Monthly Archives: August 2014

Group Discussion Topic: Children

Hey everybody!  Sorry for the late post!

We will start the discussion with a beginner question, and then an intermediate question, and with the rest of the time we will ask the advanced questions!

We no longer have a Tuesday class, just a Monday class now.  However, because a  lot of interest was expressed, we will be starting a Saturday class in the very near future, probably in the afternoon. If you are available on Saturday and would like to join, please let me know!

If you are a student of mine, I hope to see you at one of the discussion groups. If anybody (student or not) has any questions about this blog, please let me know: Post a comment here, find me on twitter, or email me through my website. Thanks!

During the next group discussion class, we will be talking about children, both having them and being one. Here is a list of the lexis and possible questions which we may use during the lesson:



Be around

Be close to


Get along (well) with

Grow up


Shape s/o





A good time to V


  1. How many children do you have?

  2. What was your favorite game when you were a child? What was your favorite toy? What was your children’s favorite?

  3. Do you enjoy being around children?

  4. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?  What did your children want to be?

  5. Were you close to your parents? Did you get along well with your parents?

  1. What did your family like to do together when you were a child? How about when you were a parent?

  2. Do you think children watch too much television?

  3. Do you think that children are different today from the time when you were child?

  4. Is there a best time to have children? If so, when do you think that is?

  5. What is most annoying or amazing thing about children?

  1. Do you think it is important for children to learn English? Why?

  2. Do we have a responsibility to correct children when their parents aren’t around and they are misbehaving?

  3. What is the most important lesson that we need to teach children? What was the most important lesson your parents taught you?

  4. What were some important experiences that you had when you were child which shaped you as a person?

  5. Do you think that children are naturally good? Why or why not?

That’s it!  There a lot of questions this time, and some of the advanced ones are quite difficult, so please prepare and ask me questions if you need help!  You can email me too!  Hope to see you next time.


Health Wrap Up!

Hey everyone!  The last topic was on health, and some interesting stuff came up so I wanted to post some notes and tips based on that lesson today!


Develop into

Part of Speech: intransitive verb

Definitions: slowly/gradually become/change

Example Sentence: Because he didn’t go to the doctor to get treated, his cold developed into bronchitis.

Japanese: 徐々になる

We talked about getting check ups, and the students mentioned that a lot of Japanese people don’t go to the doctor regularly to get check ups.  It’s important to do this because often an illness that seems minor can develop into something major.

Not all illnesses happen immediately.  Sometimes, over a long period of time, a person goes from being healthy to slowly becoming sick.


Be Held Responsible For vs. Take Responsibility For

We talked about smoking, cigarettes and tobacco companies a little.  One question that was brought up was “Should tobacco companies be held responsible for people’s addiction?”  One student asked what the difference between be held responsible and take responsibility is.

Let’s look at the two terms a little more closely: be held is a passive verb, but take is an active verb.  What does this mean?  Well, the conjugation is different of course.  But more importantly, a passive verb means the subject isn’t doing anything.  The opposite is true: something is being done to the subject.  An active verb means the subject is doing something.

So when someone takes responsibility, what are they doing?  They are deciding that they are responsible for something.  No one is forcing them.

When someone is held responsible, what is happening?  Other people have decided that they are responsible for something.  They are being forced to take responsibility.

Let’s consider a situation.  Person A puts a glass on a table.  Person B later bumps into the glass, it falls down and breaks.  Person A says “oh, that’s my fault.  I shouldn’t have put it there.”  In this case, Person A is taking responsibility for the broken glass.

But let’s say Person B says “I’m sorry, I should have been more careful.  I’ll pay for the glass.”  Now Person B is taking responsibility.

But let’s say Person A says “You broke the glass!  You have to pay for it” and Person B says “You’re right.  I’m sorry about that.”  Now Person B is being held responsible AND taking responsibility for the broken glass.

Finally, let’s say Person A says “You broke the glass!  You have to pay for it” but Person B says “It’s not my fault!  I didn’t see it there.”  Now, Person B is being held responsible for the broken glass but is not taking responsibility for it!

Keep Up vs. Keep On

Another common pair of phrasal verbs I see often confused are keep up and keep on.  Both have to do with doing something more than once, but they are a bit different.

