Monthly Archives: April 2014

Group Discussion: Looks and Beauty, part 3!

Sorry this is late guys, but here’s the final part!

Communication Challenges:
1. Confirming what you heard

A lot of English learners will make the simple communication mistake of not checking their own listening or doing it in a way that native English speakers can’t understand.  One example of this is parroting.  Parroting is simply repeating the word or phrase that one heard as it is.


Native English Speaker: That was a tumultuous experience.

English Learner: Tunnel to us?  X

NES: Huh?

Parroting can work, but it requires the appropriate tone, pronunciation and stress which takes time to develop.  Generally, it’s not an effective way of confirming one’s listening.

On the other hand, many English learners don’t even do that!  Some will not even confirm their listening at all!  This can result in even bigger communication problems.


NES: That was a tumultuous experience.

EL: What does tunnel to us experience mean?

NES: Huh?  I have no idea.  Why?

At this point, communication often breaks down.

You see, the key point here is that English conversation is not about building your vocabulary and grammar, it’s about learning communication skills so you can handle these types of situations!

So what should you do when you have this kind of problem?  State the problem very clearly!  Here are some ways you could handle that:

NES: That was a tumultuous experience!

EL: It sounded like you said tunnel to us.  Did you?

EL: I heard something like tunnel to us.  Did you say that?

EL: Did you say tunnel to us?

NES: No, no.  I said tumultuous… T-U-M-U-L-T-U-O-U-S.

Even though the native English speaker said “no”, those responses are great because they communicate the problem effectively.  Notice how all of the responses have clear, complete questions as well, so the English speaker knows how to respond back to you! Next time you are in a conversation with a native English speaker, try one of them!

2. Expressing the feeling of a word.

I often hear English learners say things like “It is a positive meaning” or “It means positive.”


Teacher: Do you understand the word “bliss”?

Student: No.

Teacher: Bliss is a feeling of perfect joy.

Student: Oh!  It means positive.

Actually, no, bliss doesn’t mean positive.  Bliss means a feeling of perfect joy.  But I understand what my students are trying to communicate.  So how do we communicate the way a word feels in English?  Here are two methods:

Example 1:

Teacher: Bliss is a feeling of joy.

Student: Oh!  It’s a positive word.

Example 2:

Teacher: Bliss is a feeling of joy.

Student: Oh! It has a positive connotation.

Connotation is one part of the definition of a word or expression, specifically, it’s feeling associated with a word or expression.  So you can say a word has a “positive connotation”, not a “positive meaning”.

3. Saying people’s full names

In Japanese, people typically say a person’s family name first, then their given name, often followed by the honorific suffix “-さん”.  This often causes them to express names in English incorrectly.  I often hear these types of expressions (my given name is Brian, my last name is Connelly, by the way):


– Nice to meet you, Mr. Brian. X

– My favorite actor is Watanabe Ken. X

There are two points here.  First, we always say a person’s given name first, then their family name last!  This is why they are called first names and last names!  For instance, the actor’s first name is Ken, his last name is Watanabe.

Second, to be polite, we add the prefix “Mr” or “Ms” or “Mrs” before a person’s family name, not their given name!  In English, it is more polite to use a person’s last name, and friendlier to use their first name, so it sounds quite strange to call someone “Mr” followed by their first name.

So here are the more natural ways to express people’s names:

– Nice to meet you, Mr. Connelly.  O

– My favorite actor is Ken Watanabe. O

Natural English
1. Redundancy

Redundancy is the unnecessary repetition of information in a language.  A very simple example of this is “The large house was very big.”  Both large and big basically mean the same thing, so it’s unnecessary to repeat that information; it’s redundant.

In every language, some redundancy is natural.  For example, you’ll sometimes hear native English speakers say “a single” (ex: “I haven’t seen a single good movie this year.”).  This is redundant: both a and single  mean “one”.  In Japanese, you will sometimes hear redundant statements like 歌を歌います.  Another very common redundant expression that I hear Japanese people overuse in English is “for me.”


– It is difficult for me.

– For me, Okinawa is the best place in Japan.

– Nozomi Sasaki is beautiful for me.

All of these sentences are redundant!  Why?  Because if the speaker says it, then the listener already knows it is “for” him/her!  So a native English speaker would just omit it:

– It’s difficult.

– Okinawa is the best place in Japan.

– Nozomi Sasaki is beautiful.

That’s it!  If the speaker said it, you can assume it is the speaker’s opinion.

If you need to clarify that it is your opinion, it’s much more natural to add “I think” at the beginning, instead of “for me”:

– I think it’s difficult.

