Friday, June 29, 2012

Hearing, Part 3: My Top 5 Favorite Podcasts

Use your headphones, don't let them get moldy like mine!
(Although mine are moldy because of the climate, not neglect)
Hello! It's Friday, so you know what that means: party! But when you get a chance to look at this blog again on Sunday evening, I wanted to share my suggestions for my Top 5 Favorite Podcasts. All the podcasts in this list are produced in the USA and are therefore fairly advanced, but you may like them and learn something even if you're not a native speaker. 

You can find all of these podcasts for free through iTunes (that's what I do), or you can go to each podcast's webpage for more information about getting the episodes. So, here's my list!

5. On The Media - This is a weekly NPR (National Public Radio) program that investigates news stories and how they are reported. We have a TV in my house, but we don't have an antenna or cable, so we don't get any channels. Listening to programs like this help me keep at least partially connected to reality. 

4. Stuff You Should Know - I talked about this podcast a while back, and you can read my comments here. The main idea: I still like and recommend this podcast.

3. This American Life - Same as number 4; I mentioned this on the blog here, and I still think it's a great weekly podcast that you should check out.

2. Freakonomics - I've still never read the book with the same title, but I've become a big fan of this podcast, which comes out at least once a week. It's motto is "the hidden side of everything," and it does have quite a variety of topics. It does talk about numbers and statistics, but it still makes economics seem interesting.

1. The Complete Guide To Everything - This is still one of my favorite weekly podcasts, if not my absolute favorite. It's hosted by Tim and Tom, two guys who live in Brooklyn. They mainly just talk about (or around) a new topic every week. It's very funny, and I like their humor. Have a listen if you've not already.

So, that's it for today. Have a great weekend or if you are indeed reading this on Sunday evening like I suspect, then have a nice week!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Learn German - The Language of Love!

Guten Abend!

Have you ever wanted to learn German, also known as "The International Language of Love"? Of course you have! If you live near Palmares or San Ramón, now is a good time to start. You can call Discovery Language Academy at 2453-4541 if you're interested in beginning a course. If you know anyone who's interested in learning German, please pass the word on to him or her. If there's not enough interest in opening a class at Discovery, I may open a private class with one or two students. But if you are interested, call as soon as possible, since classes will start next week either way!

Danke Schön! Mach's gut!

Obviously, you should learn German, but if you find yourself in a situation where you see this sign, you could even die if you don't know German! Sign up for a class today! (Image Credit)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hearing, Part 2

Many thanks to my beautiful wife Angela, who very reluctantly allowed me to take this picture of hear ear for today's post!

Hello, and happy Word Wednesday! Today I wanted to share a bit of vocabulary related to hearing and ears.

The most basic word here is ear, which are the organs on the side of your face that help you hear. The bottom part of the ear is called the earlobe. That's the part that many people pierce so that they can wear earrings. In the picture above, you can see Angela's earring in her earlobe. She got her ears pierced when she was about seven years old. In her case, her sister pierced her ear with a needle, but it's also very common these days for girls to get their ears pierced at a store that uses a piercing gun.

So, what can you do with your ears? Most people can hear and listen with them (see the post from Monday for an explanation about when to use these two words). Synonyms for hear and listen can include "listen up" and "pay attention."  If you hear someone say something but the person wasn't specifically talking to you, then you overhear something. If you are deliberately spying on other people and listening to their conversation without their permission, you are snooping or eavesdropping.

Q-tips (cotton swabs). (Image Credit)

But what if your ears get dirty? Most people clean them with a Q-tip (which is a brand name for a cotton swab). But be careful! Supposedly, according to overprotective mothers all over the world, you shouldn't stick a Q-tip too far into your ear or you'll break your ear drum, one of the parts of your inner ear that helps you hear!

Finally, if you are exceptionally talented, you can wiggle your ears. "To wiggle" means to move a little bit. Watch this short clip from one of my favorite movies, The Goonies. The big man, named "Sloth," can wiggle his ears:


Let's review the words we covered today. Can you explain what each of these words means? If not, read the post again. The definitions are at the bottom of the post.

