This is the place for occasional tips and the place for you to ask your questions and to practice your English.


Try this reading lesson. If you like it let us know. (there is a place for comments at the end of the lesson).
A couple of my students insist on having their electronic dictionaries open in front of them during lessons despite my protestations. So in today’s lesson I tried to show how detrimental such a practice can be to learning and enjoying English.
I first took this sentence,
Tom decided that he desperately needed the glockum if he were to solve the problem
Hands automatically reached for the dictionaries before I walked to each student and closed the machines. ‘But we don’t know some of the words,’ they protested.
I told them to guess. (aside: Do you know the most common English expression voiced by Hong Kong students? It is ‘I don’t know.’) It took at least five minutes to make recognisable progress. So I gave them this:
Jack quickly entered the didot and cleaned the various misturaes he had been using to repair the wuipit. He had often thought his job was extremely yullning. However he had to admit that this time things seemed to be a bit easier. When he finished, he put on his redick and went back to the study to relax. He took out his favourite pipe and settled into the beautiful new pogtry. Only 300 yagmas!
There are seven words there that I know you do not know. How do I know? Because the are made up.
By the end of the hour the class was chatting away and actually expressing their opinions, their favourite ideas and they were doing it in English. We had achieved success.

Your turn. Answer these questions.

What could a ‘didot’ be? Look at the words in the ‘chunk’ ‘Jack quickly entered the didot.’
What part of speech is ‘misturaes’? The part of speech gives us the function of the word, what its job in the sentence is.
What could ‘yulling’ mean? Look at the ‘ing’ ending. What kinds of words end in ‘ing’?
Try to figure out what a ‘redick’ might be or a ‘pogtry’ or ‘yagmas’.
Note: This part of the lesson was taken from the NYT web page ‘About’.
 Now you sort of know what the story is about BUT you have no fixed definitions of the made up words. That’s fine. You can leave it there.

The next thing you can do is to find a short story, there are lots about, try to choose one written recently (within say 50 years).

Look at it. (without reading it). Check the title, any pictures, any words that jump off the page.
Think about what you have discovered without actually reading.
Now read it as quickly as you can without stopping at words you do not know. What pictures come into your mind? Is it a happy story or a sad one? Is it fact or fiction? What is the gist of the story?
Now, read the story. Stop every few lines and ask yourself questions, for example: ‘Why is the man driving a bus?’ Why is the tree bent down to the ground? Why? Why? Why?
Read on. Repeat the process. Read on until the end. Ask yourself questions again. Why this? How that?
Now and ONLY now you may refer to a dictionary. You will have guessed the approximate meaning or sense of new words, now use your dictionary to confirm.
This morning we read a story called ‘The Eyes of the Poor’ by Charles Baudelaire, a story that no second language student would ever find by himself. My students admitted that their understanding was much much better, much deeper, than it would have been without the hard slog of the exercises.


Confused by ‘tall’ and ‘high’?

Tall expresses height, and it’s used to compare the height of an object or a living thing with the height of other objects or living things.
That building is tall. (when comparing that building to other buildings) 
Max is tall. (when comparing Max to other people)
High expresses elevation, and is used to describe objects or living things having a fixed reference that have been raised or lifted upwards:
That building is high. (That building is raised up from the ground)
Max is high. (Max’s mood is elevated; Max is high on chocolate.)
Walls are raised up, or high, and mountains, being a natural part of the landscape are elevated, or high, so if a structure, say a building, is considered to have a fixed reference, then its elevation is expressed as high, but if a fixed reference is not being considered, then its height is expressed as tall.
A tower or building, could be viewed as either a fixed structure, e.g., a high tower; a high building, or a non fixed structure, e.g. a tall tower, a tall building. It all depends on perception, or how we view the world around us.
In short, the general rule of thumb is: If fixed, then high, and if non fixed then tall, and since perception determines usage, speakers will differ. To me, a mountain is high whereas my friend is tall. Usage is a matterof how one perceives the world.


Management Jargon: ‘Going Forward’ Voted Most Irritating Term Used At Work

PA/The Huffington Post UK | Posted: 02/05/2013 07:06 BST | Updated: 02/05/2013 12:36 BST
Office speak is getting right up workers’ noses.
Office workers are fighting back against the scourge of “management-speak”, dubbing the very phrases intended to lubricate colleague relations a “pointless irritation.”
“Going forward” and “thinking outside the box” have been dubbed the most offensive terms, according to a survey by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM).
And this vocabulary virus is not limited to the UK. Spanish workers have complained of over-use of “Es lo que es” (“It is what it is”), while the French say they cannot stand anglicisms such as “win-win”, “next step” and the verb “brainstormer”.
English words have also crept into Russian management-speak, where workers complain of their “top-manager”, and even the Italians refer to “core business” and “benchmarking”.
At the end of the day, office jargon is what it is, but if you don’t want to 110% annoy your colleagues, try replacing the10 business terms listed below with their real-world equivalents.
Ten infuriating office terms and their English equivalents:
1. “Reach out” – Call, email or meet
2. “Touch base” – Contact; see above
3. “It’s on my radar” – I’m aware
4. “Flag up” – Make aware of
5. “Low-hanging fruit” – An easily-achievable goal
6. “It’s a win-win situation” – It’s a good idea
7. “It’s a no-brainer” – See above
8. “Best practice” – A good way of doing something
9. “I’ll ping you an agenda” – I’ll email you with what’s happening
10. “Take it to the next level” – Improve (alternatively, avoid dealing with abstract “levels” altogether and give your colleagues a tangible goal).


