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Learning English Vocab in a Moving Arcimoto Electric Vehicle

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Our latest creation at English, baby! is a series of business English lessons starring American CEOs. We’ll be launching a page for all of these videos soon, but we’re especially proud of this lesson with Arcimoto CEO Mark Frohnmayer.

First of all, Mark an extremely smart guy. Not only is he building a car that is going to save the world, but he can explain the English vocabulary of his industry extremely well without rehearsing. People keep asking me if he prepared his responses for this video. Nope. That’s just his way with words.

So we had a good interview on our hands. But the beauty of it was that we got to do the interview while driving around downtown Portland in Arcimoto’s latest prototype. How fun is that? Take a look at the video.

We were worried that the microphones might not pick up our voices with the wind resistance, but the Arcimoto is extremely quiet and its windshield blocked almost all the wind. I can’t imagine how quiet the car is going to be once it’s completed and has a full body.

Mark was so full of helpful info, we had to cut a lot of great stuff. Here’s a section that didn’t make the final lesson in which he talks about how electric cars don’t use miles per gallon or MPG, they use watt hours per mile to measure efficiency. That was a new term to me!

In order to shoot our video, we borrowed a GoPro camera from the Arcimoto guys. I knew they had one because of this video starring Stana Katic from Castle. Looks like if I buy an Arcimoto, I’ll be in good company.

International LPGA Stars Teach Golf Vocabulary

Friday, September 16th, 2011

With our Celebrity English Lesson series, the philosophy is, you might as well learn from the best. While we’ve had guest teachers from all sorts of sports and entertainment fields, it’s rare that we get someone who is actually the very best at what they do (gold medalists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo and Girl Talk come to mind). So we’re thrilled to have defending LPGA Champion and number female 1 golfer in the world, Taiwanese superstar Yani Tseng.

Yani shares some basic golf terms and talks about learning English. At 22, she’s the youngest golfer ever to win 5 majors, so the fact that she acquired excellent English skills along the way is no small accomplishment!

We spoke with Yani at the LPGA Safeway Classic in North Plains, Oregon. Our friend John Canzano even mentioned us in his coverage of the event for The Oregonian. It was the Pro-Am day, and a couple of other well-known players were available to help us teach English as well. Korean star IK Kim was practicing on the putting green when we found her and chatted about the phrase “hole in one”.

Beatriz Recari was actually checking out some sunglasses from a vendor on the fairway (Spaniards love them some shades), but was happy to share her favorite golf term, “stinger”, with us and talk about her mission to learn exotic languages.

After we talked to Beatriz, she headed off to lunch. Food came up in our interview with Yani as well, so we put together this bonus clip just for the blog.

The LPGA Tour is heading to Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia and Mexico this fall, as well as other places. Say hi for us if you see any of these athletes!

Yi Jianlian on Learning English

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

One of the most watched NBA games ever took place in November of 2007. Why would a game near the beginning of the season be watched by so many people? Most of the fans watching were in China. It was the first time Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets played against young star Yi Jianlian and the team that drafted him, the Milwaukee Bucks. More than 200 million people tuned in to what came to be known as the “Chinese Super Bowl.”

Though in the US, Yi’s fame is nowhere near that of Yao’s, he is a superstar in China and he’s still new to the NBA. His game has to improve if he’s going to take over where Yao leaves off, but his English is coming along nicely. When he first arrived in the US, he used an interpreter and spoke little English. But when we approached him–in English–for an interview at a recent Washington Wizards media session, he didn’t hesitate and confidently agreed. The result is our latest Celebrity English Lesson in which Yi teaches the phrase “put the ball on the floor.”

One thing we cut from this video is a part where I asked Yi if there were any basketball terms he had a hard time with when he first came here. The answer surprised me. He said he didn’t know what was meant by “cut to the basket.” Of course, this phrase means to run quickly toward the basket so that your teammate can pass you the ball and you can score. It’s not something I think of basketball slang exactly, so Yi’s comment may help us find more good basketball idioms we’ve been overlooking.

