Picture orange everywhere. About 750,000 celebrants were expected in a major European city for a national holiday bash over the last week. Many of them draped in different shades of orange. Where was that? And why? It was King’s Day in the Netherlands. And Amsterdam was expecting that larger-than-life crowd. light orange

I had never heard of that celebration. Nor had anyone else gathered at our International Conversation Café ~ except for our Dutch participant. But another member of our group was headed to San Francisco for the weekend. And guess what? There’d be a King’s Day celebration at Golden Gate Park then. Near a windmill!

So perhaps we’ll see orange-tinged photos of that San Fran celebration soon. And of orange tompouce, a Dutch pastry that looks a bit like a napoleon. Recipe for you here, from when Queen’s Day was the norm.

darker orange

What else did we talk about? Street foods and snacks in China, South Korea, the Netherlands. Food museums around the world. Interesting Raleigh, DC, and San Fran museums. Because participants are planning summer getaways. Sprinkled in our conversation were bits of international current events.

Join us this Thursday for our final conversation gathering of the semester. In the Griffith Board Room on the main level of the Bryan Center at 12:30.

Hope to see you there,
Rene Caputo
Duke University ESL Specialist, Thompson Writing Program


One quirky aspect of English is the pronunciation of its “ed” endings. For each group of words below, consider: Does “ed” form its own separate syllable?  And what is its sound?
Group 1:  Walked, laughed, danced, faked  ed

Group 2:  Waved, learned, dubbed, fused

Group 3:  Weighed, lied, delayed, followed

Group 4:  Wanted, loaded, dated, faded

What patterns do you notice about the “ed” endings for each group? In typical U.S. pronunciation, “ed” creates a syllable in the group 4 words, but not in the others. The sounds of the various endings? For group 1, the “ed” has a “t” sound. For groups 2 and 3, a “d” sound. And for group 4, “id” as in “hid.”

What determines that ending sound? The sound just before “ed.” The roots of group 1 words end in the voiceless sounds of “k,” “f,” and “s” as in danced. But the roots of the Group 2 and 3 words end in sounds that are voiced (vocal cords/folds vibrate). And the Group 4 roots end in “d” or “t” sounds, which lead to an “id” ending.

Those are the basic guidelines. Exceptions? Yes, of course! Some “ed” adjectives can be pronounced in two ways. Think of blessed, beloved, cursed. When you say these words, you can pronounce “ed” as a separate syllable or not. Using a separate syllable sounds more poetic, perhaps even Shakespearean.

Other exceptions? You can have a learned (one syllable) behavior or a learned (educated, two syllables) woman. We say well-aged (one syllable) wine and cheese, but aged (two syllables) citizens. And some adjectives, including naked, ragged, rugged, sacred, wicked, and wretched, have “ed” pronounced as a syllable even though it seems the guidelines above might apply. No corresponding verb (nake, rug, wick) seems to exist today for some of these, but etymology sites show that nake was once a verb. Who knew?!

Rene D. Caputo
Duke University Lecturing fellow and ESL specialist
Thompson Writing Program



After glancing at the NY Times headline, our conversation group briefly discussed the recent Florida shootings. The international participants found it hard to understand why the U.S. federal government seems to do little to limit shootings. National news would suggest that many feel the same. Yes, we did also talk about the second amendment. As we sat in our room with its glass wall of windows.

We soon switched to a lighter cultural topic. Hanuman, the famed Hindu deity. A participant explained that Hanuman has a monkey face and tail. And are there many gods in Hinduism? Millions was the estimate!

International films were next. A Chinese participant had seen Three Idiots, an Indian blockbuster. Others chimed in that Cary theaters feature Indian films the same week they open in major Indian cities. I noted that a little Hindi from films is sinking in even as I read English subtitles. One such word is bas, meaning enough or that’s enough. Typically said by strong patriarchs. Interesting that the word is so close to its Castilian counterpart. ¡Basta!Hindi Medium

Duke shows the film Hindi Medium Friday, Feb. 23. On East in White 107 at 5:30. A free screening “in Hindi with subtitles.” About 3 hours long, not unusual for an Indian film. Plenty of time to empathize with characters.
Dream Empire

Chinese films also travel the globe. And guess what? Duke will screen Dream Empire, a 2016 film “in Chinese with subtitles,” tomorrow. Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 7 pm in Bryan Center Griffith Film Theater. “Free and open to the public.”

Enjoy your week and perhaps a film or two!  Join us in the Griffith Boardroom (Bryan Center) this Thursday at 12:30 for our International Conversation Café gathering.

See you soon,
Rene D. Caputo
Duke Lecturing fellow and ESL specialist

Celebrating February

Several celebratory days are coming up fast, so they had our attention during the International Conversation Café on Thursday. The first is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) on February 13th.  Durham has its annual parade downtown. Perhaps you’ll come out and join in the fun?  Music starts around 6 pm, the parade runs from about 7 to 7:30 pm, and then there’s free music in several Durham venues. Scroll down on this page for details.

