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Crazy English

Global Immersions Recruiting - Monday, April 29, 2013

As you're learning the English language, don't be intimidated if you are easily lost - even to native speakers it can be confusing! Below is an excerpt from the funny and informative "Crazy English" by Richard Lederer. In it, Lederer explains some of the most confusing aspects of the English language, including the claim that as much as 80% of English words are not spelled phonetically (even the word, phonetic). He also offers helpful tips, vocabulary and metaphors to have will have you speaking like a local (eventually).

"Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible."

Ready for a quick test? Can you read these words right the first time?

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish  furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present .
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11)  Insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row .
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

You can buy (not by!) Richard Lederer's "Crazy English" on Amazon 

Easter Sunday

Global Immersions Recruiting - Wednesday, March 27, 2013
This Sunday, March 31 is Easter – a Christian holiday that marks the resurrection of Jesus on the third day after his crucifixion, as described in the New Testament of the bible. There are several other Christian holidays that culminate in Easter. This includes Lent, the forty day period preceding Easter; Holy Thursday, commemorating the Last Summer; and Good Friday, the day Jesus was said to have been crucified.
The date that Easter is celebrated changes year to year and was first established by the Council of Nicaea in 325, where it was decided that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox. Easter is closely related to the Jewish holiday of Passover, which is celebrated around the same date.

The holiday is celebrated differently throughout the world. In Northwestern Europe large bonfires, called Easter Fires, are lit on Easter Sunday and Monday. While the tradition has many origins, a popular Saxon tale is that Easter is a time when is the spring wins the battle over winter. Today the big fires bring the community together. In some Caribbean nations homemade kites are flown to represent Jesus’ ascension to heaven.  Many Latin American countries, as well as places like Spain and Italy, hold parades made up of large processions of religious figures.  

In North America, as well as many other English speaking countries, rabbits and eggs are common Easter symbols. Saturday is often spent decorating “Easter Eggs,” which are hidden for children to find on a Easter Egg Hunt. The “Easter Bunny” – a sort of Easter Santa Claus – is known to deliver candy. Large Sunday dinners are also popular.  

Many non-Christians celebrate Easter as a time of community, food and fun, especially for children. There are also Easter-themed events held in most communities, including all the Boston neighborhoods – check out a list here and share your Easter stories with Global Immersions!   

sources: Huffington Post, Wikipedia

Words with no English Translation

Global Immersions Recruiting - Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Learning a new language can be a lengthy and complex process, and becoming truly fluent is a real challenge. Even if you think you are fluent, you still may pronounce words incorrectly. If this is your first time in Boston, you will probably pronounce the town of “Worcester” like it’s spelled, but to a Boston native it’s “Wooster”. Do you know anybody who lives in the state of Oregon? You might pronounce the “on” like in “gone,” but they say the “on” like the “un” in “begun”. These are call shibboleths – words that people who unfamiliar with their pronunciation may say incorrectly. If you find words like this interesting, look at a full list of shibboleths, in a number of languages. To further demonstrate the many nuances of language we compiled list of foreign words with no English equivalents, you can read a past blog entry here. There are many words with no direct translation into English, and here are a few more examples:

Seigneur-terraces (French)

Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money.

Ya’arburnee (Arabic)

This word is the hopeful declaration that you will die before someone you love deeply, because you cannot stand to live without them. Literally, may you bury me.

Schlimazel (Yiddish)

Someone prone to bad luck. Yiddish distinguishes between the schlemiel and schlimazel, whose fates would probably be grouped under those of the klutz in other languages. The schlemiel is the traditional maladroit, who spills his coffee; the schlimazel is the one on whom it's spilled.

L’esprit de l’escalier (French)

Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort thought of only after departure

Hygge (Danish)

Denmark’s mantra, hygge is the pleasant, genial, and intimate feeling associated with sitting around a fire in the winter with close friends.

Cavoli Riscaldati (Italian)

The result of attempting to revive an unworkable relationship. Literally, reheated cabbage.

Bilita Mpash (Bantu)

An amazing, pleasant dream. Not just a "good" dream; the opposite of a nightmare.

Murr-ma (Waigman, language of Australia)

To walk alongside the water while searching for something with your feet.

Source: mental floss

American Thanksgiving!

