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September 2006

Friday, 01 September 2006

Bursting for the loo

Actually, to be honest I don’t know whether I’m a dog or cat person either. I’ve never had a dog or cat as a pet, so I can’t put my hand on my heart and say which I prefer. I was surprised that you are required to have a license for a dog in Xi’an. Does this mean that you have to pass a dog keeping test? Did you know that in the UK you need a license for a TV? How about in other countries, what unusual licenses are you required to have for everyday things?

I went to Venice when I was only four or five years old. My only memory of that visit is that I was bursting for the loo, but we couldn’t find any public restrooms. We searched for ages and by that time tears had come to my eyes because I needed to go so badly. In the end, I think a waiter took pity on me and let me use the toilet in his cafĂ©. It’s funny to think that I’ve been to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but all I can remember about it is being desperate for the toilet…

It’s very surprising to hear that a worker in your city who works for a day can only afford to use the bathroom once in Venice. So, I’m not surprised that so many people work abroad to save up some money. Although, I have to say a university graduate working as a pizza delivery boy seems like a waste of talent.

I agree with you about all honest work being valuable, but I’m not sure what you meant by “works cannot be distinguished as honourable and mean.” Could you rephrase it?

You’re posts are getting more challenging for me to correct Jenny…Well done!

Lewis


Today’s useful English

(to) put your hand on your heart

(to be) bursting for the loo/toilet

(to so something) for ages

tears come to your eyes

(to) take pity on someone

(to be) desperate for something

Something is surprising/interesting/exciting

I am surprised/interested/excitied

(to) save up money (for something OR to do something)

a waste of talent/money/time

Saturday, 02 September 2006

Getting an early night

We have the same tradition in the UK. When someone has a birthday we sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to them. When I was at school I always felt sorry for the kids who had birthdays in the summer holidays because they missed out on it. It’s nice that Meg’s classmates sang it for her, though. I’m sure it made her day.

The Japanese also think that noodles will help you to have a long life, but I think most young Japanese people these days want to tuck into a tasty piece of cake on their birthday. Is it because of the influence of western culture? Or is having a cake on your birthday a world-wide phenomenon?

It’s quite late now. Tomono has just returned home from her company trip to Miyazaki in the south of Kyushu. She’s absolutely worn out and has passed out on the sofa. We are going to an amusement park with some friends early tomorrow, so we need to get an early night. I hope to tell you all about our day out later.

I’m happy that you feel encouragement from my comments Jenny. Have a great weekend!

Lewis

Today’s useful English

(to) feel sorry for someone

(to) miss out (on something)

(to) make someone’s day (by doing something)

(to) have a long (and happy) life

(to) tuck in (to something)

the influence of something

in the north/south/east/west of somewhere

(to be) worn out

(to) pass out

(to) get an early night

(to) have a day out

Monday, 04 September 2006

Farewell Jenny

It sounds like we both had a fun weekend. It’s nice to end our month of blogging on a happy note. You described the wedding very well and the picture is great. It certainly looks like it cost an absolute packet!

We had fun at the theme park with our friends. I think I’m getting old, though, because the thought of going on some of the rides filled me with dread. Tomono called me a chicken for not going on one in particular which was a sheer drop of about 100 metres. It made go white with fear just looking at it…

You have worked so hard over the past month and have written some really great posts with lots of great pictures. I really enjoyed reading and responding to your blog. Your posts were becoming increasingly more challenging to correct, which shows how much effort you put into developing your English. I also really liked the way you incorporated lots of useful new phrases into them, too. You set a very good example for other learners by your hard work and commitment. Keep it up and I’m sure you’ll be an even better user of English in the future.

Goodbye and good luck for the future. I’m sure others will join me in saying “give yourself a pat on the back!”

All the best

Lewis

Nice to meet you Anita

The lovely people at BBC Learning English have asked me to continue as the teacher blogger this month, so I'll be doing my best to help you develop your English during September. However, it looks like I'm going to have my work cut out as your English already seems to be of a fairly high level in terms of accuracy and range. I'm looking forward to blogging with you and finding out all about your life in Slovakia. Actually, a good friend of mine has just moved to your country. We used to work together in Osaka, but he has a new position now at the British Council in Bratislava.

Just to refresh your memory I'll briefly introduce myself again. I live in Kobe, Japan with my wife, Tomono. We tied the knot just over a year ago in a traditional Japanese ceremony. She is from the island of Shikoku in Japan. She works for a popular restaurant magazine in Osaka. I was born near London, but only actually lived there for a fortnight. I've since lived in Germany, Belgium, Canada and now Japan. My dad's job meant that our family moved every four or five years or so. I have to say, though, that even though I've lived outside the UK for a sizeable chunk of my life, my language abilities pale in comparison with your family's.

I remember you left a comment on one of my previous posts about your daughter coming back to Slovakia this month. You must be thrilled to bits to see her again. I haven't seen my family since March, so I know the feeling of excitement as the day draws near when you can be with each other again.

I don't think it's unusual for you not to be career-minded; people's priorities in life lie in different places. I think that aspiring to be a good parent is a great thing.

Well, Anita it's getting late and I should catch forty winks otherwise I'll be bleary-eyed in the morning. You've taken your first step today, let's hope that this month turns out to be a giant leap in the development of your English!

