“Can you eat spicy food?”

One of the most perplexing questions I get asked by Koreans is “Can you eat spicy food?” This seems like a strange question.

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The main problem is the “Can you…” part. This makes it a question of ability, not preference. “Can you fly?”, “Can you speak Chinese?”, “Can you come to my party tomorrow?”. Asking someone “Can you eat spicy food?” is like asking them “Are you able to eat spicy food?”, “Is it possible for you to eat spicy food?” This almost sounds like a challenge, as if you are questioning their abilities.

I have heard many, many foreigners complain about getting this question.
“Can you eat spicy food?” (sounds like a challenge)
“Of course I can!”
It’s much, much better to ask “Do you like spicy food?” Then the question isn’t about ability, it’s about preference. Even someone who hates spicy food can eat it.

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Personally I like spicy food. Most Korean food isn’t spicy to me, but some tastes pretty hot.

Being Stuck

Being ‘stuck’ means something is “attached” or “can’t move”. A mouse that gets caught in a glue trap is a great example of this- because of the glue it is now attached to the trap and can’t move.

We can use it for either meaning:

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attached: “The women stuck a flyer on the community billboard”
can’t move: “The fat thief tried to escape through the small window and got stuck”
We also use it for times when you aren’t literally “unable to move” but it feels that way.

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“Sorry I’m late I got stuck in a meeting.”

= I was in a meeting I didn’t want to be in, and I couldn’t escape.

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“I got stuck in traffic.”

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“She is stuck in a bad marriage.”

It has the impression of helplessness that you’re in a situation that you cannot overcome with your own power.
This is why we use it for problems as well.

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“I got stuck on a problem in my homework, it made me so frustrated I had to take a break.”

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“I’m stuck on the last level in this game, I can’t figure out how to kill the final boss.”

Salary and Wage

Salary and wage are fairly similar but there is a big difference. Both refer to the money you get for a job, but one is a fixed amount and one is an hourly amount.

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If you get hired at a job that pays $52,000 a year then that is a salary. Some companies in North America pay you once a week (payday!) and so you would get $1,000 every week. Although your job might have set hours (9-5) you won’t lose pay if you are sick, late or there is a holiday. You may get in trouble for being sick or late, but it won’t affect your salary.

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A job that pays $10 an hour is giving you a wage. You get paid for how many hours you work in a pay period (maybe every week or every two weeks). If you worked 40 hours you get $400, if you worked 20 you get $200. Being sick, late or having holidays means that you didn’t work certain hours and you will make less money.

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Both positions do usually offer overtime pay if you work more than 40 hours in a week or on holidays. This isn’t always the case with salaried positions, but it does happen frequently.

Abstract nouns


It can be very hard to understand which nouns are abstract and which are concrete.


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Concrete nouns are easy. Just like the concrete we use to make buildings and roads we think of them as solid and strong.

Concrete nouns are things you can:

see (a sunset) ,

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hear (a song),

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touch (an icicle),

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smell (a fart)

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or taste (honey).

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Abstract nouns are things you can’t see, hear, touch, smell or taste.

They are ideas or concepts (time, money, freedom),

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actions (running, drinking, falling)

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and feelings (hatred, love, confusion).

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Abstract nouns are uncountable.

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Money is a concept. Dollars, Won and Yen are concrete things that represent money to people.

“I have money.”

“I have 10 dollars


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Time is an idea. Hours, days and years are measurable, real nouns that represent time to people.
“Do you have time this weekend?”

“Do you have a couple of free hours this weekend?”


Some words can be both abstract and concrete, but the meanings change.

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“I love you.” love is a concept or feeling.
“I left my love overseas” here ‘love’ refers to an actual person = the person that I love.

“I don’t have time.” time is a concept
“That happened two times.” here ‘times’ is a completely different word, = the number of occurrences.


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“I hate winter.” all winters, the concept of winter.
“I went to Europe two summers ago” we are counting a year’s summer as a period of time, not as an abstract concept.
I don’t expect you to master abstract nouns with a short audio clip. I just want you to try to start noticing them more. Mastery (an abstract quality) will come later.

“Cheer”, “Cheer on” and “Cheer up”

The verb “cheer” and the phrasal verbs “cheer on” and “cheer up” may sound similar but they have very different meanings.
To “cheer” means a loud cry that shows approval or excitement.

“Everyone in the audience cheered loudly after the stellar play.”

“The baseball stadium was overwhelmed with the sound of cheering fans.”
To “cheer on” means to encourage someone by cheering (the verb we just talked about). “The crowd cheered on the final runner in the marathon.”

Again this involves loud cries, and is usually used at competitions. It usually happens in crowds, but a single person can do it too:

“The rest of the audience was silent, but Thomas stood up and loudly cheered on his daughter during the talent show.”

To “cheer someone on” with more mundane tasks is possible, but would be a strange social situation.

“Mary’s boss cheered her on as she worked” would have the boss loudly yelling something like “Hey you can do it!” to his employee.
“Cheer up” is a little different. It means to become happier, and is used when someone is sad.

“I was lonely my first week at uni, but a call from my mom cheered me up.”

“After his daughter lost the talent show Thomas bought her an ice cream to cheer her up.”
If you tell someone to “Cheer up” it means you think they are sad and are telling them to try being happy.
A: “I’m sad that we are moving to a different city.”
B: “Cheer up! You’ll make great new friends quickly.”

Politeness in English

Since there is no official “Polite Speech” or “Casual Speech” in English it is sometimes difficult to know how to talk to your superiors (bosses, professors) or elderly people.
First of all be careful not to use their first name. If their name is John Smith or Jane Smith it is best to call them Mr. Smith or Miss/ Mrs. Smith. Or you can call them “sir” or “ma’am”. If they are a professor, as in they teach at a University and have a PhD, then you can call them “Professor Smith” or just “Professor”.
Note: Never call a teacher “Smith Teacher”, “Teacher” is not a title in English, only the name of a job. “Mr / Miss / Mrs” works best.
Secondly, try to avoid slang and casual expressions
“Hey John, what’s up?” is not very polite for an older or distinguished person.
“Hello Mr. Smith, how are you today?” is much better.
Some bosses and professors don’t like the overly polite language, as they feel it distances them from others. So they may invite you to call them by their first names.
“Hello Mr. Smith, did you have a good weekend?”
“Oh please, just call me John.”
In these situations you can use their first names after being given permission, but it is still good to avoid slang and overly casual phrases.