Archive for category: English posts

More on city names in Massachusetts

Me, again. I’m back to talk about weird Massachusetts names and why they’re weird. In case you forgot, here is the list we’re working with. Fake Massachusetts town names. Do you remember how to pronounce these? Lameham, Unstable, Hamham. See the last post for the answer.

Now that we understand the humor in pronouncing these names, let’s look at another funny thing. Here’s something that might surprise you. One of these names is real. A real Massachusetts town. Can you guess which one? You can? Good. I will wait here while you google each name.

(10 minutes later)

You’re right, it’s BraintreeMore on city names in Massachusetts

Surprised? I was too, honestly. Braintree. Brain. Tree? Is it normal to think about a tree with a brain? In order to uncover the mystery of this word, we have to go back in time.

We have to look at the history of the word. The etymology of a word can show how it has been used in different years and different languages. It’s fun because you can see how words move through languages.

Remember how most of the names of New England towns come from (Old) England? The same thing is true with our friend Braintree. Located in Essex, England, the town of Braintree has been around much, much longer than Braintree, Massachusetts. In fact, it’s been around for almost 4,000 years. Some of the roads were built by the Romans! This is where it gets a little mysterious. Nobody’s exactly sure about the name “Braintree” but there are a few theories. A popular theory is that the town is named after the River Brain (which sounds like a good theory to me but what do I know). Other theories have to to do with different names. Braintree may have been called “Branoc’s tree”, or even “Rayne”. So that explains the “brain” part but what about “tree”?

After a few Google searches, I found out that “tree” used to be spelled “try” and means “big village” in the Saxon language. So, “Braintree” could possibly mean “Big village near the River Brain”. Or, maybe it could mean “Branoc’s village”.

When we go back in time, we have to be both careful and imaginative. Sometimes we don’t have enough information! I’m sure if you spent more time researching, you could become an expert on the history of the word Braintree. So, next time a word seems strange to you, learn about it!

Do you engage with the news?

Do you engage with the news?I’m always surprised by how many people actively avoid the engaging with the news, but I understand why. Let’s face it; the news can be a real downer. However, keeping up with journalism isn’t just a moral obligation, it’s also a great way to improve your vocabulary and ability to carry conversations.

That’s why I recommend downloading at least one news app onto your phone and in my experience, the best of the bunch is the NPR (National Public Radio) app. The articles are often short but well written and the app offers reliably diverse content that’s updated frequently. What’s more, many of the stories are released with a full audio recording.

For example, today’s stories included an inside look into the way Uber treats its drivers:

It’s quality reporting that you can consume as text or audio. It also gives you perspective on an aspect of society you may have never considered. This is why I love the app: You’re never more than a few clicks away from a deeper connection with the people and stories around you.

So, whether it’s light-hearted pop culture pieces or deeply incisive political analysis you’re looking for, the NPR app won’t disappoint!

City names in Massachusetts

Gloucester, Barnstable, Dedham

By M. Boroda

Gloucester_MARecently, I saw a list online of “fake Massachusetts names”. For somebody from or living in Massachusetts, they were very funny. Those of us who live somewhere else, however, might not see the humor.

So, what’s the joke?

Well, first you need a little introduction to American city names and how to pronounce them.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that cities in New England were named after cities in, yes, England. (Old England? No, they won’t like that.) After all, the people who started these New England cities sailed across the Atlantic ocean from England. Maybe they felt a little homesick. They missed their little hometowns. Solution? Bring the town here! Well, just the name. This means there’s an Essex in England and an Essex in Massachusetts. Cambridge, Bristol, Gloucester, and yes, even Boston are all places in England.

Pretty simple, right? Except… how did you pronounce “Gloucester” in your head? Gloh-sester? Glaw-chester? Gloh-kestair? No, sorry! It’s pronounced “glaw-sturr” (or “glawstah” if you have a Boston accent!) Welcome to the confusing world of city names and one of the reasons that list of “fake Massachusetts names” is funny.

Let’s look at two names on the list: Lameham and Unstable.

In English, many towns have the ending “-ham”, like Stoneham and Dedham. To pronounce these towns, you change “ham” to “um”. Stone-um, Ded-um, So, Lameham would be pronounced “Lame-um”. Got it? Now, what does “lame” mean? Lame is a slang term that means boring or not exciting. Lameham!

