft after receiving the tutor’s feedback.

Some things I realised while working on my EA and which might be useful for those who are going to start Module 3:

  • Before running thorough needs analysis for Part 2, do a short preliminary one. This will give you some ideas about what your future focus might be and what sources you need to look for before you actually start working on your EA. As a restul, you will save some time.
  • When working on appendices, create a separate file with the list of appendices you are going to have. Group appendices according to the parts they belong to, e.g. 1a-…, 2a-…, 3a-… Apart from the title, add a short description in brackets (in case you forget what the appendix includes). Keep editing the list on the way. This will help you organise your Document 2 and not lose any appendices on the way (which is likely to happen if you have over 30 of them, and it’s a pretty common number for Document 2; I had 39).
  • Appendices to include in Document 1: 1) course syllabus and lesson plans; 2) collated needs analysis (NA) and diagnostic tests (DT) results
    Appendices to include in Document 2: 1) samples of NA questionnaires; 2) sample of completed NA questionnaires from one of the students; 3) DT tasks; 4) samples of completed DT tasks from one of the students (transcripts for speaking DT); 5) all materials used in each lesson; 6) all assessment forms; 7) all course evaluation questionnaires; 8) anything else you wish to include, e.g. charts and diagrams you refer to in the main body of your EA.
  • Learn how Word works. In particular, how to create heading styles and auto-generated contents. This will save A LOT OF time. To display the styles, press Ctrl+Shift+Alt+S. Apply them to the headings – without this, you will not be able to create auto-generated contents. To create them, go to References -> Table of contents -> choose your preferred style.
  • Do all the necessary formatting BEFORE you start typing into the document. The standard is 2.5 cm margins (all sides), font size 12. Everything else is up to you, but I’d suggest having line spacing slightly bigger than 1 (it makes it easier for the reader, i.e. the assessor).
  • If you have problems with placing both footers and page numbers at the bottom (I did), place page numbers at the top – it’s much easier to do and not against the rules.
  • Have multiple copies of your EA in case something happens to your PC or if you decide to work on it using a different PC. I know it’s pretty basic advice, but you’ll be surprised to know how many people fail to arrange extra copies and end up regretting not having done this.

Don’t be afraid to get a deferral if you feel you don’t have enough time to refine your EA. You don’t have to submit it in December even if you started your course in September. I was working full-time while writing my EA and literally had no time to finish it before the deadline. I still did all the writing but did not prepare lesson plans, just the course proposal. I then took a break from writing and came back to it in spring. This gave me an opportunity to introduce all the necessary changes (according to my tutor’s feedback), attach all the lesson plans, and submit the EA in June. As a result, I got Pass with Merit, which is more than enough for me considering how many difficulties I always have when it comes to academic writing.

And as always, a link to the treasure box where you will find:

  • Module 3 Handbook;
  • Examiner reports;
  • Some sample assignments (free public access, no laws violated);
  • And a little extra.

If you wish to have a look at my assignment, feel free to contact me (but remember Cambridge does not tolerate plagiarism).

To assess, or not to assess, that is the question indeed

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with assessment.
When I was a student in Russia, I knew that it was all about scores and rankings. At university, I realised that assessment can be different and can be aimed at measuring how good you are at providing supportive arguments and structuring your assignment. However, neither in Russia nor in the UK, it was about me as a person. In Russia, schools are doing everything possible and impossible to have as few F students as they can. In the UK, the university failed to take into consideration my background and those difficulties I had to face as an international student for whom English was a second language and who was educated in a totally different environment where different criteria were cherished.
No wonder that when I became a teacher myself, assessment became my nightmare and a constant source of anxiety.

How to measure effort? Creativity? Engagement?
How to come up with criteria that will provide you with reliable data?
How to make sure each and every student in my class will be able to complete the assignment without saying that it was too easy or too difficult but just challenging enough?

Stakeholders want numbers and pie charts demonstrating that their investments have paid off. Academic managers want proof that they made the right choice when they decided to hire you. At the end of the day, assessment becomes a tool that is used to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. Some might say that if a teacher is effective, their students make progress. True. But your effectiveness should not be the main concern when assessing students.

