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It’s Elementary: How we talk about school in the United States.

Posted on Posted in American Culture and Holidays, American English Grammar and Usage, English lessons in New York, New York Culture, Online English lessons, Tutoring

Some of my students are immigrants who’ve started families in the United States or brought their children here. Others might be here for a few years for work. If they have children, they are going to have to navigate the educational system, so here’s a primer for parents with some basic information.  (I’ll do this as a blog series with more to come.)

In the United States, school is compulsory with some exceptions until age 16. This means that children need to be enrolled in some kind of school. Children start kindergarten at age 5, then continue to first grade the following year. There are 12 grades, so most children graduate high school the year they turn 18. 

Schools by grade levels:

Preschool is the term for educational programs for toddlers and very young children — usually up to age 5. We sometimes use the words “pre kindergarten” or “nursery school,” but in recent years, “preschool” has come to dominate. Preschool is not compulsory. There are some public preschool programs, but most preschools are private or independent, and charge fees.

Elementary School (Also known as primary school or grammar school)  Elementary school usually goes from kindergarten to the fourth, fifth, or sixth grade.  Years ago, “elementary school” almost always meant kindergarten through sixth grade, but now most elementary schools only go through the fourth or fifth grade. Sometimes we use the words “primary school” to describe this type of school. Primary school is used in many other parts of the English speaking world, but in the U.S. you are more likely to hear elementary school. You will also sometimes hear people refer to this type of school as “grammar school.”

Middle school goes from the fourth through eighth grades, but this varies in some school districts and cities. In New York City, for example, many public middle schools only have sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, as most public elementary schools go through fifth grade. Middle school replaced an older model of “junior high school” which started in the seventh grade and went through the ninth grade. 

High school grades are ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth. We refer to these years as freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior. Some high schools in the United States offer students advanced placement or other opportunities to gain college credits while in high school. Some schools offer accelerated programs so that students can skip their senior year and go straight to college, while others may offer an additional year for technical skill training — especially for those students that aren’t going on to college.  Many high schools were built as large institutions. In New York City many of the large public high schools were divided into different schools operating on the same campus and sharing some facilities as seen in the photo above this post. 

Types of schools: Public, Private, Religious, Charter

In the United States the vast majority of children go to public schools. We use the term “public school” differently than in England. In England a “public school” is an expensive boarding school supported by tuition and alumni donations. In the United States we use the term “public school” to describe tuition-free schools paid for by tax dollars.  Public schools receive most of their money from local taxes and are controlled by local school boards, so the quality of public schools varies greatly depending on many factors. Many people with “the means” (the money) choose to live in communities with high quality public schools. Most public schools have restrictions based on zoning. If you live outside a community, you might not be able to send your child to that school. Some communities have higher home prices because they are in “good” school districts. (If you are shopping for a home in the United States, you will usually see information about the school district included in the information.)  In the United States, it is not uncommon for even wealthy families to send their children to local public schools. While tuition is free at public schools, some public schools, especially in wealthier districts encourage parents to contribute money to school activities funds. 

You might have heard the term “magnet school.”  Generally a “magnet school” is a public school offering special programs that will attract more students. 

You might also hear terms like “specialized schools.”  In New York City for example there are some high schools with special programs in a specific area such as art, theater, science, technology, etc. It is the aim of these schools to train students for careers in specialized fields. For example, LaGuardia High School in New York City is known for its theater and dance programs. Children are accepted based on auditions. It boasts many famous alumni. Other specialized high schools in New York City include Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. These schools offer excellent science and math programs. Students have to get high scores on a test in order to gain admission.

While the word “specialized” denotes specific programs, the phrase  “special ed” or “special education” has a different meaning. In the United States “special education” refers to programs for students with learning disabilities who might need “special” help in order to learn. Sometimes students with special educational needs — whether due to a physical disability or a learning disability — are referred to as “special-needs children.”  There is no charge for these services in public schools. Non-religious private schools do not receive funding for these services, but may by law be required to offer them. Some religious schools are able to receive funding for services to special ed students. If you have a special needs child, you should ask about the programs offered before registering your child at a school.

