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!


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