Friday, February 24, 2017

McGraw-Hill's Conversational American English – Book Review

McGraw-Hill's Conversational American English
by Richard A. Spears, Betty Birner, Steven Kleinedler, and Luc Nisset

Okay, I want to be honest here. Everyone has their own weak areas when it comes to English proficiency and my lexical resource is one of those things I need to work on.

That's why I bought this not-so-thick book called McGraw-Hill's Conversational American English by Richard A. Spears, Betty Birner, Steven Kleinedler, and Luc Nisset. Before purchasing this book, I could speak English well to the extent that everybody would understand what I said; however, I needed more, yeah, more! It is monotonous to use the same expressions over and over, so you need to add variety to your speech to make it more interesting. On top of that, native speakers use a broad range of expressions when having conversations and discussions. This book has done a good job in preparing me for better English communication in that regard.

What makes McGraw-Hill's Conversational American English worth paying a small chunk of your income for?

Although it is not comparable to a big dictionary like Merriam-Webster's Advanced Learner's English Dictionary, McGraw-Hill's Conversational American English contains almost 5,000 conversational expressions that are put into 464 groups. These expression groups are arranged under topics which are grouped into 11 headings of social interaction: Basic Social Encounters, Polite Encounters, Family Matters, Food and DrinkShopping, and so on. I also find it easy to find the right expressions as it is well organized. In short, this book is a comprehensive reference that you will surely return to again and again.

Additionally, it really does its best to help learners understand the meaning of the expressions and the circumstance in which you can use them properly or you are likely to encounter them, For example, on page 26, under the Launching the Conversation topic and the Requesting that the speaker get to the point group, there is one entry as follows:

Cut to the chase. (idiomatic)
     = Switch to the focal point of something.

The label in the brackets, idiomatic, tells us that it is an idiomatic expression. Such labels are present in this book and include formal, informal, jocular, cliché and vulgar among many others. They are important because they give us information which we need to know to be able to use them appropriately – you wouldn't want to use a formal expression in an informal situation, for instance. In addition, there is an explanation of the expression below it (in this case it shows the meaning of the expression). Explanations like this definitely assist readers in working out the meaning of the phrases.

Reading text without pictures can be dull and not fun. This book addresses this issue by displaying cute images made by Luc Nisset (ah yeah! The subtitle says "Illustrated"!) which aid learners in visualizing the situation where the expressions might be used. However, bear in mind that the number of images in this book is minute compared to the number of expressions presented.

One thing that you need to take into account before deciding whether or not to buy this book is that, as the title clearly shows, the phrases included in this book are used in American English. Then, if you are aiming to improve your British English conversational vocabulary, this might not be the best choice for you, although many of the expressions surely can be used in British English as well.
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Saturday, February 11, 2017

GO-JEK, GrabBike, and Our Indonesian Mentality

The occurrence the other day has motivated me to compose this piece of writing.

I am a repeat customer of Grab – sometimes I utilize the GrabCar and GrabFood services; however, GrabBike is what I use most often. That day I set out from my itsy-bitsy home with a GrabBike. The journey was smooth until we came to a point which is not far from where I dwell as a Jakartan; the GrabBiker chose to take the wrong way, driving against the flow of traffic. With my eyes open, I could also see a GO-JEK heading in the same direction whose driver didn't seem to feel guilty of what he was doing at that moment. (for those who don't know GO-JEK, it is an Indonesian (local) company which provides transportation services, competing with Grab, which is based in Malaysia)

I often give 1-star ratings to GrabBike riders (don't believe it? Check with Grab itself, or contact me and I'll forward to you the plethora of complaint response e-mails from Grab). The reason is nothing but such dangerously frivolous behavior, which could bring their passengers' lives to an end.

Indonesia is a fantastic country. We are endowed with huge amounts of exquisite scenery, vast biodiversity which is probably the greatest on the planet, and abundant natural resources. With these advantages, along with other strong points which include a gigantic population of some 250 million people, Indonesia surely has the potential to be one of the most powerful countries in the world. However, compared with two neighboring countries Singapore and Vietnam both of which gained independence much later than Indonesia, I'd say Indonesia's progress has been 'pretty' disappointing.

It seems to be an irony since we have bountiful treasures which other nations, I believe, are drooling over. Are the Indonesians stupider than those of other nationalities? Nope. We boast a significant figure of doctors and professors, don't we? So, what makes this country far less developed than it should be?

The mentality is what I think the culprit of this big issue. The attitude that everything should be done in an instant and not being concerned about the consequences of what one's acts might carry is the key factor of why we are still building an MRT system in the 2010s. This is, of course, what leads to corruption, which is one of the major problems of this highly diverse nation.

That's our challenge. Fixing this might take quite a lot of time since older generations tend to resist change; later ones might be easier to shape into humans of excellent quality. Nevertheless, it is of extreme importance to work together fervently to make up for what we have wasted and, ultimately, for a much better Indonesia that we can take pride in.
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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Best Things in Life

What are the best things in life? I realize that the answer to this question is not simply a matter of "correct or incorrect" since it depends on those concerned.

To some, brand-new sports cars or enormous castle-like houses are what makes them energetic throughout the day. Some others would like to travel all over the world and pursue that ambition in a rigorous and tireless fashion. Still, others crave for a partner, that is, a boyfriend/girlfriend or a spouse! (well, it's just my judgment since in my country it seems that being single is the 'most horrid curse a person can be put on').

As for myself, I see 'simple' things as those qualifying as the best. Friendship, peace (partly characterized by pure smiles on people's faces), and moments of love are, some of the greatest things in life. Perusing my lover's morning greeting on the screen of my Sony Xperia M2, listening to Jay Chou's enchanting art pieces countlessly (I am doing it now!) and singing them exuberantly, as well as gaining a deeper understanding of dinosaurs (and life, in general) are several other examples of what can make my day.

All in all, I am content with my life right now. However, still, I think I need to contribute more to society with all the good qualities I possess. Today I taught a class and there was this phrase coming into focus: give back to the community. This is exactly something that I wish to achieve and I would say it is part of my self-actualization desire. I really hope to fulfill it as soon as possible by bringing out the best in myself.
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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Our Own Parts

I am known as an 'innocent' man among those who have been my companions for long. Obeying traffic laws, being strongly opposed to smoking, and throwing garbage in the proper place are some traits that cling to me and would probably be the first things that come across their minds when they are asked to picture my behavior.

Flashing back to some point in the past, I recall someone, who is probably a very close relative of mine, told me that it is no use doing some good deed (most likely that action of keeping the environment clean and visibly satisfying) while there are tons of others are doing exactly the opposite of what I do.

This apparently nice idea – which is actually pernicious – is, as I see it, simply is the root of the great deals of cases of development inhibition occuring in our society. This way of thinking appears to be mildly damaging. However, it would generate continuous actions that, if you think about it, certainly cause terrible harm. In addition, when an enormous number of people take it as a life guide, the result will unavoidably be ghastly. If everyone keeps ignoring this and doesn't take action to resolve it, it will eventually lead to the demise of our own taxon.

We must adopt the view that what we do is worth the value of what we do: nothing more and nothing less. The result of our actions, in a sense, is actually free from any influence from the outside. This means we shouldn't try to alter people, some (or most) of them perhaps being stubborn and incorrigible. What we need to do is direct our energy, thoughts, and so forth toward what we can do to improve life quality.

It is true that we are just a minuscule part of the gargantuan community of humans; we have too many limitations to do the huge task of changing the world at the drop of a hat. However, when we do our own parts in the best way possible, it is actually enough to achieve our ultimate goal.
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