American National Parks Wrap-Up

Posted on 20. Oct, 2014 by in Culture, English Grammar, English Vocabulary, Travel

Over the past few months, we’ve been exploring some of America’s most famous national parks here on the English blog. I hope you’ve had fun reading the posts and watching the videos, because I’ve sure had a good time making them. Visiting some of the national parks should be high atop anyone’s list if traveling to the United States, and I hope that our readers will get the chance to take a trip similar to the one that I took last year to explore them. In case you missed any of the posts, here is a wrap-up with links to all posts and videos:

America the Beautiful

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The song “America the Beautiful” is a very important and historical song in the United States, and many would like to see it become the national anthem. The annual pass for the national parks in the USA is named after this song, and rightfully so – the national parks truly are beautiful.

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Get out of LA and visit Joshua Tree national park.

If you plan to visit Los Angeles, then it’s an easy 2-hour drive to the amazing Joshua Tree national park. There’s a lot to do here and it’s a nice escape from the big city, so stay a few nights and camp out.

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Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon NP

The amazing Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon is perhaps one of the most famous places in all of the US, and for good reason. There are many viewpoints and a variety of hiking trails here, including the very challenging rim-to-rim trail.

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Zion NP

What a view!

This national park located in southwestern Utah was probably our favorite of the many that we visited last summer. Camping out here, hiking, and taking in the views for a few days was an incredible experience and one I would highly recommend.

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Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon NP

It looks like a painting, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to spend at Bryce Canyon on our way across Utah. We still had a fantastic day taking in some of the views and walking a short trail, but we definitely want to go back sometime. If you get the chance, stay here for a few days and enjoy more of this spectacular scenery.

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Canyonlands NP

Looking out on Canyonlands NP.

If you love visiting national parks, then Moab, Utah should be high on your list of places to go. Here, you can visit two national parks – Canyonlands and Arches. There are three sections of Canyonlands, and two of them are very remote and difficult to access. More adventurous travelers can give it a go, while everyone can visit the Island in the Sky section.

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Arhces NP

Some of the many arches.

Named after its 2,000+ natural stone arches, this park is an amazing place to explore. There are plenty of hiking trails and lots of great viewpoints, and there are also nice spots to rest and have a picnic. We had some bad weather that cut our visit a bit short, but we’d love to go back some day.

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Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountain NP

Scenic views at the Rockies.

You’ll feel like you’re on top of the world when you visit the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, as it has elevations ranging from 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) to 14,000 feet (4,200 meters). This park is huge, so take a few days to explore all that is has to offer.

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Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway

Great Smoky Mountains NP

The Great Smoky Mountains of TN and NC.

This is the most visited national park in the entire country, and it’s so big that it’s actually in two states – Tennessee and North Carolina. Combine a visit here with a drive on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, or visit it while you hike the Appalachian Trail.

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There are so many more amazing national parks in the United States that I hope to visit some day, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite. Make sure you include at least one or two national parks on your trip to the US. Many people simply visit the big cities, but they miss out on the natural beauty of the country. Speaking of cities, we’re going to start a new series here called “Great American Cities,” so make sure you subscribe to the blog for future posts. We’ll visit Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and of course my hometown of Detroit in addition to plenty of other cities from all corners of the country.


English idioms, words, and phrases about reading and books.

Posted on 16. Oct, 2014 by in English Vocabulary

Woman reading a book, a bookworm.

Image “Bookworm” by Matt E on

There are so many important aspects to learning a second language; listening/comprehension, speaking, writing, and reading. If you are reading this blog regularly (and you should!) then you are already doing a good job of prioritizing reading English to help improve your overall language skills.

Today to recognize the importance of reading as part of language building, I have a post filled with English idioms, words, and phrases about reading and books. I have defined this new vocabulary below and included a practice exercise as well. I challenge you to use three of the words, phrases, or idioms here in the next week.

