Tag: English as a foreign language

Future-Proof Jobs

Future-Proof Jobs

US Navy photo by John F. Williams

Over recent weeks I’ve seen a couple of[1] articles about the jobs that it will be most difficult to automate[2] and therefore destroy. I’m a little bit sceptical about these lists. One had primary-school teacher high up[3] the list while, at the same time, we are told that 25% of university classes will be online in just[4] three years’ time. My (thankfully limited) experience of small children suggests that handing[5] them an iPad is the best way to get them to quietly concentrate on something. A soft robot with an imbedded[6] screen[7] that could stop them climbing out of the windows would seem to have many advantages over a primary-school teacher. Yes, I am suggesting that a Teletubby will replace Miss Pritchett in the foreseeable[8] future.

Another list had lawyers and doctors at the top. But surely all medical knowledge and all legal knowledge could be available in an app if not now then very soon. Medicine is just[9] matching[10] symptoms to diseases[11]; the legal profession is just remembering precedents that could be relevant to a specific case. OK, I’m exaggerating a little but both diagnostic medicine[12] and law are memory-based professions and those are precisely the ones most threatened by[13] modern technology.

Really future-proof professions are those that require a bit of creativity, a bit of social skills[14] and a lot of precision motor coordination manipulating non-standardized objects. Over the last fortnight[15] I have seen a state-of-the-art[16] robotic chef (in Korea) and a cutting-edge[17] robotic bartender[18] (at the Google conference[19] in San Francisco). They were both crap[20]. The incredibly slow automaton cook[21] got more food on the floor than in the salad bowl, while the android barman took three minutes to pour[22] a pint of beer. Whatever the experts say, for my money[23] the best future-proof jobs right now are those preparing food and drinks.

One final – more serious – comment about the future of work: the complaisant[24] often say that new jobs always emerge when technology replaces obsolete ones (e.g. when farm machinery replaced agricultural labour). However, this is the same fallacy as dismissing[25] anthropomorphic climate change because the earth’s climate has always changed. The problem isn’t evolution; it’s the speed of the change. If species don’t have time to adapt, then there’s mass extinction. If the labour market doesn’t have time to adapt, there’s mass unemployment. We read that, “65 per cent of primary-school kids[26] will have job types that don’t yet exist.” That’s putting a very positive spin[27] on the fact that two-thirds of today’s jobs won’t exist in 15 years’ time; it may just9 mean that over half the workforce will be out of work[28].

[1] a couple ofseveral

[2] to automate – replace with a machine

[3] high upnear the top of

[4] just – (in this case) only

[5] to hand – give

[6] imbedded – that is an integral part of sth.

[7] screen – the part of a computer or a TV where the images appear

[8] foreseeable – predictable, near

[9] just – (in this case) only, simply

[10] to match A to Bmarry A with B, pair up A with B

[11] diseaseillness, sickness

[12] I’m not referring to surgeons and dentists, whose jobs are very safe

[13] threatened by – in danger from

[14] skillstalent, ability

[15] fortnight – two weeks

[16] state-of-the-artultra-modern, cutting-edge

[17] cutting-edgeultra-modern, state-of-the-art

[18] bartenderbarman or barmaid, sb. who serves drinks

[19] conference – (false friend) convention

[20] crap – (informal) useless, very inefficient

[21] cook – chef

[22] to pour – (in this case) serve

[23] for my money – in my opinion

[24] the complaisantpeople who accept what they are told without protest

[25] to dismiss – ignore

[26] kidschildren

[27] spin – interpretation

[28] out of work – unemployed

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

In many written languages there is a direct correspondence between combinations of letters and combinations of sounds. No doubt you have already realized[1] that English is not such a[2] language. Just[3] think of the dozens of homophonic pairs and groups in English – such as lain[4]/lane[5], raise[6]/rays/raze[7], phase/faze[8] and isle/aisle[9]/I’ll.