Fashion English Lesson with Zaza Pachulia

Friday, March 25th, 2011

One of the best parts of watching NBA games on TV is seeing the shot of the players walking into the arena. They usually have on some fancy clothes and headphones and are walking with a lot of attitude. Even through they change into their warm ups and uniforms quickly, players like to really dress up to go to games.

In a recent poll of NBA players by Sports Illustrated, Zaza Pachulia ranked among the most fashionable players in the league. The 7-foot Atlanta Hawks center, who originally hails from the Eastern European nation of Georgia, has good taste in general. He owns a very cool-looking bar in Atlanta called Buckhead Bottle Bar.

So since our Celebrity English Lesson series has covered a lot of basketball slang, we figured why not have Zaza teach an English lesson about fashion language? We met with him at his hotel room in Portland the afternoon before a game. He showed us what he planned to wear that night and talked about what it means to sport something. Since he didn’t know we would be coming up to his room when he picked out the outfit, we get a really authentic look into his suitcase!

Zaza also want to share some more advanced fashion slang with the English, baby! members, so he talked about the term “swag,” which he says is very popular in Atlanta. It’s amazing how much swag Zaza has while still being a really friendly, down-to-Earth guy.

Grangerman Helps World Learn English

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Danny Granger is the latest NBA All-Star to help English, baby! share basketball slang with English learners all over the world. We met with him after an Indiana Pacers practice. Since the team played a couple of preseason games in China, I asked him about that and he said the fans were rowdy. I grew up in New Mexico where Danny went to college for 2 years and I saw him play there. The arena at the University of New Mexico is called the Pit and gets very loud. So if he says basketball games in China are rowdy, he is not joking around.

I also enjoyed watching Danny play in the World Championships last summer. It’s always interesting to see someone who is usually the star of his team play a more supporting role. That’s why the topic of Danny’s lesson is the difference between being a “role player” and a “franchise player.”

As he explains, a role player on a basketball team is someone who comes into the game for a limited period of time to do a specific thing such as block shots or play defense. But there’s another kind of role playing I thought Danny might be into. You see, Danny loves superheroes and he has built a Batcave into his house. What is a Batcave? Well, it’s where Batman hangs out and hides his cars. I can’t find a picture of Danny’s Batcave, but here is a good drawing of Batman’s by Paul Rivoche and you can see some quotes from Danny describing it on Ball Don’t Lie.

Image of Grangerman via Weekly World News.

Bone Thugs 'n' English, baby!

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

The latest celebrity English teachers on English, baby! are none other than Layzie Bone and Flesh-n-Bone of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. When I saw the group was fully reunited and coming to Portland, I thought, “How cool would it be to get them to teach a lesson about being at a crossroads?” Thanks to our friend Cool Nutz who introduced us, that dream became a reality.

Unlike most of our English lesson interviews with famous musicians, which take place before the show, this interview occurred at about 1am, after a Bone Thugs concert. It was fun. The guys were loose and happy to chat. They liked the concept of English, baby! and didn’t want to stop at one lesson, so here is some bonus footage in which they teach some very high-level slang. This was an English lesson for me as well!

It is so cool that these guys spoke so slowly. They seemed really aware of the fact that they were helping people in other countries learn English with this interview. They were such nice people–and to think, the crossroads in the both of their lives involved going to prison! I hope Bone Thugs has lots of success with their new album.

Visit Bone Thugs’ website here.

Talking Speed Slang with Rip Hamilton

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

You may or may not know that Tracy McGrady is huge in China. The anticipation of having the one-time leading scorer of the NBA on the same Rockets team as Yao Ming really excited the fans there. The dream never came to fruition due to injuries, but McGrady remains such a fan favorite that he was almost voted into the All Star game last year despite not having played that season due to injury.

Now McGrady plays for the Detroit Pistons, so we attended their practice planning to talk to him for our Celebrity English Lessons series. But he was unavailable. Who else on the team would have an international angle to discuss?