In most cases, what assessment lacks is the focus on learners.

As a learner myself, I know one thing: motivated or not, too harsh on yourself or not, you always know exactly how you’re doing. You know if you haven’t been studying hard enough. You know if you have tried your best. You know when you have finally mastered some structure or topic. You know what structures or topics you still have to master.

When I assess my students, I always turn to their expertise. Who, but them, know how they have been doing all that time and what, if something, has stopped them from achieving more? I don’t grade. Grades are meaningless unless there are very specific, detailed and objective criteria – which is hardly attainable. Instead, I ask my students how they feel about their learning process. Do they think they have made any progress? What do they think they should still work on and how could they do it? If they love grades then which one would they give themselves and why?

Of course, I take notes and make comments. Of course, I do not eliminate myself from the process completely. Students need our feedback, our encouragement.

Whenever I do some progress check, I always tell my students: this is not for me, this is for you. For you to evaluate your progress and see your strengths and weaknesses. For you to reconsider your learning route. Learning is by nature a solitary activity. You can have a teacher and classmates, but your learning journey is yours only and no one else’s. And it’s totally up to you where it brings you.

My L2 Journey

I started learning English when I was 4. My mom, who has never succeeded in learning it (although she was quite good at Spanish), thought that English language was the future and so I ended up in a kindergarten where we had English classes. I remember learning animals, numbers and colours. Unsurprisingly, the elementary school where I went had English from grade 1. Of course, we were taught using the grammar-translation method, although we had some speaking as well. I even remember giving presentations in grade 7 (it was a different school though). Whenever we would have a family trip abroad, I would be the voice of our family.

My first encounter with CLT happened when I was 13. It was a summer language school in Switzerland and my very first experience of going to such a school. I think I was way more excited about socialising than language learning. Our teacher, Ms Cartier, was a fan of project-based learning as I understand now, but back then I simply didn’t understand that whole project-based-learning thing. I felt utterly puzzled, I couldn’t understand why we were doing what we were doing and how it could help me become better at English. In other words, my affective filter was way too high to leave any chance for me to enjoy the learning process. So I ended up learning social skills and some Russian slang (yes, there was a whole bunch of Russian students, including me) and hardly any English. Now I say to myself: ‘Make sure your students understand why they’re doing this particular task’.
A year later, when I went to a summer school in England, I kind of already knew what to expect and enjoyed the lessons and creative atmosphere that is impossible in a grammar-translation, ‘chalk & talk’ classroom.
When I was 14, I tried home-stay learning. In the next 4 years, I stayed in various houses in the UK and even in Wales for 2-3 weeks.

And then I decided to get my degree in Britain. I signed up for an intensive IELTS preparation course and discovered that my English was not as good as I thought it was. I also kind of hit the infamous Intermediate plateau (even though my level back then was estimated as Upper-Intermediate). I realised that the time has come for me to take my learning into my own hands. I started reading blogs and short articles in English but the main source was TV-series.

It wasn’t easy to get new episodes in English for Russians back then. No one heard of online streaming services like Netflix or HBO. You had to know places. And then you’d have to get English subtitles separately. Sometimes, they wouldn’t be synchronised with the video, so I had to learn how to synchronise them. Otherwise, I’d try different versions until I’d find one that was perfectly synched.
I learnt a lot from watching TV-series. Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars were a great source of teenage American English, Supernatural taught me some swearwords and slang, Game of Thrones presented me to a higher-level English filled with long and tricky-to-pronounce words, and Bunheads showed me how you can play with words (‘I-am-ready-to-drive-through-the-country-just-to-kill-you potential’ was my ultimate favourite).

