Conversation strategies: How to start a conversation with a stranger

Episode 1

To start a conversation with a stranger you can:

  1. Talk about things you can see or hear, like the weather or the place you are in.
  • It’s cold tonight.
  • It’s pretty foggy
  • What a beautiful day.
  • There are a lot of people out here tonight.
  • Are que pancakes good here?
  • Is the coffee good here?

     2. Ask general questions.

  • Do you come here a lot?
  • Are you a new student here?
  • Is it your first day of class, too?
  • Are you in the line?
  • Are you here for the class/seminar/conference/festival?

      3. Say your name.

  • By the way, I am Ayleen.
  • By the way, my name’s Chris.

If someone asks you these questions, you can use “Actually” to answer.

The adverb “actually” has different uses:

  • To give new information

A: Do you come here a lot?

B: Yeah, I do, actually.

A: Are you a student in this class?

B: Yeah, I am, actually.

(The new information is “I come here a lot.” Or “I am a student”)

  • To give surprising information

Actually, I kind of like cold weather.

(The surprising information is “I like cold weather.” Most people don’t like the cold.)

  • To correct things people say or think

A:  So, you are Colombian, right?

B: Well, actually, I’m from Perú.

(“Colombian” is not correct. “From Perú” is correct.)


Chris: It’s cold tonight.

Ayleen: Yeah, it really is.

Chris: There are a lot of people here tonight.

Ayleen: I know, it’s very crowded.

Chris: So, do you come here a lot?

Ayleen: No, not really. This is my first day at this gym.

Chris: By the way, my name’s Chris.

Ayleen: Hi Chris, My name’s Ayleen. It’s nice to meet you.

Chris: Nice to meet you, too.

Chris: So, do you come here often?

Ayleen: Yeah, I do, actually

Chris: So, you are American.

Ayleen: Actually, I am from Perú. So, you’re Jamaican.

Chris: Actually, my family’s background is Jamaican but I was born in England.

Listen to this episode here:


Blogmas Day 18: How to have a Greener Christmas.

I found great ideas for a greener Christmas on this blog. Give it a read!

Write On Ejaleigh!

Recently, we have started to become aware of the harm we are doing to our planet by having so much excess at Christmas. It seems quite interesting that we appear to be returning to the Seventies when people had much less money and yet still seemed to enjoy the Christmas albeit without Secret Santa, Elf on the Shelf, endless gifting and enough food to keep you going until the Spring. I have been listening to quite a few programmes on Radio 4 extolling the virtues of having a greener Christmas. Whilst I am not quite at the stage of wrapping my presents in newspaper and giving used items away as gifts, then I would like to be more mindful of waste during the Festive Season. Here are some ideas that I shall be using and for some I have looked to my own childhood for inspiration. Planning is integral to…

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Jamaican me happy: Ochi

It was our seventh day in Jamaica. We had traveled to the north coast of the country to visit Ocho Rios, another very popular tourist destination, when we were told there was going to be a carnival. The said carnival, however, wasn’t the typical people-dressed up-dancing-on-floats carnival, but rather a crowded concert mostly attended by locals, half of whom – regardless of the minimum age for admittance – were in their teens.

There was one, and only one police officer at the entrance door to make sure no underage kid entered the concert. He seemed to be doing a good job. I was there when a couple of teenagers were sent back home after failing to show their IDs. So, it came as a big surprise when I bumped into drunk teens staggering through the crowd during the concert. How? If the police officer had been there. I saw him… I didn’t get it! This behavior reminded me of my country, where people are very good at finding creative ways to break the law. They’d found a lower part of the fence, very suitable for jumping over if you are agile enough. At least, the police weren’t bribed as I had initially believed. It turns out the underage kids had snuck in!


Something that caught my attention during the concert was the non-glamorous footwear trend/movement called “tourist sandals” Jamaicans seem to be following. When this trend first came out, I remember thinking: Does this mean I don’t have to make an effort anymore? Should I just wear my laundry day outfit to parties? Who would wear such a thing? Well, to my amazement, many people would.

If you want to know more about this fashion, click here.


Not only did this eccentric trend being followed catch my attention, but also the dancing did. I had been told about the Jamaican twerk. I had seen videos, I had heard about Twerk Fest Jamaica, I had discussed it with my fiancé, who had more information about it since he’s half Jamaican, but it was still shocking to watch young teenagers twerking at the concert.

