Welcome to the Perfect English NYC Blog

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This is the blog of the Perfect English NYC website. If you are looking for private 1:1 ESL/English lessons/tutoring, please go to the HOME page to get started. If you are looking for FREE resources to help you learn English, please check out the links to your right. Posts below may contain short lessons, ideas for self-study, and/or stories about American culture, holidays, traditions, etc — and especially about life in New York City for newcomers!

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Funky town! Words of the day: Funk and Funky

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in American English Grammar and Usage, Business English, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, Online English lessons, Tutoring

Are you tired of being cooped up? Has lockdown put you into a funk? Do you feel like you are under house arrest?  If so, maybe it’s time for a little English vocabulary lesson focusing on the words funk and funky. If you are having trouble with any other words in this post, don’t worry! There’s a short glossary at the bottom of the page! 

The noun funk is commonly used to describe a bad mood, or a sad feeling, even a slight depression. Often we use it when that mood is the result of following the same boring routine day after day. That is why it may be the perfect expression for how many of us are feeling during this endless quarantine!  You might hear this a lot!

Here are some examples in sentences:

I wouldn’t go into Bob’s office this morning. He got some bad news, and he’s in a bit of a funk.

I am okay, really. I’m just in a funk. It’s so tiring doing the same thing every day!

Sarah has been in a funk for a while. I’m starting to get worried. 

Notice in the above examples, funk is used almost as though it were a location.  A person is  “in a funk” in the same way one might be “in a closet.”

Funk also has some other completely different meanings. It is used to describe a type of music that is anything but  depressing.  Here is the definition of funk from Wikipedia:

Funk is a music genre that originated in African-American communities in the mid-1960s when musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul music, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B).”

Funk can be used as an adjective to describe this genre of music. For example:

James Brown is one of the best known practitioners of funk music though clearly funk influenced the music of other well-known performers such as Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone. 

Notice in the above example, funk is used as both an adjective to describe the genre: funk music, and a noun — the name of the genre. 

Now let’s move on to the adjective funky. Here is where things might get a little confusing. Remember how we use “funk” as a noun to describe a depressed mood? The confusing part is that we don’t usually use “funky” as an adjective to mean depressed!. We might  be in a funk, but we would describe our feeling as sad. For example:

I’ve been in a funk for days. I feel so terribly sad and I don’t have the energy to do anything that would help me feel better.

The adjective funky does NOT describe being in a funk.The adjective funky usually means off-beat or eccentric (in a good way) but  it can also mean weird, strange, or peculiar — not in a good way.  Funky can be used in either a positive or negative way. 

You can be in a “funky mood” but this indicates a “strange mood” not necessarily a “depressed mood.”  Someone can have a “funky sense of style,” which indicates a distinct, probably original sense of style. However, a “funky odor” is almost always peculiar or weird and NOT in a good way. Our use of funky is idiomatic, and you have to pay attention to context. 

Here are various examples of funky. In each case, funky has a slightly different meaning. I’ll give you some context clues. Can you think of replacement words for funky in each sentence?

My sister likes wearing lots of bright colors and different patterns. She has a funky sense of style.

I’ve got to clean out my refrigerator. Something in there smells funky!

Let’s not make a plan to do anything outdoors tomorrow. The weather has been really funky, and I don’t want to have to cancel.

Jenna loves wearing funky costume jewelry. The bigger and shinier the better!

I’ve been in a funky mood lately. I don’t know what I want to do later, but I wouldn’t mind doing something a little different, maybe even a little dangerous.

Let’s take a deep dive into those sentences. Shall we?

My sister likes wearing lots of bright colors and different patterns. She has a funky sense of style.  An easy replacement for funky  here  off-beat or eccentric. Other possibilities that might require more context include: unique, brilliant, interesting, etc.

I’ve got to clean out my refrigerator. Something in there smells funky!  Here funky means peculiar in a bad way! You could also use “spoiled” or “rotten.”

Let’s not make a plan to do anything outdoors tomorrow. The weather has been really funky, and I don’t want to have to cancel.  We don’t have a lot of context here, but we can guess that the weather has either been bad or frequently changing so that it might be bad and therefore planning an outdoor activity would not be wise. “Strange” can substitute for funky.

Jenna loves wearing funky costume jewelry. The bigger and shinier the better! Strange would be an easy substitute here. Based on context we could use other adjectives: gauche, loud, gaudy, etc.

I’ve been in a funky mood lately. I don’t know what I want to do later, but I wouldn’t mind doing something a little different, maybe even a little dangerous.  Good replacement choices include: strange, peculiar, weird.

Funky can also refer to funk music. There is a difference between using “funk” and “funky” as adjectives to describe this  type of music.  When we use “funk” as an adjective we are describing the genre of music. For example:

James Brown practically invented funk music

Stevie Wonder’s music shows both funk and jazz influences.