Keep Up means maintain or do s/t regularly.

Keep On means continuously do s/t or do s/t without breaks or rest.

For example, if you want to build muscles you have to keep up your exercise.  But while you are doing your exercise, don’t give up, keep on doing them until you finish them.

More examples:

  • Keep up the good work and you’ll probably get a promotion soon.
  • If you want to get a good grade keep up your studies.
  • Don’t give up, keep on trying.
  • The Seattle Mariners keep on winning every game, can’t anybody beat them?
Unnatural English: Overuse of Passive Form

I often hear English learners make sentences like “I was taught…” or “I was told…” or “I was given…” and other similar things.  These sentences are called passive sentences.  Like the passive form “be held responsible” mentioned earlier, they are sentences in which the subject does not do anything, but instead is affected by another action.

While such sentences are grammatically correct and make sense, they sound very unnatural to native English speakers.  Native English speakers generally use the active form as much as possible, and only use the passive form in special cases.  There are a few reasons why Japanese people often use the passive form, one of them is because in the Japanese language, the subject is often unknown or unimportant.  In English, however, the subject is important.  When a person or people do the action, it sounds much more natural to use the active form.

So what if you don’t know or don’t remember exactly who did the action, or how many people did the action?  The solution is simple: use the pronoun they.

Now, you might be thinking “but they is plural!  It means more than one!”  This is usually true, but not always!  They is also used when we don’t know exactly how many people we are talking about (maybe one, maybe more) or when we don’t know the gender of the person!  It’s a very useful pronoun.  So instead of the passive form, try using “they” and the active form next time.


  • I was given a present. X
  • They gave me a present. O
  • I was taught English in school. X
  • They taught me English in school. O
  • I was operated on at a hospital. X
  • They operated on me at a hospital. O

Does that make sense?  I hope so!  If not, feel free to send me a comment or message and let me know if you have any questions!  See you all next time.

Group Discussion Topic: Science

Hey everybody!  Sorry this post is so last-minute!

Remember, if you come on Monday, please be prepared to answer the intermediate-advanced questions!  If you come on Tuesday, please be prepared to answer the beginner-intermediate questions.

Also, it looks like there is still some interest in a Saturday class.  It will, most likely, be in the late afternoon.  If you are available on Saturday and would like to join, please let me know!

If you are a student of mine, I hope to see you at one of the discussion groups. If anybody (student or not) has any questions about this blog, please let me know: Post a comment here, find me on twitter, or email me through my website. Thanks!

During the next group discussion class, we will be talking about science. Here is a list of the lexis and possible questions which we may use during the lesson:









Be allowed to V








It’s better to V (O)

Make (a) change(s)

What do/did you like about N?

What makes you think so?


  1. What is science?
  2. What was your favorite science subject? What did you like about it?
  3. What science fiction movies have you seen? Do you think that anything in those movies is possible?
  4. What changes would you like to see science make in the world?
  1. Do you think that someday science will help people live forever? Do you think that would be a good or a bad thing?
  2. What are some great scientific achievements?
  3. If you could copy your brain for future generations, would you?
  4. Do you think the amount of car driving should be limited to prevent global warming?
  1. How will science change the world in the next 100 years? What makes you think so?
  2. Do you think couples should be allowed to choose characteristics of their baby like eye color or sex? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think it is better to spend money on exploring space or helping people on earth? Why?
  4. Do you think we should be allowed to clone people or people’s organs? Why?

That’s it!  Some of the lexis is quite difficult this time, so please prepare, and ask me if you don’t understand something.  You can email me too!  Hope to see you next week!

Using Modals to Express Degrees of Certainty

There are many ways to express certainty in English. Adverbs like probably, maybe or definitely can be used. Certain regular verbs like think, believe or be sure can be used.

But one of the toughest ways (and most natural) ways to do it are using modal verbs.  What are modal verbs?  They are verbs that help express possibility, ability, permission and duty.  Here are some common examples:

  • Can
  • Could
  • May
  • Might
  • Should
  • Must

Remember these?  Yes, they are a challenge!  Probably the most challenging way to use them is for past sentences.  Here are the most common examples (PP stands for Past Participle):

  • I must have PP (I must have forgotten)
  • I may (not) have PP (I may not have turned off the light)
  • I might (not) have PP (I might have left it at the restaurant)
  • I could(n’t) have PP (I could have put it in the kitchen)

Wow!  That’s quite a few… so how can you know when you should use them, and which one you should use?

