English Learners: Effective Writing Strategies for Proficiency Exams

Effective Writing Strategies for English Language Learners: A Focus on Proficiency Exams

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In today’s interconnected world, English writing stands as a pivotal skill that goes beyond basic communication. It serves as a testament to one’s grasp over the language, allowing individuals to influence, persuade, and connect on a deeper level. This is especially true in professional and academic settings where clear and coherent writing is often the benchmark of expertise and understanding.

However, achieving fluency and clarity in writing is no small feat. Many learners grapple with a multitude of challenges. Some struggle with finding the right words to convey their thoughts, while others find themselves lost in the intricacies of grammar and punctuation. Sentence structuring, maintaining coherence, and ensuring that the written piece resonates with its intended audience are just a few of the many hurdles they face.

For those aiming to take proficiency exams, the pressure intensifies. These exams not only test knowledge but also the ability to present ideas logically, making writing an even more crucial component.

Enter Lillypad.ai. A tool designed to bridge these gaps, it offers learners an avenue to refine their writing skills, giving them the confidence to face proficiency exams head-on. With its tailored guidance and advanced features, Lillypad.ai stands as an ally for all those looking to elevate their English writing to new heights.

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Understanding the Importance of Proficiency Exams

English proficiency exams have long been the gateway to countless opportunities across the globe. Whether you’re applying for higher education, immigration, or seeking job prospects in English-speaking nations, proficiency exams play a pivotal role. But what are these exams, and why do they place so much emphasis on writing skills?

What are Proficiency Exams?

These exams serve as standardized tests to assess non-native English speakers’ ability to use and understand the language. Their main purpose is to ensure that individuals can communicate effectively, both in spoken and written English, especially in settings where English plays a primary role, such as in academia or the workplace. Below are several prominent proficiency exams are recognized globally:

  • IELTS (International English Language Testing System): Catering mainly to those seeking higher education or work opportunities, IELTS offers both academic and general training tests.
  • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language): Predominantly used by North American universities to assess the English capabilities of their applicants.
  • CAE (Cambridge English: Advanced): An in-depth assessment that ensures learners are adept at handling complex tasks in English.

Why are Writing Skills Crucial?

Writing is more than just words on paper; it’s about conveying ideas, presenting arguments, and engaging readers. In proficiency exams, the writing section evaluates the ability to produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of topics. It assesses coherence, cohesion, and the ability to justify opinions and hypothesize.

Moreover, in the real world, proficient English writing opens doors. Whether it’s drafting an impactful email, creating a persuasive presentation, or authoring a compelling report, powerful writing is the cornerstone of effective communication. Given the global nature of today’s professional environment, where English often serves as the lingua franca, the ability to write proficiently can set individuals apart, making them invaluable assets in their respective fields.

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Key Writing Challenges Faced by English Learners

While English learners demonstrate commendable enthusiasm and dedication, certain hurdles inevitably emerge during the learning process. Writing, as one of the core English skills, presents its unique set of challenges. Let’s delve into some of the frequent mistakes and pitfalls learners encounter.

Common Mistakes and Pitfalls

1. Grammar and Sentence Structure Errors

  • Incorrect verb tense usage

Explanation: Using a verb tense that doesn’t appropriately indicate the time an action occurred.

Example: She write her assignment yesterday. (Incorrect) She wrote her assignment yesterday. (Correct)

  • Misplacing modifiers leading to unclear sentences

Explanation: A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that is improperly separated from the word it modifies.

Example: She almost drove her kids to school every day. (Incorrect: This suggests she rarely drove them.) She drove her kids to school almost every day. (Correct)

  • Incorrect preposition usage

Explanation: Using the wrong preposition for indicating relationships of time, place, direction, etc.

Example: She is good in singing. (Incorrect) She is good at singing. (Correct)

  • Mismatch between subject and verb (singular vs. plural)

Explanation: The subject and verb must agree in number.

Example: The team are playing well. (Incorrect, when referring to the team as a single unit.) The team is playing well. (Correct)

  • Incorrect or missing articles (“a”, “an”, and “the”)

Explanation: Not using articles appropriately or omitting them where necessary.

