A Cup Of English

A Cup Of English

United States

Friendly, everyday English to help the anxious language learner. Texts, grammar notes, and photos on the blog page. Another great podcast by LibSyn.com

Episodes

Strength and balance.  

Have any of you ever rock climbed? It's not the most common activity, but(1) its popularity is growing, I think. Recently, an indoor rock climbing wall was built in Wenatchee. It is right next to a major park, and has a workout room in it, and a cafe. I went there for a coffee last week with my friend Jody. The coffee drinkers can either sit outside, or they can be at tables that are next to a large window that overlooks the climbing room. The climbing wall was busy that day, and it brought back good memories(2) to watch all the people trying hard to climb up the wall like spiders. The activity requires some strength, of course. But actually, you don't need to be very muscley. In fact, the lighter you are the better. The people who have the best physical advantage for rock climbing are those who are medium height or short, light, thin, but athletic. Flexibility also helps, as you have to reach out with your limbs to find the perfect foot hold or hand hold. The room is very attractive, with windows, and colored holds all the way up to the ceiling. I was happy to see that a lot of mothers had brought their little children to climb. If you start at a young age, you can grow up with no fear of heights(3), and also with an understanding of what it takes to stay safe on the rock. As I looked at the website, I found a video clip that you can check out by clicking here, or by looking at my post on Facebook. 1. 'It's not the most...., but it's....' this is a great structure of a sentence to incorporate into your conversations every now and then. a. It's not the most elegant restaurant, but it's good quality. b. Having innoculations is not the most pleasant experience, but it's absolutely necessary. 2. 'It brought back good memories' is similar to saying 'it reminded me of good times'. a. The film brought back memories of my younger days. b. My conversation with him brought back memories of elementary school. 3. When we talk about the different things that we fear, we simply say 'I have a fear of ...' Here is a list of some of the most common fears: a. A fear of the dark. b. A fear of falling. c. A fear of spiders/ snakes. d. A fear of crowded spaces. e. A fear of heights.  

Fresh Eggs and Goat's Milk.  

Across the river from where we live is a place called 'Annie's Fun Farm'. I have written about it before, as you might remember(1). It is a corn and pumpkin farm that has entertainment, and is open to the public. My two oldest sons have worked there. In fact, a friend of my husband owns the farm. He has had it for a few years, and each year he adds new items of interest to draw in the public. This year he is introducing animals: a family of goats, turkeys, and chickens. This new addition will make the farm into what we call a 'Petting Zoo', which means a place where people can come and feed and pet the animals. My son Cass worked there on Saturday and brought home eggs and goats milk. "Mum, I even got to(2) milk the goat!" He handed me a container of the milk and I  inspected it carefully. It was white, and there were no unidentifiable(3)things floating in it, so I said, "Ok, let's try it!" "Are you sure?" he asked. "Of course, " I replied, "I trust in my healthy immune system and strong stomach acid. So there are some bacteria here and there, big deal." We both drank some, and you know, it didn't even taste like milk; it was very clean and watery, a bit like coconut milk. Cass will continue to work with the animals on the farm, as well as planting and caring for all the vegetables. As he wishes to ultimately be a farmer, the experience is wonderful for him. He comes home dirty and tired, and a bit wind swept from a day of hard labor. It makes a real difference from his school life that is mainly indoors and full of technology. 1. 'As you might remember' is a great phrase to add to a conversation. a. Our cousins are visiting us for a week. They are from Australia, as you might remember. b. As you might remember, it's our parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary soon. 2. 'To get to do something' is a very American phrase meaning 'to be able to', 'to achieve', or 'to have an opportunity to...'. a. I got to meet the lead singer of the band at the concert! b. We got to tour the Microsoft headquarters. 3.  'Unidentifiable' a long word that needs to be practiced!       Un - ident - ifi - able.   Un - ident - ifi - able. Click the logo to view italki for English practice!

People Watching at the Carnival.  

People watching is something that I love to do whenever I can. There are only certain places where it is appropriate to do so, I suppose. Looking at other people could be seen as insensitive; after all who likes to be stared at? The places where you can get away with it without bothering people tend to be very busy, like airports or shopping centers. Carnivals are also perfect for this strange pastime.  I took my daughter and her friend to the Apple Blossom carnival so they could go on the rides. It was packed with people. All the different rides added color and movement, and of course there was lots of noise, mainly screaming. As the big metal machines whizzed(1a) around dangerously, the expressions on people's faces changed from happy to terrified. Hair that normally obeys the laws of gravity stood up vertically as bodies went zooming(1b) towards the ground. Even those who weren't on the rides were very entertaining to watch. They were tall, short, fat, thin, dark, light, well-dressed, and badly-dressed. Some babies slept in their strollers, while others cried in their mothers' arms because they were tired or hungry. I calculated that most people over the age of twenty were wearing jeans and a warm jacket, as the wind was quite cold. However, the young singles or teenagers were all walking around shivering because they insisted on(2) wearing very few clothes, and exposing arms and legs as much as possible in order to look attractive. I was happy in my winter coat. Another interesting thing about watching people at a carnival is the mood watching. Carnivals are, after all, exhausting places. They are fun, yes, but exhausting. You might go to one with lots of energy, but after going on a few rides, sampling the greasy food, and squeezing through the noisy crowds, I guarantee you'll need a nap. Even the tough-looking young men who wished to test their endurance on the 'Wheel of death', or 'Dead man's drop' or whatever, would eventually look pale and fragile. What a wonderful transformation! Children who had initially been rosy-cheeked and excited, were now howling because they were far too over stimulated, and the parents should have known better. Some couples argued. Some parents were annoyed because their children wanted more and more tickets for the rides. Well, of course they did. And the older generation occupied the only seats available, and chewed on popcorn slowly. Looking around, it seemed as if the only people who were not exhausted or emotionally wobbled were the ride attendants who busied themselves(3) with safety precautions, locking people in their rides, and measuring the height of the kids. They looked like they felt quite splendid in their dark blue uniforms, holding their laser-guns. Very important indeed. 1a and 1b. 'Whizz and zoom'. You can't talk about a carnival without using these words. They are onomatopoeic which is a very fancy word that means they sound the same as the sound they are describing.  a. The model airplane whizzed up into the air, and zoomed down right over our heads! b. The kids played with their tiny cars that they would wind up and watch whizz and zoom around the curly, plastic race course that they had set up in the lounge. 2. 'To insist on' means to be determined about something. a. He always insists on paying each time we go to dinner. b. I'm not surprised your feet are wet! You insisted on wearing the wrong shoes for hiking! 3. 'To busy oneself' is the same as saying 'to keep oneself busy' or 'to be occupied with'. a. My grandma is retired, but she busies herself with voluntary work, gardening, and dancing! b. I love watching the birds this time of year. They busy themselves with making nests and caring for their young. Click the logo for English practice with natives!