One concept that can be hard[10] for non-natives to internalize is that we produce the sound /ɜ:/ in a number of different ways including: -ear- before a consonant (e.g. ‘pearl’), -er- before a consonant (e.g. ‘herd[11]), -ir- before a consonant (e.g. shirt), -ur- before a consonant (e.g. burst[12]) and -or- after w- and before a consonant (e.g. word). A useful phrase for fixing this idea in one’s memory is “the early bird catches the worm[13]”, in which the vowel sound in ‘ear(ly)’, ‘bird’ and ‘worm’ is the same (not similar, exactly the same). The phrase refers to the fact that the person who takes the first opportunity to act will have an advantage over others.

[1] have realized – (false friend) are conscious

[2] such athis type of

[3] just – (in this case) simply

[4] to lie (lie-lay-lain) – be horizontal, recline

[5] lane – track, path

[6] to raiseelevate

[7] to raze – burn down, destroy

[8] to faze – disturb, disconcert

[9] aislepassageway in a church or supermarket

[10] hard – (in this case) difficult

[11] herdgroup (of horses or cows)

[12] to burst (burst-burst-burst) – inflate and explode

[13] (earth)worm – (Lumbricidae) terrestrial invertebrate

The Sausage Dog & the Great Dane

The Sausage Dog & the Great Dane

Photo by Dan Bennett

These are two breeds[1] of dog that can provide pronunciation assistance[2] for non-native speakers of English. Serious people call elongated short-legged little dogs from Germany ‘dachshunds’, though I have difficulty imagining a dachshund taking on[3] a badger[4] as the name implies (der Dachs is German for ‘badger’)! Less serious Anglos call dachshunds ‘sausage dogs’ because of their elongated shape[5]. The good thing about this informal term is that there is assonance between ‘sausage’ and ‘dog’. In other words we pronounce the -au- in ‘sausage’ like the -o- in ‘dog’.

‘Great’ is one of three very important words in which -ea- is pronounced /ei/ (the other two are ‘break’ (a homophone of ‘brake[6]) and ‘steak’ (a homophone of ‘stake[7]). The easiest way to remember the pronunciation of ‘great’ is in the name of that ‘gentle giant’ breed, the ‘Great Dane’ (a homophone of ‘deign[8]). Interestingly, Great Danes have nothing to do with[9] Denmark. These dogs used to be known as German boarhounds[10] in England and ‘the English dog’ (die Englische Tocke) in German. In the 20th Century, as conflict arose[11] between Germany and the English-speaking countries, names were childishly[12] changed to avoid using[13] ‘German’ (and Englisch). So, the boarhounds became known as ‘Great Danes’ (probably in part because of the assonance) and eventually[14] the Germans even started calling it die Dänische Dogge (‘the Danish dog’).

[1] breed – kind, type (of dog, cat, horse, etc.)

[2] assistance – help

[3] to take on (take-took-taken) – attack, challenge

[4] badger – (Melesmeles) an omnivorous nocturnal mammal with a grey coat and a black-and white striped face

[5] shape – form

[6] brakemechanism for stopping a vehicle

[7] stakepointed stick

[8] to deign – condescend, do sth. beneath one’s dignity

[9] to have nothing to do with (have-had-had) – be unrelated to

[10] boarhounddog used for hunting boar (= wild pigs)

[11] to arise (arise-arose-arisen) – emerge

[12] childishly – in an infantile way, (in this case) petulantly

[13] to avoid using – so as not to use

[14] eventually – (false friend) in the end

Flexed Burial

Flexed Burial

Photo by Herb Roe, http://www.chromesun.com

Over the last 20 years I have been collecting the words whose pronunciation cause my students most problems. In recent months I’ve decided that one way to confront these problematic pronunciations is to present the words in established expressions in which the pronunciation is reinforced by a sound parallelism[1].

I’ve decided to start the presentation of these terms with the archaeological expression “flexed burial[2]. OK, admittedly it’s not an expression you’re going to use every day but it can be graphically illustrated and it should help with the frequently mispronounced ‘burial’, in which the -u- is pronounced /e/. Finally, notice that ‘flexed’ is pronounced /flekst/.

