Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

The holiday ice rink & Christmas tree at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan.

I wish you all a very merry Christmas and the chance to do the things you enjoy most during the holidays. I usually try to find time to rest, to REFLECT ON (think about) the year that's almost over, and anticipate the beginning of the new year. I hope you find time to do the same.

I've talked about my goals for 2014 at the small guide site. Stop by if you haven't read my holiday message. Then, you're welcome to share your goals with us. You can do it below, on our page on Facebook, or on Twitter by mentioning @joeyu2nd.

Wishing you all the best!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Feeling UNDER THE WEATHER sucks.

If you know me, you know I'm not usually one to admit that I'm sick, but sometimes, you just can't deny reality, can you? I've been feeling UNDER THE WEATHER (not well) for close to a week now. My throat started to feel SCRATCHY (a little sore) last Saturday, and I've been feeling like I'm ON THE BRINK (almost; at the point) of getting sick off and on. I'd wake up in the middle of the night all sweaty and feeling CRAPPY (miserable) with my breath warm and my body a bit achy. I've been lucky though that I haven't had a fever. However, I started to cough, which I almost never do, and my nose started to run PROFUSELY (a lot; abundantly) yesterday. It's a little better today.

It's a good thing I get to SLEEP IN (wake up late) a couple of mornings a week now with my new schedule, which is fantastic. I SLEPT LIKE A LOG (slept well) the past couple of nights. I woke up well rested both times although I still didn't feel well yesterday. Today, though still not completely well, I feel much better. I have an early start tomorrow, so I hope I manage to HIT THE SACK (go to bed) early tonight and get another good night's sleep that'll get rid of this CRAPPY (horrible) feeling ONCE AND FOR ALL (finally & completely).

The ADVENT (start) of winter is often rough on the body with the huge changes and FLUCTUATIONS (unstable; up & down changes) in temperature and humidity. It's important to stay HYDRATED (with enough water), eat well, & get plenty of rest. It definitely SUCKS (horrible, #slang) being sick, so it's best to avoid it.

I hope you're all feeling well! 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Talking about FOG

I still have the morning fog that we had this past Thursday in mind and thought it would make a nice vocabulary lesson. First of all, I was running late and was in such a rush to catch my train that I didn't notice that FOG had BLANKETED the area. It wasn't until my train was crossing the Manhattan bridge that I realized there was fog and that it was quite DENSE. It was beautiful seeing it over the East River and Lower Manhattan; I wish I had taken a photo of it. The fog was so THICK that I could barely see the Brooklyn Bridge to the south, and the Williamsburg Bridge to the north was completely covered; I couldn't see it at all. By midmorning, however, the fog had LIFTED. There was no sun to BURN it OFF, but it was all but gone by noon, and we were left with thick clouds and some rain.
          In a rush - in a hurry
        All but - almost completely; pretty much

The words in capital letters above are the terms we use when talking about fog. Fog can BLANKET or COVER an area. We can also say that an area is SHROUDED in fog. When we can't see much around us or when visibility is low, we say the fog is DENSE, THICK, or HEAVY. If the opposite is true, we say the fog is LIGHT. When the fog disappears, we say it has LIFTED, or it has BURNED OFF. We can also say that the sun BURNED OFF the fog.

There you have it, folks. You're all set (ready) to talk about fog. The next time you see it, use the vocabulary above to describe and talk about it. 

Thanks for checking out this lesson. If you know someone who can also benefit from learning the vocabulary above, please share it. Use the social media buttons below. 

Take care!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Do you prefer dawn or dusk?

photo: Brooklyn in the twilight at dusk
Cars heading home in the twilight in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

I stepped out for a short walk the other day at dusk to grab a couple slices of pizza and was reminded of how much I love this time of day. It's called twilight, the short period when the sun is already below the horizon after sunset and just before dark. The word "twilight" can also refer to the quality of the light at this time and actually has a poetic ring to it. As such, it's more common in writing, especially in storytelling, than in speaking. We also use this word to talk about the early morning hours of dawn; however, it is used more to refer to nightfall.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On the word "FOLK"

photo: FOLK dancers

How often do you use the word "FOLK"? In my latest lesson at the small guide site, I explain the different uses of this word and talk about how the meaning changes depending on the form. It's a simple word that's used quite often. However, it can cause misunderstandings if you're not familiar with the way its meaning changes based on whether it's used as a noun, an adjective, or when you're expressing possession.

