How are you?

July 31, 2009



“Hello, how are you?” 

Do you get asked this or end up asking this when you are speaking in an English setting before a conversation actually begins?  Did your boss tell you to use this to greet your English-speaking clients?  Were you told that this is a polite gesture?  Do you use this as a conversation starter in English?

In fact, greetings are the most common speech act in any language.  Especially in an English business setting, one should observe the appropriate convention of greeting others to be polite and to build relationships.  “Hello/Hi, how are you?” is the most common salutation spoken by English speakers but is a rhetorical question.

When speaking in English and if asked this question, one should understand that the usage of this phrase is so common as a conversation starter that its actual meaning has become rather trivial, even though it is an expression of care.  When faced with this question, the listener needs to respond with “fine”, “well”, or “good” (or other similar variations, such as “very well”, see below) and nothing more (except maybe a “thank you” afterwards) and then ask back the same question, which then elicits a similar response.  Indeed, English speakers do not usually deviate from this speech act by responding that one is “not so well” and giving a long explanation unless both speakers already have an established relationship.  When two strangers meet for the first time, both would follow this conventional speech act because such a deviation would bewilder the listener.    

Note that one could also add a “good morning/good afternoon/good evening” in front of the “how are you” greeting.

In other languages the above convention may be different.  In Chinese, for example, speakers express “hello” somewhat differently.  While the Chinese language also has an expression similar to the English phrase, “Hello, how are you?”, specifically 你好嗎? (Pinyin: Ní hăo ma?), this phrase is not used in speech, but rather reserved for written correspondences as it is considered rather formal and may be a bit intrusive if asked in speech as questions are usually answered sincerely in Chinese.  Instead, Chinese speakers would only say 你好! (Pinyin: Ní hăo!), which when translated directly means “You are well!”  When two people meet, both speakers say this same expression to greet one another to wish the other good fortune.  Chinese’s strong belief in fortune and luck probably has some influence here.  When one probes to receive a longer and more sincere response about the health of the other person, one would say 你最近好嗎? (Pinyin: Nĭ zuì jìn hăo ma?), which directly translates to “How are you recently?”  In turn, the other person would, most often, respond back with a synopsis of his or her recent affairs. 

As can be seen, no matter the language, greetings require both the greeter and the informant to cooperate with one another.  In order to do this, one must understand the conventional expectations of an expression in order to respond appropriate and to convey politeness.  An appropriate response allows one to “fit in” to the culture of the same language speakers. 

When learning English, or any other language, besides focusing on the meaning of an expression, one should also learn the appropriate situational contexts of usage.  Even the simplest and most basic phrase- the salutation- could be rather complex. 

Here are some variations to the above mentioned greetings, which could be interchanged:


Question                                      Response

Hello, how are you (today)?          Fine, thank you, and you?

Hi, how are you?                           Good, how are you? (the ‘you’ is stressed)

How are you doing?                      I’m well/I’m fine/I’m okay/I’m good.

How is it going? (informal)             I’m doing alright/I’m doing well, and you?

How’s everything (lately)?             Very well, thank you (for asking). How about you?

How is everything (with you)?       Alright/Pretty well/Quite well/Pretty good/

                                                     Good/Good, good  

How do you do? (not common amongst Americans)      

Difference between ‘used to’, ‘get + used to’, and ‘be + used to’

July 30, 2009


These three phrases could be quite confusing as they all contain ‘used to’ but have different meanings and usage.

‘Used to’ conveys ‘past habit’ but does not mention when this habit happened or when it stopped.  Here, a bare infinitive (verb without the ‘to’ with no change in tense and no need for agreement with the noun) follows ‘used to’. 

For example-

            I used to drink coffee every morning. (This means that I had a habit of drinking coffee in the morning in the past but do not do this anymore.)

In ‘get + used to’ and ‘be + used to’, ‘used’ means accustomed.  The get form and be form would change to the appropriate tense and change to agree with the noun. 

Similar to ‘used to’, ‘be + used to’ conveys being accustomed to doing something in the past with the use of the past tense of be (i.e. was, were).  Usually, it conveys that this does not happen anymore.

            I was used to drinking coffee every morning when I worked at an office.

The ‘get + used to’ form shows the change of habit in the past with using the past form of get.  Usually, it conveys that this is still happening.