Example: He is best player in the team. (Incorrect) He is the best player in the team. (Correct)

2. Misuse of Vocabulary

  • Confusing “affect” and “effect”

Explanation: “Affect” is generally a verb meaning to influence, while “effect” is a noun meaning the result or outcome.

Example: The weather can effect your mood. (Incorrect) The weather can affect your mood. (Correct)

  • Misusing “fewer” and “less”

Explanation: Use “fewer” for things you can count and “less” for uncountable quantities.

Example: She has less books than her brother. (Incorrect) She has fewer books than her brother. (Correct)

  • Interchanging “its” (possessive) and “it’s” (it is)

Explanation: “Its” indicates possession and “it’s” is a contraction for “it is.”

Example: The dog wagged it’s tail. (Incorrect) The dog wagged its tail. (Correct)

  • Confusing “compliment” (a kind expression) with “complement” (something that completes)

Explanation: “Compliment” refers to a polite expression of praise, while “complement” means something that completes or pairs well with something.

Example: The sauce is a nice compliment to the chicken. (Incorrect) The sauce is a nice complement to the chicken. (Correct)

  • Using “literally” in a figurative context

Explanation: “Literally” means in a literal sense, but many use it to emphasize a figurative statement.

Example: I was literally dying of laughter. (Incorrect usage in a figurative context) I was so amused I thought I might pass out. (A more accurate representation without exaggeration)


Spotting Mistakes in Sentences

Paragraph: Sarah is literally floating on cloud nine after receiving a compliment from her boss. She has lesser projects than Mike, but she works more harder. Its obvious that she affects the team positively, and everyone loves its effect. She said, “I have a less shoes than you,” which made everyone laugh.


  1. Identify the misuse of “literally.”
  2. Spot the incorrect use of “lesser.”
  3. Find the redundant word in “more harder.”
  4. Which word should be “it’s” instead of “its”?
  5. Identify the incorrect use of “affects.”
  6. Which word should be “its” instead of “its”?
  7. Spot the error in “I have a less shoes than you.”
  8. Identify the incorrect use of “compliment.”
  9. Find the error related to the verb tense.
  10. Spot the misuse of “effect.”


  1. Sarah is not actually floating, so “literally” is used incorrectly.
  2. “Lesser” should be “fewer.”
  3. “More” is redundant; it should just be “harder.”
  4. “Its obvious” should be “It’s obvious.”
  5. “Affects” should be “influences” or “impacts.”
  6. “Everyone loves its effect” should be “everyone loves its impact.”
  7. “I have a less shoes than you” should be “I have fewer shoes than you.”
  8. “Compliment” should be “complement.”
  9. “Receiving” should be “received.”
  10. “Effect” should be “affect.”

Overcoming Psychological Barriers

Language proficiency exams often come with psychological hurdles, just as much as they do with linguistic challenges. Let’s explore a couple of these mental barriers and understand them better:

1. Fear of Making Mistakes

The apprehension of making errors can hold learners back. This fear stems from a natural desire to be perfect and the pressure to succeed. It can be intensified if a learner has been reprimanded or ridiculed for their mistakes in the past.

2. Anxiety Under Timed Conditions

Knowing that there’s a ticking clock can make learners feel pressured to perform swiftly, often causing them to second-guess their answers or rush through without proper review.

Tips for Staying Calm

It’s essential to develop coping mechanisms to stay calm during these exams. Here are five strategies:

  1. Breathing Exercises and Mindfulness Practices
    • Explanation: Taking deep, controlled breaths can help in reducing anxiety. Mindfulness techniques, such as focusing on the present moment and acknowledging your feelings without judgment, can center your mind and reduce exam stress.
  2. Visualization Techniques
    • Explanation: Before starting the exam, close your eyes and visualize a positive scenario where you complete the exam with confidence. This can set a positive tone and mindset for the actual test.
  3. Preparation and Practice
    • Explanation: The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll feel. Taking practice exams under timed conditions can familiarize you with the format and reduce the fear of the unknown.
  4. Positive Self-talk
    • Explanation: Replace negative thoughts like “I can’t do this” with affirmative statements such as “I’ve prepared for this” or “I’m capable and can handle this challenge.”
  5. Scheduled Breaks During Study
    • Explanation: During preparation, it’s essential to take regular breaks to relax and recharge. Even during the exam, if allowed, taking a moment to stretch or take a few deep breaths can help reset and refocus your mind.
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Effective Writing Strategies

Efficient and compelling writing is not just about vocabulary and grammar. It is also about conveying your thoughts in a structured and coherent manner. Let’s delve into the significance of structuring your writing and how to effectively achieve it.

