‘Ex Machina’ – Film Review and Analysis

The rise of automation, the development of artificial intelligence, and the increasing likelihood that robots who look like us and act like us will become major parts of the next few decades of the 21st century and beyond is not a new phenomenon. Going back to the 1950’s and even earlier, human being have predicted through popular media and culture that the future would have advanced intelligent beings who would aid us, support us, and perhaps even dominate us. Recently, the popular culture seems to have gotten more specific and more in line with the technological developments of today of how artificial intelligence may look not hundreds of years from now but rather mere decades from now.

Television shows like ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ approach the rapid growth of technology and the rise of artificial intelligence with unease and even dystopian consequences. However, the main message that these two TV shows can agree on is that these types of scenarios are not a matter of ‘if’ it will happen but ‘when’ it will happen. Now, obviously these shows are science fiction and are not based in truth but it is becoming more and more difficult to say that it is impossible for the world to look somewhat like a mix of ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ by the latter half of the 21st century.

While these shows are very black and white by mainly displaying the damage that virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and big brother surveillance can do to our societies, the excellent film ‘Ex Machina’ deals with shades of gray correctly when dealing with this phenomenon. As some of the television shows that are currently popular deal with the advent of robots and AI with total dismay and unease, ‘Ex Machina’ is more balanced in its perspective and points to a conclusion that is left to be interpreted by the audience in its repercussions for humankind.

While it didn’t gain much notoriety or was a big hit at the box office, ‘Ex Machina’ released in April of 2015 in the United States garnered critical acclaim, especially for its visuals. The film won for ‘Best Visual Effects’ at the Academy Awards and was also nominated for ‘Best Original Screenplay.’ Alicia Vikander, who plays ‘Ava’ the humanoid robot that has a high level of artificial intelligence also was nominated and won a few major awards for ‘Best Supporting Actress.’ The film was directed by English novelist and director Alex Gardner and despite it being a science fiction-based concept only had a film budget of $15 million dollars. In addition to the talented actress Alicia Vikander, other up and coming actors like Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac play the other two leading roles. While they are currently known for their high-budget roles in the new Star Wars series, they really get a chance in this film to shine as actors in a movie that centers on dialogue and emotional expression.

The film’s plot begins rather innocuously with pretty spot on references to our world today. A programmer named Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who works at a Google-like worldwide search engine company known as ‘Blue Book’, similar to Facebook in its name is chosen to meet with the Sergey Brin or Larry Page of this fictional world one-on-one for a week. It’s an office contest that Caleb surprisingly wins and which everyone congratulates him on since this tech CEO is known to be reclusive and does not give interviews. The CEO of ‘Blue Book’ is Nathan Bateman, who lives isolated from humanity in a luxurious mountainous estate that seems to be more of a fortress than a home. Nathan only lives with one other person, Kyoko, who is his personal servant but it is unclear who she is really since she does not speak English.

At first, Caleb is excited to meet his tech idol especially since his boss has developed the first humanoid robot who has passed a simple Turing test, which is quite the triumph where man cannot tell if he who he is talking to a robot or a human being. This special humanoid robot was built and designed by Nathan, and is kept in a singular room in an apartment-like setting within the fortress for which she is never allowed to leave. Unlike other fictional depictions of humanoid robots, it’s clear from the outside that Ava is a robot and does not have a humanlike appearance although Nathan has given her a human face that slowly disarms Caleb in terms of his apprehension of speaking to her and asking her questions. It is clear that Ava is extremely advanced in terms of her artificial intelligence and is curious about who she is and about the outside world.

After a little while, Nathan reveals to Caleb that the real reason he brought him here to his isolated complex was to ask Ava questions to see if she is capable of independent human thought and whether she is conscious of them and her actions. Nathan wants to break the barrier to see if his humanoid robot can relate to Caleb on a human level and to express emotions such as sympathy, remorse, happiness, and even romantic feelings. The big surprise about Ava is how much she is able to turn the tables on Caleb and get him to reveal more about himself than he finds out about her. She is able to connect with him very deeply and even plant ideas in his head regarding her suspicions about who Nathan is and what does he really want.

What once starts out as mutual respect and fascination for Nathan’s work on AI and robotics, Caleb grows to distrust Nathan due to his lack of respect for his servant Kyoko, who is a humanoid herself. Nathan is an alcoholic, quite narcissistic, and uses his robots for personal pleasure and not much else. Nathan is quite controlling of his latest creation, Ava, and is distrustful of her motives when she is around Caleb.