            I got used to drinking coffee every morning when I worked at an office.

A future but fairly certain conditional action could be conveyed by using ‘get + used to’ and a ‘will’ in front of it.  The present form of get is used. 

            I will get used to drinking coffee if I move to Europe as they have the best coffees in the world. 

On the other hand, when using the present tense of be (i.e. is, am, are), ‘be + used to’ conveys being accustomed to doing something in the past which one still does now.

            I am used to drinking coffee every morning.

            She is used to drinking coffee every morning.

            They are used to drinking coffee every morning. 

Notice that a gerund (verb which acts as a noun and ends in –ing) follows ‘get + used to’ and ‘be + used to’. 

Roses are red…

July 29, 2009


(This was originally posted during Valentine’s Day in February.)

Since it is Valentine’s Day, here is a classic English couplet for the occasion. 

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Sugar is sweet;

And so are you.


The original author of this poem is unknown, but according to Wikipedia, it could have stemmed from the poetry of various authors.  Nonetheless, it has become one of the most famous poems for Valentine’s Day due to its use of simple words, rhythm, and rhyme.  The rhyme occurs on the vowel sounds of the words ‘blue’ and ‘you’.  Furthermore, each line has the same rhythm to it.  English is a stress-timed language (unlike Spanish, Chinese, Japanese) meaning that the length of a sentence or line of words depends on the number of stresses within it and not the syllables!  Typically, stress is placed on the content words (i.e. the nouns, verbs [but not ‘be’ verbs], adjectives, adverbs), rather than function words (i.e. prepositions, conjunctions, etc.)  In the above poem, it takes the same amount of time to utter each line as the stress is placed in the same locations in each line.  Utterance of the conjunction (i.e. and) and the ‘be’ verbs (i.e. is, are) is minimized as there is no stress placed on them.  Thus, although this is a poem, it still exemplifies the typical stress pattern of English, like conversation. 

Poetry is a creative expression of mundane happenings or things.  Yet, with some creativity, it could be humorous or very romantic and a fun activity.  Giving the above couplet to your significant other will definitely melt his/her heart! 

And while we’re at it, here is my creation-

A garden has many flowers,

Each with its own special powers,

Bees are attracted by their hues,

We love their scents which are not too few.

Order of Descriptive Adjectives

July 28, 2009


A big red balloon?  A red big balloon?  Why is the former correct and the latter wrong?

English allows for an indefinite number of adjectives to occur before a noun, although normally no more than three are used.   For descriptive adjectives which appear before nouns, there is a rather fixed ordering although this is not absolute. 

Here is the order based on category:

Opinion-Size-Shape-Condition-Age-Color-Origin/Material (Noun)

Here are some of the common adjectives under each category:

Opinion- ugly, pretty, beautiful, poor, attractive, nice, sweet, precious, smart, childish, mature, charming, boring, athletic

Size- large, big, small, huge, little, tiny, short, tall, fat, skinny, thin, long

Shape- round, triangular, rectangular, irregular

Condition- broken, old, new, rare, clean, messy, expensive, cheap

Age- young, old, middle-aged, eighteen-year-old

Color- blue, white, black, red, etc.

Origin- English, French, Chinese, American, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Japanese, German

Material- wooden, plastic, metal, glass, paper, cotton


            the smart skinny teacher

            the tall Chinese boy

            the eighteen-year-old Chinese boy

            the tall, eighteen-year-old Chinese boy

Notice that adjectives which describe origin and material may be interchangeable. For example, both ‘a wooden French door’ and ‘a French wooden door’ are acceptable.

Related to adjective ordering there are two frequently asked questions.  First, when is and used?  Second, when is a comma needed and where?

For the first question, when there are two adjectives that are vastly different but from the same category which describe the same noun, then an ‘and’ is used in between these two adjectives.  Example-

            red and white scarf

            white and red scarf

Indeed, this seems to be most applicable for adjectives in the color category.

For the second question, there are three situations when a comma is needed.  First, when an adjective is repeated for the purpose of intensification, a commas is needed, like ‘tiny, tiny stars’ and ‘huge, huge elephant’. 

Second, when there are two adjectives in the same category which are similar in meaning or not incompatible with each other, so that either one could be omitted without a lost of the overall meaning, a comma is needed between them.  For example, ‘tiny, little stars’ and ‘charming, attractive waitress’.

