Bird-Brained Ideas

Los Angeles is a big, sprawling (covering a wide area) city. That’s why people have a hard time (difficulty) getting around without cars.

Our public transportation system—buses, subways, trains, etc.—just doesn’t reach enough parts of the city.

About a year ago, a type of electric “scooter” started appearing on city streets. Scooters are normally small motorcycles, but these scooters are different. They are more like skateboards with a motor and a pole to hang on to (see photo).

A company called “Bird” scattered (place randomly) scooters all over the city, putting them on sidewalks (walkways next to the street). They were placed near bus stops, at street corners, and anywhere a lot of people walked.

The scooters are intended to help people travel short distances so they wouldn’t have to walk or drive a car.

Here’s how these paid scooters work: You choose a scooter, insert (place into a machine) your credit card, pay a small fee, and then have temporary use of that scooter.

Ride it to where you want to go and then leave it there. At the end of the day, a team of people retrieves (pick up and return) the scooters for charging (for a battery to again store energy) and then places them around the city again.

The problem was, Bird and other similar companies didn’t have permission (approval; an okay) from the local government to do business, and no one was in charge of making sure people were following the rules and laws.

Soon, riders were leaving scooters where they shouldn’t, like the middle of the sidewalk, on people’s front yards, or in the street.

Children were riding them on busy streets with no helmets (hard hat to protect the head), and riders were causing traffic accidents.

Now, the government is finally stepping in (getting involved). They are setting up new regulations (rules) and limiting the number of companies that can have these scooters in the city. It will be some time before we know how things shake out (work out; come to a result).

I haven’t tried riding one of these scooters yet, but I have seen a lot of people on them. Some people ride responsibly (in the right way). But when someone rides like an idiot, then it seems to me these Bird scooters are a bird-brained idea.*

~Jeff

* Bird-brained is an adjective meaning very stupid or not very smart. The term is perhaps used because birds are small and therefore have small brains. I think “cat-brained” would also be a good way of describing dumb ideas, but that’s just me.

Photo credit: Grendelkhan

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Flu Shot Season is Here Again

A few years ago, I thought I was dying. My body ached (hurt). I couldn’t breathe. I had a high fever (body temperature).

I had “the flu.”

The flu, short for influenza, is a highly contagious (easy to pass from one person to another) virus. A virus is a very small thing you can’t see that gets into your body and makes you sick. There are actually several different kinds of viruses that can give you the flu, and it is often different from year to year.

For some people, like young children and the elderly (old people), the flu can be life-threatening (cause death).

So since then, I’ve tried to get a flu shot every year. (A shot is a drug you get from a needle (sharp instrument that goes through your skin – see the photo).

Like many Americans, I’m part of an HMO, a Health Maintenance Organization, which is basically a type of private medical insurance. I pay a certain amount of money each month and I get health benefits, such as visits to the doctor, laboratory tests, and treatment for illnesses or medical conditions at a lower cost than if I did not have insurance.

One of the benefits of my health plan is a “free” flu shot every year. I go into the medical center, the nurse takes a needle, and injects (puts into my body) a vaccine into my arm.

The vaccine contains a little bit of the flu–not the part that makes you sick–and your body starts to fight it. Later, if you come across (meet) the flu, your body is ready to fight it off and prevent you from getting sick. (What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, as we sometimes say!)

It’s worked for me. I haven’t had the flu in years—knock on wood. (“Knock on wood” is something we say to mean “I hope my good luck continues.”)

So this week I’ll be getting another flu shot. Maybe you should, too?

~Jeff

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New Words in American English, 2018 Edition

One of the leading (most popular) American English dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, has just published a list of 840 “new” words in English. Here are some you may want to know:

TL;DR – “Too long; didn’t read” – This is sometimes used before a summary or short version of a long blog post or document. For example, if you post a long story on your Facebook page about how your boyfriend/girlfriend has left you, you might also write, “So, TL;DR It’s over!”

hangry – This word combines “hungry” and “angry” and refers to how some people are not very happy when they haven’t eaten. “He was hangry when he came home after work, so he yelled at his dog.”

time suck – something that takes up a lot of your time. “Reading long Facebook posts can be a real time suck.”

rando – This word comes from “random,” and refers to a person you do not know or recognize. It is often used to describe a person you don’t know who is somehow annoying you or interfering with what you’re doing. “I was waiting in line at the post office and some rando guy came up to me and asked me for $10.”

