Top Language: Dont break them!

Learning English Matters

Top Language


The EASI NETWORK, our TEFL teaching Group, is connected via a private Facebook Group. One of the trainers, who will remain nameless, posted the following message about a week ago.

 Does anybody actually say ‘don’t break my balls’ in English or is it just a funny translation from Italian.  I’ve been here so long, I don’t know.  My production boys want to know :)))’

This was such an important question that a slew of replies soon followed:-)))

The expression means that you are bothering someone or that you are causing them trouble.

The Scottish and British trainers confirm that it is not a BE expression and one actually said that her relatives think she is a weirdo when she uses it.

The American, Canadian and Irish ladies confirm that it is commonly used in the States.

I figure it has to be an Italian expression that was adapted to American English post war or something like that.

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Anniversary Week 11* – Killer words

Earthquake Words/Erdbeben Wörter

The star (*) in today’s title indicates that although this an anniversary post, coming as it does on a Wednesday, I’ve been away for more than a week. It’s good to be back and I hope you enjoy today’s post.

While I was not able to find a specific German word that means “to be killed in an earthquake” (however see below), I was struck by their being a set of words that spoke precisely about the manner in which someone was killed and which can be contrasted with words with a similar meaning that seem not to necessitate death as the outcome. Although we can and do can make this distinction in English, it typically requires the use of additional words.

ertränken – “to kill by drowning” (sich ertränken is “to drown oneself”)
erwürgen – “to kill by strangling”
vergiften – “to kill by poisoning” (sich vergiften is “to poison…

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The “Warmth” of the Mother Tongue

so much life, so little time ...

Recently I finished my second Coursera course mostly about English grammar. Apparently two thirds of the students were non-native speakers, which made peer assessments rather interesting. The writing didn’t always sound right even though a lot of people actually wrote grammatically correct English, perhaps more “correct” than native speakers. But who am I to judge! Being a non-native English speaker myself, I too suffer the same problem. After years of practice, I am still not perfectly sure when to and when not to use “the”, fuzzy about tenses, occasionally mix up phrases, and at times unaware of any awkwardness in my sentence constructions. Unlike one’s mother tongue, the mechanics seem to always show in any secondary languages however well-oiled the machinery is, particularly amongst languages that don’t have shared linguistic roots, such as English and Chinese.

I greatly admire those who write and publish works in secondary languages as if they were their native ones…

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