Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year's and CARPE DIEM in 2011!

New Year's is usually a time of resolutions. A time to think about all
those things you wanted to do, but didn't get around
to doing.
A time to SEIZE THE DAY! In other, words... don't hold back,
make the most of the day, of the year... of Life!

So on this occasion, we are posting one of the most memorable scenes in
movie history
from the film DEAD POETS' SOCIETY with Robin Williams
that deals
precisely with resolutions and seizing the day.

Below, we transcribed this part of the original movie
script written by Tom Shulman and directed by
Peter Weir. Enjoy!


The junior students--Todd, Neil, Knox, Charlie, Cameron,
Meeks and some of the others we've seen--enter. They are
loaded down with books and look weary. Sitting in the front
of the room, staring out the window is JOHN KEATING, the
teacher we glimpsed earlier. He wears a collared shirt, tie,
no jacket.

The boys take seats and settle in. Keating stares out the
window a long time. The students start to shuffle
uncomfortably. Finally Keating stands, picks up a yardstick,
and begins slowly strolling the aisles. He stops and stares
into the face of one of the boys.

(to the blushing boy)
Don't be embarrassed.

He moves off, then stops in front of Charlie Dalton.

(as if discovering
something known only to
(he moves to Todd Anderson)
(he moves to Neil Perry)

Keating slaps his free hand with the yardstick, then strides
to the front of the room.

Nimble young minds!

He steps up onto the desk, turns and faces the class.

Oh Captain, My Captain. Who knows where
that's from?

No one raises a hand.

It was written by a poet named Walt
Whitman about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. In
this class you may refer to me as either
Mr. Keating, or Oh Captain, My Captain.

Keating steps down and starts. strolling the aisles.

So that I become the source of as few
rumors as possible, let me tell you that
yes, I was a student at this institution
many moons ago, and no, at that time I
did not possess this charismatic
personality. However, should you choose
to emulate my manner, it can only help
your grade. Pick up a textbook from the
back, gentlemen, and let's retire to the
honor room.

He steps off the desk and walks out. The students sit, not
sure what to do, then realize they are to follow him. They
quickly gather their books, pick up texts, and follow.


This is the room where the boys waited earlier. The walls
are lined with class pictures: dating back into the 1800s.
School trophies of every description fill trophy cases and
shelves. Keating leads the students in, then faces the class.

(Keating looks at his roll)
Pitts. An unfortunate name. Stand up,
Mister Pitts.

Pitts stands.

Open your text, Pitts, to page forty and read for us the
first stanza of the poem.

Pitts looks through his book. He finds the poem.

To The Virgins to Make Much Of Time?

That's the one.

Giggles in the class. Pitts reads.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may

Old time is still a flying

And this same flower that smiles today

Tomorrow will be dying.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. The
Latin term for that sentiment is "Carpe
Diem." Anyone know what that means?

Carpe Diem... seize the day.

Very good, Mr._?


Seize the day while you're young, see
that you make use of your time. Why does
the poet write these lines?

Because he's in a hurry?

Because we're food for worms, lads!
Because we're only going to experience a
limited number of springs, summers, and
falls. One day, hard as it is to
believe, each and every one of us is
going to stop breathing, turn cold, and
die! Stand up and peruse the faces of
the boys who attended this school sixty
or seventy years ago. Don't be timid, go
look at them.

The boys get up. Todd, Neil, Knox, Meeks, etc. go over to
the class pictures that line the honor room walls.

stare at us from out of the past.

They're not that different than any of
you, are they? There's hope in their
eyes, just like in yours. They believe
themselves destined for wonderful things,
just like many of you. Well, where are
those smiles now, boys? What of that

THE BOYS are staring at the pictures, sobered by what Keating
is saying.

Did most of them not wait until it was
too late before making their lives into
even one iota of what they were capable?
In chasing the almighty deity of success
did they not squander their boyhood
dreams? Most of those gentlemen are
fertilizing daffodils! However, if you
get very close, boys, you can hear them
whisper. Go ahead, lean in. near it?
(loud whisper)
'Carpe Diem, lads. Seize the day. Make
your lives extraordinary. -

Todd, Neil, Knox, Charlie, Cameron,
Meeks, Pitts all stare into the pictures
on the wall. All are lost in thought.


The class files out of the honor room. Todd, Neil, Knox,
Charlie, Cameron, Necks, and Pitts walk together, books in
hand. All thinking about what just happened in class.


But different.

Spooky if you ask me.

You think he'll test us on that stuff?

Oh come on, Cameron, don't you get


A Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year's from the PLS English Users Team!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Story of the REAL Santa Claus

Every year at Christmas time, there are many who ask about the origin of Santa Claus and how it connects with the central theme of Christmas. Normally, very few know the real story, yet the American version seems to be the one we are visually most familiar with.

This holiday season, PLS English Users invites you to view and read about the real story.

The American version of the Santa Claus figure received its inspiration and its name from the Dutch legend of Sinterklaas (a Dutch variant of the name Saint Nicholas).

