Learn Something New

The ability and the opportunity to learn is one component that


Holocaust Memorial, New Orleans, LA

keeps people happy. When we acquire new knowledge, it expands our understanding. Greater understanding gives us the patience to cope with difficult times or situations. For example, when we learn to play the piano, not only do we gain a new skill, but our understanding of how music works gives us new pleasure in listening to other kinds of music. When we learn facts of history, we begin to understand ourselves and attitudes in new ways.


With the advance of the internet, it seems learning is easier than ever before. Gone are the days of planning trips to the library to begin researching whatever is of interest to you: cooking, art, biographies, science. Here are the days of instant accessibility. Enter the world of online learning. My favorite online learning comes from the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy is a supplement to other classes I take and fills in my educational gaps. I love how topics are simply and logically laid out. Math, science, computer programming,
economics are a few of their offerings. I think you will be pleased. https://www.khanacademy.org/about

Another resource I recently discovered is grammarly.com It is a free online grammar check for spelling, punctuation, and verb tenses. For a monthly fee, it will provide a complete writing critique. I have found that no matter how often I proofread, I miss something. Grammarly.com is helpful to me and to students new to English.

Yours for a new year and new knowledge,



A New Approach


By Jane Fox

Conversation Art Cards were created to stimulate meaningful and interesting conversation with English language learners using famous works of art. On one side of the card is the painting with notation as to the artist, title of the painting, dates, and location. Before one turns the card over to begin a topic of discussion, the participants engage with verbal observations about the art.



Jose Ferraz de Almeida Junior. The Guitar Player. c. 1899. Oil on canvas, 141 x 172 cm. Pinacotea do Estado de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Describe what you see in the painting; what do you notice?

What questions would you like to ask the artist?

Does the painting  suggest a story? What might the story be?

There is not really a right or wrong answer and one does not have to have a background in art to make observations! Noticing facial expressions, lighting, interactions, and halos is all part of the process.  I think you will be surprised what people notice and perceive.

The flip side of the card suggests a conversation topic with four questions. The first two questions asks about a person’s experience or opinion. The third question give a quote and the fourth question brings the painting back into the discussion.

I don’t think you will be disappointed with the conversations these cards bring, nor with the pleasure of looking and commenting on art, even if you’ve  never before had these kinds of discussions. I recommend that you stay on this website and click on the tab named, “Conversation Art Cards,” read the introduction, and then click on one of the cards. See what you think!

I would love to hear from you with comments and suggestions.

Yours for conversations that take a twist and turn,




I first took notice of mosaics two years ago when I was in the Museum of Natural History in London. It was the floor that caught my attention. Simple contrastIMG_0103ing colors, pieces of different sizes and shapes, all fitted together to make wonderful designs
of imagination and order.

You will notice the new photo behind the headline of this website. Hands of various sizes and colors are assembling a paper mosaic. The photo was taken at the Bridges International Vision Conference, 2015, in Austin, Texas. The paper mosaic event symbolizes the beauty that arises when people of different races, languages, and nations work together.

The International Conversation Cafe website offers resources for people all around the world learning English as a second language. You will find discussion guides on all sorts of topics to help conversations flow. This is not a site that offers technical English grammar lessons, though there are some recommendations for that under resources. There are also some great games for fun ways to connect using English.

The old photo headline for this website was a picture from a remote mountain lake.  I originally chose this photo because it reminded me of travel and travel usually means meeting people from other places. But the idea of mosaic fits this website better. You will notice that the headlines on the discussions guides are being changed to a simple font with no photo in the background.

Thanks again for visiting my website. I hope you find the contents helpful. I always welcome your comments and suggestions at kansasjfox@gmail.com

Your truly,

Jane Fox

Once Upon a Time…

Have you ever wondered where good ideas come from?  Sometimes, they seem to come out of nowhere, like a virus.  Then you learn that someone else had the same good idea.  Are ideas airborne?

At a weekly English conversation group for women, I brought my box of idiom cards.  What to do with them? Well, you can read the idiom, read the explanation, and then use the idiom in a sentence.  However, this structure seemed a little boring to me.  So out of thin air it seems, I had an idea.  “Let’s read the idiom and then without reading what it means or where it came from, let’s all write about three sentences to explain the idiom.”  Enter humor! The stories were entertaining and we voted for the story we liked best, whether it reflected the meaning of the idiom or not.  For example, take the idiom, “spick and span.”

“Once upon the time, there was a fireworks display that was amazing.    There were all sorts of bursts of light at unexpected moments accompanied by loud booming noises.  The colors were, ‘spicktacular,’ as the span of fireworks spread across the horizon.  Truly, the display was, ‘spick and span.'”


I think you have the idea. And my idea, to make up stories for idioms? I later realized that the game, Balderdash, asks contestants to make up meanings for unusual or seldom recognized words. So no, my game for idioms did not come from thin air. I had a previous experience that came to the forefront of my mind at just the right time.

As to my box of idiom cards, you can find them at: http://www.wordteasers.com.

Enjoy the stories and conversations,


Let’s Play




Asgrimur Jonsson. Children at Play. c. 1920 National Gallery of Iceland.  Frikirkjubegi 7, 101 Reykjavik 

Have you ever considered the value of play, of doing something for no other apparent reason than the pleasure it brings?  Children have no qualms about engaging in this sort of fun.  From play acting with each other, to games of chase or tag, to singing or dancing, the main motivation is fun.  Of course they learn from their play.  But that is not the goal.

Activity for fun’s sake is also essential for adults.  Obviously, there is an element of sophistication and planning about it.  The games we play are more complicated and the activities we do may take more planning than what children’s spontaneity requires.  It takes planning to go camping or canoeing or to join a sport’s team.  Yet the necessity of such play is the same for people at any age.

The enjoyment of fun times and activities are heightened when someone enters in with you, regardless of language barriers.  This spring semester we have emphasized fun.  We have taken our international friends sledding, made breakfast for dinner, played group games, learned Contra Dancing together, and watched, The Martian.

Did anyone’s English improve because of it?  Who knows?  But the feeling of camaraderie and shared experience helps everyone relax.

My advice; have some fun together and see where it takes you.




Sledding fun in Kansas

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words


Youth Kneeling and Holding Out a Wine Cup. Rezi Abbasi. Early 17th century, Safavid period. Ink and color wash on paper. 14 x 9.2 cm. Isfahan, Iran

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words,” is a really useful concept when it comes to developing English vocabulary and conversation with international friends. Lately we have been showing famous paintings from around the world and asking three open ended questions, courtesy of the Visual Thinking Strategies.  “What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that?  What more can we find?”

According to VTShome.org, the facilitator responds with nonjudgmental statements restating and clarifying what the contributor has said. They will point out various parts of the painting people are looking at or describing. As the discussion continues, the facilitator links comments together, without adding their own opinion.

Why is this kind of discussion valuable?  The VTS shows research to indicate this kind of interaction with art strengthens critical thinking skills, which influences academic performance in other areas.  For me, interacting with international students by looking at paintings together is fun.  It increases their vocabulary and and provides a learning experience for both of us. We, in this instance, are on the same level, looking and observing together.

Today I met my Iranian friend.  She asked me what I was doing and I showed her the project I was working on: selecting great works of art and connecting them with topics derived from the painting.  I asked her the three questions, mentioned above.  As she contributed her observations I learned even more about her culture and history.  Her comments helped me understand unanswered questions from previous discussions.

Many of the discussion guides on this website have paintings in them that you can discuss with your friends.  I will let you know when my art discussion project is available for use widespread use. Do you think this kind of resource would be helpful?

Looking and Listening,

Jane Fox