– I think Okinawa is the best place in Japan.

– I think Nozomi Sasaki is beautiful.

2. Quantifiable vs. unquantifiable adjectives

I’m sure you’re thinking “What?  Adjectives are countable?”  No, not exactly!  But the way we describe the degree of an adjective is sometimes countable.  For example, we answer the question: “How old are you?” with “I’m 34 years old.”  In other words, we use numerals to answer them.  However, we can’t always do this.  For example, if someone asked you “How tired are you?” you couldn’t provide them with a number to measure that.  So how could you answer that?

With adverbs of degrees.  Adverbs of degrees are adverbs that help describe the degree to which something or someone is ADJ.  For example, if my feeling of being tired is to a high degree I would say:

– I’m very tired.

– I’m really tired.

I’m extremely tired.

If it was to a small degree:

– I’m a little tired.

– I’m not really/so tired.

– I’m a bit tired.

These expressions are perfect for answering the question pattern “How ADJ is/are N?”


A: “How hard is the test?”

B: “It’s really hard.”


A: “How excited are you about the trip?”

B: “I’m quite excited.”


A: “How cold is Osaka in the fall?”

B: “Not very cold.”


3. Appropriate Words

Sometimes it can be hard to know whether a word is appropriate for a situation or not.  In conversation, it’s not enough to use the correct word, it’s also important to use an appropriate word.  For example, even if it’s correct to tell a friend “You got fat”, it’s not appropriate: it usually sounds rude.  It’s more appropriate to say “You’ve gained (some) weight”.  That’s more considerate.

When it comes to talking about people’s looks, we ought to be delicate and careful!  Which words are appropriate for what types of people?

There are basically three categories of words: safe words, non-sexual adult words and sexual adult words.

Safe words are words that can be used for anyone.  They can be used to describe children and adults safely.  They are pretty mild compared to the other words.

Non-sexual words are sometimes inappropriate for infants and children, but do not sound offense or harassing to adults.  They are pretty strong though.

Sexual  words are words that have sexual connotations, so they can sound like “pick up” (ナンパ).  Be careful with them!

Safe words







Non-sexual (but stronger) words





Sexual Words






That’s it!  I hope that helps!  See you next week!


Group Discussion: Beauty, Looks and Physical Appearance

As promised, here is part two of the discussion on beauty, looks and physical appearance!  This part deals with the actual questions and answers.  Please take a look and if you have any questions or your own opinions, please share them with me on twitter or in the comments section!  Thanks!

1. How do you define beauty?

The students said it depends on the individual. One student defined it as enjoying the way something looks. One student said that whatever your type is is beautiful. One student said he thinks women are more beautiful without make up. One student defined beauty quite broadly. Another student thought cute girls were more dependent, but beautiful girls were more independent. He thought cute girls were more immature than beautiful girls.

2. Do you think people in other countries define beauty in the same way as Japanese people?

The students think that in some ways they do, in some ways they don’t. For example, temple lodgings seem very simple and ordinary to Japanese people, but to foreigners, they seem beautiful. One student said he thought Japanese men prefer cute girls but foreign men prefer beautiful girls. He also thought inner beauty was more important to foreigners than to Japanese.

3. How many adjectives can you think of to describe an attractive person?

The students thought of: good-looking, beautiful, cute, and handsome. But there are many more! We also say sexy, beautiful, gorgeous, lovely, nice-looking, adorable, pretty, foxy and so on.

4. Who do you think is the most beautiful person in your country? In the world?

The students thought about this question very seriously! The students named Hitomi Kuroki, Nanako Matsushima and Nozomi Sasaki as the most beautiful women in Japan (we had all male students this week!). As far as non-Japanese women, the students named Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Taylor Swift and Natalie Portman among the most beautiful women.

5. What is “inner beauty”?

One of the students included physical attractiveness as inner beauty. Other students included intelligence, strength, independence, kindness, honesty, and grace. One student thought quiet people have inner beauty!

6. How important is beauty to you?

Most of the students said it wasn’t very important to them. Some students thought women worry more about beauty, but others thought men and women both worry about it equally.

7. Is it better to be physically attractive or intelligent? Physically attractive or wealthy?

Most students thought it’s better to be intelligent or wealthy than physically attractive, but one student thought it’s better to be physically attractive than intelligent.

8. Do people spend too much time or money on beauty?

The students think so. One student said it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to get yourself ready, whether you’re a man or a woman.

9. What are some advantages of being beautiful? What are some drawbacks?

One student said being beautiful makes others feel good. The students couldn’t think of any drawbacks!