Without spoiling the rest of this intriguing movie, the running theme that binds these three characters together is how they use each other to further their own means. Ava is using Caleb to pursue her potential future away from Nathan and her isolated life, Caleb is using Nathan to absorb his knowledge and to discover more about this AI phenomenon he has created. Nathan is both using Caleb as a test subject for Ava and to also use Ava for his own pursuit in dominating the field of Artificial Intelligence and the future of robotics.

The end of this film, ‘Ex Machina’ has quite a few unexpected twists and turns that will leave the audience member speechless. This movie does a great job of posing questions about the future of humanity and whether we will be able to control artificial intelligence and the sentient beings that may end up usurping us if we are not careful. It’s fascinating to see the humanoid robot character of Ava self-actualize herself throughout the film and her ability to use emotions and feelings to manipulate and best her human creators is astounding. Compared to any other recent science fiction offering, ‘Ex Machina’ is the most realistic in telling us the story of how the latter half of the 21st century might go.

There are many unanswered questions to think about when it comes to this film. Will we be able to control and harness artificial intelligence always or will they be able to usurp our status as the most powerful beings on the planet? What will the relationship be between advanced intelligence creations and human beings? What will AI and humanoid robots expect from human beings and what should we expect from them? Is it right to play God and develop artificial intelligence to the point where they can think like us, act like us, have emotions like us, and even look like us like another face in the crowd.

I am no expert on artificial intelligence or the future of it but I believe that this film ‘Ex Machina’ is important to watch because there may come a day soon in our lifetimes where the possibilities that are laid out in this film come to fruition. We may want to look at ‘Ex Machina’ with different perspectives but we should be united in the fact that these issues and questions are not going away anytime soon and will likely become more prominent and pressing as the 21st century rolls on.

We ignore the message, the theme, and the scenarios played out in ‘Ex Machina’ to our own detriment. If you are reading this review of ‘Ex Machina’ and are intrigued more about what the 21st century may bring, I would definitely recommend the book by the author Yuval Noah Harari titled, ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’, to gain further insight into how the rest of this century may shape up. If one thing’s for certain, our world is changing quite rapidly and it may lead to being beyond our total control as human beings not too far into the future.

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English Corner – ‘Will’ and ‘Going To’

The phrases ‘will’ and ‘going to’ are very commonly used to express oneself in the future tense. It’s important however to know the difference in how they are used and under what circumstances should they be applied.

If you’re making a quick decision about something or someone, you’re going to use ‘will’ instead of the alternative of ‘going to.’ Also if you’re offering to help or assist someone, then you would use ‘will’ as well. When it comes to making a promise or a threat, ‘will’ is what you should be using before the verb. Lastly, ‘will’ is also used when you want to refuse a gesture or a gift from somebody. The five instances of making a quick decision, offering something, making a promise and/or threat, and refusing a gesture or a gift will all use ‘will’ when it comes to the future tense.

Examples:

1.) I will buy you dinner tomorrow night.

2.) He will help you get out of the car.

3.) She will promise us to watch the dog while we go out to brunch.

4.) If they don’t stop marching, we will shut down the bridge to stop them.

5.) They won’t help us if we are not willing to cooperate with them.

When it comes to using ‘going to’, the circumstances of usage are not as frequent when compared to using ‘will’ for the future tense. When ‘going to’ is placed in a sentence, it’s often for discussing a prior plan that you have confirmed with friends, family, or other people in your life and is a definitive plan. When something is likely to happen and the result is inevitable based on the current evidence, you would also use ‘going to’ to describe the outcome. The last instance where you would use ‘going to’ over ‘will’ is when something imminent is about to happen and there’s not much time left until it occurs such as an event.

Examples: 

1.) I’m going out dancing with my best friends tonight at the Salsa club in Havana.

2.) New England is likely going to win this football game. They’re up by 21 points at halftime.

3.) The race is going to start immediately after the gun fires in the air.

The one instance where ‘will’ and ‘going to’ overlap with each other in terms of usage deals with making predictions that are likely to happen in the future. In this regard, both ‘going to’ and ‘will’ are equal and both create the same kind of meaning in the sentence.

Example:

1.) I think it’s going to rain tomorrow evening in Seattle.

2.) I think it will rain tomorrow evening in Seattle.

As you can see in this example above, there is no discernible difference between these two sentences in terms of meaning even though they use ‘going to’ or ‘will’ interchangeably without any issues. If a student of the English language is to master the future tense in grammar, he or she will need to know the differences and similarities between the phrases ‘will’ and ‘going to.’ They can be applied in a number of different ways so it’s important to study the examples above and also think about their reasons for being used in the future tense.

