It’s not a big deal if you get the order wrong. If you say “a wooden, round, big table” the listener can understand completely, it just doesn’t seem to flow as well. Always remember to put amount first though.
I had a request from a blog reader for how to deal with people that are nosy but nice.
It is common in English for people to ask personal questions, but sometimes people take it too far.
Either they start to ask things that are too personal, try to involve themselves in your private matters, or they try to help you with things that you don’t need help with (like taking your phone to fix some settings, or trying to solve your personal problems).
Now even though I’m a native English speaker and an English teacher that doesn’t mean I have the solution to this problem. You will deal with difficult people in any language. But I can share some phrases.
So if another person is doing something too nosy and meddlesome like:
“Oh did someone send you a strange message? Give me your phone and I’ll deal with this!”
this is how you could reply
(these are good if it is a minor problem, or if you are close to the person)
“It’s okay I got this”
“Don’t worry, I’ll do it myself”
Polite, but firm:
(these are good if the person is trying to be nice and you don’t want to hurt their feelings)
“I appreciate you trying to help, but I’d prefer to handle this myself.”
“That’s nice of you, but this is a private matter for me.”
(these could lead to an argument, try to avoid this language unless you want a fight. )
“Mind your business.”
“This doesn’t concern you.”
“Please stop meddling in my life”
I don’t know if these phrases will be useful. Some people are just hard to deal with regardless of language.
Some of my students worry that they can’t understand everything they hear.
Many of my students worry that they can’t understand even 20% of what they hear.
But actually that is normal.
Many people know that you have blind spots in your vision.
If you cover your left eye and look at the cross with your right eye, then slowly move your head towards the picture, there will be a spot where the black circle disappears.
You are always missing pieces of your field of vision, but you never notice. Your brain fills in the blanks.
Listening is the same. Even in your native language you don’t always hear every word someone says to you.
So when you are in a difficult English listening situation ( like a TOEIC test, listening to a podcast, or talking to a native speaker) the trick is to not worry about the words you don’t understand. focus on the words you can hear, and try to figure out the context.
Here’s an example. Listen to the first 30 seconds of this video.
Tony (Viggo Mortensen) doesn’t speak very clearly. Dr. Shirley (Mahershala Ali) speaks better, but you still may only hear this when you listen:
Only hearing those words you could be frustrated. But those are enough to figure out a bit of the situation. You can see Tony is asking questions that show they are meeting for the first time. Even if you don’t know the word “molar” you can understand it has to do with teeth. And something about a “driver” is important.
If you slowly study the full script:
Tony: some place you got here. them horns real?
Dr. Shirley: Elephant tusks yes
Tony: how ‘bout that? that a molar?
Dr. Shirley: a what?
Tony: a molar. Shark tooth. Or a tigers, maybe
Dr. Shirley: it was a gift
Tony: I thought, uh, I thought I was goin to an office. they said a doctor needed a driver
Dr. Shirley: that’s all they told you?
You’ll see there isn’t much more content than that.
The secret is to listen to lots of English. Focus on the words you can hear and understand. Don’t get frustrated. Eventually your brain will start to fill in the blanks.
Need free listening content? Try a podcast in English.
One of the first vital phrases you learn in English class is usually : “May I go to the washroom?”
If someone is traveling they will always find “Excuse me, where is the bathroom?” in their phrasebooks.
But we have so many names for that room: Washroom, Restroom, Bathroom, Lavatory, Toilet, W.C. … which one is best to use?
In Canada we usually say “Washroom” or “Bathroom”. In other parts of North America they also use “Restroom” fairly often. To North Americans it would be strange to say “I need to use the toilet.” Some parts of America find the name “Bathroom” strange to use, since it doesn’t often have a bath in it.
When I went to Australia people commonly called that room the “Toilet”, I’ve heard that’s common in England too.
I’ve heard in Britain they call that room the W.C. (water closet) or lavatory. But those words would be strange to use in North America.
Then there are a whole bunch of slang: “The men’s room / the ladies room”, “The loo” (Britain), “the facilities” and also some less polite slang like “The crapper” or “The pisser”.
So even native English speakers get confused with these. It seems that “Washroom” is the safest one to use overall. But if you are visiting an area find out what the locals call it.
“I think my girlfriend might be cheating on me, I’m going to snoop around on her phone.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. You know what they say: curiosity killed the cat.”
“My son burnt his hand touching the hot stove. Curiosity killed the cat.”
There is a proverb in English “Curiosity Killed the Cat” which warns someone that excessive investigation or experimenting will lead to a bad result.
In the first example the friend is warning that if the first guy looks in his girlfriend’s phone it will have a bad result (maybe his girlfriend will get angry).
In the second example the father is saying that his son was too curious about the stove and touched it to see what would happen, which gave a bad result.
This proverb comes from the idea of a curious cat, but that its inquisitiveness leads to its death. Try to picture a cat that is curious about the edge of a rooftop, goes to the edge to look over, and falls off the building.
We use this proverb generally to warn people not to try something foolish or not to ask certain questions.
One last thing about conditionals. Sometimes the 1st, 2nd and 3rd conditionals are given nicknames:
1st conditional “If… will…” : “If you grow taller you will be a model.”
2nd conditional “If… would” : “If you were taller you would be a model!”
3rd conditional “If… would have” : “If you had been taller you would have been a model!”
If those nicknames help you remember that’s great. But you don’t have to use will/would/would have in those main clauses. You can use any modal, such as can/ could / could have, may/ might/ might have, won’t/ wouldn’t/ wouldn’t have etc…
I’ll briefly talk about the differences in those main modals:
“If you were taller you would be a model” the speaker thinks this is very likely. Close to 100% chance.
“If you were taller you wouldn’t be a model” the speaker thinks this is very unlikely. Close to 0% chance
“If you were taller you might be a model” the speaker thinks it could happen, but the chance is not very high or low. Around 50% chance, but could be higher or lower.
“If you were taller you could be a model” the speaker thinks this is possible. That’s all. They are not commenting on the chance or likelihood at all.
“Even if you were taller you couldn’t be a model” again, there is no need to think about probability, the speaker thinks it is impossible.