Structure Your Writing

Every good piece of writing, especially in the context of proficiency exams, follows a certain structure. This is pivotal to ensure that your message gets across to the reader in a clear and systematic manner.

1. Importance of a Clear Structure

Structuring your writing means organizing your ideas in a logical sequence. This not only enhances clarity but also allows your reader (or examiner) to follow your thought process effortlessly. Well-structured writing also demonstrates your organizational skills, which are crucial in both academic and real-world settings.

2. Introduction, Body, and Conclusion

This trio forms the backbone of most essay writings.

  • Introduction: This is where you introduce the topic or question and give a brief overview of what the reader can expect. The introduction sets the tone and provides context.
  • Body: Here, you present your main ideas, arguments, or findings. Each paragraph should contain a single idea or point and should be supported with evidence or examples.
  • Conclusion: This section wraps up your writing by summarizing your main points and presenting a closing thought or call to action.

Example: Structuring a Standard Essay

Consider you’re writing an essay on the topic: “The impact of technology on education.”

  • Introduction: Begin by highlighting the omnipresence of technology today and hint at its transformative effect on the educational sector.
  • Body:
    1. Paragraph 1: Discuss the rise of online learning platforms and how they’ve democratized education, making it accessible to many who couldn’t access traditional education.
    2. Paragraph 2: Address the use of advanced tools like AI in personalizing learning experiences, tailoring lessons according to individual student needs.
    3. Paragraph 3: Talk about potential drawbacks, such as the digital divide or the lack of personal touch in virtual classrooms.
  • Conclusion: Summarize the significant advancements technology has brought into the realm of education while acknowledging potential challenges. End with a note on the importance of evolving with times and harnessing technology for enhanced learning experiences.

Build a Strong Vocabulary

Having a robust vocabulary is akin to an artist possessing a wide palette of colors: it allows for richer, more nuanced expression. For those aiming to excel in proficiency exams, showcasing a diverse vocabulary can make a noticeable difference in scores.

1. The Role of Varied and Appropriate Vocabulary

Using a variety of words doesn’t just display your language prowess; it also clarifies your message. A rich vocabulary enables you to be precise in your descriptions and arguments. Moreover, appropriate vocabulary usage means you’re selecting the best words to fit the context, which demonstrates both understanding and mastery.

2. Techniques for Expanding Vocabulary

  • Reading Widely: One of the most effective ways to absorb new words is through reading. This includes diverse genres, from newspapers to novels, each offering its unique set of vocabulary.
  • Flashcards: Old school it might be, but creating flashcards with a new word on one side and its meaning on the other remains an effective technique.
  • Word-a-Day Challenge: Commit to learning a new word every day. Use it in sentences to understand its context better.
  • Engage in Conversations: Active usage in speech or writing helps in retention. Engage in discussions, debates, or even casual conversations using the newly learned words.
  • Use Vocabulary Apps: There are several mobile applications designed to help individuals expand their vocabulary. They often come with quizzes, games, and daily challenges.

Exercise: Matching Words to Their Synonyms

Match the words in Column A with their synonyms in Column B:

  1. Abundant            | a. Brief
  2. Terse                    | b. Praise
  3. Laud                     | c. Plentiful
  4. Brevity                  | d. Talkative
  5. Garrulous             | e. Shortness

Answers: 1-c, 2-e, 3-b, 4-a, 5-d.

Practice Regularly with Feedback

Consistent practice, especially when paired with timely feedback, is often the key to growth in any discipline. Writing is no exception.

