Tag: tips

English Lesson: “Until”

English Lesson: “Until”

When speaking English, there’s lots of prepositions that can be confusing. In this lesson, let’s make sure you don’t misuse “until”.

In order to understand this word, let’s use the example of a work schedule. Most of you work from 9 to 5. In other words, you finish work at 5.

  • You work until 5. (Think of “until” as the limit.)

Here’s another example: The store closes at 10.

  • The store is open until 10.

I think that’s pretty easy to follow so far. Here’s a challenge for you. Imagine a situation where you invite a friend over for dinner. Can you tell the difference between these two responses?

  1. “Okay, I can only stay until 7:30.”
  2. “Okay, I’ll be there at 7:30.”

The first one includes “until”, so it shows a limitation of how much time he can spend. He will have to leave at 7:30 because that’s his limit. The second response shows no kind of limitation. He will simply arrive at 7:30.

What if he alter his response to this: “Okay, can I come until 7:30?”

This is where it gets confusing. There’s three different meanings that can be derived:

  1. I can only stay until 7:30.
  2. I will arrive at 7:30
  3. I won’t be able to come sooner than 7:30.

The confusion occurs because of the verb choice, the preposition “until”, and the phrasing as a question.

So which meaning was intended? We really don’t know. We would have to clarify with the speaker. The bottom line: make sure you don’t confuse “until” with “at”.

If you’re interested in learning more conversational English like this, connect with Jon to sign up for private English coaching. We’ll work on making you sound like a native speaker.

English Lesson: New Vs. Brand New

English Lesson: New Vs. Brand New

In a recent online English lesson, my client and I were talking about cars. She hesitated in explaining that a car wasn’t “new, new”.

Was it okay for her to use this description? Yes and no.

As always, the answers to any language question will depend on the context and purpose. If you asked a teacher, the academic answer would advise you to make a more descriptive vocabulary choice. But in conversational speaking? We use this method of repetition all the time.

We can say something is “old, old” to emphasize how old it is. Most English learners will probably be more familiar with including “really” or “very” before the adjective. The resulting effect is the same. The point being: don’t be shocked if you hear a native speaker use this style of repetition even though your English teacher said it’s “incorrect”.

In the case of “new, new”, if you do want to make a more deliberate vocabulary selection, all you have to do is use “brand new”. You’ll often hear this from an announcer on game shows:

  • brand new dining set!
  • brand new washer and dryer!
  • brand new car!

Otherwise, if my friend tells me she got a new car, I would have to follow up and ask her: do you mean new, new or a used car?


If you’re interested in learning more conversational English like this, connect with Jon to sign up for private English coaching. We’ll work on making you sound like a native speaker.


English Lesson: How to say “Thank You”

English Lesson: How to say “Thank You”

“You don’t have to do anything, it’s the thought that counts.”

While that sentiment has a lot of heart, I think the truth is “the appearance of thought” is what really counts– especially in communication. You want more sway in your business relations? You want to have better personal relationships? Well, you better learn how to really show that you feel thankful.

And no, you don’t have to rattle off a thank you speech. Just the notion of being indebted can carry a lot of power.

Even if you don’t care to expand your communication skills to that level, you should still be able to express thanks in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, most English learners only know “Thank you very much”. But what they don’t realize is, if you stick with a textbook cookie-cutter phrase, you sound pretty heartless.

Add a little heart with these expressions:

  • Thanks a bunch.
  • Thank you, [name].
  • I really appreciate it.


English Lesson: “How’s it going?”

English Lesson: “How’s it going?”

When I’m training clients in English speaking, I try to make a conscious effort to point out mistakes their American friends won’t. Allow me to clarify because I know that concept sounds really basic.

In my first year of teaching, I had to learn the hard way that “proper and just” really isn’t the most effective way to teach. For me I had this notion that all the stuff I learned about speech communication as a senior could be passed on to the Japanese high school students I was teaching.


Eventually maybe, but definitely not right off the bat. It doesn’t matter how effective a principle is supposed to be, you have to consider the starting point of the individual. The Michael Phelps way of swimming laps probably isn’t the best method for your toddler. Some people need to learn to have one less cookie before trying any kind of real diet change. And in the same way, it’s very unlikely that an English learner is going to be capable of delivering any grand speech within their first year.

Adjusting to this progression is difficult for the learner, but it’s also difficult for the instructor. How strict should you be on corrections?

“Very strict!” I hear a lot of learners (who don’t mean it) say.

In the classroom, this problem is amplified. A teacher has a syllabus s/he needs to follow. There’s a room full of students to be attentive towards. If you stop for every little thing, you might not ever reach the things on your “to do” list.

When English learners hang out with natives, you might see some of this problem too. The native speaker is going to let the minor mistakes slide as long as s/he can understand the gist. Or, they’re going to be hypercritical and slam down on every little hiccup, which unfortunately stops the two of you from having a conversation. The balance is tricky.

So here’s one of those minor mistakes I see slide all the time: “How’s going?”

No one’s going to get confused as to what you mean, but that is definitely broken English. I hear it. I see it in texts. I’m sure no one’s corrected you on it before, but it should be “How’s it going?”

TL;DR: Stop saying “How’s going?”