Back to Back Issues Page
Issue #005 -- Week 02/06/14-08/06/14
June 09, 2014

Greetings and general information

Hello everybody and I hope you’re passing these hot days in good spirits.

This is the fifth issue of our e-zine, so I'm happy to see that we've passed that awkward first stage of getting used to a new routine like writing a weekly newsletter to hundreds of subscribers, both timely and effectively.

They say that, if you do something for 21 days, i.e. three weeks, this activity has a good chance to become a habit and I hope this is the case with our English Corner E-zine as well. I treated this first stage as a learning curve and I believe this medium of communication can become an even more exciting platform, once we find a way for you to participate with your opinions, knowledge and information you may want to share.

You and your friends can subscribe individually through the form on If anybody mentions to you that they are interested in receiving it, please tell them this - many thanks. Also, they can read the previous issues on

As we’re all busy at work nowadays, so let me get straight to the subject with no further delay. Let’s recap what we did last week during our English Corner classes.

Wednesday June 4 - The Use of Language

We looked at how we use language in speech (well, also in writing) and we discovered how the use of content and tone of voice changes the message received by the listener or the reader, respectively. This was both a listening exercise (of a clip called "Language as a Window into Human Nature") and a discussion session of your opinions on the topic. You can find the film in the same place in the English Corner at Web.

We looked at how we veil our intentions in innuendo, hoping for our listener to read between the lines and infer our real intent. We do this in polite requests, solicitations, and threats.

This is because language has to do two things:
-Firstly, it has to convey some content or proposition;
-Secondly, it has to negotiate a relationship type.

Then we looked at the 3 types of relationships that exist across the world’s cultures, according to anthropologist Alan Fiske: dominance [based on the idea of ‘Don’t mess with me!’], communality [based on the ethos of ‘share and share alike’] and reciprocity [‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’]

In the case of a clear relationship, both behaviour and language that’s acceptable in one kind of a relationship may not be acceptable in another one. However, in cases where two sides aren’t sure they are on the same wavelength, a divergent understanding can lead to an unpleasant emotion – the one called awkwardness.

After that we looked at the reason for which we continue to use indirectness even when there is no real uncertainty between the two sides. At this point we discovered the key to this paradox, being a concept that economists and logicians call ‘mutual knowledge’ and ‘individual knowledge’, which is based on the fact that other individuals know what one individual knows and they all know that the other one knows and so on, which is the case of 'mutual knowledge'. In the case of ‘individual knowledge’ we only know what we know, leaving the rest to the realm of assumption.

From this point of view, innuendos, even obvious ones merely provide individual knowledge, whereas direct speech provides mutual knowledge and relationships are maintained or nullified by a mutual knowledge of the relationship type.

The conclusion was that the basis of our intuition is that overt language (explicit, direct and open) promotes mutual knowledge, which in turn cannot be reversed – you can’t take it back what you’ve said. This is why people prefer to hold on to their chances to change their messages if needed, by only offering individual knowledge, hence being able to deny or reverse a message as and when necessary.

When you learn how to use your words skilfully in English, you’ll be able to read between the lines as a listener and even create your own lines on this basis. Keep learning – you’ll get there!

Thursday June 5 – The Educational System in the U.S.

This lecture was based on the film “Waiting for Superman” – a very strong documentary about the educational system in the U.S. filmed in 2008.

We started the class by getting some opinions from the students present as to which system they think is better – the Chinese system or the American one. As expected, we had one opinion on each side, both presented in a very eloquent and logical manner.

Then we proceeded to look at certain aspects of the American system in the film I prepared, sufficient to convince everybody how bad that system is and we looked at some of the syndromes of its malaise. We didn’t have the time to digest all there was to talk about in one short hour, but I left the documentary on the computer in the English Corner Room, for anybody interested in further details exposed in that film to copy and watch at their own leisure.

Please feel free to comment and share your opinions on this matter. I know many of you are interested in this subject for the sake of your own children, and so you should be.

I will go as far as outlining my own opinions here, and they are only two on this occasion:
a) I think that, whatever the educational system you put our children through, the most important thing for them to realise is the importance of their own critical thinking skills, i.e. their own ability to think for themselves and become self-reliant as they mature;
b) no matter what system anybody learns from, the ‘making or breaking’ factor – the element that will empower one to learn more than others (or, indeed, less than others) is the quality of the teachers imparting the knowledge. Good teachers can cover more than the planned curriculum effectively and bad teachers will only teach part of the curriculum and to a questionable quality level. I’m not talking about anybody in particular; I’m talking about this aspect in general.

It’s a little bit like giving your children the right food – they will grow healthy and strong; giving them the wrong food – they’ll suffer the consequences sooner or later. If you don’t give them enough food, you’ll need to find the supplements, if you wish for a healthy offspring. Luckily, with knowledge we can give our children the necessary thinking skills and good values and they will then be able to find the 'supplements' for themselves in due time. But they need to be well-guided in the process.

Of course, all this will also apply to an adult learner, should you look into this matter for yourself for a mature relative.

Saturday June 7 – English for Fun

This was another good playing session, where we started off with the more complex game “First, Next, Then and Finally”. We had 4 teams who were given a situation by the neighbouring team, where they had to deal with 4 priorities to think of and put their solutions in order, so they could pass the difficult situation and achieve their goals. This was an active session, with lots of dialogues between the team members and all the teams put across their best answers in due time.

Then we had a game of “Go – Stop!”, where the same teams had to come up with a word for each of 5 categories (food, clothes, items in the house, countries, emotions) that started with a particular letter of the alphabet and shout 'Stop!' when they completed the set. We had time for 3 rounds – we did letters A, B and S and it was so energising that I think everybody present had a great rest of the afternoon last Saturday, as a result of that session.

This is it, folks!

Good to see you all there last week and I wish you all a great week ahead. I look forward to seeing you again this week.

Just as a small promotion for one of my next Social Clubs, let me tell you that I shall unveil my future plans during the class next Thursday (7-8pm). Those of you who can make it will be very welcome and those who can’t will be able to read all about it in the next issue of our English Corner E-zine next Monday. Have fun the meanwhile!

Lucia da Vinci

Founder of My English Club


Back to Back Issues Page