April, - The Month for Children.  

I learned recently that April here in the States is the national child abuse prevention month. I had no idea that this was the case, until I saw a lady putting hundreds of blue pinwheels on the grass in a local park. The blue pinwheel has come to represent the commitment of legislation and the community to encourage educated and compassionate treatment of children. This is close to my heart(1), as I have four children. As I read through the literature on this movement, I was happy to find that since 1974, the government has passed laws and created funding to protect children. One of the most progressive ways is, of course, educating young people who have newborns. Often, teenagers lack the knowledge of how to look after a baby physically and emotionally. They might not understand the signals or 'cues'(2) that a baby gives that communicate its needs. One solution that offers tremendous support for the young parent is home visitation by parenting professionals. They can observe, encourage, and teach, as well as offer a listening ear(3) to the parent who might be frustrated. As the pinwheel spins in the wind, it has come to represent how we must change and adapt, and focus on prevention. I suppose it is just like keeping a person healthy. With the right food, sleep, exercise, and hygienic practices, a person can avoid a lot of illnesses. In the same way, forethought, education, and social support, can encourage young families, or those experiencing stress, to have a plan of appropriate and caring behavior for their children, no matter what.  1. ...'is close to my heart'. This phrase creates an image of something being very important to someone. a. She thought about her sister often, and kept the memory of her close to her heart. b. Land preservation is something that is close to his heart, as he comes from generations of land owners. 2. A 'cue' is a prompt; it is like an action or sound made to communicate. a. During the play, the director waved a white handkerchief. That was my cue to go on stage. b. A baby will give a cue of being fussy or groaning when he needs to be burped. 3. 'A listening ear' really describes the person who owns that ear. This person is caring and interested enough to listen to a person who needs to talk. a. The nurse was very professional, but also caring. She always offered the patients a listening ear. b. I don't need a bossy person telling me what to do. Right now I need a listening ear. Click here for iTalki to improve your pronunciation and fluency!.

A budding photographer.  

For my podcasts I usually always add a photograph, to show what I am talking about. For years I carried around a cheap little camera with me, on the off-chance(1) of seeing something worth photographing. Now, I use my iPhone. Of course it's very convenient to have a phone and a camera all in one device. Recently, I have realized that my 12 year old daughter is a very good photographer, much better than me. I will often take a photo and then say, "Domini could you take one so I can use it on my blog?" She is proud that I defer(2) to her to get the best result. She seems to have 'the eye' for the job. If I take a photo of a flower, for example, she will improve upon(3) it by taking the same photo but from a different angle. She notices what is in the background, the foreground, and the light. She also very quickly chooses filters on the phone that bring out the best of the subject. And then she finishes off by cropping the photo, to cut out anything that is unnecessary. I suppose she has got to this stage by observation and practice. We all love to take pictures, and so she does also. Just imagine if she becomes a BBC photographer for documentaries like 'Planet Earth'! We talk about the possibilities. I also get her photography magazines from the library, and she pours over them. You never know, if she keeps practicing, this budding 12 year old photographer could become a professional. 1. 'On the-off chance' is an expression that means 'just in case there is an opportunity, though it might be unlikely'. a. When we go hiking, let's take the binoculars, on the off-chance that we can spot a bear. b. When we arrived at the beach in Spain, I looked around on the off-chance of seeing someone I knew. 2. 'To defer (to)' actually means 'to postpone' but it can be used as 'to prefer someone else's action/skill'. a. They deferred payment because the shipment of their new sofa was delayed by several months. b. I didn't know what to do about our broken car. I deferred to my husband's judgment as he has some mechanical experience. 3. 'To improve upon'  a. I wrote the essay, waited a few days, and then improved upon it substantially. b. It would be impossible to improve upon that garden; they have dedicated years to it's design. Click here to improve your pronunciation and fluency!

The Great Bagel.  