Dutch colonists took this tradition with them to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in the American colonies in the 17th century.

As early as 1773 the name appeared in the American press as "St. A Claus," but it was the popular author Washington Irving who gave Americans their first detailed information about the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas. In his History of New York, published in 1809 under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, Irving described the arrival of the saint on horseback each Eve of Saint Nicholas.

This Dutch-American Saint Nick achieved his fully Americanized form in 1823 in the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas more commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas" by writer Clement Clarke Moore. Moore included such details as the names of the reindeer; Santa Claus's laughs, winks, and nods; and the method by which Saint Nicholas, referred to as an elf, returns up the chimney. (Moore's phrase "lays his finger aside of his nose" was drawn directly from Irving's 1809 description.)

The American image of Santa Claus was further elaborated by illustrator Thomas Nast, who depicted a rotund Santa for Christmas issues of Harper's magazine from the 1860s to the 1880s. Nast added such details as Santa's workshop at the North Pole and Santa's list of the good and bad children of the world. In the first Nast illustration, Santa was delivering Christmas gifts to soldiers fighting in the Civil War. The cartoon, entitled "Santa Claus in Camp" appeared in Harper's Weekly on January 3, 1863.

How did the idea for Santa Claus originate?

A human-sized version of Santa Claus, rather than the elf of Moore's poem, was depicted in a series of illustrations created by Haddom Sundblom for Coca-Cola advertisements introduced in 1931. In modern versions of the Santa Claus legend, only his toyshop workers are elves.

An advertising writer named Robert May, invented Rudolph, the ninth reindeer, with a red and shiny nose, while working on a catalog for the Montgomery Ward Company in 1939.

In looking for the historical roots, one discovers that Santa Claus, as we know him, is a combination of many different legends and mythical creatures.

The basis for the Christian-era Santa Claus is Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna (Izmir), in what is now Turkey. Nicholas lived in the 4th century A.D. He was very rich, generous, and loving toward children. Often he gave joy to poor children by throwing gifts in through their windows.

The Orthodox Church later raised St. Nicholas, miracle worker, to a position of great esteem. It was in his honor that Russia's oldest church, for example, was built. For its part, the Roman Catholic Church honored Nicholas as one who helped children and the poor. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of children and seafarers. His name day is December 6th.

In the Protestant areas of central and northern Germany, St. Nicholas later became known as der Weinachtsmann. In England he came to be called Father Christmas. St. Nicholas made his way to the United States with Dutch immigrants, and began to be referred to as Santa Claus.

In North American poetry and illustrations, Santa Claus, in his white beard, red jacket and pompom-topped cap, would sally forth on the night before Christmas in his sleigh, pulled by eight reindeer, and climb down chimneys to leave his gifts in stockings children set out on the fireplace's mantelpiece.

Children naturally wanted to know where Santa Claus actually came from. Where did he live when he wasn't delivering presents? Those questions gave rise to the legend that Santa Claus lived at the North Pole, where his Christmas-gift workshop was also located.

From all of us at PLS English Users, we wish everyone Happy and Safe Holidays!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

GOOD Way to Give BAD News

Sometimes when speaking English as a second language -as in life- we need to give bad news or tell someone that something is not possible or available.

Fortunately, if it's not a matter of life and death, there are ways to lessen the negativity of the situation.

So if you wish to make a lesser impact, avoid the use of no, as natives speakers tend to do in a similar situation and apply the following special phrases:

I'm afraid...

I'm afraid Bill is still in a meeting.
Instead of: Bill can't talk to you right now.

I'm afraid we're going to go with the other product.
Instead of: We will not buy your product.

I'm sorry, but...

I'm sorry, but the hotel is full until the end of the week.
Instead of: We don't have any vacancy.

I'm sorry, but Sally was feeling ill and went home.
Instead of: Sally is not here now.


Actually, I'm speaking to someone on the other line right now.
Instead of: I can't talk to you right now.

Actually, I'm in the middle of a meeting now.
Instead of: Can't you see I'm busy?

**Remember, Spanish speakers: actually does not mean currently/presently; it means in fact/in reality.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TURKEY DAY (An important American Holiday)

Thanksgiving Day, also known as "Turkey Day," is a harvest festival celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada. Its name refers to expressing thankfulness, gratitude, and appreciation. It's also a time for family and friends to get together.

Traditionally, it has been a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. And with the passing of time, this holiday has since moved away from its religious roots.

In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October. In the United States, it falls on the fourth Thursday of November.

The precise historical origin of the holiday is disputed. Although Americans commonly believe that the first Thanksgiving happened in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, there is strong evidence for earlier celebrations in Canada (1578) and by Spanish explorers in Florida (1565).

Thanksgiving and the turkey dinner it's identified with are also commonly found in American pop culture.

To provide a well-known example, here is a fragment of the memorable 1973 Thanksgiving special from a true American classic: Charles Shultz's cartoon series PEANUTS featuring Snoopy, Woodstock and Charlie Brown. Enjoy!