Global Immersions Recruiting - Wednesday, November 21, 2012

This Thursday, November 22nd Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving - a time for food, family and giving thanks for the last year. The story behind the modern Thanksgiving is uniquely American, and one that school children can recite from memory - but some of us may need a reminder!      

According to popular tradition in September of 1620 a ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, destined for the New World. It carried 102 people, mostly an assortment of religious separatists lured by the promise of religious freedom and open land. The ship was sailing towards the Hudson River basin but strong winds took it off track and 66 days after departure the Pilgrims, as they are now known, dropped anchor off the coast of Cape Cod. A month later they sailed across the Massachusetts Bay and started building a settlement in Plymouth.  The Pilgrims were unprepared to live in the New World and had to rely on Native Americans from the Abenaki, Pawtuxet and Wampanoag tribes to teach them how to gather food and build homes in their settlement. 

Under the guide of these tribes in November of 1621 the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest was successfully gathered. The governor of the new settlement, William Bradford, called for a feast and invited their Native American allies to the meal, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Tradition has it that this was the first “Thanksgiving”, although the meal wasn't called by that name and the menu was quite different than a traditional Thanksgiving today! Bradford’s men had gone on a “fowling hunt” that day and probably came back with goose or duck. The Wampanoag’s brought 5 deer, and together they most likely ate local foods like yams, sweet potatoes and shellfish. 

For the next two centuries random days of “thanksgiving” were celebrated at different times, but often for religious reasons, by the colonies. In 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the American government and in 1863 Abraham Lincoln told Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving at the height of the Civil War as a way to “heal the wounds of the nation”. President Roosevelt signed the bill marking the fourth Thursday of November as the official day for Thanksgiving.


Today Thanksgiving has lost much of its religious significance and focuses simply on sharing a big meal with family and friends. Turkey is most often the centerpiece of the meal, and around 90% of Americans will eat turkey this Thursday! Other traditional foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Parades, particularly the Macy's Day Parade in New York City are extremely popular. It's estimated that 3 million people will watch the parade in New York, with another 50 million tuning in on T.V! If you’re a visitor here in Boston this is a great opportunity to share a bountiful traditional American meal and spend time with your host’s family! Share any experiences you have with Global Immersions! 

source: History Channel 

Americans Love Sandwiches

Global Immersions Recruiting - Thursday, November 15, 2012

It's true – American’s really do love sandwiches. You can get a variation of a sandwich just about anywhere in the world, but nowhere else is the sandwich such a staple of the lunchtime meal. Part of the homestay experience is trying new foods, and unless the visitor is completely opposed, we often suggest trying to make a sandwich that includes some familiar foods from home. Perhaps if you know the history behind sandwiches you’ll be able to demonstrate that while American’s might love sandwiches, they’re really a global meal.

Common wisdom holds that the “first” sandwich can be traced back to Rabbi Hillel the Elder, who in the 1st centrury B.C took lamb and herbs and sandwiched them between two pieces of matzo. “In simply interpreting a biblical mandate—‘They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the first; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it’—Rabbi Hillel unknowingly invented the ‘Hillel sandwich’ that has grown into one of the most important elements of the modern Passover Seder”. In Europe in the middle ages, what we consider an open faced sandwich today was fed to beggars and dogs – most often stale pieces of bread, or “trenchers,” smothered with meat. Sandwiches continued to make appearances all over Europe, from George Peele’s 1595 play The Old Wives Tale, to London’s men’s club the Shakespeare Tavern to John Montague, the 4th Earl of… Sandwich. However, American innovation really carried the sandwich to the prominence it enjoys today. In 1928 Iowa inventor Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented a machine that could both slice and wrap bread, making bakeries more efficient while also preventing the bread from going stale. Sandwiches quickly became a lunchtime favorite all over the country.

What about some of America’s most beloved sandwiches – the ubiquitous PB&J or the equally as popular grilled cheese? Mashing peanuts into paste for food was a technique used by the ancient Incas. In 1897 Kellogg's applied for a patent for "nutmeal", another variation of peanut better. But the peanut butter we know today first made its appearance at the 1904 World’s Fair and quickly become trendy in upscale Manhattan restaurants. In the 1920’s and ’30s brands like Skippy and Peter Pan were born, and thanks to the newly available pre-sliced bread, spreading peanut butter over bread made a cheap and easy snack. Believe it or not the jelly aspect was first introduced during WWII on American military’s rations list. The soldiers became so fond of the sandwiches they continued to make them after the war ended. Today the PB&J is lauded as a relatively healthy meal, provided the bread is whole grain, the jelly has only natural sugars and the peanut butter has only “good” fat. 