While my family and I were spending time in Seattle, we went to a bagel company for brunch. The company is called Blazing Bagels, and they are based in Redmond. We weren't sure what to expect; we were simply hoping for some good food. We pulled the car into a small area of businesses near the circus tent where we had been the night before. The building was very basic, in fact, when I walked in, it reminded me of a warehouse(1), rather than a bakery. Its walls were made of corrugated iron(2), and its seating arrangement was basic and understated. But, as you know, first impressions can easily be wrong; you can't judge a book by its cover(3). The bakers in this place were definitely bagel experts. Not only did the whole building smell like fresh, yummy bread, but there were dozens of different kinds of bagels to choose from, all within reach. They had sesame, egg, pumpernickel, cranberry orange, and even snickerdoodle, which is traditionally a sugar-cinnamon cookie. There were many others as well, a huge variety to suit anyone's tastes. They even had vegan food items for the bagel sandwiches. When I lived in London, I had heard American students talk about bagels and how much they missed them. At that time they weren't common in England. However, times have changed. And now that I live in the U.S, I eat bagels on a regular basis. The best thing about them, as far as I can see, is their texture. They have a thin chewy skin, and are moist and substantial inside. My son Cass, who likes to cook, made some one day. I was surprised to find that before you put them in the oven, they must be boiled for a few minutes. This helps to cook the outside layer, but at the same time keeps a lot of the moisture inside. That must be the Polish secret. So we had our fill at Blazing Bagels, and took a big bag home. I should try and cook them one day, but, on the other hand, I would rather leave the hard work to the experts. 1. 'Warehouse' is a large storage area or depository for manufactured goods or raw materials. a. The warehouse was huge; it had machines in it of all kinds that were going to be shipped to China. b. That abandoned warehouse would be the perfect place to play laser tag. 2. 'Corrugated iron' is a sheet of metal that has an undulated or wavy appearance. It is a good material to use for roofing or for building sheds. a. We built the roof of the chicken coop (house) out of corrugated iron because we get so much snow in the winter. b. The old corrugated iron had rusted and come away from the roof. It was blowing around dangerously in the storm. 3. 'You can't judge a book by its cover' is an English saying which means that you cannot judge only by appearances. a. I gave the homeless man some money, and he talked to me about philosophy and mathematics. You certainly can't judge a book by its cover! b. The restaurant looked elegant and new, but inside it was dirty and had poor quality food. You can't judge a book by its cover. Try iTalki for pronunciation and fluency practice with natives!

Cirque du Soleil  

Last week was vacation for the whole school district. It's a time we call Spring Break. It is a much needed rest for students, teachers, and principals. I had wanted to do something special with the family; I have always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, so I thought perhaps that would be a feasible(1) trip. Unfortunately, I lost track of time and was too late to make any arrangements. Also, my oldest son, Hudson, goes to the local junior college and didn't have the same vacation schedule. So, it looked like the only way we could have a family trip would be to spend the weekend away somewhere. I got online and looked for special events. It just so happened(2) that the Cirque du Soleil was going to be in Redmond which is in the Seattle area. I booked the tickets, and before we knew it we were there, under a big tent that was packed with people. In front of the crowd was a circular stage, above which hung all sorts of equipment. The lights were dimmed, and some characters came out dressed like hummingbirds. The theme of the circus was Mexico. The hummingbirds danced while a man played on a guitar. Next, a man who was suspended from the ceiling pretended to be parachuting. He was a great mime artist. He pretended to pull his parachute cord, and then find that it could not open. The story goes that he opens a small umbrella and floats down into Mexico. Scene after scene had images and symbols of the country, from underwater life, to the desert. At one point the mime artist got the crowd to play a kind of soccer. All of his instructions and comments were made with a whistle, which was very clever and very funny. And then came the turn of the snake. Well, it was a young man dressed like a snake. He was a contortionist who expertly twisted and bent himself into the most unhuman positions. I gasped and had my mouth open for most of his performance. He was very skinny and strong, and moved very smoothly. He finished his act with an incredible position in which he was all folded up, but looking like he could strike at any moment(3). I have never seen anything like it. The whole show was really what you call a 'once in a lifetime experience.' 1. 'Feasible' means possible or 'realistic'. a. I don't know if renovating the school will be feasible. b. It's not feasible to send a letter to every resident in this community; it's just too big. 2. 'It just so happened' is usually followed by 'that', and means that something occurs by chance. a. I talked for a while with a lady on the bus, and it just so happens that our sons are in the same math class. b. I was thinking about my neighbor when it just so happened that I bumped right into him. 3. 'At any moment' is the same as 'any minute'. a. We ran because we knew that the building could fall at any moment / any minute. b. The bus will be here any minute/ at any moment. Try iTalki now for pronunciation and fluency practice!

Amazon Bubbles.  

