Discussion topics

Energy use of AI

Plugging a light bulb into a socket

Artificial intelligence (AI) consumes a significant amount of energy, especially deep learning models, and in a few years it is expected that energy use will double. This energy consumption is due to the increasing demand for AI across various industries, which contributes to carbon emissions.

Efforts are being made to improve energy efficiency in AI, such as developing smaller models and optimizing algorithms. However, addressing the environmental impact of AI requires collaboration between tech companies, policymakers, and researchers to prioritize sustainability while advancing AI innovation.

Are you surprised that AI uses so much energy? Why or why not? Do Homework
How can we make AI more energy efficient? Do Homework
What will be the environmental impact of the energy used by AI? Do Homework
Who should fix this problem? Tech companies, governments or researchers? Why? Do Homework
Can AI be used to help the environment or reduce emissions? How? Do Homework

Hayao Miyazaki wins an award

Arrangement of cinema objects close-up

The Boy and the Heron won the Best Animated Film award. It beat Disney’s Elemental and Spider-Man Across the Spider-verse. The same film also won a Golden Globe. The film is about a boy who meets a talking heron during World War II, after his mother dies. The film is based on the life of Mr. Miyazaki, who also had to move because of the war.

In 2014, Mr. Miyazaki received a special Oscar for his storytelling. He said he was lucky to be able to make films with paper, pencil, and film. The Boy and the Heron took ten years to make because it was drawn by hand. Today most films are made electronically.

What is “The Boy and the Heron” about? Do Homework
Have you watched “The Boy and the Heron”? If yes, what do you think about it? If no, would you like to? Why or Why not? Do Homework
Mr. Miyazaki has made many films, which one is your favorite? Why? Do Homework
Do you know anything about the Japanese film making industry? Discuss this with your teacher. Do Homework
Films used to be made with paper, pencil, and film. How do you think we will be making movies in the future? Do Homework

Microsoft invests in Japan AI

Microsoft logo

Microsoft is planning to put a lot of money, about 2.9 billion dollars, into Japan to make their computer systems better. They want to improve their Artificial Intelligence (AI) and build more data centers. These data centers are like big buildings where lots of computers are kept and they store all kinds of information.

By making their AI better and having more data centers, Microsoft hopes to provide better services to people and companies in Japan. This could mean faster and more reliable internet services, as well as better ways to use computers and technology. Microsoft wants to help Japan become more advanced in technology, and they think this investment will make a big difference.

Why is Microsoft investing a lot of money in Japan's tech sector? Do Homework
How did Japan become famous for technology in the past? Do Homework
Do you think Japan is technologically advanced? Why or why not? Do Homework
How might Microsoft's investment help Japan's technology get better? Do Homework

Cherry blossoms

Family having some quality time together outdoors during hanami

Cherry blossoms are a sign of spring. There are festivals in many countries to celebrate the bloom of these flowers. The flowers don’t last long and fall off after a week. In Japan, people have picnics under the cherry blossom trees. This is called hanami.

The US also has this tradition because Japan gave them cherry trees in 1912. The flowers mean new beginnings. Now, people sell things that taste like cherry blossoms, such as ice-cream and cookies. They also watch the weather to see when the flowers will bloom.


Describe "hanami". Do Homework
Why is "hanami" important in Japan? Do Homework
What kind of food do you eat during "hanami"? Do Homework
Describe the taste of cherry blossoms to your teacher. Do Homework
What is your favorite food that tastes like cherry blossoms? Why do you like it? Do Homework

AI-powered consulting in Japan

Itochu and BCG are collaborating on AI-powered consulting in Japan. They aim to combine BCG's consulting expertise with Itochu's data and AI capabilities to offer innovative solutions to Japanese businesses.

The partnership reflects a growing trend of integrating AI into traditional consulting services, leveraging data analytics for strategic insights. This collaboration seeks to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in business decision-making processes, potentially transforming the consulting landscape in Japan.

How do you think combining BCG's consulting expertise with Itochu's data and AI capabilities could benefit Japanese businesses? Do Homework
Do you believe AI-powered consulting will completely replace traditional consulting methods in the future? Why or why not? Do Homework
The article claims that this venture will improve efficiency and reduce risks. Will it? How? What do you think? Do Homework
What potential challenges or risks do you see in integrating AI into consulting services, and how can businesses address them effectively? Do Homework

Interest rates raised in Japan

Stats concept with pie chart

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) raised its main interest rate from -0.1% to between 0% and 0.1%. In 2016, the BOJ made the rate less than zero to help Japan’s economy.

The decision to raise rates depended on big companies increasing their workers’ wages to deal with the higher cost of living. Recently, Japan’s biggest companies agreed to increase wages by 5.28%, the largest increase in over 30 years. Wages had not increased since the late 1990s as prices rose very slowly or even fell.

