Recently a member of our DreyerCoaching teacher team and I were working with a Chinese professional man and his American supervisor. We were working on helping the Chinese man write better emails in English. One big issue was: expressing certainty and uncertainty. This is important, because you need to tell your reader (or listener) how sure you are about something.
Take a look and you can use these words and phrases in your communication:
|CERTAIN / SURE||UNCERTAIN / UNSURE|
|I am sure that....||I think .... I believe....|
|We have already ...||We could ....|
|We do have ...||We might be able to ....|
|It is clear that...||It is possible that....|
|Surely||I am not sure that....|
|There is no doubt that...||There is some doubt that...|
|Maybe / Perhaps|
|In my opinion...|
It's all about word choice.
Recently a friend in Sunday School told our class, "My wife says I'm tight...but I tell her I'm thrifty." We all laughed. Why?
Because they are saying basically the same thing: my friend is very careful with money. However, "tight" is a negative word while "thrifty" is positive.
Or how about this one I heard from Bible teacher Chuck Swindoll:
Solitude is life-giving, but isolation is deadly.
Huh? Since "solitude" means "being alone" and "isolation also means "being alone," what does this sentence mean? Is this a contradiction? Is it saying "Being alone is good, but being alone is bad"? Furthermore, both words even have the same word stem, "sol," which means "one/alone." (As in: "solo" or "solitary.") (Note: the stem "sol" can also mean "sun" as in "solar energy, so one stem can sometimes have more than one meaning.)
This is another great example of WORD CHOICE. Yes, both mean "being alone," but "solitude" is usually positive: it has the sense of pulling away from the busy hubbub of life and finding a quiet place to think and reflect on the deeper things of life. In contrast, "isolation" is almost always negative. It implies being shunned, cut off, cast out, removed from others. When people have a highly contageous disease they may be put in isolation, or an anti-social person lives in isolation by avoiding contact with others.
- Jim is usually so busy with his work and family, he loves to go hunting in the fall for a few precious days of solitude-- just him in the great outdoors.
- Many men get sick and die within just a couple of years after retiring: it seems the isolation cuts them off from their relationships, sense of meaning, and identity.
I told the students in my Advanced Writing class that story when we worked on this task in the excellent text book we use, Writing With Skill Level 1, by Susan Wise Bauer.
Begin by reading carefully through the following description of the great scientist Isaac Newton, drawn partly from the writings of his admirer John Conduitt. John Conduitt married Isaac Newton’s niece Catherine; Newton lived with the couple towards the end of his life. Read with pencil in hand, and mark each word or phrase that seems to be slanted. The first one is done for you. (1)
He always lived in a very handsome generous manner . . . always hospitable, and upon proper occasions gave splendid entertainments. He was generous and charitable without bounds. . . . He had such a meekness and sweetness of temper, that a melancholy story would often draw tears from him. . . . He was blessed with a very happy and vigorous constitution; he was of a middle stature, and rather plump in his latter years; he had . . . a comely and gracious aspect, and a fine head of hair, as white as silver, without any baldness. To the time of his last illness he had the bloom and colour of a young man. . . He retained all his senses and faculties to the end of his life, strong, vigorous and lively. He continued writing and studying many hours every day till the period of his last illness. (2)
Bauer then asks students to replace the POSITIVE words with NEGATIVE ones. For example, instead of saying Sir Isaac Newton was "generous," say "he wasted money."
This is how a student of mine, a grade 11 young man in Hsinchu, Taiwan rewrote the passage:
He always lived lavishly like a mogul; his wastefulness is breathtaking. Among the worst of things, he has almost no sense of financial management. Oftentimes, he gave away his money with no apparent reason. Such carelessness greatly diminished his character. Also, he is histrionic and overly dramatic-- breaking into tears at the smallest sorrows-- and especially gutless-- undetermined and weak. He is a showoff who is overly obsessed with his looks. He is also a tryhard who lived a life as a recluse.
|Spending habits||handsome, generous manner, hospitable, charitable without bounds||lived lavishly, wastefulness, no sense of financial management|
|Personality||Meekness, sweetness of temper||spineless, wimpy, overly-emotional, he wore his heart on his sleeve, crybaby, histrionic, overly-dramatic|
|Energy level||blessed with a happy and vigorous constitution||too happy, hyperactive, ADHD, fidgety, can't sit still, ants in his pants, driven|
|Body build||rather plump, big-boned, well-nourished||fat, overweight, obese|
|Hair||a fine head of hair, as white as silver, without any baldness||an unkempt mop of hair, as white as a ghost|
|Skin complexion||the bloom and colour of a young man, ruddy, healthy glow, tanned||flushed, red-faced, feverish|
|Mental powers||He retained all his senses and faculties to the end of his life, strong, vigorous and lively. Bright, engaged, informed, intelligent, sharp, insightful, focused||bookworm, know-it-all, smarty-pants|
|Work habits||He continued writing and studying many hours every day, diligent, focused, active, productive, fruitful||workaholic, all work and no play, driven, doesn't know when to stop,|
|???||Can you think of more examples???|
Now that we're all in a good mood, let's take a look at President Trump. Does this description present a POSITIVE or NEGATIVE view? How can you tell?
There has never been another president like Donald J. Trump. With his overweight, orange body and shock of yellow hair, he looks like the clown he is. He struts with a swagger, showing all his tremendous conceit and narcissism. He obviously has problems with sleep and physical energy, because he always seems crabby and sends out tweets at all hours of the day and night.