Here are the main points of the lesson:
  1. When used as an adjective, FOLK means "cultural" or "of the people." Examples include folk music, folk dance, and folk art.
  2. When used as a noun, FOLK means "people" and may be used in the plural when referring to individuals in a group or the "singular" when referring to an entire group as a whole.
  3. When used with a possessive noun or pronoun and in the plural, FOLKS specifically means someone's parents.

Visit the small guide site for the entire lesson on the word "FOLK," and start using the word more and with more confidence. See you there! 

Saturday, September 14, 2013


photo: of a 40% off sale. HARD to resist. For an ESL lesson.
Sales like this one are just HARD to resist. I quickly decided to get two pounds
and HARDLY had to think twice about it. I'm cooking one pound & freezing the rest.

The words HARD and HARDLY can be confusing to English learners because the two words look directly related. You might think that HARDLY is simply the adverb of HARD. However, it isn't. The adverb of "HARD" is actually also "HARD." The word "HARD," therefore, can either be an adjective or an adverb, while "HARDLY" can only be an adverb.  

In addition, while these two words may seem similar in meaning, in fact, they are almost direct opposites. The word "HARD" means "strong," "tough," or "difficult" as an adjective, and "with a lot of energy and determination" as an adverb. "HARDLY," on the other hand, only works as an adverb and means "not really" or "almost not."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Once in a blue moon

Blue moon over Brooklyn. August 20, 2013
Blue moon over Brooklyn. This is the third full moon in a season with four full moons.
There are two kinds of blue moons, & each kind by itself is quite rare, which is why we
say ONCE IN A BLUE MOON when we talk about something that very seldom happens. 

I was PSYCHED (excited) to learn just a few hours ago on my way home that tonight's full moon is actually a blue moon! I teach the expression ONCE IN A BLUE MOON in the classroom quite a bit, so I was so excited to finally see one and take a photo of it. If you're not familiar with the expression ONCE IN A BLUE MOON, it's an adverbial phrase that means "very rarely." For example, I take a taxi ONCE IN A BLUE MOON. Also, living in New York City, I drive just ONCE IN A BLUE MOON.

I quickly did some research on the train when I found out about tonight's blue moon and learned that it has two definitions. The more common definition and the one I tell students describes a blue moon as the second full moon in a calendar month. This was apparently a mistake made by a magazine in 1946 that simply STUCK (stayed; remained), according to the Huffington Post. The original definition of a blue moon states that a blue moon is the third full moon in a season that has four full moons. A season usually only has three full moons, so one with four is quite rare. 
A close-up of the blue moon
A close-up

Tonight's blue moon is based on the original definition. The last one of this kind happened on November 21, 2010, and the next one won't be until 2015.  It's a rare phenomenon, which explains why we say ONCE IN A BLUE MOON. So, what do you do just ONCE IN BLUE MOON?  :-)

Sunday, July 28, 2013


SOAK, English vocabulary
SOAKING beans so they can absorb water and soften for quick cooking.

I thought about the word SOAK today as I SOAKED my clothes in the washer while doing laundry and SOAKED some mung beans for an easy-to-cook soup for dinner. About 6 hours later, the beans were soft and cooked IN NO TIME (very quickly) after I added some sauteed onions, mushrooms, and carrots. TO SOAK here means to submerge or to place in some liquid (often in water). In the same sense, when we take a bath, we can say that we're going to SOAK in the tub. 