The BOJ said there won’t be more rate increases for now. With inflation slowing down, it’s likely that workers will ask for smaller wage increases next year.

What do you think about The Bank of Japan's decision? Do Homework
In your opinion, is 5.28% wage increase good enough for employees working in big companies? Do Homework
Would you say this is an accurate forecast, "With inflation slowing down, it’s likely that workers will ask for smaller wage increases next year."? Do Homework
Has the general response to this decision among the Japanese been positive or negative? Explain your answer. Do Homework
What is the potential impact of Japan's interest rate hike on other countries? Do Homework

Wage increase in Japan

Big companies in Japan are giving their workers the pay raises they asked for. Some companies are even giving more than what was asked. 

Suzuki, Toyota, and Honda, among others, agreed to give raises. Those in the retail and food service are also increasing wages. However, it's still not clear if small and midsize companies will follow suit.

Because wages were low, people were saving more and spending less. Now that many will be receiving a pay raise, it's expected that people will start spending more.

Why are companies giving raises now? Do Homework
How will these raises affect the economy? Do Homework
In your opinion, will small and midsize companies also give raises? Why or why not? Do Homework
Would you advise people to spend or save more when they get a pay raise? Why? Do Homework
If you could implement any changes in your economic policy, what would you change? Do Homework

Japan's economy remains weak

Economist Shinichiro Kobayashi of Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting speaks about the prospects for the Japanese economy.

Kobayashi Shinichiro from Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting thinks Japan's economy is still not doing well. People are trying to spend less money because prices are going up.

Kobayashi says, "For the economy to get better, people need to spend more money. For that to happen, companies need to pay their workers more. The results of the wage talks will decide a lot about how the economy will be in the future."

These talks ended recently. Before the talks, Kobayashi also said if companies pay more, prices might increase, causing more inflation. This could then change how the central bank manages money.

How would you describe the state of Japan's economy? Do Homework
Do you worry about the economy? Why? Do Homework
Has the cost-of-living crisis hit Japan? What evidence do you see of this? Do Homework
What do you think is the cause of this situation? Do Homework
What do you think is the solution to this situation? Do Homework

Manners around the world

A quick guide to going global

It's important to treat people well. But how you do that can change from culture to culture. What's polite in one place might be rude in another. For instance, giving hugs is okay in America but not in China.

This infographic will help you learn about manners around the world so you can be polite in other cultures. Remember, even in the same country, manners can vary between places and people. So, it's a good idea to do some research before you travel or work with people from other countries. Otherwise, you might unintentionally be rude.

The English Farm - Global manners article

Is your country shown? Is it correct? Is anything missing? Do Homework
Is your teacher's culture shown? If not, ask them about etiquette where they are from. Do Homework
Does anything here seem strange to you? Surprising? Do Homework
Have you ever got something wrong? Tell your teacher a story about it. Do Homework
Has anyone ever done anything that shocked you or seemed very rude? What was it? Do Homework

When you can't stop buying books

People in a bookstore

Reading books is a popular hobby as you can easily while away time or just fall asleep reading one. However, it's very easy to get into the habit of buying books you don't end up reading. Interesting enough, there's a term for such a habit: tsundoku. Tsundoku is a Japanese term for people who buy a lot of books they never get around to reading. 

The Japanese word doku means "reading", and it comes from tsumu which means "to pile up". So, tsundoku refers to the practice of piling up reading material.

Quite similarly, the term Bibliomania came into the picture when Thomas Frognall Dibdin's wrote a book with the very same title. Bibliomania comes from the Greek biblio, which refers to books, and mania, "madness".

At that time, bibliomania described people who were obsessed with collecting literature, but it now refers to people who collect books on subjects they are passionate about.

Even though these two words have similar meanings, the main difference is that bibliomania focuses on creating a book collection, while tsundoku is about buying books you intend to read that end up gathering dust on the shelf.

In your own words, describe the difference between "tsundoku" and "bibliomania" Do Homework
What do you think about tsundoku? Do you or anyone you know practice tsundoku? Do Homework
If you had enough money, time and space for a purposeful collection of something (anything, not just books), what would you collect? Why? Do Homework
How can someone who doesn't like reading books be motivated to read books? Do Homework

Male artists: Gustave Caillebotte

"Paris Street, Rainy Day" by Gustave Caillebotte

Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894) was part of the French Impressionist art movement, the first school of art to break away from classical painting. Impressionism focuses on the light and colors of a particular moment in time. Because artists wanted to capture a brief moment and didn't have cameras yet, they needed to paint quickly. So they used quick, flat strokes without precise detail.

They also used colors in new ways. The best example is that shadows aren't just the object's color with gray or brown mixed in. Instead, the painters added strokes of the complementary color of the object (e.g., strokes of red in the shadow of something green). This makes the shadows come alive.

