Not just any bookstore

This is not just any bookstore. This is *the* bookstore. If you ever get to Portland, Oregon, this is the place to spend an afternoon. And maybe you’ll meet Arnold.

“Do something not once, not ten times, not a hundred but a thousand times, then that’ll make you a master of what it is you’re doing.”


  • Where’s your favorite place to spend an afternoon?
  • Where’s your favorite bookstore, cafe, or library? Does it have any interesting characters — regulars who are interesting in some way?
  • What skill are you trying to improve? Are you at the “ten times” level or the “hundred times” level? Or more?

Comparing “Nothing compares”

We’re talking about music, and how to use music to learn languages, in some classes this week and next. One thing you can do is find different versions of the same song and compare them. So of course I have to use this song as an example: Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”. How would you compare these 4 versions?

Chris Cornell’s cover, from 2015. Prince died last year. Now Cornell is gone, too. 😔

Sinead O’Connor’s version, from 1990. This really brings me back.

Coldplay’s tribute to Prince, with James Corden (of Carpool Karaoke fame):

And Prince:

Here are the lyrics for Sinead O’Connor’s version. The others are slightly different.

Things I wish I had known…

This whole video may not be that interesting to most of my students, but it’s an example of things I wish I had known when I was younger:

My high school had lots of unusual traditions. One of these was that the juniors (11th graders) were in charge of making maple syrup. We had to tap the trees and boil the sap, and filter the syrup … everything this video explains but in a much simpler way, with very little technology. I’ve blocked much of the process from my memory; I just remember how much fun it was to be able to stay out all night with my classmates and stoke the fires. We didn’t have all the fancy machines seen in this video, but we did have a lot of fun.

This video is also good for a little Canadian English input… (Many, many bonus points if you can point out some differences between American and Canadian English!)

Some discussion questions / writing prompts:

  • What were the most memorable moments from your high school experience that weren’t connected to classes or studying?
  • Did your high school have any unsuual traditions? Did you, as a group of students, have any important responsibilities?
  • Can you explain how to make something as complicated as making maple syrup?
  • Did you “pull all-nighters” (徹夜)in high school? Why? Have you pulled an all-nighter since you’ve been at university? Why?
  • What do you wish you had known when you were an 11th grader?

Do you have a pet … as interesting as this one?

“Do you have a pet?” is one of those getting-to-know-each-other questions I often see in language textbooks. Similar questions like “What kind of movies do you like?” and “What’s your hobby?” can lead to interesting discussions if you make an effort. Or they can fizzle into silence.

If your answer to “Do you have a pet?” is as interesting as this one, though, it might even lead to a great research project.

“When Squirrels Were One of America’s Most Popular Pets” 

(from Atlas Obscura)

I just finished reading a book in which an unusual pet (a carrier pigeon) plays a key role. Well, they’re not just pets — they’re communication tools —  but for several of the characters in the story, a particular pigeon named Love is so much more. (The book is called A General Theory of Oblivion, by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from the Portuguese by Danny Hahn, and I really enjoyed it.)

A few research/discussion questions and writing prompts:

  • Do you know any other unusual pet trends from the past? What kinds of pets did, say, people of Prince Shōtoku’s time, or Murasaki Shikibu’s time have?
  • What about another culture you’re studying? Do people now have unusual pets? Did they in the past?
  • Do you think the future will bring other unusual pet trends?
  • Have you read any good books lately in which animals play a key role?