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Scott Dreyer

Scott Dreyer

A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 19:39

Language Drills

Do you remember times in school when you thought the teacher sounded like the teacher in Charlie Brown, kind of like this?


As a teacher since 1987, I wonder how many times I sounded like that to my students? And when it comes to teaching a foreign language, I think the risk for sounding like this can be HIGH. Much research shows that a foreign language should be taught in the target language, as much as possible. But many times it's easy to talk ABOUT the foreign language instead of IN the foreign language, and there is a difference.


A slow, boring pace can be another "cardinal sin" of teaching. Sure, teachers don't want to go so fast that we lose or frustrate our students. However, it is easy to go so slowly, that we bore them too.  At, we want to find the right class speed. Not so fast we "lose" our students,  but not so slowly that we bore them.


This is where language drills can come in handy.


I first experienced these in the 1980's when I was a student at William and Mary. First, I encountered it as a sophomore student in French 101x. William and Mary required all students to reach a fourth semester in foreign language ability, (which thanks to high school German, I was able to do quickly.) The "x" stands for intensive, because the school offered intensive classes so students could fulfill their foreign language requirement quickly. Here's how it worked: students took French (or another language) with the professor four times a week, Monday - Thursday. Those sessions had the normal explanations, lectures, tests, etc.  However, in the afternoon, the students had a SECOND sesssion, called the "drill session." Here, the groups were kept small, usually eight to ten students, and they were led by an upper-level student. In our case, the drill was a senior girl who had just returned to W&M from her junior year abroad in France.  The professors gave the drill instructors a dozen or so drills to do each day, drills that gave us intensive practice using the grammar points we had learned in our lecture class that morning or in the previous day or so.


Drill topics might include vocabulary practice; working with masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns; verb tenses; forming questions, etc. 


How drills worked:


It was called "drill" because it literally "drilled" the information into our heads! The instuctor gave us the clue, a sample response, as a group we gave a choral response. We did this about 3-4 times, for some familiarity. Then she would give the same clue as we had in the choral response, snap her fingers, and point to one of us. If we got it right, great; then she went to clue #2 and the next student. If we got it WRONG, she just repeated the clue, snapped her fingers again, pointed to ANOTHER student, who then (hopefully) got it right, then she snapped her fingers and pointed to the person who got it wrong, giving that person the chance to say it correctly this time. If the student STILL missed it a second time, she repeated that procedure AS LONG AS IT TOOK for that person to get it right. So the good news is, the student ALWAYS got it right--it just might take awhile. But at least the student DID get it right, and that was a confidence booster. The teacher did a combination of  individual and group questions: usually about 3/4 individual questions, and 1/4 group questions. The teacher both starts and ends each individual drill with the choral response. You start with it to build confidence with the new grammar structure, and you end with it to end on a successful note. This intense drill session went on for 50 minutes, without a break! Needless to say, we learned A LOT of French that year!


Two years later, when I returned to W&M from my junior year abroad in Germany, I was thankful when some professors asked me to be a drill instructor for German 101x. That experience let me make some new friends, help people learn German, earn some extra pocket money, AND it was my first paid teaching gig! So even though I did not get my Virginia teacher's license and start full-time teaching until 1987, I actually became a paid instructor  in 1986, as a (very part-time) staff at William and Mary! 


So let's talk about English.


There is NO SHORTAGE of places where students can learn English. However, I wish I had a nickel for each time a student or parent told me, "I [my child] learned English for years, but never learned to speak it. Every time I [my child] sees a foreigner, all I [my child] can say is 'Hello. How are you?'"


So, with, one of our main ways to add value is to give our students lots of chances to speak English so they build their skills and confidence. 


Let's say you want to teach a key, high-frequency  language point. Sometimes, we need the slow, methodical explanation. For our basic learners, explaining it in Chinese can be a HUGE help too. But to give the students LOTS of chances to have verbal practice, and to keep the class pace lively, look for times to use drills. For each drill, I suggest using 5-7 clues, and use them over and over till the group can master the grammar point.)



Drill 1. Teaching "be" verb conjugations. The teacher should show a chart of some visual, maybe in the book, and explain how the "be" verb changes based on the pronoun. (Note: Chinese has NO verb conjugations! So that's one reason why Chinese is easy to learn, but it's hard for Chinese speakers to learn English.)

After the (brief) grammar lesson, try a drill. 

T: Teacher

SS: all students in class (choral response)

S1: first student

S2: second student, etc.


