Monday, April 24, 2017

Exciting and Strange News Stories

The newspaper and TV are often filled with all kinds of news stories, from very tragic loss and rescue to very strange events like UFOs. Please share a short summary of a recent news story in your area and how this event impacts people like you in small or big ways.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Job Interviews

Going to a job interview can be a very nerve-racking experience, especially if you don't have any idea on what questions you might be asked. However, there are certain things you can do to prepare.

First of, do some research on the company. Visit its Web site, read information on the company, learn about the backgrounds of some of the workers there and their skills. Find out what kind of workers the company needs and determine how you can help fill those gaps.

So, give me your ideas. What things can you do to prepare and what kinds of questions could the company ask you? Share your ideas.

Ideal Wedding Anniversary Gift: What would it be?

Imagine you are celebrating your wedding anniversary (1, 5, 10, 20 years or more). What would you give your husband or wife on this special day? A book? Chocolate? A new car? Share your ideas.


Video Games: Harmful or Helpful?

For many years, video games have been a popular, recreational activity for the young and old. However, there is concern that they can have negative effects on people as well. Share your ideas on the benefits and possible negative effects on people. How can we learn to balance playing video games with other actvities?

Watch Randall's Video on this topic and then post your reaction to this topic:

Travel: Fly or Drive Across the Country?

If you were visiting a new continent in the world (e.g., Africa, South American, Australia, etc.), would you rather travel from city to city by plane or by ground transportation like by car? Why? Also, what are the advantages and disadvantages of for of transportation? Please share your personal experiences if you have traveled before?


Friday, April 21, 2017

Car Rentals: Is the age of drivers important?

In some places around the world, companies have policies on how old drivers have to be to rent a car. Some feel this is out of safety, but other people believe young drivers can be equally responsible. What are your feelings on this? Share your ideas.

Car Accidents: Will raising the driving age help?

A great deal on discussion always focuses on whether raising the legal driving age really helps in reducing the number of car accidents. But, do teenagers really cause more accidents due to poor judgement? Would limiting the hours in which they can drive and the people with whom they can drive improve the situation? In other words, are teenagers more likely to have car accidents when they are with their friends? What is the legal driving age in your country or area? Please share your ideas on this topic. I'm interested to hear how different cultures view young drivers.


PC or a Mac? Which computer do you like best?

Personal computers running versions of Windows from Microsoft and Mac computers from Apple have been competitors for a very long time. But for you, which computer do you prefer to use and why? If money weren't an issue and you had an unlimited amount to spend, which computer type would you buy? Please share your ideas and experiences on the topic.


Distance Education: Online Verses Classroom Learning?

Some people believe that you can get a great education online instead of attending a college or university at a traditional school. What do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Share your ideas.

Unusual or Different Cultural Traditions

Years ago while we were living in Japan, we visited a Japanese public bath a number of times. It was certainly a unique experience to bathe and get in a large jacuzzi, tub, or spring completely naked with complete strangers. That said, it was fun to immerse yourself into the local culture and see things, not as strange, but just different.

So, what are some unique cultural traditions that you have experienced in different parts of the world, including your own? Please share your ideas.

A Typical Meal From My Country

In some places in the world, people often eat traditional foods from their region or country. This certainly isn't unusual; however, in my family, we eat foods from around the world. It isn't unusual for us to each Peruvian one night, Mexico another night, and then Korean or Japanese another time. We tend to each such a variety because of our experiences living overseas and my work with international students.

So, in your family, what are some foods you eat regularly as part of your cultural tradition? Please share.

Grocery Shopping: How much do things cost?

Prices of food seem to be rising worldwide, and these prices are affecting the livelihood of so many people. Rising prices are due to a number of factors including rising oil prices (which in turn affects the cost of transporting food) and the use of foods in producing alternative fuels. Now, use the money exchange calculator below to tell us approximately how much, in US dollars, each of the items cost:
  • a liter of gas
  • twelve eggs
  • a liter of milk
  • a loaf of white bread
  • a kilo of ground beef (hamburger)
  • a McDonald's hamburger

College Textbooks: Are they overpriced?

My daughter was taking a class at a local university, and I almost fell over when she told me that the book for the class cost about $150, and it was only a paperback book. My question is whether schools and publishers charge too much money for books, particularly when they cost almost as much as the class itself. What do you think? And in such cases, is there anything a student can do to find cheaper books? Share your ideas.


ESL Classes: Is taking hard classes a good idea?