Grilled cheese recipes can be found in ancient Roman texts, and the French have long been fond of their famous croque monsieurs, but the wonderfully gooey grilled cheese is truly American.  Combine the innovation of Rohwedder and the processing prowess of James L. Kraft, who opened his first factory in Illinois in 1914, and you have the capabilities to make an American cheese grilled cheese. The first “toasted cheese” or “melted cheeses” were open faced. Like the PB&J they were first popularly served to soldiers during the World Wars, as instructed by government issued cookbooks. It wasn’t until 1949 that Kraft introduced the game changing individually wrapped slices of cheese and a second piece of bread was added, creating the modern “grilled cheese”.  

Today, lunch wouldn’t be the same without PB&J or grilled cheeses. As a visitor in America, you may be weary, but you should try to introduce these lunchtime classics as a way to augment your American experience. Hosts should encourage their visitors to try new things. Remember, conversations about food are always a great gateway to learning more about each other’s cultures. Do you have any unique ways of combining American lunches with foreign favorites? Share them with Global Immersions!

Daylight Saving 2012

Global Immersions Recruiting - Thursday, November 01, 2012

Daylight Saving (DST) can be both a curse and a blessing – but no matter how you feel about it, we all need to be on the same time! We’ve written a blog on Daylight Saving before, but we wanted to remind our visitors to “fall back the clock” an hour at 2:00am this Sunday, November 4th. Daylight Saving is certainly an unusual concept – read on for some interesting facts about the upcoming hour change in time.

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin first conceived the idea of Daylight Saving as a way to increase summer daylight work hours?

The U.S states of Hawaii and Arizona don’t participate in Daylight Saving. Indiana in particular has had difficulty deciding if they want to participate, mostly because the state already falls in two different time zones!  

A study by the U.S. Law Enforcement Assistance Administration found that violent crime was consistently down, around 10% - 13%, during periods of DST than during comparable standard time periods.

Following the 1973 oil embargo, the U.S. Congress extended Daylight Saving Time to 8 months, rather than the normal six months. During that time, the U.S. Department of Transportation found that observing Daylight Saving Time in March and April saved the equivalent in energy of 10,000 barrels of oil each day - a total of 600,000 barrels in each of those two years.

A man, born just after 12:00 a.m. DST, circumvented the Vietnam War draft by using a Daylight Saving time loophole. When drafted, he argued that standard time, not DST, was the official time for recording births in his state of Delaware in the year of his birth. Thus, under official standard time he was actually born on the previous day--and that day had a much higher draft lottery number, allowing him to avoid the draft.

Today, approximately 70 countries utilize Daylight Saving Time in at least a portion of the country. Japan, India, and China are the only major industrialized countries that do not observe some form of Daylight Saving.

Pretty interesting! Don’t forget to change your clocks!

Source: Daylight Saving Time

Presidential Debates and Non Verbal Communication

Global Immersions Recruiting - Monday, October 22, 2012

Tonight is the final of three presidential debates between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. While their talking points, zingers and trillion dollar figures may be lost in translation to many of us, one method of communication is understood globally: body language. Body language does have several “dialects". For example, American’s “O.K” sign made by touching the thumb and pointer finger together is considered vulgar in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. For a greeting, some cultures hug, while others bow, kiss or give a handshake. But we all understand the meaning behind a smile, a frown or even more subconscious ways of speaking without talking. The body language of the two candidates during the debate will be discussed and analyzed at length, and for good reason; psychologists and sociologists widely believe that a majority of conversation in all cultures is interpreted through body language.  What will Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama say through their body language in this debate? You’ll have to watch to find out! But before you do, keep reading to find out how important analyzing body language is during such a high profile debate.  

