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Tom Cruise is famous for his acting. Barack Obama is famous for his politics. It is common for celebrities to go to jail.

Using the adjectives “common,” “popular,” and “famous” are often some of the most confusing to use. I hear even the most advanced students have difficulty choosing one of these to use in conversation. Here is a way to easily remember the differences, so next time you know exactly how to describe something:

Occuring Often. dOne Often. Ordinary.
The letter “O” is common in the description for “common.” The letter “O” occurs often in the description for “common.”
Do you see how easy it is to remember? Now, let’s try some real-life examples:
♦ Train delays are not common in Japan.
♦ Ramen shops are common in Japan.
liked by many PeoPle.
P‘s” are PoPular with the PeoPle learning English. Just remember- if its PoPular, many PeoPle like it.
♦ Fast Food restaurants are popular in the United States; a lot of people eat there every day.
♦ Recently, Hybrid cars have become popular. Everyone wants to own one.
known about (by many people).
If something is famous, is is known about by many people. The people may not like it, but they know about it. Its famOUs.
♦ England is famous for its tea and biscuits. (Many people know about its tea and biscuits. People may or may not like the tea and biscuits, but it doesn’t matter- they are famous because people know about them.)
♦ Apple is a famous computer company.
So, here is an example using all words and showing their unique meanings:
Justin Beiber was a popular pop artist. (Many people liked him.) Now, he is famous for going to jail (He is not necessarily liked for this). It is common for celebrities to go to jail. (Celebrities often go to jail.)
Now that you have an easy way to remember the meanings, what are some ways that you can use common, popular, and famous in a sentence?

How the turntables…

I usually write my daily idiom only on my English Facebook page as a short, simple way to remember them. However, today’s idiom is very easy to remember, thanks to a funny clip from one of my favorite TV shows!


*turn the tables (on someone)*

To change a situation so that you now have an advantage over someone who previously had an advantage over you.

“Michael turned the tables on his demanding boss by bringing his successful co-workers to the office.”

Watch the following video about Michael Scott on the hit show “The Office.” In this episode, he changed jobs because of a disagreement, and wanted to show his old boss how “the tables had turned” (meaning, his boss had the advantage, but now Michael has the advantage. The tables have turned on his boss). He tries to say “How the tables have turned!” Instead, he makes a mistake:

“Michael Scott paper company to see Mr. David Wallace. I believe we’re expected. Well, well, well; how the turntables…”

As you can see, even native English speakers make mistakes with idioms! Its not so terrible, but it does make the situation a lot funnier like in this TV show. So now, maybe next time you won’t forget how to say “How the tables have turned!” like Michael did. Don’t be like Michael, learn from him mistakes. He makes a lot of them.

Tips on making “small talk”

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For the majority of my students, making “small talk,” or short conversation with strangers or co-workers, is the most difficult part about using their daily conversational English. Here are some tips that I have found useful when making small talk:

1) Talk about the weather.
This one seems to be common in most cultures. Some examples are,

  • “The weather today is beautiful, isn’t it?”
  • “I can’t believe how (hard it is raining/sunny it is/much snow is) outside!”
  • “What are they calling for* tomorrow?/They are calling for* (rain/snow/sunshine/clouds) tomorrow.”

*A main point you should remember is to use the phrase “calling for.” This is another way to say “to forecast,” or “to predict.” In American English, it is much more common to use “calling for” than “forecast” (“forecast” seems too professional or proper in some cases). Try using this next time you talk about the weather.

2) Talk about the latest news
Here are some ways to bring up a topic:

  • “Did you hear about….”
  • “I can’t believe the news about….”
  • “What do you think about….”(used often for discussing opinion)
  • “Did you see….” (used often for news stories on TV)

3) Talk about something you have in common.
If you are talking to your co-worker, this is a great chance to talk about things you have in common. Some examples are:

  • “What do you think about the new (item in the office)”
  • “I love your shoes! Where did you get them?”
  • “Did you watch the game last night? What did you think?” (for talking about sports)
  • “Have you eaten at any good restaurants lately?”

The list could go on and on! I’ll update it again soon, but for now, try to use these phrases next time you’re making small talk! You might even be surprised that you’re talking too much at work!

I’d be happy to answer any questions, and leave your own tips if you have them!

“Oo” vs. “W” – Especially for my Japanese students!

This topic is one that doesn’t seem to be a problem for some people when learning English, but I’ve seen that it can be especially difficult for Japanese learners. Because most Japanese learn with カタカナ(katakana), some of the sounds are not exactly right.

For example,

ウ is the English sound for “oo,”  as in “blue,” “chew,” or “do.”

Unfortunately, sometimes theウ sound is also understood to be the “w” sound as in “would” or “winter.” Actually. these “w” sounds do not exist in the Japanese language. It will take some extra training to learn how to move your mouth to pronounce this sound. You can do it!


Above is a picture of pronouncing “ウ” or “oo,” that most of you know how to do.   Simply make a small circle with your lips when you are pronouncing the sound (find the full lesson here).


This picture, however, is more difficult to do. Try to focus on closing your lips a little more, and bringing them in closer to your teeth. Also, the “w” sound is not a whole syllable like the “ウ” sound, it is only the first part of a longer sound. So, say it quickly.

Try to pronounce these words without using the “ウ” sound:


Did it sound different from the “ウ” sound? If not, try again and listen to the lesson here. Keep trying until you get the sound you want, practice makes a better English speaker!

Much or Many?

much and many

Much” and “many” are used so many times in English! It takes much effort to learn the difference between them. Students should spend a lot of time studying if they want to speak fluent English.

There are many great websites that help with this subject. Here are some resources that you can use to learn more:

And here is a quiz for practice.

Do you feel confident with using “much” and “many?” Try to describe the following words using either “much” or “many” for practice:

_______ cars
_______ books
_______ rain
_______ snow
_______ love
_______ coffee
_______ people
_______ groups
_______ time
_______ English!

How did you do? If you are still having trouble, try the websites to learn more. I wish you much luck and many good answers!