What are we left with? (Our Memories)

I was asked a question recently that was very deep and thought-provoking. A friend asked me if I had to choose between an old age spent losing my physical abilities but keeping my mental faculties or an old age spent losing my mental faculties and keeping my physical abilities, which one would I choose? The question gave me pause because I normally do not focus a lot on my impending aging but it’s natural to think of what life will be like once you are an elderly person. My friend did not hesitate to say that he would choose having his physical abilities intact since he is a very active person and enjoys running, hiking, and exercising at the gym.

He thought that I would agree with him and I do like to keep active as well physically but I also thought of what would happen to my mind if I could no longer process and retain information about books I love, music I enjoy, and movies where I can recite a lot of lines of dialogue from. Perhaps most importantly, I thought of all the memories I have made up until this point of both friends and loved ones and how it would be anguishing to me if I succumb to a disease of the mind where I lose sight of who I am or who my family or friends are. I think that really is a fate worse than physical deterioration because I find that our physical abilities and our peak performance do not last and Father Time will have our way with all of us regardless of how much we exercise, take vitamins, and play sports. Eventually, your body will break down especially the older you get and there is only so much you can do to spot that.

However, I tend to believe that exercising our mind and our mental capabilities can be a lot easier and take a lot less work than it takes to maintain our physical body. We live in an age where you can learn anything you want about an unlimited number of subjects. Keeping our minds sharp by studying foreign languages, learning new subjects, reading good books, writing our thoughts down in a journal are all healthy activities to kind the mind sharp. I am not an expert in terms of how to keep our mental capacities up as we go through life but I would imagine that putting your brain to the test especially with puzzles, trivia games, and sudoku especially can help you preserve what is most important to you.

Unfortunately, I have seen firsthand how sad and tragic it is for others to slowly lose their mental capacities and that is what tipped me towards the idea of focusing as much, if not more so, on giving myself the best show to work on my concentration, my memory, and my ability to learn new things. I believe that we all have that same capacity to preserve our mental capacities although it does take consistent work that not only last years but lasts decades as well.

Part of the reason why it is good to be able to exercise your brain as much as possible is because I really believe it makes you a more well-rounded and thoughtful person. Learning new things is something you should never really give up on. Having a college degree or a law degree or a medical degree is not really an excuse to stop learning and stop exercising your mind to the most you can push it.

We do not know what old age will hold, what will it be like, what abilities or faculties we will be left with but what we have control over is today and what we focus on whether that is mental or physical exercise. What I do know is how meaningful it is to remember what has happened over the course of your life and to be aware of those special memories that are yours and yours alone. In the end, what are we left with? We are left with our memories and hopefully it is more of an endless ocean than a single drop of water.

To focus today on making those memories with the people we care about and the things we enjoy doing will make old age that much sweeter. If your body one day gives out but your mind is still sharp, I think that is the better side of the deal. Obviously, it would be great to be fit as a fiddle and sharp as a tack until your last day, but I find that to be wishful thinking. I hope to remember who I am, what I’ve done, who I met, and most importantly who I loved when that time comes to reminisce and there aren’t many more memories to make.

Having memories in your mind that are fresh and seemed like they happened yesterday is the best you should hope for and what you can strive for by working today to strengthen your mental capacities as much as possible.  Your body at 70 is unlikely to be as good as your body at 70 but I’m a believer in the capacity of your mind at 70 to be as sharp as your mind at 20 within reason.

There are definitely outside factors to contend for in terms of your ability to retain your memories such as your genetic predisposition, your family history, and your own mind’s chemistry, but you can control a lot today through your own actions what memories you will be left with 50 years later. It also does not hurt to start writing down in a journal or diary on a daily basis or at least a weekly basis what happened in your life. This is especially the case if you live an exciting or an eventful life.

In addition, having photographs of yourself at different ages and in different places will jumpstart your memories and remind you of where you have been and what you did. Towards the end of your life, think of what you will have left. Yes, you will have your money, your possessions, and hopefully good physical health but I wish you also to remember deeply the memories you have made from different parts of your life and they are as vivid as possible. Your life towards the end of it should be like a cinematic movie of many parts, one as distinct from the other, and I hope you can look upon those memories you have made with great enjoyment and great fondness for what was and what it meant to you.