I was in Seattle last week visiting colleges with my oldest son, Hudson. We happened to be quite near the Space Needle, in an area of the city that is now nicknamed Amazonia because of the amount of buildings there that belong to the company Amazon. I love looking at architecture and analyzing structures, but it's not every day that(1) I get to photograph round, glass buildings. Well, there were three of them contrasting elegantly with the tall dark buildings around them. When they are finished in 2018, they will be 65,000 square feet of biosphere, filled with about 3000 plants, 300 of which are endangered species. This oasis of sorts(2) will not, however, be open to the public. It will be Amazon's gift to its employees. It is well known that plants in any room reduce stress, improve air quality, and increase a person's creativity. Studies in England and Australia have also demonstrated that offices that have plants increase productivity by 15% and creativity by 45%. So these biospheres are both a gift for Amazon employees, and a good idea for the company. A usual perk(3) for employees is free coffee on Friday mornings, or perhaps an extra day of vacation. Well, this is quite different! Other companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook give their employees perks like supplying a gym, free healthy food, and even doing their laundry. Perhaps this is becoming the age of an intelligent approach to workers. Their well-being directly affects the success of the company they work for, so the goal is to treat them well. 1. 'It's not every day that ...' is another way of saying 'it is unusual to...' a. We went to the circus last night. It's not every day that I see elephants and tigers! b. On the way to the Grand Canyon we stopped to see the desert in bloom. It's not every day that you see a desert full of flowers! 2. 'This .... of sorts' refers to something that has already been mentioned, and basically means 'this kind of ......' a. My friends and I have been meeting every Wednesday for years. This support group of sorts has been very beneficial./ This kind of support group has been very beneficial. b. Our office has hot and cold filtered water. This perk of sorts is to keep the employees hydrated. / This kind of perk is to keep the employees hydrated. 3. 'Perk' is a benefit or gift that is freely given by an employer or company to its employees. a. A long lunch is the best perk in our company. b. You get paid holidays? You lucky thing! What a perk! Click here for conversation practice with iTalki!

Bella Bistro  

I have discovered a place where I like to spend time. It's a strange, little cafe called Bella Bistro. I come here as often as I can to write my podcasts, and to work on my other projects. They have food, of course, and some of the best coffee in town. I called it 'a strange' cafe because it is shaped like a triangle, hemmed in(1) my three roads, and still has large metal garage doors, as it used to be a mechanic's workshop. I think those characteristics make it appealing. It buzzes with activity as people of all ages come here to meet their friends or work on their laptops. Usually when I write, I need peace and quiet. I find it hard to concentrate at home when my dogs are playing and people are coming and going(2). However, for some reason I can really focus at Bella Bistro, even with the human activity and background music. The design is simple: rustic with lots of windows. It has a great internet connection, and the ladies who own it and serve the food are fast and energetic. It also has a comfortable international feel with coffee sacks hanging on the walls from Columbia, Guatemala, and Mexico. I find it interesting how some buildings can make you feel comfortable and welcome, and others are repulsive. I find this true of towns and cities as well. Maybe I'm an over sensitive person. Or perhaps it has something to do with(3) the design and textures of places. I know that a lot of people use Feng Shui to create pleasing, peaceful environments. Perhaps Bella Bistro naturally has a good arrangement and good energy. I'm at Bella Bistro right now, actually, enjoying my twelve ounce soy latte, sitting on a high stool facing huge windows. And, ah, it's a sunny day. Thank goodness! So cheers, here's to good coffee, sunshine, and a good Feng Shui. 1. 'Hemmed in' comes from the verb 'to hem' which means to sew into a fold that is at the end of a piece of clothing. So 'to be hemmed in' means 'surrounded' or 'trapped'. a. My trousers were far too long, so I cut the legs and then hemmed them in.  b. The bottom of her dress was frayed, so she got her sewing machine out and hemmed in the material so it was neat and tidy. c. I was uncomfortable at the party as there were too many people. I felt hemmed in! 2. One of the ways to sound natural with your English is to use common expressions like 'coming and going'. Being in present continuous, it gives the impression of a flow of movement. a. There is a constant coming and going of teenagers at our house. It's like indoor traffic! b. The old man sat in his garden watching the coming and going of the little birds that would come to eat the seed that he had thrown on the grass. 3. 'It has something to do with' makes a connection or clarification of a previously mentioned point. a. The Netherlands produces the tallest people in the world. It /this has something to do with their diet. b. English people talk about the weather a lot. This has something to do with the changeable weather in England.    Click here to visit iTalki. It will improve your pronunciation and fluency!

Basic Pronunciation Practice #45 + Interactive English.  

Olma: Liz, a package arrived for you today.  Liz: Oh thanks. Let me see. Oh it's from England, from my friend Steve in York. I think I know what it is. Olma: What is it? I'm dying to know! Liz: Do you remember me talking to you about him studying archeology in York, and all the things he has found? Olma: Oh, Steve, yes! He's so lucky, going on all those archeological digs! Liz: I know. There are so many artifacts in York and the surrounding area that he promised that he would send me something. And here it is. It's small and wrapped up really well. Olma: Oh hurry up! I can't wait to see what it is. Liz: Beads. And his card says that they are Roman beads found at an excavation site. I feel really honored! You've seen a lot of ancient artifacts haven't you Olma. Olma: Yes, Mexico is full of them, as you can imagine. Our ancient peoples, the Maya, the Aztec, and others, were very inventive and left artifacts all over the place, not just in the famous pyramids! Try iTalki for convenient English practice with a native!

Slime sisters.  

