Monday, November 5, 2012

Go off

A sound that is programmed to be activated at a specific time, either pre-programmed or by stimulus. “Go off” also means to explode. The preposition “off” seems to be a contradiction, since the opposite, “on”, seems more logical.
-> Obviously a sun dial cannot be programmed to “go off” like an alarm clock… and that’s why the comic is funny.

1. A landmine goes off when someone steps on it, a hand grenade goes off when the safety pin is released and a bomb will go off when it is triggered through a number of mechanisms.

When your alarm clock goes off, do you hit the snooze button so that you can sleep for an extra 5-10 minutes? How many times do you hit the snooze button before you finally get out of bed?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A drawback

A drawback is a synonym for a disadvantage/ a minus/ a con/ an inconvenience. (Advantages & disadvantage/ pluses & minuses/ pros and cons). We usually use “drawback” after something positive has already been said… we’re going to mention the negative points. There are drawbacks to almost everything!

1. If you are self-employed, like I am, it has its pluses: I get to create my own schedule, I have no boss, I get to work from home etc. It does have its drawbacks, though: The “salary” is not constant, I don’t get benefits like paid vacation, and I have other distractions at home… but I’d have to say that there are more positives than negatives. After all, “You can’t have your cake and eat it!” (you can’t have everything). What are the particular drawbacks in your line of work?

Do you think there are any drawbacks to marriage, or do you think that marriage is a “bed of roses”? Surely the positives must outweigh the negatives, don’t you think? What are some of the positives?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Catch on

If something catches on, it becomes popular... people start using or following it. It could be related to technology, fashion, slang phrases, etc.

1.  It took no time at all for Facebook to catch on in Brazil and surpass Orkut. It practically happened overnight. In fact, all forms of social media caught on really quickly here.

2. Do you think it’s easy for anyone to make up (“invent”) a new phrase and make it catch on so that the whole population starts using it? Perhaps social media helps to spread the word much easier these days.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

That rings a bell

If any information rings a bell, it causes you to remember something. What someone is telling you is vaguely familiar. If a phrase or a word, especially a name, rings a bell, you think you have heard it before.

1. When my students ask me if I have ever heard of a place in Brazil, an expression in Portuguese, a Brazilian politician etc, I usually say, “I think so… that rings a bell”, sometimes even if I have definitely never heard of it. I don't want to show my ignorance!

2.  - Does the name of a TV series “Dexter” ring a bell?
     - Is that the child scientist who has a laboratory in the 
       basement of his parents’ home?
     - No… you’re talking about the cartoon for kids. I’m talking 

       about the serial killer who kills killers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stand out

If someone or something stands out, it/ they are conspicuous, distinctive, very noticeable, or very different. It could be something exceptional or of singular importance. (Se destacar)

1. When Brazilians travel around the world, they stand out amongst other nationalities because of the way they walk, especially Brazilian women.

2. Here is a quote from the late Ayrton Senna: Racing, competing, it's in my blood. It's part of me, it's part of my life; I have been doing it all my life and it stands out above everything else”. Ayrton Senna stood out from everyone else.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No wonder...

It’s no surprise, we don’t have to guess why, we don’t have to imagine why.

1. - You work 70 hours a week and are always under pressure with your job. No wonder you have ulcers!
2.  After decades of oppressive regimes in the Middle East, it’s no wonder those nations have been revolting.

3.  With one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world, it is no wonder that much of life in Brazil revolves around the beach, whether it’s a vacation, daily strolls to contemplate or simply to celebrate life.

4With the impact people are making on the environment and the “carbon footprint” we’re leaving behind, there’s no wonder that the climate around the world is changing and we are experiencing extremes.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pull (something) off

If you pull something off, you are able to do something considered impossible or difficult. You overcome an obstacle to reach your goal despite the improbability. You have an unexpected victory or success.

1.  In the last Olympic Games held in Beijing, the swimmer Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals in total. He had planned to break Mark Spitz’ previous record of 7 gold medals set in Munich in 1972. Many were wondering if he could really pull it off, especially when he had to come from behind to win his 7th medal. It was really close, but he pulled it off:

2. In the movie “Blood Diamond”, Leonardo DiCaprio pulled off a good South African English accent, which is not easy for foreign actors:

3. Is there anything difficult that you would like to do, buy you don’t know if you can pull it off?

4. Tae-kwon-do master, Ali Bahcetepe, smashed 317 bricks in a single minute for a world record. It is incredible that he was able to pull it off:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Make hay while the sun shines


If you make hay while the sun shines, you are taking advantage of a situation or opportunity that is temporary or will not last forever. It is an old Welsh saying that is now used universally.