The first presidential debate broadcast on T.V was in 1960 between Nixon and Kennedy, and it serves as a perfect example of how body language can make or break a candidate.  People who listened on the radio were sure Nixon was the clear winner, while those who watched it on T.V believed Kennedy won by a long shot. We all know Kennedy ended up winning the election, so why was the audience so polarized? Because while Nixon sounded good, he looked awful! Nixon was pale, sweaty and clearly anxious next to the young, handsome and confident Kennedy. Nixon had a grey, ill fitting suit and refused makeup, while Kennedy had a dark, well fitting suit and allowed makeup artists to touch up his already tanned skin, fresh back from campaigning in sunny California. Kennedy confidently looked right into the camera while Nixon never settled his gaze, clearly unsure what to do in front of the new T.V medium. Overall, while people may have agreed more with what Nixon said, Kennedy’s way of presenting himself made him the winner to those who saw it in person.

Other famous missteps in body language during presidential debates include Al Gore’s “miscalculated” eye rolls that made him seem condescending and disrespectful to his opponent George W. Bush. Bush the elder kept impatiently glancing at his watch and looked uncomfortable during his “town house” style debate with Clinton. Because of his body language he was criticized that he looked like he didn't want to be there. Obama faced similar criticism after the first of this year’s debates, with his lackluster responses and bland tone. With millions of people watching these debates, what you say is just as important as how you look while you say it.

Scientific research and theory into nonverbal communication first became popular after it was introduced to the public with the 1872 publication of Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Since then, the way we speak without speaking has been analyzed extensively and it has become obvious how much we interpret through nonverbal communication, much of it subconsciously. There are eight main types on nonverbal communication, facial expression, gestures, tone, posture, proxemics (personal space), eye contact, haptics (body contact) and appearance. While the social norms are different culture to culture, for example Italians are famous for excessive gestures and Americans are known for strong eye contact but don’t like touching, all of these types of non verbal communication are used and interpreted, both consciously and unconsciously, across cultures.

Watch the presidential debates tonight and analyze what the candidates are saying through their appearance and body language. Even the color of their ties will be widely debated for interpretation! If you’re a visitor, talk with your hosts about how body language is used in your home country and if you've had any difficulty understanding American body language. Remember to share your thoughts on body language and the debate with Global Immersions! 

sources: about.com, denverpost.com 

Tipping in America

Global Immersions Recruiting - Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tipping - American-style - is a concept that many visitors here in Boston are weary of. How much should I tip? Why do I tip this person, but not another? Can I ever not leave a tip? These are questions every foreign traveler asks, and to be honest it can all get a bit confusing! Here is a quick guide best navigate the end of your bill while you’re in Boston.

The reason tipping is so prominent in America is because many service based industries, most notably waiters, are paid a wage that is so low they rely on the customer to tip them. Servers in restaurants are paid below minimum wage, and although it varies state to state, it’s possible that your server is earning as little as $2.15 per hour! In Massachusetts it’s still only $2.63. Therefore they rely on their service skills like being helpful, courteous and attentive, and you, to make up the rest of their paycheck. There are a number of reasons restaurants pay their employees such low wages, but mostly it has to do with Americans cultural affinity for rewarding hard work. With any service industry the better you do your job the more money you will receive. In a high end restaurant a good server will make hundreds of dollars a night, a vast majority coming from tips.

You're never required to tip, you're expected to tip. If you feel the service was poor and you don’t want to reward their work, then don’t tip. However, you may have to explain yourself, either to your server or to their manager. Simply leaving a 10% tip, the bare minimum, is a good way of way of saying “your service was poor” and you are unlikely to be questioned.

Who and how much to tip?

In a restaurant the general rule is a good tip is 15-20% of the bill. Your tip depends on how good the service was and how much you think they deserve, bearing in mind that they are reliant on that tip for their paycheck. If your group at dinner is 8 people or more, most restaurants will require a 20% tip called a “gratuity” that’s added to the bill. In high end restaurants with a maitre’d or a car service, expect to give them a couple of dollars, again dependent on how helpful they were.

In a taxi the driver should be tip as a percentage of the fare, around 10-20%. They do rely on tips as a large portion of their paycheck and giving them less than 10% is impolite. Again it is acceptable to refuse a tip if they drove badly or ignored your requests but if they got you where you needed to go and were friendly about it, give them 20%.

Hairdressers, shoe shiners, porters, deliverymen and doormen are some service jobs that you don’t use very often, but should be tipped when you do. It’s all dependent on their level of service but expect to give them around $5. If it’s a large bill it’s better to give them a percentage of the total, again around 15-20%.