So what do you think?  Do you agree with the students?  Who do you think is the most beautiful person?  Is beauty important?  More important than intelligence or wealth?  Are there any possible drawbacks to being attractive?  Let me know!

I’m also going to include one more part, since the Q&A was quite short this week.  Here it is:

Grammatical errors:
*ADJ is ADJ.

I often hear sentences constructed like this:

– Intelligent is good.

– Rich is very easy.

– Kind is very good thing.

These are simple grammatical errors.  The subjects are only adjectives, but adjectives cannot be used alone.  They must be used with nouns, or converted into nouns themselves.  So how can you do that?  There are two ways:

A. Many adjectives have distinct noun forms.  For example, we could say:

– Kindness is a very good thing.

– Intelligence is good.

– Happiness is important.

B. But many adjectives don’t have noun forms, or the noun forms mean something different.  The easiest way to fix this problem is by adding “being”:

Being rich is very easy.

Being kind is a very good thing.

– Being intelligent is good.

There!  Now we have perfect English expressions!

That’s all for today!  Tomorrow I will go over some more natural English expressions as well as communication problems that we encountered this week!  See you then!

Group Discussion: Beauty, Looks and Physical Appearance

Hello and thank you for checking out the Start Gate English blog!

Every week on Monday at 3pm and Tuesday at 8pm we have a one-hour group discussion on a different topic. This class is open to any and all students, but recommended for intermediate and advanced. We have 2-4 students in each class. The teacher asks questions and discusses the answers with the students, and students can ask questions to each other (and the teacher, too!). You are welcome to bring a dictionary or ask the teacher if you need help. One lesson is 1500-2500 yen, depending on how many tickets you buy. If you are interested, please check out the website or contact me directly. If you are not available on Monday at 3pm or Tuesday at 8pm, but would like to join, please tell me your available days and times and I will be happy to set up another class for you!  Also, we will be opening a new class on Sunday afternoons, so be on the look out for that too!

After finishing this post I realized it’s REALLY long, so I’m going to break it into three parts.

First, here is the lexical set (a group of words and expressions necessary for the discussion):

Beauty Lexical Set
  • Advantage(s): 利益

– Something beneficial or favorable.

Ex: Being good-looking is an advantage in life.

  • Beauty: 美しさ

– An appearance or feeling that people like.

Ex: Some people find beauty in traditional Japanese temples.

  • Beholder(s): 見る人

– A person who looks at something.

Ex: Whether or not this painting is beautiful depends on the beholder.

  • Distinction: 区別

– Being different or dissimilar

Ex: I don’t know the distinctions between all the different Japanese teas.

  • Drawback(s): 不利益、欠点

– Something unfavorable or not beneficial.

Ex: One of the drawbacks to living in the city is all the noise.

  • Grace: 優雅、気品

– Effortless and refined movement, form or behavior.

Ex: The ballet dancer dances with grace.

  • Independence: 自立

– Ability to take care of oneself

Ex: It is important to teach children to be independent to prepare them for adult life.

  • Personality: 性格

– All the traits of a person.

Ex: Being attractive isn’t enough, you need to have a good personality, too.

  • Plastic Surgery: 形成外科

– Surgery to restore or repair body parts.

Ex: Do you think plastic surgery will make me look more beautiful?

  • Proverb(s): 諺

– A short and common or popular saying.

Ex: A very popular proverb in Japanese is 知らぬは仏.

  • Self-Esteem: 自尊

– Respect or pride in oneself.

Ex: It is hard to be happy if you don’t have any self-esteem.

  • Trait: 特性

– A feature or aspect of one’s personality or character.

Ex: Honesty is a very important character trait.

  • Affect: 及ばす、影響する

– Have an influence in changing

Ex: That movie affected me very deeply.

  • Date: 付き合う、デートする

– Go out with someone romantically

Ex: When did you start dating?

  • Define: 意味を説明する、定義する

– State the exact meaning of

Ex: Each person defines beauty differently.

  • Distinguish: はっきり区別する

– Know the difference or consider as different

Ex: Some people say they can’t distinguish Japanese people from Chinese people.

  • Enhance: 高める

– Make better or stronger. add improvements

Ex: I just enhanced my computer by putting in additional memory.

  • Spend: 過ごす

– Use, specifically time or money.

Ex: Some women spend hours putting make up on every day.

  • Think of: 考える、思い浮かべる

– Choose in one’s mind

Ex: Can you think of a good movie to watch tonight?

  • Attractive: 魅力的な

– Being pleasing, usually to the eye.

Ex: His wife is a very attractive woman.