Thank you for you stopping by and Happy Thanksgiving from PLS English Users!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Halloween is a holiday celebrated on October 31st in many English speaking countries and made popular worldwide through pop culture (literature and movies)

But what is Halloween? And where does it come from?

It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holiday All Saints' Day, but is today largely a secular celebration.

Behind the name... Halloween, or the Hallow E'en as they call it in Ireland , is All Hallows Eve, or the night before the 'All Hallows', also called 'All Hallowmas', or 'All Saints', or 'All Souls' Day, observed on November 1. In old English the word 'Hallow' meant 'sanctify'.

Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherians used to observe All Hallows Day to honor all Saints in heaven, known or unknown.

Despite this connection with the Roman Church, the American version of Halloween Day celebration owes its origin to the ancient (pre-Christian) Druidic fire festival called "Samhain", celebrated by the Celts in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Samhain is pronounced "sow-in", with "sow" rhyming with cow. In Ireland the festival was known as Samhein, or La Samon, the Feast of the Sun.

Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Children go in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as candy or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?" The word "trick" refers to a (mostly idle) "threat" to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. In some parts of Scotland children still go guising. In this custom the child performs some sort of trick, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost story, to earn their treats.

National Geographic video on the History of Halloween.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Business Stories: STORYTELLING (Episode 3)

In the last two posts we've been discussing the Basics and the Structure involved when TELLING STORIES to communicate important ideas (in English as a second language) Today, we'll look at a practical application of this.

Suppose you have to give a Power Point presentation. Your goal is to sell a new line of business. Your team has been developing this for over a year and your audience is the board of regional directors. Your research indicates that if launched smartly and soon, this new business could save your company from doom. You are confident this is the opportunity of a lifetime. But can you get their attention, let alone convince them?

Yes, you've prepared the slides with all the pretty pie charts and projections for the next five years. But before any of that, you need to engage your audience at a far deeper level.
Can Storytelling help?

Sure. First, you'll need characters: a hero, a damsel in distress, and naturally, a bad guy. And a plot (storyline) with conflict, if possible one that involves, say... the end of the world or something of the kind. And sure, there will be a happy ending, but only after the bad guy has inflicted serious damage on the good guys and maybe even walked away with the damsel. Otherwise, who cares?

So how would this translate to your "new business" presentation? Easily.

Naturally, you should present the situation at hand in dramatic terms (see last post). Take no more than 5 minutes, but don't forget to make it fun...

"Once upon a time, there was this great company. Efficient, proud... no other like it in the kingdom", could be a good start. But then go on to tell them the tale of how this once great company (the hero) went from being successful and solving problems for its demanding clients (the damsel in distress) to running into serious trouble when confronted by the ruthless recession (the bad guy).
You can even illustrate this with some visuals for effect (just don't over do it).
It won't take your audience look to figure out what you're up to. And they'll want to know where you're planning on taking this "story". Some will be entertained, some might be concerned you might go overboard, but none of them will flip out their smart phone to see when their next meeting is. Why? Because you have engaged them.

So you go on. Now you tell them how the ruthless recession eventually smoothed out and the company survived. Unfortunately, in that time, other companies (new bad guys) have been quick to adjust their armor and spears to the new situation and have been advancing into your territory (market share), taking many of your damsels (clients). Darkness is upon you again.

Your audience will now be wondering who or what will come to the rescue.
Hold for a few seconds. Now tell them the story of a brave group of knights (your department) who has "burned the midnight oil" (worked really hard) to create a new secret weapon (new line of business) to win back your land (market share), and most important of all, bring back your damsels (clients).

But before deploying this secret weapon, the brave knights will submit the plan for approval of a wise council (the regional directors). "To be continued... ".
Surely, most will probably laugh and enjoy the fact you put some creativiy into your intro. But deep in their minds you also instilled the idea that - behind the cute little fairy tale - there is a very serious problem that is in their hands and potential solution equally at hand. They are far more ready to hear your solution now, then if you had simply walked in and started flipping the slides.
Or course, there are probably many other story models to follow. You might make yours a western, a romantic comedy, a gangster tale, a telenovela or even a space opera. It doesn't matter, as long as you engage them.

Naturally, if you're doing this as a speaker of English as a Second Language, it is in your best interest to plan out your story on paper first. But we don't recommend you memorize it either. This is not for everyone. But we still recommend you try to tell your company situtation in story terms at some point, at least for practice. You might learn something and even come up with some ideas.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

STORYTELLING… The Basics (Episode 2)

So you’ve decided you’re going to tell a story. But before moving any further, let’s ask the following question.

What is a story?

At its simplest, a story is a description of change. It's how something went from being one way to being something else. But there's a little more to it than that.

Because to truly be a story, this description of change needs to have the secret ingredient.


You know, struggle, adversity, hardship, danger or desire. In other words, all those things that force us to take action or suffer the consequences.

In communication, this means that we should think about ways to raise the stakes on whatever we're talking about. This holds especially true in business presentations, sales pitches, press releases, but holds equally true outside of business when we wish to communicate important ideas.

However, for the speaker of English as a Second Language, it's a unique opportunity to engage a listener beyond the common practice of small talk.