1. The tourism industry is mostly seasonal, so of course, they have to make hay while the sun shines. Also countries who host the World Cup Soccer or the Olympics have to take advantage of the influx of people visiting their country.

2. Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to be romantic, even if you are not given to (convinced about the concept) the mythology and commercialism surrounding it. We’ve got to make hay while the sun shines, right! Do you take advantage of Valentine’s Day?

3. Typically, teaching English has its “slow” periods, namely (specifically) in December/ beginning of January and the Carnival month in Brazil. In the “busy” months I have to “make hay while the sun shines” and compensate for those slower/ quieter periods.

4. In any political campaign there is a set period of time within which propaganda can be broadcast, so naturally all political parties need to urgently make hay while the sun shines.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Miss out (on) something

If you miss out on something, you lose the opportunity to experience or participate in something enjoyable, especially entertainment.

1. You are missing out on one of the best ways to improve your English if you’re not watching any TV series. Without a doubt, all of my students who watch some kind of TV series regularly are the ones who show a marked improvement in their English skills during class. I cannot emphasize this point enough!

2. When someone invites you to any social event and you decline, afterwards you will hear them say, “You missed out on a great movie/ barbeque/ party/ day at the beach/ excursion/ class/ show/ event” etc.

3 Those who are not learning or do not speak a 2nd language are really missing out on the opportunity to communicate directly to so many people. There’s nothing like speaking to someone in their own language.

4. If you haven’t yet tried a peanut butter and honey sandwich, you are missing out on one of life’s finest experiences!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Off the top of (my) head...

If you say something off the top of your head, you say it without thinking too hard about it. You mention examples that come to mind immediately… usually when you are giving someone an answer or explaining something.

1. - Do you know any phrasal verbs with get?
    - There are many… but off the top of my head, here are some 

      of the most useful: get along with, get around, get by,
       get away with, get across

2.  - Can you recommend any really good TV series for me to 
       practice my English?
    - Of course… off the top of my head you should definitely watch: 

      Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Mentalist, 
      Doctor House, Dexter and Haven.

3.  - Just off the top of your head, can you name any Hollywood actors 
       originally from Australia?
     - Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, 

       Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Get to (do) something

If you “get to” (do) something, you have the privilege, the right, the good fortune/ luck, the ability or the opportunity to do something.

1.  I work from home, so I get to take a nap after lunch every day if I want to. I also get to watch TV at different times when I’m not in class… and I get to be there for my young daughter all day every day.

2. I’ve always been interested in learning Portuguese. Now I get to learn Portuguese just by being in Brazil, and I don’t need to spend money on language classes.

3. As an English teacher I get to meet people from almost every profession and social class. I would consider that a good thing, since as a foreigner, it’s a great opportunity to get to know the local culture at every level. I have taught in favelas and I have taught diplomats.

4. If you are a dictator, you get to do absolutely anything you want until the consequences catch up with you.

Monday, September 10, 2012

It' all about...


When we say, “It’s all about (something)”, we are saying that it’s the most important thing. We are emphasizing the most important consideration or aspect. We focus on the primary objective. We are stating a conclusion.

1. I’m sure you’ve heard it said before: “It’s all about winning”. On the other extreme, a popular quote says, “It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.” Where do you stand on this?

2. People say, “It’s all about the journey, not the destination.” In the abstract sense I think that’s true, but if the journey is a 20-hour bus ride, then for me it’s all about the destination.

3. When you’re going to do something important, it’s all about the timing – starting at the perfect time. Then again, sometimes we never get started because we’re waiting for the “perfect” time. Sometimes we just need to “grab the bull by the horns” (take the initiative) and simply do whatever is necessary.

4. I really believe that when it comes to learning English, you will be more productive and progress a lot more if you set aside 20 - 30 minutes every day to study or read something, as opposed to doing an expensive immersion course in another country. At the end of the day, it’s all about consistency and continuity. How can you incorporate English learning into your daily routine?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Get by

To get by means to survive, to manage, to cope with (or without) something.

1. Is it difficult to get by on minimum wage (salary) in your country? The minimum wage in Brazil is: $322/ R$622 per month. The USA: $7.25 per hour. Argentina: US$535 per month. The UK: £6.08 per hour.
Here is a minimum wage list by country:

2. Can you get by without your coffee?

3 You’ll have a hard time trying to get by without friends. Here’s an all time classic song, “ With A Little Help From My Friends”, originally sung by The Beatles… but I have to say my favorite version is sung by Joe Cocker live at Woodstock: Here are some of the lyrics: "What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me? Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song, And I'll try not to sing out of key. Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends, I get high with a little help from my friends,Mm, Gonna try with a little help from my friends."