There are also towns that end with “-stable”, like Barnstable and Dunstable. The thing is, you don’t say “stable”! Instead, Barnstable is pronounced “Barn-stuh-bull.” Sounds like “stubble”! Now, this fake town called “Unstable” would be pronounced “Unstubble”. What’s funny about that? Well, “unstable” is an adjective meaning “not stable!” For example, don’t sit in that chair because it’s unstable.

So to review – Gloucester is “glawsturr”, Stoneham is “stone-um”, and Barnstable is “barnstubble”. So now you can read “Unstable” and “Lameham” like you live in Massachusetts. Next time, we will talk a little bit more about this list!

Read more here:

The Boston Marathon is nearly upon us

It’s spring again and the Boston Marathon is nearly upon us! For those of you wondering, this is one of Bean Town’s most cherished traditions and is an event that brings everyone (natives and visitors alike) together. Go cheer on the contestants and find yourself transformed instantly into a member of a proud community!

And yet, though many are excited to attend the event as a spectator, I’m sure there will be more than a few on the sidelines quietly burning with athletic ambitions of their own. If you’ve ever had the urge to run yourself but felt daunted by the full 26 miles (42 km) of a marathon, you might consider signing up for a half-marathon, which, as the name suggests, is only 13 miles. Here’s a list of races this year in MA:

And before you convince yourself that even 13 miles is beyond you, consider the fact that you don’t necessarily have to run sober:

Wishing good luck to all the Boston Marathon runners!

The future of languages

Have you ever envisioned a world with one unique language?  Have you heard of the Esperanto language?

In an effort to create a universal language, Dr. Zamenhof created Esperanto in 1887. The goal was to propose a second language that would allow people to communicate with one another while at the same time retain their own languages and cultural identities. Although the idea of a universal language seems quintessential and handy, the language failed to be universally adopted. However, we can ask ourselves if there is not already a language that serves this same purpose…

Today, most people would argue that there is no use for Esperanto. With more than 1.5 billion speakers, English is now used all around the world. The language’s popularity is due to the fact that it has become the language of business, commonly used in most international exchanges. An interesting fact of English is that there are now more people who speak English as a second language than people who speak it as their first language. This is very close to the purpose for which Esperanto was created: to serve as a universal second language.

Do you think that there will be another universal language after English? Could it be Spanish or Mandarin Chinese?

Although English is the official language of the United States, the country is today the world’s second largest Spanish speaking nation. According to statistics, by 2050, there will be more Spanish speakers than English speakers in the United States. The Index of Human Development ranks Spanish as the second most important language on earth, after English but before Mandarin Chinese. However, as China’s population keeps growing, Mandarin Chinese is starting to be used more and more.

With so many complications that arise from the large number of languages around the world, it becomes easy to see the benefit of having one single language. However, without culture or history behind the words, Esperanto seems artificial and empty. In my opinion, the future belongs to real and existing languages. So, which one could be next?

From France to the US with love

After crossing the ocean to go from one classroom in Paris to another in Boston, I have come to the realization that schools come in different shapes and forms. In what ways do these school systems differ and what could each of them learn from another?

First of all, the relationship between teachers and students in Boston is the complete opposite of in Paris. In the United States, the professors encourage students to speak and voice their opinions in the classroom. The students are given the professor’s phone number and are told to come visit their office hours at anytime. The style of learning is participatory and encourages an exchange of ideas.

On the other hand, in French schools, there is barely any relationship that develops between the professor and the students. Students must stand and say “Bonjour” when adults enter the room, and must not ask questions in class. The material is presented in class and digested by the students at home. In my opinion, American schools encourage students to be more independent and speak their opinions. However, French schools have taught me to be disciplined, organized and manage my time efficiently. Not bad, huh?

Another difference is the number of hours spent in the classrooms. In the United States, there are fewer hours in class, which leaves time to go out for a beer and burgers. However, students are expected to prepare outside of class and come back with questions to discuss the knowledge gained at home. In France, students have 40 to 50 hours of class per week in addition to work at home, which leaves little time for other activities. However, we always find time for our wine and cheese!

Overall, both school systems have their qualities and their flaws, and can benefit students in different ways. At ISAL, we are familiar with the different educational systems and can make a bridge between the different learning cultures.
Sound familiar? Anyone?