What I often see as a teacher of ESL is that students want to take language classes at a higher level than they are prepared to handle. These students say they just want to try a harder class and will do their best even though the material is difficult. Unfortunately, these same students don't realize that their decision is not just a personal one because it affects everyone involved. The other higher students don't want to work with lower students and wonder why the student was allowed into the class, and the teacher feels obligated to slow down and simplify the content so the lower-level student understands the class, and the other students don't want that either. And in the United States, if the student is on a student visa and fails a class, it can affect their visa status. Thus, what seems like an individual decision really can affect many other people. I strongly suggest that students do the best at the classes at their level, and if they want more study, find a private study partner or small study group to give them more practice. What do you think on this topic?


Leisure Activities: What do you like to do?

Leisure or recreational activities outside of work and school can give people opportunities to relax and get rid of stress from the day, but I think that what people do is often determined by individual preference, culture, and even geographic location. Personally, I really enjoy hiking, as seen on my Website, Hiking in Utah ( Hiking in the mountains not only gives me chances to exercise, but it allows me to see nature and get away from the cares of the day. There is nothing like standing on a high mountain peak and enjoying the solitude. So, how about you? What do you like to do in your free time?


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Recommended Travel Destination

There are certainly many wonderful places to visit around the world, and your ultimate destination will depend on what you are looking for. and what you want to see. Personally, I enjoy nature, so my ultimate destination would be to visit a very scenic place in the mountains where I can run, hike, fish, and camp under the stars.

What about you? What is your ideal travel destination? Please share.

Breakfast Recipes

Imagine that a friend from a foreign country is staying at your home for a week. If you wanted to give this person a taste of your country's traditional food, what would you serve for breakfast (food and drink)? How do you prepare this meal? Is it easy to make? Please share your ideas. Then, visit my listening activity about breakfast recipes:



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Credit Cards: Do they help or hurt students?

Back when I was a university students in the 1980s, credit cards were very difficult to obtain, and thus, students had to either borrow from family or banks, or save their money until they could make purchases. Now, credit card companies can't hand them out quick enough, and students seem to use their credit cards to buy everything from fast food and clothing, to airline tickets and other luxury goods. So, what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of having credit cards, and how can students learn to use them wisely.


Parenting: The Challenges of Raising Children

Parenting is one job you can get without any experience, and being a parent for the first time isn't like changing jobs from one restaurant to another. It can be a challenge, particularly when raising teenagers. Therefore, what do you think are the keys of raising children, particularly older ones who are going through different periods of their lives. Therefore, what are some important things that parents can do to raise children successfully? Share your ideas. Also, try this listening activity on the topic:



Fast Food: A Growing Worldwide Problem?

One of the first thing most of my new students say when they arrive in the US is that North Americans eat too much junk food, but is this image really accurate. Have eating habits changed over the past 25 years or so? My first job over 25 years ago was at a fast food restaurant, and the menu was basically limited to burgers, fries, and drinks. Now, the same restaurant offers healthier food choices including salads and fewer fried foods. Yet, does that mean more people are eating better? What about in your country? What percent of people now eat out at fast food restaurants than before? If so, what are the reasons for this change? Share your ideas.

UFOs: Are they real?

Is there life beyond our own solar system? It wasn't until around the mid 1990s that astronomers confirmed the existence of planets beyond our solar system, and since then, hundreds have been detected. Now, back when I was in junior high school years ago, most people like you and I could not really imagined such a thing, although scientists have long suspected it.

So, if hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of planets exist out there, what is the chance that life also exists? So, in this case, do you feel that UFOs are real (unidentified flying objects)?

Why or why not? How could their existence impact our life in the future?


Monday, April 17, 2017

Airplane Travel: Will you be charged by your weight?

Now that prices for airplane travel are increasing in different parts of the world, airline companies are trying to find ways on how to cut costs. Such measures might include charging for checked bags, not giving snacks and drinks to passengers during flights, and charging for in-flight movies. Now, companies might even consider charging you a fee based on your weight. In other words, the more you weigh, the more you pay. How would you feel if airlines had such a policy? Is it fair? Are better ways for the airline industry to pay for their own costs? Share your ideas.


Plane Travel: Best or Worst Experiences

Traveling by plane can be a very convenient way to get around the world if everything goes just right for you; however, as we all know, what we actually plan and how things turn out in life are two different issues.

On a positive note, I remember returning back to the United States after spending a couple of weeks in Saudi Arabia providing teacher training to language instructors there. It was a wonderful experience, and after the training, I was looking forward to being back home. Before I boarded the plane, I was pleasantly surprised to find out I had enough extra flying miles to upgrade me to first class, something I wasn't expecting, but I didn't pass up the chance to ride up front for the first . . . and probably last . . . time in my life.