I am trying – so far unsuccessfully – to see this with objective eyes. Maybe my conservative upbringing is preventing me from seeing this as part of a cultural expression, but I have mixed feelings about twerking. I agree and disagree on twerking depending on how it is done. For example, seeing these girls twerk on their own – to my eyes – shows a talent, or just women enjoying themselves and their bodies without men present. However, seeing them twerk with a guy behind them changes the panorama completely. It’s pretty much porn with clothes. How can you not see a woman as an object when having her twerk in front of you like that? All you see is her butt; I mean, unless she turns around a little, you won’t get the chance to see her face (or unless a man is “dancing” lying on the floor on top of her with blender-like movements from the waist down). What’s the real purpose of twerking? Is it really the rhythm of the music that is being enjoyed? I find it very hard to believe that twerking doesn’t sexually objectify women although I defend twerking (on your own) as a display of enjoyment.


Route taxis

Many countries have this transportation system where taxis run a specific route for a set price, picking passengers up and dropping them off along the way. I’ve never used this kind of transportation in Peru, where route taxis are called colectivos; nonetheless, as many other things I don’t and wouldn’t do in my country, I decided to give it a try. I don’t know why, but getting around Jamaica in route taxis just felt right.

In Peru, colectivos are illegal. Even though taxi drivers offer this service to meet the high demand of unsatisfied commuters, there isn’t any sort of license to offer this service legally. There are informal colectivo stops, where lines of ten plus taxi drivers take up one entire lane to wait for passengers causing unbearable traffic.  They charge between 4 and 6 soles (around US$ 1.5). In Jamaica, they are legal and can be distinguished by their red plates. In Negril, Ocho Rios, and Montego Bay we paid between 120 and 140 JMD Jamaican dollars for a ride (around US$ 1.00).

Important tip!

Because chartered taxis also have red plates, the only way to distinguish a chartered taxi from a route taxi is by asking the driver for the price, and this is a must! If you don’t ask for the price, the driver might purposefully not pick up any passengers along the way and say that, because he didn’t do so – and you did not specify you required a route taxi – the fare will be 5 times higher. Thus, you could end up paying US$ 10.00 for a ride that would have cost US$ 1.00 with a route taxi.

I have to be honest and admit that, at first, I thought they would be unsafe. The only reference I had was the route taxis in my country where I’d heard of people getting robbed or even worse, so I was skeptical. However, the rides in Jamaica were safe, and I got the chance to experience commuting like the locals do, not to mention the fact that we saved a lot of money on transportation. Had we ridden only chartered taxis, we would have spent at least 5 times as much.

In spite of not having had any negative experience, I frankly wouldn’t have jumped in a route taxi if I had been traveling solo. I would recommend it for people traveling in pairs or groups. It makes sense to think it would lower the risk in case something bad were to happen.


Are you going to kiss 50 people? Are you crazy?

We had arrived at my godmother’s birthday party and, of course, the first thing I did after walking into the house was to greet everyone with a kiss on the cheek. After going around kissing about 45 cheeks, he looks at me pleadingly. What does he want? Is he trying to tell me something? His face went from puzzled to smiling to puzzled again when it hit me: Chris was aware that the standard greeting in Peru was a kiss on the cheek; however, he never imagined it also applied to one-hundred-people parties. After kissing more than 50 women on the cheek, he  looked exhausted, and in disbelief that there were still many more cheeks to be kissed.
“In London, if there are more than 8 people, you don’t give a kiss on the cheek to everyone. I can’t believe we’ve just kissed all those people!”, he said.
I hadn’t stopped to think that the low-profile kind of guy who runs away from the spotlight would have avoided this situation at all costs. Had there been a back door, he would have used it without a doubt. It isn’t shyness, no, no. It is his analytical mind what makes being around too many people at a social event so awkward.
I was once told that people who are too analytical have a little voice that torments them with an infinite number of possible outcomes before, during and after interactions as ordinary as greetings. “There will be people you don’t know, but you’ll have to say ‘hello’ or they’ll think you’re being disrespectful. It’s your girlfriend’s godmother, and you need to make a good impression. So, a kiss on the cheek then, but what cheek? Should you kiss and say ‘hello’ or just kiss? What if you say something awkward, what if they don’t understand your Spanish, what if you accidentally kiss them on the lips?” And all this happens in a matter of seconds.
Apart from this seemingly painful mental process which analytical people are victims of, we also need to take into account cultural differences. Latin cultures are a bit warmer in interactions, and greeting others is a good example of such characteristic.
I speak for myself and the people in my surroundings, and this is the way we do it. Almost all my family and friends say ‘hello’ with a kiss on the cheek regardless of how many people there are at a party. I just can’t picture myself waving at my relatives or just smiling at them without making any physical contact.
And how do you greet people at a big event such as a wedding, gathering or birthday party? Do you kiss everyone, or do you prefer to wave at them?


