Monthly Archives: February 2010

Expression of the week: To be about to

“To be about to”

Portuguese equivalent: “Estar para”.

Sample sentences:

“The aircraft was about to take off when the fire started”.

“Ladies and gentlemen. We’re about to land in São Paulo. Please observe the fasten seatbelt signs”.


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Learning English abroad

When students tell me, usually very excitedly, that they are going abroad on their vacation to study English, I have to admit that I usually rain on their parade. Most people think that studying abroad is essential in order to speak English well, and a great number of my students just can’t believe that the most I’ve spent abroad at one time was a month. But believe me, taking an English language course abroad may not be the best solution for you, and here’s why:

1) If you’re a beginner, you can learn here what they will teach you there. Beginner’s classes abroad will be practivally the same everywhere: lots of new vocabulary, some grammar rules and exercises, making a lot of mistakes and trying hard to understand the teacher and the listenings.  If besides all this you also have to struggle when you go home or when you go out to have some fun, it feels more like torture than learning!

2) 4 weeks are not enough. And most adults (at least most adults I know) can’t afford to stay much longer than that, either because of the cost or because they simply can’t stay away from work that long. And the international language schools know that, that’s whay they offer 4-week long courses. But the problem is that you will take some time to adapt to the new country, the local habits, the weather, the transportation system, the local accent, and you will only really start learning after this adaptation period is over. The lower your language level, the longer this period will be. So, you do the Math.

3) Brazilians are everywhere. And if you’re Brazilian, you know it: we stick together and we feel homesick, so it’s very easy to succumb to the temptation of speaking ‘just a little’ Portuguese… and when you realize it, you’re talking about soccer, the current soap opera, celeb gossip, and there goes your investment…

4) International language schools only have you for 1 month. So they don’t really care whether you learn or not. After 1 month, it’s up to your poor English teacher back home to try to pick up the pieces… You take a placement test the day you arrive at the international school and the next day you start your classes. If you complain that your class was too easy, they’ll move you up to a higher level. If you complain that your class was too difficult, guess what? Yes, they’ll move you down… So what’s the point? What’s the point of teaching the past participle (and using the grammar name!) to a student who can’t answer questions in the simple present? (Believe me, it has happened).

These are only some reasons why I think studying abroad is simply not worth it.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn when you travel abroad! Check out these pointers:

1)  Go somewhere you’ve always dreamt of going. Instead of looking for a place with a language school, go to that city you’d die to know (mine was NYC!) and enjoy your stay there! It’s a fact that you learn more and better when you’re having fun, so make the most of the experience and learning will happen as a consequence…

2) Mingle with the locals. Book a hotel away from the touristic center. That way you will have to take public transportation to see the sights and you will be exposed to tons of locals speaking naturally and fluently. What better model can you wish for? And after a few days, feel confident enough to start a conversation with someone, nothing complicated, just ask for directions comment on the weather. Before you know it, you’ll be talking to native speakers and learning – for free!

3) Take guided tours. They’re not overly expensive and they’re a great opportunity to learn English and to learn more about that place that you love so much.  Ask whether the guides are locals – they always have the best information about the city and they feel comfortable to speak without a script. And besides, they’re being paid, so they have to answer your questions and be friendly… Make the most of it!

4) Go to the supermarket. It’s one of the best ways to learn more about a country’s culture, trust me! That’s why you should try to stay at a hotel that offers a kitchenette, so you have to buy something for breakfast and some frozen food for dinner. That way you’ll have to read labels and choose groceries, and you’ll soon feel like a local yourself…

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Expression of the week: To be/feel under the weather

“To be/feel under the weather”

Portuguese equivalent: “Estar indisposto”.

Sample sentences:

“Is the chief purser ok? She told me she was a little under the weather”.

I feel under the weather today. When we arrive at the hotel I’m going straight to my room”.

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Too many ‘pilots’ out there

I wonder whether Mr Joe Stack could have vented his frustration towards the IRS in any other, healthier way rather than crashing his single engine aircraft against its building in Austin, Texas,  yesterday. It makes you think, doesn’t it?

It’s quite easy for an American to have a pilot license, and not that hard for them to own a small plane. If only they would use this privilege for something productive. Honestly, I don’t consider him a pilot at all, but an unbalanced individual who decided to blame innocents for his misery. Fortunately, only one person other than himself was killed.

Read the story and watch a video here, here and here.

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Do not unfasten your seatbelts

Don’t like Carnival? Enjoy this funny video by Monty Python.

Are you able to identify all the commands they give the passengers?

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Expression of the week: Valentine’s Day Special

Today is Valentine’s Day! To celebrate this very special date, I have a challenge for you!

The text below contains 5 idiomatic expressions related to love, dating and relationships. If you are able to replace them with the ‘plain English’ version of all of them correctly, you’ll win a free class! You have one week to send me your answers by e-mail. I will post the correct answer and the name of the winner next Sunday.

Here’s an example of what your answer should look like:

Original text: “So I heard that you’re tying the knot! Congratulations!”

Plain English version: “So I hear that you’re getting married! Congratulations!”

If more than one person has the correct answer, the winner will be the first to send me the email, according to the time stamp in the message.

TEXT: “When Paul met Sara, he fell head over heels for her. She, on the other hand, was not so excited when he decided to go dutch on their first date.  But as time went by he grew on her and she felt she had found Mr Right. They were both nervous when he popped the question! But now they are the happiest couple you’ve ever seen!”

Good luck!


Para comemorar o Valentine’s Day, proponho um desafio a vocês!

O texto acima contém 5 expressões idiomáticas relativas ao amor, namoro e relacionamentos. Se você conseguir substituí-las corretamente com a versão em inglês ‘normal’, você ganhará uma aula grátis! Vocês tem apenas uma semana para me enviar as respostas por email. Farei um post com a resposta correta e o vencedor no próximo domingo.

Veja acima um exemplo de como a sua resposta deve ser.

Se mais de uma pessoa tiver a resposta correta, o vencedor será aquele que tiver enviado o email antes, de acordo com a data na mensagem de e-mail.

Boa sorte!

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The other side

Have you ever thought what a passenger feels when there is an emergency on board? Most passengers are afraid of flying in some level. Either they don’t like the idea of being stuck with all those people inside a ‘tin can’ or they simply doubt that such a heavy thing can hold itself up in the air. And most passengers are laymen, so they don’t know anything about aircraft systems, engines, air traffic control, other than what they have seen on TV and in movies.

Watch this short but interesting video from The New York Times, which shows how a passenger perceived the landing of flight 1549 in the Hudson River, in New York City last year.

How would you explain to this passenger what really happened?


O outro lado

Você já pensou o que um passageiro sente quando há uma emergência a bordo? A maioria dos passageiros tem algum tipo de medo de voar. Eles às vezes não gostam da ideia de estar presos com toda aquela gente dentro de uma ‘lata’, ou eles apenas duvidam que algo tão pesado possa se manter no ar. E a maioria dos passageiros são leigos, então eles não sabem nada a respeito de sistemas aeronáuticos, motores, controle de tráfego aéreo, a não ser o que viram na TV ou em filmes.

Veja o video acima, que mostra a percepção de um passageiro do pouso do voo 1549 no Rio Hudson, em Nova York no ano passado.

Como você explicaria a esse passageiro (em inglês, claro) o que realmente aconteceu?

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