A trip down memory lane
Hi Jin Lu,
Hello and welcome!
Your first entry has certainly captured everyone’s imagination here. You’ve got a really interesting and evocative writing style, Jin Lu. I think Pilar might be onto something when she commented that writing mystery novels could be your calling.
The story of your first journey away from home is something that lots of us can relate to, I’m sure.
One of my first trips abroad was when I was at university too. Although I’d been to foreign countries before, I’d pretty much always gone with someone from my family, if not my whole family. But this trip was just me and a student pal, going to a debating competition in Princeton, USA. As the plane took off I remember feeling so far away (in both senses of the word) from almost everyone I knew. And I found that both incredibly liberating and unbelievably frightening at the same time. Did you feel that on your first trip and/or do you still feel it, even now?
Because you have such a poetic turn of phrase it’s quite difficult for me to give you precise feedback. What to me (or others) might seem like an ill-chosen word or a wrongly worded sentence, might be the exact way you planned to write the sentence in order to evoke particular feelings in your readers. However, I’ll mention just a couple of things I think you might find useful. First let’s look at this sentence:
Far on the horizon vaguely appeared some colours of lightness.
I know exactly what you mean but I think we can improve the sentence structure while keeping your interesting imagery intact.
The issue with the way you wrote the original sentence is the vaguely appeared part. Something either appears or it doesn’t. You could use vague to describe the quality of the light or the colour (nouns, not actions). Even then, another word like indistinct would be better because vague is usually used to describe thoughts or language. You could change your sentence one of these ways if you like:
Far on the horizon some colours appeared indistinctly
Far on the horizon some soft colours appeared
Some colours appeared on the horizon
Far on the horizon I saw some indistinct colours and lights
Faint colours appeared on the horizon
Next, let’s look at the word moving:
I had never seen such a moving picture before
I’m sure you know moving has two meanings:
1. going from one place to another
I think you were after the second meaning but, because you were talking about a train (which moves), the picture you were looking at outside your window was actually moving! Am I right in thinking you really wanted to tell us about how you felt as you looked out of the train window? If I am, instead of moving perhaps touching or evocative might fit the bill better. What do you think?
That’s all for now. Thanks again for your interesting posts. Looking forward to reading more.
All the best,
PS I should also mention that I’m going away on holiday for part of October (to the States again. I wonder how I’ll be feeling on the plane this time!) While I’m gone, some of the other Learning English team will be blogging with you.
captured everyone’s imagination - everyone thinks it’s very interesting or it has captivated everyone
evocative - making you remember, imagine or think about something pleasant
be onto something - know something or be correct about something
your calling - your vocation, the job that you are meant to do or that is very suitable for you
relate to - connect or empathise with or understand
far away (in both senses of the word) - far away has two meanings – remote in physical distance and remote in emotional distance. If you say something in both senses of the word you want to use both meanings of a word. Here, because I was high up in a plane on my way to America, I was physically far away from my family but because I was travelling without my parents, brothers or sisters, I felt emotionally far away from my family too
a debating competition - a contest where people argue for and against particular topics or subjects for a set period of time
incredibly liberating - very freeing, able to act or behave in a way that you want to, without restrictions
turn of phrase - way of saying or writing things
ill-chosen word - wrong word or not the best word
intact - complete
issue - problem
were after - wanted
fit the bill better - be more suitable, be better suited
posted on Tuesday, 06 October 2009 | comment on this post
What makes a house a home?
Hi Jin Lu,
What makes a house a home? For me, a roaring fire works every time!
This picture also shows a typical British hobby – doing your house up! We Brits do love our DIY. You can see the plaster isn't dry and the painting isn't finished on the walls - sure signs of DIY activity!
Your story of the moon was really interesting. Thanks for sharing that with us. I'll be sure to look out for the girl and the bunny the next there's a full moon.
Now though, let's look at a couple of things from your text – prepositions and tenses.
First, prepositions. In the first of your examples you need a different preposition, in the second, you didn't use a preposition but you needed one and in the third one, you used a preposition but you didn't need it. Can you see how you should change these to make them correct?
People use two types of calendar in the same time
Mid-Autumn Festival (is) in China the 15th day of the eighth month
The latter originated from thousands of years ago.
Secondly, let's look at some of your tenses. But before we do, a bit of background.
There are quite a few times where you make your language unnecessarily complicated, Jin Lu. I've met a lot of students who think that a long word or a more complex sentence makes their writing or speaking seem more advanced. But it doesn't work that way in English. My understanding of the Chinese education system is that you're actively encouraged to use more sophisticated language to show how widely read you are. Is that right?