Words for today:

1. hearing
2. ear
3. earlobe
4. to pierce / to get a piercing
5. earring
6. to hear
7. to listen
8. to overhear
9. to spy
10. to snoop
11. to eavesdrop
12. Q-tip
13. inner ear
14. ear drum
15. to wiggle

Could you define those words? If not, check the post again. Here are some suggested definitions for these words.

Suggested Definitions:

1. hearing - interpreting sound; the general name for the sense 
2. ear - the visible part of your body's hearing organs
3. earlobe - the lowest part of your ear
4. to pierce / to get a piercing - to perforate a part of your body for decoration
5. earring - a decoration in a pierced ear
6. to hear - (see Monday's post)
7. to listen - (see Monday's post)
8. to overhear - to hear unintentionally
9. to spy - unauthorized listening to other people's conversations
10. to snoop - synonym of "spy"
11. to eavesdrop - synonym of "spy"
12. Q-tip - a cotton swab; a stick with pieces of cotton at both ends
13. inner ear - the interior parts of your body's hearing organs
14. ear drum - part of the inner ear
15. to wiggle - to move a little bit

I hope that vocabulary was helpful! If you have any comments or questions, I'd love to hear from you! Thanks for reading, and have a great night!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Senses: Hearing, Part 1

A chart showing the way our bodies hear sounds. (Image)

Hello, and welcome to Mistake Monday! Last week we looked at different words related to the sense of sight, and this week we'll examine the next sense: hearing. This is the sense that you do with your ears; it's also referred to as "listening," but what's the difference between the words "hear" and "listen"? That's a good question, and it's actually a common error that I notice in my classes. So, here is a re-posting of one of our first Common Errors to help explain the difference:

Common Error: Confusing "listen" and "hear"
DON’T say this:I'm sorry, but I wasn't hearing to you.
Hear! I think I listen a car coming!
Did you listen that noise just now?
WHY?Much like the difference between "watch," "see," and "look," the difference between "listen" and "hear" has a lot to do with intention:

-You naturally hear things; "to hear" is to perceive sounds that reach your ears by using your sense of hearing. You normally don't plan to hear: it's spontaneous.

-To hear of/about something means to have knowledge related to that thing.

-If you listen, you carefully or continuously hear something. You have to pay attention to listen to something. If you have an object that follows the word "listen," be sure to add the word "to."

-Additionally, "listen" can be used as an interjection, but "hear" generally can't.
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"Listen to this CD. It's great!"
-"Sorry, but I didn't hear what you said. I wasn't listening."
-"Have you heard about Pete? He got fired for always coming to work late!"

Many people, especially as they become older, have trouble hearing and need to use hearing aids to help them hear. (Image)

So, I hope that helps a bit. On Wednesday we'll look at more words related to the sense of hearing. Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sight: "I Can See Clearly Now"

For today's Fun Friday post I was looking for a song related to sight or vision and I found this classic song by Johnny Nash. It's been redone by a few different people, but this version is probably the best. I'll include the video, as well as the lyrics. I hope you like it, and I hope you have a great weekend!


I Can See Clearly Now, by Johnny Nash

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin' for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Look all around, there’s nothin' but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin' but blue skies

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you again on Monday for the next sense in our series: hearing!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sight, Part 2: Vision Vocabulary

If this guy doesn't take the blindfold off his eyes, I have a feeling the binoculars won't help. (Image)

On Monday we talked about how to use the words look (at), see, and watch, so today I wanted to include a bit more vocabulary. Besides these three verbs, there are a lot of synonyms for actions that you can do with your eyes. Watch this video and see what different words you can find. Do you know how to spell them?

Let's quickly go through the words in the video. The man speaks very clearly (here's his site for more English practice), but it's still good to see what the words look like. The words he mentioned are: 

blink, wink, stare, gaze, peek, peep, and glare

Can you explain the differences between these words? How often do you do these actions, and when do you do them? If you aren't sure how to answer these questions, watch the video again and see if you can find the explanations.

Finally, I wanted to add the phrasal verb "check (it) out," which I use very frequently. It is a less-formal way to say "look." You can also move the object that you're looking at when you make the sentence, but if you use the pronoun, it's more common to put it between "check" and "out." For example, you can say:

"I'm going to check out Sitzman ABC."
"I'm going to check it out." 