His speech and behavior are vile and offensive. His talk is bombastic, divisive, hateful, and self-centered. His words and behavior all send the message: "It's all about me." From his ludicrous denial of Climate Change to all his other outrageous comments, he is obviously a moron. How can someone with such a low IQ be our president? Trump's personal and family life are a shambles: he has been divorced twice and has been caught on tape boasting about taking advantage of women.
His political views are as distasteful as his personal life. His hateful "America First" jabber is jingoistic, nativistic, and reeks of White Supremacy. His reckless trade wars threaten to not only destroy the US economy but have the potential to send the entire world economy into a fireball. However, his hatred of foreign trade makes sense when you realize how he hates all foreigners period. His childish insistence on getting "his wall" at all costs exposes him as a xenophobe and hater of the rich, diverse cultures that we value in America. But his theatrics are not directed at other nations only. In Washington he has been an absolute wrecking ball. With no sense of decorum, tradition, history or honor, Trump is the proverbial "bull in the china shop," wrecking order and sowing discord and divisiveness with all he says and does. It is questionable if life in Washington will ever return to normal again, after this disaster that is the Trump regime.
And all this brings us to perhaps the worse part of all: Trump's supporters. With such a sterling candidate as Hillary Clinton, how did America place the boorish, backward Trump in the White House instead? The obvious answer must be, his voters are boorish and backward too, so uneducated and unsophisticated to be unable to appreciate Clinton's outstanding virtues but easy prey for Trump's lies and propaganda. Look at the election map: the wealthier, more sophisticated coastal and urban areas voted for Clinton, while the poorer, more rural, less sophisticated regions pulled for Trump. If there is a silver lining, it is that Trump won the ridiculous, outdated Electoral College but lost the popular vote handily. At least there are some smart people left in the USA.
Do you see? This is clearly a negative portrayal of the 45th president.
The essay is organized by these themes:
- physical appearance & bearing
- Speech, behavior, intelligence & personal life
- Political beliefs, views of foreigners, & how he relates to Washington DC
- His supporters
Now read this passage. How is like Essay 1? How is it different?
There has never been another president like Donald J. Trump. With his imposing build, tanned complexion, and full head of blond hair, he looks like the leader he is. He has a bold, confident walk that tells all who see him: I am in charge. Even for a man in his 70's, he obviously is full of energy and vitality, as he is always ready to scrap with those who attack him and he sends out tweets at all hours of the day and night.
His speech and behavior, though clearly unorthodox, are what attract so many to him. Unlike the other "politically-correct" mealy-mouthed politicians of both parties, Trump says what he means and he means what he says. You always know where he stands. His words and behavior all send the message: "I will fight for the forgotten man." Some call him a clown and a moron, but if that is so, why is he so fabulously wealthy and sitting in the White House now? Some point fun at his intellect, but he is clearly a genius. Trump obviously believes in family: even his own children work on his team. Others criticize his personal life, but as the Democrats and media taught us in the Clinton 90's: "personal life is irrelevant; all that matters is getting the job done," and Trump is getting the job done.
His political views speak to the millions who feel disgusted with "business as usual" America. Instead of always sending out money and jobs to other countries, Trump promotes "America First." That is, with all policies and decisions, what will best help the hardworking American families? Take for example his trade policies. For years other countries have taken the US to the cleaners with unfair trade deals. Finally President Trump is putting an end to all that foolishness, and we see the US economy and manufacturing bouncing back. Some say he hates foreigners, but if that is so, why have two of his wives been foreign women? What many call "his wall" is in fact a common-sense addition to enhance border security and reduce drug and human trafficking. In addition, his new style are creating positive reforms here at home too. Since so many hardworking Americans are sick and tired of a dysfunctional Washington DC, they loved his promise to "drain the swamp," and he has gone at that job with all the energy and gusto of a wrecking ball. Of course Trump is the proverbial "bull in the china shop." That is why he was hired! The American people hired him to upset the status quo and make American Great Again. It is questionable if life in Washington will ever return to normal again, after all the positive reforms of the Trump administration.
And all this brings us to perhaps the best part of all: Trump's supporters. With such a deeply flawed candidate as "Crooked Hillary," we can now see how so many voters chose Trump's fresh, "outside the Beltway" message. Long dismissed as "Flyover Country" by the condescending "coastal elites," the forgotten men and women of America rose up, from Florida to Alaska, to Make America Great Again. People across our great land don't need talking heads in New York or LA to tell them what to think or believe. They can think for themselves. Thank goodness we have that gift from the wise Founding Fathers, the Electoral College. Hillary ran up huge margins in left-wing California and New York, but our current system guarantees a political voice for smaller states and rural areas. At least there are some smart people left in the USA.
Do you see the difference? How does WORD CHOICE matter?
Now let's take it one step further, into the "real world" of daily new reporting.
Here is a February 28, 2019 article from CNN about Pres. Trump's ex-lawyer giving testimony to Congress: This is CNN.
Here is an article from the same date, on the same topic, but with a very different slant. This is Fox.
How are the two articles different? How is the word choice different? How are even the titles different?
1. Susan Wise Bauer, Writing with Skill Level 1 (Peace Hill Press, 2012), p. 229-230
2. George Godfrey Cunningham, Lives of Eminent and Illustrious Englishmen: From Alfred the Great, Vol. 4 (A. Fullarton & Co., 1833), p. 402.
Ask Scott: This question comes from Bob in Hangzhou, China.
Q. How do you use the word SINCE?
A. Great question! Like many words in English, it has MANY meanings and uses, so it has MANY translations in Chinese! It can give a reason for something, like "because" or "as."
1. It can give the reason for something, like "because" or "as."
- Bob visited us in Nanjing since he lives in Hangzhou and it's not that far away.