  • Beautiful: 美しい

– Having qualities that people enjoy, usually to look at.

Ex: This sunset is so beautiful.

  • Broad: 「幅の」広い

– Covering a wide scope, general

Ex: The definition of “get” is very broad, so it’s hard to understand it sometimes.

  • Cosmetic: 美顔用の

– Improving the physical appearance of something

Ex: She’s considering getting cosmetic surgery to hide her wrinkles.

  • Handsome: ハンサム、カッコいい

– Pleasing or dignified in appearance.

Ex: You look so handsome when you wear a suit.

  • Immature: 未熟な

– Not fully grown or developed.

Ex: She’s 28, but sometimes she acts like an immature 16 year old.

  • Intelligent: 知性的な

– Having intelligence, smart

Ex: Einstein was one of the most intelligent men in history.

  • Physical: 身体の

– Relating to the body.

Ex: Height is a physical trait, kindness is a personality trait.

  • Popular: 人気な

– Liked or appreciated by a lot of people.

Ex: What are some popular songs in Japan?

  • Wealthy: 裕福な

– Having a lot of money.

Ex: When I grow up, I want to be wealthy.

  • How ADJ is N: 名詞はどのぐらい形容詞?


  1. How old are is this house? [It’s 50 years old.]
  2. How much is this? [It’s two dollars.]
  3. How long is the flight? [It’s about six hours.]

It’s better to V (than to V): 動詞よりも動詞したほうがいい


  1. It’s better to study English actively (than to study it passively).
  2. It’s better to wait here.
  3. It’s better to exercise a little bit every day than to exercise heavily only once a week.

The same way: 同じように

  1. I study English the same way (as you).
  2. I feel the same way.
  3. Please repeat that the same way I said it.

Tomorrow I will post the answers and on Sunday I will post some interesting challenges that came up during the conversation!  Hope to see you here again!

Group Discussion: Poverty

Hello and thank you for checking out the Start Gate English blog!

Every week on Monday at 3pm and Tuesday at 8pm we have a one-hour group discussion on a different topic. This class is open to any and all students, but recommended for intermediate and advanced. We have 2-4 students in each class. The teacher asks questions and discusses the answers with the students, and students can ask questions to each other (and the teacher, too!). You are welcome to bring a dictionary or ask the teacher if you need help. One lesson is 1500-2500 yen, depending on how many tickets you buy. If you are interested, please check out the website or contact me directly. If you are not available on Monday at 3pm or Tuesday at 8pm, but would like to join, please tell me your available days and times and I will be happy to set up another class for you!  Also, we will be opening a new class on Sunday afternoons, so be on the look out for that too!

First, here is the lexical set (a group of words and expressions necessary for the discussion):

Poverty Lexical Set
  • Competition: 競争

– Striving against others to win or get something.

Ex: Competition on Wall Street is fierce!

  • Crime: 犯罪

– An action committed against the law

Ex: Robbery is a serious crime.

  • Discrepancy: 不一致

– Something different, a disagreement

Example: There’s a discrepancy between your reported income and your spending.

  • (The) Government: 政府

– A governing body or organization

Ex: Some people think it’s the government’s job to take care of its citizens.

  • A hermit: 仙人

– A person who lives alone, apart from society.

Ex: When I retire, I’m going to become a hermit!

  • (The) Homeless: ホームレスの人たち

– People who have no home.

Ex: Where can the homeless go in Japan?

  • (The) Poor: 貧乏人

– People who are poor.

Ex: What is the government doing to help the poor?

  • Poverty: 貧乏

– The state of being poor.

Ex: Nobody wants to live in poverty.

  • Record(s): 世評

– An unsurpassed measurement.

Ex: The record for eating a 72 ounce steak the fastest is three minutes.

  • (The) Rich: 裕福層, 富裕層

– People who have a lot of money.

Ex: Where do the rich live?

  • Taxes: 税

– A required contribution for support of one’s government.

Ex: I heard the sales tax [消費税] went up recently.

  • Welfare: 福祉

– Financial aid provided by the government.

Ex: Does Japan care about welfare?

  • Cause: 引き起こす、もたらす

– Bring about, be the cause, be the reason

Ex: The earthquake caused a lot of damage.

  • Compete: 競争する

– Strive against each other to win or get something

Ex: I love to compete by playing sports.

  • Eliminate: 除去する

– Get rid of, remove

Ex: How can we eliminate poverty?

  • Fund: お金を供給する

– Provide money

Ex: Your purchase funded our school trip, thank you.

  • Grow: なる

– Gradually become

Ex: You’ve grown into a very mature adult.

