The Origin of the Jack O’Lantern

Pour yourself a cup of hot apple cider and snuggle up to the glowing warmth of your laptop monitor, because I’ve got a little known Halloween story to tell you. Everyone loves the Jack O’Lantern, but very few people know the legend of the man named Jack, and how the pumpkin lantern was made.

Jack, an Irish man, grew up in a simple village where he earned a reputation for cleverness as well as laziness. He applied his fine intelligence to wiggling out of any work that was asked of him, preferring to lie under a solitary oak endlessly sleeping. In order to earn money to spend at the local pub, he looked for easy money from gambling, a pastime at which he excelled. In his whole life he never made a single enemy, never made a single friend and never performed a selfless act for anyone. Stingy Jack, a miserable and old drunk, liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself.

One day, he tricked the devil into climbing up an apple tree. Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy Jack hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. The Devil was then unable to get down the tree. Stingy Jack made the devil promise him not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy Jack removed the crosses and let the Devil down.

Many years later, when Jack finally died, he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and too cruel and had led a miserable and worthless life on earth. He was not allowed to enter Heaven. He then went down to Hell.

But the Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell. Now Jack was scared and had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the darkness between Heaven and Hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light. The Devil tossed him a burning coal from the flames of Hell to help him light his way. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed out turnip, one of his favorite foods which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one.

For that day onward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his “Jack O’Lantern”.

Since, on all Hallow’s eve, the Irish hollowed out turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and keep Stingy Jack away.

The Irish brought the tradition of the Jack O’Lantern to America. The Irish immigrants quickly discovered that Pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out. So they used pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns!  (Source:

And we’ve been having fun with the idea ever since!  Happy Halloween!

Congratulations Languages Canada!

Congratulations to Languages Canada as it celebrates its milestone of 200 accredited members!

Languages Canada serves a very important function in the world of English as a Second Language.  It is a not-for-profit organization that works to maintain a standard of high-quality ESL education in schools across the country.  Languages Canada’s rigorous accreditation process ensures that “Canada’s national and international reputation in language education remains one of the best in the world.”  CultureWorks is proud to be among their high-standard schools.

Here’s to future Language Canada members and continued excellence in Canada’s education standard.

For more on Language Canada, please visit:

Click here to read more

Halloween Vocabulary

Some scary Halloween vocabulary have double-meanings that can be used year round!  Take a look at the chart below to see the differences.


Halloween Meaning

Additional Meaning



(n.) A pet animal kept by witches that is said to change into human shape

E.g. The witch’s familiar crept behind her slowly.

(adj.)  Well known from a close association

E.g. That woman’s face looks very familiar to me. I wonder if I met her before.



(adj.)  Crazy, out of control, suffering from an emotional disorder

E.g.  That wild scientist has lost his mind!  He’s hysterical!

(adj.) Extremely funny

E.g.  Did you see Russell Peters last night?  His comedy is hysterical!



(n.)  A place of burial for a dead body, usually a hole in the ground

E.g.  We buried the killers body last year.  But when I visited his grave yesterday, his body was gone!

(adj.)  A very serious situation giving cause for alarm

E.g. The boss is coming to talk to you.  Watch out, he’s got a grave expression on his face.



(adj.)  Someone who looks unwell, disgusting, or unappealing

E.g.  The monster’s face looked pale and sick.  Ooze dripped from his lips.

(adj.)  Informal  An awesome and exciting person, place or thing.

E.g. Wow! That movie was so sick!



(adj.)  Evil or bad

E.g.  You could tell by the crooked smile on the stranger’s face that he was wicked.  He could not be trusted.

(adj.)  Informal  An awesome and exiting person, place or thing.

E.g. I love those snowboarders!  Their tricks  are wicked!

If you’ve never experienced a Halloween before, I’m sure there is a lot more than its vocabulary that you think is strange!  Decorating houses in spider cobwebs and carving scary faces in orange pumpkins is not a common, universal celebration.  Don’t be scared, however.  Nowadays Halloween is all about tricks and treats: kids having fun and dressing up to visit neighbors houses in search of candy.  It’s the one time a year everyone can put on a costume and pretend to be someone, or something else, and that’s a pretty wicked thing.  (In the informal sense of the word!)

Happy ESL Week

Oct. 21-25 is English as a Second Language week in Canada. It is a time to recognize the valuable work our ESL teachers do, the exciting progress our ESL students make, and the significant impact language has in transforming lives. Canada thrives on change and diversity, and the ESL field contributes so much to the values and identity of Canadians. 


If you are studying ESL in Canada, congratulations! You should be proud of the hard work you are doing to achieve your dreams. If you are teaching ESL, thank you! You should be proud to be an ambassador for the new participants in Canada’s culture. For anyone who has learned a second language, you know how much power it gives you.

Happy ESL Week, everyone!

esl_learners esl_learners_2
Johanna Torres & Madlin EishoTESL Ontario artwork contest

HAPPY ESL WEEK! (And happy everything else, too!)

It seems every time I check the calendar, there’s another reason to celebrate another aspect of our lives or society.  A few weeks ago, it was National ‘Hug a Drummer’ Day.  I guess drummers in bands don’t get a lot of respect.  And apparently there is an ‘Edible Book Day’.  Did you know about this?  It’s true.  Literature and snacks all in one.

