Filed Under: English tests
October 15, 2022 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

By now you know how much I hate the English testing industry — IELTS, TOEIC and all the rest of them.

They’re largely bullshit and a waste of time unless you need the piece of paper.

But there is one test you should pay attention to.

I call it the “So what?” test.

It’s very, very easy and you can–and totally should–administer this test yourself, at any time. Every time you say or write something, simply ask yourself: “So what?”. If you can’t answer that question easily, you’ve failed the test.

Here’s a great example.

I got this “feedback” comment from someone angrily unsubscribing from my daily emails:

“you failed to respond to my sincere comments only had your auto-reply answer”

And no, I didn’t reply to his email (one that I got just two days before the negative feedback) because it was a big fat pile of “so what?”.

(Not sure what the “auto-reply” answer is supposed to mean, since I don’t have one…

Here it was in its complete pointless glory:

Hi Julian,

Am interested to see what you’ve written.

I’m a yank in Japan since the 1970’s, taught in-flight service English

for Japan Airlines to hundreds of CA’s – Cabin Attendants, a highly stressful gig 🙂 also taught at Gov’t offices, a few Pharmas and to top brass execs.

As a social worker in SE Asia Cambodia Vietnam Laos Thailand I taught

English and basic Japanese to anyone who was interested and had a great time.

Across Asia salaries for ESL teachers are approx USD $1,500 – $3,500 per month or occasionally higher if one can land a job at a Univ or as a corporate instructor.

more later

Now, while they may have been “sincere” comments they’re still totally meaningless and have no point or relevance to me or to the email he replied.

Why are you telling me any of this, exactly?

First of all, this was in reply to an email about practising English more effectively — but the guy is American, and just happened to do a bit of English teaching. That’s it.

Why should I care that he taught cabin attendants?

Or what salaries for ESL teachers are in Asia?

I mean, I already know all this because I lived there for half my life in Japan, but still, the information was neither requested nor relevant to, well, anything at all.

Why would I want to hear more?

I didn’t care about any of the information in the first place!

So no, I didn’t reply.

Because what exactly am I supposed to say in response?

“Wow! That’s so cool!”

Any response could only ever be something empty and insincere because I neither care about anything said nor understand why it’s being said. As far as replies go, my mind is totally blank.

All this raises an important point:

When you’re speaking English, it’s less about making mistakes, your accent or anything like that… and more about are you saying something interesting and relevant to the conversation.

Because it doesn’t matter how perfect your English is.

If you fail the “so what?” test, you fail.

Luckily for you, there’s an approach we can take to improving English that builds right into your everyday life and ensures your head is also full of the information, knowledge and interesting things to talk about that you need.

And that’s the approach I teach.

To get started with my English improvement methods, sign up for the free training here:

Dr Julian Northbrook

Filed Under: Learning English
April 27, 2022 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

First off, a quick heads up:

MEFA enrolment will open again tomorrow.


That’s not what I want to talk about today.

One of the big questions I get a lot is:

Why is it better to limit your study time to a short, focused block of time rather than studying, say, five or six hours a day?

There are a couple of reasons.

But the main one is that it’s simply not productive. See, there’s this thing called “Parkinson’s Law” which states that work always expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. So if you give yourself five hours, that’s how long it will take. If you give yourself one hour, you’ll still get it done in the same time, and probably at a higher level since you won’t be procrastinating and faffing around.

A good example of this is a friend of mine here in Dublin who is learning English at one of the ESL schools here. She needs to go every day to maintain her visa, so that’s fine. But the reality is she spends five hours a day there and does basically… nothing. Now, in this case, it’s also because the methods used are simply crap. But it’s also because a very large percentage of the time is spent actually spent just filling time for no real reason.

We both agree that she’d be better off skipping school and doing a focused hour of self-study every day, then using the rest of the time to actually do shit in life.

That’s not an option for her because again, visa.

But you get the point.

Another reason is that for most people, trying to do several hours a day simply isn’t sustainable.

Life gets busy.

And what always happens is you do it for two or three days, then end up busy and tired and skip a day.

Then because you’ve skipped one day, you skip the next.

Before you know it?

You’re just doing your study time one day a week, and that’s basically useless.


You get the idea.