Here in Britain, we often use very simple sentence constructions and choose short, simple words over more complicated ones. Why? Well, one reason is where the English language comes from. The Anglo-Saxon language (used in Britain more than 1500 years ago) was filled with short, punchy words. The legacy of that language is still evident in good speech and writing today.
We often think of Sir Winston Churchill as one of the most effective public speakers this country has ever produced.
Have a look at a part of his famous 'We will fight them on the beaches' speech. Can you find even one word here that has more than one syllable?
We shall fight in the fields. We shall fight in the hills. We shall go on to the end.
Sometimes simple really is best.
So… back to your tenses. Can you spot how you could simplify (and correct) your grammar in these examples?
You may have known that in China people use two types of calendar
I believe I had seen it a couple of times
Now I would think of my grandmother more
And just to complicate matters. This one needs to be more complex than just the present simple:
She lives there with her bunny for many centuries now
That's all from me for now. I'm off to Baltimore tomorrow!
Thanks for your suggestion Cheikh Vall but I'm afraid I won't be blogging while I'm on holiday. I hope not to switch on the computer the whole time I'm away! But I promise, I'll have some photos to share with you all when I come back.
doing your house up – improving and redecorating your house
DIY – short for do it yourself (rather than making someone – a painter, a plumber etc. – to do it for you
how widely read you are – that you have read and understood a lot of books
punchy – expressing something effectively
legacy – what is left after something dies out or someone dies
evident – obvious, you can see it easily
syllable – separate sound of a word (for example, furniture has three syllables, uncomfortable has five)
posted on Wednesday, 07 October 2009 | comment on this post
Books, fate and the weather
Hi Jin Lu,
Hello again. I'm back from Baltimore safe and sound and ready for some more blogging.
I've caught up with your posts and all the comments you've been getting about literature, fate and weather!
So here's my tuppence worth on those topics too, with a Maryland twist.
Literature – as some of you might have heard, the city of Baltimore gave the American writer Edgar Allan Poe a second funeral 160 years after his death.
I didn't make it to the funeral (too busy eating the best seafood I've had in ages with Vernon, the oyster shucker, at Nick's in Cross Street Market).
But I did find an interesting Baltimore/literature story. You know how mayors and city officials are always trying to think of memorable slogans for their cities? I don't know if anyone has ever managed to top the New York one,
but the poor officials keep trying. Apparently each mayor of Baltimore has tried to come up with a winner but none of their attempts has ever really stuck. The one that I liked the best was – Baltimore - the city that reads!
Fate – A while ago in a bookshop in London. I picked up a book (The Help by Kathryn Stockett). I thought it looked interesting but didn't decide to buy it. Who knows why? I already had a couple of books under my arm, I hadn't heard anything about the book. I don't know why; I just didn't buy it.
Then, when I was in Baltimore, I picked up a book in a bookshop (you've guessed it – The Help by Kathryn Stockett). But since I'm terrible at remembering book titles and authors, and the one in Baltimore had a different cover, I didn't recognise it initially as the same book.
While I was reading a bit about it from the back cover and the penny was just beginning to drop, a customer said, "Do you really like reading?" I nodded my head. Well, she promised the book I was holding was a fabulous read. The best one she'd read in ages, in fact. So call it fate, call it a lucky hunch but I thought, "a recommendation from a woman in the city that reads? You can't do better than that, can you?" So I bought the book there and then – only a couple of days ago – and am already half way through it and completely riveted.
And weather? We had it all. Sunny days and blue skies, heavy rains and howling winds. I didn't know if I was coming or going!. Here's a picture I took of a sailing ship in Baltimore harbour on one of the colder days!
I'd like to look at a few collocations (words that go together) from your latest posting Jin Lu. Collocations, as I'm sure you know, are words that go together. There's no real reason why they go together, they just do! For example, we say Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas but never Merry Birthday.
Do you know what the right collocations are here?
1. You can hardly judge if it's still autumn
a) hardly tell
b) often judge
2. I have several intimate friends
a) intimate sexual partners
b) close friends
3, I have been offered a perfect chance
a) an ideal chance
b) an ideal opportunity
4. I … have turned out a faithful soul
a) turned into
b) become out
That's all for now. Hope you're well. All the best,
safe and sound – (fixed expression) safe
my tuppence worth – my opinion
twist – particular way of looking at something (here, Lin Ju's blog topics)
shucker – if you shuck something you take the outer skin or covering off it. You can shuck corn or oysters. A shucker is a person who shucks.
memorable slogans – catchy phrases that people remember (for example, New York – the city that never sleeps)
to top – to beat or be better than
stuck – continued to be used
initially – at first
the penny was just beginning to drop – (fixed expression) – just beginning to realise or understand something
hunch – idea which is based on feeling, rather than on scientific proof or fact
riveted –not be able to stop looking at (or here, reading) something because it is so interesting
I didn't know if I was coming or going – I was confused
posted on Monday, 19 October 2009 | comment on this post
Why did you call me that?
