Monthly Archives: February 2015

Are You Coming or Going?

Central Park Horse-drawn Carriage                    New York City, Horse-drawn Carriage   photo by M.W.Snider

Recently I said to one of my students, “I came to New York.” He asked why not, “I went to New York”?

I explained that because he was in New York, “came” emphasized the relationship between us. I had come to his city.

However, when I was preparing for my trip to New York: I was getting ready to go.  And, I told my friends here in Colorado that I was “going to New York.”  I used “come” when I was ready “to come home.”

Whether an English speaker chooses “coming” or “going” depends on the relationship between the speaker and listener.

Q.* So, are you coming or going?      A.* It depends where you are and who’s asking!

Consider the perspective of a coworker asking, “Are you coming to work?” versus a non-coworker asking, “Are you going to work?”  The coworker wants to know if you are coming to join them at work.  The non-coworker wants to know if you are leaving them to go to work.

Note: The physical location of the person asking the question will establish whether “coming” or “going” is used.

  • If a non-coworker has stopped by your place of work and you aren’t there, they may call you and ask, “Are you coming to work today?” This is because they are AT your workplace and when you come to work, you would be coming to them as well.
  • If you and a coworker are at an event and they see you getting ready to leave, they may ask, “Are you going into work?”
“We’re going to grab something to eat!* Wanna* come?”

The sentences above show another common way to use coming and going.  Coming in this example means, “coming along” (with the group).

Talking about going to parties (or other events) is a little trickier.  When someone says they are “going to a party,” this can mean they are “going to go” or “planning to attend.”  Although, when someone says they are “going to a party” they could also literally be en route to the party.  “Going” can mean on your way.

Remember my trip to New York?  I told my friends that I was “going” to New York weeks before I left.  “Going” meant “planning to go.”  However, when I called my son to say goodbye, “I’m going” meant that I would soon be boarding the plane.

“Going Steady” by St. John Publications

Returning to the party discussion, when a group is on their way to a party and they ask, “Are you coming?” They could be implying, “Are you coming with us?”, OR they could be asking if you are planning to attend the party.  So, how do you respond?

Be careful!  If you aren’t planning to attend, there IS a safe answer here! If you say, “No.” or, “I’m not coming,” it could be interpreted as you aren’t coming along.  The better answer is, “I’m not going.”  Which clearly means you aren’t going to the party and not that you don’t want to join the group.

Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG

 Thanks! Michele

Please let me know if you have English use questions, and don’t forget to subscribe to My Virtual English blog!

Look! Watch out!

English has a very clear distinction between looking, watching, and seeing. Very simply, if it involves time and/or movement you are watching it. If you see something that isn’t moving (like this blog you are reading right now), you are looking at it.

Check out*(= look at) the examples below to see what I mean:
Cars on a race track

Things we watch (= something with movement, or that we observe for awhile):

  • A demonstration/a “how to” presentation
  • Movies
  • Plays (theatrical performances)
  • Races
  • Things we are cooking
  • Sports
  • TV


Additionally, it is important to watch where we are going!  If we run into someone they may scold* us by grumbling*, “Watch out!” (or “Look out!”).  Both “LOOK OUT!” and “WATCH OUT!” are used to warn someone of danger.

Similarly the phrase, “Watch yourself!” means to be careful. If I say, “I can look out for myself,” this means that I am able to take care of myself. (See the examples with children and pets at the bottom of this post)

  • My husband looking at Aspen trees
    My husband looking at                       Aspen tree

Things we look at (=observe briefly, OR without movement):

  • Animals (if we “look” for more than a minute or so, we are watching them)
  • Books/Catalogs/Magazines
  • Cars (unless we “look” for more than a minute or so, then we are watching them) We watch cars race in the Indy 500., We look at cars on a lot.*
  • Clothes
  • Email
  • Mail/letters
  • Other people (if someone holds our interest for more than a minute or so, then we are watching them)
  • Scenery
  • Screens of electronic devices (including televisions)
  • Someone talking (if they aren’t moving their body, or demonstrating something)
  • Things in a store

NOTE: Typically we go to the doctor to get something “looked at”, or “checked out.” Generally these appointments are fairly brief and the doctor “looks us over”* (= examines carefully). Occasionally, the doctor may say (s)he wants to “watch” something. This means that thing needs to be monitored* (=changes need to be tracked).