Lewis

Useful phrases from today's post

(to) have your work cut out

(to be) thrilled to bits (about something)

(to) refresh someone's memory

(to) tie the knot

a fortnight (Brit. Eng)

something pales in comparison (with something else)

(to be) career-minded

(to) catch forty winks

(to be) bleary-eyed

Wednesday, 06 September 2006

Getting into the swing of it

I'm glad that you've read all of my previous blogs! It's also great to hear that you made notes of all the useful phrases in your exercise book. I hope that you have a chance to use some over the next few weeks.

I think that this is a good time to refresh everyone's memory about how my blog works. In my blog I will respond naturally to Anita's blog. I will correct her English, or reformulate her expressions with more natural English, by writing in bold in my blog. I will also add other useful phrases, collocations or expressions in my blog using italics. In addition, I will list the useful phrases and their patterns at the end of each post. There maybe a lot of phrases, so pick out the ones that you find most useful. This method relies on you, the reader, to 'notice' useful English phrases and patterns. My role is to give you a little nudge in the right direction.

Now, what was I going to write about next? Oh yes... I can empathise with you about writing your first blog. I also had a few butterflies in my stomach before I started, but I'm sure you'll soon get into the swing of it. After a while it'll be plain sailing...

It's funny that you mentioned Queen. In Japan, they have become really popular over the last year. You often hear Queen hits on the radio in memory of Freddie Mercury. It's great that you are really into British music. Does it help you with your English? Do you sing along to the radio while you're doing the washing-up? How about other readers? What English songs do you like to sing along to when you are at home? Personally, I like singing along to new British acts like the Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand, "Well, do ya, do ya, do ya wanna..."

As you said, it's important to have a place to practise speaking in order to improve your English. It's good to hear that you really enjoy spending time at your English club and that you have made lots of new friends.

You may think that your summer wasn't special or action packed, but it's interesting to hear about everyday life in another country. I'm really looking forward to finding out loads more about your life in Slovakia!

Lewis


Some useful phrases from today's post

(to) make notes (of/about something) (in a notebook)

(to) pick out something OR (to) pick something out

(to) rely on someone (to do something)

(to) give someone a nudge (in the right direction)

(to) empathise (with someone) (about something)

(to) have butterflies in your stomach (about something)

(to) get into the swing of something

(something is) plain sailing

on the radio

(something is) in memory of someone

(to) sing along (to the radio/a song etc)

(to) make friends (with someone)

Thursday, 07 September 2006

Kicking myself

It's about 9am and I've just been to take the rubbish out. It's a cool, grey morning and the ground is wet after last night's rain. I think autumn maybe on its way to Japan.

It's a shame you could only say 'hi' to your daughter when she registered on the computer the other day. I sometimes experience a similar situation with my friends or family in the UK because of the time difference. My parents usually come online quite late, so when they are online I'm usually starting to nod off. I hope Csilla and her friends get the internet connected soon, so she doesn't have to go through the hassle of going to the library every time you want to have a chinwag with her. Having said that, she'll be home in a couple of days...

You described the unpleasant journey very well. I could easily imagine the situation. Indeed, I've experienced something similar in Japan on a few occasions. When I first met Tomono’s parents I couldn't speak a word of Japanese, so when Tomono wasn't in the room we just sat there in silence until she came back.

Another time was when I went to a local take-away to pick up some fried noodles. The owner is very friendly and there are usually lots of customers sitting and waiting for their food in the entrance to the shop. The owner chats with everyone and entertains them while they are waiting. When I entered he immediately started talking to me, asking me where I was from and why I came to Japan and so on. I understood his questions and did my best to answer them. However, he then started making a few jokes and saying some things which I couldn't quite catch and everyone started laughing. I didn't have a clue what he was saying, so I started to feel uncomfortable. "Is he making fun of me?" I thought, which was silly because he was just trying to be friendly. For the next few minutes I did my best to make out what he was saying, but I just couldn't. I eventually got my order and left the shop. On the way home I felt terrible and was kicking myself about my poor Japanese. However, it really made me determined to study more. I'm still not great, but I can get by in Japanese now. I've been back to that shop many times since then because I can't resist the smell of those noodles wafting down the street when I walk past.

Well, it's time I was off. I've got to go to the gym to do a little exercise. I've just put lots of great new songs on my iPod, but I'll have to resist the urge to sing along while I'm running or I'll be given a few funny looks by the other members.

Lewis


Some useful phrases from today's post:

(to) take the rubbish out (for collection)

(to) nod off

(to) get/have the internet connected (by someone)

(to) go through the hassle (of doing something)

(to) have a chinwag (informal)

(to be) unable to speak a word (of a language)

(to) sit in silence OR (to) sit silently

(to) make a joke

(to be) unable to catch (what someone is saying)

(to) not have a clue (what someone is saying)

(to) make out (what someone is saying)

(to) kick yourself (about something)

(to) get by (in a language)

(to) do exercise

(to) resist the urge (to do something)

(to) give someone a funny/dirty/strange/angry look

Friday, 08 September 2006

Feeling a bit peckish

I'm sure that Csilla will love the fact that you've given her room a clean so it looks spick and span for when she comes home. I totally agree with you about cleanliness becoming more important as you get older. Keeping things clean and tidy is important to me now, but I was a complete and utter slob when I was young. My mum used to get really wound up about the state of my room. She would also get irritated if I wanted to use anything after she had just cleaned it, which didn’t make any sense to me. "Don’t use the bathroom, I’ve just cleaned it!" she would say. Of course, I would reply, "but mum…I'm bursting!" And then, with a resigned sigh, she would say "Oh, go on then…but don't make a mess!"

I would say that most Japanese people live to eat. I've never been to a country which is more obsessed with food. Japanese TV seems to be mainly made up of programmes about food and cooking. I even know Japanese friends who have travelled by train for six hours just to eat a bowl of noodles.

