My thoughts

February 14, 2009, 4:39 am
Filed under: Intermediate


It’s Valentine’s Day again, and as see and hear advertisements on TV, the radio, and in my email, I am reminded of Valentine’s Day in Japan.

In Japan, they have a slightly different interpretation of Valentine’s Day than we do here in the U.S.  Girls give the boys they like chocolate, in hopes that on White Day, which is exactly one month later on March 14, they will receive a present in return.  The present is supposed to be worth 3 times the value of the chocolate they received. So if you spent $10 on the chocolate you gave him, he should spend $30 on your present.

I had a friend who nervously gave the boy she liked chocolate, but was disappointed to learn that he did not like her back when she received nothing on White Day.  I had a Japanese boyfriend, so I went to an expensive department store and bought a beautiful box of chocolates for him.  On White Day, I got a little ring, but I am not sure if he spent 3 times what I spent on the chocolate…but I really did not care.

In Japan, women are also supposed to give “Giri Choco,” “Gift Chocolate” to their boss.  It’s an obligation.  I asked what happens when the boss is a woman and everyone said you do nothing.  I asked if she gets something on White Day, which was a no.  I thought this was seemed a little unfair, and my bosses were women, so I brought them all something, even though they were women.  I also put a piece of chocolate in the mailboxes of my male coworkers, even though I was their boss.  In the U.S., if you give out sweets at work or school, you generally give them to everyone, and there is no obligation to do so.

In the U.S., many men get really stressed about Valentine’s Day.  If I get anything, I am happy.  I don’t need chocolate, jewelry, or a fancy dinner, although those things are nice.  If I just get some flowers, I am happy.

Today I watched my male coworkers run to the market at lunchtime, returning with fresh flowers.  I don’t know what I will get, if I will get anything, tomorrow.  He is getting a bamboo plant.  You can take the girl out of Japan, but you can’t take Japan out of the girl.

Free Online English Lesson
March 26, 2008, 2:51 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

On Sunday, 3/30 at 10:00 am JST, I will be hosting a free online English lesson. We will be studying some videos of Cameron Diaz to learn some real-world English. If you like Cameron or want to practice your English, please join us.

I am an American woman, I live in Seattle, Washington, home of Starbucks, Ichiro, and Microsoft! I lived in Japan and taught English for three years. I am also the same age as Cameron Diaz, if only I looked like her!

You will need Skype, you can download it for free if you don’t have it. If you want to join in, please email me with your skype i.d. My email address is:

Here is the ad that Cameron Diaz recently appeared in, and the last two are ones that we will probably be studying in the class.

Why kids are fun to teach
March 22, 2008, 1:58 am
Filed under: Intermediate, Uncategorized

I used to work at a conversation school in Japan, which was my first experience teaching kids. We taught everyone–adults, kids, companies. The policy of the school was that every teacher had to teach in all areas. Some teachers complained, but I think it was a good policy. A typical day included some inhouse adult and kids classes in the daytime, and then going outside to a company or two in the evening. It made our work more interesting and gave us lots of different experiences, and it also meant that all the instructors were also flexible in the types of classes we could teach.

Two of my three years at this school, I was a head teacher, which means that I was a manager of the teachers. I got to hear all their complaints, and many of them complained about the kids classes, especially some of the male teachers. They found them difficult and uncomfortable to teach. They preferred the companies. For me, it was the opposite. I loved teaching the kids. In fact, I was the only teacher to ask for more kids classes, especially the very small kids. However the office staff gave me more companies and less kids, and the other teachers less companies and more kids.

I became sort of the “expert” of teaching kids at our school. The other teachers found teaching kids difficult, so I had regular training meetings with them about teaching kids. We shared ideas for games and activities. I also met with teachers to help them plan classes.

Here are some of my ideas about why kids are fun to teach:

1. Curiousity. Kids are curious about everything, and it is fun to see them excited and interested in language.

2. Humor. It is interesting to see what kids find funny. It could be a sound you make, and they find it fun to immitate it. I was teaching a class of American 1st graders (6 years old) here in Seattle. We were going over the weather, and I said “sunny.” And they got excited because one of them is named “Sonny.” I think humor is important, kids need to have fun when they are learning.

3. Eager to please. Most kids want to please their teacher, they try so hard. They get so excited when you give them positive attention.