Luckily, the team’s PR staff suggested Richard “Rip” Hamilton because he had just been to China. I’m really glad we got to talk to him. He got excited as soon as we started talking about China and it seems like he had a really good experience there. He also did a great job teaching the terms “coast to coast” and “run the floor”.

At first, I didn’t recognize the NBA Champion and three-time All-Star without his famous protective mask. Somehow, the mask makes him look a little scary, so I was pleasantly surprised when he was so friendly and eager to talk to us. I suppose the intimidation factor is a bonus for him on the court. You know, in addition to avoiding a repeat of the facial injuries he suffered in the past.

Image: Rip guarding T-Mac before they were teammates. From Reuters.

Greg Graffin of Bad Religion teaches English

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Usually, Greg Graffin, who has a PhD from Cornell, teaches life sciences and evolution at UCLA. But at a recently appearance in Portland, he gave an English lesson for the ESL students of English, baby! as part of our Celebrity English Lessons series.

Greg was on tour with his band, Bad Religion, while also doing events on the side to promote his new book. I met with him at the book signing at the Bagdad Theater in Portland and, in addition to getting a book signed and one for a friend, asked him to explain what “against the grain” means, since it’s the title of a well-known Bad Religion song and album.

It’s interesting–while talking about “against the grain” Greg brings in another, similar idiom, “swimming upstream.” It’s probably because after 20 years of singing the song, the two are closely related in his mind. Take a look at the lyrics of the chorus:

Against the grain: that’s where I’ll stay.
Swimming upstream, I maintain against the grain.

I discussed the carpentry origins of the phrase in the lesson intro on Ebaby!, but it’s actually helpful that Greg brought in another image so that the English students on the website will have an easier time remembering the meaning of the phrase.

Bad Religion is actually my favorite band, so I was extra thrilled that Greg was willing to do this. I interviewed him once over the phone back in 2007, but it was an honor to meet him in person!

Donald Trump Impersonated on ESL Soap Opera

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

On the most recent episode of As The World Learns, the English, baby! soap opera, one of our long-time cast members, Marni, impersonates Donald Trump.

Normally, as co-writer and director of the show, I have to convince the actors up to this sort of thing. Not this time. This was all Marni’s idea. She knew the slacking character of Ella was going to have to change her ways soon, and she suggested that she could impersonate the billionaire star of The Apprentice to scare her straight. When she presented the idea, it seemed so thought out that I assumed she had dressed up as Trump before.

Turns out she hadn’t–it was just a crazy idea. So the day before the shoot we needed a wig to match Trump’s trademarked messed up short hair. I picked one up that would have worked, but in the mean time Marni made one out of a rug that was just so terrible that we had no choice but to use it.

Compare the two and watch the video!


Top Image: Everyone wanted a picture with fake Donald Trump, including the crew who only rarely ends up on camera. From left to right, sound engineer Shawn Willis, co-writer and director Alexis Nelson and Director of Photography Scott Ballard.

Basketball Star Carmelo Anthony Teaches Slang

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Carmelo Anthony’s nickname is Melo for obvious reasons. But it works on two levels because he’s famously mellow and easy going. You can see it when you watch him play in the NBA–he doesn’t ever seem to lose his cool and it enables him to do things like make game winning shots with four seconds left.

Sure enough, when we attended a recent Denver Nuggets to talk to Melo about Amazing, the upcoming movie he shot in China last summer, and to add him to our growing list of Celebrity English teachers, he lived up to the name. As I mention in the video, the guy has a lot going on, but seemed really calm and focused stretching and running defensive sets and then laid-back and focused on us when we started talking to him for this English lesson on the slang phrase, “mellow out”.

It’s really interesting to hear that Carmelo doesn’t like his Chinese nickname, Tian Gua (甜瓜), which means “sweet melon.” One commenter on the lesson explains that it came from “his sweet smile, lovely babyface and polite behaviors.” All good ways of gaining fans in China, but not necessarily intimidating to opponents, I guess.