The walk sign is on!

It was our English conversation class today; we love our students and always have a good time, but it is quite difficult to plan because we just never know who is going to turn up! They have different commitments, family, work, other classes and there are the usual other factors, holidays, being poorly, having appointments. Some students move away, some find work as their English improves, some are only in the country for a short while to learn English and the return home.

We do have our regulars, Emma, Vilavan, Wendy and John, Iris and Iwona, and others who come as often as they can, work permitting, but then there are some people we only meet once! As I mentioned, this makes it difficult to plan; however there is always something on the tables when people arrive, a puzzle, a game, a language activity, then we have an introduction, often one of us teachers talking about something we’ve done, and then we have a grammar point.

Today’s grammar point was about prepositions; we had a presentation, a worksheet, and a practical activity involving pebbles and containers! We explained about prepositions of time and place, we went over prepositions of movement, we touched on prepositions with nouns, adjectives and verbs, and next week we will go over it all again but also look at propositions in idioms, and the times when a repeated preposition is not necessary, or no preposition is needed at all! Of course, who know who we will have in our group next week, all of the same people, some of the same people, none of the same people, new people, old friends, who knows!

However, what we came to realise is how difficult it is to explain the idiosyncrasies of English, and how regional variations can make for a muddled presentation; we only teach once a week, it’s an informal class and we teachers and assistants are all volunteers, and sometimes the students ask such interesting and unexpected things.

We were talking about ‘through’, and the difference between that and ‘between’ or ‘among’; I suddenly remembered something we say in our family. If we are going to go into another room we say we are going ‘through the other way’. I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone outside our family use it – is it a Cambridge expression I got from my dad, or was it something my mum had learned from her family who came from London and Sussex, or is it just something we say in our family? if I said it to an English person I’m sure they would understand exactly what I meant, but would and English-learner?

I thought about the preposition ‘on’; it isn’t just a prepositon of place, it can also be used to indicate such things as power being activated, ‘the gas is on’, ‘the electricity is on’, or that something is happening, ‘the gig is on’… or in the case of the aural signal at a pedestrian crossing in Morristown New Jersey where we were recently ‘the walk sign is on’ which was announced in a particularly exasperated and insistent female voice!





  1. karenirma

    Why do we go somewhere in the car, but on the bus or on the train? Doesn’t seem to make much sense. If you’re on the bus, aren’t you sitting on the roof? In German you say with the bus.


  2. David Lewis

    We have a shrill noise emitted at some intersections that are to let the blind know when it is safe to cross. It must be our version of the annoying voice you heard. Where did the saying on the ball come from?


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