- Bob's English is getting better and better since he studies online with DreyerCoaching.com!
Since it's raining, we're going to stay home today.
2. It can mean "from then until now."
- David has played the piano since he was four years old.
- I have been teaching since 1986.
- China has seen many changes since World War II.
Ricky began learning English with DreyerCoaching.com and has been with us ever since.(Note: Use "since" with a specific starting point in time. Since 2:00. Since we graduated. Since last Friday. If you want to refer to a length of time WITHOUT a specific starting time point, use "for." For example:He has played piano for five years. vs. He has played piano since third grade.They have lived in New York for three years. vs. They have lived in New York since 2017.He has been eating for 30 minutes. vs. He has been eating since 12:30.
Be careful. These two words SENSE and CENTS sound the same as SINCE, but have different meanings.
1. One of the faculties of sight, sound, touch, hearing, and taste (noun)
- Young children learn about the Five Senses.
- Both dogs and deer have an amazing sense of smell.
- If you catch a cold and lose your sense of smell, you often lose your sense of taste too-- foods don't taste very good if you can't smell them.
2. A "gut feeling," understanding or intuition (noun)
- The longer he was there, he had a sense that something was not right.
- Billy had a strong sense of regret when he realized he had been wasting a lot of time in high school.
- Robert felt a huge sense of accomplishment when he graduated in the top 10% of his high school class.
3. An inborn ability or strength (noun)
- Mom has a very strong sense of right and wrong.
- Deborah has a great sense of direction; she seldom gets lost.
- Dad has a great sense of humor; that's probably what helps him stay young.
1. To feel or figure something out (verb)
- We sensed that something was wrong with the neighbors, but we couldn't identify what it was.
- Dad sensed that Marie was trying to hide something, but he couldn't figure it out.
- Betty sensed her friends might do something special for her birthday, but she never dreamed it would be a huge surprise party!
CENTS Plural of "cent," 1 penny.
- "When I was a kid, you could buy a whole bag of candy for just five cents," Grandpa told us.
"That will be five dollars and 37 cents," the cashier told us.Do you SENSE you want to improve your English skills? SINCE you already on this page, contact me today to find out how we can help you learn English online. You can learn safely and conveniently at your home or office. Does that make SENSE?
Photo by George Hodan
Ask Scott Dreyer
This question comes from our online student Bob in scenic Hangzhou, China, which is known as one of the most beautiful places in China. I'd like to dedicate this post to him.
Q: How can I use the words EVEN, HAPPEN and KNOWLEDGE?
A: Thanks for that great question, Bob! My answer is below.
EVEN: As is common in English, this word has MANY meanings and uses, so it has MANY Chinese translations, depending on how you want to use it.
1. EVEN numbers can be divided by 2, so 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 etc. are all EVEN NUMBERS. (In contrast, ODD numbers are 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, etc. Bonus information: ODD can also mean "strange.")
The gym teacher made us all count off by ones, and the even-numbered students were Team A and the odd-numbered students were Team B for the basketball game.
2. It can mean SMOOTH or FLAT.
Look for a smooth, even spot to put your tent. Otherwise, you might wake up with a backache if you are sleeping on a rock!
I love the Christmas Carol based on a true man in history, Good King Wenceslas. The first line is: Good King Wenceslas looked out, On the Feast of Stephen, When the snow lay round about, Deep and crisp and even.
3. It can mean FAIR or EQUAL.
Mom gave each child an even amount of ice cream.
Many English idioms rhyme, and "even Steven" means "fair or equal."
The boy decided to divide the cookies even Steven so no one would get mad or jealous.
All the students like Mr. Flanagan. He is fair and evenhanded with all his students.
Many times EVEN has a "word buddy," that is, another word it often goes with, and together the two words add emphasis or surprise.
4. EVEN THOUGH means something happens despite something else happening.
Even though it was raining, we went to the picnic anyway.
Even though he had lots of Cs and Ds, he still applied to Harvard.
EVEN IF tells if something surprising would or would not happen
Even if Billy drove a BMW, I still wouldn't go to the dance with him, Emily said.
Even if Billy gets an A on the final exam, he will still only get a D for the year in English, because his other grades are so bad.
By itself, EVEN can also show shock or surprise.
Aunt Barbara said the pies she bakes are so bad, even her dogs would not eat them!
It was raining so hard, even all the schools had to close.
HAPPEN: (verb) This usually means "to take place" or "to occur."
No one knows what will happen tomorrow, but we still need to make plans.
We did not know what would happen when we put the dog and cat in the same room.
Megan was sad that her "best friend" suddenly got mean with her, but I told her that has happened to me before too.
It can also refer to things that occur without planning or design, but seem to be random.
We don't know why the lamp fell off the table. It just happened!
Billy and Megan seemed so happy together all year, but we don't know why they broke up. It just happened.
KNOWLEDGE: (noun) This is the noun form of the verb "to know."
1. Facts, information of skills someone has.
Good teachers love working with students who are curious and have a thirst for knowledge.
In the US we say, "go to college to get more knowledge."
2. Awareness or familiarity
Billy has been playing games on his phone during class without his teacher's knowlege.
To my knowledge, Shenzhen is the fastest-growing city in the world.
This Bible verse from Proverbs 1:5 (Good News Translation) has the words EVEN and KNOWLEDGE.
These proverbs can even add to the knowledge of the wise and give guidance to the educated,
I will end this post with one sentence using all three key words:
Even though Bob lives in Hangzhou, he and his mother came all the way to Nanjing to visit with us when we happened to be there last May; to my knowledge, Bob is my first online student in Hangzhou, and he has a GREAT attitude.
