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!


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