I have to say that the Japanese diet is very good and incredibly healthy. Traditionally, they eat fish, rice, soup and pickles for breakfast. However, many Japanese people I know prefer a slice of toast and a coffee. They often have a bento for lunch, which is a packed lunchbox filled with a variety of vegetable, fish or meat dishes with rice. Many office workers eat out for lunch as many restaurants have special lunch deals. On Tuesdays, I usually go to a restaurant near my office called ‘Gimpei’ which serves the best fish I've ever had. I don't think that there is a typical dinner in Japan. People eat so many different things, such as sushi, noodles, vegetables, and of course, rice.

British food, on the other hand, has something of a bad reputation. I think many British people are not too bothered about food. We have an expression in English which many people say after they have eaten: "It filled a gap". This pretty much sums up some peoples attitude towards food, in that it is simply there to fill your stomach. However, these days many British people are as obsessed with eating tasty, healthy food as anyone else.

All this talk of food is making me feel peckish. I should go and rustle something up for my lunch

Bye for now.

Lewis


Some useful phrases from today's post:

(to) give something a (good) clean

(to be) spick and span

(to be) clean and tidy

(to be) a (complete and utter) slob

(to) get (really) wound up (about something)

(to) (not) make (any) sense

(to) make a mess

(to) have a good/bad reputation (for something)

(to be) bothered (about something)

"It filled a gap"

(to) feel (a bit) peckish

(to) rustle (something) up (for breakfast/lunch/dinner)

Sunday, 10 September 2006

No room to swing a cat

I didn’t drag myself out of bed until late today. Last night, Tomono surprised me by taking me for a late night picnic next to a local river. We had a lovely evening, chatting and tucking into lots of tasty dishes. After that we popped into a bar, where one of her friend works, on our way home. We ended up staying for a few drinks and so didn’t get back home until after midnight.

The weather is rainy today, which is a relief as the past couple of days have been scorching. On Friday the temperature went back up to about 35C and the humidity was almost unbearable.

Your garden sounds wonderful. You described it so well, I could imagine it perfectly. Unfortunately, our flat only has a small balcony. There’s no room to swing a cat, let alone have a garden. One thing I really miss about the UK is lush, soft, green grass. There is only one park I know of in Osaka where there is nice grass, but you have to pay to enter.

Your son must’ve been exhausted after rooting the trees out in your garden. I guess you would need to work in an ardour to do such a physically demanding task. Have the blisters on the palm of his hand heeled yet?

Personally, I think offering a little extra pocket money to your son for helping out around the house is fine. My dad did the same when I was younger. I think it helped to teach me the value of money.

I hope you are having a great time with your daughter. If only I could have a slice of that cake you baked for her. Sounds absolutely scrumptious

Lewis


Useful English from today’s post:

(to) drag yourself out of bed

(to) tuck into something

(to) pop into somewhere (on your way home)

(to) end up doing something

“There isn’t room to swing a cat”

(to) root something out

(to) do something in an ardour

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

Having a whale of a time

I’m so glad to hear that Csilla got home safely. I’m sure you are having a whale of a time together. I remember when I was 19 and I had just returned from Vancouver in Canada. My parents met me at the airport and when they saw me they gave me such a wonderful, big hug. It didn’t feel like five minutes since we had said goodbye at the same airport seven months earlier and my mum had been in floods of tears. I sometimes think that only when you have been apart for a while do you realise how important people are to you. I think that I took my parents for granted when I was at home. My mum took care of the housework and my dad worked all day. It wasn’t until I was on the other side of the world that I really appreciated them for all they had done for me.

I’m not too keen on Formula 1 to be honest. I used to watch it occasionally with my dad when I was younger, but I’ve never really been into cars so I’m not too fussed about watching it now. I’ve got a few friends who just can’t get enough of it, though. One friend I knew a few years ago used to stay up all night to watch the races. His friend even flew over to Japan from the UK just to watch the Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit. It always surprises me how much people will pay, or what they will do, in order to pursue their interests. Like Star Wars fans waiting in line outside cinemas for days just to see the films before anyone else. Have you ever gone to any great lengths to pursue an interest?

I have to say your house looks very picturesque. And the garden is so green! I’d love a house with a garden, too, some day. It’s no surprise that you love nature and you have so many pets! Tomono always says how much she’d love to have a dog, but keeping a dog in an apartment in the city doesn’t seem right to me. I remember a neighbour of mine used to keep two large dogs in their flat. I felt so sorry for them, being stuck outside on the balcony for most of the day with no space to run around.

Tomono had a similar experience to your son when she was younger. On her way home from school she found a puppy which had been abused and abandoned by the side of the road. She took it home and nursed it back to health. It’s a tiny little thing which still lives at her mum’s house. They named him ‘Toyota’. He really makes me laugh sometimes because he’s so cute and only ever turns left. Tomono’s mum takes really good care of him. She even takes him to a special beauty parlour for small dogs…

Finally, I’d like to believe that we are masters of our own destiny. I’m not comfortable with the idea that life is predetermined. How about in other countries and cultures?

Sorry for rambling on for so long today!

