Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Presidential Candidates: What do you look for?

Although every country has its own method of electing a leader (whether through the voice of the people or not), not all men or women end up being right for the job. Therefore, what is one quality or virtue you think is absolutely necessary in a political leader of a country? Share your ideas and explain your answer.


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?


Marriage: Showing Our True Colors

How often do you think people change after they get married? In other words, do people show one side of themselves before they get married and then show their true selves after the honeymoon? For example, are men willing to do dishes and shower women with gifts before the wedding and then stop because their love is secure? How can couples be sure they are marrying the person they think they are? Are these behaviors different from culture to culture? Share your ideas.


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

Regular Mail or Email?

Imagine that you want to send a message to a dear friend (partner, spouse, or significant other), and you have the choice of either sending a handwritten letter or an email message? Which would you send and why? Would it depend on the occasion? Please explain your answer.


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:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Telemarketing: How do you feel about sales calls?

Imagine you are sitting down to dinner, and the phone rings. You pick up the phone, and it is someone trying to sell you a magazine, swimming pool, or a new cell phone service plan. How do you react and feel about sales calls? Do they provide an important service to consumers, or are they just annoying. Should the government control telemarketing? Should these business only be allowed to call you during certain times of day? Please share your ideas.


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?