So, that's it for today. Be sure to check out the blog on Friday for another post related to this week's sense: sight. Thanks for reading, and have a nice night!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Senses: Sight, Part 1

Be sure to put on your glasses (or get your eyes checked) before you read this post. (Image)

As I mentioned last Friday, for the next series of posts I'd like to talk about the 5 senses. To start off, we'll look at the eyes this week. The name of the sense that your eyes perceive is usually called sight or vision. We'll look at more related words on Wednesday for Word Wednesday but for today I wanted to re-post one of the first Common Errors I put up, from back in 2010. It explains when to use the words "look," "see," and "watch." I did make a few small changes based on a recommendation by a coworker earlier today. Have a look:

Common Error: Confusing "see," "look (at)," and "watch"

DON’T say this:

See! There's a giant snake over there!
Let's go to the mall and look a movie.
I like to see the show "Smallville"
WHY?This is a difficult problem because the differences between these words are subtle:

-“See” means to perceive something by using your eyes (vision). You normally don’t plan to see, you just do it naturally or spontaneously:
"It's very dark in this room--I can't see a thing!"

One exception is if you're making plans to do something that involves your eyes (like going to a movie or visiting a family member):
"I'm going to go see/visit my grandma this weekend, and we may even go see/watch a movie."

-When you look at something, you generally move your eyes to see it. This is an action that you plan to do, and you look at something for a reason. Both “look” and “see” could be used as interjections, but “look” is much more common:
"Look at this backpack; do you think it would hold all my books and my laptop?"

-The word “watch” is similar to “look (at),” but it generally indicates a longer period of time. If you watch, you are carefully or continuously observing something. This is the most common verb to use with TV or movies. Things that you watch are generally moving or involve movement:
"I spent the whole afternoon babysitting, watching my neighbor's kids. But it was easy since we just watched a movie on TV."
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-“Look! There's a giant snake over there!”
-“Let's go to the mall and see/watch a movie.”
-"I like to watch the TV show 'Smallville.'"
-“I was watching the soccer game, but when the lights went out in the stadium, it was too dark to see anything.”
-“I want to exchange my Dollars for Euros, so I’ve been watching the currency exchange rate closely.

"Then again, John MAY just be really dull." (Image)

So, I hope that is clear. What are your favorite activities that you like to do using each of these verbs? Please feel free to leave a comment below if you'd like. 
Thanks for reading and looking at my website. Be sure to watch the Internet on Wednesday for another post with more vocabulary involving sight. Have a nice week, and I'll see you again on Wednesday!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

English Music

It's Saturday morning, a time that I rarely write blog posts, but I wanted to mention something that's on the radio right now. There's a program called "London Underground" on 99.5 FM (here in Costa Rica), but it's also available for free live streaming by clicking here. It's playing music from England and the presenter introduces the songs in English, so it's a good way to practice your English while listening to good music. It's also on every Saturday at 10 am, so if you miss it today, you can check it out another week. You can also go to the program's Facebook page or Radio 2's Facebook page for more information. 

Have a good Satuday and a good weekend filled with good music!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Introduction to Senses

Today I want to talk about words related to the senses, since they involve a lot of good vocabulary. We'll focus on one sense per week over the next few weeks, but for today's Fun Friday video I thought it would be good to have a short introduction to the senses, so that everyone knows what we're talking about.

I found this very good video on the internet that explains how we talk about the senses in English, and it also has text, so you can find new vocabulary, also. Check it out, and next week we'll begin talking about these words and concepts:

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Opening Trivia Question: What do you call the girl throwing the ball in the picture? 
A) The Quarterback  B) The Pitcher  C) The Seeker  D) The Umpire  E) Jenny

Good evening, and welcome to Word Wednesday! Today we're going to talk about sports. To be honest, I'm not a very sporty guy. I like to do exercise and walk around and do stuff, but I just don't like watching sports on TV. It's really boring for me, although that's obviously a personal preference.