Lewis

Useful phrases from today’s post:

(to) have a whale of a time

(to) give someone a hug

(to be) in floods of tears

(to) take someone for granted

(to) appreciate someone (for doing something)

(to be) (not) keen on (doing) something

(to be) into something

(to be) (not) too fussed about (doing) something

(to) stay up all night (to do something)

(to) fly over (to somewhere)

(to) have a (real) passion for (doing) something

(to) wait in line (to do something) OR (for something)

(to) go to great lengths (to do something)

(to) pursue an interest

(to) keep a dog/cat etc (as a pet)

(to) feel sorry for someone/something

(to be) stuck outside

(to) nurse someone/something back to health

(to) make someone laugh/cry/happy

(to) ramble on (about something)

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Racking my brains...

That truly is an amazing story. It’s the kind of story that films are based on, don’t you think? If it were to be made into a film, which actress would you like to portray you?

I’ve been racking my brains for a similar story, but nothing really compares to that one. The only one I know is the story about how my parents met. My dad told me this story many times when my brother and I were just kids to prove that they were meant for each other. The story goes something like this:

It was a Saturday night and my mum and dad were both getting ready to go out. My dad had arranged to meet up with a friend of his from work. His friend already had a steady girlfriend and had set my dad up on a blind date. At the same time, in another town nearby, my mum was dolling herself up to go dancing with a friend from school.

She went dancing every Saturday in the next town, but on this day her friend called to say that she couldn’t make it for some reason. My mum decided that she would stay home as she didn’t want to go dancing by herself. At about the same time my dad met up with his friend in the town, but he told my dad his blind date wasn't coming - he had been stood up. Feeling disappointed and not wanting to spend the evening feeling like a fifth wheel by hanging out with a couple, he decided to go for a drink by himself.

Just as my mum had resigned herself to staying home, my grandad noticed how glum she was looking and persuaded her to go dancing anyway. He said that she was bound to see some familiar faces at the club. So, reluctantly, she got ready and he gave her a lift in the car.

My dad spent a while walking around the town before he decided to pop into a club for a drink. After ordering himself one he saw a very pretty girl sitting by herself at the side of the dance floor. She looked lonely so he plucked up the courage to ask her to dance. Just as he was about to walk over another boy got there first and asked her. He had missed his chance! However, he stayed for a little longer to finish his drink. Then happily, just as he was about to leave he saw the same girl, sitting alone next to the dance floor. This time he wasted no time in going over to her and asking her to dance.

They’ve been married for 37 years now.

Now, some people may see this as destiny, whereas other might view this as just a series of lucky coincidences. What do you think?

Cute picture by the way!

Lewis


Useful English from today’s post:

(to) portray someone (in a film)

(to) rack your brains (for an idea)

(to be) meant for each other

(to) have a steady girlfriend

(to) set someone up (on a blind date)

(to) doll yourself up

(to be) unable to make it “I can’t make it to the party, sorry!”

(to) meet up (with someone)

(to) feel like a fifth wheel

(to) hang out (with someone)

(to) resign yourself (to doing something)

(be) bound to do (something) – strong possibility

a familiar face

(to) give someone a lift (in a car)

(to) pop into somewhere

(to) pluck up the courage (to do something)

(to) waste no time (in doing something)

a series of (lucky/bizarre) coincidences

Friday, 15 September 2006

Crying into my popcorn

I know exactly how you feel about film versions of books always letting you down in some way. I suppose it’s because after reading the book you have your own unique interpretation of the story, which the film version can never match.

I love all kinds of films, from independent, art-house features to big, dumb, Hollywood blockbusters. However, I usually follow the work of directors whose films have made an impression on me: David Cronenberg, Stanley Kubrick and Christopher Nolan to name but a few. I love thought-provoking films, such as Cronenberg’s ‘A history of violence’ or Nolan’s ‘Memento’, which I have watched countless times and each time it leaves me utterly captivated. The narrative structure is compelling and the lead performance by Guy Pearce is just excellent. I thoroughly recommend it.

I hate that feeling of crushing disappointment when you eagerly await the release of a new film and it just does not live up to your expectations. I am a big fan of the original Star Wars films, but when I saw the most recent ones I wanted to cry into my popcorn…But no matter how much I wanted to, I just couldn’t walk out of the cinema in protest. Jar Jar Binks? What was he thinking? Anyway, it’s been a long time, I should just let it go and get on with my life

I agree with you about Tom Hanks being a great actor. He has starred in so many popular films. I’ve seen Forrest Gump quite a few times, too. However, I’m told that his latest film, The Davinci Code, is a bit of a turkey. I wonder if that one will win any awards come Oscar time?

I must admit that I haven’t read any of Marquez’s books. If they are the page-turners you say they are then I will try to get my hands on one and see for myself.

It’s nice to hear that Csilla is having a relaxing time at home. I’d be interested in hearing her thoughts on life in the UK.

I’ve posted some pictures of myself and Tomono when we were very young. Do you think we make a cute couple?

Lewis

Lewis as a child Tomono as a child


Useful English from today’s post:

something/someone lets you down OR (to) let someone down

an art-house feature

a Hollywood blockbuster

(to) make an impression (on someone)

something is thought-provoking

(to) do something countless times

something leaves you (utterly) captivated

(to) thoroughly recommend something

a crushing disappointment

(to) eagerly await something

(to) live up to your expectations

(to) walk out (of somewhere) (in protest)

(to) let something go

(to) get on with your life

(to) win an award

(to) get your hands on something

(to) hear someone’s thoughts (on something)

(to) make a cute couple

Sunday, 17 September 2006

Deeply Impressed

I thought that now we have reached the half-way point of our blog together, that I would give you my thoughts about your blog so far. I’ll comment on your latest post tomorrow.

Firstly, I really like the range of topics which you have chosen to write about. It’s so great to read about lots of different things which are happening in your life. Your warm personality also clearly comes out in your writing, too. These two points are why you have become such a popular blogger!