ISAL English and Cultural Programs Featured on WHDH-TV Channel 7

BOSTON – The International School of Advanced Learning (ISAL) was recently featured on WHDH-TV Channel 7 Urban Update



The school’s director, Julia Solomin, explained the school’s extraordinary work with Boston’s local community and businesses to help foreign professionals bridge the language and cultural gap to succeed in today’s global business environment. Not only does the school teach English as a second language (ESL) but, more important, it helps students build professional confidence through cultural immersion.

Each student at ISAL is given personalized guidance and a customized curriculum that meets individual needs.  The school’s ultimate goal is to reduce the anxieties, cultural boundaries, and frustrations that come with adapting to America’s unique culture and business environment.

Since its founding, ISAL has graduated more than 20 students for 10 companies in the Boston area that sought better cultural immersion for their foreign employees.

About ISAL

ISAL is a one-stop hub for foreign students and professionals, offering a complete spectrum of English, business, and cultural classes in the Greater Boston area.  The school is a vital community partner to major universities and local companies and provides guidance for college admission and job placement.  The school’s curriculum includes basic, intensive and business English, cultural exposure and immersion, university application and preparation assistance, and social skills programs.

For further information, please contact Julia Solomin at 855-595-5885 or

New Year’s Slump

slump_blogClasses are up and running again after a two week break and one thing is clear – everyone is in a post-holiday slump. For most of our students the holidays meant disconnecting almost entirely from their studies and the English language as a whole.

Yes – they promised they would study, yes – they said they would speak in English at least a little every day. Unfortunately for us and for them – this was not the case. Disconnecting over the holidays – extremely easy; getting back into the swing of things – extremely difficult. How do we get ourselves and our students out of this slump and back on track?

     Now accepting suggestions!

What are your dreams?

One of my favorite pages to follow on Facebook is Humans of New York.  It is run by a photographer who takes photos of New Yorkers. Each photo is accompanied by some text about the person. The text varies – sometimes it is a personal story, a declaration, a question or a response to something.  These personal statements are usually incredibly touching and have a way of reflecting a person’s soul. They show us a humane and personal side of people, emphasizing that we are all people and share many of the same joys and heartaches. It is so easy to see yourself in these people, in spite of the fact that they are total strangers.

Yesterday, there was a picture of a beautiful, smiling young woman with a small boy, most likely her son.  Her statement was, “I have dreams. Much dreams. First, learn English.” It hit so close to home for me because I see people every day – and it is my goal to make them understand that they too can dream.  That they should dream.  Language – and in this case, English –  should not be an obstacle. With the opportunities and resources that are out there today, no one should have to see their dreams fade because of a lack of language skills.  Nevertheless, every day, I come across people who have been here for months or even years and are unable to speak.  In speaking with them, it quickly becomes evident that they are not working at their dream job, and are essentially settling for what they can get.  It makes me angry, because I just don’t understand why.

When I saw the Humans of New York picture, I realized why.  People forget that they can still dream. They only see obstacles.  Dreams are what keeps us going – it’s what makes us get up in the morning and go to work. The beautiful thing about the woman on the picture is that she has dreams, and more importantly, recognizes what she needs to do to reach them.  “I have dreams. Much dreams. First, learn English.” And so I ask you: what are your dreams and what needs to happen for you to be able to achieve them?

Link to Facebook Gallery

What’s your New Year’s resolution?

Every year, right around this time, everyone starts thinking about what their New Year’s resolution is. Some people pledge to lose weight, quit smoking, go to sleep earlier at night, go visit a new country, etc.  Others pledge to be nicer, more considerate, more compassionate, etc.  There is no right or wrong resolution. The best resolution is one that you actually have a chance of keeping and one that will significantly improve an aspect of your life.

As someone who works in a school, I constantly see people making and breaking resolutions. I see students come and go.  They tell me how important it is for them to study and how much it can potentially improve their life – but ultimately – they are not invested in studying.  While they see the benefits that everyone else sees, they aren’t able to actually visualize these benefits in their day to day life. It’s too much of a long-term goal that does not seem to render instant results.

So I propose the following: this year, instead of making learning English your resolution, take on a smaller feat.  Make a resolution to go to a few classes and see if you can see a difference.  Set small goals for yourself that can realistically show results. Once you see the results, set another goal, and another goal and so on.

New Year’s resolutions should be about something realistic, not just another empty promise to yourself.  So, having all this in mind: what’s your New Year’s Resolution?

What now?

