Friday, April 29, 2011

"Semana Santa"/"Holy Week" Comment

A cross at a school in Palmares, Costa Rica.
After hearing a few comments on Facebook about the Common Error post about Semana Santa, I just wanted to mention a thing or two.

First of all, I didn't say that the phrase "Holy Week" is not used in English; I just said that it's not common. I still believe that, at least in mast cases. It is used sometimes in religious contexts, as a few readers pointed out. The main thing I was trying to differentiate between was Semana Santa as it's understood and practiced in Latin America, and "Spring Break" and "Holy Week" as they're practiced in English-speaking countries.

For example, if you go to a church in the U.S.A., it may certainly refer to the week before Easter as "Holy Week." However, that doesn't mean that there's a week-long holiday from work and school connected to that week. That's very rare, at least in the U.S., but it seems to be the norm in Latin America. Additionally, "Spring Break" is a week-long holiday from most schools, but rarely from work. So, the main thing I was trying to clear up was the confusion that I had noticed in some of my classes. Until I mentioned it in class, most of my student hadn't even heard the word "Easter," for example, and that word seems to get closer to the mark than "Holy Week."

So, that's it for the moment. If you have any comments or if you disagree with this, I'd love to hear from you.

Oh, by the way, as you probably figured out, we were on break here in Costa Rica last week, and this week I've been catching up with work and other things, so I didn't do a blog post for "Mistake Monday" or "Trouble Tuesday." There will be one next week, though, so please check back then!

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Common Error: Phrases Related to "Semana Santa"

Hello everyone, and welcome to Trouble Tuesday (It's too late for Mistake Monday)! If you're in Costa Rica or anywhere else in Latin America, you're likely hearing a lot this week about Semana Santa. This holiday would literally translate as "Holy Week," but that's not a common phrase in English. So, I decided to dedicate this week's Common Errors section to this holiday and how to talk about it in English:

Common Error: Phrases Related to "Semana Santa"
DON’T say this:What are you doing for Holy Week vacation?
We don't have any plans for Holy Friday or Sunday of the Resurrection.
I'm not a Christian. I'm a Catholic.
WHY?-As mentioned in the introduction, Semana Santa is a major concept in Latin America. It's a week-long holiday normally in April, and it ends on Easter Sunday. So, if you were talking about the holiday in English, you would probably call it something like "Easter Break." 

-It's important to note that Easter or Easter Sunday refers to the day that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, so Easter definitely has religious connections. There's also "Spring Break," but that's secular (not religious).

-Most English-speaking places are more secular than Latin America, so there's usually not a week-long holiday. Many families (and churches, of course) in English-speaking Christian areas focus their celebrations on Easter Sunday with special masses or church services. Still, there are some businesses or schools that close on the Friday before Easter. That day marks the crucifixion of Jesus, but it's (strangely) named "Good Friday."

-Finally, I notice my students often confusing the terms "Christians," "Catholics," and "Evangelicals." This is a potentially controversial topic but generally in English, Christianity is the religion of any Christian, or person who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. Most people divide Christians into two or three groups: Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians (Click Here for more info). Catholicism is the branch of Christianity practiced in the majority of Latin America. Protestantism can be divided into many denominations; for example, there are Baptists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and many, many more.
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"What are you doing for Easter Break?"
-"We don't have any plans for Good Friday or Easter Sunday."
-"I'm a Christian. I'm Catholic."

Wow! That was a pretty long explanation! Then again, whenever religion gets involved --even in language-- things get more complicated! I hope it was clear; if not, please ask a question, leave a comment, or contact us. Thanks for reading, and have a great week (or semana santa, or Easter Break)!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Awesomely Ridiculous And Ridiculously Awesome!

Apparently, this is the only picture of buffalo that I've taken.

"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

According to this Wikipedia entry, the sentence above is an actual sentence. It has something to do with the fact that the word "buffalo" (usually understood as the animal) can also be used as a verb (meaning to confuse or intimidate), and that when capitalized, it refers to the city in New York state. You can read the entry if you want, but it's a bit confusing. I still like it because it's a good demonstration of how English can be fascinating and frustrating at the same time. So if you're having trouble, don't give up hope!

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Common Error: "How do you call...?"

Hello everyone, and welcome to Mistake Mond... uhm, Mistake Tuesday! Monday was a national holiday here in Costa Rica, so we didn't have to go to work. That was great, but it seems to have melted my brain a bit, and I completely forgot about Mistake Monday. But better late than never, right?

Anyhow, today's error is very common among my students and even my coworkers. I often don't even notice it anymore, but I still told my students I'd talk about it on the blog. It's when someone says, "How do you call...?" to ask for an unknown vocabulary word. Confused? Let's take a closer look:

Common Error: "How do you call...?"
DON’T say this:How do you call a person who collects trash?
I don't know how to call my amazing new invention.
WHY?-When people say this, they're probably just translating "Cómo se llama" in Spanish, "Wie heisst es" in German, or a similar equivalent in another language. In English, though, you should say "What do you call..." if you're asking for the name of an unknown object or person.

-Technically, you could say "How do you call..." but then you'd be asking for a method of calling. If my students ask a question with "How do you call..." I usually respond, "With a telephone!" (Because I'm a mean teacher!)
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"What do you call a person who collects trash?"
-"I don't know what to call my amazing new invention."
-"Can you help me? I don't know how to call the telephone operator to ask for a telephone number."

So, that's it for today. I wasn't really sure what to call today's post, but I hope it was clear. If you have any comments or questions, please leave a comment or contact us. Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Recommended Podcast: This American Life

A while ago I did a blog post about Podcasts (click here to see it), but I wanted to highlight a few of them in a bit more detail. Today I'll talk about one and in the next few weeks I'll try to mention a few others I've enjoyed and recommend for language learners.

One of the most popular podcasts in The United States is This American Life. Since it's for native speakers, it's not necessarily made for English learners, but it still can be a great resource if you're trying to learn English. 

The program comes out once a week, and each episode is an hour long. Every week they focus on a different topic and talk about normal people who have experience with the topic. For example, a few weeks ago the show talked about some people who thought they had discovered the original recipe for Coca-Cola. 

One of the best things about this podcast is that it often comes with a transcript of the whole episode (Here's one from a recent episode about people in a drug-prevention program). For an English learner, these transcripts can be an incredible resource if you read along while listening to the podcast. However, doing that could also become tiring, so it might be best to break it into smaller parts.

This American Life's website is very extensive and has past episodes in its archive, but if you go through there, you can generally only listen to old episodes for free by using streaming audio. But if you get the show through itunes, it's free and you can keep older episodes for as long as you want. So that's the way I do it.

That's it for today. I'll try to highlight more recommended podcasts in the future. If you've listened to This American Life and have comments about it, or if you want to recommend other podcasts you enjoy, then please feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for reading, and have a great day! 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Common Error: "Bring" vs. "Take"

It's Mistake Monday again! Today's error is surprisingly common, but fortunately it's also easy to fix. Let's take a look:

Common Error: Bring vs. Take
DON’T say this:Thank you very much for taking me here.
If you're going downtown, can you bring me to the bus stop?
WHY?-Take means to move something away from where you are now. Remember the phrase "take this away from me."

-Bring means to move something from a different place to where you are now. Use the phrase "bring that to me" to help you remember.
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"Thank you very much for bringing me here." (After someone gives you a ride, for example).
-"If you're going downtown, can you take me to the bus stop?"

Easy, right? I hope you can all take the tips in today's common error and use them to improve your English.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment or contact us. Thanks for reading, and have a great week!