English Corner – Sentence Order and Structure

In previous ‘English Corner’ posts, I have covered ‘Personal Pronouns’ and ‘Singular and Plural Nouns’. I now would like to focus wholeheartedly on how the average English language learner can create a basic yet complete sentence that follows the SVO rule.

What is the SVO rule you may be asking? Good question. SVO stands for Subject – Verb – Object, which is the chronological order for which English sentences are made of. Other languages besides English may be forming sentences as Subject – Object – Verb, Object – Verb – Subject or Object – Subject – Verb but just for this particular language that we are learning which is English, we are going to stick with Subject – Verb – Object and the SVO rule.

If you have doubts about remembering that SVO stands for Subject – Verb – Object as an acronym, you can instead remember it as Some Valuable Onions (SVO) or So Very Open (SVO). These are just two examples of acronyms that you can associate with the SVO rule. It is important to remember that an English sentence will not make any sense unless it follows this particular rule and of placing these characteristics in the right chronological order.

Let’s begin with the Subject:

Subjects are often personal pronouns or proper nouns, which begin the English sentence. If you are using a personal pronoun, you would begin your sentence with I, You, We, They, He, and She if you are referring to a person. You would use a proper noun to refer to an object or a thing as ‘It.’ In addition, you can focus on using proper nouns as well that refer to specific people, places, and things. For example, you could begin a sentence with ‘The President, Albert Einstein, The Miami Dolphins, Hollywood, etc.) These proper nouns are usually formal titles referring to a person’s rank, their full name, or the title of the object or thing being referenced to.

Let’s continue with the Verb:

There are thousands of verbs that we can put in the heart of our sentences but let’s focus here on just the basic ones that are the come up the most frequently. When it comes to verbs, they usually will come right after the ‘subject’ in terms of the order to be in the middle. You also may need to add another verb or two to the sentence to make it complete with an additional subject word at the beginning if you are referencing another person in the ‘personal pronoun’ form.

When it comes to ‘verbs’, you will have the main verb of the sentence and then the ‘auxiliary verbs’ before or after the main verb which are meant to support the actual meaning of the sentence. Auxiliary verbs are not integral to basic sentence structure, but it is something to be aware of as most English sentences will have more than one verb. If you mess up the order of verbs in the sentence, do not be too concerned because that is an easy mistake to make. The key thing to keep in mind is that you are putting the verb after the subject and before the object or object(s) of the sentence.

Let’s finish with the Object:

The object of a sentence brings meaning or purpose to it so without the ending or the ‘object’ being made clear, the sentence will not function on its own within a larger paragraph or an essay. Objects can be either ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ in terms of their relation to the subject. Types of objects include animals, people, places, things, etc. that are referenced to in some way at the end of the sentence.

A preposition can also go in front of the ‘object’ such as ‘for, to, on, with, by’ and can either be prepositions of place or prepositions of time.

Objects can be abstract, real, theoretical, or imaginary as long as they relate to both the previous subject(s) or verb(s) of the sentence. You can refer to an object directly in the sentence or indirectly depending upon the context.

It is important that the sentence when you finish writing it makes sense grammatically and in terms of using the correct vocabulary. Lastly, while you need a complete sentence, it does not have to be a run-on sentence meaning that you can break up a sentence in two or more sentences if you are saying too much.

Let’s look at a few examples going from the shortest sentence to the longest sentence:

Example #1: I like football.

Example #2: I want to play video games.

Example #3: She was not a good ballet dancer, but she was an excellent writer.

Example #4: You are not supposed to be at the music festival as you have a big test to study for tomorrow.

Example #5: Abraham Lincoln is known as the 16th President of the United States but he was also an avid reader, a lawyer, a U.S. Senator, and an outdoorsman.

Each of these examples sum up the varying levels of complexity that make up sentences in the English language. As you can see, it is likely that the longer a sentence is, the more complex it will be with additional subjects, verbs, and/or objects. The key to avoid run-on sentences is to look over your written work to make sure that the sentence is following the SVO rule but has the right vocabulary to go along with it.

