American Culture: Teddy Bears

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A teddy bear is a soft, plush bear toy that is named after our 26th President, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. (Teddy is short for Theodore.)

The teddy bear was created after an encounter between Roosevelt, a hunting enthusiast, and a black bear in Mississippi in 1902. Everyone in the hunting party had successfully hunted a bear, except Roosevelt. His assistants didn’t want Roosevelt’s hunting trip to be a failure so they captured and tied a black bear to a tree, making an easy target for Roosevelt to shoot. Regarding this as unsportsmanlike (unfair), Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear, and news of the event spread throughout the country. 

After seeing a political cartoon that gently mocked the president’s refusal to shoot the bear, a candy shop owner in Brooklyn named Morris Michtom created the stuffed toy. He dedicated it to the president, who gave permission to use his name. Thus, the teddy bear was born. 

Teddy bears look like cute, gentle little bear cubs, which is how the political cartoon represented the black bear. Even now the teddy bear has worldwide popularity. Do you have one?

This is the official cartoon drawn by Clifford Berryman in1902 that satirized Teddy Roosevelt's bear hunt.

(The above photo shows one of the original American teddy bears. made in 1907.)

Book recommendation for English learners

Friday, February 9, 2018

Reading an English novel is a big achievement in the processing of mastering a new language. The thought of committing to a book (a novel!) may be a little intimidating but the feeling of satisfaction you will have after completing it will motivate you to read more books in English. 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Hadden is an easy-to-follow English novel about a 15-year-old boy from the UK named Christopher who tries to solve a mystery. The story is written in simple English and is around 200 pages in length. This award-winning novel is told by Christopher (written in the first-person) who, as you quickly learn, has some behavioral difficulties, and understanding the world from his perspective is truly unique. 

This is a complete novel, not simplified in any way for English learners, and I encourage you to try it. I hope that reading more books in English will open new worlds for you.

"Grow" and "Grow Up": What Is the Difference?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Grow and grow up are not synonyms and that can be confusing. Their meanings vary slightly but both are easy to remember. This knowledge will give you another perfect opportunity to demonstrate your English fluency by using both terms correctly. You can do it!

Grow means to increase in size, to become bigger or longer

  • Anthony grew a mustache during his summer vacation. 
  • Millie hopes her investments will grow thanks to the strong economy. 
  • The maple tree in my garden has grown two meters since I moved here. 
  • His love for her grew more and more with each passing day.

To grow up refers to people and when they get older and more mature
  • Danny grew up in Chicago during the 1920s.
  • When you were growing up, what sports did you play?
  • Tom grew up in the country and Scarlett grew up in the city. 
  • Frank’s family moved a lot when he was growing up.

I hope your English vocabulary grows and grows with each passing day :)

Speaking politely

Thursday, December 28, 2017

It always helps to use polite words when communicating but sometimes, when learning a new language, we don’t know whether something we say is impolite or not. Here I will try to distinguish polite and informal / overly casual expressions so you will always be correct in any social situation. 

1. When making polite requests, use the modals would or could (+ simple verb +)

Would you wait a moment, please? 
Could I borrow your pen?

2. Will or can (+ simple verb +) are acceptaple but a little less formal

Will you show me how to install the new software?
Can you repeat that, please? I didn’t hear you. 

3. I would like  / or I’ll have. . .  (not I want): I would like a hamburger and a Coca Cola, please. 

4.  Let me know (not tell me): Let me know when you’re available. 

5. I prefer / or I’d rather / or I’m not too fond of / or I’m not a fan of . . (not I don’t like). 

I’m not too fond of the mountains / I’d rather go somewhere else instead of the mountains. (not I don’t like the mountains.)

6. I disagree / I’m afraid I disagree (not you’re wrong): 

It’s better to use more indirect speech when pointing our someone’s error. It’s a solfter, less offensive way to communicate your opposing view. 

An even less direct way to correct someone is to say actually / or I think you’re mistaken, and then give the correct information. 

We don’t want to offend anyone so keep these phrases in mind and the world will be a happier place. Also, don’t forget that please, thank you, and excuse me are universally polite and should be used often!

John Hancock’s Signature

Sunday, November 26, 2017

If you were given a pen and asked to put your John Hancock on a piece of paper, would you know what to do? If English isn’t your mother tongue, this could be a very perplexing request, but in the USA it’s quite normal. 

Who is John Hancock and what is a John Hancock?

First, a John Hancock is an informal reference to your signature. If I wanted your autograph, for example, or if I wanted you to sign a contract, I could ask for your John Hancock as an informal way to request your signature. 

John Hancock, the man, was a leader in the American Revolution and a politician. He was the first person to sign our Declaration of Independence in 1776, which stated that the 13 American colonies (our first states) were free from British authority.  

His signature is historically famous. Due to its boldness, large size and stylish script, John Hancock’s name is the most prominent because, according to legend, he wanted the king to be able to read it without his glasses. 

Phases of the moon

Monday, October 23, 2017

The moon is earth’s constant companion, affecting the oceans’ tides, our moods, animals, and maybe even our superstitions. Thanks to the sun, we’re able to see this celestial body as it orbits the earth . . .  but not all the time. 

We have periods when the moon in fully illuminated, partially illuminated, and not visible at all, depending on the stage of its cycle around the earth. These stages are called phases and we have four main phases. Do you know them?

  • New Moon - We have a new moon when its dark, unlit side is facing the earth. It is not visible.
  • Waxing Moon - The moon is waxing when more of its surface area is progressively becoming illuminated and visible. 
  • Full Moon - The moon's lit side is facing the earth and appears to be completely illuminated.
  • Waning Moon - The opposite action of a waxing moon. The illumination of its surface is progressively decreasing. 
A full moon gets the most publicity because its appearance at night is certainly dramatic, romantic, and inspiring. Ancient civilizations attribute behaviors of the weather, plants, or animals to the influence of a full moon so some months have a specific name for their full moon, such has September’s harvest moon (pictured above). 

Feeling under the weather

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

There certainly are a lot of words that describe weather. That’s why the weather is a tried-and-true (reliable) topic for starting a conversation. Though not very original, it’s easy for small talk and there’s always something to say about it. 

The idiom under the weather is a different matter altogether. When we feel under the weather, we feel slightly ill and not at our best. 

- Alice was feeling under the weather today, so she took the day off.
- Brian said he’s feeling under the weather and may have the flu.
- Marco’s girlfriend was feeling under the weather, so he decided to bring her flowers to cheer her up.

Historically, this expression originates from a shipping or nautical reference; when a sailor felt sick or unwell, he was sent below deck to recover, away from the weather. That’s something to talk about.