Secondly, I am deeply impressed by the sophistication and accuracy of your English, especially as you have only studied English for three years. When I read your blog it’s always a pleasure to see such a variety of natural expressions used in an appropriate way. It’s also pleasing to see many of the phrases I highlighted in my blog, appearing in yours. In this respect you are a model learner.

In addition to this second point, my advice for anyone learning a language is to read as much as you can, but it doesn’t have to be difficult to be useful! You should read books/magazines/newspapers and enjoy the content first of all. Don't immediately reach for a dictionary if you don't understand a word. Instead, try to understand the meaning from the context. After you finish reading you should reread it, but this time try to force yourself to ‘notice’ useful vocabulary – especially phrases and collocations (words which are commonly used together). Make a note of the phrases or collocations and their patterns. For example, is there a dependent preposition? What is the verb form used after it? –ing or to do? If you find a noun, what adjective is used with it? See the end of my blog posts for examples of how to record useful vocabulary.

Thirdly, you write in a clear and logical way which is easy to follow and understand. This is helped by frequent uses of ‘linking words and phrases’ such as ‘I will tell you about...’, 'firstly', ‘next’ and so on. You also usually write in clear, well-defined paragraphs which contain only one main idea. You could try to split longer paragraphs up into slightly shorter ones which focus on one topic – but this is only a suggestion.

Overall, please keep up the wonderful blogging. I really look forward to the next two weeks.

Lewis


Useful phrases which I hope you ‘noticed’ from today’s post:

(to) reach the half-way point of something

(to) give someone your thoughts about something

(to be) deeply impressed by something

(something is) pleasing to see

Monday, 18 September 2006

Itchy feet

Thanks for the interview with Csilla. She certainly seems to have her head screwed on properly – just like her mum! I’m sure that you are very proud of her, and rightly so. I’m really glad to hear that she is enjoying her studies in the UK. At the British Council in Osaka we also have many students who would like to study abroad. Many of them have already gone to the UK to start their degree courses this year. I’ve heard from some of them and they seem to be having just as good an experience as Csilla. How about other visitors? I’d love to hear about your experiences of life in the UK, too.

It’s interesting to read about the different characters of Peter and Csilla. My brother and I are also quite different in many ways. I’ve always had itchy feet, like Csilla. I’ve always been interested in foreign countries and cultures. However, it wasn’t until I was 18 that I travelled far from home for the first time and that was to another English speaking country. Csilla really is a brave girl to do it at 14.

I think Tomono's parents can empathise with you. Tomono went to the UK to study for about five years from the age of 18. Her parents were really reluctant to let her go, but like Csilla, she can be very persuasive and stubborn. Her parents eventually agreed, so naturally, she was over the moon. Just like Csilla, it took her a while to settle in to the lifestyle and get her head around the slang expressions, but her hard work paid off because now her English is great.

Sorry this post is short today. We are just about to go out to Osaka to watch the new Superman film. I’ll let you know what I think about it later.

I hope you had a great weekend!

Lewis


Useful English from today’s post:

(to) have your head screwed on properly

(to) have itchy feet

(to be) reluctant to do something

(to be) over the moon

(to) settle in to a new job/lifestyle etc

(to) get your head around something

someone’s hard work pays off

(to be) just about to do something

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Biting the bullet

First of all, I’d like to congratulate you on your bravery! I know from experience that it can be nerve-racking to speak in a foreign language when many people are listening to you. I know you said that you already knew that it would be difficult for you, but at least you bit the bullet and did it; that takes courage. It’s always afterwards that you look back and kick yourself about what you could have said, but I think you did incredibly well. I’m sure you learnt a lot from the experience and next time you’ll do even better. I hope you enjoy your new English course!

About Superman Returns, I’m a big fan of the director, Bryan Singer. I enjoyed his previous films X-Men and The Usual Suspects very much. As the film started I got goose bumps when I heard the famous theme. I was convinced it was going to be great. The film is shot beautifully and the performance are very good, especially Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey who have fun as the bad guys. Also, the newcomer, Brandon Routh, captures the two sides to Superman’s character very well – his bumbling Clark is spot on. However, I regret to say the film just didn’t do it for me. I found the story far too predictable, and I hate to admit that I was clock watching after about an hour. I felt that the film was a little too long and needed an injection of pace to move things along more quickly. Overall, looks like a millions dollars, but don’t expect anything new.

It’s great that you were dancing around the kitchen while listening to ‘I should have known better’ by The Beatles. Did you sing along at the top of your lungs, too?

Is Peter getting taller every day? How long is it before he will have outgrown his new clothes?

Regarding fashion, in Japan it is incredibly important for many people. I’d never seen so many brand bags before I cam here. I’m not pulling your leg when I say that it seems almost every woman has a Luis Vuitton handbag. There are even nicknames for groups of people who wear certain kinds of clothes: ‘Chaneler’ people wear Chanel, ‘Gucci-er’ wear Gucci. However, the really uniquely Japanese ones are ‘Goshi-loli’ which is abbreviated Japanese for ‘Gothic-Lolita’. These girls wear what look like doll’s clothes; lots of lace, ribbons and puffy skirts with big black boots. If you ever see one, you can never quite believe your eyes…

Personally, I’m not too fussed about wearing the latest fashions. I’m like you in that I wear casual clothes at home and ‘nicer’ clothes when I go out. Tomono rarely wears traditional clothes, except in the summer when she wears a yukata, which is a summer kimono, to go to festivals.