The first example starts us off with one subject, one verb, and one object. The second example adds an auxiliary verb to the sentence and adds a preposition as well. The third sentence enters in a comma as well as an explanation regarding how ‘she’ was ‘not’ a ballet dancer, ‘but’ was an excellent writer. You have two objects, a preposition, and the same verb being used twice in the simple past tense. To add on to the complexity, the fourth sentence highlights the two objects as well as three total verbs and has a time frame by using ‘tomorrow’ as its indirect object at the end of this example. Lastly, the fifth and most complete English sentence discusses a real-life subject in President Abraham Lincoln and how he could have a number of other ‘objects’ associated with him. This sentence also has different verbs as well as a descriptive adjective like ‘avid’ to add some flair to this last example.

As you can see from my explanations and my examples, English language sentences are as diverse and as varied as the language itself. Whether it is three words or thirty words, one complete and compelling sentence can make all the difference in making you both a better English writer and a better English learner overall. Good luck and remember to use this post as a way to begin your quest to create excellent English sentences!

English Corner – Indicative, Imperative, Subjunctive, and Infinitive Moods

A verb mood in English shows the writer’s attitude toward what he/she is saying. There are four different and distinct verb moods that we use in the English language to highlight a kind of behavior or belief that needs to be expressed independently or dependently. The four verb moods that we will cover in this article are indicative, imperative, subjunctive, and infinitive.

We will cover how, when, and why these four moods are used along with giving some example sentences of how they can be expressed in the written form. The verb moods are similar to each other but they are also distinct in how they are utilized. If you are able to use all four of them correctly, your English proficiency and understanding will increase a good amount as a result.

Indicative Mood states an actuality or fact.

  • We will go to see a movie this Sunday.
  • I’ll follow you to the park.

Imperative Mood makes a request or a demand.

  • Let’s go to see a play this weekend!
  • Please stop touching me!

Subjunctive Mood expresses a doubtful condition (contrary to fact) and is often used with an “if” clause.

  • If I were you, I wouldn’t buy a house.
  • I wish I were more organized.

Infinitive Mood expresses an action or state without reference to any subject. It can be the source of sentence fragments when the writer mistakenly thinks the infinitive form is a fully-functioning verb.

When we speak of the English infinitive, we usually mean the basic form of the verb with “to” in front of it: to go, to sing, to walk, to speak.

Verbs said to be in the infinitive mood can include participle forms ending in -ed and -ing. Verbs in the infinitive mood are not being used as verbs, but as other parts of speech.

·       To err is human; to forgive, divine.

·       He is a man to be admired.

·       He came to see you.

The following verbs often attract the subjunctive mood:

Ask, recommend, suggest, wish, insist, order, commend, request, and demand.

A verb in the subjunctive mood may have a different form.

The subjunctive for the present tense third-person singular drops the -s or -es so that it looks and sounds like the present tense for everything else. In the subjunctive mood, the verb to be is be in the present tense and were in the past tense, regardless of what the subject is.

  • Incorrect: If I was you, I would take any offer.
  • Correct: If I were you, I would take any offer.

(The verb follows ‘if’ and expresses a non-factual condition.)

  • Incorrect: I wish I was able to speak English fluently.
  • Correct: I wish I were able to speak English fluently.                                                    (The second verb is in a clause following a verb expressing a wish. It suggests a non-factual or doubtful condition.)

·       Incorrect: Our suggestion is that everyone on the team does the survey.

·       Correct: Our suggestion is that everyone on the team do the survey.

·       Incorrect: She recommended that each student takes a note.

·       Correct: She recommended that each student take a note.

Once again, the Indicative, imperative, subjunctive and infinitive are the four moods of English verbs. All manners and moods are expressed through these four verbs. While verb tenses (present, past and future) are used to talk about time, the four mood verbs show states, attitudes and reality.

Indicative Mood

We use the indicative mood to express:

Assertion – Heathrow is the world’s busiest airport.

Denial – Oliver cannot speak English well.

Question – Do you work in Tokyo?

Imperative Mood

We use the imperative mood to express requests, commands and advice:

Request – Please don’t talk during the Spanish lesson.

Advice – Look out for that tree!

Command – Shut that door please.

Subjunctive Mood

We use the subjunctive mood to express unreal situations, possibility and wish.

Unreal – If I were rich, I would buy a sports car.