So where do we find conflict? It's really everywhere in Life.

First we need to locate what in drama is called the inciting incident.

This is the event that sets the action of a story in motion. An inciting incident is what disrupts balance and forces people to take action, to restore that lost balance or perhaps to achieve a new one.

For people working in business, there can be many inciting incidents. Like maybe a major client who calls to tell you that they're taking business somewhere else... to your competitor. Naturally, something like this will set you in motion. And whatever the result, for better or for worse, will result in lessons learned and a great story to be told.

But in life in general, there are inciting incidents all the time. Like maybe you get an outrageously high bill from the phone company about those "calls" you made to Tokyo. But there's a just a little problem... you never made those calls. Most people in the modern world, have stories like these to tell.

In any case, after we identify this incident, we need to focus our attention on the 3 basic building blocks of a story:

1) The set up: This is where we set up the basic elements of the story. Here we quickly identify the protagonists, the place, the time, the context and of course, the inciting incident that leads to ... the conflict and the rest of our story.

2) The confrontation: This is the "meat" of your story, where you spend most of your time because it's where the protagonists take action as a result of the inciting incident that led to conflict. His or her goal is to restore balance and solve the conflict. To be engaging, this action should be full of challenges and set-backs. Nothing good ever comes easy, right?

3) The solution to the conflict. How does the story end? Do the protagonists solve it or not, and if so, how? What are the lessons learned here if any?

In fact, these are the key elements that make up the mechanics of any story, whether it's a simple event like a customer service experience or the story of a space crew that might not come home. Let's elaborate on these two examples.


1) WATCH the two videos that follow and try to identify the following: the inciting incident, the protagonists, the conflict, the context, the confrontation and the solution to the conflict.

2) THINK of a personal experience that might constitute a story. How do you know if it's a story? Test it to see if it has the right ingredients.

Bad customer service

Houston, we have a problem

In the next post, we'll talk about fundamental story elements. In other words, what details are necessary to make a situation that has story elements become a compelling story.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

STORYTELLING... The SUPER Skill (Episode 1)

When you learn English as a second language, they tell you there are 4 skills, right?
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking
And that’s pretty good to get you going. But as you advance, there is a 5th skill that comes in pretty handy.


Why? For one thing, storytelling is the ability to tell stories. But it’s a little more than that. After all, language is communication. And in terms of communication, storytelling is the ability to tell something… anything in way that is organized, clear and maybe even a little interesting.
So what's anything? How about a situation, incident, anecdote, experience, idea, possibility, proposal, problem, solution. The point is... if you want to get passed talking about the weather for social situations or answering "yes", "no" or "check with Tom" when discussing work matters, you're going to need this extra skill.

But you don’t have to be William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens or Steven Spielberg to know how to tell a story. It’s simply a question of managing three basic elements:
  • Basic Story Structure

  • Fundamental Story Elements

  • Key Storytelling Language

That's why, storytelling is great for professionals using English to do any of the following:

  • Business Presentations

  • Sales

  • International Marketing

  • Social Media Communication

  • Applying for a Job

And the best part is that storytelling is a skill that helps any English User speak in short, effective and meaningful phrases. So it's actually easier than whatever you've done up to now when you wanted to tell or explain something important.

How's that for a happy ending?

So, coming up next... here on PLS English Users: How any user of English as a Second Language can apply Story Structure to organize information in a much more compelling way.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

If I asked you about... (Scene from GOOD WILL HUNTING)

In this post, we'll take a scene from the classic film GOOD WILL HUNTING in order to showcase how a language structure is used repetitively to prove a point.

In the scene we've chosen, a psychiatrist played by Robin Williams uses the following conditional structure repetitively in order to prove a point about his patient's (Matt Damon) predictable behavior:

If I asked you about.... you'd probably...


WILL (Matt Damon) is an unusually brilliant young man who's grown up in a very adverse environment. He's got a smart ass attitude about everything and this usually gets him in trouble. He starts getting help from SEAN (Robin Williams), a caring couselor who's been through his share of trouble.

In the previous scene, WILL assumes he knows everything about SEAN by just looking at a paining in his office. Needless to say, SEAN is no longer upset because he's figured out WILL's behavioural pattern. This is their next meeting.

(1) WATCH the scene once without reading the script (below) and try to identify the repetitive structure used by Robin Williams. Don't worry if you don't understand every single word. Go for the main idea.

(2) Then READ the script without watching and look for special vocabulary you are not familiar with. Remember, you've got a vocabulary list at the end.

(3) Now that you know what each character says, WATCH the scene again without reading. If you're a little more daring, you can PRACTICE role-playing the scene with a language group, a friend or even with your cat or goldfish.

(4) Try to WRITE more examples of what SEAN might say to WILL. If I asked you about ... (anything)... you'd probably (DO this, that or the other). Try MAKING SENTENCES with the vocabulary words. And SHARE it with us in the comments box.

Enjoy, English Users!

