Thanksgiving 2010

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Pumpkin pie slice by cgbug_steven_garcia from openclipart.org

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. A few days ago, my brother-in-law flew up from San Diego to join us. On Wednesday, my brother-in-law and I baked two pies and made cranberry sauce. On Thanksgiving, my husband, brother-in-law, and I cooked everything else: sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, broccoli, stuffing, and turkey. We bought the rolls (bread) and gravy. Yes, it was a lot of work, but it was fun.

Here’s an important Thanksgiving word: leftovers (group noun–the adjective is leftover). After you eat a meal, you may have extra food. If the food can be kept to eat later, then you have leftovers. At Thanksgiving, there’s almost always way too much food. People usually expect (and even hope for) leftovers. We’ll be eating turkey for several days!

Here are some of the recipes that we used:

  • Cranberry Orange Sauce (I doubled the recipe because we wanted leftovers. I added two cinnamon sticks and some ginger. You need to remove the cinnamon sticks before you serve the sauce. Ground cinnamon is OK too. You can use candied ginger or powdered ginger.)
  • Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Red Pepper (We baked this in the toaster oven because the main oven was full.)
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes (We added two entire heads of garlic, and also fried shallots)
  • Coconut Spiced Sweet Potatoes (I didn’t use coriander because I didn’t think it would taste good. I used a larger amount cardamom instead. This is an unusual recipe and really good!)
  • Mahogany Turkey Breast and Mahogany Roast Turkey (I combined these two recipes; however, it takes much longer than 1 1/2 hours for a whole turkey–even a small one!)

Unfortunately, we’re not very good at the timing of doing so much cooking. So by the time we were done, we were really hungry. I don’t have any photos! Sorry…You can see other people’s photos at Flickr.

Pitfalls: Air Conditioner

In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s about time for the weather to become cooler. That’s why I thought about this vocabulary pitfall today…

In standard American English, the word “air conditioneronly means “a machine that makes the air cooler and drier.” It’s very surprising to us to see someone say “I turned on the air conditioner because I was cold.” However, in Japanese and some other Asian languages, the phrase means “a machine that changes the air’s temperature and humidity.”

In American English, we would probably say “I turned on the heater because I was cold.” Most houses have central heating (warm air is pushed to all parts of a house or apartment). It may use electricity or gas. That’s still just called “the heater,” though. Some people have wall heaters, portable electric heaters, or other kinds of heaters. “Heater” is a general word that can be used for many different things.

Small heaters that you can carry are called portable heaters, etc., not “stoves.” The word “stove” almost always means the thing in the kitchen that you cook on. Only very old houses use a special kind of wood stove for heating. These stoves are big, heavy, and made of metal. (A few modern houses have a heat stove as an old-fashioned extra thing.) Of course, a long time ago, the cooking stove and the heating stove were the same thing!

You may have a (Japanese, etc.) “air conditioner” on your wall or ceiling that both heats and cools. In this case, I recommend saying “the heater” when you’re talking about using its heating function. If you say “air conditioner” when you’re talking about heating, it will cause most English-speaking listeners to be confused.

My heater and air conditioner are controlled by the same controller on my wall, called a thermostat. But I still say “Honey, can you turn on the heater?” or “Oh, why is the air conditioner on? Turn it off and open the windows!”

Anyway, basically: “air conditioner” means cooling (only) and “heater” means “heating.” It’s true for apartments, houses, businesses, schools, and cars!

(Read about other pitfalls: words that can cause problems when you use them!)

TOEFL, TOEIC, and jobs


I want to talk about something that I have talked about on Twitter. On Twitter, it’s hard to explain an idea completely. So I’m going to talk about it here.

The TOEIC is a test that many companies
in Japan, Korea, etc. use to decide if someone’s English is good enough for a job. A few companies use the TOEFL, but this is usually a very bad idea. The TOEFL tests English for university study, not for business communication.

However, I don’t think the TOEIC is very good, either. It tests normal reading, grammar, and listening more than the TOEFL, but it’s still not perfect or very realistic. Also, its focus is business–it’s not a test of general communication. Actually, the TOEFL should be called the “Test of English for Academic Purposes.” The TOEIC should be called the “Test of English for Business Communication.”