Hi Jin Lu,
Thanks so much for teaching us some 'easy' Chinese! I'm very proud that I can read these two incredibly complicated Chinese characters already.
It's interesting how much you longed for a different name when you were young. I did too! I think lots of people do. Maybe there's a book in that - Why did you call me that?!
My name's an Irish one. You can find out more about my first name, Nuala here.
My family name's O'Sullivan (which is Irish too). O in an Irish surname, is like Mac in Scottish ones. It means son of (those patriarchal systems get everywhere, don't they?). So if you meet someone called MacDonald or McGregor they're probably Scottish or of Scottish descent. If they're called O'Reilly or O'Neill, they either live in Ireland or somewhere in the past, their ancestors did.
When I was young I wanted an easier name. Nuala was just too difficult for everyone! Because it's an Irish name, not many people in Scotland knew how to pronounce it. So every time people saw my name written down (every new school year, when a new teacher took the register) they'd say, 'Oh! That's an unusual name, Noo-a-la.' And I'd have to say, 'Well, no, actually, it's Noo-la'. All I ever wanted was a simple, straightforward name that caused no confusion. I wanted a name that was young and lovely and trendy, but most of all I wanted a nice Scottish name. I wanted to be called ... Felicity Campbell. There, now you know one of my deepest desires!
But you know that old saying… be careful what you wish for? I'm just so glad now I didn't get my wish. I love my name, and like you, Jin Lu, feel I've grown into it and can't now imagine being called anything else.
Turing to your posting, I'd just like to say again how smooth your writing style is and how easy your blog is to understand. Your writing flows well and your word choice and word combination are very sophisticated.
In terms of tweaking it a little bit, let's look at this sentence:
In my hometown dialect, there is nearly no distinction.
In English we don’t say nearly no. Instead we use expressions like hardly any, very little or almost no. With distinction the usual collocation is very little.
... there's very little distinction
You made a similar kind of slip here:
Jin Lu sounded too wrong to be a baby name
Wrong is an absolute in English. That's one of those words that's either one thing or the other; there's no in-between. For example, something is either true or it's false. It can't be a bit false. So in your sentence, either your name was right or wrong for a baby. Can you think of a way to make your sentence right?
And finally, although in general your writing is easy to understand, I have to say I was a bit confused a couple of times in your last posting. In this first example below, I think the main reason for the confusion is simply because the sentence is so long. (It comes in at a whopping 50 words!) I think if you broke your writing into smaller chunks, the meaning would be much clearer for your readers.
It’s now reasonable to assume that his parents might have called him “Ming Ming” when he was a little boy – the kind of cute baby-name I wanted but could never get because apparently, Jing Jing, as an official name, also possessed all the essential features of a baby name.
A good tip for sentence length in English is to try and say it in one breath (without first filling your lungs to maximum capacity!). When you run out of breath, it's time to put a full stop in your writing. Try reading your sentence above out loud and see how you do.
The other example where I think you could have simplified your writing is here:
But they have been, in a quiet way, very important and indispensible. The time and situations they appeared never allow a baby name.
I think I know what you mean but it seems like a very long and complicated way of saying it. And I think the final sentence there also seems quite formal (especially for an informal blog).
Anyway, that's all from me this week. Have a great weekend and I'll talk to you again soon.
All the best,
longed for – wished for, wanted
patriarchal systems - ways of doing things that are ruled or controlled by men
descent - being related to a particular person or group of people who lived in the past
ancestors – people related to you who lived before you
took the register – called each pupil's name to check if he or she was in class that day (the register is a list of all the pupils in the class)
trendy – fashionable
desires – wants or wishes
combination – mixture you get when two or more things (here, words) are put together
sophisticated - clever
tweaking – changing very slightly
comes in at – totals
whopping – very big
chunks – parts
breath - air that goes into and out of your lungs
lungs - the two organs in the chest with you use to breathe
maximum capacity – the most that you can put in something (here, your lungs)
posted on Saturday, 24 October 2009 | comment on this post
What have you got to lose?
Hi Jin Lu,
What a great posting about the power of positive thinking!
You'll have to let us know soon if you've got the lead (or even a walk-on part as a maid) in the next Agatha Christie production. We'll all have our fingers crossed for you.
Your homework is very good. Well done!