I have made multiple trips to the supermarket over the past two months to buy glue, shaving foam, liquid starch, and food coloring. Multiple. It's because of a hobby that my daughter has adopted: she makes slime. Slime, I suppose, is the general term used for a moist, gelatinous paste that is made simply to play with. There are many kinds of slime, which is something that I have learned by watching my daughter while she is mixing the ingredients and chatting to me about their consistencies and names. Slime is used just for fun, to squeeze, mould, or even throw at people. It makes a mess most of the time, unless it is a 'fluffy' slime which though appears wet and gooey, is actually fairly dry to touch. When she first discovered slime on Youtube, her mixing sessions in the kitchen were a disaster and chaotic. I would find slime in various places, open containers, and a sink full of used bowls and pots. However, thankfully she has become more responsible about cleaning up. She also has developed a better sense of careful measurement. So, what is the slime like? My favorite one is the 'fluffy'(1) slime which gets that name because it has a lot of air bubbles in it which don't seem to pop. It feels slightly wet, it wobbles, and it can be squeezed and manipulated all day. You can also add glitter, or tiny styrofoam balls to change the look and texture. Word has got around(2), and it turns out that lots of my daughter's friends are into the same thing. They even make slime for each other as gifts. I told Domini that slime is the perfect Christmas or birthday gift for kids her age. She could even start a small business. I'm quite happy for her to do so, as long as she cleans up (3)after herself. Checkout the pink, fluffy slime on youtube. 1. Some vocabulary to do with textures: 'Fluffy' is light, airy, furry (an animal or soft toy). It can also be moist (as in food, like a mousse). 'Gooey' is usually something that is gelatinous and moist. It can be sticky, but not necessarily. 'Slimey' is something that feels wet, even oily. It slips and runs off of surfaces easily, like a slug or an old peeled banana. 2. 'Word has got around' or 'word will get around' is a set phrase, used a lot in the U.S. It's like saying, 'People are finding out that....' a. Word has got around about the new bakery, and people are lining up for the fresh bread! b. This town is so gossipy; word has got around already about their recent divorce. 3. 'As long as' means 'provided that'. In another context, it can mean 'for the whole duration of'. a. I don't mind you going to the cinema, as long as you come back before 11pm. (provided that/ on the condition) b. I have known that family for as long as I can remember.

The Kennewick Man.  

Two and a half hours drive from where I live is a small city called Kennewick. It is similar to other towns in Washington State that are east of the Cascade mountains; it is dry, flat, and has a climate that is close to that of a desert. In this area, at a park next to the Columbia river, two men came across an intact(1) skull just ten feet from the shore. The whole skeleton was excavated soon afterwards. As scientists studied it, they found that it was the most intact and well preserved skeleton of any ancient tribesman of the Americas. But who was this man, and which tribe had he belonged to? Five Native American tribes claimed that he belonged to one of them, and therefore legally the skeleton needed to be returned to his land of origin and given a proper burial. These tribes are: the Colville, Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce, and Wanapum. A court case developed because of this. The man had been found on federal land, and so the 'Kennewick man', as he was named, became the property of the U.S Army Corp of Engineers. However, Native Americans have a lot of legal rights, especially when it comes to excavations(2) of bones or artifacts(3) on land that used to be theirs. Years went by, and many studies were carried out on the skeleton. Some scientists believed that the man was one of the early natives who had originally crossed the Bering Straight ice bridge from Russia. Others believed that he had come to the Americas by sea from Asia. So who was right? The case came to an end after the Corp of Engineers had scientists in Copenhagen, Denmark study the skeleton using the latest DNA testing. The results were that he was about 8,500 years old, and genetically closest to Native Americans such as the Colville Indians. This discovery was a victory for the native tribes, and so, with reverence and satisfaction the Kennewick man was reburied in tribal territory.  1. 'Intact' means 'altogether' or 'in one piece'. A verb that we often use with 'intact' is 'to remain'. a. When we bought the old house, we found very old documents in the attic. They were all intact. b. Even after our terrible argument, my dignity remained intact. 2. 'Excavations' from the verb 'to excavate'. This noun and verb are used in contexts of archeology and construction. a.The land must be excavated and leveled before the concrete is poured for the main floor of the house. b. Excavation will continue at Stone Henge because of the recent, extensive discoveries. 3. 'Artifact' is another archeological word meaning an object that was made or used by man. a. In the local museum, you can actually find many artifacts used by Native American Indians. b. York is a place where artifacts are being found all the time because of its rich and ancient history. iTalki for online English practice with a native teacher.

Handymen and Handywomen.  

I consider myself fortunate to have my mother living in the same town. Her home is just five minutes away from mine by car. Every now and then she asks me to help her with something, and as I like to think of myself as a 'handy woman', I will quickly say "yes", grab my tools, and drive over to her house. So she decided that because she likes to read in bed, she wanted to mount(1) two lamps to her bedroom wall, one on either side of the bed. Thankfully there wasn't any complicated electrical work to worry about. The lamps would actually plug into the socket(2/3), and their electrical wires would run neatly down the wall, hidden inside a tube. Simple. So I turned up, full of enthusiasm, ready to figure it all out. As I laid out all the different parts of the lamps on her bed, I realized that the job would take longer than I had expected. The end of each wire had no plug. I would have to attach a very simple, flimsy version that came in a plastic bag, and hope for the best. "Where's the drill Mum?" I asked and she pointed to a tiny appliance in an open box. It was a little drilling tool that is used for crafts. Hmmm. "What about the phillips heads and screw drivers?" Again, she motioned towards two little things that she had used to open paint cans. "Oh no," I thought. I didn't want to drive home to get my tools, so I searched around in her cold, dark garage and found several things that would work. I started putting bits and pieces of the lamp together, each time reading and re-reading the instructions. My mum sat opposite me in an arm chair to observe. It was a bit irritating actually as she questioned and commented on everything I did, adding sweetly, "Can I help you with anything darling?" I would just look at her with slight annoyance, as I needed to concentrate. I did manage to drill into at least one stud to support each lamp, even though the hardware that came in the bag was quite light and thin. I worked away, putting the puzzle together, and finally stood back, proud, with a smile on my face. "There you are Mum. What do you think?" She got out of her armchair and stood with me at the end of the bed, looking at one lamp and then the other. She remained quiet. I looked at her, and she said, "Are they at the same height?" My heart sank. I was annoyed again. I tried to see them at the same height, but I realized that she might have been on to something. I grabbed the tape measure and measured the height of each from the floor. She was right; the one on the right was one inch lower. "Bum!" I said loudly, and started unscrewing the lamp. I re-measured, and remounted it, and then double checked. There, now they were the same height. My old mum had been right, as usual. Another job well done, well almost.  1. 'To mount' is used when putting up a picture or something on a wall or a stand (like a statue). a. When I worked in the art gallery, we would go to people's houses and mount their new pictures. b. The sculptor mounted his latest work on a big stone block in the square. 2. Okay, here is some vocabulary to do with using tools and mounting objects on walls. a. A stud = the large, vertical wooden post inside a wall or ceiling. b. Phillip's head = the tool used to screw in a screw. It's end looks like an X c.  A screw driver = similar to a phillip's head, but it's end looks like  - . d. Socket = the electrical outlet that you plug a plug into.  e. Hardware = all of the screws, nails, and other metal pieces that a piece of furniture needs. f. A drill = the electric tool that makes a whole in the wall or in wood/ metal. It is also the verb. Try iTalki for English practice with a native teacher!