I’ve taught many people who have taken the TOEIC. Some of them have even lived in the US for more than two years. Sometimes people with the same TOEIC score have totally different English abilities: One person is easy to talk to in English, and can write understandable and emotional English, even if it’s not perfect. Another person freezes every time she needs to speak, and writes strange-sounding sentences. But they have the same score (or the second person might score higher!).

Companies like the TOEIC because it’s easy to use. They don’t have to spend much time checking each job-hunter. But I think people shouldn’t trust it too much.

  • Test-takers shouldn’t trust it too much. If you think your abilities have gone up, but your score didn’t, don’t worry. Your skills probably did improve. The test does not measure everything.
  • Companies shouldn’t trust it too much. They should consider other measures of a job-hunter’s English abilities, because they want to find the best employees and provide good service in English. The ones with the best scores may not be the best English speakers or the best employees.

In the US, if a company wants to hire someone who speaks another language, sometimes they ask for test scores. But sometimes they do something that’s better: 1) Someone in the company who speaks the language talks with the job-hunter for a few minutes in that language. 2) The job-hunter is asked to do an example of that kind of work. For example, write an e-mail to a company, translate part of a letter, make a simple advertisement, or something like that. This kind of thing lets the company see if you can do the work they need you to do. It takes more time, but it’s very practical. It also helps the job-hunters, because not everyone is good at taking tests. It gives more people a better chance to show their abilities.

I don’t know how much other countries use this kind of measurement. I know that in Japan, sometimes part of the interview is in English. (That sounds really stressful, but if you need to speak English for that job, at least it’s more realistic than just the TOEIC!) I hope they use other measures sometimes. If you need to speak and write English for a job, it’s good if you can find a company who does this kind of thing. It means they may truly care about finding good employees and providing good service.

Okay, I’m glad I got that off my chest! (<--idiom meaning "to finally tell someone about something that has been bothering you") P. S. I have extended the deadline for the contest! That means that you have more time to enter. There are not enough entries yet…Please think about a way to study English that works well for you. (Even if it’s for the TOEIC!) Talking to people in cafes? A favorite book? Watching TV shows? Listening to music? Karaoke in English? Traveling to Australia every time you have a vacation? Is there a hobby that made you really want to learn English? It can be really specific or really general. If you can write about it, take a picture of it, make a short video about it, or do anything like that, you can enter the contest! Just e-mail me (Tweet me or contact me for my e-mail address) or comment with your entry! I will send a postcard to EVERYONE who 1) enters the contest or has already entered the contest 2) sends me their name and a postal address through DM, e-mail, or the contact form 3) in the NEXT THREE DAYS (till November 14th, US time). English learners who read this blog only! (People who are both English learners and English teachers are fine!)

Halloween 2010

This year I was really busy during October. I wasn’t able to plan a Halloween party. It’s too bad, because I love having Halloween parties.

Here are some photos from a couple of years ago.


Here are some small lanterns I put outside my place. We usually put decorations outside our homes as well as inside.


In the front is a candle decoration that I made. On the right is a pumpkin that has not been carved yet. On the left is what was inside a pumpkin. That pumpkin has already been carved into a jack-o’lantern.


You can see some of the snacks that we had at our party. (No, we’re not good at making sushi!) You can also see party favors in little bags.

Anyway, I’m not having a party tonight or tomorrow. But tonight we visited a special Halloween event that our city has.

There’s an old building here. It used to be part of a rich person’s house. Now it’s only used once a year for a “haunted house”! I think about 75 people were in line. It costs $3, and the money is given to local charities.


You can see just a few of the booths with carnival games and Halloween items for sale. The games are similar to festival games in other countries.


My favorite part: caramel apples! I always get one that’s covered in chopped peanuts. These are made right there by volunteers. They taste so good! The apples are a little bit tart, and the nuts are nutty, crunchy, and a little salty. So it’s not as sweet as it looks.

Lots of little kids and a few adults go to this event in costume. The volunteers who work there have fun, and my money is given to charity. I really enjoy going there every year.

I hope you have a great Halloween, or a great October 31st if you aren’t interested in Halloween!

P. S. Enter the contest! It’s so easy–just share your ideas with us! Only 2 people have entered so far…your chances are good!