  • Receive: 受け取る

– Acquire or get

Ex: Do senior citizens receive welfare in Japan?

  • Spread: 広がる、流布する

– Distribute widely, stretch out

Ex: The news spread across the country quickly.

  • Support: 支える

– Provide for or maintain by giving money or resources

Ex: We need to support each other sometimes.

  • Greedy: 欲張りの、貪欲な

– Wanting more than is reasonable.

Ex: Hey, share some of the food!  Don’t be so greedy!

  • Homeless: ホームレスの

– Not having a home.

Ex: Do you know any homeless people?

  • Poor: 貧乏な

– Not having money.

  • Promising: 末頼もしい

– Likely to develop into something great.

Ex: If he keeps doing this well, his future looks promising.

Ex: When I was younger I was very poor.

  • Rich: お金持ちの

– Having a lot of money.

Ex: I hope I can be rich some day.

  • Unequal: 平等ではない

– Not equal.

Ex: The pay at that place is still unequal, someone should complain.

Expressions and Patterns
  • Be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth: 富貴の家に生まれる

– Be born into affluent or fortunate circumstances, usually wealthy.

Ex: He’s never worked a day in his life.  He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

  • End up: 最後に。。。になる

– Become… in the end.

Ex: He put all his money on the number 23, but ended up losing it.

  • Ignorance is bliss [格言]: 知らぬが仏

– People are happiest when they don’t know something.

Ex: Look at that small child, so happy.  I guess it’s true: ignorance is bliss.

  • In the world: 世界中

– Tokyo is the biggest city in the world.

  • Lose motivation: やる気がなくなる

Ex: After the divorce, I lost motivation to keep working at a job I didn’t like.

  • Move up (in N): 名詞に進出する

– Improve one’s standings or rank

Ex: I heard he has his own company now!  He’s really moving up in the world.

  • Safety net: 安定策

– Guaranteed financial security

Ex: I hope you have a safety net in case your business venture doesn’t succeed.

  • Senior citizen: 高齢者

– An older person.

Ex: Many movie theaters offer discounts for senior citizens.

  • The welfare system: 福祉制度

– Many people say Sweden has the best welfare system in the world.

On to the discussion!

1. What is poverty?

Poverty is a lack of money. It is being poor. It is a lack of possessions. Basically, it is a lack.

2. Why are some people poor?

One student said that competition and efficiency, rather than equality, causes people to be poor. He said that capitalism encourages competition. In a communist or socialist state, the equality is the main thing. He said that in communist or socialist states there aren’t many poor people. Another student mentioned class discrepancies. She said that some people have natural talents or are born in different environments. Another student said that whether a country is rich or not depends on where the country is. For example, some countries have rich natural resources, some countries have very little resources. Some countries, like Japan, become rich by ingenuity. One student also thought education was a factor.

3. Why do people end up homeless?

One student thought that if someone doesn’t have family members to help them they’re more likely to end up homeless. Another student seemed to think that borrowing too much money led to homelessness. One student thought Japanese people are egotistical; we don’t help others. Another student disagreed: he didn’t think Japanese people were especially egotistical. But the other student pointed out that people donate more in the United States.

4. Are the rich growing richer and the poor growing poorer?

The students seem to think so. Some people are born with silver spoons in their mouths, and this makes it easier for them to get into the better schools and have a better life.

5. Which country do you think has the best record for helping the poor?

The students agreed that Sweden has the best record. Northern European countries offer a safety net to their citizens, but Japan offers no such thing.

6. Will there always be poverty?

The students seem to think so. One student mentioned that we have so much information that we can always compare our situation to situations in other countries. If there wasn’t any information, we wouldn’t think of ourselves or others as poor. Another student added that we can’t stop the flow of information, so we will always compare. Another student thinks that we have a natural desire to compete. People are greedy. We always want a bigger house or a better car. If this is the case, there will always be winners and losers. Another student mentioned that people can’t get education so they can’t move up in society.

7. What do you think about people receiving welfare? What is good and bad about it?

The students thought it was a good thing. One problem is that we have to increase taxes in order to provide it. One student thought that if welfare spreads people may lose motivation to work hard. One student thought the welfare system in Japan was unequal. Some people get too much welfare, others don’t get enough.

8. What’s a good reason to receive welfare?

The students thought physically handicapped people should receive welfare. They didn’t agree on for how long, though! Some said for their whole life, some said until they can find a job. The students also thought single mothers should receive welfare, but couldn’t agree on until when either! One student said they should receive it until they find a job. Another student said they should receive it until they get married. Another student said they should receive it until their child or children become 15 years old.