bookworm  – a person who loves to read and is devoted to reading
book smart – to be very smart or successful in scholastic way (from knowledge in books), but not very smart or successful in real world interactions
an open book – to have very evident and clear emotions and thoughts
to hit the books – to study hard
to read the fine print – to read carefully; to know all the information that is contained in a large document, such as a contact
to read between the lines – to try to understand something that is not expressed openly or explicitly; a synonym to this phrase is the verb ‘to infer’
 “Read my lips!” – This phrase means ‘listen very carefully.’ It is used to emphasize the importance of what a person is saying. This phrase was famously used by the George H. Bush when he was running for President of the United States in 1988. At that time he said, “Read my lips, no new taxes!”
to read someone the riot act – to give someone a strong scolding or to talk to someone severely; to yell at someone
spell bound – to hold someone’s attention completely; a synonym for this phrase is ‘fascinated’
“that’s one for the books” – This phrase is used to say that something is ‘amazing,’ ‘wonderful’ or ‘impressive.’
“you can’t judge a book by its cover” – This idioms is used to say, ‘you should not judge people by their appearance alone.’ This idiom also is used to remind people that the outside of something is not always the same as the inside.

Now let’s practice, fill in the sentences below with one of the idioms, words, or phrases defined above.  Also don’t’ forget to select which three you are going to use in conversation this week!

1.    I always have my lawyer read over my work contracts. I pay him to ________________ for me.
2.    Jane is very shy, she dresses conservatively, and she keeps to herself most of the time at school, but I saw her out at a club this past weekend and she was really partying. It just goes to show, ______________________.
3.    James has been a ____________________ since he was a young boy. He started reading at age 5 and has never been without a book since.
4.    ___________________, when I say you have to home by 10:00pm, I mean it! If you can’t follow the rules, you can’t go out with your friends anymore.
5.    It is time to ______________________ and get ready for our English final on Friday.
6.    I know Jill so well she is like _________________ to me; I know when she is happy, sad, or mad without her saying a word.

1. read the fine print; 2. you can’t judge a book by its cover; 3.bookworm; 4. Read my lips; 5. hit the books; 6. an open book

Canadian Thanksgiving for ESL learners

Posted on 13. Oct, 2014 by in Culture, Travel

Woman with a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Image “Happy Thanksgiving!” by KurtClark on

Much like the American holiday of Thanksgiving, the Canadian holiday occurs every year in Fall (or Autumn). The Canadian Thanksgiving happens earlier than the American Thanksgiving each year, and along with this difference in time there are a number of other differences between how Americans and Canadians celebrate this national holiday. In honor of Canadian Thanksgiving, which is today, we are going to look at these similarities and differences to conclude this short blog series focusing on Canada.

The first difference between the American and Canadian Thanksgiving holiday is that the Canadian Thanksgiving is earlier than the American Thanksgiving, every year. In Canada the holiday is always the second Monday in October, while in America the holiday is always the last Thursday in November. But both of these annual celebrations are similar in that they are a day set aside to give thanks for the harvest and reflect on blessings from the previous year.

Another way the Canadian Thanksgiving is different from the American Thanksgiving, is that in Canada the holiday is more closely related to the European Harvest Festival tradition and the holiday has a stronger connection to the church. The American Thanksgiving Day is connected to more colonial times in North America and the history of the first hard years in the American colonies.

Both Canadians and Americans use similar decorations around Thanksgiving, including: pumpkins, corn, wheat, and cornucopias. A cornucopia is a horn/cone shaped object (like the horn of a goat) that is hollowed out and overflowing with fruit, vegetables and grains, which represent the harvest.

In Canada, Monday is the official day of Thanksgiving, and this leads to a 3-day Thanksgiving weekend that is often a time for a getaways or vacations. Canadians get together for their Thanksgiving meal on any day during the long weekend, not everyone eats their Thanksgiving feast on the same day. This is different than in the United States, where the Thanksgiving Day meal is always on Thursday. In the United States this Thursday holiday leads to a 4-day weekend, with many people taking Friday off too. The American Thanksgiving also marks the unofficial beginning of the shopping season for the upcoming Christmas holiday.

The game of American football is a part of both the American and Canadian Thanksgiving holidays. Also, parades are common Thanksgiving traditions in both countries. The big Canadian Thanksgiving Day parade happens in Kitchener-Waterloo (K-W) and is called the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest Thanksgiving Parade. Below is a short video of what this parade looks like. If you want, for comparison, take a look at the American Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which takes place in New York City, it is a very different type of parade.

Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest Thanksgiving Parade

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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

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Even if you are not in Canada, Canada’s Thanksgiving today is a great time to take a minute and think about what you are thankful for right now. What are you thankful for this year?