Edinburgh was nice, apart from the fact that I couldn’t understand a single word the locals were saying. I did know that English is not the same everywhere in the UK (thanks to those 3 weeks in Wales), but somehow I thought I’d be OK. I wasn’t. In the first two weeks in Edinburgh, I learnt that ‘aye’ means ‘yes’, realised that RP was useless there and got into tiny trouble with the police (but that’s a different story). It took me 3 years to finally start understanding the proper Scottish used by people in the streets (as opposed to the so-called ‘posh’ Scottish which the lecturers spoke). What helped the most was volunteering with Age Scotland, a charity organisation that helps elderly people all over the country. My task was to call those people on the list who were still waiting to be matched with a permanent buddy and check on them. Our conversations would last from a mere minute to one hour, and it improved my listening skills tremendously.

Learning a language is a life-long task unless you have a certain goal that lets you stop at some point (like it was for me with Japanese). 24 years later, being an EFL teacher, I am still learning and I will never stop. Languages are way too dynamic and broad and diverse to be something one can fully master. There are so many Russian words I don’t know, especially slang words young people are using nowadays. The Russian language I speak is different from the Russian language my mom speaks. We all speak our own unique language. So which language should we teach then? And does it make sense at all to build borders around the language, classify it, vivisect it, make it fit our understanding of what it should be? Standards are useful because we all need something to rely on, but should they be followed vigorously? The longer I teach the more I think about this and the more questions I have. I know that I know nothing.


I remember when I was in a kinder garden, we had English classes there, and one day, my teacher approached my mom and complained that I was pronouncing ‘father’ with the Russian rolling /ɾ/ instead of the English /ɹ/. ‘You have to pronounce it right’, my mom said. Okay, I got it, I have to pronounce it right, end of story.

I never questioned pronunciation and kept taking in for granted, even when I became an English teacher myself. As a student, I worked hard on getting rid of any tiny hint of Eastern European accent and felt the happiest when someone would say ‘You’re from America, aren’t you?’. I was proud of my enormous effort paying off.

And then the ELF concept came in. I was in my second year at university as a teacher and one of our CPD readings for summer was Murray’s English as a lingua franca and the development of pragmatic competence. While this one does not touch pronunciation (as follows from the title), my further research on ELF quickly led to the fact that everything I knew about pronunciation and its place in ELT instruction was not what it seemed.

The main question is: Does it make sense to aim for 100% accuracy (something I used to think was compulsory)?

The answer is no. And yes.

What makes this difficult is the fact that L2 proficiency is still most likely judged through the speaker’s pronunciation (Goodwin, 2001). Hide and Poel report that, in their study, the learners with audible foreign accents “were perceived as unintelligent, stubborn and malfunctioning by people in their academic and administrative environments” (2000, p.17). However, at the same time, everything we need is just to achieve a “threshold level” of speaking ability where we become intelligible to most listeners (Celce-Murcia, 1996).

Simply saying, while the main concern is intelligibility (i.e. how well you’re understood by your listeners), the anti-foreign accent views still prevail and having a foreign accent indeed becomes a sign of bravery.

So what we, as teachers, should do about this? Educate our students about ELF, teach them the basics (as prescribed by the ELF methodology) and then let them go and face those views on their own? Or do whatever we can to help them get rid of their L1 accent thus contributing to the world-wide hegemony of native speakerism?

There’s no win-win solution to this issue.

What I personally think is that it’s always a matter of choice. We can let our students know how the situation is right now, tell them about various approaches and let them decide what they want: bare intelligibility (which is good enough) or a ‘native’-like pronunciation (which is also good enough). It is they who will use this language to communicate, so it is up to them how and what they want to learn.

Before, whenever my ability to copy ‘native’ pronunciation would let me down and I would produce something Russian-sounding, I would feel devastated. Now I feel nothing close to this. It does not matter how I sound. I am Russian, so what? I am learning Norwegian at the moment and while I pay close attention to articulating single sounds, I do not get crazy about copying the very melody of the language. That is how Norwegians speak, and it is beautiful, but I am a foreigner. I am still proud of how far I got with mastering English pronunciation, but not because it makes me sound ‘native’-like. It is because it makes it easier for me to help my students when it comes to pronunciation.