Less is more, as they say, when it comes to English study time.

Now, if you don’t know what to do in your study time or how to structure your routine (because it’s not quite as simple as just “do one hour of study a day” – there’s much more to it) joining the next MEFA group will probably be a good idea.

Again, I’ll open enrolment again tomorrow.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read my book Master English FAST, that’ll get you started right away:

Dr Julian Northbrook

P.S. Yes, I know these “daily” emails are pretty irregular at the moment.

This won’t be a permanent thing.

I’ll be going back to daily emails, just, yanno, right now I have other priorities.

March 8, 2022 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

So here I am, feeling, yanno, a bit guilty.

I’ve been busy the last week and didn’t get around to writing an email every day (I know, excuses, excuses).

Then yesterday (Monday) I was honestly tired as hell. So I decided I needed a rest day. I got EES member lessons out, did the day’s MEFA feedback… and that was it.

Spent the rest of the day cleaning the apartment, reading and doing a supermarket run.

Then what happens?

That’s right.

I get an email with a subject line that left me OUTRAGED, that’s what.

It said:

“No, Jules – you don’t rule today!”

How dare you!?!

I’m already feeling guilty.

No need to have a go at me and rub salt into the words!




Triggered, as the cool kids would say.

Now, the email was from my friend Vicki LaBouch and I’m being tongue in cheek here. I’m not the kind of sensitive snowflake who’d be bothered by that… and anyway, it obviously wasn’t directed at me personally even if it did seem to call me out by name just as I’d spent a day sitting around not doing much.

I’m copying the email in its entirety (with permission), so have a read:

Hi Julian

When lockdown hit and I couldn’t use the local gym, Kev very kindly built me a gym in the back garden.

Well, it’s not just a gym. It’s part gym – part office. We call it The Gyoffice.

It’s great – it is fully equipped with weights, mats and my lovely Peleton bike.

I bloody love the Peleton!

If you haven’t seen a Peleton before, it’s a stationary bike with a screen attached in front of you on which you can stream online fitness classes.

In addition to seeing your instructor and your stats for the ride, there’s also a Leaderboard on the screen, where you can see how you’re doing compared to other people who’ve taken the same class in the past. There’s also another tab that shows people who are “Here Now” – all the people around the world who are tuned into the same class as you at the same time.

On low energy days, one of the best ways I find to get me going is to toggle to the “Here Now” display, and watch my performance compared to other people.

Now, I know they say it’s bad to compare yourself to others, and most of the time I agree with that, but there’s something about the leader board that can bring out the beast in me (that wasn’t a typo!).

It’s interesting to note how my competitive spirit changes depending on who I’m competing with.

If the only other people on the ride at the same time are like, say, “StuProCyclist Male (20’s) Brisbane” then I get a little defeated from the outset when they stomp ahead at double my 5 minute output in their first 5 seconds, I’ll just do my own thing and enjoy the ride.

And if I’ve only got “MurielCrochets (70’s) Kent” as opposition, then I’m not likely to push myself particularly hard – in fact I’m more likely to dial it back a bit so she doesn’t feel left behind!

But this morning I had JulesRules (40’s) Epsom on the same ride as me and we set off at virtually the same time. I eyed her output with interest to see if she pulled ahead dramatically or lagged behind from the start, but we seemed pretty much level pegging.

Then she started pulling ahead…

Oh, no you don’t JulesRules!

I cranked the resistance on my bike up and pedalled faster, taking the lead. I was 2 points ahead, then 3, then I ran out of oxygen and had to slow down.

Sweat was pouring off me 15 minutes into the 30 minute ride and I was gasping hard. We were neck and neck. I needed to get ahead so I dug in deeper – more  resistance, faster pace…

She was right on my heels all the time, sometimes ahead…

Of course, she may not have been looking at the leaderboard at all – you don’t have to put it on, but in my head she was doing the same as me – pushing hard – sweating buckets – glancing up to see how she was fairing against VickitheViking (50’s) Dorset…

I’m not proud of myself for this bit, but I was kind of naughty at the end of the ride. In the final minute, they take you on a cooldown where you lower the resistance and get your breath back before stretches.

