Category: Learning Strategy

Episode Zero of Talking Through My Hat

Show Notes


Hello and welcome to the very first episode of Talking Through My Hat, a podcast by Bowler Hat Radio, where you can Tune In and Tune Up Your English. My name is David Munro, and  I’m coming to you from Vancouver, Canada, where we are celebrating the 152nd anniversary of the founding of Canada. Happy Canada Day! 

A podcast for intermediate (B1+) learners

And thank you so much for joining me! I will be your congenial host as we explore all things about learning and teaching English as a second or additional language. This will be a regular podcast, and will include news,  opinions, stories, and interviews on topics related to learning English around the world, as well as about life in Canada, especially for newcomers. Each show will also have show notes which will include a description of the main topics, a vocabulary list of the most important words and phrases, and other materials such as graphic organisers to keep you on track. Think of it as sort of an audio coursebook, with a different theme for each unit and activities designed to reinforce key vocabulary and useful phrases. But instead of a printed book which quickly goes out of date, this will be an ongoing, dynamic conversation with speakers of English from all backgrounds, and hopefully, with you! 

Improve listening skills for IELTS CELPIP Cambridge

So let me tell you a little bit more about myself, and what the show is all about. As I said, my name is David Munro, and I have been teaching English to learners of all ages and backgrounds for thirty years. I have also been a certified Speaking Examiner for Cambridge English Exams, as well as a Speaking and Writing Examiner for both IELTS and CELPIP. I have also written and developed instructional materials, course curricula, and practice test materials for several schools and testing agencies, and I have just recently launched my own online English teaching website–and of course, this podcast! 

I have always loved languages, and have studied French, Japanese, and a tiny bit of Spanish. I am also fascinated by language, thought, and culture and the way they interact. And as my students quickly find out, I love food and music–and could spend all day talking about both!

Make connections while improving your English

And I love teaching–I love meeting people from countries  all over the world–Japan, Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Panama, Spain, Switzerland, France, Argentina, Taiwan, just to name a few–and I enjoy watching students learn from each other and make connections and life-long friends. And that’s what I want to continue doing with this podcast–make connections, and share learners’ experiences around the world. So be sure to respond and let me know what you think–send me an email at, or visit my website at Sign up for my email list, and have your say in the direction the show takes–let me know what topics interest you, and how I can help you improve your English skills. 

What does Talking Through My Hat mean?

You might be wondering, why the silly name? Why Bowler Hat Radio? And what does Talking Through My Hat even mean? 

Well, the idea for the name of my website came to me a long time ago, when I first started thinking about setting up my own business. When I was a Cambridge Exams Centre manager here in Vancouver, I used to wear a bowler hat as kind of a gimmick; a way of standing out from the crowd. People liked it, and it sort of became my thing.

Talking Through My Hat, on the other hand, is a phrase meaning to talk nonsense, or to ramble on with no idea of what you’re talking about. Well, I hope that isn’t what this show will be like, but it’s a pretty great name nonetheless, don’t you think? 

So that’s it for now–thank you so much for listening, and keep in touch! If you like the show, encourage your friends to tune in, and visit my website, and sign up for my email list. Toodle-loo!

IELTS versus CELPIP: Which one should I choose?

I plan on living and working in Canada in the near future. Should I choose IELTS, or CELPIP?

If you are planning to immigrate to Canada, you know that you need to show that you can communicate in either of Canada’s two official languages, English and French. Your scores can make a big difference in your Express Entry Comprehensive Ranking Score (CRS). There is a lot of confusing information out there about which test is “better”. However, the good news is, there is really no wrong answer–both the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) are accepted by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. So the question is, which is the best test for you? To help you decide, let’s look at the similarities and differences between the two exams.

What is IELTS?

IELTS stands for the International English Language Testing System. IELTS is available in more than 140 countries. It is used for study, work and immigration. It recognizes both British and American English for spelling, word choice and grammar, and uses a mix of British, North American, and Australian/New Zealand accents throughout the test. There are two versions of the test: IELTS Academic (used for education), and IELTS General Training (used for migration to an English-speaking country). If you are taking IELTS to apply through Express Entry, you must take the IELTS General Training test.

What is CELPIP?

CELPIP stands for the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program. It assesses key language skills required for Canadian permanent residency and citizenship. The test uses Canadian English and accepts both British and American English spelling. If you are taking CELPIP to apply through Express Entry, you must take the CELPIP-General Training (all four skills).  CELPIP  is currently offered in Canada, India, the Philippines, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates.