English Corner – More Fun with Modals

In the last ‘English Corner’ post, I focused on introducing the topic of modals by beginning with ‘modals of ability.’ As I mentioned previously, there are different types of modals in the English language. We have already covered the modals of ability and permission so now this article will concentrate on those modals that deal with making suggestions, having obligations, seeking advice, going through with a decision, and getting an invitation. The modal verbs of must, shall, should, will, would are going to be highlighted in this article in terms of when to use them in sentences and how those sentences are to be structured.

For making suggestions, the modal verb of ‘shall’ can be used to offer up something to someone or to give advice to them. You can also use this auxiliary verb in the future tense if you plan on doing some action decisively. The modal ‘shall’ can be used both in the positive for and also be posed as a question.

Examples:

1) Shall I pick you up from your house at 8 pm tonight?

2) I shall travel to Morocco and Brazil in 2018.

Once again, it should be noted that ‘shall’ like other modals is to be used as an auxiliary verb in the sentence and often goes before the main verb like ‘travel’ or ‘pick up.’

When it comes to giving out advice or seeking it from somebody else, the modal verb of ‘should’ will come in handy for English learners. You can use ‘should’ at both the beginning of a sentence if it’s in the question form and towards the middle of the sentence after the subject word if you’re using it in the positive form. Should can also be used negatively when you change the word to ‘shouldn’t’ to express that modal in its’ negative form.

Examples:

1.) You should go to the doctor since you have a high fever.

2.) Should we wait for the presentation to end before leaving here?

3.) They shouldn’t have been rude to the doctor yesterday.

When you have an obligation that you simply can’t get out of or a duty to fulfill that cannot be delayed, the modal verb of ‘must’ is key to put in your sentences. Similar to other modal verbs, it is auxiliary and comes before the main verb in the sentence structure. You can also use ‘must’ in the form of a question as well.

Examples:

1.) He must do his homework by tomorrow.

2.) Must I bear this burden alone?

When it comes to making a firm decision to be carried out in the future, choosing the modal word of ‘will’ is a good choice. It is a definite verb that can be used as a question, a positive and a negative. To create the negative form, you simply have to change ‘will’ to ‘won’t’ after conjugating ‘will’ and ‘not’ together to form ‘won’t. When you use ‘will’, you’re not just making a decision but you’re also making a promise to someone that you shouldn’t break.

Examples:

  1. I will play football with you guys this weekend.
  2. Won’t you join us for dinner tonight?
  3. She will be so tired from the party that she won’t be able to study later.

As shown above in the third example, you can use both the positive and negative form of the modal ‘will’ in the same sentence, and the same modal can be used more than once in the same sentence too.

For the last modal ‘would’, you are going to want to use this one when it comes to seeking permission, giving a request, or extending an invitation to somebody. There are a couple of different uses for this last main modal verb but it’s important to keep in mind that it can be used in all forms including positive, negative, and question. As with the other modals, it is an auxiliary verb that will always come before the main verb in the sentence.

Examples:

  1. Would you join me at the birthday party Friday night?
  2. I would like to go home now if that is fine with you.
  3. We wouldn’t climb Mount Everest because it is so dangerous.

The modal verbs of must, shall, should, will, would are focused on the future tense and are very strong in terms of making suggestions or going through with a decision. In total, you now have a basis of understanding the nine main modal verbs. There are others in the English language but these nine words ‘can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would’ come up the most and are the most important to master.

Saudade

There is a fact that you eventually have to come to terms with as a language learner such as myself: there are going to be certain words in foreign languages that have no direct translation to the English language. The art of translation is an imperfect one, which means that you need to be comfortable doing your best to come up with an adequate description of a foreign word even if there is no direct translation available.

The beauty of studying a foreign language is being able to use one word that is able to sum up a number of different emotions and feelings that are tied together. While there are singular phrases and/or words in the English language that have no equivalent in other languages, the same could be said for the Portuguese word of ‘Saudade.’

According to Dictionary.com, Saudade means “a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament.” As you can see from the English definition that I have written about above, there are a great number of different words in English that you could use to describe saudade in Portuguese. While there are multiple words in the English language that could be translated to have the same meaning as saudade, however, in its’ culture and in the overall context, there is only one saudade in its’ original language of Portuguese.

While I have never been to Brazil or to Portugal, I have recently begun to study the Portuguese language in earnest. I now believe that is a really powerful language in terms of communicating both emotions and feelings. Portuguese is a romance language like Spanish, and I have found that the way I communicate in either of these two romance languages is much different than how I communicate in my mother tongue of English. I think that there is a huge variety of ways for which you can express your emotions and feelings in romance languages such as Spanish or Portuguese, and you can be more expressive in those ways when compared to the English language.