A Salon Rescue.  

I'm recovering. It was a shock, you know. I'm talking about my experience at the hair dresser's. Okay, I'll give you some background. I have naturally very dark brown hair, fine, medium length. So, last year, as I realized that I had a few white hairs announcing themselves quite loudly from amongst the dark hairs, I decided to have some highlights. I happened to be in Seattle at the time, and I had a few hours to kill, so I walked into a salon and walked out two hours later with gorgeous, natural looking highlights. The story is great so far. The trouble with highlights, or any kind of hair coloring, is that it grows out in a few months. Now, a smart person is supposed to realize this, take it into account(1), and therefore make an appointment two or three months ahead to get new coloring. I didn't. I don't know what I was thinking. Perhaps I assumed that an angel would appear in my hour of need and give me some divine highlights, just like that. Well, the angel was late, so I went into a local hair dresser's which is known to be cheap, and I asked the lady there to do my highlights. I gave her some vague instructions like, "I just want them to look natural," and, "I think I like toffee color." I grabbed(2) a couple of magazines and prepared myself for a long sitting session. However, before I had even read through the first one, she was finished. "Oh," I thought to myself, "she does work fast!" "What do you think?" she asked as we both looked in the mirror. The room was actually quite dark, so I couldn't see very well. It did look more light than usual, but I chose to just pay, and go and examine her work at home. Little did I know that(3) I would get a big shock. The lighting in my bathroom is bright, not very flattering. But I needed an honest look, after all, I have to live with my hair. It was bright orange, right where my parting is. The highlights on the rest of my head were in thick, two inch chunks. And, for the crowning glory, I had three leopard spots on the top of my head, yes leopard spots. My dark color had formed circles surrounded by the pumpkin orange that was on the rest of it. I think I stopped breathing for a while. My mind flew into a panic. What was I going to do? Fly to a remote part of Alaska? I jumped in the car and went back to the salon. "You have to fix this," I told the lady. "I wear my hair back for work, but I can't now because the side highlights make me look bald! Plus I have leopard spots. Look!" Couldn't she see how bad it was? "So, you don't like it?" she asked. I just looked at her. This must be the local zombie salon, I thought to myself. Is anybody awake in here? She did her best to 'fix' the problem and remove the look of a partially bald leopard. Then I immediately made an appointment with a colorist in town who is a hair expert. Luckily, I didn't have to wait for months to see her. Her salon is calm, beautiful, and very classy. So is she. "Did you do this?" she asked me. "No," I replied, and I told her the whole, ridiculous story. "I've never seen anything like this," she said with a deep look of curiosity on her face. Well, she worked her magic, and POOF, transformed me from a pumpkin into a princess. I was elated. I was so thankful. I felt like paying her, and then giving her my watch and my car as well. And yes, I made another appointment with her. I'm going to stick with her like glue. No more leopards for me. I have learned my lesson. 1. 'To take into account' is the same as saying 'to bear in mind'. 'To bear' is the old verb meaning 'to carry', so the phrase really means to carry something in your mind, to be aware. a. I know that she is grumpy, but bear in mind that she is awake every night with her sick child. b. The car is a good price, but bear in mind that you will also have to pay tax and insurance. 2. 'To grab' is a very common English verb. We English use it a lot more than Americans. I could have used 'pick up' when referring to the magazines in the salon, but grab sounds more aggressive and basic. It helps to add to the essence of my ridiculous story. This is something that you can bear in mind when you wish to tell a story, word choice. How can I make what I say funny or effective? a. The policeman grabbed the young man by his collar. b. I was in a hurry. The bus was leaving, so I grabbed my bag and keys, and I flew out of the door. 3. 'Little did I/ another person know that' is also used a lot in English. It is the same as saying, ' I (another person) had no clue that ...' or 'I (another person) was about to discover that ....' a. I got in the elevator. Little did I know that I wasn't going to get out for 6 hours!/ I wouldn't get out for 6 hours! b. I talked ab

Starbucks Era.  

