Three American dishes you need to try

As an English teacher, I love to talk about food because, well… it’s food. It’s the stuff of life! What also makes it a great topic for English lessons, is that it’s polarizing which really gets students talking. And when they do, you can get them to discuss the flavor, smell, texture, sound and look of a dish along with how it’s made and how the ingredients are sourced.  It’s a beefy topic you can milk to the max.

While not everyone has a position on food, many do. In fact, there are entire populations of people who have sworn off things like tomatoes, mushrooms, various forms of protein or anything at all that comes from the sea.  As I am from the US, whenever I talk about food, I have to defend American cuisine with Jedi-like mastery.

mickydeesPeople often parrot that American food is bad quality, disgusting food that makes people fat. Wrong! American food is the best food in the world. Who else has a restaurant that can boast, over six billion served?  Why is it that the most ubiquitous eatery in the whole of China called KFC? Have I got your goat yet? OK. I, like you, know that industrial sales profits have little to do with whether the food is good or not. And that’s why I say that it is unfair to compare the food that comes from these corporations to anything at all that you’re calling good food. If you like a tasty home-cooked healthy meal, chances are that according to Wall Street, your favourite place to eat $ucks! So, since we’re not talking about McDonalds, let’s talk about real food.

This week, I propose three great American foods (not the three best, just three of the many).

Sour Dough Bread – San Francisco

breads This bread is made the old fashioned way – allowing the natural yeast to rise in order to give it a slightly sour taste. A typical way of serving this bread up is to hollow out the center and use it as a bowl, filling it with soup (tomato soup or clam chowder). This way you eat the soup and then you eat the bowl.  Nice. No washing up.

General Tso’s Chicken – Chinatown, NYC

gentsogood“Isn’t that Chinese?” you ask. Well, it’s about as Chinese as burritos and chimichongas are Mexican. As it is a long story, I invite you to check out The Search for General Tso, a documentary which gets to the bottom of it, detailing exactly how this great plate came to be and where it comes from.  Now, back to food talk.  This dish involves crispy ever so sweet, tangy breaded chicken pieces coated with a lovely spicy red pepper sauce which is eaten with either rice or broccoli or both. It causes an explosion of flavor in the mouth and it will have you coming back for more before you even know it. Careful! You have been warned.

Pumpkin Pie – New England

pumpkinpieWhat can be said about pumpkin pie that hasn’t been said about heaven already? In its many different versions, it can be made semi-sweet, sweet, or downright melliferous.  With its blend of pumpkin, cream, cinnamon, ginger, whisky, rum, and maple syrup, pumpkin pie is one of those things that makes the world a better place.

So, if you find yourself going to United States any time soon.  Be sure to skip the big bright signs that are sure to ensure that whatever complaints you have about American food are validated.  Instead, seek out one of the delicious dishes mentioned above.  That’s it for now. See you next week with more talk on tasty treats.

So which dishes would you like to talk about? Leave a comment below.




For a list of adjectives which describe food, click below.

The present perfect conspiracy


Have you heard about the present perfect?

Psst. Here’s a secret. There is a world-wide conspiracy going on and we have the English to thank for it. The Americans are in on it, but the English are to blame. “What is it?” you ask. It’s called the present perfect. The present perfect has been twisting the brains of English learners for as long as anyone can remember and ensuring a bit of job security along the way.

For those of us who never had to learn English as an adult, the present perfect is constructed in this fashion:


Noun or pronoun + have or has + past participle.
Have you had breakfast?


The problem

So, what’s so hard about that? Well, it’s neither hard to understand nor difficult to say. On the other hand, it is hard to remember when you should or shouldn’t be using it when your native language tends to be more focused on declensions, genders or liaisons. In addition to that, just for fun, there are several exceptions which are fuzzily agreed upon by most native speakers but left to others as an absolute mystery.



Have you had breakfast?
Yes I did.

Have you had breakfast?
Yes I have.


Which is correct? Both are correct. It depends on whether the answerer sees this action as a recent one which is relevant to the present or one that is done and dusted.

So, of these examples, which would you say is correct?

Have you had breakfast today?
Have you had breakfast this morning?


Answer: One and a half. The first sentence is correct while the second is correct, only if, it still happens to be the morning or breakfast time.


What languages focus on


The thing about the present perfect is that it has a lot to do with what the speakers of the language tend to focus on when they communicate. In this way, the way we use this time form, distinguishes English speakers from the speakers of other languages. While other languages may have 24 ways of saying “the” or change words or their pronunciation in connection with the speaker or the words that precede or follow them, English is high maintenance about placement of actions in time. 


For us, it’s important to know whether you did something, used to do it and stopped, did it occasionally, have done it recently or once in your life, do it regularly or are doing it right now as you’re reading this. Of course, it matters in other languages as well, but not to the extent that there would be such reliance on the tenses or confusion if you got it wrong.

