Express Sympathy 

One of my students asked a question to me today about what to say if a friend or colleague’s relative has passed away. 

Useful Language

I’d recommend the following in spoken English:

I’m so sorry. If there’s anything I can do, please let me know. 

If you are writing, something like this is appropriate:

My deepest sympathy for your loss. If there is anything I can do to help please do not hesitate to ask. 

Other tips

  • Don’t mention death. 
  • It isn’t common to ask the cause of death; if someone wants to tell you,  they will.
  • Don’t talk about your experience; listen to your bereaved friend. 

I hope this helps anybody who needs it. 

English for Activists

Sometimes you need to use English for a problem. A lot of the time the problems you need to deal with are small. Unfortunately, sometimes they are large problems.

When your problems are so large that you want to do something to solve them, you might need to use English. It is, for better or worse, the main international language. It is the language that most multinational companies and organisations use.

Why be an activist?

Maybe a company is doing something you do not like and you want to persuade them to stop. Maybe a foreign government is doing something you don’t like and you want them to stop. Perhaps you want to show solidarity with other activists.

What can I do about it?

You can:

  • send letters and emails to give support to activists, complain to companies and governments, or to newspapers to raise awareness;
  • write tweets on Twitter or make videos to put on YouTube or Vimeo to raise awareness;
  • collect signatures on petitions (either paper or internet) to show how strong support is for your idea or point of view;
  • you can raise money to help solve your problem, too, or help a charity or NGO to raise money.

Examples of activism

Opposition to the Osprey aircraft used by the U.S. military in Japan.

Raising awareness of Coca Cola in Colombia and its links to paramilitary death squads.



  • show solidarity is a bit like ‘give support to
  • raise awareness means ‘make people know’
  • paramilitary means not really the military but a group with a lot of weapons

For Here Or To Go?


A few of my students have part-time jobs in cafés and restaurants. This post is for them and anyone else who needs to use English in restaurants.

‘May’ or ‘can’?

Generally, when you are taking orders for people, use ‘may’; it’s more formal and customers should be respected. ‘Can’ is more informal and it’s not really a problem if you use ‘can’ instead of ‘may’ but ‘may’ is more appropriate.

How to ask about takeaway service

One of my students has asked:

Which is better, “For here or to go?” or “Is this to eat in or take away?”

The answer is both are fine. The first one is more informal, the second slightly more formal.


Here in Japan, at a lot of restaurants, it is common to take the bill/check to the cashier. At other places it is common to pay at the table.

Other little things

Japanese people can be very particular about how food ought to be served. The photograph at the top is from my class blackboard.

When the sand (in the timer) has all reached the bottom, (your tea) is ready to drink.

Not all of your food will be ready at the same time. We will bring each dish as soon as it is ready.

You might find these posts particularly useful.

Video: Describing Food

Food Descriptions are Better than Dish Names

How to Take Lecture Notes

Campus Week


This week it’s Campus Week at Get Great English. I know the term hasn’t started yet but think of it as a little time to prepare before packing bags, unpacking, moving into halls of residence or a flat.

When you are at university you need to take lecture notes. This is something you can practise online with video lectures (about your field of study or some elective courses you might take) so you develop the skills you need before you start university.

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Make New Friends at University

Campus Week

This week it’s Campus Week at Get Great English. I know the term hasn’t started yet but think of it as a little time to prepare before packing bags, unpacking, moving into halls of residence or a flat.

Today’s post is about making friends. I’ve posted about this before but here are some more tips to help you get the friends you want. It’s useful for university students but also for everyone else, too.

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Report Lost Property to the Police


Yesterday I lost my mobile phone. I accidentally left it on the train and somebody took it. When I sent a message to it they threw my phone away. I reported it to the police and it reminded me that sometimes you might need to report lost property to the police.

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