1. Benefits of Consistent Practice

  • Reinforcing Concepts: Writing frequently helps solidify grammar rules, vocabulary usage, and sentence structure concepts in the brain. Like muscle memory in sports, this practice helps in instinctively knowing what “feels” right.
  • Developing a Personal Style: Over time, regular writing helps you discover and refine your unique voice and style. This distinctiveness can make your writing more engaging.
  • Increased Speed and Efficiency: The more you write, the quicker and more efficient you become at putting your thoughts down. This speed is especially crucial in exam settings.
  • Building Confidence: By consistently writing and seeing your progress, you boost your confidence, which is paramount when tackling proficiency exams.
  • Identifying Weaknesses: Continuous practice can shed light on areas that need more attention, be it grammar, vocabulary, or other writing aspects.

2. The Power of Lillypad.ai for Real-time Feedback

Lillypad.ai offers a cutting-edge platform where learners can get instant feedback on their writing. This immediate critique allows users to pinpoint their mistakes and correct them on the spot, promoting faster learning. With AI-driven feedback, students aren’t just getting generic advice; they’re receiving personalized insights tailored to their specific needs.


Before Using Lillypad.ai: “I likes to travels to different countries because it’s give me a chance for learn new culture. Their is so much to sees and do in the world, and I wants to experience it all.”

After Using Lillypad.ai: “I like to travel to different countries because it gives me a chance to learn about new cultures. There is so much to see and do in the world, and I want to experience it all.”

This before-and-after example highlights how Lillypad.ai helps rectify basic grammar mistakes, ensuring that the writing is coherent and polished.

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How LillyPad.ai Complements Your Writing Journey

In the vast world of English language learning, getting personalized attention can make all the difference. LillyPad.ai recognizes this and has been designed to cater specifically to the individual needs of its users. Here’s how it revolutionizes the writing learning curve:

Personalized Feedback and Corrections

  1. Tailored Exercises to Individual Weaknesses: One of the standout features of LillyPad.ai is its ability to detect patterns in a learner’s mistakes. By analyzing the errors made in real-time, the platform can create exercises that are specifically designed to target a user’s weak points. This means if a learner frequently misuses prepositions or often confuses verb tenses, LillyPad.ai will generate exercises to hone in on these specific areas, ensuring that the learning is focused and efficient.
  2. Immediate Corrections for Faster Learning: Feedback delay can be a barrier to learning. With traditional classroom settings or even some online platforms, there can be a significant gap between making a mistake and receiving correction. This delay can sometimes lead to reinforcement of incorrect practices. LillyPad.ai eliminates this issue. When a learner makes a mistake, the platform immediately points it out, providing both the correction and an explanation. This immediate response ensures that misconceptions are nipped in the bud, allowing for faster and more solidified learning.

Incorporating LillyPad.ai into your English writing practice guarantees that every minute you invest is optimized for the best outcomes. It’s not just about practicing; it’s about practicing right. And with this platform, you’re guided every step of the way, ensuring that your road to proficiency is as smooth as possible.

Real-world Writing Scenarios

Tackling real-world writing scenarios is essential for English learners, especially those gearing up for proficiency exams. Practicing with prompts that mirror the style and substance of actual exam questions can give students a leg up, helping them become familiar with what to expect and how to approach different topics. Here’s a list of ten practice prompts based on themes commonly found in proficiency exams:

  1. Discuss the impact of digital technology on education.
  2. Compare and contrast urban and rural lifestyles.
  3. Describe the role of art in society and its importance.
  4. Analyze the effects of climate change on global economies.
  5. Detail the significance of cross-cultural communication in a globalized world.
  6. Explain the pros and cons of distance learning.
  7. Discuss the importance of preserving cultural heritage.
  8. Evaluate the effects of social media on mental health.
  9. Describe the relationship between healthy eating and longevity.
  10. Analyze the role of sports in promoting unity and understanding among nations.


A TOEFL-based writing task with suggested answers

Prompt: Some people believe that individuals should have the right to keep and use exotic pets, while others believe it can be harmful both to the person and the animal. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

Suggested Answer:

Owning an exotic pet has been a topic of debate for many years. On one hand, proponents argue that individuals should have the freedom to own any pet of their choice, emphasizing personal rights and responsibilities. They suggest that with the right care and environment, exotic pets can live fulfilling lives and can even provide educational opportunities for others to learn about these unique species.