4. I can get by on 6 hours of sleep every night, but like most people, I prefer at least 8 hours to feel OK.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Can’t get (something) out of your head

If you can’t get something out of your head/ mind, it’s either because you’re obsessed with it/ addicted to it or it was so traumatic that you can’t forget it. You can’t stop thinking about someone or something.

1. There are some songs that are so catchy (contagious) that you can’t get them out of your head. I find that children’s songs on the Discovery Channel and Bruno Mars’ songs are difficult to get out of my head. Listen to the lazy song by Bruno Mars:

2.  It is best not to look at some images on the internet, because you will never get them out of your head… especially the violent, graphic ones. You will never get pictures of the holocaust out of your head.

3. Have you ever watched a movie that you can’t get out of your mind until you “Googled” it to find out other people’s opinions about the ending/ conclusion?

4. Have you been through a traumatic or embarrassing situation that you can’t get out of your head? Maybe an accident or an assault?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Let down

If you let someone down, you disappoint them or you don’t live up to/ meet their expectations. This is a more diplomatic way of expressing disappointment. The noun is a “letdown” (disappointment).

1.  Here are some lyrics to the Beatles’ song, “Don’t let me down”:
Don't let me down, Don't let me down, Don't let me down, Don't let me down...Nobody ever loved me like she does (Ooh she does… yes she does). And if somebody loved me like she does (Ooh she does… yes she does):

2. Do you follow all the rules and show up to work on time every day because you don’t want to let your boss down, or is it because you don’t want to get fired?

3. Do you feel that your president, governor, mayor… or any other politician has let you down? The reason we feel let down is that they usually make promises they don’t keep.

4. I always have high expectations every time I order a Big Mac… and inevitably it’s always a letdown. Why do we keep going back for more of the same when we know we will be let down in the end? Human nature?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Cry wolf

To “cry wolf” means to “give false alarm”, to cry or complain about something when nothing is really wrong. There is a fable by Aesop about a shepherd boy who repeatedly tricks nearby villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock. When a wolf actually does appear, the villagers do not believe the boy's cries for help, and the flock is destroyed. The moral of the story is that even if a liar tells the truth, no one believes him.

1. When you cry wolf too many times, nobody believes you anymore and such is the case with excuses. I’m sure we all know people who have given us one too many excuses. Do you often make up excuses?

2. Hypochondriacs become alarmed about any physical symptoms they detect, no matter how small they are. They are convinced that they have or are about to have a serious illness. It is difficult to really believe a hypochondriac, even when they are experiencing something serious, because we think they are “crying wolf”. These days, using the internet for self diagnosis doesn’t help matters, because they can convince themselves that they have the symptoms that they read about.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Gear up

If you are gearing up for something, you are preparing yourself / getting ready ahead of time, in anticipation of something significant that will happen.

1. Many of my English students are already gearing up for better job opportunities by working on their English skills. It’s “the survival of the fittest”!

2. When a baby is on the way there is an incredible amount of anticipation and preparation involved before the birth. Parents try to gear up by buying all kinds of things…

3 In Brazil, people gear up for the Carnival months ahead of time with party preparations, building floats, designing costumes and making travel plans. Are you gearing up for any celebration soon?

4. Gearing up for something many times involves preparing yourself both mentally and physically for what is about to happen. It may include a lot of personal reflection… and perhaps a few pushups while you’re at it!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

For all (you) know

This phrase is used to contradict what someone knows, thinks or expects. It is used to emphasize a possibility that someone hasn’t thought of. It means that, “despite everything (someone) knows” there may be a factor that they haven’t considered. It introduces a new possibility or one not considered.

1. We’re planning a trip to the beach this weekend, but for all we know it could rain… so maybe we should look for some alternatives just in case. Maybe we could see the new 3D movie that’s coming out.

2.  It’s never a good idea to get married to someone you’ve just met recently or to meet someone online. For all you know that person could be a serial killer.

3. When watching movies, we usually make up our minds (decide) who the “bad guys” are very quickly. Sometimes things are not what they seem. For all we know, the “bad guys” could be working undercover.

4. When you are waiting for someone because they are late, you could think of all the worst case scenarios - all of the things that could have happened to someone along the way - but for all you know, they are probably just stuck in traffic.