On the other hand, I have had my share of unpleasant experiences in flying, and on one occasion abroad, my flight was delayed for over six hours in an international airport that resulted in my missing my connecting flight once I returned to the United States, causing me to have to stay in a hotel once extra night. Spending time in an airport in another country where you don't speak the language and you don't understand the flight announcements can be mentally and emotionally challenging. I just tried to smile and count my blessings that I had a family back home that was waiting for me.

Now, these experiences are not very extreme in nature, but it is likely that you have had both your share of good and bad travel moments. Please share them with us.



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Home Remedies: What do you do in your country?

Many people dislike running to the doctor for medicine to cure common ailments or sicknesses, and thus, they rely on traditional home remedies to help them feel better. For example, for a common cold I had one time, someone mixed up some lemon, garlic, and honey in boiling water, and I drank in to help relieve congestion. Fortunately, it seemed to work. So, are they home remedies specific to your family, country, and culture? Write about any home remedies to the following problems (or any other you can think of):

  • back pain,
  • bad breath
  • colds
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • insect bites
  • insomnia (sleeping problem)
  • nosebleeds
  • sore feet
  • sunburn
  • stuffy nose

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Online Shopping: How much do you do?

Online shopping is becoming more popular in different parts of the world, but how much have your shopping habits changed? Do you find that you spend more money shopping online than you do in traditional stores? What do you spend you money on the most? what are the advantages and disadvantages of shopping online? Share your ideas.



Your Favorite Book: Why did you like it?

Reading is a fun way to learn more about life and the world around us, and my kids really enjoy reading all types of novels and stories. One particular series of books I enjoyed reading years ago was Redwall (, fantasy novels by Brian Jacques, featuring an animal kingdom fighting each book against some evil force. The reason why I like these books so much was that the main characters show great virtues of honesty, loyalty, and kindness that can be applied to our lives today.

So, what about you? Share you favorite book and tell us why you like it.


Language Learning: How can it be done?

Someone once said the following:

  • "Learning is not a spectator sport."
My question is how is this related to learning a language, and what have been your own personal experiences in relation to it? Personally, I feel that a student can not sit in the back of the class, passively, and expect wonderful things to happen. Furthermore, what I find is that many parents who send their children to the US or other countries mistakenly assume that their children will just naturally learn the language by simply being in the vicinity of where the language is spoken. Sadly, all too often, I have students who have spent a year or more in the US and know very little because they seldom mingle and interact with native speakers, and tend to shelter themselves with other speakers of their native language.

So, what is your interpretation of the saying above? Share your ideas and experiences.


Homestay or University Dormitories: Which is best?

When many international students move overseas to study English, they often are faced with the decision of whether to live on campus in a dormitory, or in some cases, stay with a host family; however, each comes with its benefits and challenges. Personally, which do you feel would be best for you and why? Share your opinions or experiences on the topic.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Holiday Traditions: What is your favorite day?

Holiday traditions are a very important part of a person's cultural identify, and understanding these customs can help us understand one another and build bridges between cultures. Thus, what is one holiday tradition that visitors to your area should learn about to improve cultural understanding? Share your thoughts and opinions on this topic.

Birthday Celebrations

No matter how old you are, it is often nice to be remembered on your birthday. In our family, we tend to keep things simple, but one tradition we maintain is to go out to eat at the person's favorite restaurant. For one child, that will sushi at a nice Japanese restaurant; for another, we'll go for sure to a nice steak restaurant. No matter what we do and were we go, we do our best to have a nice time. Going out to eat might not take place exactly on the person's birthday, but we try do it around that time.

So, what about you? How do you celebrate your birthday? Share your ideas.


Public Transportation

Every morning, I usually get on a commuter train a little after 6:00 a.m. to head into Salt Lake City where I work at the University of Utah. The train ride lasts about 35 minutes, but it doesn't go directly to the university. Rather, I have to get off the train at one stop and switch a bus, which takes another 30 minutes or so until it drops me off near my office. With waiting time between the train and the bus, the entire trip takes about 1 hour 15 minutes or so (if there aren't an train or bus delays).

I can almost always get a seat on the train, and during the commute, I sometimes do some work on my Web sites, read, or just look at the window and think.

So, what about you? How do you get to and from school or work? Share your experiences.


Languages: Why some learn faster?

Some ESL/EFL students become frustrated when they are not learning English as quickly as they expect. Others learners feel depressed when they seem to be making progress one day, and level off or appear not to make progress for some time.