May 3rd
Shelley Emling
3 Common Language Mistakes That Drive Me Crazy
Huff Post: Posted: 05/01/2013 7:44 am
The other night, I was sitting around with a couple of old girlfriends, drinking wine and eating chicken parmigiana. After exhausting the topics of sex, kids, money, bosses and spouses, one of my friends got on the subject of pet peeves. “Just the other day I heard someone say ‘that point is mute’ and I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I just wanted to yell, ‘it’s moot, not mute, you moron.'” (By the way, “moot” actually means a point is open — not closed — to discussion.)
The conversation made me think about how irritated we can get when we hear language mistakes. For example, I especially don’t like to hear someone say “I could care less.” Why? Because this means the person actually cares a little and so could possibly care less. What people mean to say — I think — is that they “couldn’t care less” — or that they care so little they could not possibly care less.
And there are other common mistakes that provoke the same response in me as fingernails on a blackboard. Here are just three of them. Feel free to add your own pet peeves in comments.
1. Misusing literally.
When my kid says “I literally felt like strangling the person” or “I literally could have eaten a horse” I assume he doesn’t really mean it and that he’s speaking metaphorically. (If he does mean it, we’re in trouble.) “Literal” actually means “in a literal or strict sense.” It shouldn’t be overused as a replacement for “figuratively.”
2. Mixing up disinterested and uninterested.
A lot of people don’t see a difference in these two words even though there is one. If you are bored or simply not interested in something, you are uninterested. If you are disinterested, then you are neutral and you don’t have a personal stake in something. For example, if you are enjoying a sports match but don’t have anything to gain or lose as a result of the final score, then you are disinterested but not uninterested.
3. Confusing “affect” and “effect.”
People mix up these words all the time even though “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun. “Affect” means to influence or impact something, as in “the drizzle affected my hair.” But “effect” means “result” so that you’d say “the drizzle actually had no effect on my hair.”
And while I’m on a rant, it’s not “could of” but “could have.” You “pore” over a document when you read it. After washing your clothes, you put them in a dryer — to make them drier. And, finally, “desert” is an arid landscape. “Dessert” is that chocolate cake you had after dinner.
So there.


January 6
Most of my students, past and present have had an equation drummed into their heads. It is this:
where C stands for Chinese and E stands for English. What I mean by this is simple. When you write what you want to say in English, and it makes sense in Chinese, it is wrong. WRONG. The reason is that the two languages have been formed differently and, to a small extent, for different reasons. Priorities in sentences are different. The ideas of confrontation and harmony are different.

So please remember: C≠E

January 3rd 2013

This is more than a little tip. This is a cry from the hearts of parents (and many teachers) all over Hong Kong. A cry that needs the help of a million megaphones so that someone, somewhere in the education department removes the metaphorical beans from their ears and the cobwebs from their minds.


Hong Kong schools conveyor belt hundreds of identical, bespectacled, geeky trainee accountants, no longer tied by apron strings but now suspended from a frame by the strings of a marionette. Dance puppet, dance. One only has to look at the clamour for ‘Western Style’ school places to realise that Hong Kong Schools are NOT serving the community.

We all (adults as well) learn by doing. By participating. By questioning. Yes, and by challenging. Teachers do not automatically deserve respect, like you they must earn it. They earn it by empowering your child to think and make decisions. They earn it by producing responsible adults from the spotty faced, ink stained little ‘geniuses’ that you proudly and mistakenly present to your chosen school.

January 1st 2013


The following passage occurs at the beginning of Under Milk Wood, a play for radio by Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet.

Look at the way he uses adjectives. He has invented some of the complex ones  himself. For example ‘bible black’. Bible black because the bible is traditionally bound in black leather but also, in the part of Wales from which he came, the bible was a sombre instruction to darkness and devotion.

And then the streets are ‘hunched’. Hunched like, perhaps, an old man. Hunched, slow, grey, quiet. We can imagine the sleeping village. And then, perhaps the most memorable passage of the whole play, for me at least. ‘Sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.’ A sloe is the black fruit of the hawthorn bush, bitter, sour and strips the roof of your mouth, then he breaks that with the homophone ‘slow’ and then another black image, the crow in ‘crow black’. Read it to yourself and feel the rhythym.

The sea can be slow and lazy within the small harbour in Wales where the fishing boats move with the gentle swell and all is black.

It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and- rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows‘ weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.

Try inventing some adjectives of your own, try to make them reflect the feelings and emotions that you are trying to express. Gaily polka-dotted, flared dress for example. Try it. Send your best to me.



Been asked to make a presentation? Think you can rustle up something on Power Point in a couple of hours?


Steve Jobs, one of the world’s best ‘presenters’ probably took weeks. If you have something important to say you need correct preparation. Even Wayne Rooney needs to practice all week for a maximum of 90 minutes on a Saturday.

Call me. I’ll show you how. Planning, presentation skills and correct English (including perfect pronunciation and enunciation).

Here are a couple of words that are often ‘mis translated’.

1. Help: Help means to assist. It means that the helper is just one of the people who are doing something. It does NOT mean to do something FOR someone else.
e.g. Will you help me move the sofa, please? You take that end and I’ll take this.
e.g. I do not understand this word. Will you help me please?

2. Blame:(n, adj, v) Means to accuse someone of something or to suggest fault with one’s self or another.
e.g. You blamed me for breaking the window, but I was at work in Sha Tin at the time, so I could not possibly be to blame.
Note. Blame does NOT mean to chastise or to criticise.

I’ll be posting some more like this in the coming days and weeks. If you are confused by a word in English, let me know.

To speak English well you need to ENUNCIATE. … and this will help you:
try to bring your sounds to the front of your mouth so they do not get swallowed. (That is one reason American English is so difficult to understand)
Then imagine that each sound is a perfectly formed , hollow crystal ball. When you say a sound imagine it as a glass ball propelled through the air so it smashes against a distant wall.
Over enunciate at first. Over emphasise the final consonents of each word.




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