Generally a school that charges tuition and does not rely on public funding, is called a “private school.” There are also “private schools” that may have a religious affiliation. Some religious schools receive funding from religious organizations and may be lower-cost than non-religious private schools. Private schools often refer to themselves as “independent schools.” This may be because the term “private” sounds elitist, or could confuse the public. Most independent schools offer some scholarships or fee reductions to qualified students who cannot pay the full tuition. Private schools that allow students to live on a campus are also referred to as “boarding schools.”

One movement that has become popular in recent years and that has grown a lot in New York is the “charter school” movement. Charter schools are “independent” schools that receive money from local governments to operate and offer services. Parents don’t pay tuition.  These schools are popular with parents who often think their children will get a better education at a charter school than at a public school. In New York City, charter schools generally offer elementary through middle school grades. Admission is often by lottery, but may also depend on family interviews. 

Because of the separation between church and state in the United States, public schools and charter schools do not offer any religious education, and do not favor any religion. 

(I hope you found this information helpful. Feel free to comment on this post.  If you are interested in English lessons, please get in touch.)

 

Fun with Phrasal Verbs: Phrasal Verbs with Hold

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

The verb “hold” in English is a commonly used irregular verb. If you are unsure of the meaning, you can check out the definitions here. Below is a chart showing how the conjugation:

Present tense: I/They/You/We hold  He/She/It holds

Past tense: held

Past participle: held

Here are a few examples of “hold” in sentences:

The happy couple walked down the street holding hands.

Before the accident, he was driving carelessly, with one hand holding the steering wheel, while the other held his phone.

The cat likes to be petted, but he doesn’t like to be held. (passive voice example)

When you hold the baby, make sure to support his head.

We also use “hold” in another less literal sense where it is similar to “keep.”  In traditional wedding vows, the bride and groom each repeat the phrases: “to have and to hold from this day forward.”

Hold is often used when speaking on the phone.  We put people “on hold” while we talk to someone else on a different phone line. Example:  “I have another call coming in. I have to take it. Can I put you on hold for a minute?”

Sometimes if you are expecting a call from someone important, an assistant will call you first and ask if you can “hold” for the person. The assistant is asking you to wait patiently for the person to come to the phone. 

There are several phrasal verbs used with hold.  Today we’ll examine: hold on, hold up, hold off, hold out, hold back, hold in and hold overFor the native speaker, there are clear distinctions, but it might be hard to grasp the differences for non-native speakers.

(Quick review:  A phrasal verb is a verb with an added element — usually a preposition or adverb — which changes or modifies the meaning of that verb.)

Click to see more. (more…)

Word of The Day: Spiel

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

Sometimes, teaching advanced students can be more challenging than teaching beginners, so it’s always fun for me when I come across a commonly used word that I think might stump my advanced English language learners.

Today’s word is spiel. Spiel can be pronounced with either an “sp” as in “spot” or an “shp” which is a little unusual in English. (You can hear it here.)  The word’s origin is German and Yiddish. It’s a borrowed word, and the way we use it is a little different than how it is used in those languages.

I ran across it in a recent article in The New Yorker. The distributor of plant-based sandwiches is explaining his approach to selling these products to bodega owners in New York City:

 “In the beginning, we were doing a lot of explaining,” he said. “We used to give people a whole spiel about why you should eat these products. And we realized that just wasn’t the right approach…”

Can you guess the meaning from the context?

A “spiel” is a long elaborate story. It is often used to persuade someone. The meaning in German is game or play, but that’s not how we use it in English.

Here are two more examples:

The salesman gave me some spiel about how I really didn’t want the car I came in there to buy, and how this other more expensive car would make so much more sense for me.

His mother sent the priest to talk to him about changing his ways. The priest gave him a long spiel about how he was heading for hell, but of course it made no difference.

