Category Archives: Teaching

So big!

Say it isn’t So!


Say it isn't so, Wilbur comic strip This expression means, “tell me it is NOT true!” or “I hope that is not so.”

The female comic book character here must be thinking, “Say it isn’t so!,” when she learns that she has been leaning up against wet paint.

In this title, “Say it isn’t So,” so means “thus,” or “this way.”

Let’s look at a more common use of so, and the purpose of today’s blog:  the use of so as an intensive.  When paired with an adjective so magnifies, increases, or intensifies the sense of what it is describing (much like the word such). However….

There is SO much confusion between such and so…

1. Such

Let’s take a look at how to use such.

If you are describing a person, place, or thing, you will use such.  Use such with nouns and noun phrases.

For example:

Malta is not such a big country.  I don’t think that is such a good idea. That was such a great dinner.

Look at those sentences again. Notice that such is followed by “a”  in those examples. Of course if the noun doesn’t take an article then such is used without it (see A, An, or The?…THAT is the question! for article use and non-use). For example: They have such great service at that hotel.

   Tip:  don’t use such with kind.

This site explains that such is an intensifier, but “kind” cannot be intensified so it doesn’t work * *.  In other words, the phrase “such kind” is NOT grammatically correct. It isn’t kind (to your teacher) to use such with kind!

To say “this type” simply use such in front of the noun.  Yenta the matchmaker from my favorite musical Fiddler on the Roof, uses such in this manner:

“From such children come other children.”

Additionally, when such is substituted for this or these, “such” carries an enhanced negative meaning.  So, “this type of clothing”  is neutral, but “such type of clothing” makes it sound disdainful. If I really disliked a certain fashion, I might say, “I would NEVER wear such type of clothing.”

Okay. That seems simple enough: we use such with nouns as an intensive, or 2. to mean this type (like Yenta).

2. So

So, let’s look at the use of so using similar sentences to the ones we just used:

Malta is not so big. I don’t think that idea is so good. That dinner was sooooo delicious!

So is used to describe adjectives.  Think of so like an adjective booster.*

Young children in the US also learn that the answer to, “How big are you?”  Is “SO BIG” accompanied by a gesture of stretching their arms as far apart as possible!

So big!
Q:  How big are you?   Child:   So big!

In the comic strip above, the young man seems like such a nice man. Although the woman asks him if he has come to alibi (which means give an excuse for why he wasn’t where he was supposed to be.  I imagine he must have stood her up* recently).  He doesn’t seem so nice in the last picture however, where he sneers that the bench was just painted.  I think she was angry in the first frame*, but she must be sooooo angry in the last panel.*


So-and-so is a term for an unnamed person.  It can be used 1. to protect someone’s identity, 2. if you have forgotten their name or  it doesn’t matter who they are,  and 3. when what you are saying could apply to anyone. For example: 1. So-and-so made a complaint ., 2. We were talking to so-and-so when the dog got loose. , 3. Art buyers can identify the work of so-and-so through a variety of tells*, including: the colors used, the angle of the brush strokes, and the composition of his/her subject matter.


Much like so-and-so, such-and-such is a term for things, non-specified activity, or stuff. Here is an example of how to use it in a sentence, “If so-and-so were born in such-and-such year, you can calculate his/her age by subtracting their birth year from this year.”  Here is one more, “At camp we spent the day doing such-and-such, but at night we all sang songs and told stories around a campfire.”

My Take On It

There is a suggested lack of a person’s or thing’s importance in the terms “so-and-so” and “such-and-such.” It is as if it is too much trouble to remember or say their name.

There is a story in the Bible of Jesus talking to a crowd of people.  He tells them,

Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” 

(Matthew 10:30, and Luke 12:7).  Can you imagine caring for someone so carefully that you would always know the exact number of hairs on their head?! Well, Jesus said that God loves us that much! He would never call us “So-and-so” in fact you have probably heard the most famous verse in Bible (John 3:16)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

What an incredible way to think about such and so!  God loved us SO much that He gave up His one and only son for our sake.  That is SUCH an amazing thought.

