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Vocabulary (28)

Tuesday, 09 July 2019 18:38

Subjunctive Mood

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Matt, a student of ours in Beijing, China, was in one of his classes and asked this great question about this reading passage:


Why does the first paragraph have the word "were"? In China, the teachers tell us to use the word "are." Why is this?

That is a GREAT question! Matt is correct, in that we conjugate the present tense verb "to be" by: I am, You are, He/She/It is. In the PAST tense, it is I was, You were, He/She/It was. 

However, this is a special kind of English grammar called SUBJUNCTIVE MOOD. You usually use this when you want to say or write something that is not true, make-believe, hypothetical, a wish, or an impossible situation, or to make a suggestion. The word "If" is a common hint or sign to use the subjunctive mood. Look at these examples:


  • If I were a bird, I would fly away. (make-believe)
  • If you were the president, what would you do? (make-believe/hypothetical)
  • If I were to win a million dollars, I would take a big trip around the world. (hypothetical)
  • I wish I were in college again.... (a wish)
  • If I were you, I would look for another job. (suggestion)
  • I suggest he not smoke when he goes to meet his girlfriend's parents. (suggestion)


There is a beloved musical called Fiddler on the Roof, about a Jewish family in Czarist Russia. The poor farmer uses this grammar point when he sings one of the most famous songs from that show: If I were a Rich Man

(Note: the song is not If I WAS a Rich Man.)


Now, this photo is from a reading book we use at, and this passage is about the famous Botanical Garden near the U.S. Capitol Building. The opening sentence is a question:
What would you see if you were to go on a tour of the United States Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C.?


In other words, the book is asking the reader, "IF you were to visit the Botanical Gardens, what would you see?" Probably most of the students reading this book do NOT live in or near Washington, so probably most children have never visited the Botanical Gardens, and probably never will. Most of the students who read this passage are in East Asia, some 8,000 miles away from D.C., so their chance of visiting that place is very small. So, the sentence uses the subjunctive mood. (However, is based in the US state of Virginia, and we are only about 4-5 hours' drive away from Washington, so come to the US with us and maybe you can visit the Botanical Garden and lots of other wonderful places too!)


There are some other times to use the subjunctive mood in English; please read the links below to find out more. 


Learn more:


Do you want to improve your English writing, vocabulary, and grammar skills? Join an online class with Find out more here. Contact Scott today to find out how!


Saturday, 27 April 2019 18:22

Sure vs. Unsure Language

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clients 410x210

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:


 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....
 Clearly  Possibly
 Surely  I am not sure that....
 There is no doubt that...  There is some doubt that...
  Maybe / Perhaps
  I suggest...
  In my opinion...


Do you want to improve your communication skills in English? We can help you with your SPOKEN and/or WRITTEN English. Contact Scott today to find out more!



Thursday, 24 January 2019 12:56

Word Choice

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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.

Sample sentences:

  • 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.   


Bauer begins:


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?


Essay 1:

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?


Essay 2:

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!
  • 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 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! 


Tuesday, 15 May 2018 18:02


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"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 .

Scissors are also sharp. They are used to cut a length of material or paper.

scissors and knife

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.



Sample sentences:

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 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!

And if you REALLY want to sharpen your English, join one of our online classes! Contact Scott today to get started!


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. 

Hebrews 4:12 ESV

Hebrews 4:12 Simplified Chinese

Hebrews 4:12 Traditional Chinese


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!



Thursday, 10 May 2018 18:56

How to pronounce /-ed/ at the end of a Verb

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English is a crazy language!


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.

hated (hate-id)

wanted (want-id)

painted (paint-id)

ended (end-id)

decided (decide-id)

suggested (suggest-id)

started (start-id)

completed (complete-id)

repeated (repeat-id)

budgeted (budget-id)


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.

hoped /t/

laughed /t/

based /t/

faxed /t/

watched /t/

washed /t/

liked /t/

talked /t/

walked /t/

Couple Walk Walking Woman Man Beach Together 2817335


Rule 3: This is the easiest rule of the three; all other sounds end with /d/!

played /d/

cried /d/

cleaned /d/

grabbed /d/

allowed /d/

mentioned /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" With our all-American, professional teaching team, we can help YOU sound better and better when you speak English! Find out more hereContact Scott today to find out how we can help you!


Sources:  and

Thursday, 29 March 2018 18:25

Heritage vs. Inheritance? 遗产 / 遺產

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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 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, 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 for many years, and we see the results of that with his excellent vocabulary and sharp curiosity. At, 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! 


Thursday, 25 January 2018 16:29

Small World!

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As a child, I remember riding the popular "It's a Small World" ride at Disney World in Florida. A common English saying is "It's a small world," when we hear a story about people far away having some chance encounter or seeming coincidence. 
The words "small world" came to me twice this week when I heard from two team teachers. 
This story came from Mrs. Armistead:
"The most amazing thing happened in Step 4 today.  Scott and I had taken our friend from China to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Monday afternoon to see the Terracotta Army exhibit.  It was great!   I was very excited to share with my students.  So today in class I showed them the pictures I had from the museum and was ready to share views from the internet as well.  Suddenly Bruce pipes up - that's where I am!  He and his family were in Xi'an and had seen the site yesterday!  They leave tomorrow.  I couldn't believe the timing!  So Bruce was able to tell us about what he had seen and learned and we encouraged the others to go if they can!  And I encourage you to come to Richmond to see this exhibit if you can!  It will be here until March 11.  It is the first time in it's 80 year history that the VMFA has an exhibit devoted to the art and archaeology of ancient China!
Just had to share this cool story!"
This story is related to Mrs. McKinney:
Mrs. McKinney teaches our Advanced Vocabulary/Reading 2 class. We are only a few weeks away from Chinese New Year, and one morning this week she texted me that her students were not in class. We suspected they thought that our online classes has stopped for the holiday. So, I quickly texted the mothers--in Beijing-- on Chinese social media, explaining that class was on and the teacher was waiting. Within a few minutes, the students joined the class and kept improving their English skills. Even in this technological age, I still marvel that Mrs. McKinney can text me, I can then text Beijing, and within a few minutes, our students in China are meeting with their teacher in Virginia--13 hours and 8,000 miles (12,800 km) away!   
It's a small world after all!
Do you want to make YOUR world a little smaller, and a lot closer to the USA? Join one of our online English classes-- contact Scott today to find out how!
Tuesday, 23 January 2018 12:51


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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


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! 

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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


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. 


Do YOU need more help to get better at English? Get in touch with Scott today! 


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