SOAK is also synonymous with "absorb". Indeed, when we SOAK the clothes, we're letting it absorb the soapy water. Similarly, when we SOAK beans, we're also letting them absorb water so that they soften and cook quickly. 

It's the same idea when, on a sunny day, we lie on the sand at the beach or on the grass in the park in order to SOAK UP some sun. Also, when it's raining, we can get SOAKED or SOAKED TO THE BONE or SOAKING WET when we forget our umbrella. 

Alright, folks. I hope you enjoyed this quick vocabulary lesson. I thought it was a cool word to know and use. In the coming weeks, I hope you find some time for a relaxing SOAK (n.) in the tub, and I hope you don't get SOAKED the next time it POURS (rains hard). 

Don't forget to use the buttons below to share this post with your friends. Until next time!

Thursday, July 4, 2013


The flag at the U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Station on Times Square.

It's the FOURTH OF JULY, and the United States is 237 years old! We declared our independence from Britain on July 4, 1776. Understandably, a lot of American flags are proudly being flown and waved today at events nationwide. There are parades, backyard barbecues, and of course, fireworks! Have you been to a Fourth of July celebration? What was it like?

To make your July 4 memorable and meaningful, here is some information about the U.S. to keep in mind.

  1. The U.S. flag has 50 stars, which stand for the 50 states in the Union.
  2. The flag also has 13 stripes, which stand for the original 13 colonies.
  3. The flag is also known as the Stars and Stripes.
  4. The first President of the U.S. was George Washington.
  5. The first President to live in the White House was John Adams, who was the second President and the Vice President under Washington.
  6. Washington, D.C. was strategically selected as the nation's permanent capital to APPEASE (make calm or peaceful) both the North and the South.
  7. D.C. stands for District of Columbia; the area was once called the Territory of Columbia, named in honor of Christopher Columbus. Also, "Columbia" was once the poetic name of the U.S.
  8. The national ANTHEM (song) of the U.S. is called the Star Spangled Banner

Well, folks, I hope you're all having a great time. Be safe out there! :-) 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Morning jog to the subway

The last intersection I have to jog across before heading down to the subway.

I'm always running late in the morning. One day, I was so late that I had to run to the subway to make a train because the next one would have been too late. I was OUT OF BREATH and had to stop once or twice to CATCH MY BREATH. I HUFFED AND PUFFED as I held on to the straps of my backpack, which is always full and heavy.

Since that morning, I've been jogging to the station every day. Now, I do it because it has gotten easier. I don't huff or puff anymore, I'm no longer OUT OF BREATH when I get to the station. In fact, walking now feels too slow, and I've realized that the short jog is actually a good WORKOUT, and I feel like I'm IN better SHAPE. I didn't realize how OUT OF SHAPE I was until I found out I couldn't run a short distance without huffing and puffing. I'm finding out how amazing it is that just a tiny bit of exercise can make a significant difference.

OUT OF BREATH - having a hard time breathing
CATCH ONE'S BREATH - trying to breathe better
HUFF AND PUFF - breathe heavily
A WORKOUT - an exercise routine
IN SHAPE - physically fit and healthy 
OUT OF SHAPE - not healthy; weak

How do you KEEP IN SHAPE with a busy schedule? Do you set aside time to work out or do you work out a little bit throughout the day?

Thanks for checking out this lesson. If you want more quick, small lessons, FOLLOW me on Twitter at joeyu2nd and LIKE the small guide site's page on Facebook. Until next time! :-)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A stone's throw away

Do you recognize the idiom in this cover headline? It's a play on words. A STONE'S THROW AWAY means something is not far, or it's very close. For example, you can say "The beach is just A STONE'S THROW AWAY from my house." This story is about the city's plans to replace the old, hand-cut cobblestones in one section of Brooklyn and replace them with machine-produced look-alikes. The reconstruction is basically to update the road surface, as well as the sewage, utilities, and water pipes underneath and bring them to today's standards. 