SCRIPT (vocabulary list below)

(Warning: contains strong language)

WILL: So what's this? A Taster's Choice moment between guys? This is really nice. You got a thing for swans? Is this like a fetish? It's something, like, maybe we need to devote some time to?
SEAN: I thought about what you said to me the other day, about my painting. Stayed up half the night thinking about it. Something occurred to me and I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep and haven't thought about you since. You know what occurred to me?
SEAN: You're just a kid. You don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about.
WILL: Why, thank you.
SEAN: It's all right. You've never been out of Boston.
WILL: Nope.
SEAN: So if I asked you about art you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written...Michelangelo? (beat) You know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. Seen that.....

If I asked you about women you'd probably give me a syllabus of your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can't tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You're a tough kid.

I ask you about war, and you'd probably--uh--throw Shakespeare at me, right? "Once more into the breach, dear friends." But you've never been near one. You've never held your best friend's head in your lap and watched him gasp his last breath, looking to you for help.

And if I asked you about love y'probably quote me a sonnet. But you've never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone could level you with her eyes. Feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you...who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn't know what it’s like to be her angel and to have that love for her to be there forever. Through anything. Through cancer. You wouldn't know about sleeping sittin’ up in a hospital room for two months holding her hand because the doctors could see in your eyes that the term visiting hours don't apply to you. You don't know about real loss, because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself. I doubt you've ever dared to love anybody that much.

I look at you; I don't see an intelligent, confident man; I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you're a genius, Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine and you ripped my fuckin' life apart.

You're an orphan right? (Will nods) Do you think I'd know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally, I don't give a shit about all that, because you know what? I can't learn anything from you I can't read in some fuckin' book. Unless you wanna talk about you, who you are. And I'm fascinated. I'm in. But you don't wanna do that, do you, sport? You're terrified of what you might say.

Your move, chief. (Sean stands and walks away.)

smart ass: (colloquial) someone who presumes to know everything about everything
Taster's Choice Moment: (pop culture) refers to a well-known coffee commercial about sharing special moments from the brand "Taster's Choice"
give the skinny on (something): (colloquial) provide a summary or short version of something
be / get laid: (colloquial) to have sexual experience
breach: a gap or rift that provides defense to a fortress or castle
gasp: to breathe convulsively or laboriously
cocky: (colloquial) arrogant
sport: (U.S. colloquial) a way of referring to someone suggesting they play fair and know how to win or lose (used ironically in the script above)
your move: (from chess) a way to say to someone, "it's your turn now" to act or do something
chief: (colloquial) if the person is not actually someone's chief, it's just a way for men to refer to one another when they wish to show a friendly attitude (used ironically in the script above)

Monday, August 23, 2010

MAY vs. MIGHT... a matter of degree

Some time back, we received a request from Maria Cecilia, a PLS English User, asking us to clarify the difference between MAY and MIGHT.

So here goes…

The fact is that the difference isn’t really all that big. Both MAY and MIGHT are used to suggest the possibility of something happening in the future.

However, MAY suggests the “possibility” as more likely, whereas MIGHT suggests that "possibility" as less likely. A matter of degree some would say.

Congratulations! Yes, you’ve been offered a job. Now depending on how much you really want it, you could use MAY or you could use MIGHT in reference to whether you're going to take the job or not.

Example 1:
You know, I really need a change so I may take that job offer.
(I am seriously considering the job offer)

Example 2:
There aren’t really any other openings, so I might take that job offer.
(I am considering it because I have no choice, but it's not really what I'd like to do)

So far, we’ve been referring to talking about things happening in the future. Yet of course, you may have seen some uses when referring to situations in the past. You don't need to get your eyes checked. You saw it right.

MIGHT is the past tense of MAY. Just like COULD is the past of CAN, or WOULD is the past of WILL.

Example in the Past:
If I had known about the party, I might have gone to it.
(Here there is no possibility of anything because you never knew about any such party... or so you say)

Bottom line. If you get an invitation to a place you really want to go to, but you’re not sure if you can, say you MAY go. On the other hand, if you get invited to a place you really don’t want to go to and you still want to be polite, say you MIGHT go. It all depends on HOW MUCH you really want to do something.

At the end of the day… it’s a matter of degree.

Thanks Maria Cecilia!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Not just British or American... 21 Accents

It's safe to say that users of English as a Second language have for the most part learned English either from British or American English methodologies. In terms of listening and pronunciation, this means that in many cases, they learned from someone with a British or an American accent. And sure, some prefer the former, while others the latter. This might even apply to you.

But are there really only two accents in all of English? Hardly. First of all, there are many other English-speaking countries. Then, within each country there are many regional accents. In addition to that, just like you, people from all over the world speak English, often although not always with a distinct accent.

To get a taste of this, for today's post, we'll let YouTube accent trainer and actress Amy Walker walk you through at least 21 of them. The first 3 alone are only from London, mind you. So if your ears are ready, check out this entertaining video and see the many different ways to say, "Hi, my name is Amy Walker, I'm 25 years old and I was born in ...". Enjoy!