One idea behind drills is to START EASY, where the students only have to produce one item. You can add complexity as you go on, by gradually adding new elements to each drill sentence.

In person, the teacher snaps his fingers, then turns and points to the student who is supposed to speak. However, in an online class, the teacher can give the clue, then call the student's first name.)


T: I ... I am nice.    I... (waves arms in sweeping fashing, to signal "choral response.")

SS: I am nice.

T: I ... I am nice.   I... (waves arms in sweeping fashing, to signal "choral response.")

SS: I am nice

(Repeat 3-4 times, so students are confident with it. EACH student should be repeating.)

T: I  ... Jessica

Jessica: I am nice.

T: I ... Tom

Tom: I am nice.

T: You ...  Jerry

Jerry: You are nice.

T: You are nice. (wave arms for choral response)

SS: You are nice.

T:  He ...  Jack

Jack: He is nice.

T: They ... Jessica

Jessica:  They is nice.

T: They ... Jack

Jack: They are nice.

T: They ... Jessica 

Jessica: They are nice  (teacher smiles)

T: Mrs. Smith ... Fred

Fred: Mrs. Smith is nice.

T: Mr. and Mrs. Smith ... Jessica

Jessica:  Mr. and Mrs. Smith are nice.

T: You ... Jerry

Jerry: You are nice.

T: You  (wave arms for choral response)

SS: You are nice

(repeat 2-3 times, to build confidence and end on successful note.)


Drill 2: Reviewing "be" conjugations and teaching nationalities

Note: Give the pronoun and country; then model for students to conjugate the verb and say the adjective. Notice how this drill is a bit harder: the students have to conjugate the verb AND change the country to an adjective. Ideally, we want to always be moving our students to higher and higher levels of complexity and competence. 


T: I ... China (wave arms for choral response)

SS:   I am Chinese.

(repeat 3-4 times to build confidence)

T: You ... Russia   (Jack)

Jack: You are Russian.

T: He ...  Vietnam  (Fred)

Fred: He is Vietnamese

T: They ... Mexico  (Jessica)

Jessica: They are Mexican

T: She... Brazil  (Tom)

Tom: She is Brazilian

T: We ... France (Jack)

Jack: We are French

(Note: try to keep the clues consistent. That is, always use "they/Mexico, she/ Brazil, we/France" etc.  


Drill 3: Countable and non-countable nouns (Note: Again, Chinese does not have this distinction, so it's a challenge for our students to master this. And let's face it: many native speakers of English make mistakes here too. How often do we see the ad "Less Calories"?)

T: Tomatoes ... delicious  (wave arms for choral response)

SS: Tomatoes are delicious

(repeat 3-4 times)

T: Milk .. delicious (wave arms for choral response)

SS: Milk is delicious

(repeat 3-4 times)

T:  Pizza ... Fred

Fred: Pizza is delicious

T: Chicken ... Jessica

Jessica: Chicken is delicious

T: French fries ... Tom

Tom: French fries are delicious.

T: ice cream ... Jack

Jack: Ice cream is delicious

T: ice cream cones  ... Jessica

Jessica: Ice cream cones is delicious 

T: ice cream cones ...  Tom 

Tom: ice cream cones are delicious

T: ice cream cones ... Jessica

Jessica: ice cream cones are delicious

T: peas...  Jerry

Jerry: peas are delicious

T: Peas are delicous (wave arms for choral response)

SS: Peas are delicious 

(repeat 3-4 times)


Drill 4: Forming questions

(Language note: It is easy to form most questions in Chinese. Many times you just say the sentence, then add the question word "ma" at the end, and that makes it a question. So, when one has to switch the word order to make a question in English, that is difficult for many students.)


T: You are a student.... Are you a student?

(Repeat 3-4 times)

T: You are a student (wave arms for choral response)

T: You are a student .... Fred

Fred: Are you a student?

T: He is an American ... Jerry

Jerry: Is he an American?

T: We are going ... Tom

Tom: Are we going? 

T: She is from France. ... Jessica

Jessica: Is she from France? 

T: They are from Japan ... Fred

Fred: Are they from Japan?

T:  They are from Japan ... Are they from Japan? (wave arms for choral response)

Are they from Japan? 

(repeat 3-4 times)



Drill 5: Using irregular verbs in past tense

These are difficult for even native speakers, so they are very hard for ESL learners.  Let's say you want to drill these: be, bring, eat, get,  read, ride. Say the infinitive form of the verb. Pause 1 second. Then say the sentence with the present tense. Students say the sentence in the past tense. 


