Speaking Out of Order

Speaking Out of Order

Remember: speaking has a certain flow. When you follow the right kind of sequence, you sound smooth. When you deviate, something sounds “off”.

If you’re learning English, you’ll be tempted to over-commit to certain phrases. Unfortunately, that makes you sound more robotic than natural. Here’s a good example from Japan:

A: Hi, how are you?

B: I’m fine, thank you. And you?

There’s nothing technically wrong with that, but without any room for deviation, it sounds pretty dull.

Breaking away from the mold needs some nuance and balance. Take this recent exchange with a client for example. Tetsuo wanted to know the opposite of “I’m busy”. We have a whole range of expressions:

  • I’m free.
  • I have nothing on my schedule.
  • Today’s slow.

They all essentially mean the same, but the method for using them can differ. “I’m free” is the most universal because it can be a reply or a general statement. The sentence about the schedule explains the reason. The day feeling slow is a commentary.

If you’re talking out loud and say, “Today’s slow.” No problem. On the other hand, if this was a conversation exchange:

A: Are you free?

B: Today’s slow.

Something sounds “off”. The reason is the sequence is out of order. Something is missing.

A: Are you free?

B: Yeah, I have nothing on my schedule. Today’s slow.

That sounds better. The combination works. Now, the trick is to not become too obsessed with the setup of the sequence. This is where people get trapped in extended small talk.

Just think of it this way: before you explain or provide commentary, you need to address the point first.

If you get ahead of yourself, that’s fine. Giving a detailed explanation or personal comment earlier works out okay, just as long as you have everything together in the end.

A: Are you free?

B: Today’s slow. [Personal Commentary] I have nothing on my schedule. [Explanation implies the answer]

Note: when I talk about speaking “out of order”, don’t confuse that with speaking “out of turn” (i.e. interrupting). In fact, I think for many passive speakers, they need to learn to be more aggressive and cut people off. Even in an interruption, you can be fluent. Native speakers interrupt all the time!

“The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree”

“The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree”

There’s a saying…

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…”


This isn’t talking about actual apples, but influence. If we use the image of an apple dropping from a tree, you can imagine it’s still going to be close.

The apple is still within reach of the tree. The apple is still under the tree’s shadow.

Most of the time, this phrase will be used in reference to children taking after their parents.

Similar Phrases:

“Like father, like son…”


The big thing you have to remember about language is that it ages and evolves. I think most native speakers will be familiar with this phase, but no one actually says it either.

The concept itself is a great observation and talking point, but the phrase isn’t something you should commit to your vocabulary.


English Verbs | Look | See | Watch

English Verbs | Look | See | Watch

If you want to sound smoother in English, you need to pick apart the nuance in different words. It’s not just using vocabulary that expresses what you mean, but using vocabulary that sounds like how a native speaker would express the same point of view.

When you mix up the word choice, you’ll rarely reach the point of complete misunderstanding. But it’s word problems like these that hold you back from achieving complete fluency.

Let’s see if we can get a better grip on these verbs: look, see, and watch.

Writing the Wrong

Writing the Wrong

For the past 8 years, I’ve had a real lukewarm response to writing. Some people talk about having a love/hate relationship. Mine’s been more hate/hate.

With the way I’ve turned to other media (i.e. distracting myself with podcasts), it’s weird to think it wasn’t always like that. I really did like writing before. Hell, I liked it so much that I minored– and for a minute, thought about double majoring– in it. Guys, I liked writing so much I tried to run a monthly writing contest modeled after the music contest Dwelling of Duels.

So what changed? What’s the significance of that 8 year mark?

Well, 2009 was the year I graduated and started my life in Japan. I’ve shared plenty of stories about the growth that provided. But, I guess that sort of nostalgic reminiscing blinded me to how it warped my writing.

I’d blog to keep people updated. Then, it shifted to teaching (because I was a teacher, duh). And now, a big bulk of my posts are basically summaries of lesson notes.

All of this is information heavy. In other words, it’s not fun. You could never, ever, ever associate fun with the writing I do now.

No wonder I hate it. I can read a lot of non-fiction, but that’s not what I like to write. I loved making shit up. Fiction was king. I could draw from real-life experiences, of course. Sometimes the inspirations of my tales would be blatantly obvious, but that’s still a key difference.

Writing to educate isn’t a problem necessarily, but writing with the sole focus to inform comes across like a lame lecture.

Informative, perhaps. Helpful, I hope. But when you deliver material in that way, it’s a drag, man. And if I’m not having fun with it, how could that not have an influence on the readers.

I look at my peers: poets, screenwriters, editors, and wordsmiths. They’re in their element. They enjoy what they do. I think even on my best day, they’d still kick my ass.

Back when I was in school, looking at my peers could be a downer. It’d be too easy to notice the gap in skills. And again, that will forever ring true to this day.

The only difference is back then I didn’t care. When I wasn’t poetic enough, I’d craft realistic dialogue. When I didn’t have the most beautiful way to describe the scenery, I’d create a crazy cliffhanger. When I didn’t know what to write, I’d still be able to come up with plot twist after plot twist after plot twist.

And that, wow, that was damn good fun. Even if I was scared at being inept and criticized, I’d be happy to rework it because the material itself was fun. It’s the total opposite of today when I write because “I guess I should” or I hit “publish”  because I’m giving up on a post.

I now recognize that my lack of enthusiasm came from writing the wrong things.

I’m real excited to write again! No more ham-fisted lessons. Time to get wacky.