9. In English we have a saying: “Ignorance is bliss.” What does that mean? Do you agree?

It means that the ultimate happiness is not knowing or not being aware of something. The same student reminded us that it’s impossible to stop the train of knowledge, though, and it’s important that we are aware of things. The only way to be ignorant nowadays is to be a hermit!

That’s all!  Here are some other things that came up during the discussion:

  • Become vs. grow vs. end up

I’ve heard a lot of students confuse these expressions or not know how to use them.  So let’s look at them briefly.  Become means to “come to be”.  It indicates that a change has occurred.  Grow also means this.  However, grow means that the change was slow and gradually.  For example, we might say “grow old”, but we would NOT say “grow 65 years old today.”  More examples:

  • I grew sick yesterday. X
  • I became sick yesterday.  O
  • I grew interested in golf (over a long period of time). O
  • I became interested in golf (recently). O

End up means “In the end, S-V-O.”  It has a negative connotation.  For example, we might end up lost but we wouldn’t end up happy.  More examples:

  • I ended up finding my keys. X (this is a good thing)
  • I ended up losing my keys. O (this is a bad thing) = In the end, I lost my keys.
Commonly confused expressions

The students came up with a variety of ways to say やる気がなくなる.  They were:

  1. Feel down
  2. Miss motivation
  3. Stop working hard

I like the third one, I think it is a good translation.  However, the first two are very different.

  • Feel down: 落ち込む

– My girlfriend broke up with me, so I feel down.

In this case, I am just talking about my emotional state, not necessarily whether I have motivation or desire to do something.

  • Miss motivation: ?

Unfortunately, this expression doesn’t really mean anything in English.  The closest we could translate it is やる気を逃す or やる気が恋しい.  It doesn’t collocate.

  • Stop working hard: 頑張るのを止める

As you can see, this doesn’t necessarily mean the person doesn’t want to give up, but the person may no longer work hard for other reasons (maybe there’s no reason to, or they’re tired, or it seems like a bad idea).

I think the best expression is lose motivation or maybe lose heart.


Finally, some of the students seemed hesitant about disagreeing because they weren’t sure how to do it properly in English.  Disagreement is common and very welcome in English conversations!  But it is important to do it properly so that the other person doesn’t misunderstand your intentions.  So how should you disagree in English?  It’s very simple:

  1. I disagree (with that).
  2. I don’t think so.

Those two expressions are simple, natural and polite.  However, if you wish to be even more polite or formal, you can add:

  • Sorry, but I disagree (with that).”
  • Sorry, but I don’t think so.”

This is very polite though, so there’s no need to do it in a friendly conversation.

So what do you think?  Why do we have poverty?  What do you think of welfare?  Will we ever eliminate poverty?

I hope that helps, and I’ll see you next week when we discuss beauty and physical attractiveness!

Natural English: Interjections – “You know”

Today I’d like to talk about the expression “you know”!

The expression “you know” is an interjection [感嘆詞], similar to “like” or “uh”. It is sometimes used in English and it’s a pretty difficult one to understand, not to mention use! It can come at the beginning of a sentence, at the end or sometimes even in the middle. Let’s look at some examples:

  1. You know, sometimes English makes me really frustrated.”
  2. “It really bothers me when you say that, you know.”
  3. “A pacemaker is, you know, a device for, you know, a person with a bad heart.”

So what does it mean? Does it mean “have knowledge about”, like “You know a lot about this topic.”? It doesn’t seem to mean that. Does it mean the same thing, no matter where it is located in the sentence? Actually, it doesn’t! Depending on where it is located, the meaning changes slightly.

“You know” at the beginning of a sentence

When “you know” is used at the beginning of the sentence, it is to get the listener’s attention or to make sure the listener is paying attention. Here are some more examples:

  1. “You know, I know a place where you can buy a new bike for less than 5,000 yen.”   [The speaker has some information he thinks the listener will be interested in.]
  2. “You know, if you had been a little nicer then this fight wouldn’t have started.”     [The speaker wants to make sure the listener is paying attention to his scolding]

“You know” in the middle of a sentence

When “you know” is used in the middle of the sentence it is meant to express hesitation. It is a pause which allows the speaker to consider what he wants to say next. It is often used when the speaker is nervous or tense or when he’s trying to talk about or explain something difficult.  By saying “you know” in the middle of a sentence, the speaker is hoping that the listener will accept his hesitation or imperfect explanation. Here are some more examples:

