60 Second English: Using “A Bit” and “As Well”

Two of the most common expressions in spoken English are “a bit” and “as well.” Learn how to use both in this 60 second video.

~Jeff

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Re-Reading Books When You’re Older

The following comes from a recent essay in the British magazine Literary Review.

It says that as we get older, books that meant one thing to us when we were young may mean something very different when we get older.

When we re-read (read again) a book later in our lives, we see different things and perhaps find different meanings:

While some books we love present (give us) worlds frozen in time (unchanging, no matter when we read them), others grow (change) with  you . . .

There are ways of seeing the world not yet revealed (shown) and sympathies yet to be apprehended (not understood).

Those sucker-punch (something that has a strong impact or effect on you) sentences are already there.

Patiently, they await my arrival (wait until I get there, until I read them in the future).

I’ve re-read certain books that I first read in college or in high school (J.D. Sallinger’s Cather in the Rye, for one). These books mean something different to me now, because I have more “life experience” – I am more mature, and, I hope, a little wiser (smarter; knowledgeable).

Do you ever re-read a book? What did you learn or appreciate from the book upon reading it again, later in your life?

~Jeff

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What Do I Say When Someone Has Died?

None of us will live forever. Death (end of life) is the eventual (someday) destination (where you are going) of all of us.

If you have a friend, co-worker, or someone you know who has lost (had someone die) a loved one (someone they loved), what should you say to him or her in English?

Here are some common expressions you can use:

> “My condolences.” [pronounced: con-DOH-len-sus]

This two-word phrase is probably the easiest to remember and use. If you want to remember just one phrase, this is it.

This simple phrase works in any situation where you want to express your sympathy (being sorry, support) to someone when a loved one dies.

If someone tells you, “My grandmother died last week,” you can respond by saying, “Oh, my condolences” or “My condolences to you and your family” (notice the preposition “to” here).

People also sometimes add the word “sincere,” as in “My sincere condolences.” To be sincere means you really do or honestly feel this way.

> “I’m very sorry to hear that.

You can also say that you are sorry to hear about the person’s loss, either with or without the expression “My condolences.”

You can say, for example, “I’m very sorry to hear that. My condolences.”

> “I’m sorry for your loss.

This is basically the same as the previous example – you are saying you are sad to hear about the person’s death. The “loss” is of course the person who has died.

> “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

This is a little more impersonal and formal, something you might see someone say in the newspaper or on social media.

You are saying that you are thinking about that person (“thoughts”) and, if you’re religious, praying for that person and his or her family.

It is also possible to say simply “Our thoughts are with you” and “Our prayers are with you.”

~Jeff

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How Do You Use the Verb “Stand By”?

There are a couple of different ways to use the phrasal verb to stand by, and it can get very confusing.

Here’s a quick guide to this common English verb.

One meaning of stand by is “wait.” For example, if a television channel (station) has problems with its equipment, you might see a sign on the screen that says “Please Stand By.” This means “Please wait until we fix this!”

To stand by a person means to support that person even when he or she is having difficulties. There was a famous song (and later movie) called “Stand By Me,” which means “Help me even if I am in trouble or have done something wrong.”

Another example: In the song, “Stand By Your Man,” a husband cheats on his wife (sleeps with another woman), but the wife decides to “stand by” her “man” (husband), even though he has hurt her by his actions. She continues to support him and be with him.

Finally, to stand by can mean to actually walk over to a certain place and, well, stand there! In this case, it means to stand next to something (“by” often means “near” or “next to”).

Just to make things more difficult for you, there’s also a noun “standby” that is related to the first verb meaning I discussed, “to wait.”

To fly standby means that you are waiting for a seat on an airplane. Usually this happens when you change your plans so as to take a different flight (airline trip), and the airline has to find you a seat. (And sometimes they don’t find you a seat and you have to wait for another flight!)

How do you know which meaning is being used? As with most things in language, the context (the other words in the sentence) will usually help you.

Here are some more examples, with the meaning in parentheses:

  • “Stand by, everyone! The president is about to make an important announcement.” (wait)
  • “Parents usually stand by their children even when they make a mistake.” (support)
  • “Go stand by the door – I’ll be there in a few minutes.” (be next to)
  • “I had to fly standby because my first flight got canceled.” (wait for a seat on an airplane)

~Jeff

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60-Second Video: How to Ask Someone to Repeat Something in English

If you’re confused about how exactly to ask someone to repeat what they said to you in English, watch this quick 60-second video:

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English With Your Coffee: Technology Edition

Learn some vocabulary about technology in this short video.

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What is the Secret to Remembering New Words?

How can you remember all the new words you read and listen to in English?

I have the answer.

And it will surprise you.

Keep reading . . .

My answer has two parts.

#1: We’ll start with the wrong answer to this question: Spend lots of time “studying” a list of words, trying to “memorize” and “review” words over and over again.