~ Michele

Body Language: Expressions Speak Louder Than Words

Have you ever watched a newborn contort their faces into all sorts of unusual expressions? What do you imagine the baby (pictured above) is thinking?  This is the stuff that memes (pronounced “meemz”) are made of!  A meme pairs a humorous image with a funny caption.  See my meme example below (shut-eye is slang for sleep).

Grant meme body language

This post is about non-verbal communication.  Scientific studies have shown that body language has a major impact on communication. Tone of voice and body language (posture, gestures, and facial expressions) can even change the meaning of a message.

Look at the picture of the baby again.

Eyebrows which are lifted high enough to wrinkle or crease the forehead usually indicate surprise.  When one eyebrow is lifted higher than the other it indicates incredulity, like the little guy in the picture; it is the nonverbal equivalent of “are you serious?!”

During my teacher’s training, we used the textbook, Teaching by Principles by H. Douglas Brown. In the Classroom Management section he discusses the importance of voice and body language for people working in their second language.  This is because what people hear (or think they hear) may have more to do with what they see than what is actually being said.

Tips from professor Brown:

• Let your body posture exhibit an air of confidence.

In Western culture this means standing, or sitting straight: with head up, making direct eye contact,  with shoulders back and balanced equally over the hips.

• Your face should reflect optimism, brightness, and warmth.

• Use facial and hand gestures to enhance meanings of words and sentences that might otherwise be unclear.

image via Cheapflights
image by Cheapflights on

CAUTION!  Not all gestures have the same meaning across cultures click here to see the Global Guide to Hand Gestures

• Do not plant your feet firmly in one place…

Use movement purposefully.  When speaking to a group, make eye contact with ALL the members of the group.

• Be aware of cultural expectations for proximity (how close you should stand to others) and touching (how, who, and when you should touch someone).

Westerners’ personal space extends from two to four feet (0.6 to 1.2 meters).  Only lovers, family, and close friends are allowed inside this bubble.  I like what Sinay Tarakanov wrote on his site, Study Body Language

 “…treat personal space as the property of other people – respect it – and you will gain their favor, invade it or stand too far – and you will automatically lose…”

Communicating effectively in another language requires careful observation and respect.  Like the saying goes, “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”  This means when you are in an unfamiliar environment, use the behaviors of others (who are familiar with the environment) to guide you.

He says, She says*

Men and women speak differently and have different expectations of each other’s communication. Here is a short video where I explain how eye contact, and tone of voice can affect the meaning of your message

Did you know that men and women give “listening feedback” differently?  Women make more supportive sounds like: uh-huh, yeah, or mmm.  According to author Deborah Tannen, in her 1991 book You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, these differences can even interfere with successful interactions.

Additionally, women tend to touch others to communicate friendliness and support, whereas men touch to communicate power or authority. Read about this research on proximity and touch here. 


Understanding Body Language (for business and work)

Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG Thank you!  Michele

If you find these posts helpful, please subscribe at the top of the page, or leave a comment below

Frickin’ Fricatives

Not too long ago, I made a shocking discovery….

When I first started teaching English as a foreign language, I was constantly  reminding students about “subject-verb agreement.”  This means plural subjects like “they” or “my students” are paired with plain, plural verbs. For example, “They like pizza,” or “My students are dedicated.” On the other hand, singular subjects like “he” including mass nouns like “my family” require singular verbs, which often have an s ending. For example, “He likes pizza,” or “My family is supportive.”  But this article is not about subject-verb agreement!  Keep reading…

I had mistakenly believed that the s ending on singular verbs was confusing. What surprised me however, was that my students were leaving off s endings when they were reading aloud.  At first, I thought that this pattern of leaving off the s was so ingrained that the students were just in the habit of not pronouncing it.  That’s when I made a shocking discovery…

“My students were pronouncing the s, just not forcibly enough for my English ears to hear!

