Be Aware – Lesson 4

This Be Aware lesson is based on the real conversation, Actually I was born in Hawaii.

Download the pdf for this lesson.

[audio:mormon2.mp3]
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Section A – Grammar Explanations with Examples

Sometimes when you are listening to something in English, you can understand it but you cannot say it. You are not able to reproduce what you hear with correct grammar. It is important to be aware of grammar and the correct way to use words. It helps you to communicate more clearly. This saves time and prevents misunderstandings.

Words have many nuances and variations of meaning (shades of meaning). Language is very important. Understanding is everything.

Understanding is the basis of the solution to every problem. We can reach understanding by communicating clearly and by understanding other people. We can use language to help us do this.

Let’s look at some examples of the English language from a real conversation between an American and an Australian, both native speakers:

In this conversation I met a young Mormon from Hawaii. He was younger than me but he was called “Elder Tiave”. Does anybody think it is odd that a young man is called ‘elder’, which basically means ‘old’?

The term ‘elder’ is usually used in expressions like ‘the elders of the tribe’ or ‘my elder brother’. Look at this table:

elder brother = older brother
elder sister = older sister
younger brother
younger sister
elder son = older son
elder daughter = older daughter

‘Elder’ is simply an old form of ‘older’ or ‘old’. We sometimes call people ‘Old John’, but usually not to their face unless we are already old or are the same age as that person. How do you address people in your language? Tell us in the comment section at the bottom of this page.

Many people in the west will say it does not matter how old you are. Many native speakers of English will say it doesn’t matter how old you are. You are yourself. You are who you are. What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Many Asian languages use family member terms as forms of address, for example ‘Brother John’ or ‘Big Brother John’ or ‘Uncle John’ or even ‘Maternal Uncle John’ and ‘Little Brother John’, but in English we never say ‘Mister John’. In Thailand we say ‘Khun John’ and in Japan we say ‘John-san’, but in English ‘Mister John’ is not said. We use the term ‘mister’ with the last name or family name, for example ‘Mister Potter’ or ‘Mister Obama’.

Look at this set of titles:

Elder Tiave
Mister Tiave
Master Tiave
Miss Tiave
Mrs Tiave
Ms Tiave
Father Tiave (a Catholic priest)
Mother Tiave (a Catholic nun like Mother Teresa)
Sister Tiave (a Catholic nun)
Brother Tiave (a Catholic priest)

‘Elder Tiave’ is a normal form of address for Mormons, even for young men. I do not know why. Can anybody tell me? Does anybody know? Can anybody tell me, why do the Mormons call their young men ‘old’?

Can you please write and tell us if you do. Leave a comment below.

‘Mister Tiave’ is a common form of address. Note that ‘Mister’ is used with the family name.

‘Master’ is used with the first name (Christian name) or surname (family name). For example you could say:

Master Potter
Master Harry
Master Harry Potter
young Master Harry

‘Miss’ is the feminine equivalent of ‘master’, but it is also used for women who have become adults, until they are married. Nowadays it is usually replaced by the modern feminist innovation ‘Ms’.

We still hear it in nursery rhymes like:

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey
Down came a spider and sat down beside her
and frightened Miss Muffet away.

Many western women prefer not to be called ‘Miss’. They prefer to be called ‘Ms’ (for example Ms Jones). You can tell if a woman is married by her title (‘Miss Jones’ or ‘Mrs. Jones’), but you cannot tell if a man is married by his title (‘Mr. Jones’). Many western women prefer their marital status to be as opaque as that of men.

Let’s look at the words ‘normal’ and ‘common’:

It is not a normal English name.
It is not a common English name.

The first one could be offensive to the listener. Western countries are not homogeneous. Countries like America and even most European countries now contain people from many different ethnic backgrounds, who come from many different cultures and speak many different languages.

If you say ‘Singh’ is not “a normal English name” or ‘Wang’ is not “a normal English” name or ‘Muhammad’ is not “a normal English name,” you might make that person feel excluded. You might make that person feel different and isolated and excluded. Look at these words:

very normal
perfectly normal
normal
quite normal
fairly normal
not normal
unusual
quite unusual
strange
very strange
weird

The scale shows how our idea of ‘normal’ can go from ‘very normal’ to ‘weird’, which usually has a negative connotation (That is a pity because originally ‘weird’ was a beautiful word, which meant something like ‘holy’, but nowadays people usually think ‘weird’ means ‘bad’, though not always).

Look at these words:

extremely common
very common
common
quite common
not uncommon
uncommon
not common
uncommon
a little uncommon
very uncommon
unusual
rare

Note that the opposite of ‘common’ is ‘uncommon’ or ‘rare’, but the opposite of ‘normal’ is ‘strange’ or ‘weird’. ‘Abnormal’ and ‘subnormal’ have also been used but they are also potentially offensive as they are charged with ideas about what is ‘normal and acceptable and ok’ as opposed to ‘unusual and strange and weird’.

