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Japan (Sozo Exchange)
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In this chapter you have, as usual, interview, explanations, grammar, pronunciation, practice, etc.

Rubi Osorio will speak a bit about Japan and how it is different.

Welcome back to Sozo Exchange, the place where professional adults can learn practical English for free. I am your host, Sarah MacKay.

Well, I hope you’re all ready to learn some fantastic new English expressions today because we have a lot of interesting things to cover. We’ll begin with a very special featured guest, Ruby Osorio. Ruby is a skilled visual artist from Los Angeles, California. In addition to her artistic talents, Ruby is great with language. She is bilingual in English and Spanish, and even speaks some Japanese as well.

Just like always, we’ll start with her interview footage, and then we’ll cover some new English words and phrases, including American slang and proper pronunciations. Finally, we’ll review some of the important expressions from the lesson with a flashcard exercise. Let’s get started!

Interview Questions

Here’s our first question for Ruby: “You spent some time in Japan. What is the biggest difference between Japan and the U.S.?

- The biggest difference between Japan and the U.S. is the lack of physical space. On the one hand, in Japan the lack of space can make you feel claustrophobic. But, on the other hand, it can also create situations where you are more intimate with people on a daily basis.

It’s clear that Ruby has a very keen eye for observing her environment. Whereas most people might use a generic answer such as, “the language is different,” or “the people are different,” Ruby specifically addresses the environment of both locations. When you have a keen eye, you notice things that are not easily observed by most people. You could also say she is very perceptive of her environment. One thing to keep in mind when you use this phrase is that you always want to use the singular form of the noun “eye,” instead of saying she has keen eyes.

I also like the grammatical structure of her answer. Let’s take a look at her sentence structure. She said, “On the one hand, there’s this, but on the other hand, there’s this…” This sentence structures works very well when you are presenting different or opposing points or view. In other words, the statements before and after the phrase “on the other hand” give different perspectives of the same thing. The phrase lets others know that a varying viewpoint is following, okay?

Don’t worry if you’re a bit uncertain how to use that sentence structure right now. Here is another example: On the one hand, capitalism can create tremendous wealth for many people, but on the other hand, it can create a large income disparity or wage gap between the rich and the poor.

In her answer, first Ruby talked about a negative aspect of the lack of space in Japan. She said it can make you feel claustrophobic. The adjective “claustrophobic” means feeling anxious or uncomfortable when you are in a physically restricted space. A lot of people feel claustrophobic when they are in a crowded or small area.

Then, Ruby stated a positive aspect of the same thing, the lack of space in Japan, after she used the phrase, “on the other hand.” Due to Japan’s lack of space, Ruby said people can sometimes feel more intimate with others. In this context, the word “intimate” means physically and emotionally close to other people, but not in a sexual or romantic context. The lack of space forces people to interact with each other more, making it a more intimate environment.

By the way, when you’re learning a new language, there is nothing wrong with copying someone’s expressions, sentence structures and vocabulary. That’s how we all learn new languages, and imitation is the biggest form of flattery!

Now, let’s ask Ruby another question: “If you were to choose one adjective to describe your artwork, what would that be and why?”

- I would choose the adjective “enigmatic.” Because when people look at my work, I think it's open to many interpretations. And it’s up to the viewer to figure out the mystery in each piece.

What a nice poetic answer! The word enigmatic means difficult to understand or puzzling, but in a mysterious or intriguing way. For example, you could say, “For centuries many people tried to interpret the meaning of the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa.” Of course, the Mona Lisa is a masterpiece painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

Earlier, we had a chance to see Ruby’s artwork, and what a treat that was. There seems to be some Asian influence in her work. Let’s ask Ruby to talk about one of her paintings, named “Bell Jar Malady.”

- The title of the piece is “Bell Jar Malady.” And it is inspired by a Hokusai drawing where I’ve taken female characters that morphed themselves into sea creatures.

I love that painting; it’s so beautiful. Ruby said it was inspired by a Hokusai drawing which is probably why I saw some Asian influence in her work. The verb “inspire” means to give someone new ideas and strong feelings about something.

Hokusai was a 19th century Japanese artist, famous for his block prints such as Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji.

Now, let’s talk about the title of her painting, “Bell Jar Malady.” A bell jar is a bell-shaped glass container which is often used in scientific experiments to make vacuum chambers. In literature, it is commonly used as a metaphor for situations where someone is struggling for breath or for freedom. The noun “malady” means an illness or disease in the human body. Sometimes, it also means a serious problem or issue in society.

Perhaps Ruby is making a strong statement through her art about the way women are portrayed in our society. Her painting shows women as pretty creatures caught in a glass container. That’s just my interpretation of her painting. What is your interpretation of her artwork? Can you describe it in English?


Body Language Lesson

We’re ready for our next segment, today’s body language lesson which features the common action of scratching one’s head. In the U.S., people sometimes scratch their head like this when they are confused about something or when they can’t come up with an answer to a question. It’s generally not a good idea to scratch your head in a business setting; it gives a negative impression to others as it makes you look incompetent. I know in some cultures people scratch their head to show they’re embarrassed. But, if you are in the U.S., you probably don’t want to use this gesture too much.

Slang of the Day

Let’s move on to our Slang of the Day word, egghead. An egghead is a person who could be overly intellectual or someone who over-thinks virtually everything. Eggheads probably never scratch their head as they always seem to have answers to everything. Obviously, the slang term has a negative association as people generally think eggheads are nerdy or dorky people.

By the way, the Japanese word for nerd is “otaku” which is now becoming increasingly common and used as an English word in U.S. business affairs. An otaku is someone who is obsessed with a specific subject such as anime, computers, fashion, toys, food, movies and so on.

How to Pronounce It

Host: Our next segment is called “How to Pronounce It.” We’ll practice the pronunciations of certain English words which are difficult for many non-native speakers. For example, the word “jar” has this “ar” sound which isn’t easy for many Asian and European people to pronounce. Closely watch the movement of my lips, teeth, jaw, tongue and facial muscles to see how I make the “ar” sound.


Flash Cards

Let’s wrap up today’s lesson with a flash card exercise. Do you remember this from last time? We’ll show you a bunch of flash cards with definitions on them. You should then say your answer, the word or phrase that fits that definition, out loud. Let’s begin.

Flash Card 1:
Q: To notice things that are not easy for most people to observe.
A: To have a keen eye.

Flash Card 2:
Q: The state of being anxious or uncomfortable in a restricted or crowded place.
A: Claustrophobic.

Flash Card 3:
Q: Puzzling in a mysterious or intriguing way.
A: Enigmatic.

Flash Card 4:
Q: A bell-shaped glass container often used in scientific experiments to make a vacuum.
A: Bell jar.

Flash Card 5:
Q: The action people in the U.S. do to show they are confused.
A: To scratch one’s head.

Flash Card 6:
Q: Someone who over-thinks virtually everything.
A: An egghead.

Flash Card 7:
Q: Someone who is obsessed with a certain subject.
A: Otaku.
Did you get most of the answers correct? I bet you did! The artwork pictures shown between the flash cards were created by our featured guest, Ruby Osorio.


I have a great assignment to give you before we sign off for the day. Remember, I asked you earlier to write your own interpretation in English of Ruby’s artwork? It’s tough, but it’s going to be a great mental workout for you.

Now, remember to visit our website at You can download a complete transcript of today’s show, a study guide and audio exercises. Don’t forget to participate in our online survey there as well.

It was fun spending more time with you today. Don’t forget your assignment, and I’ll see you next time!


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