4. Innocence. Kids are innocent, and it is nice to be around. Most of them are sweet and lovable. They have interesting ideas about the world,.

5. They give you presents!

6. You get to sing songs and play games with them.

7. They look up to you. Some are impressed with your skills. I remember when I was showing a kindergartner how to write a word, and she said “How come grownups are always so good at writing?!”

8. They draw you pictures, give you hugs, and get sad when you go away. It is nice to feel so important!

9. They make progress very fast, and it very rewarding to see. It is also neat to see how they develop. Some of the students that I taught in Japan were 6 years old when I started. They were studying the Sesame Street Picture Dictionary and sat on the floor. I graduated them to a table and a real textbook soon after that. When I left, they were 9 years old, amazing at English, and on the 3rd level of the textbook series. They could have good conversations and were really motivated about English.

10. Knowing that you made a difference in a child’s life. For me this was Kaede, who was 5 years old when I became her teacher. At the time, I taught her privately. She was very shy. She would speak with me in her class, and to her older sister. She rarely spoke to anyone else, even her parents. Her grandmother and mother came to me, and told me that they were very worried about Kaede. She had an interview for kindergarten and did not speak at all. Her mother felt guilty, perhaps it was her fault that Kaede was so shy–she had been stressed when she had been pregnant with her. I told them not to worry, but not to push her either. I said that Kaede might grow out of it. They felt better when I said that I had been very shy at that age too. And she did. I only had Kaede for a year, and then I had to switch with another teacher. When I left 2 years later, she was thriving. She had friends at school, talked more, and even talked a lot in her English class. At a school party, she played the piano in front of everyone. Her parents said I was her best teacher, that this is possible because of me. I disagree, she did it, but I like to think that I helped a little.

Teaching English to Children
March 4, 2008, 3:16 am
Filed under: Intermediate


Here at Lingua Espresso, we recently began teaching English to children on-line. This is new for us, and luckily I have experience teaching English to draw from. I taught English in Japan for three years at an eikaiwa (English conversation school) and I have worked with children here in the United States. Currently, I am pursuing my Masters in Education. I am going to talk about some of the things that I have learned about teaching English to children.


I believe that having conversations with children is important. Without conversations, they do not understand how to put the language they are learning together. As adults, even high level speakers of English can struggle with this. When I taught children in Japan, before the class had even started, we had simple conversations with them as they were arriving and leaving. How were they doing? What did they do yesterday? Last week? What are they going to do after class? What did they have for breakfast? I also tried to involve conversation as much as possible in my lessons.

I never considered the value of having conversations with kids. It was just a normal activity. However, one evening I was sitting in an izakaya (pub) with a coworker, Neal, and other teachers who worked at Nova. Neal and I were discussing something one of our students had said that day, when one of the Nova teachers said:

“What! Your kids can have a conversation with you?”

Neal and I looked at each other. “Ummm, yes….”

We were startled by this questions, wasn’t this completely normal? We were teaching them English conversation! We were informed by our Nova friends that did not have conversations. They were not allowed to. They had to go by a specific lesson plan, and would get into trouble for not following it exactly. They would just start and end the lesson with out any conversation or chitchat. Whereas, the school I worked for let us plan our own lessons. Although we had to use the textbooks selected for the class, we were free to plan the lesson how we wanted.

There are many problems with the way that Nova taught English, and I believe that the lack of conversation was a huge one. The Nova kids may know grammar and vocabulary, but could they hold a conversation? I think for many of them, the answer is no. I knew that the children I taught could. Some of them even could participate in a speech contest. I wonder if they could make a speech, if they had not the experience of having conversations. Is conversation not the point of learning English from native speakers?

Games and Activities

Teaching kids is quite different than teaching adults. For one thing, adults have a much longer attentions span. Most children can’t focus on one thing for more than ten minutes. Sometimes it is less. You have to be very flexible, have lots of things planned because you are never sure how long something will take or if they can handle doing it. Also sometimes things come up in the lesson that are valuable things to learn. Giving the students choice is very important, and it is good to respond to things that they are naturally curious about and interested in.

I have learned that one of the most powerful tools in teaching children is games and other activities. They need to be having fun while learning, and it is best if they do not know that they are learning–they think they are just having fun. I always started my lessons out with a game, and I used the game to get them to talk. I would play the game with them, and had to be careful because they would try to gang up on me so that I would lose. Games were always short, not more than 5 minutes generally, although the kids would try to extend this. I dealt with that by using a timer, and when the timer went off, we were finished! I used manufactured games like Uno, Operation, Candyland, etc., but some of us also made our own games. We were not simply playing games, but practicing language we were learning.

