Monday 30 March 2009

Science & Vocabulary: Litmus Test

From the last entry, I used the term Litmus Test, I wondered how many of you put in effort to find it out. Hopefully a lot, I am an optimistic person.

This term actually originates from Chemistry, and litmus is a so everyday indicator for all kinds of pH (acidity and alkalinity) test. It is a water-soluble mixture of different dyes extracted from lichens and it is often absorbed onto filter paper before using. Basically, it is used to test whether a solution, meaning a mixture of liquid, is acidic or alkaline.

When I was still in school in Singapore, I did a lot of experiments in the Chemistry laboratory. Most of the time, the students were given blue litmus paper to test the acids. The red litmus paper, which is used to test alkalis, was less often used. I have never really got to understand why that was the case; maybe testing acids was a more fun thing to do?

Because of the property of the litmus paper or the litmus solution, and the use of litmus as an indicator of acidity or alkalinity, it is now used in the English of politics and some other means.

Cambridge has the following explanation which I dont really like:

litmus test noun [C usually singular]

someone's decision or opinion about something which suggests what they think about a wider range of related things:

The President's policy on abortion is regarded as a litmus test of his views on women's rights.

I prefer the explanation in the Unabridged:

A crucial and revealing test in which there is one decisive factor.

Or in the WordNet 3.0 by Princeton University:

A test that relies on a single indicator; "her litmus test for good breeding is whether you split infinitives" 

So in even more simple words, it means an important indicator to sth, and it has a synonym, acid test.

This is such a common word and you can easily find tonnes of news that uses this word. Try typing "litmus test, news" in your favourite search engines for more examples of using.

"Inability to succeed is just a litmus test for greater courage." -- Locky

Picture source:

Coming soon: Grammar, grammar, and more grammar

Reply to comments & readers:
  1. Many thanks to Phy and Bo Bo.
  2. Sorry to my students of the last Thursday class because I felt asleep in the staff room and was late for 10 minutes. Too tired. I hope you don't mind my 15 mins extension of that lesson. That was to pay you back the time.

Friday 27 March 2009

Learning Psychology: Regularity VS Irregularity -- Is English difficult to learn?

Most people dislike grammar and think it is a very boring part of English (or other languages, or all languages), but I just think it is the greatest part of it! I have been teaching it for 2 years before I joined Prime English, and I just can't get enough of it. Why is that the case? Well, because I am able to see grammar from a systematic, structured perspective.

I guess I can say most languages on this planet have exceptions, and most people are discouraged by the large amount of exceptions. Some of my students even told me that English is a very difficult language! And my response was,

"Do you know how complicated are some other European languages?"

When I was studying Italian, the beginner level was already killing lots of my brain cells. For example, the present tense for regular verbs already looks like this:

  • Conjugation 1 contains verbs with an infinitive ending in -ARE

  • Conjugation 2 contains verbs with an infinitive ending in -ERE

  • Conjugation 3 contains verbs with an infinitive ending in -IRE



1st pers. sing.   I

   scrivo    dormo    capisco
2nd pers. sing.  you    parli    scrivi    dormi    capisci
3rd pers. sing.  he, she, it    parla    scrive    dorme    capisce
1st pers. plur.  we    parliamo    scriviamo    dormiamo    capiamo
2nd pers. plur.  you    parlate    scrivete    dormite    capite
3rd pers. plur.  they    parlano    scrivono    dormono    capiscono

So, when in English, when we say, "I/you/we/they speak; He/she/it speaks", in Italian, everyone will spell differently. In English, at most, you need to worry about using 's' or 'es' after the verbs, but in Italian, sorry! It's 7 x 4 = 28 different look. Imagine the Chinese art of Bian Lian, or face changing  (This will take you to information of Bian Lian.)

Well, don't get too excited and think it is that easy! The regularity of the irregular verbs goes as such:



to have essere to be
1  ho I have  sono I am
2  hai you have  sei

you are

3  ha he/she/it has  è he/she/it is
1 abbiamo we have  siamo we are
2  avete

you have

 siete you are
3  hanno they have  sono they are

avere = to have essere = to be venire = to come uscire = to go out andare = to go dare = to give




































fare= to do; make

sapere = to know

stare = to stay; be potere = can dovere = must volere = to want





































And you think that's all? You have yet to see the past tenses, future tenses, etc.
If you want to know how lucky you are, please visit this great website to learn Italian:

(all tables above are kindly provided by the above website)

Guess what, Italian is already considered as one of the easier languages to learn because it is a syllable-timed language, just like Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese!!!

As a learner of a language, you should always 'stay cool' and 'chill out' in terms of facing difficulties in the process of learning. I understand that sometimes it can really get frustrating, but you can look at the obstacles from a positive point of view. 

Maybe in the past, you will tell yourself, "Learning English is so difficult."
Now you can ask yourself, "Is learning English that difficult?"
Then answer yourself, "Lucky that I don't need to learn XXX language."
And you should immediately feel better.