Stay Vs. Be

Be Vs. stay

One recurrent mistake I’ve seen in basic or even intermediate English learners is the misuse of the verb “stay”. Maybe because the word stay sounds a lot like the word estar in Spanish these two verbs are easily confused by Spanish speakers.

Now, the verb be has different definitions but it is the one meaning “where something is” that is commonly interchanged for stay.

Let’s go over definitions first. The second meaning of be according to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online says:

2 [intransitive always + adverb/preposition] used to say where something or someone is.

  • Jane’s upstairs.
  • Are my keys in the drawer?
  • The principal’s in his office.
  • How long has she been here?

However, in class I’ve heard sentences like:

  • My father stays at home right now. (incorrect)
  • The books stay on the table. (incorrect)
  • Mike stays (incorrect)

What are the speakers trying to express here? Well, the answer precisely the meaning mentioned above, where something or someone is. Therefore, the verb be, not stay, should be used.

  • My father is at home right now.
  • The books are on the table.
  • Mike is

You must be wondering, if I can’t use stay to say where something is, when do I use it?

The second definition provided by the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online defines stay as follows:

IN A CONDITION [intransitive always + adverb/preposition, linking verb] to continue to be in a particular position, place, or state, without changing SYN remain

  • Rollings will stay as chairman this year.
  • Eat right to stay healthy.
  • It was hard to stay awake.
  • Nine women gained weight, and four stayed the same.

Let’s compare these two sentences:

  1. Rollings will stay as chairman this year.
  2. Roollings will be chairman this year.

Both sentences are grammatically correct but there’s a significant difference in meaning. The first one means Rollings, who has been chairman until now, will continue to be chairman this year. On the other hand, the second sentence means This year he will become chairman. There will be a change of state, he wasn’t chairman before, he will be in the future.

More examples:

  1. Eat right to stay healthy.
  2. Eat right to be healthy.

Both sentences are grammatically correct, and it makes perfect sense to say Eat right to be healthy; however, in the first example we are assuming that the person is already healthy, the meaning is Eat right to continue to be healthy, that is eat right to continue to be in that state, without changing. Do you see the difference?



Differences between elections in Peru and elections in the USA

Last Sunday I had to go to vote, yes, I had to. Unlike in the US, voting is mandatory in Peru. Not exercising your right to vote results in a fine, which will vary depending on the district the elector is from.

As just a voter, it isn’t much of a difficult choice if you don’t have time or just don’t want to vote since the fine is around 80.00 soles, approximately $23.00 (I am not disencouraging people to go to vote, I was just incredibly busy that day and would have prefered not to go), but if on top of not showing up to vote, you are chosen as a miembro de mesa, the fine is more than twice as much and in this case I was.

What is a  miembro de mesa?

When explaining  this to my Colombian colleague, she said they had the same concept in her country, they are called jurado de votación. Then I started thinking, how do you say miembro de mesa in English? Does that even exist? If voting isn’t mandatory in the U.S, is there such a thing as a chosen citizen to make sure everything runs smoothly on election day?

I become interested in the differences and similarities between elections in the US and Perú, here are my findings:



How the president is chosen The president and vice president are in effect chosen through indirect election by the citizens.

*An indirect election is an election in which voters do not choose between candidates for an office, but elect people who then choose. In this case this body of electors is called The United States Electoral College.

The president and vice president are in effect chosen through direct election by the citizens.
The winner Candidate wins with 270 electoral votes, from the 538 electors that constitute the Electoral College. Candidate that gets more than 50% of the votes wins.
Frequency Congressional and presidential elections take place simultaneously every four years. Congressional and presidential elections take place simultaneously every five years.
Obligatory nature Voting isn’t mandatory.

*About half of all states and U.S. territories allow “no excuse absentee” where no reason is required to request an absentee ballot. Others require a valid reason, such as infirmity or travel, be given before a voter can participate using an absentee ballot.

Voting is mandatory.

The concept of absentee ballot doesn’t exist.

Registration process There is a voter registration process. All U.S. states except North Dakota require that citizens who wish to vote be registered. There isn’t such a thing. Everybody has to go to vote on election day.
Electronic voting system Most states use a combination of electronic and paper technology. Only five states (Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, South Carolina) have paper-free voting and some states (Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) send all constituents a paper ballot in the mail. Even more states use a combination of electronic and paper at polling places. Only a few districts use electronic voting.