They say that America runs on coffee. It is the drink that gets people awake and focused for another day of work. I personally have two cups each morning. Of course, most of the coffee consumed in the U.S is grown in  Columbia and Brazil. In recent years, coffee drinking has become fashionable amongst young people. Chains of coffee shops have sprung up(1) all over the country, each with their own style and marketing. One of the American chains that has gone global is Starbucks. I have seen it evolve from a Seattle based coffee shop to the largest coffeehouse company in the world. It seems almost unbelievable(2) that it is in 62 countries and is still growing. So why is it so popular? It's appeal lies in(3) its quality roast and its elegant surroundings. It is a place where it is pleasant to linger. The muted, earthy colors of its decor, and relaxing selection of music draw people to not only relax and chat over coffee, but also to do work on their laptops, or even to have small business meetings. This kind of cafe has existed in Europe since 17th century, with the first opening in Damscus in 1530. The U.S, it seems, lacked a casual, non-alcoholic meeting place, away from both the office and home. It was this concept that the creator of Starbucks applied to his business. Now, young people will regularly buy a Starbucks on their way to High School. I occasionally treat my children to one of their non-cafeinated drinks, or a pastry, but not too often as it has become very expensive. Their business still thrives, however, even though they are not cheap. And in this culture of the 'drive thru', coffee is quickly and conveniently available. There are, though, other companies springing up that are providing competition for this coffeehouse giant. 'Dutch Bro's' is a company that the High Schoolers flock to. It is drive through only, so the sales are quick, and it appeals to teenagers as it always has very loud dance music playing while the young servers dance around inside the building preparing the coffee. And I'm sure that there will be other companies with other marketing strategies, all competing for people's money, and offering our favorite drug in a variety of ways. 1. 'To spring up' is a way of saying that something has suddenly appeared or been developed. It can be used figuratively. a. Mushrooms sprang up all over the garden after the previous day of rain. b. Complaints sprang up all over the restaurant when the new chef started working there. 2. 'Unbelievable' is an effective word to use in conversation every now and then. It means surprising, baffling, ridiculous, and not-credible. a. Did you see goal that he just scored? It was unbelievable! b. It is unbelievable how he continues to lie even when we all know the truth. 3. 'It's appeal lies in ...' is like saying that an attractiveness is found in... a. The building's appeal lies in its modern lines and open style. b. His appeal lies in his humility.

Basic Pronunciation Practice #44 + Interactive English.  

Liz: Hi Mum. Mother: Hello darling, how are you? Liz: Fine thanks, and you? Mother: Oh, really well thanks. How is your class selection going? Liz: Fine. I met with my school counselor, and he showed me which classes I have to complete by the end of the year, and which ones I can choose as electives. Mother: Anything interesting? (1)Liz: Well, yes. Even though I'm in a psychology program, I can still take an elective or two. (2)History of art really appeals to me; it might even help with my major. Mother: Yes, it'll help you understand how thoughts and attitudes have developed in society. It'll also give you a break from so much heavy thinking! I would certainly do it. You'll probably learn a lot more from it than you realize. Liz: Yes, that's how I feel about it too. I still have a week to make my final choices. I'll let you know once I've made them.  1a. Subject 'he' + 'a business man', + verb 'to continue' + with his hobbies. b. Subject 'they' + past + science, + time to paint. 2.  'Nursing', 'family's medical problems. b. 'Traveling' + 'them', 'their Youtube channel'. 

A Spring Princess.  

It's the time of year when everyone is thinking about the Spring. As the big machines pile up the remaining snow into huge piles in the parking areas, we find ourselves longing for(1) a more pleasant season, and greenery and flowers. Preparations are being made for life beyond the snow. Bulbs and seeds can be found again in the home centers, new Spring fashions are appearing in the shops, and soccer clubs are starting their practices in whichever gyms are available(2). Even though we still have a couple of months of winter weather, we know what is coming next, and we are waiting anxiously for it to come. As we celebrate the blossoming of apple trees in Spring, we also choose three young ladies to represent the Wenatchee Valley. They are from High School, and have to compete to be voted for. It is like an election campaign. They are judged on their character, intellect, community involvement, and future goals. It is quite different from a beauty contest, thankfully. It isn't just the(3) prettiest girls who become Apple Blossom Princesses. The selection process is quite rigorous, as the girls really need to show what they know, and communicate what they care about. This year's ladies have just been chosen. They will receive scholarships for college, and opportunities to visit businesses and organizations in the town. And they get the opportunity to dress up and look beautiful for a season. It's an American thing, and these ladies are our princesses for a year.  1. 'To long for' is 'to yearn for' or 'to wait impatiently for'. a. He longed for a reunion with his family; he hadn't seen them in so many years. b. She longed for him to hold her hand. c. We longed for rain; the crops wouldn't grow if the rain didn't come. 2. Use of 'whichever'. a. You can take your food to whichever till is available, and then pay there. b. I will have to take whichever plane is available, as mine has been cancelled. 3. 'It isn't just the ...' can be followed by a singular or plural subject. a. It isn't just the ice that's a problem for traffic, it's the freezing temperatures also that affect the vehicles. b. It isn't just the students who need new computers; it's the teachers and staff as well.  

Online Math.  