I guess I could have put at the beginning of this post, “TL;DR English keeps changing!”

~Jeff

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Honesty is the Best Policy

This cartoon takes place in a courtroom (where legal processes and trials happen). We see the judge behind what looks like a big desk, which in a courtroom we call a bench.

He has a gavel in front of him, a thing that looks like a little hammer and is used to get people’s attention.

Sitting next to the judge is the witness box, where people who are being asked questions by the lawyers sit.

Inside (sitting in) the witness box we see an old man with a hat and a very long nose. A lawyer (attorney) is standing in from of the bench.

The joke here is based on the Italian children’s book, The Adventures of Pinocchio, which became popular in the U.S. when Disney made a movie about it. In the story, if Pinocchio lied (did not tell the truth), his nose would grow longer, so everyone would know that he had lied.

The man in the cartoon has a very long nose, indicating that he has lied about something. So the judge asks him if he would like to rephrase his answer. 

To rephrase means to say something in a different way, in order to be clearer or more easily understood. It is an expression often heard in courtrooms. This man needs to rephrase his answer not to make it clearer, but because he lied.

What if our noses actually DID grow longer when we lied? No doubt we would all look a little like this poor (unfortunate) man!

~Jeff

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“What Should I Read in English?”

If you’ve read my special report on how to improve your English, you know that I recommend you do a lot of listening and reading. (And if you haven’t read my report, hurry up and get it today by signing up below).

But what should you read and listen to? There are really just two guidelines (rules) for the books you choose:

(1) Read something you can understand. If you can’t understand more than 90-95% of the words on the page, it’s too difficult. Find something easier.

(2) Read something you enjoy. If you are bored, you won’t read it for very long.

When I’m trying to improve a second language I’m learning, and I am at least an “intermediate” in the language, I usually look for books written for older children or teenagers. (And if you can understand this blog post in English, then YOU are an intermediate!)

Books written for younger readers are easier to understand, but still have interesting topics and themes.

What books are most popular in English for younger readers? Here’s a list from a national survey (poll; set of questions) of American teenagers. One of these books may be good place to start your English reading.

Harry Potter books. You probably already know about Harry Potter, but if you don’t, it is one of the most popular book series in English published in the last 50 years. This is the #1 book among young readers of all ages. Of course, if you’ve seen the movie, the books will be much easier for you to understand. The story (if you don’t know) is about a young boy who has special, magical powers.

I recommend watching the movies first and then reading the books, but that’s not necessary.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid. These books (which I have read in Italian) are written for older children (ages 8-12) and are very funny and entertaining. The story is about a kid in school who always has problems with his family and friends. It also contains illustrations (drawings; images) that help you understand the story, sort of like a comic book or “graphic novel.”

In fact, graphic novels are also a good place to look for reading material. I have read several Italian graphic novels – the photographs and drawings help you understand the language.

Do you like the “superhero” movies like Batman or Spiderman? Try reading some of the comic books with those characters. Some comics even have apps allowing you to read them on your tablet or smartphone.

Goosebumps. This is a series of dozens of books with scary stories. It is very popular among American schoolchildren. If you like “horror” stories, this is the perfect book series for you.

Like all book series, once you read one book, the rest will become easier.

Dork Diaries. I haven’t read this new series, but it is very popular with younger readers. Like Diary for a Wimpy Kid, it has funny stories about kids and their problems, along with drawings or illustrations.

Many of these books are available in electronic format in English through websites such as Amazon.com and others. You can download a “sample” of the book (usually the first chapter or so) before you buy it. I do this all the time before I buy a book.

There is one other obvious place to get reading and listening materials: our Unlimited English Membership. We have more than 10,000 pages of reading and 500 hours of listening that is easy and fun. Learn more here.

