Thursday, November 29, 2012

Transportation: Trains

All Aboard! Today we'll be talking about trains. This is the main train station in Beijing, China.
(Picture by Ryan Sitzman)

Hello! You may not know it, but two things I really like are trains and maps (yes, I know, I'm strange). So when I found this picture yesterday, I thought was cool:

Picture by Annie Mole, via Flickr. Click on picture for details.

Obviously, this isn't a real map, but it is interesting and fun to look at. It also inspired me to talk a little bit about transportation. Today we'll look at travel related to trains and identify possibly new and useful vocabulary. Then in a few days, we'll look at vocabulary related to subways, metros, and trams.

This train is on the island of Langeoog, in the North Sea off the coast of Germany. It's a very nice train but a very small system: there are only two stations! (Picture by Ryan Sitzman)


Trains are large vehicles that move passengers and cargo. A train normally has two parts: an engine, and multiple cars. Generally the word train refers to the engine and all of the cars, but it can also refer to the entire system. Trains move over rails (the two long metal pieces) and tracks (the metal, plus the structure that supports it), so for that reason train systems are also called railways or railroads.

These are some (old) train tracks in Colorado. "Tracks" refers to the whole structure, and "rails" refers to the two pieces of metal that the train's wheels sit on. (Picture by Ryan Sitzman)

There aren't really many trains in Costa Rica, unfortunately. There is a commuter train system connecting San José and Heredia, but that's about all. I think that in the Limón province you can sometimes see freight (cargo) trains, but they're not common in the rest of the country. Passenger trains are also uncommon in most of the US, except in the northeast. However, there are lots of freight trains in the whole country. 

A passenger train in Switzerland. (Picture by Ryan Sitzman)
A freight/cargo train in Colorado, probably carrying oil or gas.
(Picture by Ryan Sitzman)

If you want to see lots of nice, new trains, one of the best places to go is Europe. Most countries have their own well-developed rail systems, and those systems connect to other countries. You can find long-distance trains, as well as railways that serve individual cities or regions. Additionally you can see smaller rail systems like subways and streetcars. It's also possible to call those individual vehicles "trains."

So what do you do when you want to travel by train? When you want to catch a train or ride (on) a train, you generally have to go to a train station. There you can buy your ticket and find your train. If it's a large station, you need to figure out what track or platform your train will be leaving from. When you find the correct platform, you can board or get on the train, and then the fun begins.

Passengers in the Main Train Station in Berlin, Germany wait to board their trains. (Picture by Ryan Sitzman)

Well, sometimes. But normally trains are more relaxing than driving, since you can sit back and read, listen to music, sleep, or talk with other people. That's why trains are nice for long-distance transportation. Some even have dining cars or, for very long distances, sleeping/sleeper cars. Those cars have beds and are basically like moving hotel rooms --but of course hotel rooms usually are bigger, nicer, and have less ugly curtains!

In September my wife Angela and I took a trip to China. This is Angela in our sleeper car on the train between Hangzhou and Beijing. The beds were very comfortable --but ugly! (Picture by Ryan Sitzman)

Finally, when you get/arrive to your destination, you get off the train. From there, you can find other types of transportation to get to your final destination. If you're in a big city, one option might be a subway or metro. We'll talk about vocabulary related to those systems in a few days.

So, let's review today's vocabulary:

1. train
2. engine
3. car
4. rail
5. track(s)
6. railway/railroad
7. commuter
8. passenger
9. freight
10. by train
11. station
12. catch a train
13. ride a train
14. track
15. platform
16. board a train
17. dining car
18. sleeper car
19. subway
20. metro

Can you define or explain each of these words? Try to do it, just for practice!

We'll be back in a few days to look at more transportation vocabulary but in the meantime, happy travels! Thanks for reading!

Angela took this picture of me in front of the "Maglev" (magnetic levitation) train in Shanghai. The track is very short, and only connects the city to the airport, but it's very fast: it can go up to 430 km/h! You can see a shaky video here. I guess it's technically not a railway, though, since the train doesn't really run on rails. Instead, it uses magnets to "float" above the tracks. It's a pretty cool train! (Picture by Angela Jimenez Mora)

Thursday, November 22, 2012


A slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream. I made this last Thanksgiving.
Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It's possibly my favorite holiday (read more about holidays in general here), but most people here in Costa Rica don't know anything about it. So today let's explore what the holiday is about! Many of these words --especially about foods-- may be new or strange for you, so I'll include definitions or explanations for the bold words at the end of the post.

First of all, Thanksgiving is an old holiday. The history of Thanksgiving is a bit complicated, though, and there are different ideas about the "first Thanksgiving." You can watch this video or any of the others on if you want more general information about the holiday's history. For today I just want to focus on the modern celebration.