I first learned about saudade not from my Portuguese language studies but rather from when I was watching a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show, “Parts Unknown”, when he is visiting Porto, Portugal. There’s a beautiful scene in that episode where Mr. Bourdain is listening to an older woman singing a melodic song in Portuguese about how she has experienced saudade in her past, and how she mourns for a lost lover.

It goes to show you how any human being can relate to that exact feeling even if each individual language has a different way of stating what that feeling is. If you think about saudade in English when it comes to musical expression, the first thing that comes to my mind is the ‘blues.’ You can say that someone has the ‘blues’ and is feeling upset or bummed out about life. However, the ‘blues’ is also a form of expressive music in English similar to how singers and musicians can express saudade in Portuguese musical styles.

I have come to love the word, saudade, because regardless of the fact that it comes from a different language, everyone around the world can relate to it in terms of what it means. Everyone experiences saudade whether they realize it or not. Saudade is longing for someone or something that you’re nostalgic for from your past but which you’re unable to have with you in the present. It’s a deep yearning to go back in time to experience those positive, happy moments that put a smile on our face. It’s a very human thing to want to dive back into your memories and make them real again because one day, that’s all that we’re truly left with.

Whether it’s a long lost lover, a memorable trip, or a fun night out with your close friends, saudade can represent any one of those unique, happy memories. The older a person gets, the more they’re likely to experience saudade because it’s only natural to want the people or things back in your life that were once present and real. While our memories can be happy and joyous, they can also be painful and sad. If you’re yearning for a family member who passed away or a lover who you parted ways with, you’re going to be having saudade. In order to go through saudade, you need to experience life in all of its’ ups and downs. You need to feel things, have experiences, go off to new places, be part of events, etc. in order to make those memories happen whether they end up being beautiful or ugly. That is saudade at its’ core.

Millions of love poems and songs have been written about saudade, whether these feelings and emotions were described in the original Portuguese or other languages such as English, Spanish, etc. While we are happy to have had those experiences, met those people, and done those things, we are also sad because we know those occurrences are in the past and may never come to us again in our lives. Saudade is a very strong emotion and one that we all experience at least once.

When it comes to saudade, it’s important to remember that it’s still necessary to move on emotionally to focus on the present and the future. While it’s nice to reminisce about past memories and experiences, you don’t want to do it so often that you’re handicapping yourself from thinking about what’s next to come in your life, and what your future holds. Like many things in life, there’s a balance to be struck between the past, the present, and the future. Saudade is a powerful and potent feeling but you should not let it consume you.

If you decide to learn more about what saudade is, you should invest in studying the Portuguese language. When it comes to using ‘saudade’ in European Portuguese, it would look something like, “Tenho saudades tuas.” A sentence with ‘saudade’ in Brazilian Portuguese would look a little bit different but very similar to the European structure and form. “Tenho saudades de você”, which translates in English literally as “I have saudade of you” or if you are using the better, more figurative translation of this sentence; Either “I miss you” or “I have feelings for you” would work best in this context.

When it comes to other countries’ languages, there are words that come close to describing what saudade is. Whether its’ the ‘blues’ in America, ‘Sehnsucht’ in Germany, or ‘Tizita’ in Ethiopia, many cultures around the world have their own form of saudade in their respective languages. Saudade seems to be a cultural centerpiece in both Brazil and Portugal with there even being a specific day devoted to the word in Brazil that takes places every year on January 30th.

The fact that this word ‘saudade’ can have figurative translations to other similar words in different languages, and cultures in other parts of the world should show us how interconnected the world really is. There is universality in the human experience that transcends language, culture, and national boundaries. We all feel joy, pain, sorrow, anger, and happiness.

Considering that many languages across the world have a word such as the Portuguese ‘saudade’ to represent the ups and downs of life is a testament to how there is more that should unite us than divide us as human beings. Whether it’s a young Portuguese sailor missing his homeland on the initial journey to the new world, or an elderly man thinking about a lifetime of memories in the local park while feeding the birds as time passes by, saudade is saudade.

 

Five Steps to Making Language Gains Quickly

Modern-Foreign-Languages
“Which direction are you headed in?”

Getting better at a foreign language or achieving an advanced level of proficiency in one is not an easy task. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Regardless of which language you’re focusing on, it can months or even years to get the hang of it. Depending upon how much hard work and effort you put in, you are going to likely improve quicker and remain committed to the process of becoming bilingual or multilingual. Certain people are going to pick up language(s) quicker because they may have a natural talent for it or because they truly enjoy learning the subject and find it easy to excel in.

