How to write a postcard in English

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Here’s a photo of postcards for sale in Germany, taken by Shawndra and Simon.

Before, I posted about writing a postcard through PostCrossing. Here are some ideas about how to write a polite and friendly postcard in English. It’s easy! There’s not much space on the card, so you can only write a few lines.

If you use PostCrossing, you will be writing a postcard to a stranger. In that case, you could write something like the below example. Of course, the underlined sections are up to you.

Dear Hans Schmidt,

My name is Clarissa Ryan. I am an English teacher and I love to read and surf the web. I live in Fremont, California, USA, which is a medium-sized city near San Francisco. The picture on this postcard is a photo of the San Francisco Bay. I often see the bay when I drive around my town.

Anyway, I would love to hear back from you. My return address is: 123 Fake St., Fremont CA 94538, USA.

Clarissa [Lastname]

Here is another possible PostCrossing example, written for you by my former roommate, Jenn:

Dear Bob O’Reilly,

I found this post card and had to send it to someone. It was much too pretty to keep. I hope that you are well and will send me a postcard back.


Jenn W.
123 Fake St.
Fremont, CA 94538

(Thanks, Jenn!)

Anyway, I hope you’ll try PostCrossing.

Here’s another postcard example. It’s what I might write to a friend on a San Diego Zoo postcard:

Dear Tora,

I’ve been in San Diego for two days now. The weather is pretty nice and we’ve been having a great time. Yesterday, we went to the zoo. We saw some baby tigers–you would have loved them! Maybe we can go there together someday. Anyway, I hope you’re doing well! Take care!

— Clarissa

A postcard with a photo of a place in California that a Japanese friend liked to visit:

Dear Shu,

How’s everything going? We saw this postcard and thought of you. It would be great if you could come to California again sometime, or if we could go to Japan.
Take care!

— C. & C.

When I looked at postcard back in Google Images, I noticed that a lot of people sent postcard to themselves. These postcards just say “We were here!” and the date. I think I like choosing postcards more than I like writing them! I often buy postcards, but I forget to mail them. It’s a bad habit! So maybe I should send them to myself while I’m traveling.

Other people send very simple postcards to their friends. These just say things like…

Dear Carolyn,
Hi from Hawaii!!!
Love, Clarissa

So as you can see, writing a postcard in English can be VERY easy!

Note: This entry was re-written on January 26, 2010, to make it easier to read and more useful.

Postcrossing: Trade postcards across the world

Postcards Exchange

Postcrossing is a free system for helping strangers exchange postcards. 1. You register with the site. 2. Then you request an address to send a postcard to. 3. The site gives you someone’s address and a postcard ID number. 4. You write and mail the postcard, with the ID number on it. 5. The person who receives the card enters your ID on the website, which is proof that you sent a card. 6. Then your address is given to the next person who requests an address, so you should receive a postcard soon. (Many people privately send a postcard back to the person who sent them one, but the official Postcrossing system keeps things fair.) By trading postcards in English with people from all over the world, you get practice reading and writing. You might even make some friends.

It sounds confusing, but it’s very easy when you register. Just follow the instructions.

Some people have scanned and uploaded the images from the postcards they’ve received on Flickr.

According to the website, there are

  • 214,889 users in 204 countries
  • 29,874 males, 125,506 females; 58,43 prefer not to say
  • 6,214,658 postcards received
  • 210,346 postcards traveling at this moment

It’s free to register, but of course you’ll have to pay for postage. I’ll have to see if I have any international postcard stamps!

Edited to be easier to read, and statistics updated, on January 26, 2010.

Good Words: Authentic

Authentic (adj.): Most dictionaries will tell you that this word basically means “real, not copied; true.” Examples of this usage include “an authentic Van Gogh painting” and “an authentic account of the war, written by a survivor.” English teachers sometimes use the word to mean that something was created in English, by English speakers, for English speakers, and not created just for a textbook.

However, when people talk, they usually use it in reference to a culture. For example:

“Authentic Chinese food is hard to find in Arkansas. If it’s covered in a bright pink sauce and there are no vegetables, it’s not authentic Chinese food!”
“My friend, Nao, said that most of the costumes in Memoirs of a Geisha were not authentic at all. The dances weren’t authentic, either. The director just made everything up!”
“Where could I find some authentic Vietnamese silk dresses?”
“Sometimes I cook a stew that I call ‘fake feijoada,’ because it’s not an authentic version of the famous Brazilian dish.”
“My favorite Japanese restaurant has a Japanese chef and serves totally authentic Japanese food, but they mix different kinds of dishes on the menu. That part might not be authentic, but I don’t care because the food is so good!”