Emotional Quotient (EQ) is a key in learning English, as it is also in any other parts of our life.

"Learn to cure yourself, and be willing to be cured, and you will be cured." -- Locky

It is just another Litmus test on "Is the glass half empty or half full?" situation.

Coming soon: More on the term 'Litmus Test'.

Reply to comments & readers:
  1. I would like to thank Phy for the care and support. I will sleep more.
  2. I expect all readers to take note of or check meanings of the words in bold.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Technology: Google Earth 5.0

Have you watched the movie "Jumper"? No? I've got a trailer and a poster for you to recall your memory.

It is a movie that talks about a group of people who has special power to teleport to anywhere on this planet at any time. Not to forget that the Chinese story protagonist plus Japanese manga hero Son Goku (the monkey king) can do just the same! He is heating up the cinema all around the world these days!

Image from

But you don't need to know how to teleport to travel around the world. Actually, you don't even need to get up from your seat, all you need is a computer connected to the internet, and download the Google Earth 5.0 from the following website:

Watch how it works on Youtube!

Or take a tour in the website:

I have found my old home in London and a few places I have visited in Hokkaido as well as the Millenium Hilton hotel I stayed in twice in Bangkok!

Hey, what about learning English? Well, how about learning more names of different countries and then plan where to go on your next holiday after sneaking a nice detail preview with this software? Learning English can be done when you go travelling, right?

Apart from visiting different places, there are many things relating to English, and those are the buttons provided in the software, but I can't tell you now as you really need to check this out first by yourself.

Enjoy being a jumper and your teleporting!

(I've been sleeping at 2am every night because of updating this blog, dark circles starting to form)

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Animal: Humpback Whales

I have been a shark and whale lover since I was 2 and could paint a very realistic whale at the same age of 3. I still remember very vividly that my teacher didn't believe that I drew such a picture and requested to see my mum. My mum told my 3 teachers and the principal, who were there to interrogate me, that I really drew it. They didn't believe me and would only let me go if I could paint one more right on the spot. At last, my mum and I walked out of the school with a gift toy car of my choice after painting a picture of a whale right in front of them.

And so the anecdote ends here, but my passion for whales and sharks continues.

Recently, there was a humperback whale in the Hong Kong waters and I really wanted to go and see it!!! However, as you all know that this whale should have been left alone so that she could find her way back to the deep, I only took the effort to chase her on the news. (picture source: Discovery News)

Humpback whale is one of my favourite whales because it is a singer whale and it sings the best whale songs.

Click on the movie below and listen for yourself.

Don't you think they are just amazing?

The humpback whales are also really nice dancers. Their dances express their joy and their superior artistic minds. When they are jumping out of the water, or breaching, you can see the movements of their fins like they are really dancing ballet!

From this clip above you can see the bond between the mother and the cub, the cub was so attached to the mother and the mother was ever more protective. Aren't they behaving just like human beings? I absolutely think that these amazing animals should be well-conserved and at the same time, kept in distance from any man's activities. Man has already done enough of disturbance and created too much pollution in their natural habitat, it's high time for man to make some compensations.

Whale meat is considered as one of the most prestigious delicacies in the Japanese society. Their fondness for dolphin and whale meats have led to the large decline in the number of whale populations. Pictures can be easily found abundantly in any search engines by typing "whale meat".

Quoting from Wikipedia, "In 1982, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) voted on a moratorium on commercial whaling to go into force in 1986. Japan has maintained its interest in the resumption of commercial whaling, but has not succeeded in persuading the IWC to lift the ban." Nonetheless, from what I have read from the news, every once in a while the Green Peace will have to hold tough fights to stop illegal "data-collection" of the Japanese whalers.

Resourceful encyclopedia Wikipedia has a list of whale songs sung by different types of whales, you can listen to them from the following link:

If you still want to hear these lovely whale songs, or if you want your next generation to have a chance to hear and see these awesomely beautiful mammals, you can help Green Peace or WWF by making some donations whenever you feel like it. I personally do that every now and then.

Lastly, thanks to those of you who have read my entries and even more thanks to those of you who left comments and tried the exercises.

I really appreciate your effort and passion. Hope you can continue to learn with me. Next time I will talk about sharks. Well, after a few other different entries first.

Answers for the previous entry:

1. What is the meaning of ‘plus’ in the second paragraph? (and)
2. In paragraph 3, can you list a few examples of each tea type? (I'm sure you can find)
3. Why did I use double-quotes for the word “fermented”?
(it is not a true fermentation: it is not caused by micro-organisms, and is not an anaerobic process)
4. In paragraph 4, what is the range on pH scale that shows acidity? (below 7)
5. What is the name of the book that China’s Lu Yu wrote? Which dynasty did he live in? (Cha Jing or the Classic of Tea; Tang)
6. Who said “Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete”? (famous Zen priest Eisai)
7. In paragraph 9, I used 4 different verbs to show my preference for different types of tea, can you list them? (love, fancy, have enjoyed, like)

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Health and Fitness: 'English' Tea

Do you drink tea?