This “just study” method is actually the slowest possible way to improve your vocabulary.

In fact, it is up to 10 times slower than the right way to do it!

Part of the reason is this: there are just too many words to try to study and review them one by one.

You will probably die before you have enough time to memorize words individually.

But the main reason “studying” is so inefficient (slow) is that the brain learns new words fastest by doing something much easier.

That leads us to . . .

#2: The right way to learn new words is: Get a LOT of “comprehensible input.”

What’s “comprehensible input”?

Comprehensible input is just a scientific name for “reading and listening to things you can understand” (comprehensible = “able to understand it”).

So the “secret” to remembering lots of new words is simply to read and listen, especially to things you enjoy. (If you enjoy it, you’ll do more reading and listening.)

Now, you may be thinking: “Jeff, this must be wrong. I read and listen to many things but I still can’t remember some of the new words I see!”

Of course you don’t remember many of them, especially after seeing them only once. Neither do I.

But here’s what you do NOT notice or see: Every time you read a new word in a book or hear it somewhere, your brain is learning a small percentage of what that word means.

Maybe it’s only 5% or 10% or 15%.

But the next time you see it, you will gain a little more knowledge. And so on and so on.

Before you realize it, by doing lots of reading and listening, you’ve picked up (learned) 100% of the word.

A recent study found that reading can give you anywhere between 5 and 10 new words an hour.

That’s much, much faster than trying to study or “memorize” words.

Obviously, the most important and useful words are the ones you will see over and over again. So just reading and listening will give you all of the words you really need to know.

“But do you have proof this works?”

“And will it work for speaking, writing, grammar etc.?”

I’m glad you asked!

I wrote a special 9-page special report that explains in detail how we learn languages, including not only vocabulary, but grammar, speaking, pronunciation, and more.

You can get it below by filling in your name and email address.

It will change the way you learn languages, I promise.

Get the report today:

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~Jeff

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What’s the Difference Between “Sleep” and “Asleep”?

I’ve been feeling rather lazy this week. So it’s a good time to talk about a few confusing words in English related to sleeping.

Sleep is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means that time when you are unconscious (aren’t aware of the world around you), usually at night.

For example, we can say “I need some sleep because I am very tired.” (Notice we say “some” sleep and not “a” sleep.)

To sleep (verb) means to be in the condition or “state” of sleep. We might say, “He is sleeping” or “He sleeps at night for 8 hours.”

The past tense of sleep is slept, so we say “He slept for seven hours yesterday.”

But what about asleep? Well, asleep is neither a noun nor a verb. We do not say “I need some asleep” or “He is asleeping.”

However, there is a phrasal verb, “to fall asleep,” which means to go into the state of sleep, as in “He fell asleep after drinking a bottle of whiskey.”

Normally, asleep is used as an adjective (and less commonly, as an adverb).

For example, you can say “He was asleep by 11:00 PM last night” or “He is asleep now.”

To say that someone is asleep is the same as saying that the person is sleeping.

We also use asleep to describe a computer that has become temporarily inactive – “My computer is asleep.”

And there’s one more related use of asleep: when your leg, arm, or feet become numb (you can’t feel them), it may be because they are “asleep.”

All the talk of sleep is making me even more tired, so I better stop before I fall asleep!

~Jeff

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What does “I can’t be bothered” mean?

I can’t be bothered” means “I don’t want to make the effort (work) to do something.” For example:

Elisa is too busy watching TV and can’t be bothered to answer the phone.

“I can’t be bothered” (or, if in the past, “I couldn‘t be bothered”) can also mean “It isn’t very important to me so I don’t want to do it or think about it.”

Dan wants me to meet him for dinner tonight, but I can’t be bothered. I’m going to read a book instead.

Alex is so rude! He passed us in the hall and couldn’t be bothered to say hello.

Notice that we often follow the phrase “can’t be bothered” with the “to” form of a verb (what we call the infinitive), such as “to answer” or “to say” in the above examples.

Another meaning of “can’t be bothered” is that a person cannot or should not be disturbed or interrupted. If someone is very busy with an important meeting or phone call, we might say this person “can’t be bothered”:

Derek needs to ask his boss a question but she is in a meeting and can’t be bothered.

The verb “to bother  means to trouble someone, to cause a problem for someone (including yourself).

If you have a sad face, someone may ask you, “Is something bothering you?” meaning “Do you have a problem?”

Finally, when you tell someone, “Don’t bother!” you mean “Do not do (something)!”

For example, if you have to go somewhere, a friend may offer you a ride in his car. If the place is close by, you might say, “Oh, don’t bother! I’ll just walk.”

~Jeff

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What’s the Difference Between “Accountability” and “Responsibility”?

Learn how we use accountability and responsibility in English by watching this short video.

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