Notice in both these examples the “spiel” is used for persuasion. Hence, a spiel can also be used to describe a long “pitch.” It is not a “bad” word, but “pitch” sounds more neutral and professional. “Spiel” sounds like someone is trying to sell you something. In the above excerpt from the article, the use of “pitch” wouldn’t convey how much effort went into the story that the distributor was making and how detailed the pitch was.  We understand from the phrase “a whole spiel” that this was an elaborate, long pitch and he probably lost the bodega owner’s  attention at some point, which is why he needed to change his approach.

Here are some quick definitions and explanations for some other words used in this post:

To stump (someone): To ask someone a question that they don’t know the answer to. This is an informal but common usage. We also use this often as an adjective, to be stumped by something means to have no answer or explanation. Here are some examples:

The contestant knew all the answers during the main part of the game, but the final question stumped him. He left his answer card blank and lost everything.

The teacher asked me the question, but I had no idea how to answer. I was stumped. I was silent until he moved on to another student. It was so embarrassing. 

To run across something or someone:  to find something or someone incidentally. We also use “come across” in the same idiomatic way. Here are some examples:

I had given up on ever finding the right birthday gift for my brother, but then I was cleaning the house, and ran across some old childhood photos, and I decided to make a collage for him. 

I know you have an interest in gardening. I ran across this interesting article I think you should read. 

Bodega: Bodega is borrowed from Spanish. Like many borrowed words, the meaning is a little different in English. It was probably brought to New York by people who came from Puerto Rico. It was used in Puerto Rican neighborhoods to describe small grocery stores that sold a variety of goods. Eventually, all New Yorkers started to use the term to describe small grocery stores. It is now used in other parts of the United States as well. We also use it as an adjective to describe the things you find or buy in a bodega. For example: a bodega sandwich. There are Instagram feeds devoted to the cats that live in bodegas and are known as “bodega cats. Here’s a picture of one:

(If you found this post interesting, check back for more content! If you are interested in taking English lessons with me, please drop me a line.

 

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

Posted on Posted 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…)

Watch Me Teach Live

Posted on Posted 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:

Getting to JFK: Here Are Your Options

Posted on Posted in American Culture and Holidays, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, New York Culture

“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…)

The Way We Speak (English) Now: Hooking Up

Posted on Posted in American Culture and Holidays, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, New York Culture

“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…)

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5 Easy Labor Day Weekend New York Getaway Day Trips

Posted on Posted in American Culture and Holidays, English lessons in New York, New York Culture, Tutoring

 

Most of my students are newcomers to New York. Some already understand that New Yorkers love to get away from the city, especially on long weekends during the summer, but if you didn’t make plans, it’s not too late to have a fun three-day weekend. There a lots of interesting places to explore within the five boroughs of New York City, and there are plenty of easy day trips outside of the city that don’t require finding a “last minute”  car rental.

Here are five ideas for outdoor excersions that will feel like mini-vacations.

  1. Explore Manhattan’s Northern Tip

You can start by catching the A train to 207th Street. From there you can visit Fort Tryon Park. The park offers beautiful Hudson River views on winding paths. This is also where you can find visit The Cloisters. You can then walk to Inwood Hill Park, which offers hiking trails with old growth trees. There is also a Nature Center there where you can learn more about the local ecology. Sometimes there are additional activities sponsored by the Parks Department, such as kayaking. (more…)

Halloween — American Style

Posted on Posted in American Culture and Holidays, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, New York Culture

halloween-stockThis week ALL of my students have been asking me about Halloween, so I thought it was worthy of a post.

Halloween or “All Hallow’s Eve” is a holiday celebrated in a number of countries.You can read more about the origins and history here. In the US, Halloween is celebrated as a secular holiday. There are religious people who DON’T celebrate Halloween because they feel it violates their religious beliefs,  but most Americans don’t associate Halloween with any religious tradition. (more…)

Welcome to the Perfect English NYC Blog

Posted on Posted in American Culture and Holidays, English lessons in New York, ESL tips, New York Culture, Tutoring

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!