If you'd like, share your thoughts in the comments box below. Let us know which Amy Walker accents are easier for you? Which are more difficult? Which one did you like the most? And last but not least, can you guess where Amy Walker is really from?
(After you listened to it a couple of times, you may check the transcript posted in the "comments" section down below")

Saturday, July 17, 2010

UP IN THE AIR (Listening Comprehension)

As an English User, you may have on ocassion traveled abroad. Who knows, you may even be a frequent flyer. Well, regardless of how much time you've spent "up in the air", today we'll be practicing some listening comprehension with a scene from UP IN THE AIR, the film starring George Clooney.

If you haven't seen it. UP IN THE AIR is an American comedy-drama film directed by Jason Reitman. It's about a corporate downsizer named Ryan Bingham (Clooney) who spends most of his time traveling. The film follows his life and philosophies along with the people he meets along the way.

In fact, Bingham is a frequent-flyer because he makes his living traveling to workplaces around the United States and conducting layoffs for bosses who don’t want to do it themselves. Ryan also delivers motivational speeches, using the analogy "What's In Your Backpack?" to extol the virtues of a life free of relationships with people and things, like his own life.

Yet events happen along the way that make him change the way he looks at his life up in the air.

WATCH the scene where Bingham delivers his typical "What's in your backpack?" Speech. Only try to understand the main idea. Then READ the transcript below and STUDY the vocabulary. Finally, WATCH the video again and try to APPLY the vocabulary the next time you use English. Enjoy the video and good luck, English Users!

Now this is going to be a bit difficult, so stay with me. How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life. You start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, and then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home. I want you to stuff it all into that backpack.

Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack; feel the weight of that bag.

Make no mistake. Your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks."


Up in the air: Expression to refer to something that is undefined or has not yet been decided.
Corporate downsizer: A person whose job it is to assist a company to reduce its operational cost, often implying the task of laying off staff.
Along the way: Expression that refers something that happens while traveling from one place to the other
layoff: the act of dismissing an employee from his or her employment
extol: praise, glorify, or honor someone or something
Knickknacks: A small trivial article intended for ornament
Appliance: a machine or device, esp an electrical one used domestically like a microwave oven
To Stuff: To pack (a container, a suitcase) tightly, almost to the limit
Acquaintance: a person with whom one has been in contact but who is not a close friend

Monday, June 28, 2010


For many English Users, these two question forms generate confusion. Below are some guidelines to determine the correct use:
  • First, determine if you are talking about countables or non-countables.
    For more information see our previous POST about this topic.

  • Use HOW MANY for countables or plural concepts.
    Ex.1) How many boxes do you need?
    Ex.2) How many people did you see at the gate?

  • Use HOW MUCH for non-countable or singular concepts.
    Ex.3) How much coffee would you like?
    Ex.4) How much pressure can the tank sustain?

  • Use HOW MUCH for questions where the non-countable concept is implied by context, but not used directly.
    Ex.5) How much does the computer cost?
    How much implies how much "money" (non-countable concept)
    Ex.6) How much does the car get per gallon/liter?
    How much implies how much "distance" (non-countable concept)

  • Here are some irregular plural countables to be aware of:
    Man > men
    Woman > women
    Child > children
    Person > people
    Mouse > mice

Friday, June 18, 2010

An Argentine Passion (Listening Comprehension)

No matter where you're from, you probably know there is a World Cup going on. Well, as PLS is based in Buenos Aires, for today's post, we thought we'd tell you something about the history and the cultural importance of football in Argentina.

You will hear a fragment from one of our Executive Travel English courses - called PLS EXPRESS - about the history of football in Argentina.

LISTEN and TAKE NOTES on details regarding: individuals, entities, teams and figures. PAUSE as many times as necessary.

After viewing it, take following QUIZ to see how much you understood. Click HERE to view on a larger separate window. Good luck!

If the results suggests you missed something, no problem. View the video again, and give the quiz another go. Good luck, English Users!
And Good Luck to all Teams in the 2010 World Cup!


*Argentine FOOTBALL ENTITIES mentioned (in Spanish):
Copa America, Copa Libertadores, Primera Division, Apertura, Clausura, Copa Sudamericana, Boca Juniors, Independiente, Estudiantes de La Plata, River Plate, Racing Club, Argentinos Juniors, Vélez Sársfield


Soccer: Another way to refer to football, especially used in the United States and Canada
So-called: Refers to someone or something popularly called in a certain way
Go (went) on to (do something): Refers to the next action taken
Tier: a relative position or degree of value in a graded group
Feat: A notable achievement
Winning streak: A series of continuous victories
Glued to the TV: Informal expression referring to being really engaged in watching television

Hat trick: In sports it often refers to scoring three times in succession. It may originate from various tricks performed with a top hat in magic. In a sense the hat trick implies great skill and a little bit of magic to accomplish. Gonzalo Higuain - the Argentine player in the photo above recently performed this feat in the match against S. Korea in the FIFA 2010 World Cup

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The BLACK HOLE of Predicting the Future

This lesson is about black holes.

Or at least that's what the title says.