What have been your experiences in learning English? Why do some students learn faster than others? How can students improve their language skills?


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Favorite Celebrity: Who would you invite to dinner?

Imagine that you are having a party at your place this weekend, and you are considering who to invite. If you could invite a famous person, dead or alive (remember, IF this were possible . . .) to come to your party for a few hours, who would you invite and why? It might be someone famous from your country or an international political leader. Share your ideas on this topic.


Homestay or College Dormitories: Which helps more?

Many international students assume that living in a college dormitory or staying with a family is the magic wand or key to improving their English. In some cases, it can help, but there is no guarantee. For example, some international students get discouraged when their native-speaking roommates at college don't hang out with them, but instead, are gone to jobs or just spend time with their other friends. This is the reality: native speakers often live busy lives and don't have time to be conversation partners to students who are just learning English. Futhermore, some native speakers feel that internationals students just want to be their friend to practice their English. Besides all of this, if students have to choose between a homestay experience and living in a college dorm, which would be the best choice in terms of convenience, opportunities for language and cultural experience, cost, and even safety? Please share your ideas on the topic.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Fake or Nonprescription Eyeglasses: Do they change the real you?

A growing trend in some parts of the world is the wearing of fake or nonprescription eyeglasses for cosmetic or fashion reasons. Some people feel these glasses make them look fashionable and even popular because of their change in appearance. Other people wear colored contact lenses to give themselves a new look. Are these fashions becoming popular in your culture? What do you think of this growing fashion? Share your ideas. Randall

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Raising Children . . . and Grandchildren

Here's my grandson. Does he look like me? Well, I have created listening activities on parenting, but perhaps I need something on grandparenting soon;

Learning Naturally: Can it be done?

From time to time, my students say that they want to speak just like a native speaker, and I warn them that isn't always a good idea. My students are surprised by my response, not realizing that when we learn a language naturally, we learn with it all the imperfections and mistakes that go along with it. In other words, when my kids were growing up, I didn't sit them down and explain all of the grammar rules including the difference between lay and lie or farther and further. And even it I had, my voice and ideas would have been drowned out by the hundreds of other kids at their skills who had learned it incorrectly.

So, there is certainly value in learning formal rules to a language in a classroom. Once you know the rules, then you have a conscious choice to use them correctly or not.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Favorite Travel Destinations

Most people have their own image of the ideal vacation or dream trip. For some, this might entail traveling to the beach and basking in the sun; for others, a stroll through city streets might just be the recipe for a nice day. Personally, I enjoy the outdoors, and an enjoyable hike in the mountains near my house is just the thing to pass the day.

In this picture, I took a nice 20 km hike with some of the family up towards Mt. Timpanogos, one of the highest peaks in this area. We saw beautiful flowers along the way, a number of birds and ground squirrels, and one of us caught sight of a moose.

The solitude and beauty of the area always seems to remind me of the blessings of this great world.

So, what is your favorite travel destination? Share your ideas.


Recreation: Free-time Activities

By profession, I teach English at a university in the United States, but I enjoy hiking and camping as a way to relieve stress and spend time with the family. I even created a website,, to document my adventures. What about you? What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Share your thoughts.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Recycling: What do people do in your area?

More and more cities, governments, and individuals are becoming concerned about protecting our environment and resources. However, for the individual citizen, what do people in your area do (or DON'T do) to recycle at home. Personally, we collect our newspapers for the week and take them to a local school down the street where they collect them for recycling. Furthermore, we also put some of our leftover food (e.g., banana peels, egg shells, vegetables, etc.) outside in a special box that turns the scraps into soil for our garden.

So, what about you and people in your area? What can we do more to protect our future?


Top Sightseeing Places in Your City

If a friend were scheduled to visit your city for the first time, what two places would you want this person to see and visit? Why? Personally, I would take my friend up American Fork Canyon and hike a place called Julie Andrews Meadow (, and then, I'd probably take the person to the most visited place in Utah, Temple Square. A tour of this area will introduce you to the history and religious principles of the early Mormon pioneers.

Now, please tell us more about interesting places in your city or area.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Making the World a Better Place

When I was 21 years old, I really thought I knew a lot about the world. At that point in my life, I had lived overseas, and I was going college. Soon, however, I realized how small my worldview was of the world.

Now that I am in my 50s, I realize how little I know of the world. Yes, I have traveled to different parts of the world, and I work with students from many parts every day, but I just seem to learn something new when I keep my eyes and heart open to new things.