Funky music” can simply mean “cool” music, though this usage is a little out of date . It can also describe music that has some funk elements but isn’t pure funk. It’s more about describing a funk-like attribute or quality of the music rather than the genre. For example:

The band that played at Ella’s wedding had a good funky beat that made it fun to dance.

Some people might argue that the song Play that Funky Music is not an authentic example of funk music, but more a funky rock and roll song. 

I hope that clears up how to use both funk and funky in conversation or when talking about a type of music.  If you have any questions or comments, you are welcome to post a comment! If you are interested in taking private one to one lessons, please contact me! Here is the glossary with some other words and phrases that might be new to you:

Cooped up: a coop is a pen or “house” for domesticated birds such as chickens. To feel “cooped up” is to feel as though you are stuck in a cage. Example: After being cooped up in the house for two weeks, due to the quarantine, Bob was thrilled to go outside for a walk.

Lockdown: To be “under lockdown” or “in lockdown” means you are under orders not to leave your facility or home either as a punishment or because of dangers inside or outside of the facility. Nobody can get in or out of a facility while it is under lockdown.  Examples:  (1) The elementary school was placed under lockdown after the prisoners in the nearby jail escaped. The authorities thought that the children would be in danger if they left the building. (2) The prisoners were in lockdown because someone had stolen some supplies and the guards wanted to check each cell. 

Under house arrest: To be “under house arrest” is when you have been accused or convicted of a crime, but instead of being in jail or prison, you are able to reside in your home under restrictions. Example:  Because of his illness, John was able to leave prison and serve his sentence under house arrest.

Deep dive:  This is an expression using the verb or noun dive. It means to explore something deeply.

Anything but: The phrase “anything but” means “not at all.” Example: His business was anything but successful and closed within months of opening. 

Out of date: In its most literal sense, “out of date” can mean expired in the sense of something no longer being valid. For example: My passport is out of date. I need to get it renewed before I can leave the country. We also use “out of date” in general to mean something old-fashioned. For example: I understand our customs might seem out of date to you, but we don’t use that kind of vulgar language in my house.

 

 

The Most Confusing Phrasal Verb in English!

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in American English Grammar and Usage, Business English, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, Online English lessons, Phrasal Verbs, Tutoring

English has tons of idioms and phrasal verbs which are difficult for non-native speakers to master. Phrasal verbs are especially tough because they often have more than one meeting, or the meaning is idiomatic and difficult to explain. I love to teach the difficult ones! One of my favorites is “set off.” “Set off” seems to mean the opposite of what we think it should mean. 

Take a look at the examples below. Can you guess the meaning from the context clues provided?

My house guests forgot to turn off the burglar alarm, and accidentally set it off when they entered through the back door. The sound was very loud and woke the neighbors, who called the police.

Adding the new chemical to the formula set off a chain reaction that led to an explosion. Fortunately, no one in the lab was injured.

The terrorist tried to set off a bomb in his vest by pulling on a cord. Many people would have been killed or injured, but fortunately the bomb’s fuse didn’t ignite, and no one was hurt.

Something must have set Bill off.  When he came in this morning he seemed normal, but later that day he suddenly became upset and yelled at his assistant. Then he announced he left the office abruptly. Did he get some bad news or something?

I wish my neighbors wouldn’t set off fireworks in their backyard. Fireworks are loud and dangerous, not to mention illegal. 

Try this: If you think you understand the meaning of “set off” in the above examples,  substitute another word or phrase for set off:

My house guests accidentally ________________________  the burglar alarm.

Adding the new chemical to the formula ________________ a chain reaction that led to an explosion.

The terrorist tried to ________________ a bomb in his vest by pulling on a cord. 

Something must have ____________  Bill.  

I wish my neighbors wouldn’t  ____________fireworks in their backyard. 

Okay, now that you’ve tried it, I’ll give you an explanation with some possible substitutions

My house guests forgot to turn off the burglar alarm, and accidentally set it off when they entered through the back door.

The burglar alarm STARTED when they entered..

Adding the new chemical set off a chain reaction that led to an explosion.

The new chemical STARTED or CAUSED  a chain reaction.

The terrorist tried to set off a bomb 

The terrorist tried to START the process to make the bomb explode. He tried to IGNITE the bomb.

Something must have set Bill off. 

Something must have CAUSED  Bill TO BECOME ANGRY or upset. Something must have STARTED or IGNITED his anger.

I wish my neighbors wouldn’t set off fireworks in their backyard. 

I wish my neighbors wouldn’t IGNITE fireworks. I wish my neighbors wouldn’t CAUSE fireworks TO EXPLODE.

In all of the above examples to “set off” means to “start” something in the sense of  “ignite” or “spark.”