Some people (like my high school English teacher) would say that a thing is normal or it is not. It is an exact term. There are no shades of meaning. There are no shades of degree.

The problem is that in real conversation the terms ‘quite normal’, ‘very normal’, ‘perfectly normal’ are commonly used. It is difficult to fix the degrees of normalcy exactly on a scale. The terms are not exact. They are vague approximations of an idea, which may itself be unclear.

It is important to look at our words and think about what they mean. That will help us to understand what other people mean, when they speak.

‘Common’ also had a negative connotation among the English upper classes some decades ago and that usage probably still survives among a minority of people and in old movies, where somebody might ‘look down their nose’ (disdainfully) (in a snobby way) at somebody else and say: “You are so common” which means: “You are not royal, regal, noble; of the aristocracy, high class, upper class.’

So we have:

noble
regal
royal
high class
upper class
aristocratic

These words form a cluster of meaning and are used together to talk about a class of people.

Look at these words:

low
common
a commoner
low class
a low class person
a pleb
a plebeian
a member of the proletariat
a prole

These words form another cluster. They describe a different class of people. Using these words to describe these classes of people means you subscribe to (agree with) this way of looking at people. Do you think social class is important? Are there recognizable classes in your country? Is class important in your society. How does the class system work in your society?

Leave us a comment and tell us how it works. Let’s teach each other about life in different countries and try to understand people from different cultures.

For most people it is important to be normal. What about you? Is it important for you to be normal? Tell us by leaving a comment below.

Look at these words:

ethnic heritage
ethnic background
ethnic origin
ethnicity

They mean roughly the same thing.

In some parts of the world this is and has been a touchy subject. In some countries people look down on other groups. In some countries, people persecute and even try to exterminate people from other ethnic groups (genocide).

Ethnicity is a touchy subject in some places. It should not be. Ethnicity should not be a touchy subject. It should not be a touchy subject. Nobody is inferior to anybody else on the basis of ethnic heritage. Nobody? That is what I think. What do you think? Write and tell us. Express your opinion.

Look at these terms:

part-Spanish
half-Spanish
a quarter Spanish
an eighth Spanish
a sixteenth Spanish
pedigree
genealogy

I am Australian. In Australia many people joke about this kind of thing. They put themselves down. They make fun of themselves. They laugh about their genealogy and origins. The whole thing seems like a joke. It is not serious.

When we talk about animals and their parents and children we use the term ‘pedigree’. When we talk about people we use the term ‘genealogy’. It can be amusing to confuse the terms.

English has an interesting position as a world language. It does not belong only to the English or even to the Americans. It belongs to everybody who uses it and they modify it in certain ways in each place. In Filipino English, a ‘blackout’ is a ‘brownout’.

In Japanese English many people think it is offensive to use the term ‘half’ as in ‘half-Japanese’. They use the term ‘double’.

I personally think it is silly to take offense as I do not think any offense is intended by people who use the expression ‘half’. I do not think it is “intrinsically” offensive. However, remember, especially in Japan, some people do take offense, so be aware. It is not nice to offend people and it is easy to avoid offending them.

Look at these sentences:

I have nothing to do with Cambodia.
I don’t have anything to do with Cambodia.
I am not connected to Cambodia.
I am not connected to Cambodia in any way.
I am not connected to Cambodia at all.

They have very similar meanings.

Now look at these:

Mormonism
Mormon
Mormons
mission
missionary
missionaries
convert
Seventh Day Adventists
Jehovah’s Witnesses

Have you seen two young American men in white shirts and dark trousers, wearing ties and riding bicycles? They are probably Mormons on their mission. They are ‘missionaries’. That means they go on a ‘mission’ to ‘convert’ people to their religion. Many different types of Christians do this. The Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses also do it.

Reading and Writing Practice

Use Wikipedia to find out what you can about these groups. What do you think of people who try to convert you to their religion? Write and tell us below.

Look at this scale:

my whole family
me entire family
part of my family
some members of my family
a few members of my family
a couple of members of my family
one member of my family

Do you understand all these terms. If you do not use your dictionary to check meaning.

Now look at these phrases:

I started learning English.
I started to learn English.

Both forms are correct. They are in the past tense.

Now look at the next group. Can you understand their meanings?

am starting to learn Chinese
is starting to learn Chinese
are starting to learn Chinese
will start learning Chinese
will start to learn Chinese
am going to start learning Chinese
am going to start to learn Chinese
is going to start learning Chinese
is going to start to learn Chinese
are going to start learning Chinese
are going to start to learn Chinese

It is rather complicated. Let’s look at the present tense first:

I am starting to learn Chinese.
He is starting to learn Chinese.
They are starting to learn Chinese

We never say:

I am starting learning Chinese.
He is starting learning Chinese.
They are starting learning Chinese.