Do YOU have a question about English or life in the USA? Contact me today to ask! And, join an online class so you can improve your KNOWLEDGE of English, EVEN when you HAPPEN to be at home of in the office!
"Sharp" is one of those wonderful words where we have one word in English, but there are two words for it in Chinese.
Sharp is used to describe something with a pointed or fine edge. Sharp things can prick, poke, slice, and cut.
This knife is sharp. Its edge can slice fruit or open an envelope. It can cut your finger if you are not careful. The Chinese word for this is 尖利 Jiānlì or just 利 Lì.
Scissors are also sharp. They are used to cut a length of material or paper.
This tack can poke and prick. It is used to attach papers to corkboard. It is sharp so that it can stick through things. The Chinese word for this is 尖锐 Jiānruì.
Don't let Billy handle the knife; it's too sharp.
Be careful handling those sharp tacks--they can poke you!
In English, we use common items and words in idioms. Today, I was teaching Phil in Chiayi, in South Taiwan. His English has greatly improved through taking classes DreyerCoaching.com and I wanted to compliment him on his improvement. We have been studying metaphors and similies in English. I asked him to write a simile, and I also used a simile, "Phil is sharp as a tack." To be "as sharp as a tack" means to be intelligent or smart. In contrast, to be dull is to be stupid or unintelligent. Sharp can also mean smart. So, we have the idiom, "sharp as a tack," to compare an intelligent person with an item that is very sharp.
"To sharpen" means "to make sharp," and it can also mean "to improve." For example, if you want to sharpen your reading skills, read more of our blog posts! To sharpen your listening skills, listen to some of my podcasts!
Hebrews 4:12 says the Bible is "sharper than a two-edged sword." In the verse, the word of God pierces the soul, spirit, bones, and marrow to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. In other words, the Bible metaphorically cuts us in half to show us our true selves.
To make things even more interesting, "sharp" also shows a music note that is half a step above the regular note. That is, the black keys on a piano are sharps. However, a note that is half a step low is NOT called dull, but it is called a flat.
Keep your mind and your English skills sharp--sign up for an online English class today!
For example, sometimes DIFFERENT letters make the SAME sounds, like: "Daisy is in great shape."
But at other times, the SAME letters make DIFFERENT sounds, like: "Eat bread & steak."
So it is with the /-ed/ at the end of many verbs. In fact, you can put regular verbs into the past tense by just putting an /-ed/ at the end. It's like this:
We play today. We played yesterday.
The problem, though, is the pronounciation of that /-ed/. In fact, there are THREE ways to say it, based on what word it is in. Let me explain; there are three rules.
Rule 1: If the base word ends with a /d/ or /t/ SOUND, add an extra syllable so that the word ends with the /-id/ sound. (NOTE: Some English words end with the /d/ or /t/ SOUND, but that is not that actual letter. For example, "hate" ends with an /e/, but the /t/ sound.
Rule 2: If the base word ends with the sounds "p," "f," "s," "x," "ch," "sh," or "k," then the word ends with the /t/ sound. Again, be careful. The word "promise" ends with the letter "e," but it ends with the /s/ SOUND. "Laugh" ends with the letters "gh," but it ends with the /f/ SOUND.
Rule 3: This is the easiest rule of the three; all other sounds end with /d/!
Do you need help with your English? Many students tell me, "I want to be able to speak English fluently like an American, so that's why I take classes with DreyerCoaching.com." With our all-American, professional teaching team, we can help YOU sound better and better when you speak English! Find out more here. Contact Scott today to find out how we can help you!
Ask the Teacher: Heritage vs Inheritance? 遗产 vs 遺產?
In a recent bonus 1 on 1 class, Jack Lee, who is one of our long-term star students and a high school senior in Beijing, asked his DreyerCoaching.com star teacher Mr. Woodson: “I see that the Chinese meaning of these two words--Heritage and Inheritance--is the same. Are they synonyms 同义字 in English?”
The answer is – Yes, they are practically synonyms, in that their meanings are different, but their general use is usually different. For example, Thesaurus.com lists them as synonyms. To make things more interesting, this is one of those many cases where Chinese has one translation for multiple English words, such as: look forward to / expect; shade / shadow; dark / black, etc.
Inheritance generally refers to money, property, etc., that is received from someone when that person dies.
- She began her own business with the inheritance she got from her grandfather.
- He left sizable inheritances to his children. (plural use)
- Sometimes retired people will spend a lot of money on a new car or travel trailer put a bumper sticker on it, I'M SPENDING MY KIDS' INHERITANCE.
- The Bible indicates we should plan, not only for our children, but for our grandchildren. Proverbs 13:22 says "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous."
Often, what a person inherits is taxed by the government: inheritance tax is a tax on inherited property or money.
In a biological sense, inheritance means the reception of genetic qualities by transmission from parent to offspring. This is synonymous with heredity, or the physical features that offspring inherit from their parents, such as eye color, shape of nose and mouth, height and other distinguishing physical characteristics.
- During the 1860s, Austrian monk and scientist Gregor Mendel examined the inheritance of certain physical characteristics of pea plants (e.g., seed color, seed shape, flower color, etc.), which he called traits, by successive generations of plants. Mendel is called, “the father of modern genetics.” (the study of genes, genetic variation, and heredity in living organisms)
Heritage, on the other hand, typically means something from the past that is still important or valuable, like culture, traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc., that are part of the history of a group or nation (usually singular). According to Matthew from Nanjing, this can also be 传承 (Chuánchéng) in Chinese.