Now, I teach my students to use enough power to make their S audible. Click To Tweet

FHW Santa 2012 006


Frickin’ Fricatives

The s sound belongs to a class of sounds called fricatives.  Fricatives require air to pass forcefully through a narrow opening.  A lot of these sounds present challenges to English language learners. Let’s take a look at these frickin* fricatives:  

f, v, th, s, z, sh, and zj

Phonetic representations, and examples of words with these sounds at the beginning, middle and end:

f (unvoiced) /f/ as in fin, elephant, and laugh
v (voiced) /v/ as in vase, seven, and love
th (unvoiced) θ as in thin, marathon,  and with
th (voiced) ð as in the, father, and breathe
s (unvoiced) /s/ as in see, listen, and voice
z (voiced) /z/ as in zoo, busy, and nose
sh (unvoiced) ʃ as in she, ocean, and push
zj (voiced) ʒ as in Jacques, usual, and beige

Some linguists include /h/ as a fricative. The h  sound is produced with an open mouth naturally allowing more air to pass and making it easier to produce the correct sound. So, for this reason I have excluded it. H is friendlier than the frustrating frickin’ fricatives listed above.

Finding your voice

The first step to speaking good English is to adopt good English-speaking habits. Many English language learners are still using first language rules, especially politeness rules.

Think about it.  Is your English being sabotaged by any of the following ideas?

∗It’s impolite to show your tongue. In English the short a /ae/ vowel as in fast, man, and cat is open so wide that the tongue can be seen.  Additionally, both the /th/ sounds require the tongue to go all the way in between the front teeth.

Watch Rachel’s English demonstration of the /th/ sounds below:

∗Don’t show your teeth. This idea is similar to the one above.  A proper f , v, and long e sound should show your teeth.

∗Don’t allow others to feel or smell your breath when you speak. Keep your mouth clean and breath fresh so you can confidently enunciate fricatives and push air strongly through small openings using the teeth, lips, and tongue.

∗Don’t speak too loudly. A good rule of thumb* is to match the level of those you are speaking with.  Professional speakers and singers have learned to speak from the diaphragm, the muscle in the center of  your chest. Learning to use this muscle gives you more power and reduces stress on your voice.

Watch Rachel explain where sounds are placed in American English:

∗DO ignore these unhelpful rules which are interfering with your English pronunciation.

Develop your English persona

Sometimes when a student has a so-called* “accent problem,” it is due to a strong sense of self rooted in their first language. A successful professional may feel undignified, foolish, or even rude making some of the mouth and tongue positions required for clear English sounds.

If your accent is causing you concern, allow yourself to create an English image.  Your English persona is allowed to break the speaking “rules” that your native-language self uses. Students have even told me that their personality changes a little when they are speaking English.  Those students have an English persona!

Don’t get me wrong!* I’m not advocating a personality change.  I’m saying speaking  and politeness rules differ across languages.  I’m encouraging you to break free of constraints. Be true to who you are.  Just be an English-speaking you!

Note: English is active!  Think of English as a sport for your face!  Grab some gum and watch my Double Bubble Train Your Face video to practice making the tongue positions opening your mouth wide enough for clear English.

Lessons for Learning/Teaching

Now let’s practice those frickin’ fricatives.

Here is a fun role play I found at ESL  Work in pairs (students play one role while another student or tutor plays the other).

A: Call to order a pizza.

B: Wrong number. You sell pitas, not pizzas.

Final F Bingo, 4 players  (print out the Bingo cards and cut out the three colored tiles at the bottom of the page). One player is selected as the “caller.” Each of the other three players have a picture card.  The caller draws one tile at a time and calls out the word. The other players mark the corresponding picture.  The first player to get three in a row (in any direction, horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) calls out “Bingo!” and must read back the words on the winning row. Players take turns being the caller.

Medial F Bingo this game is played like Final F Bingo, but with words with the /f/ sound in the middle

Shop and Chop: Practice with fricatives and affricates, by Jennifer Lebedev of English with Jennifer. Several activities using  sh/ʃ/ and zj/ʒ/.  Print the instructions and student worksheets here.