Please tell me if you find this useful because, if you do, I should be able to produce d ozens of similar illustrated expressions over the coming weeks and months.

For more on sound parallelisms, look out for[3] my forthcoming[4] book Rhyme or Reason? The euphony of 10,001 everyday word combinations.

For more footnoted texts, visit www.yes-mag.com

[1] sound parallelism – repetition of the same sound in consecutive stressed syllables

[2] flexed burial – when a cadaver/skeleton has been interred in a fetal position

[3] to look out for – be vigilant for

[4] forthcoming – in the pipeline, coming soon

At the Gym

At the Gym

I rather[1] cruelly dedicated my last post to those learners who failed in their New Year’s resolution to quit[2] smoking. To make amends[3] for my cynicisms, here’s a post dedicated to those who fulfil[4] their New Year’s resolution to go to the gym more.

If you are an urbanite then most of the exercise you take is probably at the gym – if you take any. People go to the gym to do aerobics or to build up their muscles. Aerobics and other group exercises to music, such as jazz dance, are meant to strengthen[5] the heart and lungs[6]. Taking exercise specifically to develop[7] your muscles is called bodybuilding[8]. A colloquial way of saying this is “to pump iron”. A person who regularly exercises to develop their muscles is a bodybuilder.


Be aware of[9] the right verb to use with each activity:

take exercise               do aerobics                 get fit              keep/stay fit

Getting Fit

One of the aims[10] of going to the gym is to keep fit[11]. This has evolved into a noun/adjective: we talk about keep-fit classes in the UK. These are called (physical) fitness classes in the USA and Australia. Be careful with the expression “s/he’s fit!” because in British slang it means you think someone is sexually attractive. You should also take care with the word ‘fitness’; in English it simply means the condition of being physically fit and does not have the specific connotations it has when used in other languages.

Expressions with ‘fit’

Three English expressions:

To be fighting fit        To be as fit as a fiddle[12]         To be as fit as a flea[13]

mean ‘to be in good health’.


Most of the muscle vocabulary comes from Latin and is more or less the same across different European languages; e.g. abductors, adductors, pectorals, biceps, etc. You should know the abbreviation ‘abs’ (= abdominal muscles) and the term “one’s six pack” for visibly well-developed abdominal muscles). One term you might not know is the hamstring for the three muscles behind the thigh[14] that flex the knee[15].

Some Typical Exercises

  • We say you do press-ups in Britain when you lie flat[16] on the floor with your face down and you try to push your body up with your arms, while keeping your legs and back straight[17]. This is called doing push-ups in the USA and Australia.
  • You do squats when you bend[18] your legs under your body and then straighten[19] them (going up and down).
  • If you do squat thrusts, you put your hands on the floor and move your legs from a bent[20] to a straight17 position by moving your feet in a single movement.
  • You do sit-ups when you lie flat16 and then bring your head up to touch your knees.
  • Be careful with the expression to do the splits, this is a false friend and refers towhen you lower you body so that both your legs are flat on the floor in the opposite directions. If you put your weight on one leg which you flex, while the other is straight, this is called a hamstring-stretching[21]

Some Fitness Machines

  • A rowing machine imitates the action of rowing[22] a boat (logically!).
  • A treadmill is a machine that measures your speed[23] while you walk, jog[24] or run on it. Originally, treadmills were wheels with a prisoner inside that were used to drive[25]
  • An exercise bike imitates the action of a bicycle but does not move.

For more footnoted articles about sports, see Yes 15 (www.yes-mag.com).

[1] rather – (in this case) somewhat, quite

[2] to quit (quit-quit-quit) – stop

[3] to make amends (make-made-made) – atone,

[4] to fulfil – (in this case) satisfy, execute

[5] to strengthen sth.make sth. stronger

[6] lungpulmonary organ

[7] to develop sth. – (in this case) expand sth., build sth.