I went to the dentist to have my scaled and polished last Saturday and the doctor told me not to drink anymore tea because tea marks stains on the teeth. If you do go to the dentist twice a year, you won’t care much about the stain, will you? Plus, tea is such a healthy drink!

The sense of coolness while drinking tea is what I like best about tea. No matter I’m drinking Japanese green tea or the English milk tea, I always feel relieved and mellow.

There are five types of tea which are most commonly found in Hong Kong, they are the black tea (or red tea), green tea, white tea, Oolong tea and flower tea. They are of different colours due to different ways they were processed, or “fermented”.

Tea bushes generally prefer acidic soils and the high-quality tea plants are normally grown on high land, up to some 1500 metres.

China is among the most famous countries in terms of consuming tea, as well as the earliest, but not to forget the likes of Indian, Sri Lanka, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Recently, in the movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, the main protagonist Jamal was a chai boy before he went on the show ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ The word isn’t so difficult for us to understand because it is another variation of the word ‘cha’. Different countries will have different ways of calling it, but they all resemble to the words, ‘tea’ or ‘cha’.

Tea forms a very important part of many cultures, and almost every country has their unique version of ‘tea’. The studies, the wisdoms, the rituals, the beliefs, can be all seen through the ways they enjoy this wholesome drink.

Personally, I love Jasmine tea the best because of its elegance, purity and the slight fragrance of flower. For the sweet tea, I fancy lemongrass tea alone or with jasmine because it offers an extra scent of ‘mint’ and the cooling aftertaste. As for milk tea, I have always enjoyed simple Sri Lankan Ceylon (from Marks & Spencer) with a small tablespoon of sugar and higher-fat-content milk. It is not exactly the milk tea of the English, as the English either prefer Earl Grey for breakfast or milk tea with a lower fat content, but I like the richness of milk together with the smoothness of the tea, without the dryness of course.

Finally, I strongly recommend green tea, or Matcha in Japanese, for the ultimate relaxation, best served with the presence of greens and quiet lakes accompanied by a cool breeze, and brown-rice tea, or Genmaicha, for the perfect drink to be served with sushi and sashimi – nothing goes better than this tea with raw Japanese delicacy.

Pictures from:

Questions for readers (research is needed):
1. What is the meaning of ‘plus’ in the second paragraph?
2. In paragraph 3, can you list a few examples of each tea type?
3. Why did I use double-quotes for the word “fermented”?
4. In paragraph 4, what is the range on pH scale that shows acidity?
5. What is the name of the book that China’s Lu Yu wrote? Which dynasty did he live in?
6. Who said “Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete”?
7. In paragraph 9, I used 4 different verbs to show my preference for different types of tea, can you list them?

Monday 23 March 2009

Comics: Online English Manga (free)

Hi guys! This time I have found something really special to share. It is a comic (or Manga from Japanese) that is FREE to read online!!!! And it is in English!!! For those of you who are sick or scared to read books, here is something that might make a difference.

It is called Mega Tokyo, details can be found in the following website:

Image source from

And the comic can be found here,

Personally, I haven't read more than 2 pages of the comic, so I don't really know if it is good for learning English or not, but quoting from Wikipedia,

"Megatokyo originally emphasized humor, with continuity of the story a subsidiary concern. Over time, it focused more on developing a complex plot and the personalities of its characters...Megatokyo has received praise from such sources as The New York Times"

I guess it is a decent comic to read and it shouldn't have anything sexual or too violent inside. It's FREE anyway! Worth a try!

Let me know if it is any good!


Friday 20 March 2009

Movie: Tropic Thunder (For Advanced level)

Well, it's Friday again, while you are enjoying your weekend, I'm working my head off giving lessons. Haha! But don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining! I love it! Enjoying it!

Time to introduce my favourite of the favourite movie so that you can get it sooner and watch it over the weekend.

Warning!! Lots of unwanted language in this movie!! (and food for mind for deep-thinkers)

The movie they think they're making... isn't a movie anymore.

"I know who I am! I'm a dude playing a dude disgused as another dude! "

Official Trailer

Never have I watched a movie that has so many funny and catchy quotes,never have I seen a movie with such great comedians and action starts together, never have I had Tom Cruise swearing so much and so badly in a movie, and this movie just blew my mind!!! The best part is, you don't even see Tom Cruise's name in this movie and they want you to find out after watching the entire movie!

Right, did I spoil your mood? Actually, no, because there are so many other aspects of this movie that is worthy appreciating.

Let's hear from the great actors giving you the movie review themselves!

First, I totally admire the perseverance of Ben Stiller because he worked very hard in every one of his movies in the past, yet the success was never really big. I started watching his movie since "There's something about Mary", and then it was already "Meet the Parents" and "Meet the Fockers". I watched "The Night at the Museum", and it was pretty good, but it was "Tropic Thunder" that really showed me how one's hard work finally paid off.