Things that can watched OR looked at:

  • Children  Φ Watching children has two meanings. 1. To “look after” (=care for, “keep an eye on”, supervise). Example:  Would you like me to watch your children while you do your Christmas shopping?, 2. To observe. Example: We sat on the park bench, watching the children play.
  • Pets/Animals Φ Pets need to be looked after, or “watched” much like children do in the example above. Example: I took my dog to a pet-sitter to watch him this weekend while I’m gone. 
  • The wind blow, Rain falling, Snow falling (basically weather events)  In the picture above, I could say that my husband was looking at the trees AND watching the wind dance through the leaves.

Additionally, the word see has several meanings. 1. “See” can mean what happens naturally with your eyes. Example: Did you see anything unusual?, 2. “See” is also used to mean “see clearly.” Example: I can’t see anything without my glasses., 3. See can also mean “understand.” Example: I don’t know why he can’t see how much I love him!

A student asked me what it means when someone simply says, “See?”  This means either: Can you see? (with your eyes like in the first example above), or Do you understand? or another way of saying this is, Do you “get it?” or even, “Do you see what I mean?”

 Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG  My Take On It

This last idea of “looking without seeing” is something that is familiar to many religions (certainly Jews and Christians).

Let us look with more than our eyes so that we can begin to see (=understand) what is happening.  Looking AND seeing will allow us to respond more appropriately.

Thanks again! Michele

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Comfort Food, Words, and Women

This week comfort food, comfort words, and comfort women, were all topics of conversation with my SkimaTalk students.  Here I’ll talk about all three.

Comfort Food  means different things to different people. Generally though, comfort foods are heavy and satisfying.

Think of the type of food you want on a cold winter’s day: things that are warm and creamy, and things that remind you  of Mom’s or Grandma’s home-cooking.*

“Comfort Words” is a term that I coined* to refer to words that people use to comfort themselves, or provide reassurance.

One of my students had been playing a board game.  She asked why another player kept saying, “alright” every time it was his turn to take a card.  I explained that we sometimes say “alright,” or “okay” when we are in a stressful situation.  We are comforting our self, telling our self that, “It’s going to be alright, or okay.”

You can hear Tom Hanks, playing a baseball coach use both “alright” and “okay” multiple times in the clip below.

“Jimmy Says a Prayer” scene from A League of their Own, 1992 film by Sony

NOTE: There is a sexual reference and he does take the Lord’s name in vain* at the very end of the clip. It’s so hard to find “clean*” examples anymore.)

Now to change the topic and the mood completely…. Here is a very UNcomfortable subject.

Comfort women1944
Comfort women 1944

Comfort Women was the name given to the women (and girls) used by the Japanese Imperial Army for sexual services during World War II.  It has become a controversial subject.

Some people insist that the truth has been sensationalized* and comfort women were prostitutes who voluntarily took care of the Japanese military.  Fueling this controversy and confusion is one man’s discredited account* of the military rounding up Korean women to be sex slaves.  For more see this article: Japan revisionists demand apology over ‘comfort women’ reports .  However, this same article explains that “mainstream”Japanese don’t believe the stories of comfort women have been exaggerated.* (Most people believe there were women and girls who were abused and forced into sexual slavery).

This position was supported by the Mc-Graw Hill publishers recently as well. A Wall Street Journal headline read, ”

U.S. Publisher Rebuffs Japan on ‘Comfort Women’ Revision

‘Scholars Aligned Behind Historical Fact’ of Forced Prostitution, McGraw-Hill Education Says

Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEGMy Take On It

My husband Errol and I often remind each other, “Perception is everything.”  That means, it is not productive to argue about details.  If someone is offended or hurt, we need to take care of their wound.  Think of it like this:  When someone shows up at the hospital with a gun shot wound, they are scheduled for surgery!  We don’t waste time worrying about the details of the shooting until the wound has been addressed.

I think there are a lot of wounded people in the world and comfort women are numbered among them. We have seen controversy in the US with regard to racial relations. People have been hurt.  It’s okay to say, “We’re sorry.” Terribly sorry.

One of my favorite passages comes to mind: 1 John 4:7-12

Loving One Another

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

This is confusing. Isn’t it?!

Statements followed by questions (tag questions) are common in spoken English.

The speaker begins with a statement that they assume is true. They use a question to  confirm their understanding.

For example: You understand what I mean, don’t you?! (I am assuming you understand!), or: English is confusing, isn’t it? (I am assuming you think it’s confusing too).

Q*: How do we handle* this negative question tacked on* to a statement.?

A*: Ignore the negative in the question. Respond to the statement.

To respond to “You understand what I mean, don’t you? in my first example, you could say,”Yep!* Got it!”.  If you don’t understand you would say, “No (I’m not sure what you mean).”

In the second example (English is confusing, isn’t it?)  If you agree, you could answer, “I’ll say!* (this is another way to say you agree)” If English is a breeze*  for you, you might say, “I wouldn’t say that. English isn’t any more confusing than other languages.”