5. Nat King Cole sang, “For all we know we may never meet again, Before you go make this moment sweet again, We won't say "Good night" until the last minute, I'll hold out my hand and my heart will be in it For all we know this may only be a dream, We come and go like a ripple on a stream.”

6. In many situations it’s easy to jump to conclusions and assume we know the answer or the reason to something based on limited knowledge, especially with what we think people are thinking. We could give people the benefit of the doubt and say, for example, “For all we know, he could be under the weather.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A (dog) person


A dog person is someone who likes dogs. A tea person is a person who prefers tea to coffee. By using the phrase, “a (noun) + person”, we express a preference, a taste etc. that suits our lifestyle or personality, showing our likes and dislikes.

1. I’m generally not a morning person. It’s difficult for me to be energetic and full of life in the morning - only when I have to be. If you’re not a morning person it will normally take some time to warm up (to people and life). The opposite could be “a night owl”.

2. Most British people you meet will be tea people, while most Americans will be coffee people. Isn’t it fascinating how our cultural heritage affects our tastes in life? Wikipedia says, “Since the 18th century the British have been the largest per capita tea consumers in the world, with each person consuming on average 2.5 kg per year.” The country with the highest per capita coffee consumption is Finland, followed by Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden. Could it in any way be related to the weather? :) In an article on “Coffee Culture in the USA”, it says: “Although the average European drinks more coffee per year than the average American, the cultural importance and its effects on the average American is far greater.”

3. At heart I am an outdoor person, however, watching TV series has made me into somewhat of an indoor person recently. A person who prefers to stay at home is called a stay-at-home person or a “homebody”.

4. I often meet people who live close to the beach here in Brazil who are not really beach people… they prefer the mountains and cooler regions. I am without a doubt a hot-weather person… I like a year-round summer, whereas many people I know are cold-weather people. They like taking vacations in Europe during the winter. Which type are you?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Show off

If someone shows off, they try to make a good impression. They want people to admire them. If you show off, you exhibit your abilities or what you have.

1. When you buy something new, do you like to show it off to everyone? If you send emails from your iPad, iPhone or Blackberry, do you include the email signature, “Sent from my iPad”? It is the default (automatic) setting, but it is possible to turn it off. Personally it doesn’t bother me, but many people say that the owner of the device is just showing off. I should end all my emails with, “Sent from my Windows netbook”.

2. The title of an article on states, “Adults Have Ruined Facebook with Juvenile Showing Off.” It continues, “Facebook has become a tool for one-upping others, or keeping up with the Joneses… I do not think that Facebook should be used to gloat, brag, show off or try to make other people feel like losers compared to you.”

3 Often when people show off they have accidents. Take a look at this video of someone falling off a motorbike while doing a “wheelie”:

4. If you are good at something, do you like to show it off? Perhaps you play a musical instrument or maybe you have a good knowledge in some particular area?

Friday, May 25, 2012

... leaves something to be desired

Ad = advert = advertisement 
If (anything) leaves something to be desired, it does not meet your expectations… it is not as good as it should be. It’s a diplomatic way of saying that something was terrible.

1. Do you live in a city where you get great service in stores and restaurants, or does the customer service in your city leave something to be desired? Does good or bad service depend on someone’s level of education, or do you think it’s a cultural thing?

2.  Have you ever watched a pirated movie that was filmed in the cinema? The image and audio quality leave a lot to be desired, so it’s not worth watching. It’s better to go to the cinema or wait for the DVD release.

3. FIFA has said that Brazil’s preparation for the 2014 soccer world cup leaves much to be desired. They say that the progress with the construction of stadiums, transportation infrastructure and hotels is far behind schedule. FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke was criticized for stating that Brazil needed a "kick up the backside" to get everything ready on time.

4. Did you ever study in an English course that left a lot to be desired? Was it the material or the teacher?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Come up with

                   Bug = irritate          Sharp = intelligent           retort = answer/ response

When you “come up with” something, you think of something original; you find a creative solution/ plan. A synonym is “to think up”.

1.  People who work in the advertising industry need to come up with original and dynamic marketing ideas. Do you need to come up with new ideas or plans in your line of work?

2. Often people come up with the best ideas when there is a necessity. There is an expression: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Can you think of any inventions that were born out of need?

3. Do you know who came up with the idea of the Leap Year? Leap years are years with 366 days, instead of the usual 365. Leap years are necessary because the actual length of a year is 365.242 days, not 365 days. Julius Caesar was behind the origin of leap year in 45 BC.