The most impressive of all are his hilarious quotes! Almost every line of the movie was written intelligently and it would not be possible without painstaking effort and the death of many brain cells (Ben Stiller was the director, one of the writers and producers of this movie).

The cast couldn't get any better than talented Jack Black and "Ironman" Robert Downing Jr.

Jack Black has always been hilarious and gifted in his musical talents, which was no hiding in his movies "The School of Rock" and "The Holiday". Robert Downing Jr, on the contrary, was totally unknown to me until I saw his perfect imitation of a black American Sergeant Lincoln Osiris! He was the one who gave me the feeling that Hollywood really has great talents!

If you are looking for something innovative and extraordinary, some of the catchiest lines of the century, great acting skills, and the best value-for-money-and-stars deal in town, go and grab this DVD or Blueray.

The only thing that you need to be careful is the abundant slang used in this movie, get your ready.

Tropic Thunder official website:

Funny Quotes:

They even have websites for the actor's characters in this movie!!!

And some spin-off websites:

Investment: (1886) Huiyuan Juice

Have been busying filling in application forms for my Master’s degree, so I couldn’t find time to update this blog. Sorry about that. Well, I’m back now.

Today, I would like to share a little bit about my poor views on investment, with emphasis on the English words you can learn.

Most of the time, I do not pay enough attention to the most updated news, and so I usually miss the boat to buy low. Nonetheless, on the 3rd September, I saw Huiyuan Juice going up 173% from $4.14 to $11.28 right from the day it resumed trading. From that moment, I already know, earning money from stocks or maybe any kind of investment, is a lot on timing and fate.

If I had visited the price of this stock before Coca Cola announced the proposal, or if I had always kept an eye on this stock, or if I hadn’t put so much focus on other stocks, or if I had always liked orange juice, if just anyone of these happened, I might have bought some Huiyuan shares, and then sold it at high price, but who doesn’t know it is easier said than done?

And since was so close to the proposed price of purchase, I did not buy it, and the price never reached $11.28 again. I was lucky, or was I?

Actually, when I first heard this news, I did think the price would come close to the premium price, but I was also quite sure that China wouldn’t want a foreign-based company to grow too big in China, particularly when they are talking about buying the entire juice maker, the largest in China.

And then of course, bad news followed.

DJ MARKET TALK: Huiyuan Set To Tumble; Coca-Cola Bid Rejected
2009-3-18 03:26:00 p.m. (Extracted from Dow Jones & Company, Inc., published 2 days ago.)
Huiyuan Juice (1886.HK) set to dive when resuming trade (company hasn't indicated when), possibly visiting HK$4.00-HK$5.00 range, after Chinese government rejects Coca-Cola's (KO) US$2.4 billion bid to buy out China' leading juice maker.

Xinhua reports Ministry of Commerce says deal would hurt small local juice companies, could have pushed up juice market prices, limited consumers' choices. Rejection would mark huge disappointment for investors chasing shares higher on hopes of deal getting approval, with Coca-Cola offer at HK$12.20/share; stock likely to get knee-jerk selling on trade resumption.

Huiyuan shares pay price for failed deal
(03-19 11:43) (Extracted from the, published 1 day ago)
Shares in Hong Kong-listed Huiyuan Juice tumbled sharply this morning on resumption of trading following a suspension, at one point losing half their value, after Beijing rejected a plan by Coca-Cola to acquire the mainland's top juice maker.

Huiyuan's shares were down 44.9 percent at HK$4.57, after falling up to 53 percent in early trade, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Trading in the stock was suspended yesterday, when the Commerce Ministry announced that it was blocking the high-profile acquisition over fears that it would hurt competition.

The rejection has raised concerns among foreign investors that China is becoming increasingly protectionist.

Analysts said the sharp fall was expected as the price had doubled since early September, when Coca-Cola offered HK$12.20 for each share.

JPMorgan analyst Selina Sia said she is concerned about the outlook for Huiyuan because of weakening juice consumption in China.

''Slower juice sales seemed to be a sector-wide issue in 2008,'' Sia told Dow Jones Newswires.
''Huiyuan's business performance in 2009 could deteriorate further if consumption sentiment becomes worse,'' she added.

(The focused words are already in bold.)

From the two articles, dive and tumble sharply have the same meaning -- to drop quickly and by large amount, and the reason for this is the high premium – the extra sum paid by the buyer for the purchase, that Coca-Cola offered in the acquisition -- the purchase, and the investors’ chase of shares. As the deal is rejected, investors lost confidence and the price really did get knee-jerk selling. And it was a disaster selling!

knee-jerk /ˈniːdʒɜːk/
knee-jerk reaction/response, etc. an immediate reaction that does not allow you time to consider something carefully

Maybe not all of you are interested in finance or stocks, but the terms and vocabulary used, as you may have noticed, are words that you will probably use if you are part of the working group.
And like I have said over and over again, the Standard is an ‘educational’ newspaper which offers appropriate amount of new words in each article for fresh English learners, so do make sure you at least read 5 articles a day, one from each section.

