Schlagwort-Archive: #Sprachschule

idiom 129 – „ace in the hole“

Today’s idiom is neither violent, nor bloody. It comes from the world of poker and is used in the following discussion between two  co-workers who are in the middle of some tough negotiations (Verhandlungen):


„Marion, I don’t know if we can get the seller to lower the price any more.“

„Why not? We’re the last company left in talks with these guys!“

„What? The other potential buyers pulled out?“

„Yeah – Robert was out for lunch today and overheard them talking. They’re done.“

„Well, that’s brilliant – why didn’t you tell me?“

„I wanted to leave that fact unknown for as long as possible. It’s our ace in the hole.“

In one form of poker, some of the cards are left face-down (ungedeckt) on the table. These cards are „in the hole.“ Imagine I have the hand shown above, and the ace is hidden. I have no idea that my hand will beat almost any other hand out there, and exactly that is the meaning of „ace in the hole“ – it’s any useful tactic or fact that remains hidden until it is used to the owner’s advantage.

In German, you would use the phrase „Ass im Ärmel,“ although that phrase suggests that playing the ace gives you an unfair advantage.

Idiom 125 – off the hook

We had a new delivery of office supplies coming in at the end of week. It was so big, in fact, that I would have needed to re-arrange a lot of the current stock (Bestand) in the storage room.  But there wasn’t any time for that before the delivery; I had other work to finish, and I was getting worried about the time crunch.

Fortunately, our intern (Praktikant/-in) just finished another project and now has plenty of time to re-arrange the storage room. And just like that, I’m off the hook. 


We use this phrase to describe a situation in which we avoided (vermeiden) an unpleasant task, experience, or encounter. There was something we didn’t want to do;  that ’something‘ disappeared and now, we don’t have to do it anymore!

Off the hook is an angling or fishing idiom – a fish, which was „on the hook“ and facing certain death at the hands of the angler, is now free from the hook and back to swimming around happily.

In case you were wondering what we’d say in German, my best guess would be aus dem Schneider sein. I know that this phrase might have more to do with financial problems, but it’s probably the closest in terms of usage.


Thanks for reading this year and happy holidays! We’ll be back in 2017 with plenty more idioms, misused EU English, and other interesting blog entries!

Misused Words & Expressions in EU Publications – Entry #2 – „to control“

Our second entry in the series on misuse of English in European Union documents take a look at a word that, in Germany, almost all English students and teachers love to hate: CONTROL.

How often have we read (or even written!) sentences that sound like this:

„I controlled your report, and I found a few mistakes.“

„After controlling the meeting minutes, I send them to participants.“

And even: „She was controlled in the tram today, and didn’t have a ticket.“

To non-German speakers, these sentences sound very, very authoritarian. That’s because control is something that comes from power. If you control someone, you force (zwingen!) them to do something!

With that in mind, here’s Jeremy Gardner’s entry on the word „control“ :


Explanation: To control does not usually mean to audit, check or verify and a control is not normally a check or an inspection.

Its most common meaning is “to exercise authoritative or dominating influence over; to direct”. Thus, if we say that “the [European] Commission controlled project X in the Member States”, we do not mean that the Commission audited it, but that the Commission ran it. In combination with a few other terms contained in this list, this misuse can end up sounding quite sinister (e.g. “the Commission’s contract agents were on a mission in the United Kingdom to control execution under Axis II’).

Used as a noun, we do not carry out or perform controls. Controls are more likely to be systems that are in place (passport controls, for example). Hence, we can say that the Court checked to see if the key controls were in place, but not that it carried out controls.

Furthermore, when talking about systems, the best term will often be safeguard. For example, „a number of safeguards are built into the system to ensure that funds are spent correctly“.

 Examples: „Administrative checks must be undertaken on all applications for support and payment claims, and cover all elements that are possible and appropriate to control by administrative means.“

„Apart from the annual review of the reference amount, customs authorities are not obliged to carry out controls after authorization.“

Alternatives: Audit, check, verify, inspect/inspection, safeguard.


Excercises: fill in the blank with the correct word: inspect, look, check, verify

  1. Did you ________ if the warning light is on?

  2. I always ________ the document for mistakes.

  3. After ________ the package for damage, she opened it.

  4. Please ________ whether or not you have activated your account.


What Makes a Confident Speaker? (Part 2: Listen Actively)

For the last few weeks of 2015 and the first few weeks of 2016, I’ll be writing a few posts about confidently speaking a foreign language. Having learned German and gone pretty far with it myself, I often answer questions from my students about speaking more confidently. We’ll focus on one piece of advice per post, and you are invited to join the discussion and add your thoughts in the comments section below!