Every play in a football game is 4 "exciting" seconds of chaos followed by 5 minutes of commercials. (Photo by Ed Yourdon)

Nevertheless, a few of my students are going to do a presentation on "American Football" tomorrow, and I found myself in a position where I had to explain some of the concepts of the game to them. I was a little embarrassed that I actually know so much about the game, so please don't tell anyone!

First of all, in much of the world "football" is the sport where players kick the ball with their feet and try to get it into the goal. It has 90 minutes of excruciatingly boring play, frequently punctuated by players falling down and faking injuries like drama queens. For a few countries, though, that same sport is called "soccer." It's called "soccer" in the USA, of course, but the name "soccer" is also very common in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa, since all of those countries have different sports that are referred to as "football."

In another half-second, all three of these players will be on the ground, holding different body parts, pretending to be in pain. This is the "thrill" of soccer. (Photo by Ingythewingy)

In the US, "football" is completely different. In Costa Rica and Latin America, at least, it's called "American Football," although they also say "we're all Americans," so something doesn't quite compute. But that's OK. A football game in the US has 60 minutes of excruciatingly boring play, but a game somehow takes about 4 hours to finish since the play is constantly interrupted by commercial breaks. It's really quite intolerable. The players also wear a lot more padding and equipment than in soccer. To play football without getting killed you should wear a helmet, shoulder pads, wrist tape, a mouth guard, knee braces, thigh pads, a jock strap and shoes with cleats

Some people say that football is better than soccer because football has beautiful cheerleaders. I'll admit it: these women are more attractive than me and better dancers, too. However, if you need to look at beautiful women to distract you from the sport you're supposed to be watching, then I'm sorry, but your sport is boring. (Photo by Keith Allison)
Here's some "cheerleader math" for you: The average cost of a ticket to a professional football game is almost $77, and some are even over $100--and that's the average cost. Parking can cost around $20, hot dogs can cost $6 or $7 a piece, a pop or beer is about $8, and in the end, you may not even see a cheerleader if it's snowing. However, the price of a copyright-free picture of a beautiful cheerleader is exactly $0.00 on the internet. So which is a better deal? (Photo by Keith Allison)

On the other hand, if you want to play soccer you just need some shoes, but even that is probably optional if they get stolen or you forget them on the bus. In soccer, players try to kick a ball into a goal. There are more rules, but that's the main idea of the game. It's pretty simple.

The main idea of football is... well, it's a lot more complicated than almost any sport except cricket, chess, or assembling furniture. I think it's (much) better if I let Burt Reynolds explain it to you:

So, did you get that? Hopefully so. It's cheesy but kind of funny. I really liked this video, mainly because it had Burt Reynolds, but also because of the amazing music and breathtaking fashion trends.

Ugghhh, here we go again: a soccer player fakes an injury to interrupt Sitzman ABC. The clock is still running, but don't get your hopes up: The worst part about soccer injuries (besides the pain the players suffer) is that the referees add extra time on the clock at the end of the game to make up for the lost time treating the injury. (Photo by ecmorgan)

So which is "better": soccer or football? It's very hard to decide. In both sports grown adults run around in the grass for a few hours and get paid more money in an hour than I'll earn in my life. Both sports are really boring unless you are drunk or have a very loose definition of the word "entertainment." Football's advantage is that it has cheerleaders and Burt Reynolds supporting it, but soccer's advantage is that the games end more quickly, giving you more time to do something more interesting and productive than reading a sport. In the end the score is zero to zero, so I'll have to call it a tie!

And that's it for today. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment, either in the comment form below, or by calling Burt Reynolds directly.

Thanks for reading, and have a great night!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Common Error: "News"

"Breaking News" refers to a news story that is urgent or developing at the moment. The particular piece of news in the picture was the death of Michael Jackson. (Image by David McKelvey)

Welcome again to Mistake Monday! We actually talked about today's Common Error a few times in my class last week, so I thought it would be appropriate to mention it here. It's also easy to correct:

Common Error: Use of the word "news"
DON’T say this:"Did you hear the new? Joan is pregnant!"
"That's a very sad new."
"That's a very sad news."
WHY?-This is confusing because noticias in Spanish is usually translated as "news" in English. And that's correct, but only when it's plural.