The good and the bad

In English, you wouldn’t get away with saying “I have seen the film last night.” Also, statements like, ”I take out the rubbish and I am taking out the rubbish.” express completely different ideas in terms of time.  In other languages, not so much.  So the good thing about this is that it keeps English teachers busy. The negative thing is that your students may tell you, “I am sitting in the Munich office” when in fact, they are sitting right in front of you and you don’t happen to be in Munich at the time.


If you are teaching or learning the present perfect, a good way to think about it is like this: The present perfect is used when we refer to an action that either occurred, in its entirety, in the recent past or continues to be relevant now, or to an action that started in the past continues until now.  The most difficult bit about this is the concept of now.  What does “now” really mean and what are its parameters? Simply stated, “now” is the time that is “this time” or the time we are living in. In some cases, it’s microscopic. How much space would a photo finish occupy on a time-line?  In others, it encompasses a century or even all the time there is.


How big is now in these scenarios?

Before, there was no such thing as smart phones, now there are.
Before, flying vehicles were nonexistent, now there are.
in the past, dinosaurs walked the earth, now they don’t.


This way, if you or a class participant makes a mistake, you can ask whether the action occurs in this, or a very recent time?” “I have gone to the office yesterday.” doesn’t cut it.


Now the trick will be to test this often and in real time. Now that I have written this, I do believe I will have myself a sandwich. Oh wait! I’ve already eaten.

Why English speakers love the word “get”.

The word get

The “word get” is the Swiss-army knife of all verbs, for many native English speakers. It’s a catch-all that can be used in so many situations that we don’t even realize how often we use it. Unfortunately, people learning English, don’t like this word as much as native speakers. In fact, many English learners avoid it.

For them, it makes no sense to use terms like “get to, get up, get down, get through, get over, get around, get about, get away with something or get someone to do something” when they can say arrive, reduce, suffer, recuperate, go around, travel, escape, or convince – all words which have a nice and neat one-to-one equivalent meaning to a word in their own language.

What’s the problem with avoiding expressions with “get”?

As usage of phrasal verbs is ubiquitous, not embracing them could result in blind spots in their communication. In addition to that, they may never get to the point where they use the same expressions as the native speakers with whom they have to communicate.

How to get the students to embrace terms which use the word “get”?

Well, it has to do with how they learn it and perhaps more importantly, why they don’t. In terms of what can impede learning, there are three things that can go wrong.

  • The student doesn’t get it.
  • The student can’t produce it.
  • The student doesn’t accept it.

When it comes to the word “get” in phrasal verbs and colloquial expressions, the trouble tends not to be in the understanding or the repeating of the term, but rather accepting the term. A thing that often happens in the world of language teaching is that students question the validity of things a native speaker would never think to even notice. Questions like:


Why aren’t Kansas and Arkansas* pronounced in a similar way? Why do some Brits pronounce Lieutenant *as “Leftenant”? Equally, we might ask a Spanish speaker how, “agua“*, the Spanish word for “water” is masculine in singular, feminine in plural but when used as a singular, requires a feminine adjective. Who knows?

Getting students comfy with, “get”

Helping students to understand and adopt the term “get” requires a two-pronged approach. The first has to do with selling the idea. Catch-alls exist in every language. In German, the verb “fahren”(transport one’s self and/or others with the use of a vehicle) or in Spanish, “tomar”(to ingest or obtain) . If they accept that they have words which work in the same way in their language, accepting “get” may not seem like such a stretch.

What does “get” actually mean?

What meaning binds all or most terms involving the word “get”? Get means “succeeding in or obtaining a situation where you and or others are…(the other part of the verb).”

  • get up = achieve or obtain the situation where you are up standing, elevated, or awake.
  • get him up = achieve or obtain the situation where he is up standing, elevated, or awake.
  • get over something = achieve or obtain a situation where one has recovered from an ailment, injury or extreme news.
  • get by = achieve or obtain a situation where one is past a difficulty or challenge.

And so on.

Hard to get

Frequently (but not always), there is an aspect of challenge involved.

Let’s take a look at this situation:

You have to go to the airport. You speak to a cab driver/taxi driver.

“Could you drive me to the airport?”


“How long will it take?”

“30 minutes.”

“I don’t have so much time. Can you get me there in 20? (Can you achieve a situation where we arrive to that airport in 20 minutes?)”

“Sure, but it’ll cost you.”

If they can “get” the above, then it’s just a matter of practice, so be sure to throw it in whenever you can. Often, students will adopt your manner of speaking, but if it doesn’t catch on, you can either use exercises which require the student to use phrasal verbs and other terms using the word “get” or you can ask them to write about something which requires them to use the same word again and again. This will force them to seek synonyms.

Well, now it’s time to get going. Good luck, and I’m sure that getting your students to use  “get” in its various ways will be no problem once you begin to use it often.