Well, let’s start with some things that are true about all of them:

  • They all express uncertainty.  In other words, they mean the speaker is not 100% sure about what he is saying.
  • They are all used to express something about the past.
  • They all use the perfect form (S-have/has-PP-O).

Here are some more examples:

  • I can’t find my wallet.  I must have left it at the restaurant.
  • No, you couldn’t have left it there.  I saw you put it in your pocket.
  • I don’t know.  I may have taken it out again when I went to the bathroom.

So are all these expressions the same?  Well… not exactly.

High Confidence vs. Low Confidence

First, I need to start by saying this: Please ignore anybody who gives you a percentage!

Lots of teachers and native speakers like to say things like “Maybe means 50%” or “Probably means 75%” or something like that.  No, no, no!  When we speak our native language, we are not calculating the percentage in our head, we are thinking about how confident we feel about the statement.

So really, all we can say is that certain words mean we feel high confidence (I think there is a good probability it is true), certain words mean we feel low confidence (I don’t think there is a good probability it is true).

So what are they?

Expressions of high confidence: must and couldn’t

Expressions of low confidence: may, might and could

Think about it this way: If someone asked you to bet money that the statement is true, would you?  If you would, then you should use an expression of high confidence.  If you wouldn’t, they you should use an expression of low confidence.

Did you notice that could and couldn’t are in different categories?  Strange, huh?  We’ll look at those in a moment.

First I’d like to talk about the difference between must and couldn’t.  It’s actually quite simple.  Must expresses a higher level of confidence than should.

Must vs. Couldn’t:

Basically, must means “I’m almost completely (100%) certain”, but couldn’t just means “I’m very certain (but not completely).

Let’s go back to the lost wallet example:

  • I know I had my wallet before we went to the restaurant because I used it in the restaurant.  After we left the restaurant we got in the car and drove home.  We both checked the car several times so it’s not there.  I must have lost it in the restaurant.  Let’s call them.
  • I think I had my wallet before we went to the restaurant, but you paid for dinner so I’m not sure.  After we left the restaurant we stopped by a convenience store on the way home.  I didn’t take my wallet out there, so I don’t think I lost it there.  I checked the car a few times so I’m sure it’s not there.  I think it’s at the restaurant, because I couldn’t have lost it anywhere else.

As you can see by a lot of the language, in both cases the speaker is highly confident, but more confident in the first case than the second.

So why is couldn’t more confident than could?  The reason is simple, but may be hard to understand:

Could is contributing one possibility among many.  Couldn’t is eliminating a specific possibility.
It is easier to eliminate a possibility than contribute one.

So what does this mean?  Well, consider these two statements:

  1. He could have forgotten to call. = There are many possibilities, and this is only one.
  2. He couldn’t have forgotten to call. = There are many possibilities, but this is NOT one.

When there are many possibilities, it is easier to be sure about which possibility is not true than which possibility is true.

Let’s take another example.  You say hello to a co-worker.  He does not say hello back.  What are the possible reasons?

  1. He’s mad at you.
  2. He doesn’t like you.
  3. He didn’t hear you.
  4. He was busy thinking about something.

Which one is true?  It’s difficult to say sometimes.

How about these possibilities:

  1. He’s an alien.
  2. He has a policy about not saying hello.
  3. He is deaf.
  4. His wife told him not to say hello to his co-workers any more.

Sure, those are possible, but do you think they are true?  It’s easier to say these are not true.

So let’s get to the expressions of low confidence.  What’s the difference?

May vs. Might

This is very easy to explain.  May is more formal than might.  That’s it.

May and Might vs. Could

These are essentially the same in this context (talking about uncertainty).  However, “could have PP” can be confusing, because it can be used other ways.

  • Could have PP is sometimes used to scold people
    • “Oh my God, why didn’t you go to the party??  You could have had so much fun!”
    • “If you just studied harder for the test, you could have passed.”
  • Could have PP is sometimes used to express missed opportunities
    • “If my co-worker hadn’t gotten sick I could have taken a day off today.”
    • “If I had some money I could have gone to that concert.”

