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.”