The main difference between the two tests is in the names. IELTS is aimed at international users of English, whereas CELPIP is specifically for English used in Canada. Is there a big difference between Canadian English and other types of English? Not really. Canadian spoken English sounds a lot like American English, while Canadian written English tends to use more British spellings (such as centre and colour). However, American spelling is also accepted. The real difference between IELTS and CELPIP is that CELPIP will tend to focus more on topics and situations that you would find in everyday life in Canada.

Where can I take the tests?

IELTS is available in more than 140 countries worldwide, and has locations in five Canadian provinces (ON, QC, MB, AB and BC).  CELPIP has 60 locations across Canada, in all provinces except Prince Edward Island. It is also available in the Yukon Territory (YT).

Is CELPIP easier than IELTS?

The short answer is “It depends”. Both tests have to meet the same criteria set by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, so they both have to agree on the same level of English. A test taker who gets a top score on IELTS should be able to do all the same things just as well as someone who gets a top score on CELPIP, otherwise the tests wouldn’t be very meaningful.

That said, there are some differences between the two tests that may affect how you feel about them. First of all, CELPIP is completely computer-based, whereas IELTS is mostly paper-based (the computer-based version is available only in a few areas).  CELPIP takes three hours from start to finish, and is all done on the same day. The written portion of IELTS (Listening, Reading, Writing) takes 2 hours 45 minutes, and the Speaking portion takes 11-14 minutes, often on a separate day. The IELTS Speaking test is done face-to-face with an examiner, whereas the CELPIP Speaking test is recorded onto the computer and marked later by a rater. IELTS is scored on a scale from 0-9, whereas CELPIP is scored from 1-12. So to sum up, if you are more comfortable with computers and you want to get the test over with more quickly, you might prefer CELPIP. On the other hand, if you prefer reading and writing on paper and speaking with someone face-to-face, IELTS might be better for you.

How can I prepare for IELTS or CELPIP?

IELTS has been around longer, so there are a lot more materials available to help you prepare. Almost every English language school has an IELTS Preparation course, and there are also many online teachers who specialise in IELTS.

CELPIP is a newer test and is mostly limited to Canada, so there are fewer courses and materials available. You can get CELPIP practice tests online here, and reading and listening to Canadian news channels such as the CBC might also be very helpful. There are also more and more online teachers who specialise in CELPIP, but be sure to find someone who has thorough experience in helping learners achieve their goals.

If you want to find out more about which test might be right for you, contact me to book a discovery session, where I will work with you to identify your goals and set up a study plan. Start today!

Top Tips for Learning English Outside the Classroom

Today, one of my regular face-to-face students asked me for advice on how to continue to learn English on her own after she finishes her course next week. I thought it was a great question, so I opened it up to the whole class to see what ideas they had.

Reading materials that will help you learn english faster, while having fun.

The first idea that we came up with was to read as much as possible–newspapers, magazines, online news sites (CBC, BBC, the Guardian, etc.) and so on. We also talked about reading for pleasure; that is, finding something you enjoy reading. It doesn’t have to be great literature; it can be a trashy novel that you read at the beach–as long as it’s a good story that you enjoy. That way, you can learn language in context. Instead of trying to memorise endless lists of phrasal verbs or trying to understand every single little grammar point, you get a sense of how words and phrases are used together in everyday English.

I also suggested reading something like the Harry Potter series, because most people will probably have already read them in translation, and/or will have seen the movies, so they already know the  story. That allows you to focus more on the phrases, idioms, and expressions (“chunks” of language), and lets you compare the different ways the same idea might be expressed in English versus your own language.

Places to find English speakers to help you practice conversation.

Next, we all agreed that finding friends or coworkers who speak English is a fantastic help. Working or volunteering in a place where you have to speak English is a great way to learn, because it is real-life communication and not just dialogues from a textbook. Watching movies or popular English TV shows was also mentioned, and many students use subtitles, and even rewind several times to hear a certain phrase over and over so they can learn it and use it later.

Online sources to support your learning English.

Finally, we talked about the fact that there are so many wonderful online resources available today, ranging from YouTube grammar lessons, to online quizzes, to online teachers and tutors who are there to help you one-to-one, in the comfort of your own home and at a time that works best for you.

If you would like to learn more about the personalised support and feedback I offer, I’d love to hear from you!