This was not happening today – I dug in hard right till the final second and ended up 4 points ahead of her. She’d have been able to tell I was screwing with the results in the cooldown, but I didn’t care. My name had to go above hers and that was that.

“You don’t Rule today, Jules forties from Epsom!” I screamed at the screen, beetroot faced, raising my sweaty hands in victory, “Eat my yoga pants!”

So, the moral of today’s tale is to notice the comparisons you make, and see how it affects you. The right kind of comparisons are the ones that bring out the best in you. If you’re always comparing yourself to people who seem miles ahead, then you’ll get discouraged easily. If you have healthy competition against people who are at a similar level to you, it can be really motivational and feel like fun.

Of course the best person to compare yourself with is the you from yesterday, and make small advances every day. You should see me celebrate when I beat a personal best! (I cheat the cooldown when I’m close to that, too. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same…)


Vicki x

P.S. If you’d like to apply to work with me in one-to-one coaching, then please apply through the form here

P.P.S. If you know anyone else who might appreciate these emails, point them to my home page to sign up here

Links and shit intact because Vicki’s stuff is great, and you couldn’t do better than have a look.

In fact, Extraordinary English Speakers members will find an interview with Vicky (A Phoenix From The Ashes: Overcoming Your Mental Barriers With Vicki La Bouchardiere) that I recommend you check out …. if you’re a member, anyway.

It’s on the site and in the app.

But the point is, it’s easy to see something and get, well, a bit pissed off (even if I was joking by saying I was outraged).

Especially when it seems to match something that’s going on in your head at the time.

Like when you make a mistake with your English and someone says something.

Or when you’re tired and explaining something just doesn’t come out clearly. And a co-worker comments on people in the office creating extra work.

But I can tell you this from long experience:

While there will be the occasional asshole, nine times out of ten that comment that upset you wasn’t directed at you or even anything to do with you. It was about something else entirely, and the person who said it wasn’t aware of your mistake, your not explaining something well or even that you were feeling sensitive about it.

And even when it WAS directed at you, it STILL wasn’t anything to do with you. No. It was still to do with them and what’s going on in your head.

It’s important to understand this.

Otherwise, you end up stuck in a spiral of doubt, avoiding speaking up in meetings or doing anything at all with your English.

Don’t get me wrong. If you’re fucking up regularly and causing people hassle because of your English, it is your responsibility to improve it. But as long as you are working to improve, and getting better (even a little at a time) then you’re doing your duty.

And you don’t need to get a shit what people think.

Just keep working, a little bit at a time, consistently, day to day.

Then you’re fine.

Now, if you need some help getting that done there are still 6 places left in the next MEFA group (starting April 4th, and although I haven’t decided when the next group will be it probably won’t be until July so this could be your last chance for a while).

The place to go is here:

Dr Julian Northbrook

December 20, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Over the weekend The Girl and I mostly binge-watched Christmas films (hey, don’t judge — ’tis the season).

Last night we watched:

“Love Hard”

(This is not the kind of film you can “spoil” as, let’s face it, these films are all exactly the same and you already know what’s going to happen without watching it… but if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing stop reading now.)

A woman who consistently picks bad guys and has a whole string of disaster Tinder dates behind her meets the perfect guy (once again on Tinder). He has it all. The looks. The personality. She’s never met him in person, but their personalities match so well she decides to surprise him by flying across the US to surprise him for Christmas.

But it turns out she’s been catfished.

The guy’s personality and all that was real, but he used his good looking friend’s photos instead of his own.

So she ends up staying with a nerdy-looking guy who’s not her “type” at all.

Long story short, she then goes off trying to date the good looking friend from the photos instead… realises he has the personality of a chimp and that they have nothing in common, and eventually falls in love with the nerdy guy who catfished her but does have the personality that matches her own so well.

It’s a Christmas film.


But not a bad watch at all, in my opinion.

The point is, having the great looks is useless if you (1) don’t have the personality to back it up and (2) if you’re the wrong match for the other person anyway.

The second point is an email for another day, but regarding the first, it’s the same when speaking English. All the fluency and sophisticated words in the world won’t magically make you interesting in conversation if you’ve got nothing to talk about and are duller than a dustbin. Or if you’re trying to hide your personality and cover it up with something that’s not you. On the other hand, first impressions do count and unlike cheesy Christmas films if your speaking ability isn’t up to the job of communicating said personality and interesting stuff to talk about… they’ll probably go unnoticed.