Third, a comma is needed when there are three adjectives in sequence.  Usually the comma would be placed after the first adjective. An example would be ‘huge, grey African elephant’.  Besides this, when there are three adjectives, the above rules are still followed, for example ‘huge, grey and white elephant’. 

Lunar New Year street festival

July 27, 2009



(This post was originally posted during Lunar New Year in February.)

Well, this is the first time I’m writing about myself here but just wanted to share some of my experiences in Los Angeles with you.  For these, I’m going to stick with writing in English as it is a good way to practice reading English!  I’ll try to provide the Chinese to more difficult words. 

Last weekend I had a chance to visit the Lunar New Year street festival held in Monterey Park.  Even though I go every year, I’m always amazed at how they are able to block off several blocks on a rather busy Garvey Avenue for several days!  Walking on the street definitely gives an entirely different perspective than when one is driving on it.  The street seems so much wider.

Compared to those in Asian countries, I’m sure this street festival was not as grand.  However, I do appreciate the City’s effort to bring a little joy to those who do celebrate the lunar New Year.  I’m sure not all American cities have something similar- maybe just the ones with a significant Asian population (i.e. San Francisco, New York)?  They also plan it months in advance.  While in high school, I had the opportunity to work with the City to book some game booths to fundraise for our school club.  At the time, I was afraid when the time came around as manning the booths were physically demanding and exhausting!  However, when I was walking around last weekend, I was on the lookout for any signs of my alma mater but unfortunately did not see any.  Something just wasn’t the same. 

Here in Los Angeles, there are at least three other local cities which put up something similar- Alhambra, Rowland Heights, and Chinatown.  Usually, local vendors, government departments, local colleges, tourism bureaus, and overseas vendors set up booths to promote their products.  I remember getting many freebies when I was younger but nowadays, the quantities have been reduced and more products are for purchase only.  I’m sure the economic tsunami also has an adverse effect on this.  Nonetheless, I’m happy with my loot! 


Seaweed Sesame Eggroll from a bakery in Hong Kong!  I like the seaweed taste to them as they remind me of Japanese hand rolls.


A free magnet from the Taiwan Tourism Bureau which says, “Taiwan- Touch Your Heart”.  I have more to say about this, later in another post, as Taiwan lived up to this and touched my heart when I visited.

A tribute to Michael Jackson

July 26, 2009



The passing of Michael Jackson is a heavy loss to the entertainment industry and has brought me a bit of sorrow.  Although I cannot say that I’m a die-hard fan, I truly admire his musical and performing talents.  It is unfortunate that his life was overshadowed by controversy; however, I prefer to remember his contributions to music and nothing else.

Supposedly, Jackson is very selective on the interviews he accepts.  In a rare 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, a famous American media personality and host, Jackson reveals many aspects of his private life to her, including his childhood, and touches upon some of the circulating media gossip at the time.  (Please find the video on or other sites and look for parts 4, 5, and 6 or the middle of the interview.) This portion consists of a tour of Neverland Ranch, the amusement park that he once called home, and a music video clip.  In it, Elizabeth Taylor shares her opinion of Jackson.  Oprah also confronts Jackson with the rumor that his famed Moonwalk dance is fake, which Jackson then dispels by performing it live in front of her!  A transcript is not provided.  Try to listen to it a few times if you find it difficult to understand the first time.  (If you’re interested in watching the entire interview, search for it on


Elizabeth Taylor: If he has any eccentricities, it’s that he is larger than life, and some people just can’t accept that or face it or understand it.  

Oprah asks Elizabeth Taylor her opinion about Jackson, and she tells her that his actions may not be understood by others because he is “larger than life”, a positive phrase used to describe someone who is not simply ordinary.  Eccentricity is a noun and similar in meaning to the word weirdness but has a more positive connotation. 


Oprah: …he could crack some jokes

To “crack some jokes” means to tell some jokes.


Jackson: It brings out the child that lives inside everybody.

Here, Jackson says that the amusement rides that he built is enjoyed by both adults and children as adults also love to have fun like children do. 


Oprah: And so now, you are fulfilling all those [childhood] fantasies?

Jackson:  To compensate [for my childhood], yes, it’s very true. 