The remaining words I will leave it for your homework (guess first and then look them up), but do not just focus on the meanings, remember the pay attention to word partners, IPAs, and the writing style of the 2 extracts.

Happy Learning!

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Quotation: Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett

Due to the work load in the secondary school now, I guess I will have less time this month, but don’t get me wrong! I will continue to update almost every day!

"In terms of learning, there is never a pause, because there is always something to learn around you." – Locky

I think a lot of people admire the wit and insight of Warren Buffett, that includes me as well, but I am most impressed by his teaching to the world's investors, and he definitely is one of the greatest teachers of all time.

His quotes, like many others I adore, were sharp, wise and to the point. Many of them have been published so widely that almost every investor has a few in their pockets.

"I don't look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over."

"If a business does well, the stock eventually follows."

"In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield."

Apart from his investment wisdom, his philosophy in life is also where I find enlightenment.

"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently. "

"It's better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you'll drift in that direction."

"Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing."

"If you don't know jewelry, know the jeweler."

For those of you who have read my notes, you know I like to use quotes from famous people. Now, I guess you understand why.

"Quotations are the fruits of the Greats’ Wisdom Tree". – Locky

Aren't they just beautiful?

Sometimes, when you come across a famous person you admire, do a little research and you will find the colourful experience and lifelong lessons of him condensed in these short yet deep and brilliant statements.

Mr Buffett has been one of the most influential teachers of my life. I believe you can also find something worth learning from him apart from investment.

Sunday 15 March 2009

TV: Mythbusters on Youtube

An add-on to the previous post, I found the Mythbusters on Youtube which you can sit on your couch and veg out to watch all 30 episodes in clips.

There are more, just search and you will find them.


TV: Mythbusters

Saturdays and Sundays is the best time to make some recommendations such as movies, songs, books and TV shows. Some people see these as yawns, just another "it is good for you" from your teacher. Well, I like to see them as entertainments, something that really WILL do you good without you even noticing.

I really like this, "Learn when you don't even notice you are learning", in fact, it is the main objective of my teaching in Secondary School now. Too bad I can't show this to the professors and my classmates in the HKU after they have rejected my application for the Master's degree. (Remember I mentioned about the devastation of mine, this is it!)

Well, enough of the spit, life goes on. If you are truly interested in learning, you are always welcome in this playground.

Let's get back to the recommendation.

If I must recommend a channel to watch, my first choice would definitely be 'Discovery Channel', because I can just veg out in front of the TV for the entire afternoon just watching the programs on it. And if I must recommend a program I find it most fun, I would pick 'Mythbusters', a science program with lots of scientists and experts working on proving and disproving some of the urban science myths and legends.

Here is the page which you can watch some summarized online versions of the show:


The beauty about this program is that it makes learning English and learning science at the same time! Now, you may argue,

"if that is the case, anything could be used for teaching English!"

And my answer would be,
"You are very right!"

English speakers use English for whatever they do, and thus learning English is never only on books and literatures, grammar and business. Then why not expose yourself to more and wider knowledge, so that your love for English actually comes from your love for these knowledge?

Pure English on English textbooks could be dull sometimes, even for me. I go for all possible ways to find what I like about the language.

So if you do have NOW TV, please do tune in more often as it also has other great shows to watch. I will recommend other shows on this channel next time.

Once you find what you love, you just cannot stop. I am totally addicted to it. -- Locky

Friday 13 March 2009

Movie: An Inconvenient Truth

Image from
I have always been an environmental friendly person, seriously collecting every little piece of paper, plastic and metal for recycling. Sometimes, when I finish the milk and have to dispose the canter, I would actually peel off that piece of paper for recycling first before throwing the rest away (too bad I cannot recycle the rest).
Once on TV, I watched a documentary about the collection of polystyrene in Japan for recycling, as the truck drove through the lanes of neighbourhood, residents nearby would take out all their expanded polystyrene foams and through it into a container of citrus rind oil (obtained from oranges), which would react with the polystyrene and melt into nothing. When the truck returned to the factory, the juice was poured into a machine which would carry out some kind of chemical decomposition and become polystyrene polymer again, ready to be used once more.

That was simply amazing!!!

Here I have a similar video for you to see.

And here is the link to the research article:

Research Article on recycling expanded polystyrene using natural solvent

Ever since I have finished watching this video, I curse myself every time I have to throw away a used polystyrene product, and I would blame the Hong Kong government for not having similar recycling project in Hong Kong.

And I thought I was environmental awared enough knowing and doing what I did.

I was wrong.