So for this reason, be careful when using “could have”.  It can be misunderstood.

That’s all!  I hope this was helpful.  Next time you have a chance to talk about the past, try using these modal verbs!

Learning, Part 2: Deep vs. Surface learning (1 of 3)

Hello again!

It’s Obon now, and for those of you who do not live in Japan or are not familiar with Japan, that means it’s summer vacation.  Only a week long, but for those of us living here in Japan, that’s a long time!

I’m here to continue what I hope is quite a lengthy series of posts on learning.  Earlier, I wrote about what learning is and isn’t, and why learning is such a rewarding process.  If you haven’t already, I hope you take the time out to check that post out.  If you have any trouble understanding it, please feel free to leave a comment, send me a tweet or contact me directly through my website.

I’d like to continue today by discussing one of several approaches to learning: deep vs. surface learning.

I’m sure many of you have never heard of that, but just by the terms themselves you might already have an idea of what they mean.

A surface learner learns with the intention of completing something, usually in order to move on to the next thing or something else.

A deep learner learns with the intention of engaging in the process, usually in order to understand it as fully as possible.

In virtually all cases, if you really want to master something, it is better to be a deep learner than a surface one.  Yet most people are surface learners when it comes to most aspects of our lives.  Why is this?

While there are many factors that contribute, I’m going to bring up my hobby-horse of late: school often conditions us to become surface learners.  We aren’t given the time, motivation or parameters in which to be truly deep learners of any subject.   The conditions which we provided by schools become part of our misconception about learning: the ability to put something in your memory just long enough to get beneficial results on a test means you’ve “learned” something.  We come to think that this process is what most people, at least people in positions of authority, expect from us.  School actually molds us into becoming surface learners.

However, very few people – possibly no one – is completely a surface or deep learner.  It depends on many things, including context and interest.  For instance, if you need to write a report by tomorrow, you’re probably going to be a surface learner in terms of acquiring enough information to get the job done.  However, if you are learning something on your own and there are no deadlines, you’ll probably be a deep learner.

Why should we be deep learners?

This is a very important question, and I have several responses that I’d love to share:

  1. Surface learners don’t actually learn very much.  They memorize things for a while, and then eventually forget them.  Because deep learners have spent the time and energy on the information they’re given, they will much more often retain the information for longer, maybe even indefinitely.
  2. Surface learners don’t really understand what they learn.  There is a big gap between memorizing something and understanding it.  If I asked you to memorize four lines of an English poem, you could probably do it pretty quickly, and maybe even for a long time.  But if I asked you to explain the meaning of those four lines, you probably couldn’t.  Keeping something in your mind is not the same as knowing what it is.
  3. Surface learners cannot connect old knowledge to new knowledge very well.  A surface learner is simply focused on taking care of the next task.  They are looking at a very small picture: “What’s next?”  Looking at the bigger picture may be slow at first, but in the long run, you’ll make more connections between what you learned before and what you are learning now and this makes the more advanced stages easier and helps you improve faster.
  4. Surface learners fail to see patterns.  Because surface learners’ minds are focused elsewhere (on the goal), they are not really paying attention to similar things, or even the same things, that have come up repeatedly.  This can be frustrating for both the student and the teacher (who has to teach the same thing over and over again).  Deep learners will recognize more and more patterns as they improve and this makes learning and communicating a much easier and smoother process.

Next time I will talk about something more important: how to become a deep learning.  Hope to see you all then!

Midday English Challenge: Choose and Decide (Part 2 of 2!)

Here’s Part 2!

Decision and Choice

The noun forms of the words by themselves are very similar.  But when we collocate them with different verbs, they can change a lot.

First, let’s look at some collocations that are the same:

  • Make a decision/choice

These two collocations are basically the same.  They mean to decide or choose.

So… aren’t they the same as “decide” or “choose”?  Not exactly.  First, there’s a grammatical difference.  The collocation “make a decision/choice” already has a verb (make) and an objection (a decision/choice), so it is a complete sentence.  However, “choose” or “decide” are verbs.  They usually require an object, so you have to be specific.  What did you choose/decide?