We also did activities from other materials that we had, such as picture dictionaries, phonics worksheets, songs, chants. We read about American holidays. We also did art in class. The art usually related to what we were studying, and gave them a chance to practice the language in a different way. It is great to involve the arts whenever possible. Research shows that children exposed to arts tend to be more successful in school. They also have more fun while learning. While they were working on a project, we could have conversations too.

In the summer, we tried to beat low enrollment by offering a special kids program. The kids came for half the day, and we had activity classes for them. We did projects, arts, and crafts together and they got to practice their English while doing it. It was a great way to apply what they had learned so far, and to learn new things in a different way, similar to immersion.


It is important to teach children how to read in English, but it is also important to read to them in English. Most children are not read to enough, and being read to makes them better readers. It does not matter if they are 2 years old or 12 years old, they need to be read to. As we are reading, I show them the pictures, ask them what they think is going to happen next, and check for their understanding of what was read.

Research also shows that children record what they hear in their brains. This means that the English they hear as kids, will affect how they speak English as adults. They have better pronunciation and speaking ability. It is even possible that they can pick up the accent of their teacher.

Sometimes I would find an American translation of a Japanese story and read it. I think this type of study is especially meaningful because they know the story, and makes the reading a meaningful experience.

Phonics and Sounds

Phonics are also very important, and are connected to reading. The better understanding a child has about phonics, the better reader he/she is, and the pronunciation is better. If the child is focusing on phonics, syllables, sounds, they start to have a natural pronunciation and way of speaking. If they are Japanese, they also get away from “katakana pronunciation,” where they pronounce English words in Japanese sounds. This is a very common problem with Japanese English speakers.

Children are also naturally curious about all the little sounds we make in English. This curiosity will allow them to be better speakers, as they will have more of a real understanding of the English language.

This is one of my students who had studied at Nova for a few years before leaving and joining my class. She was behind the other kids in her class, and quickly caught up. She really liked studying with us!

Winter Storms!
February 28, 2008, 3:47 am
Filed under: Intermediate, Uncategorized

We are almost coming out of winter, good thing too! This has been a hard winter for some, particularly those in the mountains.

My parents have a home in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Although their home is only about an hour away from Seattle, it is a different world. Where we get mainly only rain, they get lots of snow. This year, my parents left for the winter, and are living on the East Coast. They have a burgular alarm in their home, and gave my phone number to the alarm company.

A few weeks ago, I got a phone call from the alarm company at 10:30 at night. They said that the alarm for one of the windows was going off. The police had been dispatched, could I check on the house? I said that I couldn’t go there. While I was on the phone with them, my mother called them. So I hung up and went to bed.

The next evening, they called again to say that a motion detector had gone off. This means that something was moving around in the house, setting off the alarm. Did I want the police called? I thought this was odd, considering the alarm had just gone off the night before. I decided that they should not call the police.

Then my mother called and told me what had happened. On the first night, the police had tried to find their house. They mistakenly went to the neighbor’s house instead. Then they went to the neighbor’s garage, thinking it was the house. The could not find it. The next day, the neighbors went to the house and discovered that a part of the roof had broken off (due to the weight of the snow), and broke a window. This explained the first alarm. My parents hired someone to come and fix it, which explains the other alarm. Apparently, they could not even open the front door because of all the snow!

Here are some pictures the neighbors took of the snow. There are many houses with damage like this. The repairman has a fulltime job trying to fix everything.

Where is the house?

Roof Collapse

There it is!

After shoveling

Happy New Year!
January 10, 2008, 3:37 am
Filed under: Beginner

On January 31st, we celebrate the new year by going out and partying. Some people go to house parties, some go to a bar, and some just celebrate on the street. Many cities have fireworks when the clock strikes midnight. Some people also pay to go large, organized parties usually held in clubs. You usually have to pay a large price for the ticket or cover charge, and in my experience you get little in return. It is usually very crowded and you ended up spending lots of money on drinks, very few of these places give you anything but a hat. It is common for people to wear a New Year’s hat, usually a colorful and sparkly hat made from cardboard with “2008” written on it.