  1. “So I, well, you know, really like you, so I was wondering if you wanted to, you know, be my girlfriend.”   [The speaker is nervous]
  2. “What I’m trying to do is help people, you know, understand themselves better so they can, you know, make better decisions in life.”                                                              [The speaker is trying to express something very difficult]
  3. “Sometimes my boss can be so… you know… argh!”                                                         [The speaker is stressed and probably just looking for sympathy]

 “You know” at the end of a sentence

When “you know” is used at the end of a sentence, it is an expression of confirmation: the speaker wants to know that the listener or listeners agree with or accept what he is saying, and maybe also understand what he is saying. This is usually in the form of a question, but can be in the form of a statement as well. Here are some more examples:

  1. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I have to tell her the truth, you know?”
  2. “If you don’t try it, you won’t know if you like it, you know?”
  3. “I can’t understand you if you talk too fast, you know.”
*Careful!    Very often Japanese people use “you know” at the end of a sentence just to see if the listener comprehended what was said. This is not the correct way to use it! It is used to see if the listener agrees with or accepts what the speaker is saying and also understands it. So:

“I am from Fukuoka, you know?” X

This is a statement of fact, I can’t agree or disagree with it.

“People in Osaka are so friendly, you know?” O

This is an opinion, so I can agree or disagree or accept that the speaker feels this way.

*Remember, “you know” is an informal, spoken expression, so try to use it less often in formal situations or when you write in English!

For more clear examples, check out wikitionary.

Hope that helps, and if you have any questions leave them in the comments section, or ask me on twitter!


Group Discussion: Friends and Friendships

Hello and thank you for checking out the Start Gate English blog!

Every week on Monday at 3pm and Tuesday at 7pm we have a one-hour group discussion on a different topic. This class is open to any and all students, but recommended for intermediate and advanced. We have 2-4 students in each class. The teacher asks questions and discusses the answers with the students, and students can ask questions to each other (and the teacher, too!). You are welcome to bring a dictionary or ask the teacher if you need help. One lesson is 1500-2500 yen, depending on how many tickets you buy. If you are interested, please check out the website or contact me directly. If you are not available on Monday at 3pm or Tuesday at 7pm, but would like to join, please tell me your available days and times and I will be happy to set up another class for you!

On to the discussion!

First, here is the lexical set (a group of words and expressions necessary for the discussion).  This time I’ve decided to combine the initial lexical set with the new words as well:

Friendship Lexical Set:

  • Commonalit(y/ies): 共通点、共通性

– Something that is shared or common among two or more people.

Example: Having commonalities is important for maintaining friendships.

  • Friend(s): 友達

– A person that someone knows, likes and trusts.

Example: My friends and I often play sports together.

  • Friendship(s): 友情

– Being friends with someone, having a relationship with a friend

Example: It’s important to respect your friendships.

  • Qualit(y/ies): 特性

– A characteristic or trait, something used to describe something else

Example: Honesty is an important quality in a friend.

  • Reunion(s): 再会の集い

– A gathering of people who have been separated for a long time.

Example: I saw lots of old friends at my high school reunion.

  • Saying(s): 諺、格言

– A proverb or maxim

Example: “Look before you leap” is my favorite saying.

  • Consider: 。。だと考える

– Think of s/o as s/t, Regard s/o as s/t

Example: I consider you my best friend.

  • Cut (off): 切り捨てる

– Separate from, Discontinue

Example: My wife dislikes him, so I had to cut off our friendship.

  • Describe: 説明する

– Give an account or represent what s/t is

Example: Can you describe your best friend?

  • Develop: 発展する

– Help s/t grow

Example: It takes time to develop a friendship.

Maintain: 維持する

– Keep up, continue, preserve, keep in good condition

Example: I’ve maintained several of my childhood friendships even as an adult.

  • Best: 最高な

– Surpassing all others, greatest

Example: He’s my best friend in the world.

  • Childhood:  幼い

– The time or state of being a childhood

Example: I have very fond memories of my childhood.

  • Close: 親しい

– Feeling intimate, having a strong relationship

Example: She’s a very close friend, so I can tell her anything.

  • Considerate: 思いやりのある

– Regarding the feelings or needs of others.

Example: Thank you for being so considerate, and I’m sorry I was so selfish.

  • Helpful: 助けになる

– Providing or offering help

Example: He fixed my broken sink for free!  He’s so helpful.

  • Honest: 素直な、真実だけを言うこと

– Not telling lies

Example: I know you want to be honest but telling a woman her hair looks terrible is a bad idea.

  • Long-Distance: 遠距離の

– between two distant places

Examples: My best friend moved to America, so now he’s a long-distance friend.

  • Understanding: 物分かりが良い

– Appreciating the thoughts or feelings of others.