It's really about.. predicting the future. But not the future of the universe and the world. It's simply about predicting the future of a lonely office employee who has a crisis with the photocopying machine.

But as the the Chinese proverb says, Crisis is Opportunity.

So, anyway. Let's practice some English. Let's predict the FUTURE with WILL or GOING TO.

What’s the difference? It’s subtle.

WILL suggests you are more certain about your prediction than GOING TO. As a result, it’s more common to hear GOING TO.

What do you think John will do? / I think he’ll sign the contract.
What do you think John is going to do? / I think he’s going to sign the contract. (Pronounced “gonna” in Am. Eng)

So are YOU ready to enter the BLACK HOLE and PREDICT the future? If so…

a. PLAY THE VIDEO UP TO 0:30 only. Then press PAUSE (That means don't continue watching the video)

OK, what's going to happen next? (write your answer somewhere, we'll wait while you go get something to write with). Fill in the blank.

I think the photocopy machine will / is going to ________________.

b. PLAY THE VIDEO UP TO 01:00. Then press PAUSE

What's going to happen next?

I think the office employee will / is going to _________________.

c. PLAY THE VIDEO UP TO 01:30. Then press PAUSE

What's going to happen next?

I think the office employee will / is going to _________________.

d. PLAY THE VIDEO UP TO 0 2:00. Then press PAUSE

What's going to happen next?

I think the office employee will / is going to _________________.

e. PLAY THE VIDEO UP TO 0 2:30. Then press PAUSE

What's going to happen next?

I think the office employee will / is going to __________________.

Suggested Answer Key:
a. print a white paper with a black hole
b. put his hand through the black hole.
c. take a chocolate/candy bar from the vending machine
d. take money from the safety box
e. There is no right prediction. Your guess is as good as ours.

Moral of the story: Use WILL / GOING TO to predict the future, but beware of mysterious photocopy machines, English Users.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SAY or TELL, what's the difference?

Well, here at PLS English Users we do have something to say about when to use SAY and when to use TELL.

Here are some guidelines...


We use it to report someone's words:

  • Bill said, "I'm tired"
  • Bill said that he was tired.

We use say followed by 'to' before the object:

  • What did he say to you?

We use say to ask about languages :

  • How do you say 'water' in Spanish?
We use say for the following:

  • Bill said hello.
  • She left without saying goodbye.
  • Remember to say please.
  • Please say congratulations on my behalf.
  • I just called to say Merry Christmas / Happy New Year / Happy Birthday / etc.


We use tell to provide information or to give orders:

  • Could you tell me how to get to the Marriot hotel?
  • Tell Tom that I cancelled the meeting.

You might have noticed that tell is followed directly by the object :

  • Did Mary tell you what happened?

We also use tell for the following:

  • Tom is good at telling stories.
  • Could you tell me the time?
  • Tell me your name, please.
  • Don’t tell me lies.
  • Hey, I’m telling the truth.
  • I can’t tell the difference between these two products.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Now, let's get something straight. This article is not about music. It's about making your English as a second language delivery style far more satisfying and effective for you and for the rest of us.

But wait a second…

Maybe it is a little bit about music. After all, nobody likes to listen to something that isn't music their ears.

So here is the million dollar question:

What makes the delivery style of a speaker of English as a Second Language (ESL) satisfying for any listener?

Perfect grammar? Not really.
Perfect pronunciation? Try again.
Sophisticated vocabulary? Ice cold.

Those are very important, but to reach our goal of listener satisfaction, we need to think outside the box of conventional English courses. In fact, there are just 2 (two) steps to approaching a satisfying delivery style in English as a Second Language:

1) Use the Logic of English when constructing ideas, sentences or phrases, instead of translating from the Logic of your native language to English.

2) Develop a sense of tone. In other words, detect and decide how much formality or informality a situation requires, based on the context at hand.

Delivery style is not rocket science. But just like music, you can learn a lot from assimilating what others do in the same situation. And with the Internet today, you have infinite ways to do that.

From my experience as a TEFL and communication consultant in Latin America, I know that this is actually the area of most difficulty. Coincidentally, it's also the area most overlooked by English courses offered in Spanish-speaking countries.

But the reason for this difficulty in delivery style is simple. Native Spanish speakers often implement the same delivery style in English as they do in Spanish. This means they often use long sentences, BIG academic words (of Latin origin), very few verbs (and hardly ever phrasal verbs), too many nouns, inordinate amounts of passive voice and excessive formality.

Now for our purposes, whether this is the way to go in Spanish is irrelevant. However, in English this delivery style will in most cases undermine the value of your message. It will be perceived as wordy, not entirely candid, and even contrived. Making matters a bit more complex, English Users today have 24/7 access to English thanks to the barrage of mass media that surrounds us. But you have to know when to use what you hear.

A few years ago, I was assisting a team of young professionals. They were writing a power point presentation about "the complications in aspects of the implementation of the principal stage of the …. program". They wanted to know if the goal was clear. I told them that if you read it 27 times, it’s clear, but it sounds awful in English.