(Note: Here is a list of irregular verbs. Some are more commonly used than others.)


T: BE.  He is happy. 

He was happy. (repeat 3-4 times)

T: He is happy.   He was happy. (Teacher waves arms for choral response) 

SS: He was happy.

T: BRING...She brings cookies to the party....  Tom

Tom: She brought cookies to the party.

T: EAT... I eat a sandwich.... Jessica

Jessica: I ate a sandwich.

T: GET....He gets a book....  Jerry

Jerry: He got a book.

T: READ...I read a book..... Jack

Jack: I read a book.

T: RIDE...She rides a bike.... Jessica

Jessica: She rode a bike.

T: RIDE: She rides a bike. (wave arms for choral response)

SS: She rode a bike.

(repeat 3-4 times)



Would you like to know more about learning or teaching English online? Contact Scott today.  


Monday, 15 January 2018 15:49

Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon

Presidential Turkey Pardon:


One of the funniest of the Thanksgiving traditions is the annual "presidential Turkey pardon." The US Constitution gives the president great powers, including the power to pardon an accused person of a crime. In a humorous twist, there is a tradition of the US president "pardoning" a turkey at Thanksgiving, saying that that turkey will NOT be eaten. Some claim that tradition began with President Truman in 1947, while others believe it began with President Lincoln during the Civil War. (read more here.) Starting in 1981, under President Reagan, it became the tradition for the spared tukey to live out his life at a children's farm. For many years, the turkeys enjoyed a happy retirement at the ironically-named "Frying Pan Farm" in Northern Virginia, close to Washington D.C.


However, recently the spared turkeys have been sent to Virginia Tech, a famous engineering and research univerity close to the world headquarters of On the Virginia Tech campus, there is a spot called "Gobbler's Rest," where they will live. 


After Thanksgiving 2017, a friend of mine from Taiwan drove to the Tech campus and saw Drumstick and Wishbone, the two turkeys pardoned by President Trump. (Scroll to p. 38 and read the article here, on the top right corner of the page.)


It's another funny USA holiday tradition! 

Friday, 12 January 2018 19:41

Comfortable Phenomenon?

Recently I was teaching an online student from Beijing, China, and she explained she had learned from her outstanding 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.


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  • 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.


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  • 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)

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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!

Let the team at help you! Contact Scott today!





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 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.


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 pronounded 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!


Chinese New Year is coming! 

 每年寒假很多家长很喜欢把握利用寒假期间来加强他们孩子的英文基础。因此, 为此需求开办了进阶小组课和一对一的课程来服务大家。

In honor of the holiday, normal classes will stop from Monday, Feb. 12 - Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. However, during those two weeks, we DO offer two extra kinds of classes! For many years we have offered intensive English classes during the holiday, because schools are out, students have more free time than normal, and many parents and young people want to improve their skills in an intensive way during these two weeks.  For example, during Chinese New Year 2017, we offered two book studies: 1984 and To Kill a Mockingbirdin addition to 1 on 1 classes. Please remember, since our classes are online, you can attend from anywhere you have an internet connection! You can spend all day relaxing and enjoying time with family, and attend just two hours a night, to keep improving your English! (Note: we do NOT have classes on Feb. 15 and 16, Chinese New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.)


Our Class offerings for Chinese New Year 2018 

What Kinds of Classes? Group Classes 小组课 1 on 1 Classes 一对一
What will be the topics students will learn?

课程内容:第二十世记历史的最重要事件之教授---此课程乃是Scott老师 在美国高中教书时所开创的授课资



This year, we are offering a new kind of group class. Scott is to present a history class, an overview of some key events of the 20th Century, using class materials Scott made himself when he taught the class he created, "20th Century European Totalitarianism," at a local public high school. Specific topics include:

  • World War I and its consequences
  • Russia in World War I and the Russian Revolution
  • The Roaring 20's
  • The Great Depression 1930's
  • World War II
  • The Cold War (if time allows)


Topics will depend on the student's English level and interest



Who should take this class?