Possibility – We might find her engagement ring if we were to look hard enough.

Wish – I wish it would stop raining today.

Infinitive Mood

Verbs in the infinitive mood are used as parts of speech more than verbs. It expresses the state of being or the state of action.

I may go to the beach later.

They came to speak to me about the meeting.

It’s important to eat well and exercise a lot.

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If you’re looking to improve your English through private lessons with me on a one-to-one basis please check out my ‘Learn English with Ben‘ page here: https://benjweinberg.com/learn-english-with-ben/

You can also check out my ‘English Grammar’ courses on Teachable.com here: https://benjweinberg.com/my-grammar-courses/

English Corner – Conjunctive Adverbs

Today’s English grammar topic is one that is often overlooked but can really help you become more advanced in using the language if you know how to do so correctly and by following the rules behind it. What I am referring to are ‘conjunctive adverbs’ which can help improve your sentences in terms of the meaning and to explain further about each independent clause within the sentence.

Conjunctive adverbs are words that are used to join two or more independent clauses into one sentence. A conjunctive adverb can help you to create a shorter sentence that still contains the necessary details to be complete. When you use a conjunctive adverb in a sentence, it’s necessary to follow the main rule otherwise it won’t work out.

The main rule for the placement of a conjunctive adverb is to put a semicolon (;) before it and a comma (,) after it. There are very few exceptions to this rule and without observing it, the sentence structure will suffer as a result. 

Example

  • We have many different sizes of this shirt; however, it comes in only one color.

Some examples of conjunctive adverbs are: accordingly, also, besides, consequently, finally, however, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, otherwise, still, therefore, then, etc.

More Examples

  • The due date for the midterm paper has passed; therefore, I could not submit mine on time.
  • There are many history books; however, some of them may not be accurate.
  • It rained hard; moreover, lightening flashed and thunder boomed.
  • The tired baby fell asleep; then, the doorbell rang, waking her up.
  • The law does not permit drinking and driving anytime; otherwise, there would be many more car accidents.

Conjunctive adverbs look like coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, so, for, yet, nor); however, they are not as strong as coordinating conjunctions and they are punctuated differently. Compared to coordinating conjunctions in particular, there are many more words out there that can function as conjunctive adverbs. There are a lot less coordinating or subordinating junctions out there when compared to the amount of adverbs that can be used for conjunctive purposes. 

A conjunctive adverb is also used in a single main clause. In this case, only a comma (,) is used to separate the conjunctive adverb from the rest of the sentence. There’s no semicolon (;) in the case of these examples so it’s important to remember that you don’t always need a comma and a semicolon together in between your conjunctive adverb.

  • I woke up very late this morning. Nevertheless, I wasn’t late to school.
  • She didn’t take a bus to work today. Instead, she took the commuter train.
  • Jack wants a toy car for his birthday. Meanwhile, Jill wants a dollhouse for her birthday.
  • They returned home. Likewise, I went home after the party.

List of the Most Popular Conjunctive Adverbs

  • accordingly
  • additionally
  • also
  • anyway
  • besides
  • certainly
  • comparatively
  • consequently
  • conversely
  • elsewhere
  • equally
  • finally
  • further
  • furthermore
  • hence
  • henceforth
  • however
  • in addition
  • in comparison
  • in contrast
  • incidentally
  • indeed
  • instead
  • likewise
  • meanwhile
  • moreover
  • namely
  • nevertheless
  • next
  • nonetheless
  • now
  • otherwise
  • rather
  • similarly
  • still
  • subsequently
  • then
  • thereafter
  • therefore
  • thus
  • undoubtedly
  • yet

Overall, there are dozens of conjunctive adverbs that can be used in the English language but the ones I’ve listed above are definitely the most common. The job of an adverb is not to always connect two main clauses but it can happen so it’s important to be aware of how and when the ‘conjunctive adverb’ can be used in a sentence.

We do sometimes used adverbs to connect ideas together. In addition, conjunctive adverbs are supposed to connect words, phrases, and clauses together in order to create great sentences that flow really well and have a deeper meaning. By using conjunctive adverbs well, you can provide smooth transitions in a sentence from one independent clause to another one. The conjunctive adverb has a really important purpose within English grammar and I hope this blog post will help you, the reader, to use it to better your writing skills and reading comprehension. 