Continue reading Halloween 2010

100 Posts and a Contest!

This is post #100!


Time for the first Readable Blog contest!

HOW TO PARTICIPATE

The contest theme is “Sharing Our English Tools.”

  • Think about one way that you practice or study English — something that works well for you. It can be anything. It should be something that you actually do.
  • Think of a way to tell me and other people about it. You can do that by taking and uploading a photo of you doing something (or a photo of a thing that you use). You can leave a comment on this entry. You can send me a message here. You can make a post in your blog, and Tweet me a link. You can draw how to do it, and send me a letter (please contact me and give me your e-mail address if you want my address. You can even post a video on Youtube or something like that. Almost anything is OK–just ask here or on Twitter if you’re not sure!
  • If you send it to me privately (by mail, contact form, etc.), please let me share it with everyone.

I will send something by mail to the entries that are

  • the most useful, based on what I believe as a teacher
  • the most fun to do
  • the most unusual
  • the most thoughtful

The (mysterious) thing each winner might get could include a book, something from Trader Joe’s, chocolate…Each winner will be able to choose between at least 2 things.

The deadline (last day) is November 6th! I must have received your entry by then.

P. S. You should be an English learner and a reader of this blog or a @readable follower to enter. (Of course, you can start reading this blog or following @readable now!)

(My Twitter follower, @10Lizy, suggested the idea for the contest. Thank you!)

Spam

You probably know about Spam, the meat product. Do you know about the connection between Spam and the English verb/noun “spam”?

The noncountable noun/verb “spam” means “e-mail and other internet messages that you don’t want.” Usually, these messages are advertising something (“BUY SOFTWARE CHEAP NOW”). People also use this word to mean “posting too often” or “posting a message over and over again.” Imagine that your Twitter account has a problem. It accidentally posts your Tweet 5 times. You might apologize by writing “Sorry for spamming everyone. It was an accident!”

You can get advertising spam on your blog, in your e-mail, on Twitter, etc. Recently, someone spammed Readable Blog on Facebook! That’s why I started thinking about the word “spam.”

Spam (the meat product) is not very common or popular in the US. However, we don’t usually use it as an insult. So how did it become the word for internet messages that you don’t want?

Monty Python is the name of a British comedy group. They were most active during the 1970s, but they are still popular today. In the US, they are especially popular with geeky people. Below is one of their famous sketches (comedy performances). The “Spam” sketch starts around 0:32 and ends around 2:41–sort of. Two people are in a cafe trying to order breakfast. The server or shop owner is telling them what she can serve them. (Yes, all of the main performers are men.) Warning: There are a couple of body-part words in here. Don’t watch it at work, and don’t watch it if you are under age 16 without your parents’ permission.

It might be hard to understand all of it (Monty Python’s comedy is very strange). But I think you’ll get the main idea. You can watch a higher-resolution official video with no subtitles here.

When the internet was still new, there were online games and message boards. People who used these games and message boards sometimes typed the words of the “Spam” sketch or just “Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam.” After a while, people started to call this kind of annoying activity “spam.” Later, people also started to post messages to message boards trying to sell things or get others to join money-making plans.

In 1998, the New Oxford English Dictionary added this definition to “Spam”: “Irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of newsgroups or users.” (There’s a long explanation about all this on Wikipedia.)

And now we get spam all the time. It’s everywhere, just like the Spam in the comedy sketch.

Annoying!

Wedding Anniversary

Yesterday was my seventh wedding anniversary. My husband and I got married in 2003 in San Francisco.

Wedding Day
Wedding Day

This year, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on an expensive dinner or expensive presents. However, we had a nice time. We packed a picnic and went to a park near the edge of the San Francisco Bay. We went shopping the day before at Trader Joe’s for our picnic. We bought some good cheese, spicy salami, crackers, nectarines, chocolate, and Hansen’s sodas. (Hansen’s sodas are all-natural sodas–they’re really good.)

While we ate, we could see the water, birds, and small planes landing nearby. The scenery was really beautiful. After we ate, we took a walk.

Then we went to a game store called Game Kastle. They sell board games, role-playing games, card games, and so on. (They don’t sell video games.) The games they sell are mostly unusual and interesting ones. Of course, they also sell famous games, like the Pokemon card game. We bought one game, but we haven’t played it yet.