Look at the time! I must get a move on and get ready for work…See you later.

Lewis


Useful English from today’s post:

(to) congratulate someone on (doing) something

a nerve-racking experience

(to) bite the bullet and do something

(to) kick yourself (about (not) doing something)

(to) get goose bumps

something is spot on

something does/doesn’t (quite) do it for you

(to) look like a million dollars

(to) sing along (at the top of your lungs)

(to) outgrow (your clothes)

(to) pull someone’s leg

(to be) unable to believe your eyes - “I can’t believe my eyes!”

(to) (not) be (too) fussed about (doing) something

(to) get a move on (or you’ll be late)

Thursday, 21 September 2006

A hot potato

You really do live at a crossroads of countries and cultures, don’t you? You have Hungarian, Slovakian, Austrian, Czech and more recently migrants from Vietnam living in such close proximity. I remember when I visited Prague a few years ago seeing many Vietnamese people there and feeling quite surprised by it. What is the connection between that area of Eastern Europe and Vietnam?

I personally believe that the signs are a good idea. Indeed they are provocative, but I suppose that is their intent. I think having an honest and open debate about racial issues can help address an issue which has long been brushed under the carpet. I admire the artist who has had the nerve to stand up and challenge people into thinking about the issue.

In the UK, and doubtless many other countries, the issue of race relations has become a hot potato in recent years. I hope that we can get back to having rational thinking on the topic without anyone trying to whip up nationalistic or racist sentiments. It’s sad that some people try to find an easy scapegoat for their own problems by blaming a weaker minority whose voice is often left unheard.

On a lighter note, I was shopping the other day and I saw a shop which sells socks. At the front of the shop was a big sign which read “We support your socks life!” I chuckled to myself at the unusual use of English. There are many such ‘Japanese English’ signs in Japan. Their purpose isn’t for communication, but more to create a foreign atmosphere for Japanese people. I’m curious about other countries; do you have your own special English?

Lewis


Useful English from today’s post:

(to) live at a crossroads of cultures

(to) live in close proximity to someone/something

a/the connection between something and something

(to) have an (honest and open) debate about something

(to) address an issue/problem

(to) brush something under the carpet

(to) have the nerve to do something

(to) stand up and challenge (someone into doing) something

something is a hot potato

(to) whip up trouble/nationalistic feeling etc

(to) find an easy scapegoat (for something)

(to) laugh/chuckle (to yourself) (about somethin)

Friday, 22 September 2006

My mind has gone blank

I’m not sure whether we have a similar idiom in English, I’ll put some more thought into it and let you know if I come up with anything. Unfortunately, at the moment my mind has gone blank…

I’m absolutely hopeless at drawing, too. I used to love art at school, but for some reason I was never any good at it. However, I’m really good at colouring in!

It’s tough to think of things I hate or hate doing. I dislike a whole bunch of stuff, but it’s hard to say if there’s anything I really loathe. But let me see…One thing I strongly dislike is hanging out the washing and bringing it back in again. I find it so tiresome that I often just can’t be bothered to bring all the washing back into the house once it’s dry. I sometimes just go onto the balcony and grab what I need and leave the rest – terrible, I know! I really dislike people who smoke while I’m walking behind them; especially in the morning on the way to the train station. I detest mosquitoes with a passion, for obvious reasons. I don’t hate, but I feel sorry for couples who sit in restaurants in silence while playing with their mobile phones. I can’t stand selfishness or people who lack compassion. I hate it when I get food stuck between my teeth. I hate forgetting if I locked the front door and going back to check – and guess what? It was locked! I could live without reality TV shows. I dislike myself when I obsess over unimportant things. I hate clutter. I don’t really like exercising, but I hate doing nothing even more. I used to hate deep fried chicken cartilage (nankotsukaraage in Japanese), but now I love it, especially with a squeeze of lemon - yum. Not being able to find a matching pair of socks in the morning really irritates me. And, like you, I hate ironing.

I’m sure as soon as I publish this post I’ll think of loads more, but that’s enough I think…

Have a great weekend!

Lewis

Useful English from today’s post

(to) put (some/a lot of) thought into something

(to) let someone know (if you think of something)

(to) come up with an idea/a plan etc

"My mind has gone blank"

(to be) (absolutely) hopeless at something

(to) hang out the washing OR (to) hang the washing out

(to) bring the washing back in again

“I can’t be bothered” (to do something)

(to) hate/detest something (with a passion)

(to) get food stuck/trapped between your teeth

(to) live without something

(to) obsess over something

Sunday, 24 September 2006

Going bright red

I’m not surprised that you were annoyed at that incident. I would have been fuming! At least you got your money back, though. It hardly seems like good customer service, does it? They’d better be careful or they’ll start to lose customers.

Shopping in Japan is a unique experience. I actually have an amusing story about the first time I went to the supermarket here. I had probably only been in Japan a day or so at the time. I was feeling really peckish, so I went to the local supermarket. Everything in there looked so different, so I had no idea what to buy. I spent a long time trying to find something, anything, which I recognised. I eventually picked out some pasta, meat and things like that. Anyway, on my way to the checkout I passed by a plate of small chicken pieces with leeks on small sticks. I was over the moon to find some free food samples, so I grabbed a few sticks and started eating them. Then some other customers started giving me funny looks and a member of staff came running over to me, waving and gesticulating. I didn’t have a clue what he was going on about, so I just smiled and finished off the chicken. After I had swallowed the last piece, the staff member took the wooden sticks from me and placed them into a plastic box, and placed a price sticker on it. Then it hit me! They weren’t free samples at all! My face went bright red as I took my plastic box with two empty wooden sticks in it to the check-out to pay…Have you ever done anything embarrasing in a foreign country? I'd love to hear about it!