This can seem counterintuitive because we think of the word “off” as stopping a reaction, not starting one. For example: We turn off the light. We shut off the oven. We complete a journey and get off the bus. However, “off” is a word that can be used in many ways and with different meanings. Context is everything in English.

In all of the examples above “set off” has a similar “explosive” meaning. However, sometimes we use “set off” in a less explosive way. We can use it simply in the sense of starting a journey or trip. Here are some examples:

We set off early in the morning because we wanted to arrive with enough time to enjoy the day.

I’m setting off for Mexico later in the week. The ship sails on Thursday.

When I set off  for work that day, I had no idea that everything in my life was about to change. 

In the examples above, the phrasal verb “head off” could be substituted, as that also means to start a journey.  However, we cannot use “head off” in the previous examples where “set off” means to start in the sense of ignite or spark. “Head off” also has a second meaning. We use “head off” to mean to avoid something by going in a different direction. Let’s look at an example of both of these phrases in the same paragraph:

Bob and John seemed to set each other off. Their personalities were just very different and they didn’t get along with each other or work well together. In order to head off problems, their supervisor placed them on different teams so they never worked directly with each other.

In the above example “set off” is used in the negative sense of igniting some kind of friction. The men didn’t get along. Therefore, the supervisor wanted to “head off” or “avoid” problems, and kept the men separated. The words cannot be used interchangeably. 

There is also a third common use of “set off.” We use “set off” to describe the way one element brings attention to or shows a contrast with another element. We use it in descriptions of people, decorations, designs, etc. Here are two examples:

Jenna looks great in that blue shirt. The light blue color sets off the deep blue of her eyes. It’s a fantastic color for her. You really notice her eyes when she wears it!

There are several lamps in the painting. The light from the lamps is set off against the otherwise bleak scene of war and destruction.The light symbolizes hope and contrasts with the chaos surrounding it.

You are likely to encounter “set off” in everyday speech, as well as in books, movies, and television shows.

I hope you found this lesson on “set off” useful. Feel free to leave comments or questions. If you are interested in taking English lessons with me, please get in touch!

 

Getting Around – What Foreigners Get Wrong About The NY Subway System

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in American English Grammar and Usage, Business English, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, New York Culture, Online English lessons

(This article is for intermediate and advanced English language students. The words in boldface have definitions attached  or added in parenthesis.  Please pay attention to the use of “get”  and “run” throughout the post.)

Most of my students live in the New York metropolitan area. Many of them have to take the subway to get around. My students are a sophisticated bunch. Most speak several languages, and have lived in big cities with subway systems before.  However, they find New York’s system particularly mysterious and difficult to maneuver. They will ask for directions in a way that may seem perfectly logical given their experience with other subway systems, but will leave New Yorkers completely flummoxed, confused, befuddled, and bewildered!

Our subway system is one of the world’s oldest, and one of the largest. It grew from several private companies, and remnants of that history still exist. We have our own vocabulary for understanding our system and our own way of asking others for help. In this post, I’ll help you learn how to ask a New Yorker for directions on the subway, and how we think about and navigate the system.

But first, if you are looking for a good “how to” guide to the system, here’s a link to a good overview put together by one helpful rider.

My tips are less comprehensive, and based more on the feedback, questions, and occasional arguments,  I’ve had with students. These tips are meant to help people who aren’t from New York, and whose first language isn’t English. These tips are helpful whether you are here for a short stay (as a tourist) or for the long haul (more…)

12 Foreign Words and Phrases New Yorkers Love to Use

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in American Culture and Holidays, American English Grammar and Usage, Business English, English lessons in New York, Online English lessons

It’s no secret that languages borrow from other languages. The French, despite their reputation as linguistic puritans, are known for enjoying “le weekend.” Any English-speaking fan of telenovelas has probably  heard the word “look” being used to describe one’s personal physical appearance and style. 

The classic and much imitated Colombian telenovela, Yo Soy Betty La Fea centered on the transformation of Betty’s “look.”

English has always had its fair share of borrowed phrases. When Europeans first arrived in the Americas they stole native words as well as land.

Wabanaki (Native American) Canoe. The word “canoe” came from the Arawaken language. Can you canoe?

Americans have adopted many foreign words and expressions that were brought to our shores by people who came here from all over the world. New York City, which continues to draw immigrants, visitors, dreamers, and doers from every corner of the planet, has a particularly rich history of taking words of foreign origin and adding them to our unique regional lexicon.

Below is a list of 12 foreign words and phrases that one is likely to hear in New York.  I’ve excluded words used only to describe foods such as pizza, tacos, and so on. They’re too easy!  Most of these words have been brought to me by my English-language students who heard them at work, in social settings, or on television.