~Jeff

Image credit: Scholastic Books

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Why No One Talks to Anyone Anymore

I was back in my home state of Minnesota recently visiting my family there. One day I went into a diner located in a small town just outside Minneapolis.

A diner is a restaurant that usually has breakfast food served all or most of the day, plus hamburgers, salads, and sandwiches. It is a very informal restaurant, popular originally in the Midwest (where Minnesota is) and Northeast parts of the United States, but nowadays (right now, at this time) found in almost any city or town.

A diner usually has a “counter” or bar area where individual customers can sit, lined up in a straight row. There are also “booths” to sit in, which have benches instead of chairs. (A bench is like a wide chair for two or more people.)

Many diners are open 24 hours a day, so you can have breakfast right after leaving the dance club at 2:00 AM (I did that when I was younger!).

I like this particular diner I visited on my trip because it was like “stepping back in time,” that is, going back to some previous time in history. The prices for breakfast were very cheap, perhaps half what it would cost you in a regular restaurant in Minneapolis.

How cheap? You can order eggs, toast (bread), and hash browns (potatoes cut up and fried in a pan) for only $4.35. That meal would cost two or three times that amount in Los Angeles!

Over the counter area, there was a sign that said:

WE DO NOT HAVE WIFI.
TALK TO EACH OTHER.

Of course, we all know that when you go to a restaurant nowadays, you will see at least half of the people – children, teens, adults – looking down at their smartphones instead of talking to one another.

I have a rule never to check my phone when I am with another person without asking for his or her permission, and then only if it is something that seems urgent (must be done immediately). But sometimes I forget, since there always seems to be some reason for “checking our phones.”

My guess is that smartphones, as a new technology, are a bit like automobiles in the early 20th century. When cars were first used, there were few rules and a lot of dangerous driving. Eventually, however, people changed their behavior and started to drive more carefully.

Will people eventually (someday) change the way they use their smartphones? I hope so.

Next time you are with another person, try to NOT look at your phone, and talk to the person instead. You might just enjoy it!

~Jeff

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Does “Reading” Mean You Have to Say the Words Out Loud?

Several people have emailed me recently to ask about the advice I give in my special report on how to improve your English (and if you haven’t seen it, sign up to get it below).

In the report, I recommend that you read as much English as possible.

But what do I mean by “read”?

By “read,” I mean to look at something that’s written and to understand it—silently, to yourself.

I do not mean to “read aloud,” which is speaking the words from a text.

It’s true that in English people sometimes use “read” to mean “read aloud.” For example, if you’re with a group of people and you laugh out loud while reading a funny email, your friends might say, “read it” when they really mean “read it aloud” or “read it to us.”

But you do not need to read aloud to improve your English!

Does reading aloud help? No, it doesn’t. There is no evidence that shows reading aloud is better than reading silently.

In fact, reading aloud is worse than silent reading. The reason is because you can usually read silently faster than you can read aloud. It’s more efficient (better use of time) to read silently.

If you haven’t received my Special Report AND emails with tips and suggestions to improve your English, you can sign up for them below.

~Jeff

P.S. It’s okay for you to listen to audio-books, however, especially in situations where you can’t read silently. I would not recommend, for example, you try to read a book and drive at the same time!

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What Should I Listen To?

Here’s a question I am often asked:

Dear Jeff,

I always study English everyday, but I feel my listening ability is not good.

Could you help me improve my listening ability?

Tim

Good question, Tim!

The way to improve your listening ability is to listen to the right things, the right materials.

What are the right things?

1. Something you can mostly (90% or more) understand. If it’s too hard, it’s a waste of time.

2. Something that you are interested in.

How much should you listen?

As much as possible! I would say a minimum of 30 minutes per day.

Start with something easy, perhaps something you understand 100%. As you get more confidence in your listening, increase the difficulty of the materials.

I would suggest you start by downloading and listening to some of the ESLPod.com podcasts or get our sample lesson here.

Need more ideas? Be sure to download my special report on how to improve your English by filling in the form below.

Thanks for the question!