Of course, it depends on your goal. If you want to integrate into local society, then probably mastering every single aspect of local pronunciation makes sense. However, most of our students simply learn the language to travel or to use it with foreign clients. Pronunciation in business is a tricky matter though, but as a client, do you expect to come to Italy and find native English speakers there to have business with? No, you will do business with Italians (and any other foreigners who work at a particular company you choose), and as long as you understand each other, it is fine.

Give your students a choice, show the opportunities they have; do not decide for them. When they make an informed choice, it becomes much easier for them to cut all the noise around them saying that sounding foreign is bad.

We feel the most insecure and unhappy about the decisions we made because we were told to.

Continue reading “Unchained”

Lesson Plan: Motivation to Buy

As you know, I love giving my students a chance to learn something interesting about the world around them using English as an instrument. After all, they are learning the language because, for them, it has some instrumental value. Advertising is a win-win topic since we’re surrounded by literally thousands of ads. However, instead of talking about such worn-out topics as how advertisement influences our lives or the types of advertisement, why not talking about something far more useful, in particular how it makes us buy? Forewarned is forearmed, so off we go 🙂

The lesson is based on this infographic article. I’ve cut some parts out, so for the lesson, you’ll need this version. You’ll also need this worksheet and these slides.
Level: B1+-C1
Duration: 80-90 mins

1) *SLIDE 1* Students discuss the questions in pairs. Feedback: for small groups, let each student share their answers and encourage comments; for large groups, divide students into smaller groups and let them share their answers with each other.
2) Divide students into groups of 3-4 (rearranged pairs for small groups) and ask them to brainstorm any kind of techniques that are used in advertisement and are aimed at attracting potential customers. Whole-class feedback (board students’ answers).
3) *SLIDE 2* Give students some time to read through the introductory text. Drag their attention to the four factors. Tell them that now they’ll look at these in more detail.

1) Distribute the texts. There are four texts, two shorter and two longer ones. If you have more students than texts, give longer texts so several students. Students have to read their texts and try to understand the techniques described in them. Monitor and help with any unfamiliar words.
2) Group students so that in each group there were students who read different texts (it’s okay if you have a group of 3; they then can skip some questions). Distribute the reading questions (different sets for groups A and B). Students answer the questions together.. You can add an extra focus on negotiation of meaning by instructing listeners to ask for clarification and/or repetition when needed.
3) Whole-class feedback: the goal is for each learner to get to know about all techniques.
[OPTIONAL] 4) *SLIDE 3* Students discuss the question (Are there any other motivating techniques the advertising uses to make people buy more?) in pairs. For feedback, show *SLIDE 4*.

1) Students choose their favourite ad (they can google it and find a poster or a video on YouTube) and analyse it in terms of advertising strategies. How does it attract potential buyers?
2) Divide students into groups of three (pairs for small groups). Students present their ads to each other and say why they are appealing and attractive.
3) Whole-class feedback (of your choice).
4) Q&A or whatever you do at the end of your classes.

How many of these techniques did you know about? Feel free to leave a comment.
Let me know if you decide to try this lesson plan out, and I’d be grateful if you could share how it went!

Inhomed: It’s Time to Teach Online

I love creating new words! If we can say ‘imprisoned’, why can’t we say ‘inhomed’?

Teachers around the globe are massively migrating to online classrooms. While Zoom still remains the number-one tool, it’s undoubtful that using it requires training. In other words, it’s too difficult to just jump on it and teach as you go. Therefore, I decided to go for Hangouts since I’ve used it before and found it extremely easy and user-friendly.

So what makes Hangouts a really good tool for teaching online?