Oprah: But, do you think you could ever really recapture it [your childhood] though?

Jackson: I would not change the past. 

Look at the way that the two speakers use three different verbs (e.g. fulfill, compensate, and recapture) to talk about Jackson’s childhood and to answer each other, rather than with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  In a way, Jackson’s response to Oprah’s first comment and Oprah’s subsequent comment are rejections to the prior statement, which are a very smart play of words.  


Jackson: I love to do things for children.  I try to imitate Jesus. I’m not saying I am Jesus. I try to imitate Jesus in the fact that he said to be like children, to love children, to be as pure as children, to make yourself as innocent and see the world with eyes of wonderment, the whole magical quality of it all, and I love that.

Some question and wonder about Jackson’s friendliness towards children.  Jackson explains that he likes to be around children because children and simple and honest and he wants to help them, in the spirit of Jesus.  Look at the various ways that Jackson uses to describe this quality in children.


Jackson: We have children that come who are intravenously very sick, they are bedridden, and they can’t sit up.  These beds are hospital beds and they push a button and they move up and they move down.

Many of the children who visit Jackson’s Neverland Ranch are sick, confined to the bed (bed-ridden) and require an IV line (intravenous therapy) to survive. 


Oprah: I believe everything happens in people’s lives for a reason.  Do you think that had you not missed a lot of the life and fun and fantasy of childhood that you would be so in touch with children today?  Would you relate to them if you didn’t?

Jackson: I probably would but not as much that is why I wouldn’t change a thing.

The two questions in italics are grammatically complex and both contain the same meaning but in the opposite order.  ‘To be in touch with + something’ is the same as ‘relate to + something’ while ‘had not missed + something’ is the same as ‘did not miss + something’. 

Both are past conditional questions with an ‘if + would’ and presents an imaginative situation as it did not happen in the past.  Actually, the ‘if’ in the first question is deleted, in which case the subject you must inverted with the auxiliary verb had.   If the ‘if’ is not deleted, the question would be “do you think that if you had not miss a lot…” where the subject and auxiliary verb are not inverted. 

As a childhood star since five years old, Jackson never lived a normal childhood as he had to work everyday either recording songs, rehearsing, or performing. This is the topic of this part of the conversation.


Oprah: Where did the Moonwalk come from actually?

Jackson: Well, the Moonwalk came from these beautiful children, these black kids who live in the ghettos and the inner cities who are brilliant. They just have that natural talent for dancing, any of them- The Running Man – any of these dances.  They come up with the dances.  All I did was enhance the dance. 

Oprah asks Jackson about the origin of his famous Moonwalk dance.  Jackson credits children for giving him this inspiration saying that he only “enhanced” it.  The ghettos or inner cities are the part of a city where minority groups reside.  These residents are usually poor, and the areas may be overpopulated.  Ghetto is slang with a somewhat negative connotation, while inner city does not have such a negative connotation.


Jackson: I could show you a step or two, but I’m a little rusty right now. 

When Oprah asks Jackson to show her some dance moves, Jackson replies that he could show her only a few dance steps because he is “a little rusty right now”. Here, rusty is not used as a verb to describe the chemical change of nail turning brown but used as an adjective to describe being without practice.  Yet, as we can see, Jackson is still quite agile!  What an entertainer! 


Michael Jackson will be missed.


July 25, 2009



As a teacher, we are constantly looking for new resources for our students.  Thus, hopefully this gives teachers a new idea.  Webquests are very popular in the field of language teaching, which is a type of inquiry-based learning.  It is an open-ended activity placed on a webpage consisting of a topic and a task, web resources for students to utilize while trying to complete that task, and examples for guidance.  Such an activity may then be integrated into the classroom environment where students are asked to explain their choice in writing, write about the steps they took to achieve successful completion, and/or present their findings orally in front of their peers.  To promote collaboration, such tasks should be group-oriented, rather than for the individual.  Teachers should also detail their grading criteria on the webpage.  Webquests promote problem-solving skills, group work, and the learning of the target language using real-life webpages!  Such an activity is especially attractive for students as they love using the internet!

Here is link to a Webquest which I previously created as one of my class assignments.  Once completed, it’ll help you learn about New York’s public transit system- NYCommuter Quest

Here is a link with Webquests created by other language teachers which I used as a guidance to develop mine-