An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore, the Nobel Peace Prize winner 2007, has done so much more.
This documentary film, as he put it, is the scariest of all the films that anyone on this planet has ever seen. I totally agree. Nonetheless, after watching this film, instead of feeling fearful, I did a lot of self-reflection as to why I am on this planet and what I can do to contribute more to this world. It is a movie that can truly bring up the conscience of mankind and awake the moral responsibilities for the environment that lie dormant inside our minds.

In this documentary, Al Gore was giving a lecture to a group of audience, and like most other lectures, he utilised Powerpoint slides, pictures and movie clips. It sounded all so simple, but the evidence that he unveiled was enough to stun the world and his charisma clearly influenced every simple person who watched this movie. Compared to the time when Al Gore was running for president, this Al Gore was totally heroic! I guess there is nothing much I can say about this movie, because only watching it will truly give you a feeling how tremendously good he was.

His messages were ever so clear, "the ice has a story to tell", ''What we take for granted might not be here for our children".

Time is running out. It is about time we all stand up and do something to save our planets.

If you can only watch one movie in your life, this would be the one.

"What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." -- Mark Twain

Thursday 12 March 2009

Vocab & Slang: Running, Beer & Potato

Have you ever run a marathon before? Or a half marathon? I have never done that. But in Singapore, I needed to pass a fitness test and everybody had to run 2.4 km within a certain time to pass the exam, my fastest time was 10 mins 19 secs. I think just enough to get an ‘A’. (My good friends could easier finish that less than 9 minutes) The route was not fun as far as I can remember, I hated the part right next to the highway because every breath I took, I felt that I would die a day earlier.


Anyway, one of my students asked me how to cheer others in a running competition. That’s interesting! If it is 100m or 200m, there is not much you can say apart from

“Yay!!!!!” or “Woww!!!!”


If your friend is doing a marathon and you have to cheer, you have more time to do the cheering and so you can try something like,

“Good job! Good job!”

“Way to go, buddy! Way to go!”

“Come on! Guys! Come on!” (to push them harder)

“Move soldiers, move!” (sounding like a soldier)

“Don’t sprint! Keep the pace!” (if you know what you are saying),

“Just another kilometer /mile to go!” (make sure you are certain about the distance)

“Homestretch, keep pushing it! ” (when it is near the end)

“Home is near!” (when it is near the finishing line)

“The trophy is waiting!” (if he is leading)

“Run for your life!” (when he is behind but finishing soon)

“For your fans!” (if he has any waiting at the finishing line)


You can use your creativity, but I found one that interests me and that is,

“Beer and Music at the end!”


It may not be attractive to everyone, but definitely some, especially for some (if not most) foreigners.


I think for most people in Hong Kong, they know the word ‘beer belly/ gut’ (informal) best, due to similar sayings in Cantonese. It is referring to a fat stomach that is caused by prolonged drinking habits. However, not everybody knows that ‘small beer’ (UK informal) actually means something / someone that is relatively unimportant, because local speakers know the US version ‘small potatoes’ better, despite the fact that they mostly use it on something, and seldom someone.

eg.. His salary is small potatoes for his qualification.

The word ‘potato’ is generally used to describing someone or something in a negative way, despite the great taste it is. Apart from the ‘small potatoes’ example,


From Cambridge Online Dictionary,

‘couch potato’ noun [C] (informal)

-- a person who watches a lot of television and does not have an active style of life


From Urbandictionary,

And that has spun off a new slang,

‘mouse potato’ noun [C] (informal)

-- Someone who spends all their time on the computer surfing the net or playing games.


From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,

‘hot potato’ noun [C] (informal)

-- A problem that is so controversial or sensitive that those handling it risk unpleasant consequences: gun control—a political hot potato. 

Combining the dictionaries with my rephrasing,

‘hot potato’ noun [C] (informal)

-- sth / sb undesirable or difficult which is not advisable to be dealt with, similar to the Chinese version of ‘hand-scorching taro’. 

Since these are simple yet commonly-used words, try to apply them today! Make yourself a few examples and you will be able to remember them!

Vocab: Interesting Names

Something devastating happened to me today, but like I always tell my students who feel the same when facing difficulties in learning English, here is always a bright side of everything. It is just whether you want to think in that way or not. If you enjoy pain, go ahead and feel bad about it; if you adore joy, laugh it up and feel lucky about yourself!’

Let’s get back to last topic.

From the word ‘Jack’, that brings up a whole new topic on meanings of names.
Have you ever tried putting your name in the dictionary to find the meaning? Well, I have. Cambridge didn’t give me anything, but Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary gave me,

Locky (adj)
-- having locks or tufts

And what is tuft? From Cambridge:

tuft (noun) [C]
-- a number of short pieces of especially hair or grass which closely grow together or are held together near the base:
eg. He had a few tufts of hair on his chin, but you could hardly call it a beard.

tufted (adjective)
-- with a tuft:
eg. the tufted duck

Riggggggggghhhhhht…… So I have hair on my bottom. I prefer that I have locks or my definition

Locky (n)
-- someone who has locks and keys, can be metaphorically referred as knowing ones troubles and having solutions at the same time, that he CAN HAVE the cake and EAT it.