English Corner – Introduction to Modals

There are many different kinds of modals to study but in this ‘English Corner’ blog post, we’re going to start out with an introduction dealing with the modals of ability. Modals of ability are the most common and the most important to master firstly. Modals are verbs usually and the ones that I am going to be focused on in this article are can, could, be able to, may, might.

Modal verbs act as auxiliary verbs in your average sentence and can express different ideas. These ideas include expressing one’s ability, one’s possibility, and sometimes necessity. Modal verbs often have more than one meaning and can be significant in a variety of ways. A simple form of a verb always follows a modal verb in a regular sentence as well.

Example:

  • Ben can do his homework.

The modal verb ‘can’ is followed by the simple form of the verb ‘to do’ followed by the object part, which refers to his homework.

An Introduction to Modals can be broken down into three separate parts: modals for ability, modals for possibility, and modals for permission. Each type of modals is unique in their own way but they each help to express oneself in some form or another.

For ‘Modals of Ability’, you can express your own ability or that of someone else by using the words ‘can, be able to, could’ in order to highlight your ability to do something.

Present Ability: I can speak three languages.

Negative Form: I cannot read this book.

Past Ability: Jack could play on the swings when he was a child but not anymore.

Negative Past Ability: Jane couldn’t go to the dance last night because she was sick.

In any regular sentence, the verb after the modal ‘can, could, be able to’ is always in the simple form and always follows the auxiliary (modal) verb. It’s important to note that the simple verb after the modal verb never changes either.

Examples:

-Ben can doing his homework. X

-Ben can to do his homework. X

-Ben can did his homework. X

All of these examples listed above give us the understanding we need to see that the simple form of the verb such as ‘to do’ never changes from its’ original intention. ‘Ben can do his homework’ is the only correct answer in this case.

In order to turn the ability modal into a question, it’s also quite easy to do. The form of the sentence should look like ‘modal verb + subject + main verb + object…? For any of the ability modals whether it’s can, could, etc., you can use them in the form of a question.

Examples:

  1. Can she play the flute?
  2. Could you go to the store to pick up some fruit?
  3. Are you able to do your homework tonight?

‘Able to’ is an exception in that as a modal of ability verb, the structure of the question form looks like: ‘to be’ + subject + able to + main verb + object…?’

For Modals of Possibility, it’s important to understand how to express ‘possibility’ in a sentence through showing what’s possible and what’s not possible for someone or something. The modals of possibility include ‘may, might, and could’ now and in the future. All of these three modals have the same meaning and can be used interchangeably regardless of the type of sentence.

Examples:

  • I might be late to the business meeting tomorrow.
  • You may want to re-take the exam next year.
  • You could get into college if you study harder.

Possibility cannot be expressed for the past but only for the present and the future when it comes to grammar.

For ‘Modals of Permission’, you can express ways to ask for or to give permission in a regular sentence. In order to create this modal sentence, we need to use the modals of ‘may, could, and can’, which are also apart of permission and ability modals. Permission modals are very polite and formal so it’s important to know how to write and verbally use them correctly in a sentence.

Examples:

  • May I go to the bathroom please?
  • Could I borrow your lawnmower today?
  • Can he have the last piece of chocolate cake?

For the main verb that comes after the subject and before the modal verb, it’s always going to be in its’ regular, simple form which never changes. When it comes to modals of permission, it’s important to remember that using ‘may’ especially at the beginning of the sentence is the most formal of the three options. Also, if someone were to answer you to grant that permission so you can go to the bathroom or to use your lawnmower, you can answer with:

-Yes, you may or No, you may not.

There’s also the possible positive or negative response to the modal question with ‘Yes, you can’ or ‘No, you can’t.’

While not the most popular grammar topic, there are many kinds of modals and knowing some of them especially those modals concerning permission, ability, and possibility is key to improving your English proficiency. This article is simply an introduction to modals and in the coming weeks and months; I hope to highlight other types of modals that are likely to come up in your grammar studies. “You can do it!”

 

English Corner – Personal Pronouns

When you begin to learn the English language and specifically English grammar, it is very important to be able to address people whether it’s a man, a woman, or a collective group of people. You won’t be able to become personal with people unless you understand and know about personal pronouns.