Duration Election for the U.S. President must occur on a single day throughout the country.
Elegibility Candidates must be at least 35 years old, a natural born citizen of the country they want to govern.
Runoff  If no candidate receives a required number of votes then there is a runoff between the two candidates with the most votes.

More about electronic voting

There are three types of Electronic voting in USA :

  • The Paper based E vote system has a touchscreen added for the voter’s used. This system will print a hardcopy of the ballot once the voter is done. This ballot needs to be passed out the election officer so it can be counted.
  • The Direct recording electronic system has a touchscreen with digital swipe card buttons which will be used in order to make the choices. All votes are stored in a physical memory device which are sent to a special voting station for their results.
  • Internet voting is the type of vote that is done in remote locations. This type of voting service is not supervised by governmental representatives. The most common devices to used for this type of vote are: Personal computer, Television via Internet also known as i-voting and mobile phone.

What do I wish we would copy from the American election process?

That’s an easy answer:  instant-runoff voting. For the past few years in Perú there have been runoffs and with them an increasing amount of stress and frustration to do it all over again. In a few cities in the US. voters rank the candidates in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate. If a candidate secures more than half of votes cast, that candidate wins. Otherwise, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Ballots assigned to the eliminated candidate are recounted and assigned to those of the remaining candidates who rank next in order of preference on each ballot.

I would love to know what the election process is like in your country. Share in the comments!

New and related words:

absentee ballot (voto en ausencia), ballot, candidate, Election Assistance Commission, electoral college, electronic voting, runoff, paper ballot, paperless voting, poll, voter registration


Cousins or nephews?

Ayleen: They look a lot alike, don’t they? (showing photo). They’re my nieces, Romina and Alejandra.

Ale y Romi 4
Romina and Alejandra

Gary: What do you mean by your nieces? your sister doesn’t have any children.

Ayleen: I know my sister doesn’t have any children, the girls are my cousins’ children.

Gary: Your cousins’ children? Well, in English your cousins’ children are your cousins too. The exact term for a cousin’s child is cousin once removed.

Ayleen: Cousin once removed? Removed from what? I’ve never heard that in my life. I can’t picture someone introducing me to their cousin once removed, “Ayleen, please meet my cousin once removed” haha.

Gary: Haha, that’s why we just call them cousins. Do you call them nieces and nephews in Spanish?

Ayleen: Yes, in Spanish a cousin’s child is our sobrino segundo.  We just call them sobrino or sobrina. It’s easy to get confused because the literal translation for sobrina is niece. That’s why I told you “Romina and Alejandra are my nieces”. 

This is a real conversation I had with a native English speaker. I had no idea that the translation for sobrino segundo was first cousin once removed. Any Spanish speaker would be prone to think that the translation for sobrino segundo is second nephew, at least that’s what I thought. I was wrong.

Sobrino RAE
Real Academia de la Lengua Española (RAE)

According to RAE, in Spanish your cousin’s child is your sobrino segundo. The word “nephew” is used to describe this relationship. However, as shown in the Oxford and Longman dictionaries your cousin’s child is your first cousin once removed. In English the word “cousin” is used to describe this relationship. There lies the confusion.

Longman Dictionary

Oxford dictionary

If you aren’t confused yet, wait until I introduce you to a couple of other kinship terms. We have the term second cousin, common sense tells you that if there are second cousins, there have to be first cousins too, right? Confused now?

So, what’s the difference between first cousin and second cousin? and cousin once removed and second cousin? Pictures speak louder than words they say, so I drew my family tree in an attempt to exemplify how it works. It’s headed by my grandparents Alicia and Luis; their children Pablo and Hilda (in reality they had 10 children but for the sake of this explanation I will only consider two); and their grandchildren, Emily, Giannina, Liseth and myself.

My family tree

Emily, Giannina, Liseth and I belong to the same generation; as children of siblings, we are first cousins or commonly called cousins.

Around 10 years ago, Giannina and Liseth had children; their children Romina and Alejandra are one generation further on than Emily and me. According to the standard symmetrical terminology used by most genealogists, Romina and Emily (or Romina and I) are therefore first cousins once removed (not, as is quite often thought, second cousins).

Emily and I don’t have children, but if we had children they would belong to the same generation as Romina and Alejandra: as children of first cousins, they would be second cousins.

Neither of us in the conversation used precise kinship terms when talking about our relatives, but generalized with catch-all terms such as cousin or nephew. Sometimes when we are not sure, we just use the word distant cousin or primo lejano in Spanish.