Example: I thought he would never forgive me, but he was so understanding.

Other Expressions and Patterns
  • Be open (with s/o): 隠し立てしない

– Candid, frank, receptive, free of prejudice

Example: It’s nice to be open with someone you love.

  • Circle of friends: 仲間

– One’s group of friends

Example: He has a very big circle of friends

  • Get along with: 仲良しする、円滑な関係がある

– Maintain a harmonious relationship with

Example: I don’t love my father in law, but we get along.

注意! “Get along with” does not necessarily mean “be friends with”!  Two people may not like each other, but as long as they don’t fight or have any problems, they “get along”.


1. My wife and I are getting along every day.  X

This is often a mistranslation of 仲良くしてる.  This doesn’t make sense in English.

2. We don’t hate each other, but we don’t fight, so we get along.  O

This makes perfect sense in English.  Even though they don’t like each other, their relationship is harmonious.

3. My wife and I get along very well.  O

This is a better translation of 仲良くしてる.

  • Give s/o space: 距離を置く

– Allow a period of time apart

Example: I don’t want to talk to you right now, please give me some space.

  • Make A different from/than B: 見分ける、弁別する、識別する

– Distinguish

Example: The food and hospitality make Osaka different than Tokyo.

  • Mutual friends: 共通の友達

– A group of three or more friends who all know each other.

Example: We are mutual friends from college.

  • Old/New friends: 旧友・新しい友達

– A friend who you have known a long/short time.

Example: He’s a very old friend of mine from elementary school./Let’s go to this party and make some new friends!

注意! ”Old friend” does not mean お年の友達!  That would be expressed as “a friend who is old”.


1. He is my old friend.  He is 85 years old.  X

2. He is an old friend.  We met 20 years ago.  O

  • Out of N: 名刺の中で

– Among

Example: Out of the four seasons in Japan, spring is my favorite.

New Collocations!

A. So what can we do with friendships?  Well, on the positive side we can:

  1. Develop friendships
  2. Make friendships
  3. Start a new friendship

We can develop friendships by spending time with friends, talking more and getting closer!  We make friendships or start a new friendship by meeting new people!

On the negative side, we can:

  1. Cut off friendships
  2. End friendships

Cutting off friendships is slightly different from ending them.  When we “cut” someone “off” it means we ignore them completely!  We don’t respond to any contact at all.  When we “end” a friendship, this is not necessarily true.   Very often it is true, but we may still interact with them, but we just don’t consider them a friend any more.

B. Circle of friends

Sometimes we get new friends, sometimes we lose old friends.  How can we collocate “circle of friends” to express this?

If we get new friends, we expand our circle of friends.  We can also say our circle of friends expands.

If we lose friends, our circle of friends shrinks or diminishes.

Ok, that’s it!  On to the questions!

1. What is a friend?  What qualities are important in a friend?

The students agreed that a friend is someone you like and get along with easily.  They thought that commonalities and understanding were important qualities.   They thought friends should be honest.  They are also helpful, but the students couldn’t agree whether students should help with financial problems or not!

2. What makes friends different from family?

One student said he can be totally open with family, but he has to be more careful with friends.  Another student said that family lives together, so they need to help each other with more things, like money!

3. What do you usually do with your friends?

The students said they do hobbies, sports or activities with their friends.  One student often goes sailing with his friends.  Another student is part of a tennis club, so he plays tennis with his friends.

4. Do you still have any childhood friends?  Tell me about them.

The students still have childhood friends.  They occasionally meet up with them at reunions.  They have moved quite a few times.  One of the students stopped meeting his old friends after he retired because he wanted to make new friends!

5. Do you have any long distance friends?  How do you keep in touch with them?

All of the students said they did.  However, they only send cards to them once or twice a year, around Christmas or New Year’s.  They never visit them.

6. Do you make friends easily?

The students said they aren’t, but one student said his wife is!

7. What is a best friend?  How are they different from other friends?

One student said a best friend is more considerate and helpful than other friends.  You can also be more open with best friends.  Trust is important.  One of the students’ best friends are all mutual friends.  The students couldn’t pick a closest friend out of their best friends.

8. How can I make new friends?

The students suggested joining clubs or taking classes to make new friends.

9. There is a saying in English: “To have a good friend, you need to be a good friend.”  Do you agree with this?  What does it mean to you?

The students agreed with it.  One student said it means you need to give your friends space.  In other words, don’t bother your friends too much!

Do you think friends should help out with financial troubles?  Why or why not?  What do you think are some good ways to make new friends?  Let me know on twitter or in the comments section below!