The good news is that learning about personal pronouns is quite easy and doesn’t take much time compared to other grammar topics. Personal pronouns can be divided into two separate categories: subject pronouns and object pronouns. It’s important to recall that we use pronouns in place of a full noun. Pronoun words tend to be shorter than regular nouns in terms of syllables and length too.

The subject pronouns are as follows in the list below:

I         (Singular)

You   (Plural)

He     (Singular)

She     (Singular)

It         (Singular)

We      (Plural)

They   (Plural)

These subject pronouns are personal and apply to both singular and plural subjects. The singular subject pronouns are ‘I, he, she, it’ while the plural subject pronouns are ‘you, we, they.’ Regardless if you are using the present, past, or future tense of the verb form, the singular pronouns stay singular and the plural pronouns stay plural.

The object pronouns are as follows in the list below:

Me    (Singular)

You   (Plural)

Him   (Singular)

Her   (Singular)

It       (Singular)

Us     (Plural)

Them (Plural)

These object pronouns are also to be used for personal reasons and apply to both singular and plural subjects. The singular object pronouns are ‘me, him, her, it’ while the plural subject pronouns are ‘you, us, them.’ Regardless if you are using the present, past, or future tense of the verb form, the singular pronouns stay singular and the plural pronouns stay plural when it comes to objects. If you study both the subject and object pronouns consistently, you’ll be able to tell which words are singular and which words are plural.

It’s important to remember that in the English language, gendered nouns are not as prominently used compared to other languages such as Spanish or Italian. However, he / him is always used to refer to a man or boy while she / her is used to refer to a woman or girl. ‘It’ is often used to refer to a non-human entity such as an animal (whose gender is unknown) or an object like a desk.

Another key thing to keep in mind is that ‘you’ is a singular pronoun in terms of it referring to just one person, thing, or object. However, ‘you’ goes along with the plural form of a verb such as ‘to be’ making it more of a plural pronoun. For example, instead of putting ‘you’ and ‘is’ (to be) together, you would instead put ‘you’ and ‘are’ (to be) together, which is the plural form of the verb and not the singular form.

‘You is smart’ is a sentence that is not grammatically correct in English while ‘You are smart’ is correct instead. I like to call this English rule of personal pronouns the ‘You’ exception. Similar to ‘I, He, She, It’, ‘You’ is singular in its’ meaning yet it can be used with the plural form of the verb ‘to be’ instead of the singular form. Due to this exception, ‘You’ should be grouped more with ‘We, They’, which are both plural subject pronouns rather than with the former singular subject pronouns.

Here are some examples to show you how the singular and plural subject pronouns can be formed in complete yet simple sentences:

Subject Pronouns (Singular)

  1. I am doing okay.
  2. He is feeling good.
  3. She is playing tennis.
  4. It is raining outside.

Subject Pronouns (Plural)

  1. You are being mean.
  2. They are going to the movies.
  3. We are hungry for dinner.

From the examples above, you can see that the singular subject pronouns go with the ‘am, is’ form of the verb ‘to be’ in the simple present tense while the plural subject pronouns all use the ‘are’ form of the verb ‘to be.’ By following the examples above, you’ll have a better understanding of how to use the subject pronouns correctly in order to be personal in English.

One of the main differences between the subject and object pronouns is that the ‘subject’ pronouns begin the sentence while the ‘object’ pronouns often come at the end of the sentence. The English language follows a structure of ‘subject – verb – object’ and that is a formula of a basic sentence that rarely changes. The singular ‘object’ pronouns are words like ‘me, him, her, it’ while the plural ‘object’ pronouns are words like ‘you, us, them.’ As mentioned before, the word ‘you’ falls into the plural category with object pronouns like it does for the subject pronouns.

Here are some examples to show you how the singular and plural object pronouns can be formed in complete yet simple sentences:

Object Pronouns (Singular)

  1. The horse jumped over me.
  2. Think about him.
  3. Sing loudly with her.
  4. They did it.

Object Pronouns (Plural)

  1. I like
  2. The reservation is for us.
  3. We were here before

Without being able to address anyone or anything properly, your English will not advance that much. If you want to be comfortable forming sentences either verbally or in the written form, you must study and master the personal pronouns to the best of your ability.

