Monthly Archives: March 2015

Group Discussions: Poverty, Conflict

Hey everyone!

Our last topic was quite light and silly, so this time I’d like to bring up some more serious ones: poverty and conflict.


On Saturday (April 4th) we’ll discuss poverty again. Here are some new questions you might hear (new lexis is in italics):

1. Aristotle said “Poverty is the parent of crime and revolution.”  Do you agree?

2. How would the world be different if there was no poverty?

3. Which is more important to conquer, terrorism or poverty?

Click here to see the lexical set and previous questions!


Our topic for Monday (April 6th) is conflict.  Conflict is a very broad topic, so I’m only going to post three sample questions this time.

Here are some questions regarding conflict I may ask you:

Beginner: What kind of conflicts occur in the family?

Intermediate: Is conflict always negative?  Can you think of an example of a good conflict?

Advanced: What are some global conflicts going on now?  Can you think of any solutions to them?

Additional Useful Lexis:








Deal with











Around the world

Be involved in N

Bring (about) peace


Common Adverbs of Degree

Hey guys!

I’m going to talk about one of my favorite types of words today: adverbs of degree!

happy woman isolated


Wait.  Adverbs… of degree?  What?



Maybe I should explain!

Most of you, I’m sure, know what an adverb is.  If you don’t, here’s a helpful link for you.

In any case, what many of you may not know is that adverbs describe not only verbs, but adjectives too!

When adverbs describe adjectives, they usually describe how much or to what degree.


Let’s take the adjective “big” as an example.

I could say:

“That house is big.”

But what if I want to emphasize how big it is?  I could say

“That house is very big.”


“That house is so big.”


“That house is really big.”

What if I wanted to diminish how big it is?  I could say

“That house is not very big.”


“That house is pretty big”


“That house is kind of big.”

These are called “adverbs of degree”.  As you can see, there are a ton of them.

Today I want to talk about a few of the more popular ones: so, really and too.

All of these are emphatic adverbs: they make the adjectives stronger.  They’re also very natural – much more naturally than the adverb “very” – so you should use them a lot!

However, it’s important to know how they are used before using them.  Many English learners don’t use them correctly, and accidentally express something they didn’t intend to express!

So let’s look at how they are used:

So Vs. Too Vs. Really



1. So is used both positively and negatively

So can be used to describe something positive, or something negative.


  • “Whew, I’m so tired today.”  This is negative.
  • “She is so good at cooking!”  This is positive.
2. So is used to describe something unexpected

When the degree of an adjective is unexpected, you can use “so”.


  • “This pizza is so good!”  This means “I expected the pizza to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be good to such a degree!”
  • “This test is so hard.”  This means “I thought this test would probably be hard, but I didn’t expect it to be hard to such a degree.”
3. So can be used sarcastically

Sarcasm is a major part of humor, especially in Western cultures.  Sometimes a native English speaker makes a statement and actually means almost the opposite!  Native speakers often use “so” to emphasize the sarcasm.


  • “This museum is so fun…”  This actually means “This museum is really boring!”
  • “Plastic flowers for my birthday?  You’re so thoughtful.”  This actually means “Plastic flowers for my birthday?  You’re so thoughtless.  I wish you were more thoughtful.”


1. Too is only used negatively

This is really important!  So many English learners use “too” in order to describe something positive, not realizing that it actually makes the sentence sound bad!

More specifically, “too” means “to such a degree that it is a problem” or “to such a degree that one ought to decrease it”!  In other words, if I say “You’re too nice”, it’s not a compliment.  I mean “You should be less nice”!


  • “You put the tools too high on the shelf.”  This means you should have put them on a lower shelf; putting them on a high shelf was bad.
  • “You took too much time.”  This means you were slow; you should have taken less time.
  • “You’re too nice to her.”  This means you are so nice that it is a problem; you should be less nice to her!  Maybe she takes you for granted or doesn’t treat you very nicely.

2. Too is usually used for something unexpected.

“Too” can be used as a judgment (for example, “You’re too slow”), but it can also be used to express that something is unexpected.


  • “This soup is too hot!”  This means “I expected this soup to be hot, but the degree to which it is hot is unexpected and unpleasant!”
  • “This test is too hard.”  This means “I expected this test to be hard, but the degree to which it is hard is unexpected and I don’t like it.”  The speaker may feel the test is so hard that they cannot pass it or finish it in time.
3. Too can be used jokingly

“Too” is also sometimes used as a joke.  In this case, it’s actually positive!  It means the speaker is pleasantly surprised.


