Sunday, December 07, 2008

Australian Slang

I just returned from a short holiday in Australia. While I was there, I heard some Australian slang words that I would like to share.

I read in the newspaper that a man was arrested for 'driving like a hoon'. I found out later that a hoon is a ruffian or troublemaker.

The mayor of Melbourne wants to ban 'bogans' from the city. A bogan is apparently an ignorant or uncultured person. In America, we would say 'redneck'.

A schoolie is someone who goes to school. Daks are pants, and trakkie daks are tracksuit pants.

If you know any other Aussie slang, leave a comment here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Poem about Plurals

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Then shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let's face it - English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
Neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England .
We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
We find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing,
Grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend.
If you have a bunch of odds and ends
And get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
Should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
While a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
In which your house can burn up as it burns down,
In which you fill in a form by filling it out,
And in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And, in closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother's not Mop?

Monday, April 21, 2008

How Long Does It Take To Learn English

Someone asked me this the other day and I do think that it is a fair question. However, it is difficult to give an accurate answer.

I have met people who started university life with an intermediate level of English and achieved perfect fluency in about two years. On the other hand, I have met people who use English every day at work or have lived in an English speaking country, and after 20 years still make basic mistakes.

Just look at Jacky Chan, for example. His English is still not up to par despite working in Hollywood for years!

So really, it depends on the learner. It depends on the person's natural ability to learn languages, and it depends on learning strategies and commitment.

In the end, you can expect to improve your English even on a short course, but real fluency may take years of practice.


Here is a little podcast that my students made, entitled 'How to use the Internet to improve your English'


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

All English Learners Should Have a Blog

It’s 2008 and it’s time to think about new and different ways of improving your English via the Internet and using some of the great new technologies that are available.

Here’s why blogging is a good idea for ESL students:

1 It is a great habit to get writing and to write something new every day or every week. Don’t worry about English mistakes – many people using English on the Internet are speakers of English as a Second Language.

2 You can make friends and share your thoughts with the whole world.

3 If you have a teacher or someone who is willing, they can easily access you writing and correct it or give you tips on how to write better.

4 Best of all, it’s free and easy. You can get a blog up and running in minutes at

My students have blogs, too. Please read them at:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Learning English for the Olympic Games

2008 is the year that Beijing is host to the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, in an age when English is becoming more and more important, a lot of Chinese struggle with the language. A clip on the BBC recently showed an elderly Chinese man who couldn't answer the question 'Where is the nearest restaurant?' after months of English classes. In fact, the Chinese are notorious for their poor command of the language. But why is this?

After all, the Chinese are also famous for their work ethic, and they are willing to study hard to improve their English to help make the Olympics a success. But why is it so difficult for them to speak English. (Just listen to Jacky Chan!)

The reason is simple: English is different from Chinese in just about every way imaginable: the alphabet, the grammar, the pronunciation, the mechanics of the language are all 100% different. If we compare this to European languages, for example, the word for 'name' in German is 'namen'. Mein namen ist Fritz. You don't even need to know German to understand - and it works both ways. Therefore Germans and other Europeans learn English much faster. In Chinese, even the names of people and places can be very different. The word for America is 'Meiguo'.

Of course, that's not the only reason. Community classes in China often teach more than 50 participants at a time, and they learn by repeating phrases like 'What time does this bus leave?' over and over. Sometimes the teacher dresses up in a blonde wig to help the students get over their 'fear' of talking to a foreigner. Obviously, English teaching in China has a long way to go!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everybody. I am attending a seminar today and tomorow on the topic of e-learning 2.0, and we have been asked to create a blog. Since I already have one, I'll just post a quick note.

While I'm here, I also want to suggest a great site for ESL trainers. offers instant messageboards for you and your students. Your students won't even have to log in to use it; it's quick, easy and great. It's a great chance to practise some collaborative learning.

New Quiz: YOUR and YOU'RE

There is another new quiz on Road to Grammar on the topic YOUR and YOU'RE - many learners - and even native speakers - mix up these two ...