[8] ‘culturism’ does not exist as an English word!

[9] to be aware of – be conscious of

[10] aim (n.) – objective

[11] to keep fit – maintain your body in a good physical condition

[12] fiddle – violin

[13] flea – (Siphonaptera) small insect that cannot fly but can jump and drinks humans’ and animals’ blood

[14] thighupper leg, the part of one’s leg around one’s femur

[15] kneemid-leg articulation

[16] to lie flat (lie-lay-lain) – be in a horizontal position

[17] straight – in line, not flexed

[18] to bend – flex

[19] to straightenmake sth. straight17

[20] bentangled, arched, flexed

[21] to stretch – extend, tense

[22] to rowmove a boat with oars (= long sticks with paddles at the ends)

[23] speed – velocity

[24] to jogrun at a slow, regular speed for exercise

[25] to drive (drive-drove-driven) – (in this case) power, cause sth. to function

Headaches 3: Hangovers

Headaches 3: Hangovers

painting by Christian Krohg

OK, here it is the concluding part of my exploration of headaches and how to avoid[1] them. Here I look at how to mitigate the aftermath[2] of drinking too much. With luck this post will ensure you have a happier Christmas session. Needless to say[3], the best preventative solution for hangovers[4] is to drink in moderation.

Hangovers can be minimized by a number of standard practices. One strategy can be to line[5] your stomach before you start drinking. One technique can be to drink a large[6] glass of milk before going out. This will both dilute the alcohol and slow its absorption into the blood stream[7]. Combining food and drink has a similar effect.

Minimizing Hangovers

Hangovers are greatly aggravated by bad combinations of different types of alcohol. As a rule, try never to mix drinks: if you start on wine, stick to[8] wine. However, certain combinations are particularly troublesome[9]: wine, cider[10] and martini mix badly with other drinks. Just one glass of red wine followed by a glass of cider can be a killer. Each person has a slightly[11] different tolerance to different types of alcohol so it is worth observing[12] which drinks and which combinations affect you the worst. Remember that there may be no direct relationship between liking the taste[13] of a drink and what it does to your head.

Curing Hangovers

Most of the effects of a hangover are the result of the dehydration caused by alcohol. You can avoid1 a hangover by drinking two or three glasses of water before going to bed. Water is much less effective in the morning once the hangover has set in[14].

In Brazil and the Caribbean the kola nut[15] is used as a hangover cure (but you may not have any kola nuts handy[16] on the morning after a binge[17]!). Painkillers, such as aspirin or paracetamol, are the easiest solutions to your problem but, as your stomach is probably rather[18] ‘delicate’, they may simply transfer the problem. Throwing up[19] is the body’s fastest solution to the problem. However, if you do vomit[20], remember to clean your teeth afterwards as stomach acids can be very corrosive.

There is a tradition that a small alcohol drink may alleviate a hangover, popularly known as “the hair of the dog[21]”. There is no hard[22] evidence that this trick[23] works and it may prolong or aggravate the problem.

For more footnoted reading practice visit: www.yes-mag.com

[1] to avoid – (in this case) not suffer from, prevent

[2] aftermathconsequences, after-effects

[3] needless to say – it should not be necessary to say this but

[4] hangoverheadache and other symptoms resulting from excessive drinking of alcohol

[5] to line sth.coat/cover the inside of sth.

[6] large – (false friend) big

[7] blood streamveins and arteries

[8] to stick to (stick-stuck-stuck) – (in this case) continue to drink

[9] troublesome – problematic

[10] cider – alcoholic drink made from apples

[11] slightlymarginally

[12] it is worth observing – it is a good idea to observe

[13] liking the taste – preferring the flavour

[14] to set in (set-set-set) – start, become established

[15] kola/cola nut – dry fruit/seed of a tropical tree (Cola acuminata)