The repetition of the gerund sounds clumsy.

Let’s look at the future tense:

will start learning Chinese
will start to learn Chinese
am going to start learning Chinese
am going to start to learn Chinese
is going to start learning Chinese
is going to start to learn Chinese
are going to start learning Chinese
are going to start to learn Chinese

Note that there are two future tenses. Both are common in English.

I will start learning Chinese next year.
I am going to start learning Chinese next year.

One is called ‘future will’. The other one is called ‘future going to’. Note that the conjugation of ‘will’ is simple but the conjugation of ‘be’ is complex:

Will
I will
you will
he will
she will
it will
we will
they will

Be
I am
you are
he is
she is
it is
we are
they are

Now pay attention to this point. With “will” we can say:

will start learning Chinese
will start to learn Chinese

Both forms are ok. With ‘future going to tense’ we can also say both forms:

am going to start learning Chinese
is going to start learning Chinese
are going to start learning Chinese

am going to start to learn Chinese
is going to start to learn Chinese
are going to start to learn Chinese

The first group of phrases (with “learning”) is much more common. The second group (with “to learn”) is much less common. Both are possible but the second group is less common.

Look at these ones:

I stopped learning.
NOT I stopped to learn.

I finished learning.
NOT I finished to learn.

Look at these ones:

started teaching
started to teach
will start teaching
will start to teach
am going to start teaching
am going to start to teach
is going to start teaching
is going to start to teach
are going to start teaching
are going to start to teach

Again the phrases with the gerund ‘teaching’ are far more common than the phrases with the infinitive ‘to teach’.

Do you understand the difference between ‘am going’, ‘is going’ and ‘are going’? It is a conjugation. It is important to understand it. If you do not understand go back to lesson and read it again.

Are you a teacher? Leave us a comment below and tell us about your situation. Who, what and where do you teach?

These two phrases have about the same meaning:

just recently
not long ago

Look at these ones:

have been in this country
was in this country
had been in that country before

The first one is used to say how long you have been in the place where you are:

I have been in Thailand for about a month.

The second one is used as part of a past narrative:

I was in Australia for a year and then I moved to Thailand.
I visited Japan recently.
I was there for a month.
I came back to Thailand about a month ago.

The final one is used to show the earliest of two actions or situations:

I was in Japan last year.
i had been there before. (It was not my first time in Japan.)

Look at these time phrases:

for about three months
for approximately three months
for around three months
for almost three months
for not quite three months
for over three months

Do you understand all the meanings? The first three are about the same. The next two form another pair which has about the same meaning. The last one is different. It is the odd one out.

Look at these ones:

it is a challenge sometimes
it is difficult sometimes
it is hard sometimes

They mean the same thing.

Try these ones:

starting to get better
starting to improve
starting to get the hang of
starting to come to grips with
starting to get my head around

They have similar meanings but they are used differently. The first two are used like this:

My English is starting to get better.
My English is starting to improve.

The other three are used like this:

I am starting to get the hang of English.
I am starting to come to grips with English.
I am starting to get my head around English.

Try these phrases:

Do you speak Khmer?
Are you able to speak Khmer?
Do you know any Khmer?
Do you have any Khmer?(antiquated from rarely used)

The words ‘Khmer’ and ‘Cambodian’ both refer to the Cambodian language.

Look at these terms:

grandma
grandmother
grandpa
grandfather
maternal grandmother
paternal grandmother
maternal grandfather
paternal grandfather

The first two mean the same. The second two mean the same. The final four refer to the four grandparents that we each have. if we say, ‘my grandmother’ it is not clear which one because we all have two grandmothers. Are there different words for ‘maternal grandmother’ and ‘paternal grandmother’ in your language? Write and tell us.

Look at these phrases:

were born
was born
will be born
will arrive
will come out (very informal)

The first two are in the past. The next three are in the future. Note that we do not say ‘I am born’ in English. Many European languages (French, German, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Dutch) use the phrase ‘I am born’ but in English we say ‘I was born’.

In English we DO say ‘is borne’ but it is not common. Note that the spelling is different.

Pollen is borne by the wind.

This means: Pollen is carried by the wind.

Look at this sequence:

was/were born in the States
grew up in the States
went to school in the States = was/were educated in the States = did my education in the States = did my schooling in the States

Look at these two:

Actually I was born in Hawaii.
Actually I was born in the States.

‘The States’ is probably the most common term which Americans use to describe their country.