# 2: Listen Actively, Not JUST Passively

Imagine yourself having a conversation with a native speaker of your target language. You’re exchanging ideas quickly and easily; speaking fluently and getting your point across, but you’re also listening „fluently“ and taking what you’ve just heard and turning it into your next thought.

Listening and speaking are very closely related- you need one to have the other.

When I talk with my students about listening, they will often mention passive listening practice. They listen to BBC radio on their drive home from work or tune into CNN on their TVs while preparing dinner. Doing this, they think, will surround them with spoken English, and they will improve. Yet after a few months, they ask me why all of this extra listening doesn’t seem to help.

I tell them to imagine the same commute home from work or the same dinner prep time; this time spent listening to RBB or watching the evening news on ARD. Can they remember the news a few hours later? Probably not specific details, maybe not even the general content of the stories. This doesn’t mean that they can’t understand German; my students are almost all German native speakers.

What it does mean is that they weren’t listening actively. Active listening is listening to understand- it means we think about what or who we’re listening to and we take it apart by asking questions (if we are listening to a person), or listening to the same bit over an over again (in the case of the news) until we understand what we have heard. It might also mean applying what we have just listened to to a real-life action.

When we listen to the news while doing something else, we probably aren’t actively listening. It’s okay! It’s no problem- you probably shouldn’t be actively listening while driving home; it’s slippery outside and you should be paying attention to the traffic!


(This is not the best place to learn English!)

So this week, I’d like to make a suggestion: if you want to listen to English-language news, try doing it actively. Not in the car. Not in the kitchen. It might take you fifteen or so minutes. Let me show you what I mean.

I get most of my English-language news from NPR, the US network of public radio broadcasters. There’s a radio station in Berlin (104.1) and a wonderful website that provides lots of opportunity to listen to interesting news stories. Because NPR is mainly a radio-based news service, many of their stories are available both for reading and listening.

One short bit, called „First Mention,“ is a semi-regular series that takes a look at the first time a catchword or phrase was ever mentioned on air by NPR. The most recent one was about Wikipedia, and is  not so challenging to listen to. It clocks in at just under two minutes long, contains a few phrasal verbs that we might not be familiar with. However, the context is pretty clear- the story is about the first time the word „Wikipedia“ was mentioned on NPR. Take a look at the story here.

As you can see, there’s a transcript of the story included on the link. Try reading the transcript aloud before you listen to the story. While reading, focus on the sounds the words make, not on the meaning of the words. Read through the transcript aloud again, this time noticing which words or phrases you might not know. Phrasal verbs like „pop up,“ „dip into,“ or „float around“ might be a challenge- these are the words that you should look up. I like to use Linguee to look up phrasal verbs- try it out.

Now that you’ve read through the transcript a few times and looked up the words and phrases that were new or challenging for you, listen to the story. Listen to it again and again; feel free to pause it and repeat those words  or phrases that were new for you.

After you’ve finished listening to the story and closed the tab on your browser, take a moment to think about it again. What was it about? Who were the people you heard talking? Maybe you look up „NPR“ or „Ira Flatow“ on Wikipedia- the more you do to use the story you’ve just listened to, the better it will stay in your memory.

This might seem to take a long time, and this certainly isn’t the shortest post- but active listening is important because it allows you to „own“ the language you are trying to learn. It is a chance for you to decide what to learn, and how.

Have fun, and keep listening!


What Makes a Confident Speaker? (Part 1: Focus on Communication)

For the last few weeks of 2015 and the first few weeks of 2016, I’ll be writing a few posts about confidently speaking a foreign language. Having learned German and gone pretty far with it myself, I often answer questions from my students about speaking more confidently. We’ll focus on one piece of advice per post, and you are invited to join the discussion and add your thoughts in the comments section below!

# 1: Focus on Communication, not Accuracy (or Fluency!)

The first tip is more of a mindset than a tip, really. You have to keep reminding yourself of it, regularly. A very good English teacher will do this for you, too!

We all want to speak both accurately AND fluently. But, sometimes we focus too much on NOT making mistakes that we make mistakes. And other times we have a clear and fluent thought in our heads, but CAN’T seem to speak it

When this happens, it’s helpful to take a quick „mental break“ and refocus. Don’t panic! Ask yourself the following:  What do I want to say? How can I say it most clearly?

Focusing on clearly explaining your idea will often take away the nervous and unsure feelings we have when speaking in a foreign language.

What have you experienced? Are you more confident when you just focus on communication?