And last but not least* Tongue Twisters are excellent (and fun) for pronunciation training and practice.

Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG  That’s it!  Michele

If you find these posts helpful, please subscribe at the top of the page, or leave a comment below

Double Bubble Train Your Face

English is a sport for your face! Proper pronunciation requires A LOT of movement of the tongue, lips, jaw and diaphragm.  I am excited to present a video tutorial which will show you a FUN and effective way to train your face for English!  This is great training for English language learners, singers, people who  have to communicate over the phone or Skype a lot, and those who speak in public.

After watching several impressive teachers in action (Bill Acton, Marsha Chan, and the fictional Mr. Miyagi) I was reminded of several truths. First: Stretching is essential for any activity.  This is true for speaking and singing as well.  Another important point not mentioned in my video tutorial is:  Breathing from the diaphragm will give you more oxygen, will help you relax and give you more power for speaking, singing, and living! (How to Breathe With Your Diaphragm).  I was also inspired by Tim Gallwey, a tennis coach who has become famous for his concept and book titled, “The Inner Game.”  Gallwey realized that athletes were over-thinking things and their mind was actually interfering with what their body “knew” to do naturally.

So, by focusing on something other than pronunciation, you will be able to build strength and flexibility in the muscles you need for better enunciation.*

Tips For Blowing a Good Bubble
  • Start with a clean mouth   Food particles will damage the integrity of the gum; the food will absorb some of the gum and the gum will literally fall apart. 
  • Gum can be over-chewed   Once the gum gets too hard it is more difficult to smooth and flatten into your “gum pancake”
  • More gum is better for double (or triple bubbles) But the thicker the bubble, the more difficult it will be to see the second bubble inside.
  • Don’t give up!  Any new skill takes practice. If your jaws and face get tired, you know they got a good workout!  Keep on training!


Here are the varieties of gum that I tested for this tutorial (please share in the comment section below if you have a favorite that is not listed):

Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEGSeal of Approval   Bubble Yum sugarless, and Extra Classic Bubble sugarfree…This gum was a nice rubbery consistency after just a couple of minutes of chewing! This means you won’t have to spend 20 minutes or more chewing out all of the flavoring.  One piece works for a single bubble.  I used two pieces for a double bubble.

Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEGSeal of Approval   Hubba Bubba  I tried the Bubble Tape as well the “MAX” Strawberry Watermelon flavor you see in the video.  I used about 16″ (sixteen inches = 40.6 centimeters) of the tape variety, which has a lot of powder that got all over my hands and subsequently my keyboard.  🙁  I used two pieces of the MAX, either variety works well for double and triple bubble blowing.

Orbit Bubblemint flavor, sugar free.  I found this gum to be similar to the Project 7 gum that I demonstrate in my video.  It is soft and chewy but doesn’t hold up* well and doesn’t make large even bubbles.

.       The Gum Wall, Seattle, WA

Project 7 Gourmet Gum sugar free… This gum helps support a good cause: anti-bullying programs.  As a general rule, gum that does not say “bubble gum” doesn’t work well for blowing bubbles.  Unfortunately, Project 7 gum (although delicious) is not ideal for bubble gum blowing.

Trident sugar free bubblegum….took 3 pieces and wasn’t very hard, had to chew it for a long time (over ten minutes). Again, not ideal for bubble gum blowing.

 My Take On it

My training is in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.  I have given many lectures, made presentations, and was a travelling singer and radio newscaster in college. I have NOT been trained to do speech therapy.  So, if you have TMJ, Down’s Syndrome, have had a stroke, or brain injury, or have any other physical or medical concern which affects your ability to produce sound, or open and close your mouth, talk to your doctor or therapist before beginning this training.

And have fun and take my double bubble challenge!

Thanks, Michele



Talking Naturally about Nature

Many English language learners use the word nature unnaturally. In English we don’t say, “I like to see nature”, or “visit nature.”