Hug a Drummer Day.
Hug a Drummer Day.
These books are cakes.
These books are cakes.

Today however, I wish you Happy ESL Week!  Oct. 21st-25 is English as a Second Language Week in Canada.  It is a time to recognize the valuable work our ESL teachers do, the exciting progress our ESL students make, and the significant impact language has in transforming lives.  Canada thrives on change and diversity, and the ESL field contributes so much to the values and identity of Canadians.

If you are studying ESL in Canada, congratulations!  You should be proud of the hard work you are doing to achieve your dreams.

If you are teaching ESL, thank you!  You should be proud to be an ambassador for the new participants in Canada’s culture.

For anyone who has learned a second language, you know how much power it gives you.  From everyone here at CultureWorks, Ontario’s leading on-campus ESL & EAP school, happy ESL week everyone!

In honour of ESL Week,  enjoy the beautiful artwork below submitted by ESL students for a contest held by TESL Ontario.   Aren’t they awesome? Other significant ESL contributors to our society include TESL Canada and Tutela.

Interestingly, it is Canadian Citizenship Week too.  The two go hand in hand, actually.  If you are downtown Toronto or by Niagara Falls tonight, check out the colours!  It should look really cool, and Canadian!

I love all the wonderful days we get to recognize.  It’s great!  I just wish they were holidays.

Being Erica & Learning English

CultureWorks ESL teachers often tell their students to watch English TV and movies.  I know, they’re pretty cool teachers.  Of course they are suggesting this for students to improve their skills.  But what shows and films are best for students to watch?  Although Canada doesn’t produce nearly as many TV shows as the U.S., many of our shows tell interesting stories with intelligent ideas that just happen to be perfect for anyone learning English.

The show I’ll present this week is called Being Erica.  It is a popular CBC program that is in its final season.  Read the show’s description and see if you can guess why it would be a good one to watch:

“Being Erica is a one-hour series that explores the life of Erica Strange, a woman who has been given a wonderful gift. Every episode, Erica goes back to relive a regret from her past, in order to come back and make a positive change in her present.”

Firstly, the main character travels in time, so that’s a good enough reason to watch it.  Secondly, because she travels in time, it’s the perfect show to learn about VERB TENSES!  By watching this show you’ll hear it all:

Present Tense Family: the simple present (I live), the present progressive (I am living), the present perfect (I have lived)

Past Tense Family:  the simple past (I lived), the past progressive (I was living), the past perfect (I had lived)

Future Tense Family: the simple future (I will live), the future progressive (I will be living), the future perfect (I will have lived)

Conditionals:  I would, I could, I should…

In addition to memorizing the rules, it is most effective to listen and watch English being used.  Being Erica is the perfect show for this.  Watch this clip to see what I mean, and see how many tenses you hear.  Write them down and say them aloud as you hear them, too. You might want to close the door when you practice though, some people might think you’re crazy! 🙂

You can search through all the seasons of this show and more on CBC’s site:

Happy watching!

Western University Scholarship

Alumni attending Main Campus are encouraged to apply for this assistance.

Three ‘CultureWorks ESL Awards’ of $1,500.00 CAD are awarded annually to full-time international students in any year of any undergraduate program based on academic achievement and financial need – preference given to CultureWorks graduates.

Please pick up an application form at the International and Exchange Student Centre in WSS 2120. Applications must be submitted to Student Financial Services in WSS 1120 by Oct. 31

Best of luck!

Is Speeling Importent?

A man goes on vacation.  He send this email to his wife:

“I’m having the best time of my life.  I wish you were her.”

Ok, I will keep this week’s blog brief.  Or is it breef?  Beef?  Oh man….

English teachers get this question all the time: “Do we really need to learn how to spell?”  With the predictive spelling technology on our devices, and spelling and grammar checks on Microsoft Word, I can understand why an ESL student would ask this question

But let me be clear here.  Spelling is VERY important, and if anyone learning your native language asked you the same question, I bet you would say the same thing.  Of course, we all make mistakes:

Why is spelling important?

1.  Computers cannot catch all the mistakes.  A journalist friend of mine admits he makes 7-12 simple spelling mistakes per article, on average.  That is after he has corrected his work!  Every journalist needs to have their articles reviewed twice before publication.

2.  As a result, your spelling mistakes can change the meaning of your writing.  You are writing things to be understood, right?

3.  Your ability to spell is connected to your ability to read.  If you have difficulty spelling, you’ll have difficulty reading, and reading is one of the most important skills to have in any language.

4.  When you apply for a job, and there is a spelling mistake on your cover letter or resume, you are immediately considered less professional, responsible, and capable than the other applicants.  You may not get the job.

5.  Bad spelling looks bad.  It’s like walking around with ketchup on your face.

With the recent flood of texting and tweeting, a lot of spelling mistakes have become forgivable.  After all, people are writing while they’re in line at the movies, on the train while listening to music, or even in class…yes, we know you do it!   The difference is that essays and presentations are formal and require attention to detail.  It is simply negligent, or lazy, to ignore the rules of language in the academic context.

So yes, practice your spelling.  In addition to your teachers’ guidance, here are some links  to help you out with common English spelling mistakes.  There are some ads on this site, but it explains some commonly difficult words to spell.  This site has a huge bank of difficult words and a quiz section to help you practice them.

Buy! er…By!…um…Bye! LOL. 🙂