Last night President Obama announced long awaited immigration reform.  While it will not satisfy everyone, it is the first step towards helping over 4 million undocumented immigrants alter their legal status.  What does this mean? These people will have an opportunity to apply to jobs legally and remain in the United States without the fear of being deported.  The opportunity to work legally and pay taxes like other residents and citizens is a major step towards fixing a huge problem.  Many people come to the US in the hopes of finding work and earning more money than they would have in their home countries.

A fundamental component of finding a good job in this country is the ability to speak English – well. It increases a worker’s value infinitely simply because he is able to communicate with a bigger group of people.  Whether you need to participate in a business meeting or talk to customers walking into your store or restaurant, speaking English will surely improve the quality of your contribution and service.

Immigrants often overlook the importance of speaking English because there are so many resources within their community that permit them to speak in their native language.  They live and work with people who speak the same language as they do and are afraid to interact with English speakers.  In fact, they are often advised by their peers to not connect with English speakers!

Well now, things have changed.  It is time to step out of the shadows, as the President said, and take steps towards a different life in this country.  Learn English. Get a job. Experience the American dream – because you can!

The right to an education

Just a few days ago it was confirmed that the 43 students kidnapped in Iguala, Mexico were brutally and viciously murdered.  At the time of their kidnapping, they were involved in a peaceful protest against the governing mayor and his wife. The local police was instructed to arrest them and turn them to the local gang.  Over the course of the following five weeks, authorities were unable to find their trace. Light was finally shed on the details of the tragedy when the mayor and his wife were found hiding in an apartment in Mexico D.F and revealed the horrifying details. All of this is extremely heartbreaking and outrageous.

It is deeply saddening that these 43 students will not have a chance to pursue their dreams, to continues their studies, to build a better future for themselves and their families.  As active students, they represented a new generation of educated Mexican citizens who want to change the world they live in.  We are left speechless by the fact that their voices were silenced by members of the municipal government who could not find a better way to discuss their differences.

The situation in Mexico is not unique. Just yesterday there was a report that at least 46 students were killed in Potiskum, Nigeria by a suicide bomber.  Afghanistan. El Salvador. Ecuador. Iraq. Iran.

How many more students will not have the chance to complete their studies because some social or political group gets in their way. What we often do not realize, is that in the United States, generally, people have the RIGHT to get an education and are protected by the law. We forget that in other countries, students face numerous dangers for just wanting to go to school. It is an everyday struggle.

Let’s remember and commemorate these victims by continuing our support for open and safe access to education around the world. Education is, after all, the answer to many of our differences.

Political Involvement

Did you know that there were state elections this past Tuesday November 4th? Do you know what issues were voted on? Do you know who the candidates were? Do you know what the difference between them are?  If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then here is some food for thought. Part of life in the United States is politics. You can have an opinion. You can go to rallies. You can volunteer. Regardless of whether you are legally allowed to vote or not, elections – both national and local can affect you. It is important to understand what issues are being voted on and what kind of impact they can have on you.

While a lot of information is being translated into different languages the bulk of it is in English. A basic requirement of actively participating in even the lowest level of local politics is an adequate command of the English language. Reading and writing skills are a must for any potential community leader.  Don’t let your language skills hold you back from actively participating in community politics.  Take advantage of the freedom given to you by the First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights.

One of the beautiful things about living in the United States is that you are given the opportunity to participate in politics and to choose which political party you identify with most. Whether you are passionate about it or passive – it impacts your life.

Reform is around the corner

Immigration reform is bound to happen soon.  Everyone is talking about it. It is inevitable. Although it is still unclear what reform will look like, it is clear that it will create a variety of new opportunities for speakers of foreign languages currently residing in the United States.  While it is of great value to speak another or several foreign languages, it is important to remember that essentially every job requires English language skills.

There are several exceptions, but generally everyone has to take the citizenship test in English in order to become a citizen. There have been cases of people being rejected at their citizenship interviews because of weak English skills.

They are given a window of time to improve their language skills and return to redo the interview. While most pass successfully and go on to become citizens, doesn’t it seem like a shame to put off something like this?

There are endless opportunities to study English and improve overall language skills. Moreover, it is possible to combine language learning with citizenship classes.  Why wait until immigration reform happens to start thinking about how to speak English? Take advantage of the fact that reform is around the corner and get ahead of the crowd. Don’t wait until the waitlist is endless. Seize the moment and start securing a better future for yourself!