- England is a nation with a rich heritage of folklore (example – Robin Hood).
- His Polish heritage was very important to him.
- These battlefields are an important part of our heritage and should be preserved; this is what The Civil War Trust does.
- The Great Wall and Forbidden City are important landmarks of China’s rich heritage and long history.
- In the American Southeast, there is a heated debate about the "Rebel Flag" from the Confederacy during the Civil War. Some see it as a symbol of hatred and racism, but others use the term HERITAGE NOT HATE, to show it represents Southern pride and tradition.
A similar word is Tradition （传统) , the way beliefs and customs are passed down from one generation to the next.
- Many American families have the tradition of eating turkey at Thanksgiving and ham at Christmas and Easter.
- One of our family's favorite traditions is going to see the fireworks on the Fourth of July.
- For many Americans, going to church for a candlelight service on Christmas Eve is a treasured Christmas tradition.
Note about the photograph: In March 2018, my family and I visited friends in Richmond, Virginia, to visit the Terra Cotta Warriors on display, and we drove by St. John's Church, site of Patrick Henry's famous "Give me Liberty or give me Death!" speech. Just days before Mr. Woodson had told me Jack's question about the word "heritage," so when I saw this sign, I wanted to get a picture of it. It shows "heritage" and indicates how Richmond, Patrick Henry, and St. John's Church all played crucial roles in the American Revolution and our liberty that came from that.
Thank you, Jack Lee for asking this great question, and thank you, Mr. Dennis Woodson for writing this blog post and explaining it so clearly with fine examples!
When I heard that 遗产 vs 遺產 both have the same English translation, I was surprised. However, I was also impressed, because I thought if Jack was able to notice fine points like this about English, this shows his English is GETTING PRETTY GOOD! Jack has studied with DreyerCoaching.com for many years, and we see the results of that with his excellent vocabulary and sharp curiosity. At DreyerCoaching.com, we ENCOURAGE questions! Do you want to improve your English? Contact me today to find out how we can help you, the same way we have helped Jack!
I'd like to dedicate this blog post to my outstanding student, Joy Li, in Shenzhen, China, who has visited us in Virginia before for a summer and recently asked this great question!
While teaching a basic Step 1 English class just now, we were practicing the short -e sound and the word "get." We discussed how the word "get" has MANY meanings and uses!
By itself, it means "to pick up, receive, or take possession of."
- Please get some milk and eggs at the store.
- Get a cup of water if you're thirsty.
- We often get snow in January or February.
- I hope we get some rain soon because mom's flowers are too dry.
It can also mean "to change or become."
- It's supposed to get cold this weekend.
- Lots of retired people move to Florida because it doesn't get very cold there.
- Virginia has a pretty mild climate but it can get pretty hot in the summers.
But when used with some other words, it has MANY more meanings!
get better: to recover from an illness or improve at something
- If you get enough sleep you'll get better after awhile.
- If you want your English to get better, join an online class with DreyerCoaching.com!
get cracking (get crackin'): to start work quickly and energetically; to get moving quickly
- "Exams start next week, so you'd better get crackin' with your reviews," Mr. Crawford challenged his students.
- "The plane leaves in three hours so we'd better get crackin' and get to the airport soon; the plane won't wait for us," Dad called out.
- "Get cracking" is also a slogan from American pistachio growers. Yum!
get done: to finish or complete a task
- Mom says we need to get done cleaning our rooms before we can go out to see a movie.
- "Class, if you get done with the test before the bell rings, you may sit in your seat and read quietly," Mrs. Miller told her students.
get even: to take revenge
- When somebody hurts us, the normal response is to try to get even, but the Bible says not to seek revenge.
- Jerry wanted to get even after his (former) best friend stole his girlfriend.
get going: start or depart
- We have a long trip tomorrow so we should get going around 7:00.
- Sometimes it's hard to get going on a cold, dark morning!
get in: to board or enter a space
- When people get in an elevator, they usually face the door and say nothing.
- Get in the car and we'll go.
get in bed: go to bed
- It's important for young children to get in bed early.
get moving: to start moving or to take action
- "It'll be dark in a few hours so we'd better get moving," Dad said as he saw the sun going down.
- I need to mow the grass today but it's supposed to rain this afternoon, so I'd better get moving.
get on: to board or enter a space
- Get on the bus and have a seat.
- Soon after I get on a train, I usually fall asleep.
get organized: to effectively plan your time, goals, and materials
- To be a successful student, you have to get organized.
- Whenever you move to a new place, it takes a long time to get organized and put everything away.
get off: to deboard a form of transportation
- Whenever a plane lands, many passengers are in a hurry to get off so they stand in the aisle.
- We need to remember to get off the train at the Taipei Main Station.
get out: to deboard a car or leave another space
- Remember to take your keys with you after you get out of the car.
- "Get out!" mom yelled when our dog came in the house with muddy feet.
get over something or somebody: to recover from a hurt or illness
- I had a terrible flu last winter; it took me a week to get over it.
- It normally takes me several days to get over jet lag.
- Barry was heartbroken when his girlfriend dumped him. "You'll get over her," his mom comforted him. "There's more than one fish in the sea."
get ready: to prepare for something
- It takes mom about an hour to get ready every morning.
- If you need to get ready to take your SAT or TOEFL, try our online classes!
get sick: fall ill, become unwell
- If you don't want to get sick, it's wise to wash your hands often.
- Mom always says we'll get sick if we go outside on a cold day with wet hair.
get the picture: understand or realize something
- "In this honors class, you'll need to do about one to two hours' of homework EACH night to keep up. I hope you get the picture," Mr. Brill warned.