1. You can hardly judge if it's still autumn --> You can hardly tell if it’s still autumn.
Nuala – great.
2. I have several intimate friends --> I have several close friends
Nuala – good
3, I have been offered a perfect chance --> I have been offered an ideal chance… (I think “ideal opportunity” is also right but not as good as “chance”, right?)
Nuala – Ideal opportunity actually collocates better. With chance, I'd go for good.
4. I… have turned out a faithful soul --> I have turned into a faithful soul.
Nuala - perfect
5. Jin Lu sounded too wrong to be a baby name --> Jin Lu would sound awkward as a baby name.
Nuala – much better
6. It’s now reasonable to assume that his parents might have called him “Ming Ming” when he was a little boy – the kind of cute baby-name I wanted but could never get because apparently, Jing Jing, as an official name, also possessed all the essential features of a baby name.
--> His parents might have called him “Ming Ming” when he was little. I wanted a cute baby-name like that too, but could never get one. Because Jing Jing, as an official name, could also be used as a baby name.
Nuala – This is now much easier to understand.
7. But they have been, in a quiet way, very important and indispensible. The time and situations they appeared never allow a baby name.
--> But they are already part of me now. There was never a right time for a baby name, but maybe I just never needed one.
Nuala – Great, much improved!
You asked about what happened when I brought my report card home with the comment Nuala should work more and talk less on it. I don't remember much of the detail. The main reason I remember what the teacher wrote at all was that we had a kind of report card book that each teacher filled in each year. So for the whole seven years I was at primary school that report from primary 1 followed me around like a bad smell. It's still my belief that my primary 2 teacher looked at what my primary 1 teacher wrote and just copied it. And so on and so for the rest of my primary school days. So I ended up with this terrible reputation as a chatter-box that was completely unfounded (honest)!
What I do remember of the day I brought home that first report card home was my dad sitting me up on the kitchen table so that he could look me in the eye. I knew right then that I was in terrible trouble. He wagged his finger at me and said 'This is very serious young lady. School isn't for playing. School is for working. Do you understand?'
I think I turned over a new leaf for about a day. And then I was back to my naughty ways again.
Sounds like you were a saint Jin Lu or did that all change once you got to primary school too?
Let's take a look in detail at a few aspects of your last post:
1. There are a few times you haven't kept your structures parallel. For example:
This Monday I did something I had never done before: going to an audition
It would be better to keep both verbs in the past simple (did and went)
Can you see how to improve this sentence (I made one little change for you – I added an as and changed like to as)?
One day I met my Korean friends, and they looked happy as a child when they ate their food
2. Here are a couple of places where your vocabulary isn't quite right:
They were recruiting for the cast.
We recruit for staff but audition for a cast.
The verb here (accompany) is a bit too formal. Can you think of a way of making it more informal (I cut out a couple of words – to tour - here to tighten it up a bit)?
He asked if I could accompany him around Beijing
3. A couple of times your meaning isn't very clear.
It was a decision I took a long five seconds to make. It should’ve taken no time at all.
Five seconds doesn't seem long to me at all. In fact five seconds seems like no time at all. I know that sometimes even a short time can seem very long so maybe that's what you were getting at here. But I'm not quite sure.
I was nearly drowned when younger
Again, I'm not sure what you wanted to say here but I suspect (though I could be wrong) that someone didn't hold your head under water and try to kill you. That's what I was nearly drowned means. If someone didn't really try to kill you, do you know what you should have written instead?
4. Finally, a few article problems cropped up. Can you figure our the 3 places where articles (a, an or the) need to go in or come out in these two sentences?
The drama group of English department of University of Heidelberg.
… I hid in the backstage and voiced-acted for the Juliet (in Romeo and Juliet).
Once again, I'd just like to say how good your writing is. And also say what a great turn of phrase you have. These, for example, are really lovely:
What could be more magical than giving life to the silent words?
I give them light, and wait for their blooming
And your lighthouse painting and calligraphy at the end of your piece was beautiful too.
Talk to you again soon,
positive thinking – imaging and thinking of things in a positive, happy, successful way
the lead – the main actor in a film or play
a walk-on part – a very small part in a play where the actors has no lines to say
It's still my belief – I continue to believe
a chatter-box – someone who talks a lot about things that are not serious or important
completely unfounded – 100% without evidence or proof
I was in terrible trouble – My father was very angry with me and was going to giving a telling off
turned over a new leaf – changed my behaviour form being bad to being good
you were a saint – you were very good, very well-behaved
turn of phrase - the ability to express yourself well
calligraphy - the art of producing beautiful writing, often created with a special pen or brush
posted on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 | comment on this post
Another city, another tale
Hi Jin Lu,
Thanks for your lovely posting and for sharing all those beautiful pictures of Nanjing with us. I suppose almost every city, town or village has a story behind it but it's always so nice to learn of a new place and its legend.