This PUN (play on words) is used because the stones are being thrown away, of course. In addition, some of the original cobblestones will be reused along with the new ones, which goes along with the meaning of the idiom--they're not going far. Many of the original cobblestones will be laid probably not too far from where they lie now. We can also say that they will be laid just A STONE'S THROW AWAY from where they are now.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Not knowing WHAT TO MAKE OF this allergy season

Trees are in full bloom everywhere, but where are my allergies? Just wondering. 

I'm completely AT A LOSS trying to figure out and explain what happened to my allergies this year. My hay fever never really KICKED IN, and I don't quite know WHAT TO MAKE OF IT. Don't get me wrong; I'm definitely not complaining. In fact, I'm grateful. Winter HUNG AROUND longer than we expected in the Northeastern U.S., so that may have kept the pollen AT BAY. I'm allergic to tree pollen. However, trees are now either in full bloom or sprouting their BUDS, and tree pollen is ON ITS WAY DOWN. Basically, my allergy season is pretty much over, and I only POPPED one single allergy medication back in early March. I'm definitely curious as to what will happen next year.

Have any of you LUCKED OUT this year, as well, and somehow EVADED seasonal allergies? 

AT A LOSS (for words) - don't know what to say or do
KICK IN - activate; start working
WHAT TO MAKE OF IT - what to think of it
HANG AROUND - stay; linger
AT BAY - at a distance; in control
BUDS - young leaves, shoots
ON ITS WAY DOWN - going down 
POP medication - take medication (slang)
LUCK OUT - be lucky
EVADE - not be hurt or captured

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Inspiring lines with a potent message

I CAME ACROSS this poem by Robert Brault on Twitter and was STRUCK by its inspiring message. It's like a short story with a somewhat unexpected ending and a POTENT reminder for all of us to FOLLOW THROUGH on our goals and dreams. It's called "A Poem Missing the Word Woulda."

In English, coulda, shoulda, and woulda (could've, should've, & would've) often go together when we talk about regrets about the past. It's true, isn't it? We do TIP OUR HATS to those who actually do something and act on their dreams instead of just making excuses later. (I would've done that if ...)

Robert Brault is a writer from Connecticut. His blog, A Robert Brault Reader, has lots of inspirational and insightful poems and quotes. You should check it out, especially if you like the poem above. He is also The Quote Guy on Twitter @RobertBrault1 

COME ACROSS - encounter; see
STRUCK (strike) - hit; impressed
POTENT - powerful
FOLLOW THROUGH on something - finish what you start; pursue completely
TIP OUR HAT to someone - recognize; acknowledge / tip of the LID (cover, as in a cover for the head) 

Btw, I'm also on Twitter @joeyu2nd and on Facebook as the small guide site. FOLLOW and LIKE! :-)    

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Winter's GRIP

The snow last night was definitely surprising. In the end, it wasn't much & it
was mostly gone in the morning, but I don't think anyone expected this much
accumulation this late in the season. Most of us are ready for warmer weather.

Because it's now the middle of March and just a couple of days before the official start of spring, it's weird to have to BUNDLE UP and BRACE OURSELVES for the freezing temperatures whenever we HEAD OUT the door. I love the snow, and I don't mind the cold weather, but it just feels like it should be warmer by now, and it's a bit disturbing that it isn't. I just checked the 10-day forecast, and it doesn't seem like winter is leaving us soon. There's no warm weather IN SIGHT AS OF YET. In fact, there's another round of rain-snow mix ON TAP for next Monday. Does this mean that summer will be cooler than usual? Now, that would be nice. :-)

BUNDLE UP - dress very warmly
BRACE ONESELF - get ready; hold on to something
HEAD OUT - go out
IN SIGHT - in the near future
AS OF YET - so far
ON TAP - scheduled; expected
GRIP - a tight hold

Have you LIKED the small guide site on Facebook and FOLLOWED @joeyu2nd on Twitter? Click on over and be a fan! We'd love to have you. :-)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

On my way vs In my way

Pedestrians ON THEIR WAY to work on a rainy weekday
morning in Midtown Manhattan hoping nothing gets IN
THEIR WAY as they rush to their destinations.