- In the 1958 movie, "South Pacific," this woman asked her friends, "Get the picture?"
get up: wake up and leave the bed; rise from sitting or lying down
- What time do you usually get up on the weekends?
- After a long break, sometimes it's hard to get up and get back to work.
get up and go: pep; energy level
- If you're lacking get up and go, maybe it's time to start an exercise program.
- Grandpa used to say, "My 'get up and go' got up and went!"
get well soon: a wish for someone to recover full health
- After grandma was sick, lots of her friends sent her Get Well Soon cards that lifted her spirits.
get your act together: to get organized and set correct priorities
- Billy is really smart, but he just can't get his act together. He's 30, can't hold a job, and he's still living in his mother's basement.
Get the picture? There are LOTS of ways we use "get" in English, but I don't have time to get to all of them.
This very funny "Mom Song" claims to take all the things a mom (or maybe dad) will tell a child in 24 hours, and reduce it to only three minutes. If you listen at 1:53, you will hear about TEN idioms that start with "Get." Take a listen!
(For more about Moms and Mother's Day, check out this blog post.)
There's "Get a dose of your own medicine," "Get cracking," "Get the lead out," and lots more! To get a better idea of more English idioms, check out our blog post. But time is getting away from me and I need to get some other things done now, so I need to get this post wrapped up and get it online.
Recently I was teaching an online student from Beijing, China, and she explained she had learned from her outstanding DreyerCoaching.com Team teacher that the word "phenomenon" is not used very often in English, and that it refers to some occurrence that is rare, remarkable, or unusual. That student is exactly right, and her teacher taught her well! In fact, other than my book Write Like a Champion (p. 90), I am not aware of any other books that mention this little nugget of language learning. I often tell my students, "Many things in Chinese and English you cannot translate directly." "Phenomenon" is one word that DOES have a direct translation in Chinese (现象); however, the USAGE is different. Basically, Chinese uses this word often, while English uses it rarely. Again, in English, it usually refers to some odd happening that is rare and amazing.
- The Northern Lights are a remarkable phenomenon that we almost never see in the Southern US, because they normally occur near the North Pole.
- Twins are rather rare, but having one white and one black, is a truly remarkable phenomenon, as is the case of these twin sisters in England.
In contrast, this word is commonly used and heard in Chinese. So, when Chinese speakers speak English, they might say things like:
- I feel frustrated when I lose my keys. Have you ever had that phenomenon before? (Sounds Chinglish)
- It's better to say, "I feel frustrated when I lost my keys. Has that ever happened to you before?"
The same is true with the word "comfortable." This word also has a direct translation in Chinese (舒服). There is also a direct translation for "feel comfortable" (感觉舒服). However, like "phenemenon," this word is used more in Chinese than in English, and it is used in more contexts in Chinese than in English.
In English, it is USUALLY used to describe a PHYSICAL state of feeling relaxed and pleasant.
- This new sofa is really comfortable.
- The students don't like the wooden chairs in their classroom; they are too uncomfortable.
It can also describe an emotional state:
- I feel uncomfortable when the boss keeps staring at me.
- I don't feel comfortable asking to borrow too many things from my friends.
In Chinese, though, it is often used in a way relating to health or illness. So, here a Chinese speaker in English might say:
- My stomach feels uncomfortable, so I'll have to miss school today. (Sounds Chinglish)
Americans would probably say instead: My stomach doesn't feel well, so I'll have to miss school today.
OR I have a stomachache, so I'll have to miss school today.
OR My stomach doesn't feel well, so I'll have to miss school today.
- My body feels uncomfortable. I want to see a doctor. (Sounds Chinglish)
(In this case too, "body" is a word that is used more in Chinese (身体) than in English.) Americans would probably say the above sentence as:
- I don't feel well. I want to see a doctor.
- OR I feel sick. I want to see a doctor.
So, learning a foreign language is funny. Some things you can translate directly, and some you can't. And some words that CAN be translated directly, are used more often or rarely in different languages, and in different contexts.
The upshot? Practice, practice, practice!
Ask Scott Dreyer
This question comes from Amy, a student in one of our Basic English online classes.
Q: What's the difference between a gorilla and an ape? Are they the same? And are they monkeys? --Amy in Shenzhen, China
A: Great question! Thanks for asking.
Actually, apes (Chinese 猿 Yuán) are a kind of animal family, and gorillas (Chinese 大猩猩 Dà xīngxīng) are one kind of animal in that family. It's kind of like saying birds are a kind of animal family, and sparrows are one kind of bird in that big group. In addition to gorillas, the ape family also includes chimpanzees (called "chimps"), orangutans, and some would add humans too. Monkeys are NOT In the ape family. Apes do NOT have tails, but monkeys do.
Gorillas are the biggest members of the ape family: some can weigh up to 600 pounds (272 kg)! Gorillas live in Central Africa and are known to be highly intelligent. In a recent DreyerCoaching.com advanced vocabulary class, the student had a reading passage about Koko the Gorilla. I was impressed to learn that Koko learned to communicate with sign language, and she even learned the word for "birthday." She loved cats, and when the trainer asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she replied "kitten." On her birthday, she opened her gift and found a stuffed toy kitten. She was so angry, she threw it away! The trainer later gave her a real kitten, which she loved and cared for. When they asked Koko what she wanted to name her pet kitten, she replied "All Ball." They think maybe it was because the kitten did not have a tail and looked like a ball of fur, so that's why she named it that. Incredibly, Koko was even able to use sign language to tell jokes...and even to tell lies!