For me, setting goals has been a part of this process. I try to learn something every day and try to improve my life because of it.

This picture was taken on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake in Utah. My wife and I visit the island every year for Valentine's Day. It is a time to reflect on what I have learned during the past year, and I try to commit to somehow make the world a better place in any small way.

So, how can each one of us make the world better? Share your ideas.


Smart Phones - Are they THAT important?

Smart phones can be valuable tools for communicating, learning, and carrying out business; however, is it something we can't live without in today's world? Listening to my activity and judge for yourself:

Share your ideas on this topic. 

Funerals: Expressing Condolences

The loss of a family member or friend due to illness or accident can be a very difficult experience, and each culture, area, or family hold funerals or other activities differently based on a number of factors including cultural traditions and religion. Thus, it can be important to know the local customs expectations when attending a funeral so everything goes smoothly. In my area, funeral proceedings are based on a lot of things including religion. I believe there is life after death, so a funeral is a time to remember the life of the person, but it is also filled with hope because I believe we will see the person again. A funeral is filled with music, short talks about the life of the person, and perhaps a lunch after the person is buried. Visitors often wear formal clothing, but not black suits and ties. In my religion, we focus on hope of seeing the person again, so it isn't just a sad occasion. So, what about in your family or culture? What are the traditions surrounding funerals? This should be helpful for all international visitors to your country.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Home Cleaning Service

If someone dropped by your house or apartment, would you be afraid to invite the person in because it isn't clean? How clean is your bedroom? Would you mind if your friend used your bathroom? Share your thoughts on this and explain how does the cleaning in your place and how often it is done.

Then, try my newest listening activity on this topic and see how bad the man's apartment is:

Monday, April 3, 2017

Classroom Behavior: Shy or Not?

I often have students from many countries in my classrooms. Students from Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Columbia, and many other countries. I know what to expect when these students come together for the first time.

Some of my students speak out and actively engage in the classroom without a care in the world if their grammar is correct or not; other students, however, are almost paralyzed with fear, and they won't say anything until they are absolutely sure that their grammar is perfect . . .  and by that time, I'm eating my lunch 20 minutes after the class ended.

Unfortunately, all of these students don't know how to interpret each other's classroom behavior. Are they shy? Are they asleep? Are they bored?

Thus, during the first few days of class, I try to explain how past classroom experiences and expectation in different countries affects what students say and do in my classroom.

Thus, my question to you is this: Are students from your country hesitant to participate in class, and if so, why? Share your ideas.


TV, Radio, and Internet Ads: Who can you believe?

One of the ways that companies promote their products is through advertising, whether it be on TV, radio, email, or on Web pages. Personally, I feel that this can be a good market strategy as long as the company is truthful in its claims for its product. However, companies sometimes try to attract consumers who are desperate to find a solution to a personal problem like loneliness, hair loss, or weight gain.

So, what do you do personally to understand whether an advertisement is actually telling the truth? How do you measure its accuracy? What are some of the most interesting or outrageous ads you have ever seen?

Share your ideas.

Here is one listening activity I created on my site on advertising:



Drug Addiction

Although visitors have enjoyed the humor in many of my listening activities, I have created conversations that deal with more complex and emotionally-difficult topics. Of of these is called Drug Addiction. Give it a try and let me know what you think about such topics:

Snacks: What do people enjoy?

Many people enjoy snacks between meals, either while at work or after school when they return home. However, the snacks people each can vary widely from culture to culture or family to family. While some people think of potato chips as a snack, I really enjoyed Edamae, or boiled soybeans while I was in Japan. Basically, you boil the beans with the shell in salt and then serve. At that point, you just remove the pod, or outside shell, and enjoy. So, what about you? Share any unique or interesting snacks that people eat where you live. Randall

Pets: Are they common in all cultures?

Often, we might assume that having some type of pet is common across the world; however, is this really the case? In my family, we have two dogs, a cat, a bearded dragon (lizard), and fish, but this is due in part to helping my kids learn how to care for animals, available space, and a love for animals. But what about you and people in your culture? Are there certain types of pets that people often have? Are there any pets that people don't have due to cultural values or religion? Share your ideas.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Street Markets: Bargaining Tips in Your Country

Although haggling (=bargaining for a better price) is common in street markets in certain parts of the world, this practice is not universal. As I have traveled to many parts of the world, I often find myself in street markets trying to buy local crafts (bags, pottery, leather goods). In such cases, I find myself trying to talk down the price. However, I find that some international students, from countries where these practices are common, try to do the same thing where I live in the United States, and the result is that they can appear somewhat aggressive to shop owners.