Conversely, critics believe that owning exotic pets can be detrimental. Firstly, from an ethical standpoint, removing animals from their natural habitats can disrupt ecosystems and contribute to species endangerment. Moreover, the care for exotic animals can be intricate, often requiring specialized diets, habitats, and medical care that the average pet owner might not be equipped to provide. From the perspective of human safety, some exotic pets can pose significant threats through physical harm or transmission of diseases.

In conclusion, while the allure of owning an exotic pet is undeniable, the implications for both the animal and the owner must be seriously considered. Personal freedoms should be balanced with ethical considerations and safety precautions.

A Comprehensive Approach to Learning

A holistic approach to language learning acknowledges that it’s not just about mastering one skill in isolation. To truly attain fluency and be prepared for proficiency exams and real-world applications, one needs to sharpen all the facets of language learning – be it reading, speaking, listening, or writing.

  • Reading: While writing provides a medium to express thoughts, reading is where most learners gain new vocabulary, understand sentence structures, and absorb the nuances of the language. By exposing oneself to diverse reading materials, from newspapers to novels, learners can understand context, tone, and the varied ways language can be used.
  • Speaking: The ultimate test for many learners is the ability to articulate thoughts verbally. Regular speaking exercises, whether in a classroom setting, with a tutor, or in everyday scenarios, ensure learners can transition seamlessly from written knowledge to spoken fluency.
  • Listening: For many, understanding spoken English, especially with varied accents and speaking speeds, can be challenging. Regular listening exercises, such as podcasts, news broadcasts, or even movies, can acclimatize learners to different pronunciations and colloquialisms.

The path to English proficiency isn’t just about excelling in one domain but interweaving all these skills to build a well-rounded command over the language. Each skill complements the other. For instance, good reading habits can enrich vocabulary for both writing and speaking. Similarly, listening regularly can enhance pronunciation and understanding during conversations.

In essence, building all-around English proficiency is like assembling a puzzle. Each piece, whether it’s reading, writing, speaking, or listening, holds unique importance. When they come together, they form a complete, coherent picture of fluency.

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Final Tips and Motivation

Believe in Continuous Improvement

In the pursuit of language proficiency, the path isn’t always linear. Some days, you’ll feel like you’ve conquered every challenge, and on others, the intricacies of the English language may feel overwhelming. However, it’s essential to recognize that learning is a dynamic process, with ups and downs.

  • The Journey of Language Proficiency

Attaining fluency is more marathon than sprint. It’s built on countless hours of practice, heaps of mistakes, and numerous moments of enlightenment. But it’s crucial not to be disheartened by the sheer length or complexity of the journey. Instead, focus on the small victories – that article you finally understood, the conversation you managed without faltering, or that essay you wrote with fewer errors.

  • Every Mistake as a Learning Opportunity

While it’s natural to feel frustrated when you misuse a word or grapple with grammar, remember that every error is a chance to grow. Instead of seeing them as setbacks, view mistakes as indicators showing where your attention is needed. Every time you correct an error, you’re one step closer to refining your language skills.

Stay Consistent and Seek Support

English proficiency is akin to muscle memory. The more you engage with the language, the better your brain becomes at understanding its nuances and intricacies. But just like physical exercise, occasional practices won’t yield the best results. The secret lies in consistency.

  • The Power of Daily Practice

Just as a musician practices scales or an athlete undergoes training, daily engagement with English helps in reinforcing what you’ve learned and in internalizing the nuances of the language. It’s the repetitive exposure to words, phrases, and structures that solidifies your understanding. Over time, consistent practice helps in transitioning from deliberate thought to instinctive usage.

  • Joining English Learning Communities

Engaging with fellow learners can be a game-changer. By joining English learning communities, you surround yourself with individuals who share similar goals. These communities offer a platform to discuss doubts, share resources, and practice speaking. They also act as a motivational support system, encouraging you when the learning gets tough and celebrating your successes.

How LillyPad.ai Offers Continuous Support

LillyPad.ai is designed to be more than just a tool; it aims to be your steadfast companion in your English learning quest.