On January 1st, it is customary to sleep in late due to a hangover from drinking the night before. Some people go shopping, although the after-Christmas sales actually start December 26th. January 1st also means that Christmas is over, so people start taking down their holiday decorations, lights, and tree. There are some organizations that have a service where they will take your tree and recycle it, otherwise it is collected by the garbage man. The garbage day after January 1st is a heavy one, due to all the wrapping paper, boxes, packing materials, and holiday decorations that are thrown away.

I suppose I should explain about our garbage system, as it is different from other countries. Once a week, the garbage is collected. You have to pull your garbage can to the curb before they garbage truck comes, which is usually early in the morning. Many cities also provide a larger container for recycling, which you must also pull to the curb. About once a month, the yard waste is also collected. In Seattle, recycling is collected every other week, on the same day as the garbage. We have a new law that says if your garbage has a large portion of things that could have been recycled, they can charge you a fine. Some places do not have a recycling program, and people have to take their recycling to a recycling center, but this is mainly in the country. However, if you live in an apartment building, you put your garbage and recycling into large dumpsters, which are emptied about once a month.

Last week, the garbage men were very busy as their work was delayed by one day and most people had a lot of garbage!

The beginning of the new year also means work for some companies and departments of companies. It is the beginning of tax season, and companies must start to prepare the forms they must send to their employees and vendors to report their income. Employees receive a from called a W-2, which reports all the money they were paid in the year, and how many taxes were withheld from their pay. Vendors receive a 1099 for all the money they were paid over $400. Companies must send a copy of the W-2s and 1099s to the employees and vendors by February, and they must also send this information to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) by March. Some people pay an accountant or tax service such as H&R Block to do their taxes, but recently many people do it themselves with a program called Turbotax. Turbotax is very easy to use, and you can even submit your taxes electronically to the IRS. Some banks even offer a version of it on their website. However, companies must use a certified accountant as their taxes can be quite complex. Some people have to pay additional tax, and others get a refund. It usually takes a few weeks to a month to get the refund, and some tax services advertise a faster refund or that they can get you a bigger one. Some companies also market products or services that you can buy with your refund from about February. All taxes must be sent to the IRS in April, or there is a big fee to pay!

Christmas Shopping
December 17, 2007, 4:59 am
Filed under: Intermediate


The day after Thanksgiving is the official start date of the Christmas shopping season. However, even before then, Christmas items were in the stores. In one store, in the middle of October, the sales staff was already unpacking their Christmas merchandise and putting it on display. “Is that absolutely necessary?” I asked the staff, who were a bit surprised that I said that. I find it a little annoying that they put it out so early.

Many Americans these days feel as I do. As Christmas get more and more commercialized, the stores seem to put out their merchandise earlier and earlier. The longer the shopping season, the more money there is to be made. Usually Thanksgiving is the last week of November, but this year it was in the third week so the shopping season was extended by one week. So that is one extra week of seeing Christmas things in the stores and being exposed to Christmas ads on TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet.

It can be overwhelming, especially for men. Most men dislike shopping, for some there are even physical side effects, such as a higher blood pressure, faster heartbeat, and sweating. One thing that really surprised me in Japan, is how men are willing to go shopping with their wives and girlfriends. It is difficult to get most American men to go shopping. They only go when they need something, they get in and they get out as soon as possible. Forcing men to go shopping with us women never ends well. I once had a big fight with a boyfriend before we even got into a store because he was frustrated I was making him go into a store that he didn’t want to be in. If an American guy will go shopping with his lady, that is a sure sign of love.

Every year I go to’s website and do a wishlist. It is great, you can send it to your family, or they can look it up on the site. When they order the items, they are removed from the list so that you don’t receive the same item twice. My father loves this because he doesn’t ever have to set foot in a store, he can have the items gift wrapped, and can have them shipped to me directly. I like it because then he doesn’t buy me the wrong thing. Amazon used to only have books and music, but recently they have added other areas to their site. You can even add an engagement ring to your wishlist!

This year, I saw an ad on TV about all the waste that is produced from Christmas, and it was suggesting that people give experiences, rather than material gifts. I think that this is a cool idea. In Seattle, there is a website that is sponsored by the City of Seattle and King County. It has companies listed on there that offer reduced gift certificates. This is great, you are not giving junk that the person may not want, and you are not wrapping a present with paper that will only be thrown away anyway. Gift cards are a good present for this reason too.

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