What’s the difference between “has been”, “have been” and “had been”?

has been have been had been

We recently received an email from one of our email subscribers about “has been”, “have been” and “had been”. As I’ve learned that many people can get confused about how these three phrases are used, I thought I’d briefly explain the main difference between them in this short post.

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How to sound more natural when you’re speaking English

sound natural

It’s Aisya here! I’m writing to answer a question we received from one of our students about pronunciation. She asked us how she could sound more like a native English speaker.

While it’s not important to sound like a native—as English is a colourful language comprised of many different accents and dialects that can reflect an individual’s unique background— clear pronunciation plays an important role in effective communication.

Fortunately, pronunciation is a skill, and like every other skill, it can be learned. Here are just a few tips to help you!

1. Learn to listen.

First of all, you’ll need to get to know the sounds used in the language you want to speak more fluently in. Learning to spot the different sounds in the English language will make it easier for you to utter them. In order to familiarise yourself with these sounds, you’ll need to listen closely.

Whenever possible, watch interesting English movies (animated movies are good for this, as they usually use simpler language targeted to younger audiences), listen to your favourite English songs and pay attention to the lyrics, or put on a podcast about whatever interests you (YouTube is your friend!). Try to imitate the sounds you hear, even if you’re not sure what they mean!

2. Speak out loud.

Learning how to pronounce sounds and words correctly is a lot like training in sports. The more you practice, the better you get at it. This is because your mouth has something called muscle memory. It will take some time, but if you practice consistently, your muscle memory will eventually make you utter the right sounds automatically.

To create muscle memory for speaking English, record your voice as you read out loud, and listen for pronunciation mistakes. Focus on practicing one difficult sound a day. For example, if you have trouble pronouncing ‘th’, like in the word ‘three’, focus on getting that sound right on its own first. Then, practice saying out loud words that contain that sound, like ‘path’, ‘thanks’ and ‘through’, for example. Take things slowly. You can check whether you’re pronouncing the words correctly by going to https://en.oxforddictionaries.com. Click on the speaker icon next to the word you’re practicing to hear the correct pronunciation. Once you feel like you’ve mastered the sound, you can move on to the next one.

3. Add some rhythm! 

If you’ve been listening closely, you’d have noticed that the English language is quite melodic. Sentences have rhythm and melody, much like songs do! This comes from intonation and stress, both of which can affect the meaning of the words you’re saying. 

Depending on which part of a word is stressed and its position in a sentence, it can either be a noun or a verb. Take the words present and present, for instance. If it’s pronounced ‘pri-ZENT’, it’s a verb that means to give something to somebody, especially formally at a ceremony. However, if it’s heard as ‘PRE-znt’, then it’s a noun that refers to an object given to someone as a gift.

Sentences have stresses too. Words that are more important are uttered with more clarity and strength than the rest of the sentence. Try reading this sentence out loud: “I drank some green tea this morning.” To sound more fluent, make sure you stress the words that are in bold by saying them more slowly than the rest of the sentence.

Now, all this might sound a bit too complicated, but don’t worry! The most effective way to learn is through listening and practicing. Most native speakers don’t even know these rules either, and just say what ‘sounds right’ to them. If you practice enough, you’ll soon be able to automatically determine what sounds right, too.

4. Practice with a friend

I’ve been saying this a lot now, but remember, practice makes perfect! While having a fluent English-speaking friend to refer to would be great, you could also practice with a friend who’s also interested in learning how to speak English fluently! Practicing with a friend gives you the opportunity to try new things that you’ve learned, and you can even learn new things from each other.

Let your family, friends and colleagues know that you’re on this journey! Don’t be shy about telling them that you’re trying to improve! That way, they won’t be so surprised when you start speaking to them in English, and you might even inspire them to join you!

I hope you find my tips useful. We’ll talk to you in our next email!

How to be a better communicator through storytelling

Have you ever heard the technique of storytelling in becoming a more confident speaker? I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but we are all storytellers. We remember stories better than facts and we connect best when we share stories.

Telling a story when you communicate, in English or in any other language, is a great way for you get your message across to your listener. It can also help build confidence in speaking as you practice telling stories and see your listeners engaged with you.

Here are a few ways that you can start telling stories when you speak to be a better communicator.

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What does “recce” mean?

A couple of days ago, Azimah, Aisya and I went to go for a venue recce for our upcoming workshop.

An InstaStory I posted on my Instagram account. Azimah and I were testing whether the stage could hold our weight 🙂

Anyway, as I was writing the phrase “venue recce”, I wondered where “recce” was derived from. I was actually unaware of the word until some of my colleagues in my previous company used it. They used it to refer to visiting an event venue before the event day itself.

Out of my own curiosity, I Googled for the definition of “recce” and here’s what I found in the Collins online dictionary:

If you recce an area, you visit that place in order to become familiar with it. People usually recce an area when they are going to return at a later time to do something there.
[British, old-fashioned]
The first duty of a director is to recce his location.

Recce is also a noun.
Uncle Jim took the air rifle and went on a recce to the far end of the quarry.


It’s an informal term for reconnaissance, which means a military observation of a region to locate an enemy or ascertain strategic features. Reconnaissance is also used to refer to a preliminary surveying or research.

So the next time you hear the word “recce” (pronounced “reki”) in the office or even in movies, just remember this blog post. 🙂

The truth about “revert”

If you’re a Malaysian, it’s likely that you’ve heard or read the word “revert” to mean “reply”. It’s widely used in verbal and email communication here in our country.

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“Affect” vs “Effect”

It’s been several weeks since we’ve posted a new blog post! The team has been busy with releasing lessons for our online course, Communicate with Confidence, but I’ve found some time in between to write to you.

In today’s post, I’m going to address the difference between “affect” and “effect”. When you’re speaking, it wouldn’t be much of a problem because they sound almost the same.

But when it comes to writing, it’s easy to get the two confused.

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Improvise vs Improve

Is improvise and improve not the same?!
Sometimes people mistake these two verbs to mean the same thing.

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What do Disney, My Little Pony and Superhero comics have in common?

english books

I’ve just finished translating a children’s comic book and you might think, “What a fun job. It must be so easy, she can do it while she’s sleeping!”

Well, yes, it’s immensely fun, but just because it sounds “so easy”, does that mean I can take this project lightly?

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Sounding polite in difficult situations

sounding polite difficult conversation

In a professional setting, sounding polite is important. But because English is our second language, we may be unaware that some of the sentences we say to people can come across as rude or too direct. Naturally, we would want to maintain good relationships at work with our superiors, colleagues, clients or customers.

So I’m going to share with you several ways that you can sound polite in a professional setting.  The first part talks about how you can ask questions politely. The second is how to ask for help without making it sound like an order. Then we’ll talk about how to point out mistakes and lastly how to express disagreement without offending the other person.

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Grammar in Real Life: Present Progressive Tense

Many have written in asking about speaking and making grammar mistakes, so I’d like to combine the two in this simple article that invites you to use English in your daily routine. The rule is that you do this out loud and not in your head.

In this exercise, we will be using what is called the Present Progressive tense, which requires you to verbally express an activity that is in progress (is occurring, is happening) right now.

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