4. Can you come up with new ideas under pressure, or do you get inspiration when you are relaxing? Some people come up with ideas when they are in the shower, driving, exercising or walking on the beach.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Up to speed


If you are up to speed with a subject or an activity, you have all the latest information about it. It relates to being competent in knowledge, skill or training. This expression is similar to: “fill someone in”.

1. When you’ve missed a couple of episodes of your favorite TV series, do you like to get up to speed by watching the ones you missed, or are you OK to continue with the latest episode?

2. When you haven’t spoken a 2nd language for quite some time, you might want to brush up on (practice/ revise) your ability and get a bit of practice before you plan to engage in that language. A good way to bring yourself up to speed would be to read a book in that language or take a few conversation classes.

3. Why do you think Africa is so far behind the rest of the world in technology? Is the problem cultural… or is there maybe a historical disadvantage? What do you think it would take to bring Africa up to speed?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Burn out

“Burnout” is what happens when you have been pushing yourself or working too hard for too long. It is physical or mental exhaustion caused by long-term stress.

1. Many people are experiencing burnout and they don’t even know it. They are so used to working under stress and pressure that it seems normal to them. Some symptoms of burnout are: emotional, physical and mental exhaustion, disillusion, depression, a loss of interest in your work or life in general and becoming susceptible to illness.

2. Is your boss working you too hard… or are you maybe pushing yourself too hard? Sometimes if you are self-employed (work for yourself) like myself, you have to regulate how many hours you work a day or force yourself to work less, so that you don’t burn yourself out.

3 People who are living a fast-paced lifestyle are living in what we call “the rat race”. The rat race often leads to burnout. Working long hours in a competitive environment will cause stress, and eventually, burnout. Not many people are able to keep up with a lifestyle that demands so much over the long-term.

4. When you have been “burning the candle at both ends” and not getting sufficient sleep, it could definitely lead to burnout. How many hours of sleep a day do you think are sufficient for you to function normally? If you are sleeping less than 5 hours every night, and if you aren’t able to take a nap during the day, then you are heading for a burnout.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Make do (with)

If you “make do” with something, you have to use what you have at the moment; you have to make a plan with what is available - even if it is not the best or ideal. You improvise until you can have what you want later.

1. I would love to have air conditioning in our apartment, but for now we will have to make do with fans.

2.  Before I got my first computer I had to make do with going to an internet café and also storing all of my important information on a USB/ pen drive.

3. If you don’t have a car, you need to make do with public transportation or getting lifts (rides) from friends.

4. When you make do with what you have, you are being resourceful. You use your creativity and ingenuity to improve your situation when you have limited resources. During my first months in Brazil, we didn’t have a washing machine, so I used to put all of our clothes into a big plastic tub, climb into the tub and run on the spot, churning the clothes with my feet. I had to make do with a plastic tub until we could afford a washing machine.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Settle for

When you “settle for” anything, you are accepting second best or something that is inferior to what you really wanted – because you have limited options, or what you want is not possible.

1.  I would really love a house right on the beach one day - but if not possible I will have to settle for renting an apartment with a sea view.

2. If I ask for a pineapple juice when I am at a restaurant, and they don’t have any, I usually settle for an orange juice.

3. If you can’t get into the course at university that you really want, you may have to settle for something similar… or even consider studying another career. Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we want or expect.

4. What brand names do you have to settle for because the product that you want is either not available or much more expensive?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Scrape the bottom of the bucket

to choose from what is left over, or to select from among the worst. There is the idea of settling for 2nd best because you have no other options or you may also be desperate in your decision-making.
Man: Wow!     “Talk about…”: to emphasize something, especially when criticizing or complaining, e.g.: “Talk about bad luck!”

1. I have watched so many movies that it’s difficult to find a good movie to rent or download, so these days I’ve been scraping the bottom of the bucket and watching movies that I normally wouldn’t consider. It’s amazing what we will settle for when we are desperate for entertainment or really bored! Recently I watched the movie, “Brokeback Mountain”. Talk about scraping the bottom of the bucket!

2. Don’t you feel sometimes that we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes time to vote for a presidential candidate, mayor or governor? Many times it’s a case of choosing from the least worst. Don’t you ask yourself, “Man, where do they find these people!?”

3. When you buy an air ticket at the last minute, you may have to scrape the bottom of the bucket… you will probably not get the seats of your choice, and may not be able to sit together with your friends or family because you have to accept the seats that are left over. You will likely sit right next to the toilet!