I pointed out that it would sound more English to say it was about “The challenges of implementing the main stage of the ... program”. In other words, instead of using the lifeless noun “implementation”, we "implement" something. Instead of using "complications in aspects", we use "challenges". Just reading a few power points by native English speakers (which are available… everywhere) will give you more examples of what is normally used for these.

Then in the next slide, it said, "this is how we wanna do it". Asked why they used it “wanna”, one group member replied, "If Mick Jagger uses it. we can use it too, right?". I understood their dilemma, but reminded them that the leader of the Rolling Stones was most definitely not singing about software architecture, but more informal aspects of life.

In conclusion, delivery style is all about choosing the right words and the right tone, and in recognizing that English works best when it’s written in "English”. At the very least, it’s good way to ensure that your audience won’t say they ”can't get no satisfaction!" from your message.

In the weeks ahead, look for more articles and videos that address how to improve your English delivery style.


get something straight (phrasal verb) - aclarar las cosas de entrada
outside the box (idiomatic expression) – pensar de manera lateral, no convencional
rocket science (idiom) - ciencia oculta
overlooked (adj) - ignorado porque lo pasaron por alto
the way to go (idiom) - lo que hay que hacer
undermine (verb t.) - socavar
wordy (adj) - con palabrería
candid (adj) - franco
contrived (adj) - forzado
24/7 (idiom) - las 24 hs, todos los días de la semana

© 2010 Paul Ponce

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


In today's post, we'll look at a great scene from a movie that actually uses very simple language to solve a complex dilemma.

It's from the hit romantic comedy of 2003, Love Actually.

By the way, remember that actually in English means "in fact", "in reality" and not something happening at the present time (as Spanish speakers sometimes mistake).

Anyway, as you will see in this scene, for Mark - a young man from London - it's difficult to say what he's got to say to that special someone (Juliet), even if they speak the same language.

Of course, who says you've got to say anything? Sometimes, all you actually need is some cardboard, a magic marker and some basic knowledge of verb tenses.


As you can see (and read), the language Mark uses includes:

simple present: You are perfect...
simple future: My wasted heart will...

And not much more.

Now imagine how this would change if the guy had actually tried to say his feelings instead of writing them. Put yourself in Mark's shoes or in Juliet's. What do you think they would actually say to one another?

Here at PLS English Users we can't actually recommend that this technique will work for your personal life.

But if you want to enjoy a simple and delicious comedy - in English - from the director of Four Weddings and a Funeral, we can recommend you rent Love Actually at your local DVD rental store.

And as an EXTRA from PLS English Users - if you click here - you can download a PDF of the script that was actually written to make this movie. (The script is for educational use only).

Movie scripts are fast, easy and fun to read. They are also mostly written in historical present (simple present). So, you can actually read this one before, during and after you watch it. By the way, the scene mentioned above is on page 120-121.

To catch a glimpse of the movie, you can also check out the trailer below.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

COMMON MISTAKES - Plural Noncountables

When learning a foreign language, there is probably only one rule that never fails. What works in your native language, doesn’t necessarily work in another language.

Look at the following examples. What's wrong with the words in bold?

1) Waiter, I would like two sandwiches and two waters.

2) I’m receiving different informations from my team.

Naturally, in romance languages like Spanish, words like water and information can be singular and plural. However in English, the situation is a little different.

The reason is that they are noncoutables (or non-count nouns). Noncountables refer to things that are generic like water or plastic; as well as abstract ideas such as peace and love.

So what are some examples of these generic and abstract things known as noncountables?

Generic materials: wood, cloth, plastic, wool, steel, glass, leather, porcelain, hair

Generic activities: reading, boating, smoking, dancing, soccer

Generic substances: ice, dust, air, oxygen, water, milk, wine, beer, sugar, rice, meat, cheese, flour

Other generics: luggage, equipment, furniture, experience, applause, photography, traffic, harm, publicity, homework, advice, heat, cold, humidity, sunshine, electricity, biology, history, mathematics, economics, poetry

Abstract concepts: information, peace, anger, courage, violence, safety, justice, work, friendship, love, freedom, good, evil, time

But here is the million dollar question. Can any of these words ever be plural?

Sure, some of them can, but not when they are in the generic or abstract sense. In other words, they can be plural when they refer to something specific in plural quantities.

1) The best wines in Argentina are from Mendoza. (doesn’t refer to wine as a generic substance, but to specific wines of a specific region)
2) The works of Pablo Picasso are magnificent. (specific pieces of art)
3) Tell us about your experiences as an English User. (specific moments in your life)
4) Remember the times you went to the library this week (specific occasions)

But what about those cases like information that cannot be expressed as plural? For those, we can add a countable + of to describe a plural situation.

This means we can talk about:

1) Pieces of/ types of / tons of / a lot of information, equipment, luggage
2) Cups of coffee, tea, juice
2) Bottles of / glasses of wine, water, milk

In conclusion, in English - before you make something PLURAL - you just need to ask yourself if whatever you're talking about is of the generic / abstract type or if its use is more specific.