  • “Oh, you are too kind!”  This means “I wasn’t expecting you to be kind, so I am surprised and happy that you are this kind.”
  • “This amusement park is too much fun!”  This means “I wasn’t expecting this amusement park to be fun, so I’m surprised and happy that it’s this much fun.”


Really is the easiest one to use.

Like “so”, it can be used both positively and negatively.

  • “This pizza is really good!”
  • “This test is really hard.”

It can also be used for both expected and unexpected situations.

  • “You should check out that new amusement park.  I went there last week.  It was really fun.”
  • “This new amusement park is really fun!”

It can also be used jokingly, but it isn’t used for that as much.

  • “This test is really fun.”  This is probably sarcastic, since tests usually aren’t fun.
  • “You’re really kind.”  This is probably not sarcastic.

As you can see, “really” is… well, really common and really useful!  I recommend using it.

That’s all for today!  If you have any questions about these adverbs, or other adverbs of degree, leave me a comment, or send me a tweet!  Hope I can help.

By the way, in case you are interested, here is a big list of adverbs of degree!

Group Discussions: Silly Questions!

Hey everybody!

We often discuss very serious topics, but soon after our next Saturday (March 28th) discussion group and the day after our Monday (March 30th) discussion groups is… April Fool’s!  In the spirit of the holiday, I thought we’d have a silly discussion group next time!

Here are some of the silly questions I may ask you:


1. Would you rather kiss a crocodile or a bear?

2. What kind of mouse pad do you have?  Describe it.


1. If you were a color, what color would you be?

2. What is the strangest thing you have ever drunk?


1. If you were trapped on an island, what 3 items would you bring?

2. If you had one superpower, what would it be and why?

Additional (possibly) Useful Lexis!






Bathe (in)


Stick (N in N)




A Couch Potato

A day in the life (of N)

Be given a chance to V(-O)

For no (good) reason

Way to V(-O)

When was the last time you V(-O)?

I look forward to your silly questions and answers next time!  See you then!

English Vocabulary: Custom vs. Habit

Yo people!

One common mistake many English learners make is using “custom” and “habit” correctly.

Why are these two words so difficult?  Well, because according to many Japanese-English dictionaries, they are the same!

Custom and Habit1

Here’s the page so you can see for yourself.

Unfortunately, in English they are quite different.  So what are the differences?

Custom vs. Habit

Custom vs. Habit

1. Customs are deliberate, but habits are unconscious.

A custom is something we intend to do.  There is a reason to do it, like bowing or shaking hands.  A habit is (usually) something that we do unconsciously.  Sometimes we don’t even know we do it, like snoring, or tapping our fingers on the table.

2. Customs are desirable, habits are (usually) undesirable.

A custom is something we choose to – and usually want to – do.  In Japan, it is a custom to take your shoes off at the entrance.  Why?  So you can keep your house clean!  A habit is usually something we don’t want to do.  In fact, we often want to quit doing it!  Smoking is a very common habit.  Many people want to quit, but find it difficult.

Careful though!  Habits are not always bad.  Sometimes developing habits are good things.  For example, washing the dishes every night after you eat is a good habit!

3. Customs are communal, habits are personal.

Customs are things we share with other people.  Customs are things that everyone in the group (community) knows about and does.  Some customs are shared among family, some among friends, some among entire countries.  In my family, it was a custom to sit together and eat dinner every night.  When I was younger, it was a custom for my friends and I to have a shot before going out.  In the U.S., shaking hands is a custom.

Habits, on the other hand, are personal.  They are not shared by others.  They are done alone.  I have a habit of waking up every day at 6:30am, but not everyone does.  Some people wake up regularly at a different time.  Some people wake up at a different time every day.  This is not something shared by a family, group of friends, or country.

Hope that helped!  You know what to do if you have any questions!

Group Discussion: Stress

Hello everyone!

March 21st is a national holiday, so there will be no group discussion lesson on that day!

Next Monday (March 23rd) we’re going to talk about everyone’s least favorite topic, something we all have to deal with at some points in our life: stress!  Maybe we can help each other find ways to reduce or relieve stress as well!

Here are some questions I may ask you:


1. How often do you feel stressed?

2. Can stress be good sometimes?


1. What kind of things can cause stress?

2. How stressful is your job?


1. What are some things that trigger stress in you?

2. What are some good methods for relieving or preventing stress?

Additional Useful Lexis:







Cope (with)

Deal (with)





Adjectives and Adverbs









Be under stress

A full schedule

Take action

10 English Learning Motivation Tips, Part 2

Welcome back!

Today we’re going to look a little deeper into motivation.  These next five tips will examine some of your unconscious, core beliefs about motivation and studying and help you revise them so you can maintain more motivation for longer!