A bartender is very reliant on tips for a paycheck and not tipping them may mean you’ll have a long wait until they serve your next drink.  If you tip them well, however, expect quick service. Most people tip $1 or $2 per drink.

Most people don’t tip for “over the counter” service in places like coffee bars, fast food restaurants or corner stores. Some may have a “tips jar” with a couple of $1 in it, but you shouldn't feel obligated to tip unless the person was exceptionally helpful.

It’s good to have $1 on hand so you can give your taxi driver $4 on your $20 cab ride or $7 to your server for your $36 meal. It’s also good to round up. 72 cents isn't that much but can add up to your server over the course of their workday and leaving change for a tip can be insulting. As you become used to the concept of tipping you’ll begin to notice many places charge a certain amount so giving a tip is easier. A haircut may be advertised for $16 so you just give them a $20, or a drink might cost $3.50 so you give your bartender a $5. 

The most important thing to remember about tipping is that it’s entirely dependent on how good you thought the service was. If you thought it was so bad they don’t deserve a tip, be ready to explain why. But remember, it’s impolite to not tip unless you have a good reason. Calculating a tip can be awkward at first, but it’s part of American culture and should be embraced! You never know, maybe you’ll get a free drink or a complimentary dessert if you’re a generous tipper.

If tipping and American manners confuses or interests you, look at Emily Post, a time honored institution that defines American etiquette.  And remember, share your tipping experiences or stories with Global Immersions! 

Idioms in English

Global Immersions Recruiting - Monday, September 10, 2012

In many languages spoken words can have a completely different meaning than their dictionary definitions, and English is no different! These discrepancies come from how English has evolved as it is actually spoken day to day. Some words or phrases may begin to deviate, or completely change, from the strict dictionary definition. The general term for this spoken version of English is “conversational English,” and linguists call it “colloquial language”. This spoken English includes oddities like slang, jargon and idioms that aren’t included in the dictionary. Learning a new language can be so complicated!

An idiom is a phrase where the words together have a meaning that is different from the dictionary definition of the individual words. Learning idioms can be a fun conversation starter with your visitor! Here is a list of some of the commonly used idioms in the English language.

To be “green with envy” --  to be jealous

“In so many words” -- a short definition or summary

“You’re pulling my leg” -- to joke or lie

“Let’s get to the bottom of the situation” -- to figure something out

“Give the contestants a big hand” -- to clap loudly

We’ll “play this by ear” -- we don’t have a plan or schedule

He “drives me up the wall” -- he exasperates or annoys you

I “feel like a million dollars” – you feel good

We’re almost “out of the woods” – a problem or bad situation has been solved

That sounds “fishy” – that sounds suspicious

“Hang on” – wait

He’ll “tag along” – he’ll come with us  

There are literally thousands of idioms in the English language! Can you think of any more unusual ones? Here is a full list of interesting idioms, pick your favorites and share them with Global Immersions! 

Words Without an English Equivalent

Global Immersions Recruiting - Friday, March 23, 2012

Though there are currently over 1,000,000 words in the English language, Mental Floss has noted that “despite this large lexicon, many nuances of human experience still leave us tongue-tied.”

Here are some foreign words with no direct English translation:

Iktsuarpok (Inuit)
You know that feeling of anticipation when you’re waiting for someone to show up at your house and you keep going outside to see if they’re there yet? This is the word for it.

Pana Po’o (Hawaiian) 
“Hmm, now where did I leave those keys?” he said, pana po’oing. It means to scratch your head in order to help you remember something you’ve forgotten.

Mencolek (Indonesian) 
You know that old trick where you tap someone lightly on the opposite shoulder from behind to fool them? The Indonesians have a word for it.

Kummerspeck (German)
Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, it means grief bacon.

Greng-jai (Thai)
That feeling you get when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a pain for them.

Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
You know when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it? This word means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”

Zeg (Georgian)
It means “the day after tomorrow.”

Pålegg (Norweigian)
The Norwegians have a non-specific descriptor for anything – ham, cheese, jam, Nutella, mustard, herring, pickles, Doritos, you name it – you might consider putting into a sandwich.

Tartle (Scots)
The word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego)
This word captures that special look shared between two people, when both are wishing that the other would do something that they both want, but neither want to do.


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