~Jeff

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What’s for Dinner, Jeff?

I love to cook on my barbecue (also be spelled “barbeque” or abbreviated “BBQ”) grill in the back of my house.

Here’s a photo of me getting ready go cook some hamburgers (and don’t worry, I cook them before I eat them!).

Since summertime is the part of the year when many Americans cook their food on a BBQ grill, I thought I’d share a short excerpt (small section of a book or written text) from our Daily English #829 lesson related to a few common terms used to talk about barbecues. (This lesson, plus 1,800+ more, is included in our Unlimited English membership.)

In this section, I’m talking about a conversation between two people (named George and Sophia) at a BBQ.

Enjoy!


George says, “The meat won’t taste very good if I don’t baste it with my special sauce each time I flip it.”

“To baste” means to use a small tool that looks often like a brush to put the sauce on.

Sauce is a heavy or thick liquid, over the food so that it doesn’t become too dry.

George needs to “baste” the meat with his special sauce each time he “flips it.”

“To flip” here means to turn something over. So, if you’re cooking a hamburger, you cook one side, and then you flip it over, you turn it over, and cook the other side.

Sometimes, jokingly, we talk about people who work in hamburger restaurants like McDonald’s as “flipping burgers.” The term is also used to describe a job that doesn’t pay very well and is probably not very interesting.

Sophia says, “Okay, how about if I get the corn on the cob ready for grilling?”

Corn on the cob” is corn, the vegetable, that comes still attached to the hard inedible – what you don’t eat – part of the plant. You take the outside of the corn off – what we call the “husk” – and you’re left with the “corn on the cob.”

The “cob” is the middle part of the plant, the hard part that you don’t eat.

Grilling,” you probably know, means to cook something on top of this metal device called a “grill,” and is usually done outside.


Okay, now I have to go finish my cooking!

~Jeff

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How Americans Use Their Middle Names (Or Not!)

How do Americans use their middle names? It seems like an easy question, but it can get a little confusing.

I explained some of the rules in our Unlimited English lesson, Cultural English #457. (All of our Cultural English lessons include questions and answers about important expressions, idioms, and phrasal verbs in English.)

You can read the transcript below and listen to the audio file here:

“Our second question comes from Gary in China. Gary is confused about English names.

Well, many people are confused about English names, Gary, so don’t feel bad! He gives the example of a famous English author, Beatrix Potter. Her full name is Helen Beatrix Potter.

He wants to know if we should be calling her Helen Potter, or Beatrix Potter, or maybe her real name is  . . . Harry Potter? (No. I don’t think so!)

Well, the question has to do more generally with middle names and when they are used as first names.

Many Americans – maybe most Americans, I’m not sure – have a middle name, and that middle name goes on their official legal documents. My middle name is Lawrence; my full name is Jeffrey Lawrence McQuillan.

Now, some people don’t like their first name, and they may decide to use their middle name as their first name. Now, legally their name doesn’t change, typically, but in terms of how they like to be known at school or at their work can really depend on the name that the person decides to use.

Here in the land of Hollywood, a lot of actors and actresses change their names, and sometimes they decide to use their middle name as their first name.

You may have heard of someone called Brad Pitt. Well Brad Pitt’s real name is William Bradley Pitt. Brad is a short form of the name Bradley. He uses his middle name.

You may also know Jose Antonio Dominguez Banderas, but he really goes by the name Antonio Banderas.

And there is another actor, not my favorite, by the name of Ashton Kutcher. His real name is Christopher Ashton Kutcher, but he decided to drop the first name and just use his middle name as his first name!

There’s really no logic to this. It just depends on the person and whether he or she likes his or her first name. Some people use their first name, but just the initial.

So, instead of calling me Jeffrey Lawrence McQuillan, you could call me J. Lawrence McQuillan, or J-Law.”

Want more of these cool explanations? Become an Unlimited English Member here. We have more than 500 Cultural English lessons, each about 30 minutes each.

That’s more than 250 hours of English explanations! Plus you get more than 400 hours of Daily English lessons, too.

Give it a try here.

~Jeff

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