6. Remember your goals

What are your English learning goals?  Have you thought about this?  Do you just want to learn enough English to get around when you travel in foreign countries?  Do you need to pass a test?  Do you just want to enjoy watching movies without subtitles?  Do you want to make foreign friends?  Do you want to master the language?  Without goals, it’s very hard to know what you should be studying.

Have you written your goals down?  Do you look at that list to remind yourself why you are studying regularly?  Any time I feel my motivation slump, I look at my list of goals and remind myself why I’m pushing so hard.  I recommend you do the same!

7. Revise your goals

Human beings are very interesting.  Sometimes we think we want something only to realize that we didn’t really want that… we actually wanted something else!

Sometimes we think we really wanted that boy or that girl, only to later realize we wanted a different kind of person!

Sometimes we think we really wanted that promotion, only to later realize that we wanted to have a different kind of job!

Sometimes we think we just wanted to learn English for our trip to Mexico next year… only to later realize how wonderful it feels to communicate with people from all over the world!

Our goals are constantly changing as we change.  That’s why it’s so important to look at them from time to time, and ask ourselves: are these still my goals?  Have my goals changed?  Have my goals become more realistic?  Have they become bigger?  Are there things that were important to me before, but aren’t any more?  Do I have any new goals?

Take a look at your goals.  I recommend at least once a month (many people recommend once a week, or even every day), but even just a few times a year is still helpful.

8. Forget the extrinsic motivation.


First off, I probably should explain intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Very basically, intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from enjoyment of the work.  If you like doing something even though you don’t get anything – money, status, attention – from it, then you have intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation is the opposite: it’s motivation that comes from what you get from doing the work.  In other words, you are trying to get a certain result – again, maybe money, maybe a better job, maybe attention – from the work.

Forget the extrinsic motivation.  I’m going to be straight here and say it: if you don’t enjoy studying English, stop doing it.  You will never be able to maintain motivation, and it will be extremely hard to improve, unless you really, really enjoy studying it.

But wouldn’t extrinsic motivation make you more motivated?


In fact, research shows the opposite is true.  When someone has intrinsic motivation, adding extra motivation in the form of rewards actually makes a person less motivated.  Extrinsic motivation is usually only useful if there is no intrinsic motivation to start with.  If you already love doing something, adding more rewards just adds pressure, and diminishes the enjoyment.  Forget that test you want to pass.  Forget that job you want to get.  Forget that conversation you want to have.  Just enjoy it.

Which naturally leads to the next tip:

9. Forget the goals, enjoy the process

Wait a minute… didn’t you just talk about how important goals are?

Yes, they are.  But only temporarily.


Everyone should go about actively and carefully setting their goals.  Your goals are the reason you do what you do.  Without a reason, you’re going to have a hard time motivating yourself.

However, your goals are meant to be set before you start studying.  While you are studying, they are not important.  While you are studying, the process is important.

It doesn’t matter how great your goals are.  If you don’t enjoy the small steps it takes to get there, it will be an uphill battle trying to achieve those goals.

Similarly, even if your goals are small, if you enjoy the process, then achieving that goal will be inevitable.  The enjoyment of the process, getting pleasure out of every single step, every single day, every single minute, is the key to achieving almost any goal.

10. Envision your future

Now the last two tips are very useful, but sometimes it’s not enough.  Sometimes you wonder whether you really enjoy studying, whether it’s really worth the time, energy and effort.  Sometimes you can think of better things to do.  Sometimes you don’t find any fulfillment out of the process, even though you did before.

Sometimes you think about quitting.

And that’s fine.  That’s natural.  In fact, it’s possible that language learning is not for you (but I hope this isn’t the case!).  It’s hard to say sometimes.  I certainly had lots of times I thought I should give up on Japanese.  Heck, I’ve even had times I thought maybe I’m not supposed to be an English teacher.  So what can you do in these situations?

Envision your future.

This is when your goals become extremely important again.  Look at them one more time.  Your goals are a representation of your desired future.  Ask yourself why you’re studying so hard.   Do you want to be able to speak English when you travel?  Why?  Imagine how nice it will be to communicate in English when you go to Hawaii.  Picture how much more comfortable and convenient it will be to understand other people, and to ask for help when you have a problem.  Envision having fun encounters with foreigners and being able to have a conversation with them.

Imagine the feeling when you pass that test.

Picture yourself watching movies without subtitles and how great it feels to understand them.

Envision what you could do with your life if you mastered English.

If you do this, and you still don’t feel any motivation, well… then maybe you need to consider whether or not you really should be studying English.  Remember, it’s ok to take breaks once in a while too!