What’s now? Your turn!
You can use whatever dictionary you can find including the Urban Dictionary I have recommended because you might find your name under some nasty entry. Anyway, let’s make this clear, we are not going to consider representations of short forms, like IBM or FORD.

Use the legend to find source:

U: Urban Dictionary
C: Cambridge Dictionary Online

Right, let’s begin, who shall we start?

1) ancient mesopotamian name for thunderbolt of lightning. The name Abby, was only given to those of great beauty and power.
2) Sexy hot, every boy loves her.

D: a female given name: from a Germanic word meaning “noble”.

D: a female given name: from a Greek word meaning "bringer of victory."
U: Bernice is a beautiful name for gorgeous women and girls. Bernice means precious and priceless.

Cathy = Catherine
C: Catherine wheel -- a round firework which is fixed to a stick and which spins round
D: names of many empresses.
U: The act of being extremely interesting, smart, cool, athletic, and just about every positive thing that a person can be.
eg. Wow you were so Cathy! I wish I were as Cathy as you! Man you are so Cathy. If I were that Cathy I'd probably would have a pretty Cathy life!

1) Classical Mythology. the wife of Nereus and mother of the Nereids.
2) a female given name: from a Greek word meaning “bountiful”.
U: A lady's perfectly-maintained and coiffeured hairstyle, which frames a charming, vertical smile.
eg. Although she was now over 80, her many admirers seemed to be quite content to gaze upon her DORIS all day.

1) UK OFFENSIVE a woman's sexual organs
2) US OLD-FASHIONED INFORMAL a person's bottom
D: same as C
U: same as D

D: a male given name: from a Hebrew word meaning “beloved”.
U: A formidable foe to normal people. intelligent, strong forceful. a weird hybrid of a bully and a nerd. As well as the first dictator of the America and king of the new peaceful world. Also known as Timebomb and various other variations including at least TB.
eg. I am David. All other David's fall in march as we conquer the world. For a new Earth of peace void of general stupidity.

2) a very hot guy usually nice and very funny
eg. dude he is such a david
C: Stars of David -- a star with six points which represents Judaism

1) a toilet or bathroom.
2) (sometimes initial capital letter) a fellow; guy.
3) (sometimes initial capital letter) a prostitute's customer.
1) same as D.
2) The other one is too long to include.

1) a male given name: from a Greek word meaning “farmer.”
2) British Slang. an automatic pilot on an airplane.

by George! Chiefly British Informal. (an exclamation used to express astonishment, approval, etc.)
U: A generic name used sarcastically to imply that the person being called it is an idiot. The name is derived from American president George W. Bush.
eg. Nice going George you just mispronounced every word on your cue cards.

And the list is too long to go on. How about you try and post them as comments?

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Vocab: Jack

Actually, the same colleague asked me why Jack is in the proverb, and I told her,
"Well, I guess Jack kind of give people a feeling of knowing a lot."

When I said that, of course, I had a few examples in my mind to give to support me view.

First, there is a saying,
Jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
It is used to say someone knows many things, but is very good at none of them. This is one that I would use to describe myself.

And if you just do a little search in the dictionary, you can easily find a lot more meanings. You can click on the words for definitions or pictures (credits given to all contributors but myself):
  1. 'Jack-of-all-trades' without the later part is a positive noun to say someone who can do different jobs.
  2. 'A car jack' is used to lift up a car for fixing.
  3. To 'jack sth up' is to lift up sth heavy with a jack. e.g. ~ the car.
  4. To 'jack sth up' is also an informal phrasal verb meaning to lift up the price greatly and suddenly. e.g. ~ the price of pork.
  5. 'Jack' is a playing card with a letter J and a man in it. It is after '10' and before 'Q'.
  6. 'Jack' is a small ball in a rolling ball game.
  7. 'Jack' is a device connecting 2 other electrical devices.
  8. 'Jack Frost' is a baby word to describe very cold weather.
  9. To 'jack-knife' is to make a bend that looks like a pocket multi-knives.
  10. 'Jack-knife' is of course the multi-knife itself.
  11. 'Jack-in-the-box' is a children's toy that has a toy jumping out from a box when opens.
  12. 'Jack-o'-lantern' is a lantern made with pumpkin for Holloween.
  13. 'Jack plug' is a connector from one electrical device to another. See picture.
  14. To 'jack sth in' is an UK informal phrasal verb which means to stop doing sth that you do not enjoy. e.g. ~ his job.
(I hope you are fine with my rephrasing of the definition, hope it makes it easier to grasp.)

Tomorrow, I will look into the meanings of other names with you, but before I do, I think you can see how widely used is this particular name. So even if Jack doesn't carry a real meaning of 'a person who knows a lot', I guess you will agree with me that the word 'Jack' does know how to appear often in the dictionary.