NOTE: the two sentences above can be rewritten as, “You understand what I mean, right?”, or “English is confusing, yes?” (Both “right” and “yes” work as tag questions . Just be sure to use the rising question intonation)

When the speaker uses a negative statement, the tag question is affirmative (=positive).

For example: “You aren’t going. Right?” (I don’t think you will go), or “You’re not hurt. Are you?”

Q*: How do we handle* the question following a negative statement.?

A*: The same way as we did before! Ignore the question. Respond to the statement.

So, in the example, “You aren’t going. Right?” I would say, “No”  meaning, “I’m not going.” OR (this is a little trickier), I could say, “Right” meaning, “You’re right. I’m not going.” Note: Responding by repeating the tag, doesn’t always work. If the tag is “yes” or “no”, remember to respond to the statement.  For example: If the waiter says, “No cheese on your salad. Yes?!” then, “yes” means you DO want cheese.  “No cheese on your salad. No?! “No,” you don’t want cheese.

So, don’t let the tag questions confuse you.  Respond to the statement.  (This reminds me of a Bible verse that says, “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” see “My take on it” below. )

Watch the confusion caused in this video, when the TA (teaching assistant) doesn’t understand how to respond to a tag question.

This video also has some excellent tips to make sure that your ANSWER to tag questions are clear as well!

      My Take on It*

As I mentioned above, this reminds me of a Bible verse that says, “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” I realize that quoting this verse as it relates to tag questions is “taking it out of context*.” The context was talking about making promises (also called “swearing” or making an oath, or taking a vow in some Bible translations)

So, now that we all understand the original meaning, please keep “Yes is yes! and No should be no! in mind to help you remember how to answer tag questions.

😉 Michele

The Art of Small Talk

Any Questions?
Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, and How?

Many students want to learn how to “make small talk,* in other words the art of* casual conversation.

My husband and father are both introverts (meaning that social interactions drain their energy).  However, they are both experts at socializing.  More often than not*, they are “the life of the party*”!

Do you know anyone like this?!  My husband once explained, “The best defense is a good offense!*”  In language learning (and teaching) the art of asking good questions is invaluable (= beyond value, extremely important).

Here is a secret: People LOVE talking about themselves and their interests, goals and experiences. Those who can ask good questions learn a lot, and others like being around them.  Although, the real key is to develop a  genuine interest in others. Hopefully, once you start asking good questions, you’ll discover that others are a lot more interesting than you realized.

As a journalism major, I was taught to seek answers to the “Five W’s and H” which you can find in the caption under the picture above.   Questions can also be inspired by :

  • current events: “Did you hear about (the current event)?”  This can be rephrased as “What do you know about…..?” so, these are “what” questions.
  • the setting: “Have you ever been here before?”  This can be rephrased as “Where have you been?” so, these are “where” questions.
  • the weather: “Is this weather typical for this time of year?” or “Isn’t this weather great?!” The second question is an example of a “rhetorical question,” which is a question that doesn’t require a response.  The person may respond with a smile or groan, which is okay!  The goal is to start a conversation, so follow up with another question, like “What’s your favorite type of weather?”
  • fashion (a great icebreaker [=  conversation starter] to use with women): “Where did you find that beautiful dress/hand-bag/bracelet?!”, or “Who is your stylist? Your hair is so pretty!”
  • sports (a great icebreaker to use with men): “Can you believe those guys (or whatever the name of your sports team is)?”  This is another rhetorical question. The person may just shake their head,  so follow up with another question, like “How long have you been a (name of team) fan?” (A great question for anyone wearing a team t-shirt or hat too!)

These resources have some awesome questions to inspire you and help you master the “art of questioning” (“art” here means a skill which has been mastered).

Memorize a few of your favorite icebreakers.

  • on-line:  ESL Conversation Questions this link is to the “small talk” page which has excellent conversation starters for teachers and students alike. But this web-site has other questions arranged by topic, and categorized for purpose (like using comparatives, or tenses).
  • on-line: Heads Up English this web-site has questions and other material organized by skill level: Beginner, Lower-Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate, and Advanced.
  • book: The Complete Book of Questions, by Gary Poole One of my students purchased this book to keep in his car.  As he and his wife traveled they used the question book to inspire their conversations.  The questions are written by an American, so they often provide great opportunities to discuss American culture and traditions. (For example: #45. What makes you tick?, #336. What was an act of kindness you offered or received?, #539. What does it mean when two people are said to have “chemistry”?)

Also, please share your own tips or resources in the comment section below!

Thanks! Michele       My Virtual English