  • I made a choice. O
  • I made a decision. O
  • I chose.  X
  • I decided. X

Unless there is already context, the last two are strange.

So when should you use the collocation “make a choice/decision” instead of the verbs?  There are two cases:

1. The specific choice or decision is not important, not clear or you don’t want to say exactly what it is.

2. When you want to focus on the act of choosing or deciding instead of the thing chosen or decided.

Consider this sample sentence: “In life, sometimes you have to make hard decisions.”

What kind of decisions is the speaker talking about?  Well, that’s not important.  What is important is that some decisions come up, and you have to act.  Also, it’s not clear.  Everyone’s life is different, so what kind of decisions depends on the person.  Also, the speaker doesn’t need to say exactly what kind of decisions.  If the speaker does, then he’s not talking about people in general, he’s only talking about certain people.

So are “choice” and “decision” always the same?  No.  In fact, they are usually quite different.  Consider this collocation

  • Have a choice
  • Have a decision

Both are correct, but they are slightly different.  Choice sounds positive, decision sounds negative.  What does that mean though?

Consider these example sentences:

  • “You don’t have to take that job.  You have a choice.”
  • “Take the promotion or move to Hawaii.  You have a decision.”

How does the word choice in the first sentence feel?  It feels freeing!  It feels empowering!  Having a choice means that you are not forced to do something, you have other options.  This is a good thing!

How does decision in the second sentence feel?  It feels limiting!  It feels restricting!  Having a decision means that you must select one option even if you don’t want to or even if it’s hard or painful.  This is a tough thing!

Now that you know that, consider the collocation “have (so many) choices/decisions” in the following example sentences:

  • “Look at the menu!  We have so many choices!”
  • “Weddings are so complicated… flowers, dresses, music, food, drinks… we have so many decisions (to make)!”

Again, which one sounds more relaxing, more fun?  I think the first one does.  Which one sounds a little more stressful?  I think the second one does.

So consider the collocation “give you a choice”.  Giving someone something… sounds like a nice thing, right?  That’s why “give someone a decision” doesn’t sound right.  Here’s an example:

  • “Look, you can go to jail for life, or you can confess your crime.  I’m giving you a choice.”

On the other hand, “put you to a decision” makes sense.  “Put someone to something” means to force someone into a situation, which sounds negative, so “decision” is more appropriate.  Here’s an example:

  • The mugger put me to a decision.  He said I can give him all my money, or I can lose my life.

So, in summary, choices have positive connotations.  They are freeing and empowering.  They provide opportunities.  You could say they are expanding.  Decisions are limiting and restricting.  They force us to select something.  You could say they are eliminating.

Whew!  I hope that helps you guys.  As always, feel free to make comments or ask questions, either here or on twitter.  Take care!  I’ll see you guys later (probably Sunday, I’m gonna be really busy the next couple days!).

Midday English Challenge: Choose and Decide (Part 1 of 2!)

Hey guys!  A day or so ago I tweeted an English challenge, asking what the difference between “choose” and “decide” is.  I didn’t receive any answers, so I thought I’d go ahead and explain the difference myself!

First, let’s start very objectively and look at the grammatical aspects:

Verb forms: choose/decide

Noun forms: choice/decision

What types of verbs are they?

Choose is usually a transitive verb: S-choose(s)-O

Decide is usually an intransitive verb: S-decide(s)-on-O

Both verbs can be used with the infinitive form:


Some examples:

  • I choose the red dress (instead of the blue one).
  • I decided on a color for my hair.
  • I choose to stay single.
  • I decided to get married.

Now let’s look at the noun forms:

Choice and decision are usually count nouns.  However, they sometimes collocate differently.

  • He gave me a choice. O
  • He gave me a decision. X
  • He put me to a choice. X
  • He put me to a decision. O
  • You have a choice. O
  • You have a decision. O
  • I have so many choices. O
  • I have so many decisions. O
  • There are so many choices. O
  • There are so many decisions. X
  • I have to make a choice. O
  • I have to make a decision. O

As you can see, there are some differences!

Now let’s talk about the important stuff: the meanings!

Do decide and choose mean different things?  Yes they do!  Do decision and choice mean different things?  Yes they do?

So what are some differences?


Definition: select/decide from limited or established options.