 Students who want to:

  • deepen their knowledge and undestanding of key 20th historical events
  • improve their social studies vocabulary
  • prepare for later classes in US, European, or world history
  • better understand how the past shaped the world we live in today
Students who want to improve their English skills, 1 on 1, during the Chinese New Year holiday while schools are closed. Students can improve their listening, speaking, pronunciation, vocabulary, reading, and writing skills
What English level is required? Step 8 or 10, Reading/Vocab. 2 or 3, and Writing 5 or 6. The class will be taught in a seminar/lecture format, with many opportunities for Q&A. Since the class pace will be fast and it will include many terms specific to history and social studies, a high-level of English is required.  Any level, Step 1 to Advanced
What are the dates and times of the classes?  Feb. 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 (8 evenings, 16 sessions total), 8:00-8:50 pm and 9:00-9:50 pm China Standard Time   Any evenings, 7:00-10:00, Mondays through Saturdays, Feb. 12-24, 2018
What is the investment?  RMB 1,900, NT$ 8,600 (Registration due by Mon. Jan. 22, 2018. Minimum of 3 students required to open class; spaces limited! Register today! RMB 400, NT$ 1,800, per 50 minute session. You can register for as many 1 on 1 sessions as you like, from Feb. 12-24. (Registration due by Mon. Jan. 22, 2018. Register today!)
Who will teach it? Scott Dreyer  A highly-qualified Team Teacher (we will attempt to match the student with his or her normal school year teacher, when available.)
How to find out more or register?  Contact Scott today!  Contact Scott today!


Some topics and people we'll learn about in our group class!


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Monday, 08 January 2018 19:52

New Year's Day

In the USA, the "holiday season" runs from the late fall, around Halloween and Thanksgiving, through Christmas, till New Year's Day, January 1. 


Since many people stay up till midnight on New Year's Eve, December 31, to "ring in the new year," those people may sleep in and wake up a bit tired on January 1. And for those who felt the need to hit the bottle on New Year's Eve, they may enter the first day of the new year with a headache too! 


New Year's Day is a USA federal holiday, so banks, schools, national parks, and post offices, etc. are all closed, as well as many businesses. (In fact, schools and colleges are all closed for about a two- to four-week period, in honor of Christmas and New Year.)  


Frankly, compared to Christmas, in which excitement builds for several weeks, New Year's Day is generally low-key. Many people sleep in that day, and they may later call, text, or visit friends or family, wishing them a happy new year.


One traditional New Year's Day dish is "Hoppin' John." It's made with black-eyed peas, tomatoes, and cornbread. Some believe eating it on January 1 will bring good luck in the new year. I still clearly remember New Year's Day, 2015. My family and I had just moved into our new home, which is also the office of Dreyer Academy LLC, just a few days before, during the week between Christmas and New Years.  (As teachers, we wanted to move during a time when school was closed, so we did not have to teach, and could just focus on the move.) By January 1, parts of our house had been set up, but we still had lots of boxes sitting around too. (Moving is a lot of work and hassle!) Mom and Dad wanted to give us a break, so they came over that day and, while Dad helped us unpack some boxes, Mom made Hoppin' John for us. It was delicious, and it was great having a hot, homecooked meal made for us right there, so we could enjoy that in the middle of our busy unpacking day.


Here are some photos of us enjoing Hoppin' John on Jan. 1, 2018, at home.  The recipe is here.

                                                                                                                                                                 26230544 10214885644272576 1176092273244290299 n

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With a new year, many people also like to think back on the past year, evaluate what went well and poorly, and make plans for a more successful new year. This is the end of the so-called "holiday season," because most K-12 schools and all stores and regular jobs get back to normal on January 2. (One exception is colleges: their spring term classes normally start one to two weeks later.)


With all the extra eating and festivities from Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, many people have put on a few pounds, so for many people starting on January 2, one of their main goals is to lose some weight!


On the topic of goals and the new year, check out our podcast episode 2018 New Year's message about S.M.A.R.T. goals; this blog post explains more about goal-setting as well.  



In the new year, do YOU have a goal to improve your English? See how we can help you! Contact Scott today! 

Friday, 05 January 2018 12:26

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve is the night of December 31. "Eve" means the night before a big holiday, like in the word "evening," so December 24th is Christmas Eve. ("Eve" is also a woman's name; according to the Bible, she was the first woman on earth, wife to Adam.) New Year's Eve is basically the end of the so-called "holiday season," the time stretching from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. (Some would now say the "holiday season" in the US starts on Halloween, October 31.)  Read more about Christmas and the "holiday season" here


Since New Year's falls exactly one week after Christmas, this is a special time of year. For example, practically all schools and colleges are closed during this period. Most US colleges are closed for about one month, from early December to early/mid January. Most colleges have their fall semester exams before the Christmas (winter) break, so students returning in January start the spring semester. All K-12 schools are closed for Christmas too, usually for about two weeks or so. Most classes resume on January 2. This is why the online classes at also pause for about two weeks at this time each year, and restart on January 2. 