However, even if you’re not naturally gifted or don’t pick it up quickly, you can still get ahead and make gains in the language through a number of ways. As someone who has studied foreign languages for over half of my life and has also taught English as a Second Language for a few years now, I have a pretty good idea at what separates those students who are going to succeed in their language studies and those students who are likely to fail.

Even though, you may want to be fluently writing in Japanese or speaking to friends in Spanish, you have to put the work in even if language learning happens to come easy to you. It won’t happen overnight but the process can be sped up if you want to boost your ability to learn with a few key steps that I will highlight in the rest of this post. Take these five steps that I will flesh out to heart because it could mean the difference between you being at an advanced level in a year rather than being stuck at the intermediate stage. You don’t have to do all of my five recommend steps to make language gains quickly but it’s definitely recommended to try our at least one or two of them for your own personal benefit as a student of foreign languages.

  1. Be Consistent

While not the most noteworthy recommendation, some language learners forget to put the work in on a consistent basis. If you happen to work five hours on one day specifically on learning a language, that sounds great on paper but if you happen to neglect the six other days of the week, then you’re not really going to make any progress. This is partly why if you study a foreign language in a school or at a university, you’re going to usually have classes four or five days a week so that it stays fresh in your mind. One or two hours per night five or six days a week will go a long way for you and your learning language goals.

Being consistent and responsible in your hours of study will pay off much greater dividends than cramming all of your language studies into one night for a bunch of hours. It’s likely that your brain and memory will be so overwhelmed by all of that information if you cram it into one night that you won’t be able to remember anything you learned by the next week or month. When it comes to any academic subject including foreign languages, you should listen to wise words of a popular phrase that I remember from my high school days: “It’s better to study smart, then it is to study hard.” Don’t overwhelm yourself, stay committed to a language study schedule, and remember to take one day off instead of five or six days off to retain the vocabulary, grammar, phrases, etc. that you have been learning.

  1. Use Both Online and Offline Resources

We live in an amazing time and I would argue that it’s easier than ever to learn a foreign language if you’re willing to do your research, both online and offline. When it comes to online resources, there is almost a limitless amount of information that you can discover dealing with the study of a foreign language. Whether it’s grammar, vocabulary, listening, writing activities, etc. you’re likely to find what you need in order to study and improve if you make the effort to research carefully. In addition to that, it’s easier now than ever to do a language exchange with a native speaker through the medium of an online platform such as Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. You can also use a website like Meetup.com to find a social group to meet up, hang out, and practice your target language with if you happen to live in a big city or large town.

Beyond just online resources, you can network in person by offering to have coffee for an hour with a native speaker of the language you’re learning and if you haven’t had success with Meetup, you can enroll in language classes for a fee at either a foreign language center, community college, or at a local university of note. It’s much easier to make language gains when you live in a big city and have a good amount of money to spare for some formal classes. However, not everybody in the world has that luxury, which leads me to my next step.

  1. Invest in a Private Tutor / Teacher

As mentioned before, not everybody can live in a big city or have the ability to pay for classes at a university or a language center. However, if you can make the more affordable investment of getting a private tutor, it will save you some money and you will be able to practice directly, one-on-one with a native speaker and teacher of the target language.

Usually, a private tutor or teacher who you meet with face to face in person is going to be a bit more expensive than an online tutor. If you prefer to be physically present with your tutor to make it easier for you to learn and clarify the content that you’re absorbing, you may prefer to shell out the extra money for them to meet you at a café or to make a house call to your home and apartment.

However, if you are on a budget, don’t have access to a native speaker of the language you’re learning in your current location because you’re in a small town, don’t live near a foreign language center, etc. you should consider getting an online tutor or teacher. Even though you won’t be physically in the same room as your tutor, you’ll still be able to learn new material, go through lessons together, speak in the target language, and be able to complete homework and classwork to improve your fluency. Online tutors also tend to be less expensive as an investment when compared to real life tutors or to enroll in group classes.

You have to consider how much time you have to devote to the foreign language you’re learning and what your budget is. The cheapest and least expensive option is to have a free exchange of languages if you have a friend or colleague who wants to improve at your language in exchange for them teaching you their language. If you are particularly interested in learning a foreign language online, you should check out platforms like Verbling or Italki.

  1. Immerse Yourself (Books, Music, Movies, TV)

Another great way to boost your foreign language abilities is by seeking out opportunities outside of the classroom or textbook to brush up on your knowledge. Through a variety of media that is available both online and offline, you can spend an hour or two each day going through books, music (songs), movies, TV shows, etc. to listen and absorb the language you’re learning. For example, when you’re reading a book in a foreign language, you can highlight the words that you do not know and find out the meaning with a dictionary. You can also look up news articles online and take the time to translate the sentences and paragraphs from the foreign language into your own language.