-"the news" is an idea or a concept (not something physical), and we treat it like a plural noun in English. For example:

"I got some good news at work today--they're going to give me a raise!"
"I watch the news on TV and read the newspaper every day."

-If we need to make this idea singular, we can't count "news" since it's an abstract idea. Instead, we can add the phrase "a piece of":

"I got an annoying piece of news from the bank: my account is overdrawn."

But even in this case, it's still more common to treat the world as a plural and use the word "some":

"I got some annoying news from the bank: my account is overdrawn." 

BONUS TIP! The word "new" exists in English, of course, but it's only used as an adjective (descriptive word) that means the opposite of "old" or "used." 
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"Did you hear the news? Joan is pregnant!"
-"That's some very sad news."
-"That's a very sad piece of news."

That's it for today! If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment or contact me. Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sarcasm, Irony, and the Importance of Tone

Hello, and happy Fun Friday! The other day I was looking for English videos on the internet and I came across this video from the program The Kids in the Hall. Watch it and note how important tone can be in speaking a language (by the way, they use the word "mingle" a few times; "to mingle" means to go talk to different people informally in a social situation):

I think this video is great because it shows how important tone can be in a conversation. When we speak directly with someone, it's much easier to understand the tone of what he or she is saying (in other words, if we can't hear how a person says something, it's hard to know if he or she is being sincere, joking, or even sarcastic). On the other hand, if we read something, the tone is often unclear, which is why it can be difficult and problematic for beginning students to communicate with text messages, email, or instant messages.

I think this may be a problem in some of my classes, at least in lower levels, since I often like to joke around with my students and use sarcasm, but I'm not sure if they understand that I'm joking sometimes. I think the tone of what I say is often lost in translation.

Anyhow, it's something to think about over the weekend. I hope you have a great one, and we'll see you again on Monday! Thanks for reading!

Environmental Vocabulary

I didn't put up a Word Wednesday post earlier this week because I was really busy. As I mentioned last week, my brother was visiting us here in Costa Rica, so we were spending time with him.

But, I still wanted to put up a post because, as they say, "better late than never." So here's a video that I came across this week with some good vocabulary about the environment (we're studying the environment in one of my classes now):

So, check it out--maybe there are some new words just waiting for you to discover them!

Thanks for reading, and have a nice day!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Common Error: "Sense"

A sign using the Cyrillic alphabet, which is used in parts of Europe and Asia. I can't read or understand this sign, so it doesn't make sense to me. (Image)

Welcome to Mistake Monday! My Spanish-speaking students sometimes say "have sense," but that's generally not correct. Let's see why:

Common Error: "Have Sense" vs. "Make Sense"
DON’T say this:"This question doesn't have sense."
"It just doesn't have any sense! Why would she run away and not tell anyone?"
WHY?-This is a fast correction, generally. The Spanish phrase "no tiene sentido" is generally translated as:

"It doesn't make sense."

The difference is obviously the verb. In Spanish, things "have" sense, but in English, they "make" sense.

That's the most common way to use the word "sense" in English, but you can also find it in phrases like...

"Use your common sense"

...which means that you should think rationally and notice things that are obvious.
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"This question doesn't make sense."
-"It just doesn't make any sense! Why would she run away and not tell anyone?"

Speaking of senses, on Wednesday I think we'll look at the five senses, so be sure to check back then.

If something doesn't make sense, you can sometimes say it's "nonsense," but be careful! "Nonsense" often refers to things that are stupid and pointless, also! (Image)

If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment or contact me. Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Fun Friday: The History of English

I've recently come across two videos that talk about the history of the English language, so I thought I'd share them with you here today.

My friend Juan Guillermo showed me the first one. It's pretty fast and it's funny, also. However, that may mean that it's a little difficult for English learners to understand. That's OK, but just watch it and try to see how many words you understand:

The second video is older and the speech is also clearer and less difficult. It also gives many examples of loanwords in English. You may remember that we talked about loanwords a few times (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5).

So, I hope you liked the videos and that you learned something new! Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!