  • Giannina is my first cousin, or simply cousin.  (same generation)
  • Liseth is also my cousin. (same generation)
  • Romina is my first cousin once removed. (different generations)
  • Alejandra is my first cousin once removed. (different generations)
  • If I had a child, my child and Romina would be second cousins. (same generation)
  • If I had a child, my child and Alejandra would be second cousins. (same generation)

Here is the correct translation to Spanish:

  • Cousin, first cousin = primo, primo carnal o primo hermano.
  • Second cousin = primo segundo
  • First cousin once removed = sobrino segundo

Now take a look at your family tree and try to figure out how people are related to you!

Language level: B2



False friends, a linguistic trap- Set 2

They aren’t your friends! It’s a trap!

False friends - set 2

As you know I am doing a three-video lesson on False Friends, words in the new language you are learning that sound and look like words in your own language but have a totally different meaning.

In the first lesson we learned the meaning of actually, library, constipated, preservative and lecture. If  you haven’t seen my first video yet, (even if you have, why not see it again?) , click here

To see the False friends set 2 video, click here



My first experience in a hostel

I have always wanted to stay in a hostel because unlike hotels, hostels not only provide you with affordable accommodation but also with the opportunity to interact with friendly, easy-going, like-minded people from diverse nationalities. However, in my culture, staying in hostels is not encouraged or advised, in fact the “hostel stereotype” is a dirty, dangerous, uncomfortable, zero privacy accommodation where you are likely to get robbed. I guess that prevented me from taking the plunge. Unfortunately, every time I thought I was ready to stay in a hostel, the fear of sleeping in a six-bed bedroom with strangers took over and I ended up in a hotel.

Backpacking had been on my to do list for a long time but today I am proud to say that I can finally check it off! I can’t say that all hostels are unfairly labeled as rat holes, but people do overgeneralize. I’m new to this and I’ve only stayed in two during these vacations in Cancún, so I can’t really say all hostels are amazing, but I’ve been talking to a few backpackers lately and dangerous is the last adjective they would think of to describe this sociable accommodation.

I want to write about my first one I stayed in because in its attempt to break the stereotype, it offers a unique experience.

When I walked into my room (expecting the worse), I was gladly surprised by the cleanliness and above all, by the privacy! That was what caught my attention the most, I thought since all the facilities are supposed to be shared (the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen and the lounge area) I wouldn’t have any privacy. I had been warned by relatives and friends! Well, at this hostel I did have privacy.  I rented a bed in a shared mixed room, the beds weren’t like common bunkbeds, though. They were more like big wooden coffins one on top of the other, with curtains for privacy, so although there were five more people in the room, I couldn’t see their faces—they all closed their curtains. I would only see them and say hi when we bumped into each other on our way to the bathroom or shower, which were in the bedroom. I wasn’t worried about getting robbed at all, there were lockers big enough to fit my suitcase. Also, in the room there was air conditioning and free wifi, not bad at all.

hostel bedroom

In what I call “my coffin” (it is the first thing that came to my mind when I climbed up to my bunkbed) I had a lamp and a little night table box embedded in the wall with electrical outlets on the sides to charge my cellphone or laptop (see photo). That was my favorite feature in the room, I appreciated being able to charge my laptop while I could still work from my bed 😊

hostel bed edited
Me in my coffin 🙂

There is a beautiful roof top pool—too bad it wasn’t as hot during my stay there and I never went in the water. It is 14 dollars per night to stay at this particular hostel (although hostels generally range from $6 to $15 per night) and breakfast and dinner are included. They have omelets for breakfast and a small meal like quesadillas or tacos for dinner. This hostel offers a variety of activities like city tours, games and deals on nighclubs.


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My favorite area was the patio. The walls are emblazoned with mayan drawings, there are wooden tables and chairs as well as lounge chairs where you can sunbathe or just work on your computer.


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I really enjoyed my stay and recommend hostels with similar characteristics to people who have never stayed in this kind of accommodation before. Great experience!


False friends, a linguistic trap

Have you ever embarrassed yourself in English and said something like “I think I’m coming down with a cold, I am constipated”? Are you still trying to figure out why saying this would be embarrassing? If you are, it’s because this sentence doesn’t sound wrong to you at all, after all  constipated sounds like constipado, so they must mean the same, right?

Not really, constipated means estreñido, not constipado. Surprised?


It’s hard not to fall for this linguistic trap when the familiarity of a word is so inviting and available when we seem to be lost for words but watch out! They are “false friends”, words in the new language you are learning that sound and look like words in your own language but have a totally different meaning.

If you want to watch the video of the most common ones, click here