Example sentences:

  • I chose answer B for question 13.  Do you think that’s correct?
  • I can’t choose which pair of shoes to wear tonight!
  • Which dress should I choose for my wedding?  I like these three…


Definition: select/choose from options by eliminating some.

Example sentences:

  • I can’t decide where to go for vacation this year.
  • How do people decide what to study in college?
  • I still haven’t decided on where I’m gonna study English.

So if you know what your options are, and if they are small, use “choose”.  If there are lots of options or you don’t know how many they are, use “decide”.

Also (this is important!), when you choose something, it usually means you go with your feeling: whichever feels best, you select that one.  However, when you decide something, you use a very rational process to eliminate other options and select a final one.  So the first one is a little more emotional, the second is a little more rational.


Definition: want, desire


  • If it came down to my work or you, I choose you.
  • I choose to be happy.

Choose can also mean that you want or desire something, that something is very important or a high priority for you.  Decide doesn’t mean this.


Definition: conclude, judge

  • Have they decided (on) a winner yet?
  • That last goal decided the match.

Decide can also mean to select something based on judgment or evaluation, or to end something.  Choose does not mean this.

Check out the blog again tomorrow where I’ll be talking about the noun forms (choice and decision).  Have a great night!

Group Discussion Topic: Health

Hey everybody!  Sorry it’s so late!

Remember, if you come on Monday, please be prepared to answer the intermediate-advanced questions!  If you come on Tuesday, please be prepared to answer the beginner-intermediate questions.

Also, a reminder: There will be no class during Obon holidays (August 11th and 12th).  The next group discussion class will be August 18th and August 19th.

Also, it looks like there is still some interest in a Saturday class.  It will, most likely, be in the afternoon.  If you are available on Saturday and would like to join, please let me know!

If you are a student of mine, I hope to see you at one of the discussion groups. If anybody (student or not) has any questions about this blog, please let me know: Post a comment here, find me on twitter, or email me through my website. Thanks!

During the next group discussion class, we will be talking about health (food, exercise, etc.). Here is a list of the lexis and possible questions which we may use during the lesson:




Alternative health therapy


Health Service

Junk food






Get sick

Get Sleep









A night

A ripe old age

Be held responsible

What is N like

When was the last time


  1. Are you healthy?
  2. Do you exercise?
  3. Do you always eat healthy food?
  4. Do you often eat junk food?
  5. Do you get enough sleep?
  6. Do you brush your teeth regularly?
  7. Do you have a lot of stress?
  8. Do you get sick more than once a year?
  9. What kind of medicine do you prefer to take when you are sick?
  10. Do you think you will live until a ripe old age?
  11. Do you smoke?
  12. Is the health service in your country good?
  1. Do you think that you need to lose weight?
  2. How often do you exercise?
  3. How often do you eat junk food?
  4. When was the last time you went to a doctor?
  5. How many hours of sleep do you get a night?
  6. When was the last time you went to a dentist?
  7. Do you ever read magazines about health?
  8. How can you reduce stress in your life?
  9. How often do you get sick?
  10. Have you ever tried any alternative health therapies?
  11. Why do you think you will (or won’t) live to a ripe old age?
  12. What is the best way to stop smoking?
  13. Should smoking in restaurants be banned?
  14. What is the health service like in your country?
  1. How have you been feeling lately?
  2. What kind of exercise do you do?
  3. How do you stay healthy?
  4. What do you do if you can’t sleep?
  5. What (health) subject(s) do you find the most interesting?
  6. What are some things that cause stress?
  7. When was the last time you were sick?
  8. In what circumstances should traditional or alternative medicine be used?
  9. What do you think about getting old?
  10. Why do people smoke?
  11. Do you think that the tobacco companies should be held responsible for a person’s addiction to nicotine?
  12. How can the health service in your country be improved?

There are a lot of questions this time, so good luck!  See you in a couple weeks!  Have a great Obon holiday!

Some notes from the Last Group Discussion (school)

Hey everyone!  Last week’s topic was on school, and I wanted to post some notes and tips based on that lesson today!



Part of speech: adjective

Definition: having a high/good reputation

Synonyms: reputable, esteemed

Example sentence: The Nobel prize is one of the most prestigious prizes in the world.