So, what tips or suggestions do you have for people trying to buy things in stores and street markets in your city or country?


Free Time Activities: What if . . .?

If you had free time today and you could do anything you wanted to do for the entire day, where would you go and what would you do? Personally, I really enjoy the outdoors, specifically hiking. In Utah where I live, there are many state and national parks, and one of my favorites is Arches National Park (see picture here of me and my daughter when we visit the park years ago). It is just fun to get away from everything (the crowds, computers, cell phones, email) and just relax in nature.

So, what would you do if you had free time?


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Traffic Violations: What should be the penalty?

In principle, traffic laws are in place to protect the public, both drivers and pedestrians; however, in my travels around the world, I notice that traffic laws are not always enforced. In looking at traffic laws in your country, are these laws obeyed by the majority of people? Which ones are the most difficult to be enforced? What are the penalties for violating the law in these cases: running a red light, illegal parking, drunk driving, and driving without a license?

Please share your thoughts on this topic.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

School Supplies: Needs or Wants?

With technology changing so quickly, one wonders whether certain things are really needed for school, or are they just wants that students can do without? For example, do students really need their own laptop to do their work? What about an iPhone, cell phone, or even textbooks?

What do you think a student really needs and what they don't? Should a student buy these things him/herself without asking a parent to do so? What are a child's responsibilities to pay for some educational expenses? Share your ideas.


TV Programs: Getting Better or Worse?

Do you think TV programs in your country have gotten better or worse over the last 10 years or more in terms of quality information, language, violence, topics, etc.? Discuss any reasons that have caused this change and the impact it has on society. What do you predict for the future?


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Parties: What time should I arrive?

Imagine that you are invited to a friend's house for a barbecue in your home country. What time would it be appropriate to arrive? A little early, right on time, or a little later? Would you do anything differently if it were a formal party at the house of your boss?

Every culture has its social rules for time, and knowing this when visiting a new culture can help smooth relations between you and others. Share your ideas on this topic.


Unique Pizzas: What toppings can I expect?

Although pizza can be found in countries around the world, the actual toppings on the pizza can vary from place to place based on traditional foods of the area. Please share any unique pizza styles I could expect if I order a pizza in your hometown. Share your thoughts on this topic.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Movie Rating Systems: Do they protect audiences?

In the United States, a movie rating system is used to inform people, particularly parents, on the content of movies so they can make informed decisions on what their children should watch. Such ratings are influenced by the movie's content including drugs, violence, and language. The ratings include G, PG, PG-13, R, and, NC-17. Personally, I think the ratings can give me a general idea on what might be appropriate for my kids, but each person's value system or tolerance for certain content can be influenced by personal background, religion, or family beliefs. In fact, there are some movies that are considered appropriate for teenagers that I find offensive, so the rating system might not be as useful.

So, what about in your countries? Are movies rated in any way to inform audiences of the content? If so, describe the system and then tell whether you think it is an effective method of protecting children from harmful material.


School Drink Machines: Should kids decide?

A hot topic of discussion in many parts of the world is whether schools should ban drink machines with certain types of soda (Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, etc.) for health reasons and replace these drinks with healthier choices like milk, water, and fruit juice. However, others feel that schools make money from these drinks, and students should be allowed to decide for themselves. What do you think about this topic? How do people in your area and country feel about this issue? Share your ideas.

Here are the results of my poll on the topic.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cell Phones: A luxury (want) item or a necessity?

Recently, one of my kids wanted to get a cell phone, and I told "Mary" (names changed to protect their privacy :D), "Okay, go ahead and buy a cell phone, but I'm not paying for it." Mary said that she needed one to stay in contact with us, but fortunately, she was willing to pay for most of the cost and monthly fees because she realized I wasn't going to pay for it.

Personally, I see a cell phone as more of a convenience than anything, because I lived 40 years without one, and in most cases, I'd rather not carry one because everyone is always expecting an immediate response in an immediate age. Gone are the days when I lived in a foreign country 25 years ago, and went I sent a real letter to family, it sometimes took six weeks to receive a response. That was good in some ways because I wasn't distracted by the fact that someone didn't reply to me (like email) in less that 2 minutes.

So, what do you think about cell phones? Do you see them as a necessity or just a want? Share your ideas.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Travel and Sightseeing: By Bus, Train, or Plane?

If you had the choice of traveling across a large country or continent (like Canada, the United States, Australia, Thailand, or Africa), would you rather travel by bus, train, or plane? Please explain your reasons and share any experiences you have had on similar trips. What advantages or disadvantages are there to each form of transportation?