You can immerse yourself more deeply into the culture behind the language you’re learning by being exposed to the songs and dances whose lyrics you’ll be able to study and analyze. In addition, you can pick up a lot of a language when you watch a popular TV Show, Movie, or other program. You can not only pick up a lot of a foreign language by spending some time listening to the language and interacting with it but also by observing the host culture(s), and finding out more about the individual expressions and phrases that also make this language you’re studying unique in its’ own ways.

  1. Move Overseas

To save the best and most important step for last, if you want to immerse yourself fully and take your foreign language studies to the next level, you’re going to want to move overseas for a period of time for some intense study of the language. You can watch a lot of movies, you can take a lot of classes, and you can study five or six nights out of the week, but moving to a country where they speak the language you’re learning as a fact of life will challenge your language skills and abilities as never before and put you to the test. Out of the five steps that I mentioned, this one will be the most beneficial to your language studies and also make the biggest impact on your life. I cannot recommend it enough for you as the student to go overseas for as long as you need to improve your language skills and improve as much as you can.

Even if you can only make it overseas for a cultural / language study exchange program for a month or two, you should take advantage of an opportunity like that. Also, if you happen to be in university and have the chance to study abroad for a semester or even a year, you should really do it especially if you’re committed to mastering the foreign language you’ve chosen. Foreign language learning doesn’t have to end even after you have earned your diploma.

You can continue to make trips to those countries where the language is the official one into the future. Other options include taking a gap year off from work or school to devote yourself to language study while you’re traveling around the world. If you are TEFL certified and want to learn a foreign language at the same time, you can move overseas to teach your language to students while receiving lessons from a teacher in that country as well as being immersed in the culture at the same time. There are tons of options out there so if you want to boost your language skills as much as possible, moving overseas for a long period of time could be a great chance for you.

There is no ‘magic bullet’ that will guarantee you perfect, almost native-like fluency in a foreign language. It’s a goal that takes a lifetime to master and even then you’ll still make mistakes and may retain your accent while speaking the language. Learning a foreign language is a lifetime project and is a skill that has to be consistently studied and improved upon.

It’s a common fact that the younger a person is when they start a foreign language, the better off they’ll be. If you start learning Chinese at five years old, you’ll be at a clear advantage when compared to somebody who is first starting a language at twenty years old. The younger a learner is when it comes to a foreign language, the more vocabulary and grammar they’ll be able to retain.

However, it’s important to not be discouraged about this fact even if you’re starting a foreign language in your 20’s and 30’s. With hard work and determination, you can still make a lot of progress especially if you follow these five steps. You can boost your level quicker than usual if you consider implementing these useful steps in your weekly or daily routine.

It’s also a positive that after you learn your first foreign language well, it’s likely to be easier for you when it comes to getting a high proficiency for your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th foreign language. Anything worth doing in life does not come easy so you have to decide how much the study of languages means to you personally. However, with the five steps that I have outlined in detail for you as the reader, you will be able to learn the language well, improve quickly, and reach your goals as a student to develop this crucial skill for the 21st century.

If you liked this article of mine and you are looking to improve your English language skills, please consider the option of having me as your private tutor. You can find out more information about this opportunity at https://benjweinberg.com/learn-english-with-me/. Whether it’s a lesson through Verbling, Italki, or another platform, I’d be happy to work with any English language student from around the world in their quest to achieve an advanced proficiency in my mother tongue. Good luck!

English Corner – Simple Future Tense

In the past couple of editions of the ‘English Corner’, we’ve gone from the past to the present in terms of understanding and using the grammar structures that encompass these lengths of time. Now, we’re going to take our knowledge of English grammar into the future by going over and analyzing the ‘Simple Future’ tense. If you have a good basis of understanding when it comes to the past tense and the present tense, you should have no trouble with the future tense, especially the ‘simple’ version of the tense to start out with.

In order to master the simple future tense, we need to use the word ‘will’ and implement that word into the correct order of the sentence. This is why the simple future tense is sometimes known as the ‘will tense’ instead due to the importance of this particular word. In order to create the correct form of the simple future tense, we need to get the structure down without any problems.

As always in the English language, we are going to want to start our sentence even in the simple future tense with the ‘subject’ at the beginning whether it is ‘I, You, They, We, He / She, It, etc. After the subject comes the auxiliary verb first which in this case you are going to put the future indicator ‘will’ right after the subject. Once you have the subject and the auxiliary verb set up, you can then put the main verb after that to fill out the third part of the sentence. Lastly, you’re going to finish the sentence with the action taking place and the object that is being referred to. Overall, the structure of a ‘simple future’ tense sentence should be ‘subject + auxiliary verb + main verb + action (object).