Anyway, we’ve got a couple of friends coming over for dinner soon, so I’d better start cleaning up before they get here. I hope you’ve had a great weekend with Csilla.

Lewis


Useful English from today’s post:

(to) get your money back

(to) feel peckish

(to) pick something out OR (to) pick out something

(something, something) and things like that

(to) (not) have a clue

(to) finish off (your food/meal/work)

(realisation) hits you

(your face) goes bright red

(to) go/come over for dinner

Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Keep your chin up

I'm really sorry to hear your news Anita. You’ve really suffered a double-blow recently, haven’t you? Time has really flown since Csilla came home; it feels like only 5 minutes since you were getting all excited about her coming back to Slovakia. I’m not surprised that you were in floods of tears at the airport when you said goodbye.

Your feelings have brought home something to me, actually. After about seven years in Japan, Tomono and I have decided to go back to the UK. We’d been thinking about it for a long time and finally decided in the summer. We both handed in our notices at work and we will be leaving for the UK in mid-December. We are naturally going to miss friends and family here in Japan very much and I expect a lot of teary farewells before we go. Tomono’s family will be going through your emotions before long I’m sure. They want us to be happy, but at the same time don’t want us to go. My family, on the other hand, can’t wait to spend more time with us. I wish there was some way we could keep both sides of our family happy…

We have a lot to think about and plan before we go, so I expect over the next few months we’ll be running around like headless chickens to make sure we’ve done everything. Starting a new life, settling into a new house and finding new work is going to be a real challenge, but one which we are both excited about. Fingers crossed everything goes well!

I’m also really sad to hear about your dog passing away. Tomono’s dog, Sherry, passed away not so long ago and she was absolutely heart-broken. To have such news on top of Csilla leaving must be unbearable. I’m not surprised you want to keep yourself busy to help keep your mind off it.

I would like to say ‘Keep your chin up!’ and I hope you are feeling a little better soon.

Lewis

Useful English from today’s post:

(to) suffer a (double) blow

“time flies”

(to be) in floods of tears

(to) bring something home to you

(to) hand in your notice/resignation

a teary farewell

(to) run around like a headless chicken

(to) start a new life

(to) settle into a new job/house

“Fingers crossed!”

soemthing happens on top of something else

(to) keep yourself busy

(to) keep your mind off something

(to) keep your chin up

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

School days

It’s interesting to read about the education system in Slovakia. It’s quite different from the UK and Japan. I’ll try to summarise the two different systems as concisely as I can:

In the UK, most children these days attend pre-school before they enter primary school at around 5 years of age. At about 11 or 12 children then enter secondary school. When they get to about 14 or so they can choose which subjects they would like to study. However, like in Slovakia, they must study certain ‘core’ subjects, such as English, Maths, Science and a foreign language. At the end of secondary school, at age 16, they sit final exams in about 9 subjects. At this point they can choose their next path: go to college to do A-Levels, which are basically preparatory exams for university, or go to technical college or find work. I took the A-Levels route and then went to university. With hindsight I think I needed more guidance from teachers about which subjects to choose at each stage and future career opportunities. I think that many pupils choose subjects which may not be that beneficial to them in the long run. I think that it’s good you are taking such a close interest in Peter’s future; he’ll thank you for it when he's older, I’m sure.

In Japan, the system is quite different, and far more stressful, in my opinion. Children are put under a lot of pressure from a very early age to do well in exams and enter prestigious schools. In order to do well in exams many pupils attend ‘cram’ school in the evening after normal school. These children may also have to attend school club activities, too. It’s not uncommon to see children, who are absolutely exhausted, falling asleep in class. Compulsory education ends after Junior High School, at age 14 or 15, but the majority of pupils continue on to High School, until age 18, and a large proportion of them go to university. Most pupils don’t specialise in any particular subjects at school, but take a broad range. They have to take an exam at the end of High School and entrance examinations for the universities they wish to attend. However, many pupils fail these exams repeatedly and it’s not uncommon for them to retake the exams three or four times before being accepted to university.

I hope you are feeling a little better today Anita!

Lewis


Useful English from today’s post:

(to) attend school

(to) enter school/college/university

(to) take/sit/do/retake/resit/redo an exam

(to) do something with hindsight

in the long run

(to) take a/n (close) interest in something/someone

(to be) put under pressure (from an early age, from parents)

compulsory education – voluntary education

(to) specialise in something

final/entrance examinations

(to be) accepted by a school/college/university

Thursday, 28 September 2006

Recycling crime

I couldn’t agree with you more about people needing to consider the negative effects pollution has on our environment. I had a similar experience to Csilla when I went to Canada for a year before university. When I arrived the family I stayed with showed me how to separate the rubbish. This took me by surprise because at that time the UK was lagging behind many other countries in this respect. However, these days the UK has become far stricter about people dividing their waste. I was reading an interesting article recently about a woman in the UK who was accused of putting the wrong kind of rubbish into her dustbin and she faced charges and a possible fine. You can listen to that story, and other related ones, by clicking HERE. What do you think about this?