Thanksgiving is celebrated in the US on the fourth Thursday of every November. Most people generally have Thursday and Friday off from work or school, so generally people try to get together with friends and family for a big meal (sometimes called "Thanksgiving dinner" or a "feast"). Different people eat different foods for Thanksgiving, but the most common food is definitely turkey. As sides, people often eat cranberry sauce together with the meat --it may sound weird, but it's delicious! Additionally, people often eat mashed potatoes with gravy, bread or rolls, stuffing, and save the most delicious thing for dessert: pumpkin pie

It's a special time of year, and I think one of the best things about the holiday is that it's not commercial, and that it's just about spending time with loved ones and being thankful for the good things in your life. Many times people take turns saying what they're thankful for in their lives.

At the old school where I used to teach, the students wrote what they were thankful for on a paper leaf. What are you thankful for in your life?

Let's go over some of the vocabulary for today. Before you read the definitions, though, can you explain what each of the words means?

have ____ off
get together (with)
cranberry (sauce)
pumpkin pie
spend time
loved ones
be thankful for
take turns

Now, let's look at some definitions or explanations for each of the vocabulary words:

Thanksgiving - a holiday at the end of November in the US
holiday - a special day; normally people don't have to work on holidays (see here)
have ____ off - if you have a day off, it means you don't have to work or go to school
get together (with) - to meet with someone
meal - a time when people eat food; the three meals are normally breakfast, lunch, and dinner
dinner - the name for the main meal at Thanksgiving (sometimes it's at lunch time, though)
feast - a very large, special, or elaborate meal
cranberry (sauce) - a cranberry is a tart fruit (see here)
mashed - "mash" is very similar to "smash" or "crush"
gravy - a thick sauce made from meat juices; often served with meat and/or potatoes
rolls - small, individual pieces of bread
stuffing - a mixture of bread cubes, celery, and other ingredients; often cooked inside the turkey
pumpkin pie - a dessert made from pumpkin, a type of gourd
spend time - we normally use the verb "spend" for time (not "pass")
loved ones - people who are important or special to us
be thankful for - to appreciate someone or something
take turns - when different people do something in order, one person at a time

So, what about you? What are you thankful for? I'm thankful for you, for reading this blog! If you have any comments or questions, please leave a comment. Thanks again for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Culture Tab

You may have noticed that there's a new "Culture" tab near the top of the screen, below where it says "Sitzman ABC":

If you click on the Culture tab, you'll find Sitzman ABC posts related to "cultural" aspects of language. The topics there include holidays, communication, names, and other things that are difficult to classify. I'll also plan on adding more posts to this section in the near future.

Don't forget, there are also tabs that will take you to pages with lists of Common Errors, False Friends, and "Fun" ("Fun" includes things like songs, videos, and other activities).

So have a look around, and enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Time Is It?

If you've been my student recently, you've probably noticed that the question I usually ask right before class is: "What time is it?" There's always one correct answer, no matter what the clock says. If you don't know the correct answer, it's hidden in the picture below--can you find it?

So, what time is it? That's right, it's ENGLISH TIME! 

I took this picture when I was in Istanbul, Turkey on a recent trip. I thought it was a funny and interesting coincidence, so I decided to share it here.

Thanks for reading, and I hope that English Time is your favorite time! 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Common Error: "Earn," "Win," and "Beat"

Good afternoon, and welcome again to Mistake Monday! I've been busy traveling the last few months, but I'm back in Costa Rica now, so I'll try to update the blog more frequently again. Today I want to look at another Common Error. If you're not sure what kinds of errors I'm talking about, look here for a list of previous errors we've looked at on the blog.

Monopoly (or "Monopolio," as it's called here in Costa Rica) is one of my favorite board games. I don't always win, but I often am able to beat my opponents by buying as many properties as possible. (Photo by Ryan Sitzman)
Today's error is found often when talking about sports or other types of contests. It's also confusing for Spanish speakers because one Spanish word (ganar) can mean all three of the English words. Let's have a closer look:

Common Error: Earn, Win, and Beat
DON’T say this:"She wins a lot of money in her job."
"Saprissa won La Liga in last night's soccer game."
WHY?-Earn refers to the money a person receives for doing work or a job. For example, you can say:
"Pablo earns 5,000 Colones per hour working for the phone company."
"I'd like a job where I can earn enough money to support my family."
In most cases, you can also use the word make instead of earn. ("Pablo makes 5,000 Colones...").

-Win (past tense: won) means that one person or team defeats or conquers another person or team. The opposite is lose (past tense: lost). When you use these words, you usually mention the competition or contest, but not the opponent:
"Jenny was the winner of the poker tournament. She won $50,000!"

"Spain won the World Cup in 2010."

The team with the highest score is the winner, and the team with the lowest score is the loser. Also, you can win a contest or competition unexpectedly (like the lottery or a raffle, for example):
"I hope I win a free car in the supermarket raffle!"

-Beat: Finally, beat is similar to win, but it's used a little differently in a sentence. You have to indicate both the winner and the loser (opponent) when you use the word beat:
"Terry beat Tommy in the video game, but Tommy beat Terry playing soccer."
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"She earns a lot of money in her job."
-"Saprissa beat La Liga in last night's soccer game."
-"Saprissa won last night's soccer game."

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