That’s why speaking Extraordinary English is about more than simply learning words, rules or bits of English.

Develop your English alongside your personality.

Your knowledge.

Things to talk about.

Become an interesting person when you speak English.

Look at the process of improving as a larger whole, not a separate, isolated skill to work on (which in my opinion is one of the biggest failings of the way languages are typically taught and learned).

This, in a nutshell, is the approach I take when working with my boys and girls in MEFA (and of course, the Extraordinary English Speakers graduate programme).


This “larger whole” approach is known as “holistic learning”, and as well as everything we do in MEFA, when you enrol this month you’re also getting access to the recordings of a three-day event I did last year called “Kicking Ass in 2021” (it’s just as relevant in 2022) where, on day 2, I taught extensively on the topic of holistic learning and how to integrate your life and English learning.

The main course starts on January 3rd.

But you’ll get immediate access to KA2021 right after you enrol.

Go here:

Dr Julian Northbrook

Filed Under: English confidence, Fear
December 16, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

We all live with fear. It’s just a result of our biology. And some fear is good — it’s rational.

Being afraid of getting hit by a car, for example, or of being stabbed in that dark, dodgy part of town, are both pretty damn good kids of fear to have.

But not all fear is rational.

Most, in fact, is irrational.

Like the fear of speaking English in front of someone in case you don’t do it very well.

Or to put it another way:

Fear of failure.

The fear of failure is an irrational fear. Because, ultimately, the only way you truly fail is by not doing anything. Because when you do nothing… you create the very result you’re afraid of.

i.e. you fail.

There isn’t anything more irrational than that.

Of course, that doesn’t mean everything you do will go to plan. In fact, a conversation you have might prove to be a total train wreck. But that doesn’t mean it’s unsuccessful or a “failure”.

At the very least:

* A train wreck of a conversation tells you what you need to learn, and where you need to improve.

* It provides the motivation to learn and be better next time.

* It expands your comfort zone and helps you to be more resilient next time (because let’s face it, nothing truly bad happened, right?).

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again:

Bravery isn’t not being afraid (yay for double negatives). Bravery is being afraid but doing it anyway.

Now, with that in mind let’s get you set up with all the tools (mental and literal) that you’ll need to keep learning and pushing forward with that English of yours.

Go here:

Dr Julian Northbrook

September 20, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Using filler words (i.e., “umm”, “ahh”, “kinda”, or “really”) when you’re speaking English as a second language could mean a couple of things.

In one sense, you can think of these filler words as a processing lag where you’ve gone ahead and your brain’s trying to keep up with you. And in order to do that, your brain will buy you some time by using “umm”s and “ahh”s.

But in another sense, when you do this TOO often, it becomes a fixed habit in your speech.

And it can be quite frustrating when you say it, but there are two things you can do to stop using filler words. These are:

  1. Notice when you use filler words and… use them less.
  2. Slow down when speaking.

And the first one is quite contradictory to what I teach my coaching clients (i.e., focusing too much on what you’re saying). But if your goal is to lessen your use of “umm”s and “ahh”s in your English conversation, monitor when you use them, spot them, and break them. This way, you can consciously reduce using filler words.

In fact, this is what I did when I first started recording things. I listened to some of the recordings I did and heard myself say the word “kinda” a lot. Way too much that it was horrifying! I even have the same habit in Japanese where I use the word “nanka” in conversations too. But I became conscious of this habit and over time, I actively reduced how I use “kinda” whenever I speak. So don’t feel bad if you can’t immediately reduce your use of filler words. It is a slow process.

And the other thing you can do to stop using filler words is… slow down. You’ve really got to slow down so you can reduce the processing load in your brain. That way, you’ll be able to catch up to it and no longer feel the need to use filler words. Additionally, you have to know the subject of your conversation. Slowing down can buy you some time to think… but you need a base where you can pull up information for your conversation.

And again, do these two things and try not to overthink speaking in English. Be confident and just not give a shit about what people think.

But if you want to speak English like how native speakers do, you can download the free guide I created. You can go here if you’re interested.

Hope that helps.

Dr Julian Northbrook