Do you know how to put your name on the dictionary? I don't know. So, 'Jack' knows more than 'Locky' does.

Not to forget the famous figures with the name Jack.

Saying: All work and no play (makes Jack a dull boy)

A couple of days ago, one colleague of mine asked me how to say someone working all the time and never relax, and she said it has the word 'Jack' in it.

I guess many of your have heard of this one like my colleague,

All work and no play (makes Jack a dull boy)

I know the first part, not the second. Well, that doesn't really matter, now I know, but the thing that I find interesting is how widespread this "All ...... and no ......" pattern is and how it has evolved.

For those of you who attended my recent Level 3, I'm sure you still remember the US slang,

All show (and) no go

which is used to describe someone or something that looks good but does not perform as promised.

Eg: That shiny car is actually all show and no go. It runs at a maximum speed of 40 mph.
Eg: Good-looking Jim is all show and no go. At the age of 30, he has never had a girlfriend.

And like I have asked in the class, what is the meaning of

No show (and) all go?

I guess you can tell me right away.

But there's more, because of this pattern, people has expanded it into many other variations such as,
  1. All hat (and) no cattle
  2. All pain (and) no gain
  3. All killer (and) no filler
  4. All paper (and) no news
  5. All atmospherics (and) no climate

So it is obvious to me that there is no restriction as to how you want to create your own version with this pattern. Why not we all try to use some creativity and make some of our own ones? Maybe some day in the future, people will use what you have created as their slang?

"All acceptance and no question makes one a limited learner" -- Locky

Monday 9 March 2009

Book: The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 by Paul Krugman

Have you ever felt excited about the release of a book?

Has your heart ever beaten faster when you are heading to the bookshop because of this book?

And have you ever cried out "YES!" the moment you have finally got this book?

I have, many times also, and every time it just gets more and more intense! If you also love reading like me and are gagging for the knowledge inside, you are on my "Hopeful students' list" (I hope you are reading English books of course).

This book I would like to recommend is written by Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, called 'The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008".

I recommend this book because Mr Krugman mentioned right from the introduction that he is writing a book not for PDH to read but for anyone who is interested in knowing more about Economics, and after reading half of this great book I really think he has made Economics into a subject that almost everybody can understand. I love his ingenious way of using a Baby-sitting company as an example to demonstrate different economical systems and how the world reacted in solving the problems of this baby-sitting company. It IS really Economics-made-simple!

Mr Krugman not only covers the formation of the financial crisis 2008 in USA, but also other regions that once showed signs of developing such financial crisis in the past, which includes Mexico, Argentina and most importantly, Hong Kong!!! If you would like to know what this 2008 Nobel Prize Winner has to say about the Hong Kong's economy, you must get this book!

I have to admit that I only got to know Mr Krugman after he has won the Nobel Prize, but learning is never a matter of early or late. I went online to search for all his videos and I still keep updating myself with the latest ones today -- I have now become a Krugman-chaser! There are other Nobel Prize Winners of course, but for me to know Mr Krugman at the time I find interest in Economics is a kind of fate also. I will continue to learn from him and hopefully one day I will learn enough to raise some intelligent questions to ask him.

A good teacher ought to be a good student at all time. -- Locky

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman's Blog

Sunday 8 March 2009

Proverb: (You can't) have your cake and eat it

In one of my lessons, one student asked me how to say "when 2 things cannot be done or achieved at the same time" in English proverb. I couldn't remember very clearly and I only know it has a "cake" in it, so I immediately went to do a search, and found,

"(You can't) have your cake and eat it".

Well, finding it was simple, but the pronunciation was something I would like to add a few extra words to it.

Most people, I guess, only read it the usual way, like they read 2 separate sentences, "You can't have your cake" and "eat it". The problem is that the word 'have' isn't really referring to 'possess', but 'eat', just like,

"Did you have your lunch at 1pm?"
"Yes, I had my lunch then."

So when saying this proverb, the correct way putting a stress on the word 'have' by saying,

"You can't HAVE your cake and EAT it".

By putting the stress on 'eat' as well would balance the stresses on the main verbs on both sides, thus conveying better meaning.

Also, not to forget that this proverb is used in suggesting contraditions or giving advice, so your intonation should match the meaning of this wonderful proverb as well.

Speak with accuracy!

Happy Learning!

Welcome to my English Playground!

My dear students,

Welcome to my English Playground!

I called this blog my English Playground because I want to share my passion for English with you and hope that some day after reading it, you will find English really fun to learn!

In this blog, I will cover a wide range of topics and touch on funny little things of English which I recently come across. They are most likely topics which I do not have time to discuss in my lessons, but will be such a shame if I do not mention it. Through sharing them with you, I do hope that will strengthen our connections and find joy and excitement in this marvellous language.

I welcome all kinds of questions and I will pick good ones to share with everybody.

For now, I would like to thank you for visiting this blog and I hope you will enjoy your time reading it.

Keep in touch! See you in my entries!