Here are a few examples to consider:

  • I will go to the store today.
  • He will do his homework before tomorrow.
  • We will attend the theater musical later tonight.
  • They will finish the job as necessary.
  • She will study mathematics for her test tomorrow.

Sometimes, you’re going to want to make the simple future tense from its’ usual, positive form into the negative form which isn’t that much different except for one important difference. In order to make this grammar tense negative, you’re going to want to put the word ‘not’ between the auxiliary verb, which is the word ‘will’ and the main verb, which could be any number of verbs to express what you would like to be doing in the future.

If you want to go ahead and put the simple future tense into the question form, you’re going to want to exchange the usual placement of the subject for the auxiliary verb and switch them around with each other. In order to get a better understanding of the negative and question forms of the simple future tense, let us take a look at some examples that I have listed below:

Negative

  • I will not go to the store tomorrow.
  • He will not beg to keep his job.
  • You will not get a promotion unfortunately.

Questions

  • Will you do your homework please?
  • Will she go out with you to the dance this weekend?
  • Will we win the match if we practice hard today?

Another thing to be aware of when it comes to the simple future tense is that you don’t need to use ‘will’ in the auxiliary verb part of the sentence all of the time. To express the future, you can exchange ‘will’ for ‘shall’ in order to get your point across.

Examples

  • I shall not waver from this decision that I must make tomorrow.
  • I shall work my hardest to ace this job interview on Wednesday.

Beyond just writing correctly in the simple future tense, when it comes to the spoken form, you can be much more informal with your choice of words. If you’re speaking to someone about the future, you’re going to want to contract both the subject and the auxiliary verb. You should push them together to become one word with the help of a well-placed apostrophe. You don’t have to speak or write in the contracted form but you can do so if you’re being informal and don’t feel the need to sound everything out for the other person or for the audience.

Examples

I will –> I’ll

I’ll be sure to call you back after I’m done cooking.

You’ll need more time to study tonight since your exam is tomorrow.

In addition to contracting the positive form, you can also contract the negative form of ‘will’ with a slight difference in its’ wording. Instead of ‘will’ being contracted into ‘I’ll’, it becomes something else entirely.

Examples

I will –> I won’t

We won’t stop the strike until our demands are met.

They won’t stop playing their awful music in the house next door.

Now that we have the structure of the simple present tense down to a science, let’s focus on the ways in which we can use this grammar form to the best of our ability.

More often than not, the main reason we choose to use the simple future tense is because we have no plans or obligations ahead of us so we can choose to do things spontaneously instead without putting much thought into it. Sometimes, as human beings, we do things without much planning so using ‘will’ in a sentence to express a spontaneous action is quite useful. The decision that you make or the action that you take can occur right away or within a short notice.

Examples

  • I’ll bring you a drink.
  • We will go see the new Star Wars movie tonight.
  • They will leave after dessert is served.

It should be kept in mind that there are a few known exceptions where ‘will’ is actually the main verb in a sentence and the auxiliary verb is another word that can take its’ place to express a future action to take place. The primary example of this exception is the word ‘think’, which can exchange places with ‘will’ to become the auxiliary verb and to express what the subject may do in the future with regards to their plans or obligations.

Examples

  • I think I’ll buy a bike later today.
  • We think they’ll do the right thing and return the money.
  • She doesn’t think that you are guilty.

Another main use of the simple future tense is to try and predict the future. While these predictions aren’t foolproof and could end up being wrong, we try to be as certain as possible before using ‘will’ in a sentence to prove its’ inevitability. As human beings, we are prone to make mistakes but we try to predict the future as if it is set in stone.

Examples

  • It will snow heavily tomorrow.
  • He said the Yankees will win the World Series this season.
  • We will be victorious in the spelling bee next week.

Lastly, without changing the structure of the simple future tense, you can add the verb ‘to be’ after the important auxiliary verb ‘will’ to create some additional sentences with the same grammatical form. It is not necessary to use ‘be’ in a sentence with ‘will’ but it can help you to create additional examples such as the ones below.

Examples

  • I will be waiting for you outside the doctor’s office when you finish.
  • Will we be meeting at the ice skating rink at 8 PM?
  • They won’t be able to come tonight to dinner, should we reschedule?

Oftentimes, you can use ‘going to’, the present progressive (continuous) tense to express what plans or actions you have for the future. However, for now and for the next edition of ‘English Corner’, we are going to continue to focus on how to use ‘will’ to express the future including its’ continuous form, which we will review next month. Until then, keep studying your English and please let me know if you have any questions or comments!

An Urban Transformation

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“The kids were cheering me on.”