  • 24/7 Availability of the AI Tutor

The beauty of LillyPad.ai is its accessibility. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, the AI tutor is always ready to assist. This means you can practice and get feedback at a time that suits your schedule, ensuring that learning English seamlessly integrates into your daily routine.

  • Customized Lesson Plans

Recognizing that every learner is unique, LillyPad.ai tailors its lessons according to individual needs. Based on your strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, it crafts a roadmap that ensures you make the most of every practice session. This personalized approach ensures that your learning trajectory is optimized for maximum growth and understanding.

Frequently Asked Questions

Feeling nervous, especially before a significant challenge, is entirely normal. The key to alleviating this unease lies in thorough preparation. Consistent practice helps in familiarizing yourself with various writing prompts and the exam format. Utilizing platforms like LillyPad.ai can offer constructive feedback, ensuring that with every practice session, you’re not just writing but also enhancing your skills. Over time, as your familiarity with the test grows, your confidence will naturally increase, reducing anxiety.

Effective time management hinges on a good strategy. Begin by sketching a brief outline of your essay. This roadmap will give you a clearer idea of where you’re headed. Next, allocate specific durations to each section, ensuring that you have ample time for revision. The more you practice under timed conditions, the better you’ll become at pacing yourself, even under exam pressures.

Everyone is bound to make errors, especially when learning a new language. The true measure of progress is in acknowledging these mistakes and learning from them. Tools like LillyPad.ai offer invaluable feedback, pointing out areas of improvement and offering corrections. With each feedback loop, your grammatical accuracy will improve, leading to more polished writing.

While having an extensive vocabulary can be advantageous, what truly matters is the effective and accurate use of words you already know. Rather than getting overwhelmed with numerous words, focus on contextually relevant vocabulary. Engaging in diverse reading material will naturally introduce you to new words, enriching your vocabulary over time.

Structure plays a pivotal role in ensuring your ideas are communicated effectively and coherently. A well-structured essay ensures your arguments flow logically, making it more persuasive and easier for examiners to follow. LillyPad.ai, with its tailored guidance, can provide invaluable insights into crafting a coherent and impactful essay structure.

True authenticity stems from a deep understanding of the topic at hand, coupled with presenting your insights. While practice is invaluable, it’s essential to steer clear from rote memorization. The objective should be to grasp the core writing techniques and then apply them to your unique thoughts and perspectives.

Having a distinct voice, shaped by diverse linguistic backgrounds, can be an asset. To polish your writing and achieve a more native-like fluency, immerse yourself in English through diverse mediums. Regular interactions in English, coupled with feedback from platforms like LillyPad.ai, can offer insights to refine your style and sound more natural.

Language acquisition, like any skill, doesn’t follow a linear trajectory. There will be plateaus and growth spurts. Even if immediate progress isn’t visible, continuous practice lays a robust foundation. Being persistent, regularly seeking feedback, and utilizing resources like LillyPad.ai will ensure that every effort is inching you closer to proficiency. Trusting the learning process is vital.

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Learn from History – Follow the Science – Listen to the Experts

For learners of all ages striving to improve their English, LillyPad combines the most scientifically studied and recommended path to achieving English fluency and proficiency with today’s most brilliant technologies!

What’s the one thing that makes LillyPad so special? Lilly! Lilly’s a personal English tutor, and has people talking all over the world! Lilly makes improving your English easy. With Lilly, you can read in four different ways, and you can read just about anything you love. And learning with Lilly, well that’s what you call liberating!

Additionally, the platform incorporates goal-setting capabilities, essential tracking & reporting, gamification, anywhere-anytime convenience, and significant cost savings compared to traditional tutoring methodologies.

At LillyPad, everything we do is focused on delivering a personalized journey that is meaningful and life-changing for our members. LillyPad isn’t just the next chapter in English learning…

…it’s a whole new story!

Do you want to improve your English? Visit www.lillypad.ai.

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William Landry

William Landry

William is a professional English and ESL teacher with over 15 years of experience. He has taught students of all ages, from children to business executives, and has worked with ESL learners from all over the globe. With a degree in English Education, William has developed curriculum for learners of all levels and interests. He is passionate about helping people learn English effectively and shares his knowledge with the LillyPad community. When he’s not teaching or writing, William enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.

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