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If you’re looking to improve your English through private lessons with me on a one-to-one basis please check out my ‘Learn English with Ben‘ page here: https://benjweinberg.com/learn-english-with-ben/

You can also check out my ‘English Grammar’ courses on Teachable.com here: https://benjweinberg.com/my-grammar-courses/

English Corner – Idioms

If you are looking for a mainstay of most living languages, you should look no further than the concept of the ‘Idiom.’ The Idiom is the closest thing that humans have in terms of a universal connector among the diversity inherent in all forms of spoken language. The most important thing to understand about the idiom is that you are not supposed to take them literally but you are still supposed to take them seriously. There’s a deeper, implied meaning beyond any idiom regardless of the language it’s spoken in. This is especially the case in the English language where there are hundreds, if not thousands of idioms that can be used for any matter or circumstance.

Idioms can be extremely diverse in their range and can refer to any amount of unique subjects or topics. Idioms can also be used very locally, regionally, or nationally depending upon the language and the culture it comes from. A dialect, jargon, or accent can also lend to the idioms used by a certain group of people who share common interests and/or beliefs. Idioms can be used in reference to business, politics, science, art, music, and other parts of daily life.

It can be tough to decipher which idioms are the most used in the English language but there are a few of them that stand out in terms of their popularity and their different ways of usage. Most people who speak English are likely to be familiar with these idioms below or have used them themselves.

Examples

  1. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Meaning: Don’t get ahead of yourself before things are accomplished.

  1. Have a chip of my shoulder.

Meaning: You’re bothered or annoyed by something that won’t go away.

  1. Don’t jump to conclusions.

Meaning: While not taking this statement literally, you shouldn’t pass judgment on someone or something before you receive all of the facts.

  1. A dime a dozen.

Meaning: Very common, easily found anywhere and everywhere.

  1. An ace in the hole.

Meaning: A secret advantage or a benefit that no one else knows about and is going to be used soon against an opponent or adversary.

Sentences

  1. The science project isn’t finished yet because we still have to build the volcano. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
  2. I don’t like critics doubting my basketball skills. They really give me a chip on my shoulder.
  3. We don’t know whether or not he’s telling the truth about his new invention, Let’s not jump to conclusions.
  4. These Amazon ‘Alexa’ AI devices are a dime a dozen. You can find them everywhere and they are really popular.
  5. I have Matt Ryan as my starting Quarterback in Fantasy Football this weekend. He’s my ace in the hole.

Idioms can refer to someone’s actions and the consequences of those actions highlighted in example idioms such as ‘Pay the piper’ and ‘Rub somebody the wrong way.’ Idioms can refer to people in general when you say that they are ‘sick as a dog’ or ‘six feet underground.’ Lastly, colors in English can often become part of idioms themselves such as when you describe somebody as feeling upset or depressed as having ‘the blues.’ You know that the person isn’t actually ‘blue’ in their color but rather they have ‘the blues’, which is referred to as when somebody isn’t feeling well. There is a whole musical genre that is devoted to this kind of mellow music called the ‘Blues.’ ‘Out of the blue’ is another example of a color kind of idiom that refers to something happening when you least expect it to.

It can be very difficult to get the hang of idioms especially if your proficiency level is at a low level. First, you need to be able to conjugate verbs, have a good grasp on the vocabulary by knowing a lot of different words, and then you need to be able to understand the meaning behind the idioms and use them with other native speakers in the right way. The idioms being used depends upon the region, the culture, and the social group you find yourself in. That is why there are such a sheer variety of idioms that can be used in any given situation regardless of the language that the idiom falls under. Idioms cut across language and cultural barriers and can have similar meanings to each other depending upon the situation.

The best way in which to comprehend and start using English idioms is to talk with native speakers who will use them throughout a conversation even if they don’t realize it at times. The more conversations you have with English speakers, the more idioms you will pick up on and remember. They will most likely want to help you out so do not be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand the meaning of the idiom or why it’s being used in a certain sentence.