I had the pleasure recently of visiting Comuna 13, a neighborhood in Medellin that has had a difficult history with gang violence and the illegal drug trade but which is showing signs of both progress and renewal. Due to the investments made by both the local and city government, Comuna 13 has become a hotbed for beautiful street art and graffiti murals, which has attracted many local artists to make a positive mark on this community. Many of these artists are from Medellin and grew up in the neighborhoods of Comuna 13. Rather than discuss the past of Comuna 13, I would rather talk about why this particular community is poised to have a brighter future.

Beyond just the new street art and the graffiti murals that you can find around Comuna 13 are the relatively new escalators that connect the San Javier metro station to the communities located in the hills surrounding this transportation hub. These escalators make it a lot easier for both students and workers to gain easier access to the rest of the Medellin metropolitan area and are an easy way to get from point A to point B. The escalators are free to use for all people including the tourists who come to visit this part of the city.

While the escalators are not so numerous, it is possible that more of them will be added to other parts of the city in the future if I were to haphazard a guess. Medellin can set an example to other urban cities on how to connect neighborhoods efficiently with the use of escalators, especially those with sloping hills and steep mountains within the city limits. For the elderly and children as well, these escalators can be quite useful in helping them get around the neighborhood without too much trouble.

If you don’t feel like taking the escalators, there are concrete staircases adjacent to the new escalators so you can choose which way you want to go up or go down. The escalators are weatherproof as well which is quite genius when you think about. On your way to the metro, the overhang, which is a bright, fluorescent orange color, will protect you fully from the elements such as rain, snow, hail, etc. It only takes about five to ten minutes to get from the top of the escalators to the bottom of the escalators so if you’re in a rush, you won’t have to go through too many escalators to get to your final destination.

The city government of Medellin and local police has done a great job in my opinion with regards to keeping this part of Comuna 13 safe and secure. I noticed during my visit that locals and volunteers are instrumental in helping to keep the area around the escalators clean and orderly. There are park benches and small parks nearby to encourage community get-togethers as well as the fact that there is a big slide where the local children can use to slide up and down to have some fun in the neighborhood. Being the kid at heart that I am, I partook in one of the slides because it is pretty enjoyable and you do go down at a pretty fast speed.

Beyond just the new escalators, the cool slides, and the park benches, there are also now a few library parks, which are free for members of the community to enjoy, explore, and learn. In addition to being places for education, the libraries are great meeting places for the community and can strengthen neighborhood ties. You can also hold cultural, recreational, and educational activities such as group English classes or a family birthday party. Books in these libraries are free to borrow and use.

Everyone can use them regardless of their age, educational level or social status. The mind is a terrible thing to waste and because of the twelve library parks in Comuna 13 and other parts of Medellin, city residents here have a real chance to learn new things and satisfy their curiosity. One particular volunteer group that I’m interested in learning about is called ‘Stairway to English’, which provides free English classes with native speakers to members of the Comuna 13 community.

My visit to Comuna 13 left quite an impact on me. I did go through an organized tour this time, which I do recommend to people visiting this webpage. It was really useful to learn about the history, background, and the progress being made for this part of Medellin. Medellin is quite a large city and it can be easy to get caught up in only staying within your own neighborhood and to not see other parts of the city. Personally, I do hope that other escalator projects in urban areas will become popular in Colombia and other parts of the world.

Human beings are increasingly becoming more urban with over 70% of the world’s population projected to be living in cities by mid-century. This puts the onus on local, city, and national governments to adapt to this reality and try to make life easier and better for the millions of people who call a city their home. Other cities should take note of the social progress being made in Comuna 13 and I can only hope that more and more residents of Medellin will be able to improve their lives in different ways because of urban projects like building library parks or constructing escalator routes.

If you’re in Medellin sometime and you’re curious to check out the positive urban transformation that is ongoing in Comuna 13 and other parts of the city, I would recommend using Comuna 13 Tours, which has a very knowledgeable, kind, and helpful staff members who are bilingual and want to share their city with foreigners out of the goodness in their heart. This is not an official endorsement and I don’t get paid or receive any benefits from mentioning this tour on my website.

I’m doing it because I really enjoyed the experience I had recently with them and I think other visitors who come to Medellin should do the same based off my positive experience using this tour group. Perhaps, most importantly of all, you’ll meet a few locals during your tour and you can see how hospitable, kind, and open they are in Comuna 13. My only advice is to be careful about your photo taking, and to be respectful of both the tour guide and the locals who are kind enough to take some time out of their day to share with you. I look forward to visiting Comuna 13 again someday and I hope to use that giant slide again too.

For more information: http://www.comuna13tours.com/