We experience nature.  We can see things in nature  or see the natural beauty of a place. And we can visit natural areas, but we can’t see  or visit “nature” itself/herself.  Nature is thought of like a force or a spirit and is often personified (i.e., given human qualities). In fact, Webster’s online dictionary gives the following example for the word personify:

The ancient Greeks personified the forces of nature as gods and goddesses.

Look at these famous quotes about nature (photographs by Michele W Snider):

shareasimage (1)shareasimage (2)shareasimage (6)

“Look deep into someone’s eyes”, is a familiar expression. Einstein calls us to look into  nature  itself/herself. (Personification)

Humans have the ability to touch. So, Shakespeare also personifies nature in the statement above.

Leibovitz (above left) refers to nature as it. Nature is talked about as a living thing. Nature, she says, has power and is elusive (hard to pin down) and transformative.

Radhanath Swami (left)  describes Mother Nature.  Giving nature a name, “Mother Nature,” is the ultimate in personification. Notice how he speaks of nature as a woman.  This is a natural way to speak about nature.  As you can see nature is spoken of as an “it”, a “her” or a force.  We can’t see nature, but we can see the work of nature.  We can’t visit her, but we can visit natural areas (see more vocabulary below). Additionally we can say we enjoy being in nature and surrounding ourselves with nature.

Nature can be a creative or a destructive force. We can feel her,  and we can listen to her. We can be in nature and we can be with nature. So, embrace Nature and speak of her respectfully!embrace Nature and speak of her respectfully! Click To Tweet

Let’s look at synonyms and additional vocabulary that will help us talk about nature, wildlife, and natural environments naturally!

 Words to describe natural areas

Nouns: ♣ Outdoors  ♣ The Great Outdoors  ♣ The Wild ♣ The Wilderness ♣ The Bush (Australian) ♣ Nature Reserves  also called Preserves (areas kept in their natural state) ♣ Creation ♣ Mother Nature ♣ Mother Earth ♣ The Environment ♣ Flora and Fauna (“plants and animals”) ♣ Wildlife (animals) ♣ The Natural World

Adjectives: ♣ Unspoiled   ♣ Natural   ♣ Scenic   ♣ Wilderness/Wild  ♣ Undeveloped  ♣  Virgin ♣ Untamed  ♣ Unsettled  ♣ Uncultivated ♣ Uninhabited  These adjectives are used in front of words describing spaces, such as: places, areas, country, territory, and land. For example: unspoiled country, scenic areas, or uncultivated land (you get the idea!).

For more nature words, here is the most comprehensive nature vocabulary list that I have ever seen!

Additionally, here are a few more great quotes about nature (with more of my photographs).

shareasimage (7)  shareasimage (9)shareasimage (8)

 Additional Uses of Nature

The other use of nature refers to one’s essence, in other words the things that are typically true of that person or thing.  Look at these examples of human nature:

 The word pitch above means high point.

The words naturally and natural are used with both meanings of the word nature discussed above.

Things that are grown naturally, are grown in nature without human intervention. We also describe naturally grown produce as natural produce. Here we are using the words naturally, and natural as they relate to the first meaning of the word nature: the natural world. 

The words naturally and natural are also used when talking about things that stem from* one’s personality or natural abilities. When something comes easy* we think of it as natural.  We can say, for example, “He swings the bat so naturally.  He’s a natural born ball player.”  This is also the sense intended in the reply, “Naturally!”  For example:

Annie: “Will you be able to watch the kids for me tonight?”

Betty: “Naturally!” (In other words, it is no effort at all).

Here are a few questions to practice talking about nature naturally.  Try one! (I’ll give feedback on all answers left in the comment box below):

  • Describe something using the words nature, naturally, and/or natural.
  • What comes to mind when you hear the words, “scenic view”?
  • Describe “Mother Nature.” What is she like? What are her motives?
  • Consider the following Bible verse ( from Job 12:7-12), What do you think it means?
7“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
8or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.
9Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?
10In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG Thank you! Michele