Japanese: 名声のある

Parents often push their children to get into universities by sending them to cram schools or hiring private tutors.  There are many universities in Japan, but parents often push children to get into prestigious universities, like Doushisha or the University of Tokyo or Keio University.  They believe that getting into a prestigious university will ensure that they can get good jobs in the future.

Every country has its prestigious universities.  In the States, we have Yale and Harvard and Dartmouth (among others).  In England they have Oxford and Cambridge.


Part of Speech: Adjective

Definition: Lacking in strictness

Synonyms: slack, negligent, lazy

Example Sentence: The security in this place is so lax, anybody can get in easily.

Japanese: 厳しくない、手ぬるい

Every school has its own unique culture and rules.  Some schools are really strict; you have to dress a certain way, you can’t bring certain things in class, you have to be quiet at all times, etc.  Other schools are quite lax: you can wear anything you want, you can bring food, drinks or cell phones into class, you can talk and make noise.

It’s interesting that what is considered strict in one country might be considered lax in another.  For example, it seems that Japanese students are used to wearing uniforms, so that doesn’t seem like a strict rule to them.  However, in the States, we are used to dressing however we want, so being forced to wear uniforms seems really strict to us!


Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a memorial book published once a year, usually in high schools and usually at the end of the year, that has information on what happened that year.

Example Sentence: Sometimes I like to look through my old yearbooks and remember my days in high school.

Japanese: 卒業アルバム

I learned an interesting difference between a yearbook and a “sotsugyou arubamu” in Japanese: yearbooks are published every year and available to all students, but sotsugyou arubamus are only given to students who graduate.  Also, a yearbook has pictures of ALL the students in the school, as well as all the sports teams, school activities, after school clubs and school events.

School Terminology: grades and years

I’ve noticed an interesting pattern among my students.  They will make expressions like this:

“My daughter is 1st year/grade junior high school.”

“When I was high school 2nd year/grade…”

These expressions are understandable, but they sound strange to native speakers.  We express our education level differently:

Native English
My daughter is 2nd year high school
My daughter is in 11th grade
When I was junior high school 1st grade
When I was in 7th grade

Wait a minute… aren’t the numbers totally different??  What happened here?

Think about it… how many years are there in elementary?  Six.  Junior high school?  Three.  High school?  Three.

So if a student enters junior high school, which year of school (including elementary school) is that?  It’s seven years.  So that’s why we say 7th grade instead of 1st.

The expression “Junior high school 1st grade” is simply a direct translation of the Japanese (中学1年生), but that’s not how we express it in English.

So next time you talk about school, try using “1st-12th grade”!

Group Discussion Topic: Change

Hey everyone!  From now on I’m going to be combining both classes questions and lexis into one post.  The easier questions will be first, the harder questions will be last.

So if you come on Monday, please be prepared to answer the intermediate-advanced questions!  If you come on Tuesday, please be prepared to answer the beginner-advanced questions.

Also, for my students: There will be no class during Obon holidays (August 11th and 12th), just this coming week (August 4th and 5th).  The next group discussion class after that will be August 18th and August 19th.

Also, it looks like there is still some interest in a Saturday class, so if you are available on Saturday and would like to join, please let me know!

If you are a student of mine, I hope to see you at one of the discussion groups. If anybody (student or not) has any questions about this blog, please let me know: Post a comment here, find me on twitter, or email me through my website. Thanks!

During the next group discussion class, we will be talking about change. Here is a list of the lexis and possible questions which we may use during the lesson:













Have you ever…?

Make a(n) ADJ change

S/O’s old ways

The way S-V(-O)



  1. Have you ever quit your job?
  2. Do you think change is important in people’s life?
  3. Have you ever decided to change the way you eat or exercise?
  4. What is one thing that you think you will never change about yourself?


  1. Have you made any recent changes in your life?
  2. What was the craziest change in appearance you have ever made?
  3. Have you ever had to change the way you speak, dress, or act? Why?
  4. What was the last major change you made in your life?


  1. What is one thing you have tried to change, but couldn’t?
  2. Do you think that it is easy to mend our old ways?
  3. What is the most difficult change you have ever had to make?
  4. If you could change anything in your life, what would it be?