Saturday, March 18, 2017

Household Chores: Who is responsible in your culture?

Cooking, cleaning, caring for children, sweeping. So, who is responsible for such chores in your family and culture? Is there any expectation that women do these around the house instead of men? Is this changing? Do women put off getting married because they are worried they will have to do everything?

Having a clear understanding of the expectations on both sides before marriage can help avoid contention and problems in a relationship.

Now, tell us who is responsible for one or more of these household chores in your family and culture. Be sure to tell us where you are from so we can understand your culture better:

  • cooking
  • cleaning the bathroom
  • vacuuming floors
  • changing babies' diapers
  • washing clothes
  • ironing clothes
  • washing the dishes

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Emergency Preparedness: Is there anything we can do?

The recent natural disasters affecting China, Myanmar, and other regions around the world leaves us wondering what individuals can do to prepare in case of such disasters. Although not always possible, it is always wise to come up with a basic family plan on what to do in case a disaster strikes your area. In my family, we have put together a 72-hour kit in a separate backpack for each family member that contains food, water, and other essential things that would be needed to survive for three days. If an emergency strikes and we have to leave our house, we can grab our backpacks and go. We also have one in our car in case we are on the road and need some basic items. So, what other ideas and suggestions can you think of that might help individuals in case of an emergency?


Buying a Car: New or Used?

Imagine that you are in need of a buying a car. Would you prefer to buy a brand new car or a used car? What factors do you consider when choosing a car: age, mileage, cost, reputation of company, reliability, or other? Share your ideas on this topic.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Watching Movies at Home or Going to a Theater?

Imagine that you and a friend are trying to decide on whether to rent a movie and watch it at home or go out and catch a movie at a theater. Which would you rather do and why? Share your thoughts and opinions on this topic.


World Cup Soccer

Soccer (or football in most of the world) is extremely popular around the world. Which country do you think has the best team at the moment? Why do you think that country can field such a strong team? Share you thoughts.

Here's a lesson from my site that deals with World Cup Soccer and can help students with their listening, speaking, and vocabulary skills:



Monday, March 13, 2017

College Expenses: Who Pays What?

According to this poll on my blog, the most common way for students to pay for college is to rely on parents for support verses paying for it themselves. Granted, paying for college isn't cheap, and scholarships are often not available. However, I find that students at college sometimes have little sense of managing their own finances and perhaps rely too heavily on their parents' pockets to pay for everything. Then, when they have to pay for some expenses, they often overuse credit cards to cover things. This can lead to debt and then the kids boomerang (return) back to their parents for help. So, in the end, what could be a good balanced approach to help students with the high costs, but at the same time lead them to become responsible with money? How do people in your countries and cultures teach independence and careful money management? Share your ideas.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Babysitting: How common is it?

In many parts of the United States, parents sometimes ask a young girl in the neighborhood (often between 12-17 years old) to watch their young children while they go out on a date. (This is especially true when the parents do not have other family who live nearby.) In exchange, the parents pay the girls money for their services (often based on the number of hours they care for the kids). However, such an activity might not be universal from culture to culture. So, is babysitting like I've described above common in your country? If not, what do parents do if they want to go out on a date alone? Please share your ideas.


Friendly Dental Care: Has that been your experience?

It seems to me that no matter where I go, most people have some concern, fear, and anxiety about visiting a dentist. Going to a movie? No problem. Eating out at a nice restaurant? A piece of cake. However, going to a dentist, even for a routine cleaning, is like walking through a pool of snakes for some people.

But, what about you? Do you have any concern or worries about visiting a dentist? Have you ever had a painful (physically, mentally, or financially) experience that makes going to the dentist unpleasant?

Share your experiences.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Traditional Sweets from Around the World

Although people might assume that making and eating cookies is a universal custom around the world, the reality is that many people prepare and enjoy a wide variety of sweets with unique ingredients. Therefore, if you invited me into your home for dinner and wanted to offer me a traditional sweet from your country, what would it be and what ingredients are used to prepare it? Share your culture with us!


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Families: What are the keys to success?

I don't believe there is one key to success in raising a family, but I think honesty, integrity, compassion, and a open heart to listening to fears and concerns are some of the things that improve family relationships. You can read more about my ideas at my blog,

So, what do you think are the keys to raising happy and emotionally-healthy families?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Flowers: Which colors and types for the right occasion?