After that, we went to two bookstores that are right next to each other. One bookstore sells new books, and the other one sells used books. The secondhand book shop has a big selection of non-English books, language-learning books, ESL books, etc. I had a coupon, but I only found one book that I wanted! Oh, well. At the other bookstore, I found a book I thought my husband would like. It was on sale! I bought it while my husband wasn’t looking and gave it to him as an anniversary present.

We went to one other bookstore in a nearby town and found one more book to buy. The clerk at that shop was really friendly. The shop also sold these cute hand puppets

Finally, we went to a Japanese restaurant
called Hatcho for dinner. This restaurant is not very expensive and you can order a lot of things individually (ala carte). Their menu is very interesting. We tried several things we had never eaten before. The restaurant was quiet, and the food was really good.

I guess that wasn’t really a typical anniversary celebration. If people imagine an anniversary celebration, they usually imagine something like an expensive restaurant dinner, flowers, dancing, and a gift of jewelry. On the other hand, I think it is normal for people our age to create our own celebrations. We want events and gifts that are meaningful to us. My husband and I are geeky and enjoy food. So a day full of bookstores, games, and eating makes sense for us. It matches our personalities.

It was nice to spend time with my husband, just the two of us. However, for our tenth anniversary, I think I would like to have a party and invite our friends and family.

Here are the places we went yesterday, if you’d like to see them:

Palo Alto Baylands park
Game Kastle
BookBuyers (Photos of BookBuyers)
Books Inc.
Leigh’s Favorite Books
Hatcho

What kinds of celebrations do you enjoy? What do you like to do for your wedding anniversary, your birthday, etc.? Is it different from what your husband, wife, parents, or friends like to do?

New Page Added: Improving Your English in Asia

I’ve added a new permanent page to the site. It’s Improving Your English in Asia. In the future, you can find the link at the top of the page. Look at “Ways to Improve Your English,” and then “Improving Your English in Asia.”

Many of my friends who live in Asia say it’s difficult to improve their English. They say they can’t practice English easily, can’t listen to correct English easily, can’t meet fluent English speakers, and so on.

I agree, it’s not as easy in East Asia as it is in Western Europe or some other places. However, it is possible. You need to be motivated (you need to really want to do it). You need to be creative. You need to spend time finding ways to improve your English. Then you need to spend time actually doing it. If you do that, you’ll be able to improve your English anywhere in the world.

The list of ways to improve your English is pretty long. I put a lot of things on there because I want you to find several things that are useful for you. Also, some of the things on the list are only good for advanced learners or for people who can read Japanese.

Of course, I live in the US, and I’m learning Japanese. I need to do the same thing for myself when I’m studying Japanese!

New Links

bookmark-new from openclipart.org

I’ve added some new links to the sidebar on the left.

Here’s some information about each one.

  • Learning English from Friends: Terry is a non-native English speaker from Korea who’s been working in the US as a systems application engineer since 2006. This cool blog is about his and his friends’ experiences learning English. (The way you really learn a language when you live overseas is that you talk with people, you make mistakes, and you learn new things from your friends. That’s what he’s writing about. It’s fun!) I really like this blog. Terry is a great example of an enthusiastic language learner who likes thinking about language.
  • Jukugo: If you are Japanese and use Twitter, you probably know about Jukugo already. This blog is bilingual (English/Japanese) and focuses on idioms. The author includes cute drawings with each post.
  • Business English in 5 Minutes: Naturally, this blog is about business English. Each post is short.
  • ESOL Courses Blog has short posts to help you study English.
  • ESOL Courses – Free English Lessons Online has grammar practice, vocabulary, and other activities.
  • Listen a Minute: This site gives you listening practice. You can listen to a short speech about something (Harry Potter, the World Cup, fast food, etc.). You can read the words, too, and test yourself on it. The English is at an low-intermediate to intermediate level. There are no definitions or explanations, so you might have to use a learners’ dictionary.

I’m going to change the organization of the site when I have time. If you like these links, you should save them. I recommend using Delicious, Xmarks, or another bookmark manager. If you do that, you can have the same bookmarks on every computer that you use.