Click here to read the complete list. (more…)

Watch Me Teach Live

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in American English Grammar and Usage, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, New York Culture

Most of my students want PRIVATE lessons. They are self-conscious about their English, and don’t want an audience on the world wide web! However, last week I was asked to teach a lesson on somebody’s livestream. I wasn’t sure, how it would work. We were supposed to meet indoors for a regular lesson, but we wound up meeting outside. It was cold and windy. I didn’t write anything down, which is unusual for me. The student was interrupted by his audience, who had many questions and comments! It was very distracting!

Here is a link to the livestream. My lesson starts at about 1:20:

The Old Bait and Switch

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Business English, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, Online English lessons, Tutoring

Let’s try something different. I’ve created an audio file, so you can listen to this lesson as you follow the transcript below. Words in boldface are explained in a short glossary beneath the text.

“Bait and switch” is a commonly used expression. It comes up in conversation, and it’s mentioned sometimes in newspaper and magazine articles. In fact, if you google it, you’ll find plenty of references!

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Getting to JFK: Here Are Your Options

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“Why isn’t there a direct subway line to the airport?”

“Why is it so expensive to get to Kennedy?”

“I always take Uber, but how do you New Yorkers get to the airport?

I get these questions a lot. Many of my English language students are here on work transfers, or they are the spouses of someone with an L-1 visa. They love to explore U.S. destinations, including San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles . They enjoy going back home for the holidays. Some of them have a “revolving door” of visitors crashing on their couch. They often lament the high cost of getting to the airport, and are surprised that a major city like New York, doesn’t offer better options. Usually, they take Uber.

Today I’m going to give you some other options for getting to JFK. I will follow up with posts on getting to Newark Airport and LaGuardia.

(more…)

Welcome to New York! Now learn English and find a job!

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in American Culture and Holidays, American English Grammar and Usage, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, Tutoring

(Quick Disclaimer: I am NOT a lawyer and this blog post does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions about your visa or ability to work in the United States, consult an immigration attorney!)

Congratulations! Your spouse works for a multinational company or organization and just got a job transfer to New York or maybe Los Angeles, or another major American city. You are excited about the prospect of spending a year or maybe more in a foreign country.

However, there’s one little problem….
While this is a great career opportunity for your better-half, it might not be so great for your career. Maybe, if you are very lucky, your company will allow you to stay on and work remotely, but with the time difference between the US and Europe, that might not work out so well. Chances are you are going to have to take a long leave or quit your job.

But there’s some good news: You can work legally in the United States!

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The Way We Speak (English) Now: Hooking Up

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“Hooking up” is a phrasal verb – which means (as all my ESL students know) it is an expression containing a verb and a preposition.

Once upon a time is a phrase we use to start fairy tales. It was also used in the very first Star Wars film, in the opening captions where we learn that the story takes place “Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away. Sometimes we use “once upon a time” ironically to mean “a not so long time ago in the past,” as in the following:

Once upon a time “hooking up” was an innocuous expression used in the following way:

John: My flight was delayed, so I won’t be able to meet you at the breakfast. I should get to the conference by noon.

Kevin: That’s fine. There’s a lunch break at noon. We’ll hook up then.

John: Great! I’m looking forward to it.

In this context, “hook up” is very similar to “meet up.” Here’s another example, just to make the point:

Sarah: So did you have a chance to talk to John at the conference?

Kevin: No, his flight was delayed, and then he got stuck in traffic, and I was on the panel in the afternoon. We never managed to hook up.

However, in recent years the expression “hook up” or “hooking up” has taken on another meaning, which has just about supplanted the previous meaning. Here is an example of how you are likely to hear it used:

John: I really like Sarah, but I think she’s dating Kevin isn’t she?

Beth: Dating? I don’t know about that. They may have hooked up a couple of times back in college, but I think now they’re just friends.

John: Friends with benefits?

Beth: Maybe once upon a time. I doubt it in the present. Kevin lives with his girlfriend, and I hear she keeps him on a pretty tight leash. Honestly, I doubt that Sarah and Kevin are more than co-workers.

John: Wow. I don’t think I’d be too comfortable with that history if I was Kevin’s girlfriend!

Beth: Oh c’mon! What happens in college stays in college.

(more…)

I’ll Be Back — Everyday Expressions and Phrases with Back

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“Back” is another one of those words with multiple meanings in English. The definition in the English Language Learner’s Dictionary is huge, and it doesn’t even cover some of the most common uses!

Most American native-English speakers will recognize the phrase “I’ll be back.” It was a line from the movie The Terminator. Arnold Swartzeneggar says it very menacingly – as a warning — before he leaves a store. Maybe it sounds scary in the movie BECAUSE it is such a commonly used phrase. The meaning is simple: “I will return.”

For this post, I’ve collected many of the common phrases you’ll here with back.  You’re likely to hear them on the street, in the office, on television, and just about everywhere else. (more…)