But if you do this, and you feel that motivation coming back… then there’s still a part of you that loves what you’re doing, and how it could change you and make your life more amazing.  Hold that vision in your mind.  Really feel it because, with enough hard work and effort, one day it could be reality.  Imagine how wonderful that would be!

Now get to work! thumbs-up


Group Discussions: Money And Shopping, Television

Evening everybody!

This Saturday (March 14th) we’ll talk about money and shopping.

On Monday (March 16th) we’re going to talk about a very popular topic: television!  Most people (but not everybody) love TV.


Here are some new questions you might hear (new lexis is in italics):

1. Is money the root of evil?

2. Have you ever been broke?  What was it like?

3. Is shopping a good or bad habit?

Click here if you’d like to see the previous questions and the lexical set!


So here are some questions you might be asked at the next discussion:


1. Did you watch TV last night?  What did you watch?

2. Do you prefer movies or TV shows?


1. What are your favorite TV shows?

2. What TV shows did you used to watch as a kid?


1. Do you think it’s alright for children to watch TV?  Why or why not?

2. Could you live without TV for a week?  A month?

Additional Useful Lexis:




Cable TV






Reality TV (show(s))

Television Industry











Be on (at TIME)

Today’s English expression: How so?


Today’s English expression comes from a group discussion lesson on hobbies!

Here’s the expression:

“How so?”

“How so?” is an extremely efficient and useful expression used to truncate a lengthier question when repeating the full sentence would be cumbersome.


For example:

A: “This dress makes me look fat.”

Instead of saying

B: “How does that dress make you look fat?”

Person B could shorten that to:

B: “How so?”

You may have noticed that this pattern works the same way as “I (don’t) think so.”


A: “Do you think it’s going to rain tomorrow?”

B: (long answer): “No, I don’t think it’s going to rain tomorrow.”

B: (shorter, more natural answer): “No, I don’t think so.”

So rather than having to repeat the entire sentence, we can just substitute it with “so” and the other person will understand what we mean!  Pretty cool, huh?

Here’s nother example of how to use it:

A: “I think it’s going to be difficult to memorize all of this for the test.”

B (long answer): “How do you think it’s going to be difficult to memorize all of this for the test?”

B (shorter, more natural answer): “How so?”

Whew!  Isn’t that easier?

This expression is a little tricky, though, because how can mean several things.  It can mean:

  1. To what degree (ex: how tall are you?)
  2. Using what method (ex: how do you study English?)
  3. In what sense or way (ex: how is studying English hard?)

The expression “how so?” uses the third definition of how.

So “How so?” means “In what way/sense is that so?”

Going back to the first example, the conversation might go like this:

A: “This dress makes me look fat.”

B: “How so?”

A: “It’s really tight around my waist.”

Another example:

A: “This textbook is confusing.”

B: “How so?”

A: “The vocabulary is too hard, and there’s too much grammar.”

You may have noticed, the main purpose for this expression is asking the other person to elaborate, or to explain more.

For an example of this, watch this short scene from the movie “Mallrats”.  There are two characters in this scene, Stan Lee, the creator of Marvel Superheroes and Brodie, a guy who just lost his girlfriend.  Brodie is a really big fan of Stan Lee!  Watch as he asks Stan Lee to elaborate on why he created the Marvel Superheroes characters:

I hope that’s helpful!  If you have any further question, don’t hesitate to comment, or shoot me a tweet!

Group Discussions: Crime, Social Problems

Hello everyone!

We’ve had some pretty light topics lately, so now it’s time for something more serious.  Our topics this coming week are very closely related:

Saturday (March 7th) we will talk about crime.

On Monday (March 9th), we’ll talk about social problems!  What do you think are important issues in society nowadays?  Let’s discuss it.


Here are some new questions you might hear (new lexis is in italics):

1. Is anyone capable of turning to crime?

2. Do you think the punishment always fits the crime?

3. Have you ever witnessed a crime?

Click here to see the older questions and the lexical set!


Here are some questions which may come up during the discussion:


1. Are there homeless shelters in Japan?

2. Have you ever done volunteer or charity work?


1. Do you think people should be allowed to smoke in public?

2. What are some reasons people use illegal substances like drugs?


1. Why do people discriminate?

2. How can we help lower the rate of suicide?

Additional Useful Lexis:




Food/Soup Kitchen(s)

Nursing Home(s)




Public Assistance

Public Building(s)




Commit (suicide; a crime)









Be allowed to V

Give priority (to N)

On a personal level

This is a big one, so I hope you plan ahead!  I look forward to hearing your responses to these important questions.