Buying flowers for different occasions is a common practice in many parts of the world, but figuring out the types of flowers (and their colors) can be a challenge. For example, you would never give a potted plant to someone in the hospital in Japan because the Japanese feel that the roots of the plant represent the deepening and serious nature of the illness. So, what types of flowers and colors would you give in these situations? Choose one or more and share your ideas:

  • a wedding
  • the death of a close friend
  • a birthday party
  • a school graduation
  • a farewell party
  • a friend is sick in the hospital

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Vacation Accommodations: Where would you stay?

Going on vacation and seeing new things are real pleasures for me, especially when you are doing something with family or friends. Personally, I enjoy nature, so a nice bed and breakfast in a quiet spot in the mountains would be an ideal place for me, but I certainly wouldn't pass up a fancy hotel in a new spot of the world.

So, what about you? What is image of the ideal accommodations for your perfect vacation trip? Share your ideas.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Home Repairs: What would you fix?

Think about the place you live. If you could fix or change one thing about your place, what would it be, how would you change it, and why? Personally, my wife and I have wanted to fix up our kitchen for some time. The wall paper is a little old, and so is the floor, and the counter top and sink really need to be replaced. However, we are pretty frugal with our money, so I think we'll wait to take care of other expenses first.

So, what about you? What would you fix or change? Share your ideas.


Friday, March 3, 2017

Loans: Are they ideal in all situations?

Back when I started college 25 years ago, it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most students to get their own credit card or loan to pay for school expenses. Now, credit has become easier to come by. However, in what cases is taking out a loan a good idea and when is it a financial mistake? Buying a car, paying for college, buying a house, purchasing textbooks, getting a new iPod? When should people just save money and pay for an item in case?

Share your ideas and experiences.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dating Relationships

Physical and emotional abuse in relationships is often a difficult topic to talk about because many people suffer in silence because of it. In my newest conversation, I try to address this with the hope that people can seek out help or provide support to those who are suffering.

Please share your thoughts and opinions on this topic. What are the warning signs of physical and emotional abuse? What can family and friends do to help someone who is suffering from such abuse?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Online Medical Information

Have you ever wondered if you had a strange and serious illness, and you used the Internet to find a cure? Well, in my newest listening, my wife and I play the roles of two friends in a similar situation and show you want NOT to do? Prepare yourself for a good laugh.

Now, tell us in what ways you have used the Internet in similar situations. How reliable is information in the Internet? Do you trust the medical information Internet more than you do  traditional doctors? Has there ever been a time that using the Internet to find information has been better or more helpful than seeing a doctor? Please share your ideas.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Grading Systems: How are they different?

Some international students experience culture shock when they study in different educational students from their own. In addition to classroom environment and teacher-student, some students are used to grading systems that might be different from their own. For example, a passing grade in a class might only be 50-60% in their countries, and then assume this percent is the same elsewhere. Then, we they discover that the standard is higher (let's say, 70%+), they feel that this is unfair.

Furthermore, some students complain that they have too much homework (2 hours a night), and that they have no time to do anything. However, these are students who don't have jobs, no families to take care of in the US, and no other community responsibilities. Many American college students work to pay for school (not just fashion clothing and iTunes downloads) AND go to school at the same time.

Again, when expectations and experience collide and are different, then misunderstandings can happen.

So, are there other aspects of culture or education that you have found different when traveling to a new country? Of, if you have gone overseas, what aspect of culture do you think you will find the most challenging to adjust to?



Friday, January 20, 2017

Daily Schedues

I am sitting today with family, and my brother and I are talking about some of the outlandish and funny conversations we have done together. Here is definitely one of my favorites. Enjoy:

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year

Happy New Year's Day, and to start the new year off with a bang, I have created my first listening activity of the new year with the topic of . . . . you guessed it, New Year's Day. Give it a try:

New Year Activities

Well, the new year has begun, and I kicked off the new start by spending time with family. On New Year's Eve, we tend to keep things simple. When I was younger, I would stay up and welcome the new year; however, I generally go to bed before most people start their celebrations. Personally (and perhaps philosophically), too often, people start our a new year with a bang and wonderful new goals and plans, but these good intentions often don't last very long. Instead, I'd like to have plans in my mind, but start things off at a slower, but consistent, pace.

This kind of reminds me of a sport called ultrarunning (any running distance beyond a marathon). Many of the elite athletes aren't in their late teens, 20s, or 30s. Rather, people in their 40s, 40s, and 60s do quite well at very long distances because much of the game deals with the mental, not physical challenge. This mental toughness is often develop throughout life and has little to do with our youthfulness.

So, what kind of mental toughness is needed in other aspects of our lives? Share your thoughts.