Mathematics is one of the foundations of education, with some people being inclined towards(1) it, and others finding it quite difficult. My sons seem to have a natural ability, including my youngest, Robert, who is in middle school. He has just started an online Algebra 1 course. Even though they do offer Algebra 1 in his school, he missed the admittance grade by one point. He was so disappointed, as he knew that he was capable of learning Algebra. As he had expressed his disappointment to me several times, I asked him if he would like to sign up for a course. "You will have to do the work at home, right? You do realize(2) that it's your responsibility?" I asked him. He answered "yes" to all of my questions, so before I knew it, I had found a recommended site, paid, and received the curriculum. "Things are certainly different nowadays," I thought to myself. And it's true; our children have so many options that weren't available when I was young(3). At the High School meeting I went to recently, the principal showed us that many new and exciting classes have been added to those that are offered. For half the day, if Robert qualifies, he could actually go to a technical center to study robotics. In this place, called The Tech Center, students can also do cooking, mechanics, crime science, and even work towards becoming a firefighter! Back at the regular High School, they have added classes like mixing electronic music, and 20th century pop culture. It seems like school could actually be a lot of fun. I suppose the world has changed radically, and in this era of technology and entertainment, the next generation needs to be prepared to qualify for many of the jobs that will be available. 1. 'To be inclined to/towards' meaning to lean towards, to have a tendency, or a willingness to. a. I am inclined to agree with what you say. b. As she criticizes him all the time, he is inclined to stay quiet. c. He inclined his head towards the people sitting at the table next to him so he could hear what they were saying.  2. 'You do realize...?" in English we emphasize the word 'do' as a way of looking for affirmation or a response. It is similar to saying, "I hope you realize that...". It sounds like a statement, but it can end with a question mark. a. They do realize that they have to pay for their food and lodging if they stay? b. You do realize that we will miss the bus if we don't leave now?  3. Our children have so many options that weren't available when I was young.  What a sentence! Anyone could use a sentence like this, and if you happen to be young, you could slightly adjust it to fit what you want to say. a. Our university has so many class choices that weren't available for my parents. b. There are so many civil rights now that weren't in place when my grandparents were young. c. There are so many laws that protect the environment that didn't exist when I was young.

Ending Polio.  

There is so much good news around that we often don't hear. Very soon, for only the second time in history, a human infectious disease will be eradicated: Polio. I remember receiving my oral vaccination for this disease when I was in secondary school, but, at the time, I had no idea what it was, nor(1) had I ever been around anyone who had suffered from it's symptoms. Being infected with this disease at a young age can result in paralysis, and it is also highly contagious. However, without most of us knowing, 155 countries have been working together in a monumental effort(2) to vaccinate all children. They have done such a good job that over the past 30 years, the cases have dropped 99.9%, with the actual number last year being about 40. There is a risk of recontamination, however, if some children are not immunized and left undetected in rural communities. Therefore, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, Unicef, and their partners have mobilized an army of volunteers, supervisors, laboratory workers, and surveillance experts, to stamp out this disease once and for all. All children must be vaccinated as soon as possible by taking a liquid orally, starting at two months of age, and having a total of four doses at different times. The vaccination has changed from three strains of the virus to two, as one has already been eradicated. Here in the U.S, every dollar spent on vaccinations saves three dollars in direct healthcare, and ten dollars in societal(3) costs. You can imagine how this can multiply! The billions of dollars in savings each year are mainly experienced by low-income countries. And that means money can be spent on other areas of preventative healthcare, or better infrastructure. It should be this year that we will hear on the news the announcement about the eradication of Polio. And when it happens, we will need to celebrate. One of the great legacies of this movement is that after each unvaccinated child has been vaccinated, the structure will be in place to continue vaccinating new children each year. What a collaborative effort! If you wish to donate, or read about the End Polio Now movement, simply click here. 1. 'Nor' can be used by itself (without 'neither') if you are continuing with a second sentence and speaking negatively in some way. a. I didn't wake up until noon. Nor did I have energy to get  out of bed! b. They didn't attend the history lectures; nor did they turn up for the field trip! 2. 'Monumental' and 'effort' go really well together in English, with 'monumental' being one of the expressions of a large size that is impressive or even historical. It is also a great word for insults and exaggeration. a. Taking care of all the refugees will be a monumental effort that must be shared by many. b. I made a monumental mistake when I called my ex-boyfriend's mother, instead of my own! c. We could have a decent conversation if he wasn't so monumentally silly. 3. 'Societal' is an adjective which means 'of society'. a. Many future societal problems can be prevented in elementary schools. b. There is a lot of societal pressure to be rich. Try iTalki to improve your pronunciation and fluency!

Basic Pronunciation Practice #43 + 'th' practice.  

Emilie: Liz, this packing is exhausting! Liz: I know. I didn't realize that I had so much stuff! Look at all of these boxes. Those over there are so heavy. I'm getting quite thirsty with all of this packing and lifting, my thigh muscles are getting a good workout! Emilie: This will be the third time that we've loaded up the car. It was so thoughtful of Peter to give us all of these cardboard boxes. Liz: I know. Hopefully there'll be just one more trip. Emilie: This box is really heavy. Do you need all of these books? They're nothing to do with your course. What do we have here? There's a book on the theater, one on theology, and a thin one on therapies of different kinds. Liz: You know, I'm such a hoarder. I don't like to get rid of anything! Thinking about it, I could donate those three because I'll never read them again. Emilie: Alright! Liz is becoming a minimalist, finally! Liz: Oh no, think again lady; I definitely like my stuff. Hey, after we load up the car, I'll invite you to a drink. My throat is so dry; I feel like I've just run a marathon! Practice 'th' now with help from Effortless English Club. Try online lessons with iTalki for more pronunciation practice with native English teachers. 

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