New Year's Eve is such a big holiday, most businesses close that day, or at least close early. For example, most grocery stores that are open 24/7 all year, close only twice a year: over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and again on New Year's Eve until the morning of New Year's Day, January 1. 


Americans celebrate New Year's Eve in many ways. Some prefer to stay at home, just with family, and have a quiet evening. Others like to invite some friends over, or else go out with friends. Many people like to stay up till midnight and "ring in" the new year.  Some families like to stop right at midnight, hold hands, and pray as the new year starts, asking for God's guidance and blessing in the new year.  For many people, drinking alcohol is a big part of New Year's Eve. While some people must think it's fun to hit the bottle, we should also remember that drinking and driving is very dangerous, and can hurt or even kill people. Plus, it seems to me, it is better to wake up on the first morning of the new year feeling good and fresh, instead of having a bad headache or hangover


Since the world is round and has 24 time zones, different parts of the world celebrate at different times. For us here in Virginia, USA, we are 13 hours behind East Asia, and six or seven hours behind Europe, so if we check the news around lunch time, we'll see news reports of New Year's Eve fireworks in places like Australia, Hong Kong, or Taiwan, and around dinner time, we'll see celebrations from London, Berlin or Paris


Here is a video of some New Year's Eve celebrations in Asia! Notice how beautiful the fireworks in Hong Kong are-- you can enjoy them in the sky AND reflecting on the water of Victoria Harbor!


My wife and I had a remarkable New Year's Eve 2016, welcoming 2017, on board a small boat in Hong Kong's famous Victoria Harbor. You can practice your listening and hear the story here.  Check out some of the images from that beautiful night, below. 


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One iconic New Year's celebration is watching the ball drop in Times Square in New York City. Starting on New Year's Eve 1907 to welcome 1908, there has been a ball drop slowly from a pole to welcome the new year each December, except for 1942 and 1943, because of blackouts for World War II. Some report that more than 1 billion people watch this on TV, and thousands crowd into Times Square that day, to get a spot to watch it. Since the crowds are so huge, people have to go early that day to get a spot, and if you leave, you won't get your space back! 


You can watch a video of the 2017 Ball Drop here. Listen for the traditional New Year's Eve song, Auld Lang Syne, right at the stroke of midnight. Since the famou ball drop is in New York City, listen next for the famous Frank Sinatra song,   New York, New York. 


On New Year's Eve, in addition to celebrating, many people think back on the past year, both the good and bad things that happened, and make plans for the new year just ahead! 


To find out about the next day, New Year's Day, read here


Thanks for reading!


Do YOU need help with English, or knowing how Americans celebrate holidays? Join an online class! Contact Scott today to find out how!




Saturday, 30 December 2017 02:38

Zig Ziglar: "I believe in Christmas"

Zig Ziglar (1928-2012) was an author, salesman, and for many, America's premier motivational speaker. He had a way to teach deep truths in a simple way most people could easily understand. (As long as they could understand his Deep South accent, that is!)


I have long been a big fan of Zig, and when he was in his 80s, his health began to fail and he made fewer tours. So, when I found out he was going to speak at the Salem (Virginia) Civic Center, I jumped at the chance to go. I am so thankful I did get to hear him in person, for that was his last visit to our area. 


I have enjoyed reading several of Zig's books, but I always found his quotations to be my favorites. Take a look here


Since he was born in 1926, he grew up in the Great Depression, which began with the Stock Market Crash of October 1929. Remarkably, he remembers a Christmas when he was just six years old...and it was just seven weeks after his father and baby sister had died! His newly-widowed mother had eleven remaining children, and eight were still living at home!  It is amazing what he remembers from that day, and the simple gifts he received, yet  how much he enjoyed them. 


You can read Zig's own story, in his own words, here. 





Saturday, 23 December 2017 23:19

Holly vs. Holy? Ask Scott Dreyer

This question comes to us from Linda, the mother of a 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 leaves. 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 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."


Want to know more about Holly, Ivy, and other Christmas greenery? Read this fine website,



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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


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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.)


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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. 


To learn more about how we celebrate Christmas in the USA, read this blog post.  To read the Christmas story and see where this famous holiday comes from, read this post. 


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, 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!



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