Sadly, All Ball was later killed by a car; see the amazing video of Koko playing with All Ball, then grieving over her loss, in this remarkable short video.
Learn more about Koko the Gorilla here.
Here is another amazing gorilla story! Louis, a male gorilla at the Philadelphia Zoo, seemingly likes to keep his hands clean--especially when he's eating a snack--so he often walks on his two hind legs, like a human!
While gorillas live only in Africa in the wild, monkeys can be found in Africa, South America, and Asia.
Language Fun: several years ago, a friend of ours from Hsinchu, Taiwan came to visit our family in Roanoke, Virginia for the Thanksgiving holiday from her school. She had not lived in the US for long then, and it was her first visit to Virginia. Her flight arrived at night. After we picked her up at the airport and were driving her to our home, we were telling her about our city and some of the fun things we planned to do over that Thanksgiving holiday. One of the most famous sites in our city is the Mill Mountain Star, a star built in 1949 that lights up each night and is the most famous icon of our Valley. Even though our friend spoke good English, we tried to tell her about things in Chinese. So, part of our story went kind of like this:
"There is a big star on the moutain. It is a very famous star here. You can see it every night. It's so big, you can see it from many miles away. It's so big, sometimes when you fly into Roanoke, you can see it from the airplane. We will make sure we take you to see it while you are here. We are sure you will love it."
It seemed kind of strange to me, but when we told her about the star that is so popular here in Roanoke, she did not seem very excited about going to see it!
What we did not realize was, when we were staying "star," meaning 星星 Xīngxīng in Chinese, she thought we were saying 猩猩, which is also pronounced Xīngxīng, but which means GORILLA!
So, when we were trying to tell her we would take her to see the huge star, she thought we were going to take her to see a huge GORILLA that lived on the mountain, and that sounded scary to her! NO WONDER she did not want to go there!
Learning a new language is a lot of fun, and you have to be able to laugh at yourself!
Would you like to improve YOUR vocabulary? Contact Scott today to find out how we can help you!
This question comes to us from Linda, the mother of a DreyerCoaching.com student in Beijing, China, after we had a class about Christmas reading my blog post.
Q: What is the difference between the words "holy" and "holly"?
A: That's a great question, Linda! It goes to show you, just ONE LETTER can make a BIG DIFFERENCE! Both words relate to Christmas, as we saw in class. However, they are two different words with very different meanings.
HOLLY is a green bush with red berries. It has sharp leaves but, because it's evergreen, it's green all winter. Plus, since it has red berries and green and red are the dominant (main) colors of Christmas, it is often used in Christmas decorations or on Christmas cards, like this card from around 1900. You pronounce HOLLY with a short o sound, so it rhymes with MOLLY or FOLLY. You can hear it here.
Holly, when it is capitalized, is also a woman's name.
There is a beatiful English Christmas carol called "The Holly and the Ivy."
HOLY only has ONE L. It is pronounced with a LONG o, like you hear in ONLY, OWN, and ROLL. You can hear it here. Holy means "sacred; dedicated to God or religion; set apart for a pure purpose." People talk about the Holy Bible, Holy Spirit or a holy place. There is a famous, beloved Christmas carol called "O Holy Night."
Q. What is the difference between "sledding" and "skiiing"? Are they the same in Chinese? -- Kevin from Yangzhou, China
A. Great question! This is one of those tricky areas, where Chinese has one word for something, but English has two or more. Other examples include shade/shadow; expect/look forward to (see item #16); and look/watch/see/read (see item #1).
Sledding and skiing are both translated as 滑雪 (Huáxuě) in Chinese. They are similar in that, yes, you are going down a snowy hill for fun. However, there are some big differences.
SKIING is where you stand on two slats, or boards, called skiis and go down a hill or mountain. (Well, I had a remarkable British friend in Taiwan, Jim, who had only one leg, and thus skiied on one ski in Colorado.) Skiing can be just for fun, but it can also be a serious, competitive sport; it is a famous event in the Winter Olympics. Because you usually ski a long distance down a mountain, people usually ski at a ski resort, where you go down a set course and ride a chairlift back up again. Since skiiling is done at a resort and requires specialized equipment and lift tickets, it is an expensive sport. Also, since skiiing is usually fast and ski slopes are crowded, skiiing can be dangerous, sometimes fatal, as in the sad case of a member of the famous Kennedy family.
Since skiing requires extended cold weather and steep mountains, popular skiing areas in the US are New England, Northern California, Colorado, and Utah. Even though West Virginia and Western Virginia are in the Southern US, they have pretty high mountains and some ski resorts here too, like Wintergreen Resort.
Cross-country skiing is an exercise also done on skiis, but in this case, you usually ski through the woods, not down a commercial slope. Since you have to climb hills in addition to skiing down, it is excellent exercise. Since there are no lift tickets, this is a cheaper sport than downhill skiing.
Water-skiing is a hot weather sport, where you stand on two skiis (one if you're especially skilled) and a boat pulls you across a lake or flat river.
SLEDDING is where you sit on a sled; it's usually made of plastic, but some are made of wood and have metal runners, or blades. Unlike skiing, which is a competitive sport, sledding is usually done just for fun, and the only competition is seeing who can go down the hill fastest or go the farthest. Normally children go sledding, but sometimes parents go along for fun too. When I was a kid, I loved to go sledding on hills near our home in Roanoke, Virginia, and as parents, my wife and I enjoyed taking our kids sledding at a park near our home. We often sledded too, to get in the fun! (To see what else we do in the US on Snow Days, read this blog post.)
Normally you sled down a small hill and walk back up, so there is no chairlift. Other than buying the sled, there are no other expenses.