There are lots of tales about Glasgow, my home city, but one of the best known is reflected in our coat of arms which shows a bird, a tree, a bell and a fish. All of these things have a connection with the patron saint of Glasgow (St. Mungo), a holy man who arrived in Glasgow about the year 540.
My favourite part has always been about the fish. The story goes like this: Queen Langeoreth was in love with a knight and gave him her golden ring as a token of her love.
One evening, unbeknownst to the knight, the king took the ring off the knight's finger and threw it in the river.
The next day the king demanded that the queen show him the golden ring he had given her. She said she couldn't find it. He gave here three days to come up with it, or else.
The queen hurried to the knight, told him about her dilemma and asked for her ring back. He said he was sorry, he didn't have the ring anymore; he'd lost it and didn't know where it was. The queen didn't know what to do. She was completely distraught.
So the knight decided to ask Saint Mungo for help. The saint told the knight to go to the river and catch a salmon.
The knight did as he was told – caught a fish - and gave it to the queen.
When the queen presented the salmon to her husband, the king was amazed to find the fish holding the golden ring in its mouth.
To this day, you can see Saint Mungo, the bird, the tree, the bell and the fish (with a ring) all over Glasgow. Our coat of arms is on buildings, lampposts, posters and signs. Here's a photo my brother Michael took this morning in Glasgow of our coat of arms on the side of a rubbish bin:
The coat of arms (and the city's motto: Let Glasgow Flourish) was featured in a song in the late 80s, called Mother Glasgow. This video has a few city shots, as well as a sight anyone from Glasgow instantly recognises – the massive cranes that are a part of the Glasgow skyline. Glasgow, used to be a famous ship-building city. And though the ship-building has gone, the cranes remain.
It's almost time for me to say goodbye to you Lin Ju. But before I do, let's have a look at your posting. As ever, your writing is fluid and very evocative. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels I've actually visited Nanjing, just from reading your great descriptions of it.
Turning to the language aspects of your posting, I'd like to concentrate on your word choices, collocations and word order.
1. A few word choices first. Let's look at this one:
declared himself as the new emperor
You can use declare or another expression with as (set himself up as, for example) but you can't use declare and as together.
So you could say:
set himself up as the new emperor
was declared the new emperor
Next let's look at this sentence:
…he suddenly halted at one fatal issue
First, crucial question is probably a better word choice than fatal issue. Second, halt is usually used to mean cause to stop moving or doing something or happening. People don't usually halt themselves – something or someone makes them stop. For example:
Production has halted at the factory because the staff have gone on strike.
Police halted the demonstrators and told them they could go no further.
So stop might be a better - simpler, but better - word to use here. You might even want to go for a couple of punchy sentences, like this:
… he stopped. There was one crucial question: where should the new capital be?
otherwise you get into an unnecessary passive:
… he was stopped by one crucial question …
2. Next, let's look at word order. We'll focus on the word all here:
Unfortunately, Nanjing all failed them.
The word all after Nanjing makes it seem like there are a lot of Nanjings. But actually I think you mean there were a lot of people affected by Nanjing. Can you see where you should move the all to to create the sentence you want?
3. Finally, let's look at a fixed expression in this sentence:
He would just walk and walk and write poems after poems.
This expression, something after something, which means to do the same thing many times, is always a singular (rather than a plural) expression. So can you see how to fix your sentence?
That's all from me just now. It's been lovely blogging with you and I wish you all the best for your studies in Germany!
legend – very old story that may or may not be true that people tell about a famous person or event
reflected – shown or expressed
coat of arms - special shield or shield-shaped pattern which is the sign of a city (you can also have a family, school or university coat of arms)
patron saint – Christian saint or holy person who lived or is associated with a city
knight – a noble soldier (in the past)
a token – an object that you give to someone to express your feelings
unbeknownst to the knight – (unbeknownst is an old fashioned word, often used in fairy tales or legends) – the knight didn't know about it
come up with – show or produce
or else – (used as a threat) to say that something bad or painful will happen but not say exactly what it will be
dilemma – situation when you have to make a difficult choice between two different things you could do
completely distraught – very upset
all over – everywhere
motto - short, memorable sentence or phrase that expresses a belief or purpose
flourish – grow, develop and prosper or do well
shots – pictures, photos or here, still photos from a film
cranes - tall metal structure used to lift and move heavy objects
posted on Friday, 30 October 2009 | comment on this post