In Japan, it is also quite strict regarding what you can chuck out and when. Every Monday and Thursday is ‘burnable rubbish’ day. Every other Wednesday is cans, bottles and plastics. On alternate Wednesdays it’s ‘non-burnable’ rubbish day. And once a week you can put out bigger rubbish, such as furniture. However, in certain areas you have to pay for people to come and take your larger rubbish away and recycle it. When we wanted to throw away our old fridge we called the local refuse collector and they told us it would cost about 30 pounds to collect and recycle it. The fridge was still in perfect working order and it seemed a shame to destroy it, so we sold it on an internet auction site instead. We didn’t make a profit on it, but at least we saved a little money and helped the environment.

I think that the only way to encourage, or force, people to recycle is by imposing strict penalties on those who pollute. I think hitting people in the pocket is a sure way to minimise excess waste and encourage recycling. Perhaps charging people extra who produce rubbish over a certain weight limit? This may encourage more illegal dumping, though. It's a tricky issue...

As you say we only have a few days left. Lets’ make the most of it and go out with a bang!

Lewis

Useful English from today’s post:

(to) have a similar experience to someone

(to) separate/divide rubbish/waste

something takes you by surprise

(to) lag behind someone/something

(to) accuse someone of (doing) something

(to) face charges/a fine

(to) chuck out rubbish OR (to) chuck rubbish out (informal)

something is in imperfect working order

(to) make a profit (on something)

(to) save money

(to) impose (strict) penalties

(to) hit people in the pocket

(to) make the most of something

(to) go out with a bang!

Friday, 29 September 2006

Developing an ear for the language

We sometimes have the electricity or gas cut off if there is maintenance work to be done. They usually warn you in advance so you can make arrangements for that day. However, once it totally slipped my mind and I had to take a cold shower because there was no gas – it did a good job of waking me up I can tell you! It was back on at the exact time they promised. One thing you can always rely on in Japan is punctual service – everything is on the dot.

It’s funny you wrote about going to the doctor’s for a check up because Tomono and I have to arrange an appointment for the same thing. I always get a few butterflies in my stomach before going to the doctor’s. I’m sure I’m not alone, does anyone else feel that way, too?

I think that graded readers are a great way to improve your English. It’s always important to choose titles that you are interested in, though. As I mentioned in a previous post, they are a great source of useful phrases. Not only that, but if you can get a tape or CD they can be very useful for long listening practice and shadow reading. Shadow reading can really help you develop an ear for the language and it can help you with your pronunciation and fluency, too. My tip for shadow reading is as follows:

1) Find a short passage which contains a conversation between two or more people – not more than about 10 lines is best.

2) Read and check you understand the vocabulary.

3) Listen to the passage with the CD or tape as many times as you need and, with a pencil, mark: stressed words, weak sounds, rising or falling intonation patterns (especially notice the patterns where there are commas and at the end of sentences), linking sounds (such as between consonant and vowel sounds) and pace (you can show this with a wavy line – the faster the pace, the wavier the line)

4) Once you feel you’ve marked the important features, use these to help you read the passage at the same pace as the CD. However, start by just mouthing the words (with no voice – just move your mouth and imagine the CD is your voice). After you’ve done that a few times, do a ‘mumble drill’ – this means just try to copy the rhythm of the speech by copying the stress patterns (don’t say the words – just mumble the stress under your breath). Finally, after you feel you have got the rhythm, practice speaking at the same speed and volume as the tape.

It’s interesting to think about favourite words in English. We did a survey a few months ago about this for our students. I think the top three words for Osaka were: lovely, aqua and mother. My friend, Wakana, told me the other day that she likes the sounds of the word ‘baboon’ and she would like to call her boyfriend by that name if it didn’t have an ape connotation...

Some of my favourite words, off the top of my head, are: quintessential, elephant and onomatopoeia (try saying that one after a few drinks!).

I can't believe it's almost time to say farewell. Time flies!

Lewis


Useful English from today’s post:

(to) have the gas/electricity/water cut off

(to) have the gas/electricity/water put back on (again)

(to) do something in advance (“to be told in advance” “to book a hotel room inadvance’

(to) do something at short notice

(to) (totally) slip your mind

(to) go for a check up (at the doctor’s)

(to) arrange/make an appointment (at the hospital etc)

(to) develop an ear for the language

“off the top of my head”

It's just zipped by, hasn't it?

Well two months of blogging has come to this – my last post! I’d like to say how much I have enjoyed this experience. Thanks to Paul and Nuala at BBC Learning English for taking me on and asking me to continue until the end of September. This website is a truly wonderful place for learners of English and they can feel proud that their hard work is appreciated by people from all over the world.

Thanks to my two wonderful student bloggers, Jenny and Anita. Both of you have made the past two months a real pleasure and I’m really going to miss hearing from you. I’ve learnt so much form you both, thank you for sharing a little piece of your lives with everyone. I hope that I was able to help you a little and motivate you to keep studying and working hard. It’s clear to me, and everyone else, that you have so much potential – give yourselves a pat on the back!

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to all the readers who have encouraged Jenny, Anita and I since the end of July. You’ve made the experience more rewarding for everyone. Can I make a request, too? If you’ve been reading the blogs, but haven’t plucked up the courage to make a comment yet, please try your best to comment on one of the future blogger's posts. Don't worry about making mistakes, just tell us your thoughts. You may have a few butterflies in your stomach at first, but it'll be worth it...

Well, the next few months are going to see a big change in my life as Tomono and I leave Japan and move back to the UK. What does the future hold for us? Well, I hope to return as the teacher blogger sometime in the future and tell you all about it.

Good luck to the new bloggers, I look forward to reading your posts.

Bye for now and all the best.

Lewis (and Tomono says goodbye, too!)

Lewis and Tomono

September 2006

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