  1. It’s linked to your Google Calendar. Yes, Zoom has this feature as well, but it’s much easier to schedule a meeting in Google Calendar using Hangouts.
  2. Breakout rooms. In Hangouts you can be present at all breakout rooms at the same time! So basically, you can monitor all your students. What I usually do is ask students to mute themselves in the common room and move to the private rooms. I join the private rooms as well but mute myself in there, as well as in the common room. When needed, I can unmute myself in one of the private rooms and help the students. Of course, you can’t set up random grouping like in Zoom, but you can just nominate students and give them the link to their room via chat. Only takes a couple of seconds! To get the link to the private room, click on its link with the right button and choose ‘Copy link address’.
  3. The interactive whiteboard is also there! Not in the app itself of course, but I am just using an empty deck of Google Slides. I share it with my students beforehand (don’t forget to set their status as Editors), and then all of them can type and draw in there. We had a lot of fun this Tuesday when drawing timelines for Past Perfect. For group written exercises, you can use a shared Google Doc.
  4. Sharing your screen is also super easy and only takes seconds. You can share either your browser tabs or the screen of some app you’re running on your computer (e.g. a video player).

Some other online resources I’m using:
1. – this is a random number generator; I use it when I need to assign some task cards to students; they seem to like when the cards are assigned in a truly random way 🙂
2. – this is a very stylish timer/stopwatch/alarm clock; when the time is up, the chime bell tolls. You can set any other sound or song instead.
3. – this is another randomizer that looks like a wheel with coloured sectors.
4. – an online dice for playing board games in an online classroom 🙂
Alternatively, just type ‘dice roller’ in Google and enjoy a nice animated dice (you can choose how many sides there should be):
5. – in case you’re not satisfied with Google Slides / Docs, you can use Padlet to be your interactive whiteboard.
6. – and finally, a classic hangman, but online. Create and play!

Lesson Plan: The Overton Window

I don’t believe in P.A.R.S.N.I.P.S when it comes to teaching adults. Things are happening in the world, and they’re not always great, so why should we avoid discussing them? That’s why I decided to bring up this topic in class and see where it gets us.

The lesson is based on this authentic video. You’ll also need this worksheet and these slides.
Level: B2-C1
Duration: 60-90 mins

1) *SLIDE 1* Students discuss the question in pairs. Then do the whole-class feedback.
Notes: Since the outbreak of the coronavirus has been the only topic people are discussing here in Japan, you might want to change this question to a more specific one, for example, how did you feel when you first heard of Trump’s politics? And how do they feel now whenever they hear any recent news?
2) *SLIDE 2* Show students the term and ask if anyone knows what this is. It’s doubtful there’ll be anyone in your classroom who knows this term so this should serve as a meaningful lead-in to the topic. Tell students that they’re going to get to know what the Overton Window is right now.

1) *SLIDE 3* Pre-teach these words before listening.
Notes: you might want to check the transcript of the video though to see if there are any other words your students might need to be pre-taught.
2) Students watch the video and take notes to answer the questions in Task I  in the Worksheet (What is the Overton Window?). Do a pair check followed by the whole-class feedback.
Notes: Here, I let my students take as much time as they needed to discuss this concept. One of my students came up with a really simple explanation using her engagement and wedding rings. I definitely didn’t see that coming, but other students in the group found this example rather exciting.
3) Students listen again and fill in the gaps in Task II (re-play certain parts when needed). Conduct a pair check followed by the whole-class feedback. Use *SLIDE 4* for students to check the spelling.
Here, if time allows, you can focus on the features of connected speech; drill pronunciation; clarify the meaning of any unknown words; let students come up with their own examples using those words, etc.

1) Students look at the empty graph first *SLIDE 5* and familiarize themselves with it. Explain that the right/red side is for liberal ideas/policies and the left/blue one is for conservative ideas/policies.
2) Show them the filled graph *SLIDE 6* and let them analyze it.
Notes: The sample graph uses the example of gun law and policy so you might want to guide your students a bit and help them out on the way. Ask them if the ‘normal’ range is the same in their countries. My students found this example interesting and ended up having a several-minute discussion on gun policies in different countries (even though they’re IT people).
3) Students fill in the graphs in Task III. Depending on how much time you have, you can either ask them to choose one or tell them to do all three. Give them some time to write down their ideas and then let them compare and discuss in pairs. Move to groups of four or whole class (depending on how many people you have; I only had 4).
Notes: My students found the first topic (alcohol policy) to be the easiest so we focused on that one.