Valentine’s Day takes center stage on Wednesday. Our conversation participants mentioned seeing red hearts, chocolates, and flowers taking over grocery stores. One participant mentioned that this celebratory day is protested in some cultures, sometimes rather humorously (because love can be rather fickle) and sometimes violently. Wishing you a peaceful one whatever you do.

And then there’s Lunar New Year! Shows featuring Duke ASA LNY18music and dance to celebrate the year of the dog will be hosted by the Asian Student Association this week. If you have a Duke id, you can RSVP.

Our next International Conversation Café is Thursday, February 15 at 12:30. Come join us in Griffith Boardroom, the Bryan Center. Sponsored by the Thompson Writing Program & Studio.

Enjoy your celebrating ~ and see you soon!

Rene D. Caputo
Duke Lecturing fellow and ESL specialist

Relationships took center stage in our conversation group this Thursday, prompted by an IndyWeek article about local restaurants to consider for dates. Participants decided that on a first date they would opt for a quiet place without messy hamburgers. Top criteria for choosing a restaurant for the occasion were: atmosphere, cost, music, noise level, and type of food.
IndyDish 2018Jan.png

In our group, we learned:
~ Blind dates are popular in South Korea, as is inviting single people to a dinner gathering in case they might like each other

~ A few couples we knew around the world who met on WeChat or online dating services ended up getting married

~ Some women in China might look for attractive, rich partners who have a house, car, and high education, a few participants opined. Where else in the world might that be true?! Might men want the same in a partner?

 Zero or one?
~ In some countries, including India and the U. S., you are considered to be zero years old when you are born

~ In South Korea and China, you might be considered to be one year old at birth (this tradition might be fading, though)

~ United Nations’ data (2015) finds the mean age to marry is:
30.8 Brazil     25.3 China     22.8 India     27.9 United States

Interested in talking about life, culture, and current events with us? Join us from 12:30 to 1:30 on Thursday afternoons. We’ll meet in West Union 216 on February 8 and in Griffith Boardroom (Bryan Center main level) on February 15 and 22.

See you soon!
Rene D. Caputo

Duke University Lecturing fellow and ESL Specialist





Snowy NC

(photo by Rene D. Caputo)

So much snow…for North Carolina, at least!  Durham had about 8 to 10 inches this past week and even more snow fell in western Chapel Hill. Enough snow to shut down the universities and other area schools for a few days. We’ve had snow twice already and it feels likely that we’ll see more this winter. Here’s a bit of vocabulary to arm you for the next snowfall.

Snowplow or plow ~ The vehicle that removes snow from the roads and parking lots. If you don’t live on or near a major road, you might wish North Carolina would buy more plows! *Note: Plow can be either a noun or a verb.

Power outage ~ When your electricity goes out. Some homes just had their power flicker (flash briefly on and off), but others had a power outage that lasted over 24 hours. I hope your power stayed on! The minute my power goes out, I notify the electric company.

Slush ~ Partially melted snow. Most dangerous after re-freezing, often overnight.

Black ice ~ Ice atop the road or other surface that can seem invisible. You might hear weather forecasters warning you to stay off the roads because of black ice.

To be snowed in ~ When you stay at home (or elsewhere) because there is too much snow to go anywhere.

To be snowed out ~ When an event is cancelled due to snow: The concert was snowed out.

Since snow will be out of sight this week, our International Conversation group will gather again at 12:30 on Thursday.  Join us in Griffith Boardroom, main level of the Bryan Center. Share your snowstorm adventures, catch up on current events & more, and enjoy the company of other members of the Duke community.

See you soon!
Rene D. Caputo

Duke University Lecturing fellow and ESL Specialist

Which news stories caught the attention of our International Conversation Café participants lately? Hurricanes and their impact, Las Vegas and gun laws, the inauguration of Duke’s new president, and politics.

One issue raised today was in what situations you could safely discuss politics in the U.S. Could an MBA student express a dislike of the U.S. president in most situations? Why or why not when there’s freedom of speech?

Several participants suggested using caution even though you wouldn’t be arrested here simply for saying something critical of the president. They noted that back home, they’d only criticize the government privately with friends. But that even in the U.S., you’d want to consider the impact of talking about politics. And what impact might a new mayor have for Durham?  An interesting question. Answers, anyone?

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Talk of local events bounced around the table, too. Among the activities:

~ Third Friday Durham ~ Wander around downtown on October 20

~ Concerts at Duke ~ Duke jazz, djembe, and Afro-Cuban ensembles (Oct. 20). The Duke Chorale, symphony orchestra, & wind symphony (Oct. 21). Each show $10 admission; free to Duke students. Tickets online and at the Bryan Center box office.

~ Duke women’s basketball scrimmage (Oct. 22)

~ In Raleigh, the NC State Fair and the International Festival are this weekend

~ Halloween events in DurhamChapel Hill, and beyond

Happy fall. Enjoy the music and other activities!

Rene D. Caputo
Duke University ESL Specialist and Lecturing fellow