These two expressions, ON ONE'S WAY and IN ONE'S WAY, differ by just one preposition, but they are very different in meaning.

When we say I'm ON MY WAY, we mean we are en route or moving toward our destination.

1. I'll be there soon. I'm ON MY WAY.
2. Tim said he'd be a bit late, but he's ON HIS WAY.
3. The cops are ON THEIR WAY. They should be able to help us.
4. The package is ON ITS WAY to Boston.
5. We're ON OUR WAY; don't start eating without us!

On the other hand, when we say that a person or thing is IN OUR WAY, we mean that that person or thing is blocking our path and is usually preventing us from moving forward.

1. Could you move to the side? You're IN OUR WAY.
2. They left because you're busy. They didn't want to be IN YOUR WAY.
3. These boxes are IN MY WAY. Do you mind if I move them?
4. The cyclist almost hit a dog that was IN HIS WAY.
5. The angry manager simply kicked a box that was IN HER WAY.

It's also possible to use the article THE instead of possessive pronouns. This works with both expressions.

1. She's ON THE WAY to the concert. She should be back in a few hours.
2. If I get IN THE WAY, let me know, and I'll move.

Alright, folks. Try to use these expressions soon, so you won't forget them. Good luck! If you have any questions, you can ask them here, on our Facebook page, or @joeyu2nd on Twitter. Until next time, take care!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hands down

I think this is HANDS DOWN the best orca footage I've seen online, and I've seen quite a few. It's a short video clip of the birth of an orca at Sea World San Diego. Orcas are also called killer whales and are one of my favorite animals on the planet. If you look closely, the mother is pushing its newly born CALF (baby orca) to the surface so it can breathe. Orcas are mammals and have to SURFACE to breathe air.

Hope you enjoy the footage. It's short, but sweet. :-)

HANDS DOWN means it's undisputed, there's no contest, or there is no question when comparing something or someone with others. This idiom is usually used with comparative or superlative adjectives.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Getting a kick out of something

I GOT A KICK OUT OF reading this sign at a cafe inside Grand Central
Station and seeing people pay just 5 cents for coffee. There were
 long lines of customers taking advantage of the offer.

I'm so busy these days that I GET A KICK OUT OF DOING anything out of my routine. Last Friday, I stopped by Grand Central Terminal in New York City to check out its anniversary celebrations. The train station turned 100 years old last weekend, and to COMMEMORATE (officially remember) this MILESTONE (important event), some stores and restaurants inside offered 1913 prices for some items. I had a bar of fudge for 27 cents in the Grand Central Market. Some shops offered coffee for 5 cents and bread for 6 cents. I definitely GOT A KICK OUT OF handing the cashier three DIMES (ten-cent coins) for something that would have cost about two BUCKS (dollars).

GETTING A KICK OUT OF something means to find enjoyment in something. This expression can be followed by a noun or a gerund (verb+ing). You can GET A KICK OUT OF a friend's jokes, or you can GET A KICK OUT OF listening to a friend's jokes. So what do you usually GET A KICK OUT OF?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

I have to admit, I slowed down quite a bit over the holidays as I took some time off from the classroom, went out of town a couple of weekends to rest, and spent some time with family over the holidays. Now, as we welcome 2013, I'm FIRED UP (excited) as I think about future lessons and tips to share with you all here at the small English blog.

I'm happy & proud to let you know that our number of guests here and at the small guide site have more than doubled during the last half of 2012, so thank you all. I hope you continue to visit the small English blog and the small guide site to practice your English. Keep sending in your requests. I will eventually catch up and post those lessons.

I wish you all the best in this brand new year. May you all find tons of inspiration, determination, as well as the time and energy to reach your goals in 2013.

My goal here is to help you achieve confidence in your ability to communicate in English, and I hope I can keep your attention this year and that you'll keep coming back for more lessons and more practice.

All the best to you and yours.