In these examples, the word “authentic” refers to whether something fits the expectations of the culture it is supposed to be from. Does most Arkansas Chinese food look and taste like Chinese food from China? Do the costumes look like something a Japanese person from that time would wear? Are the dances real geisha dances? Are the dresses made in the real Vietnamese style? Is my stew the same as Brazilian feijoada? Is my favorite restaurant exactly like a Japanese restaurant in Japan?

Basically, it’s whether something looks like or is done the same way as the original (in the culture that the thing is supposed to be from).

It’s a useful word in conversation, especially if you’re homesick (“I miss authentic ____!”) or if you want to introduce a new friend to something (“Have you ever tried authentic ____?”). Or, for that matter, if you want to warn someone about something (“Don’t go there! They don’t have authentic _____”).

I hope you find a way to use this word soon!

Noun: authenticity.
Opposite: inauthentic. (In conversation, people usually say “not authentic” instead.)

Introducing “Good Words”

I’m back! I graduated last Saturday with my master’s degree in English (TESOL). Things have been very busy since then, so I haven’t been able to post.

I’m starting a new feature here, which will be called “Good Words.” These are words that I think are fun, useful, or special to English. I hope you find some words that you can use. I might also start another feature called “Dangerous Words,” which are words to watch out for! Let me know what you think.

I’ll post the first Good Word right after this. Thanks for reading!

What do other people think about your hometown?

I enjoy reading travel guides, newspaper articles, and blogs about places I would like to visit and places I have visited or lived in myself. I like reading other people’s points of view about where I live. Sometimes they mention things that I didn’t notice. Other times I totally disagree with them. Sometimes I disagree so strongly that I write the author.

Try looking online for stories about your hometown or other places you have lived. The stories may be formal or conversational in style. Look for one that you can read easily enough. Of course, you’ll already know a lot of the words! If you spot an important mistake or if you have useful information to add, you should write a polite e-mail or post a polite comment to the author.

Here is an imaginary note I might send to someone who wrote an article about Fayetteville, the town where I went to college–

Dear Mr. Smith,

I really enjoyed your article about Fayetteville, Arkansas. I consider it one of my hometowns, but it's not well-known. I appreciate your taking the time to write about it. You included several of my favorite places in Fayetteville, like Hugo's (one of my favorite restaurants) and the University of Arkansas (where I went to college).

However, one place that I think should not be overlooked is Wilson Park, which includes the Wilson Park Castle. This is a miniature castle that visitors can walk around in. It's handmade from stone, glass, and concrete. It looks like something from "The Lord of the Rings!" It's a really surprising thing to find in a quiet place like Fayetteville. I hope you will add this to your recommendations. Thanks again for the article!

Basically, I start off with a compliment and end with a compliment or thank-you. I mention my connection to the place so the author knows why I’m writing. Then I add my suggestion or correction.

If you send in a correction such as the location of a restaurant, the correct name of a local food, etc., the author will probably be happy to receive it, if you’re nice about it. On the other hand, if you’re upset, it’s still good to be polite. If I were upset by something in an article, I might have said–

However, I object to your description of Fayetteville as a "country hick town." In fact, although Fayetteville is small and surrounded by countryside, it is relatively cultured. For example, Fayetteville has its own symphony and an arts center which hosts world-famous performers--from rock stars to classical violinists. Fayetteville's university has a respected creative writing program. Former president Bill Clinton used to teach at the university. The atmosphere on Dickson Street, which includes an excellent coffeehouse, a wonderful used book store, a New Age shop, art galleries, and even a safe-sex shop, is not the atmosphere of a "country hick town." It's true that Fayetteville is not as diverse or cosmopolitan as the San Francisco Bay Area, where I currently live, but I still feel that it's unfair to depict Fayetteville as totally unsophisticated.

Today, the San Francisco Chronicle’s website has a series about Seoul, South Korea. There’s the main article about Seoul, an article about food, and a gallery ofphotos. Are you from Seoul? What do you think about the article?

Check out the Chronicle’s Travel page, or the Travel sections of other newspapers, for stories about other places, too.