In Alaska and Canada, dog sledding is a serious sport where a team of dogs carries the leader and gear over large distances. The Iditarod is an epic race that covers 1,049 miles (1688 km), which honors Alaska's status as the 49th U.S. state.
Another winter sport is snowboarding. (Chinese: 单板滑雪). This is like skiing, but it is done on one board, not two skiis.
A SLEIGH is a vehicle that is on runners (blades) and is pulled by horses. Children in the US look for Santa and his sleigh filled with toys on Christmas Eve. In Santa's case, his sleigh is pulled by reindeer. Santa's sleigh is a popular Christmas decoration.
To make things more confusing, both nouns SLEIGH and SLED have the SAME Chinese translation, 雪橇 (Xuěqiāo), but they are actually different things. A sleigh is larger, can usually hold several people, and requires a large animal to pull it, while a sled is smaller, usually holds just one or two people, and only moves when it goes down a hill.
So there you have it! Skiing and Sledding are the same in Chinese, but are different in English, and SLED and SLEIGH are also the same in Chinese, but different in English.
With DreyerCoaching.com, not only do you learn English, but you also learn about life in the USA! Contact me today to find out how you can join a class and improve your English!
This question comes from a mother in Shenzhen, China.
Q. What is the difference between "carpet", "rug," and "mat"?
A. That is a GREAT question. One problem is, "carpet" and "rug" have the same name in Chinese: ditan (地毯). These items are similar in that they are a piece of covering on a floor. However, there are some important differences that should make it clear.
A CARPET is usually big enough to cover 100% of a floor. You might hear the phrase "wall to wall carpeting" to describe a room or house. Also, a carpet is usually cut to the exact size and shape of the room, and is installed and attached to the floor so it cannot move around. Once you place it, it stays there usually until you want to throw it away and get a new carpet. Also, in the US at least, a carpet often does not have a pattern; it is just one color.
A RUG, in contrast, is usually smaller than carpet and covers only part of a floor. It is not attached so the floor, so you can easily move it to different parts of a room, or even different rooms. Rugs often have a pattern and are rectangular in shape, but some are round or oval.
A MAT is what is called dianzi (垫子) in Chinese. It is usually even smaller than a rug, maybe a little thicker, and is often placed right in front of a door or in a place where a person stand often and needs extra cushioning for their feet. (For example, I have a standing desk in my office, and it came with a cushioned floor mat so, if I stand for hours, my feet and legs will still feel comfortable.) There are different kinds of mats for different purposes. A WELCOME MAT or DOORMAT is in front of the front door; it serves to welcome guests and is a place to wipe off one's feet. (Most Americans wear their shoes into homes.) An EXERCISE MAT is foamy and even thicker. One can lie on it and exercise or stretch. A PLACE MAT is different in that it goes on a table and is below the plate, silverware, and cup.
A student in Beijing just asked me about the difference between a MAT and a PAD. A PAD can be the pillow-like cushion on a chair, sofa, or even a bed. Also, whereas a MAT is always on the floor or ground, a PAD is usually on a piece of furniture. (Also, PAD is one of those English words that has MANY uses: You can write on a pad of paper. You roll a computer mouse across a mouse pad. Females use a pad for women's hygiene. You can use a pad to shock a heart back into action, etc. And of course there is the famous ipad.)
We also have some idioms that use "carpet" and "mat."
- "Call somone on the carpet."
Meaning: to loudly scold, blame or criticize someone
Origin: In old factory days, workers stood on a hard floor and the only carpet was in the boss' office. And often, workers were called to the office just to be scolded or corrected, so to be "called on the carpet" means you're in trouble.
Chuck got called on the carpet when we was late to work three days in a row.
No one likes to get called on the carpet, so a wise teacher (or parent or boss) knows that correction should normally be done in private, whenever possible, without others watching.
- "Don't be a doormat."
Meaning: do not be so weak and accepting, that other people feel like they can treat you badly or meanly.
Origin: If someone feels like they can be mean to you or take advantage of you, we say "You let that person walk all over you." And since a doormat is on the floor and people walk on it, we say, "Don't be a doormat."
Richard is so weak and spineless, he lets everyone at work walk all over him but he still does most of the work. He's got to stop being such a doormat.
It is important for a husband and wife to compromise and cooperate to make the marriage successful, but that does not mean that one member of the marriage treats the other like a doormat. Respect has to go both ways.
Here are some good quotatations about NOT "being a doormat."
Origin: When a president or king visits a country, the hosting president often has a long, red carpet rolled out to show how much they respect and welcome their new guest. From this we also get the idiom, "Roll out the red carpet."
The King of Saudi Arabia gave President Trump the red carpet treatment when Trump visited the Middle East in 2017.
Our boss told us we will roll out the red carpet when the company president comes to visit from New York next month, to give him a good impression of our office. (Note: this is symbolic language. The boss will probably NOT have an actual red carpet, but will make fancy preparations to welcome the company president.)
- "Wear out the welcome mat." Meaning: to overstay one's welcome; to be a guest at the host's place too long, so as to become annoying
Origin: The Welcome Mat represents a warm welcome, and to wear out something means to use it too long, so that it is no longer good.
Examples: Looking at his watch, Uncle Fred said, "It's 9:00 already; we don't want to wear out the welcome mat, so we'd better be going. Thanks for dinner!"
The famous Benjamin Franklin warned against wearing out the welcome mat with his saying, "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days."
Want to know more English idioms? Check out our blog post!
Do YOU have a question about English? Do you want to join a class to improve your skills? Contact Scott today to find out how!