Before you start using idioms yourself, you want to be absolutely clear that you’re using the idiom within the right context for the right meaning. It can be a bit embarrassing if you tell your American friend who is starring in a Broadway play that you want him to ‘jump the gun’ instead of to ‘break a leg.’ Idioms take time to understand, use, and master but they are an important part of learning any language, including English.
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If you have liked what I have written in this ‘English Corner’ post, and you are interested in improving your English language skills whether its’ with speaking, writing, or just boosting your knowledge of grammar, I would be happy to help you reach your language learning goals. Check out Learn English With Ben to book a private lesson with me today!

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.

 

English Corner – Past Perfect Tense

Now that we’ve gone over the present perfect tense with the last post, let’s go back into the past. I’m going to cover the how, when, and why’s of when we use the past perfect tense and how to do so with the correct form and usage. While not the most well know or often used grammatical tense, by improving your knowledge and understanding of the ‘past perfect tense’, you’ll be able to take your English proficiency to new heights. Remember this blog post in the future because it may help you for years to come.

The past perfect tense goes deeper than other past tenses in that you’re going to be referring to two separate yet interrelated events that occurred at some point in the past but at different times and places. The past perfect tense, like other past tenses, refers to an action, event, or thing that took place at a time earlier than now or in the present. The past perfect tense goes further in that it connects two events in the past and ties them together because they are somehow interrelated to some degree. This grammar tense refers to one past event happening before the other event and it’s usually clear which event happened first and which event happened second.

When it comes to the past perfect tense, the first event will be mentioned at the beginning of the sentence and then the second event will be mentioned towards the end of the same sentence and is noted as having happened after the first event.

Examples

  1. Alex had gone out to eat dinner when his phone rang suddenly.
  2. When they had arrived to the birthday party, the cake was already being eaten.
  3. She was already exhausted at 10 o’clock that night because she had studied for the Chemistry exam all day.
  4. You had finished the 5K race when I was just getting started.

Forming the past perfect tense for usage in sentences is quite simple. There is always going to be two parts to forming this particular grammar tense that you should be aware of. Firstly, you’re going to use the verb ‘to have’ in the past tense form, which would change into the word had. Right after the word ‘had’, you’re going to add the past participle of the main verb to be used in the heart of the sentence.

As listed in the examples above, the ‘had + past participle’ combination should come one right after the other to form the past perfect grammar tense. You can use verbs like started, studied, finished, danced, etc. to go along with the past tense form of ‘to have.’ There are only some slight changes to be made to the past perfect tense when it comes to the negative or question form of this grammatical tense. I’ll also use another example of the ‘positive’ form of the past perfect tense to compare the three versions together.

Example – Positive

  1. I had realized my mistake in the equation but it was too late to change.

Example – Negative

  1. John hadn’t thought that it was a big deal to skip the gym this week.

Example – Question

  1. Had they worked hard enough to earn the Nobel Peace Prize? (+)
  2. Hadn’t you sung before with the city choir before tonight’s performance? (-)

It’s quite common when it comes to the negative form of the ‘past perfect tense’ to contract ‘had not’ into ‘hadn’t’ to express it. It’s not obligatory to contract the negative form of the verb ‘to have’ but it’s quite common to use especially if the sentence is informal in nature. In the negative question form of the ‘past perfect tense’, you can also be free to contract the ‘to have’ verb if you feel that it is necessary although it is not mandatory to do.

The word ‘had’, positive or negative form, will always go at the beginning of the sentence if it is in the form of a question for the past perfect tense. While that’s a lot to keep in mind, if you follow the examples listed above for positive, negative, and question form, you’ll be able to catch on quickly in terms of the structure and usage of the past perfect tense.

The last thing to keep in mind is that similar to the ‘present perfect tense’, the past perfect tense also makes usage of the word ‘just’ to describe events that ‘just’ happened in the past recently and could be used to relate to another event in the same sentence.

Examples

  1. I just had put on some coffee when my friend arrived to the house.
  2. The airplane had just departed when I came to the airport gate.

The past perfect tense can be used under a specific circumstance and it can be quite valuable to master when describing multiple events that occurred recently. When it comes to a historical timeline to study or errands that your close friend ran during the day that he wants to tell you about, a working knowledge of the past perfect tense in English could help you in a number of ways. By understanding the structure, the forms, and the usage of this grammatical tense, you should be able to pick it up yourself to be used in polite conversation or for your next story.

 

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!