Is Hawaii part of ‘The States’?
Yes, it is but it is not part of the contiguous States or ‘the mainland’. It is an island. It is a separate island.

Many years ago, I met an American from Hawaii. I am an Australian and I am from the state of Queensland so you can call me ‘a Queenslander’. I called the American guy ‘a Hawaiian’, but he insisted that he was not a ‘Hawaiian’. He said he was an Italian.

What did he mean?

He identified with his Italian heritage. His ethnic background was Italian. He was from Hawaii, but he was not ethnic Hawaiian. Read about the ethnic Hawaiians on Wikipedia.

Are there many different ethnic groups in your country? Leave a comment and tell us about the ethnic background of the people in your country.

When we talk about our ethnic background we use these words:

my descendants
your descendants
his descendants
her descendants
my ancestors
your ancestors
his ancestors
her ancestors
my contemporaries
your contemporaries
his contemporaries
her contemporaries

Check your dictionary to be sure of the meanings of these terms.

Look at these:

all mixed
all mixed up

They are sometimes the same but not always. Sometimes ‘mixed up’ means ‘confused’.

Look at these:

it started to rain
it started raining
it is starting to rain
it starts raining
it starts to rain
it will start to rain
it will start raining
it is going to start to rain
it is going to start raining

You can break them up into:

Past
it started to rain
it started raining

Present Simple
it starts raining
it starts to rain

Present Continuous
it is starting to rain
We never say: It is starting raining.
The repetition of the gerund sounds clumsy.

Future “will”
it will start to rain
it will start raining

Future “going to”
it is going to start to rain
it is going to start raining

When it starts to rain, we often say, “Lets get out of here.” Look at these phrases now:

let’s get a move on = let’s hurry up = let’s move faster
let’s head off = let’s leave
let’s move on = let’s go somewhere else = let’s go to another place
let’s go = let’s hit the track
let’s find shelter (it is starting to rain; let’s find shelter from the rain)
let’s get out of the rain



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Section B: Listening Activities

Now listen to the whole conversation without the transcript. While you are listening go through this list and mark the expression you hear. Have fun!

[audio:mormon2.mp3]

Mr Tiave
Mrs Tiave
Elder Tiave
Father Tiave
Brother Tiave
Ms Tiave

a normal English name
a common English name
a normal American name
a common American name
a normal Chinese name
a common Chinese name

ethnic heritage
ethnic background
ethnic origin
ethnicity

part-Spanish
part Filipino
half-Spanish
half-Filipino
a quarter Spanish
a quarter Filipino
an eighth Spanish
an eighth Filipino
a sixteenth Spanish
a sixteenth Filipino

I have nothing to do with Cambodia.
I don’t have anything to do with Cambodia.
I am not connected to Cambodia.
I am not connected to Cambodia in any way.
I am not connected to Cambodia at all.

a Mormon
a missionary
a convert
a Jehovah’s Witness
a Seventh Day Adventist

my whole family
me entire family
part of my family
some members of my family
a few members of my family
a couple of members of my family
one member of my family

I started learning Cambodian.
I started to learn Cambodian.

recently
not long ago

started learning
started to learn
will start learning
will start to learn
am going to start learning
am going to start to learn
is going to start learning
is going to start to learn
are going to start learning
are going to start to learn

started teaching
started to teach

will start teaching
will start to teach
am going to start teaching
am going to start to teach
is going to start teaching
is going to start to teach
are going to start teaching
are going to start to teach

was in this country
have been in this country
had been in that country before

for approximately three months
for around three months
for almost three months
for about three months
for not quite three months
for over three months

it is a challenge sometimes
it is difficult sometimes
it is hard sometimes

starting to get better
starting to improve
starting to get the hang of
starting to come to grips with
starting to get my head around

Do you know any Tagalog?
Do you speak Tagalog?
Are you able to speak Tagalog?

grandma
grandmother
grandpa
grandfather
maternal grandmother
paternal grandmother
maternal grandfather
paternal grandfather

were born
was born
will be born
will arrive
will come out

Actually I was born in Hawaii.
Actually I was born in the States.

my descendants
your descendants
his descendants
her descendants
my ancestors
your ancestors
his ancestors
her ancestors
my contemporaries
your contemporaries
his contemporaries
her contemporaries

all mixed
all mixed up

it started to rain
it started raining
it is starting to rain
it starts raining
it starts to rain
it will start to rain
it will start raining
it is going to start to rain
it is going to start raining

To improve your pronunciation and speaking confidence, listen to the recording many times. Try to repeat each phrase as the speaker speaks it. You can find the transcription here: This Be Aware lesson is based on the real conversation, Actually I was born in Hawaii.

This is the end of Lesson 4. Did you learn something new? What did you think of the lesson? Please leave us a comment.

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