1) *SLIDE 7* Students discuss the questions in pairs or groups of three.
Notes: My time management sucks; we almost ran out of time here so I had to end up with focusing on Q2 only and do it in a teacher-fronted manner. However, since there were only 4 people, and together we’re a very cohesive group, this still felt cool and students were eager to interact.
2) Ask each pair/group to share the highlights of their discussions.
3) Q&A or whatever you do at the end of your classes.

(Download the Teacher’s notes.)

Let me know if you decide to try this lesson plan out, and I’d be grateful if you could share how it went!

How to Save Money: A Step-By-Step Guide

Even though this has nothing to do with teaching, I thought this could come in handy.

Before we start, there is one thing you might want to consider:

Get rid of your credit card and switch to using cash only. I know that it might be difficult in some countries, but I still recommend using cash whenever it’s possible. Why? There is no scientific proof, this is just my personal belief, but I really think that cards make us spend more (especially credit ones!). Seeing how the amount of banknotes and coins is getting less day by day makes you more cautious and thoughtful when it comes to spending money, which is extremely important if you want to save as much as you can. The more tangible something is the more difficult it is to let it go.

Getting started

Buy a notepad you are going to use for writing down your expenses. Spend three months writing down literally every pence/cent/yen/whatever you spend. Make sure to always ask for a receipt – this will make your task much easier. If no receipt is available for some reason, make sure you write down how much you just paid straight away without putting it off for later.

After you have finished your probation period, it is time to make some calculations. These are the numbers you will need:

  1. The average amount you spend on food per month (be it eating out or doing grocery shopping)
  2. The average amount you spend on rent and bills (gas, electricity, water, internet, phone service)
  3. The average amount you spend on commuting (train/bus tickets or petrol)
  4. If you have any regular monthly appointments (e.g. language classes, counselling sessions, beauty treatment, etc.) add them too.
  5. Next, put aside a fixed extra amount for unexpected expenses (e.g. a night out with friends, carwash, a new pair of shoes instead of those that fell apart while you were walking, etc.). This will depend on your salary – decide how much you can afford.
  6. Finally, since living on a tight budget might be somewhat depressing (especially at the beginning), think through how you want to cheer yourself up. Would it be a delicious dessert you eat every Sunday? Or a new aromatic candle you get at the end of the month? Or something else? The key is that you have to plan these little treats and make sure their cost is already included in your monthly budget. If you do not wish – or cannot afford – to spend money on this then you can ignore this step.
  7. Add all the amounts above. The number you get at the end is your fixed monthly budget.

Moving on

  1. Now, as soon as you get your monthly salary, divide it into two halves: the fixed monthly budget and the rest. The rest should stay in your bank account, and the fixed monthly budget should be converted into cash.
  2. You UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES CAN GO OVER the limit aka your fixed monthly budget. If you go over it then you were not careful enough when spending money. You have to develop a new mindset. Your will has to be as strong as it has never been before; resist the temptation to buy everything you lay your eyes on, even if it is just a cup of Starbucks coffee – unless you have classified it as your monthly treat (because in this case it is already included in your monthly expenses!). No one said it would be easy, but everything is possible (the impossible just needs more time to be done).
  3. If you systematically go over the monthly budget you can consider making it slightly bigger but keep in mind that the amount you save each month will become less. Make your choice.
  4. If you receive any kind of bonuses at work, leave them in your bank account. They should be added to your savings.

Wrapping up

  1. At the end of each budget month, make the following calculations:
    • Assets (= how much money you had when the budget month started)
    • Income
    • Expenses
    • Leftovers
  2. Leftovers become the first part of your monthly budget for the next month. The rest of the amount should be taken from your monthly salary.
  3. The more you have left at the end of each month the less you need to take from your monthly salary, i.e. the more stays in your account.
  4. Gradually, you will start noticing the numbers in your bank account going up. Congrats, you have started saving money!

I hope you will find this useful!