[16] handy – (colloquial) on hand, available

[17] bingesession of heavy drinking

[18] rathersomewhat, quite, (in this case) very

[19] to throw up (throw-threw-thrown) – (colloquial) vomit

[20] do vomit – (emphatic) vomit

[21] The full expression is “to stroke (= caress) the hair of the dog that bit (= attacked with teeth) you”

[22] hard – (in this case) definite, convincing, solid

[23] trickstratagem, subterfuge

Headaches 2: Additional Relief

Headaches 2: Additional Relief

Improved Diet

Diets that are deficient in fibre are likely to[1] lead to[2] constipation[3], which can mean that more toxins are absorbed into the body. This will cause headaches and other symptoms. Avoid[4] refined ingredients like white sugar and refined flour[5]. By adding bran[6] to food you can partially compensate for the lack of[7] roughage[8] caused by the refining of processed food. Moreover, a diet rich in vitamins and minerals can reduce stress. For example, brewer’s yeast[9] contains vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6 as well as vitamin C – all of which offer anti-stress benefits.

Foods rich in vitamin E – avocados[10], cold-pressed vegetable oils, nuts[11] and seeds[12] can also help because vitamin E neutralizes the effects of toxic free radicals, which are believed to cause some headaches.

Intracranial Headaches

Intracranial headaches are caused by an increase in blood[13] pressure in the arteries at the base of the brain. This may arise from[14] problems of high blood pressure, stress, a hangover[15], fever or other factors. One characteristic of intracranial headaches is that the pain changes as you change posture. Relief[16] can be achieved[17] by a flannel[18] soaked in[19] cold water being applied to the back of the neck[20].

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are referred pains (i.e.[21] they are perceived in a different part of the body from where they originate). These extracranial headaches are the result of stress, fatigue, frustration, anxiety or depression. They usually come from tensions in neck[22] muscles and facial muscles. The ability to massage your face and neck effectively is a useful tool[23] for relieving headaches. Learn to massage your face and neck or convince your significant other[24] to learn these skills[25]. You should also learn a routine of gentle neck exercises. It goes without saying that you should also try to minimize the stress in your life.

Daily tension headaches are usually caused by depression, anxiety, anger, frustration or a feeling of inadequacy. They can also arise from[26] excessive use of painkillers. The best solution to these problems is to seek[27] psychological help.

The best way to reduce the risk of headaches is to have a healthy diet, to minimize stress and to sleep regular hours. However, if you suffer from regular headaches you should seek professional medical advice[28].

For more footnoted reading practice visit: www.yes-mag.com

[1] are likely to – will probably

[2] to lead to – cause, result in

[3] constipation – (false friend) – difficulty defecating

[4] to avoid – (in this case) try not to eat

[5] flourparticles of cereal grain used to make bread, etc.

[6] bran – husks (= dry covering) of cereal grain (usually eliminated to make white flour5

[7] lack ofabsence of, deficiency in

[8] roughagedietary fibre

[9]  brewer’s yeastyeast (= fungi used to ferment sugar and make bread) used to make beer

[10] avocado (pear) – pear-shaped fruit from Mexico that has oily green flesh

[11] nutfruit with a hard shell and edible kernel (e.g. almonds, Brazil nuts and peanuts)

[12] seed – grain, pip

[13] blood (adj.) – (in this case) arterial

[14] to arise from (arise-arose-arisen) – be caused by

[15] hangoverheadache and other symptoms resulting from excessive drinking of alcohol

[16] relief – alleviation, mitigation, reduction of pain

[17] to achieve – obtain, gain, find

[18] flannelsmall towel for the face

[19] to be soaked in – be saturated with

[20] neckvertebral column connecting the head to the body

[21] i.e. – (id est) that is

[22] neck (adj.) – cervical

[23] tool – (in this case) technique, skill25

[24] significant other – romantic/sexual partner, husband/boyfriend or wife/girlfriend

[25] skill – technique, talent, ability

[26] to arise from (arise-arose-arisen) – occur because of, be the result of

[27] to seek (seek-sought-sought) – ask for, try to find

[28] advice – recommendations, help