Caillebotte is best known for his use of extreme perspective. He shows city streets from above, as though looking down from a roof. Street scenes seem to disappear into the far distance. Some viewers at the time found the unusual perspective disturbing.

Since Caillebotte was born into a wealthy Parisian family, he never needed to sell his paintings and didn't produce as many as other artists. But he contributed a great deal to the Impressionist movement as a patron. He used his wealth to support other artists. He bought paintings, financed exhibits, and even paid the rent for Claude Monet's studio. At the time of his death, he had collected 68 paintings by his favorite Impressionist artists.


Describe the picture, "Paris Street, Rainy Day", at the top of this article. Use vivid vocabulary so that someone who can't see the painting can imagine it. Do Homework
Explain how "Paris Street, Rainy Day" fits into the school of Impressionism. Do Homework
Do you know any other Impressionist painters? Who are they? Your teacher can help you. Do Homework
In earlier times, most successful artists were supported by wealthy patrons. What are the good and bad points of that? Do Homework

Spending and saving money

Placing coins in a glass jar

Money is a tool we use to achieve a goal. Different people have different strategies for what to do with money.

Some spend everything on consumer goods or recreational activities, such as enjoying a meal in a restaurant or going to a cinema. Others are in a situation where they can’t save money at all. They have to live from paycheck to paycheck. Such people are said to be living hand-to-mouth.

Other people save money for a rainy day. They can keep their money at home or in a bank. Still, other people invest their money. They invest in safe places such as properties or precious metals, or stocks of large companies. Some invest in risky places such as cryptocurrencies. They hope to gain a large return on their investments.

In Australia, for example, saving money is very important and one of the reasons for this is travel. In Japan, Kakeibo, is a budgeting method designed to help people save and spend their money wisely. This method is also popular among children. Clearly, saving money in Japan is a tradition that has been passed down through the ages.

Summarize this article. Do Homework
Do you prefer to save, spend or invest money? Do Homework
Is it common to save, spend or invest money in your country? Do Homework
Do you think that children should learn the strategies of spending money at school? Why? Edit Homework

Race, ethnicity, and nationality

People putting their hands together

The words race, ethnicity and nationality are often misunderstood or even used interchangeably. They mean very different things, however.

Race refers to physical features, ethnicity points to cultural background, and nationality is all about the country you are from. In countries like Japan, the three things are closely linked. But in a place like the U.S., where people come from many different places and backgrounds, they are completely separate.

Let's look at how I fit into them.


I have light-colored skin, which puts me in the Caucasian category, or White. The concept of race, however, based on the belief that physical appearance is related to a person's skills and character, has no scientific evidence. Studies show that there's no significant genetic difference between anyone in the world.


My ancestry is heavily English and German, aka Anglo-Saxon, so I fit into the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (or WASP) cultural group in America. As a WASP, I speak English and belong to the Protestant branch of Christianity. I grew up going to church every Sunday. We don't have any food restrictions, but broadly speaking we don't like super spicy foods—our culture tends to have a meat and potatoes diet.


My nationality is simple. I'm a citizen of the United States; therefore, I'm an American. In America, you are considered American if you are born here or if the United States government grants you legal citizenship.

Now that there's a clear distinction, dive deep into this topic with your teacher!

Describe yourself according to the three categories. Do Homework
What do you know about your ancestors? Do Homework
Is "race" important in your country? How do people feel about it? Do Homework
What other categories do we put people in? Do Homework
What would the world be like if people weren't put into categories? Do Homework

Pet your stress away

A young woman hugging her dog

Life can be stressful. The list of responsibilities seems endless as work, children, bills and so many other things demand our constant attention. As a result, it's very easy to get lost in the jungle of a long to-do-list and end up burning out. Fortunately, studies show that pets are a good source of comfort and stress relief. 

According to Jenna Stregowski, an expert in the field, pets can improve one's mood, reduce blood pressure and provide social support, among other benefits. For those who don't really like to exercise or just need some motivation, having a pet will give you a reason to exercise. Dogs, for example, have to walk regularly. This means dog owners can exercise while walking their pets, thereby promoting stress management.

Pets can also provide companionship when it's needed. Picture this: you're working from home, sitting at your desk trying to solve a difficult work-related problem. Suddenly, your dog or cat jumps onto your lap. While this might appear to be a form of disturbance, embracing your pet increases serotonin and dopamine, which help you relax and calm down. So welcome them to your lap and your life—don't shoo them away!

What is the main point of this article? Do Homework
What do you do to de-stress? Do Homework
Do you have any pets? Do you think pets can help us live a healthier life? Do Homework
Do you think it's possible to live a stress-free life? Discuss this with your teacher. Do Homework

Men artists: Naoki Onogawa

Tokyo-based artist Naoki Onogawa folds hundreds of tiny cranes (no bigger than a centimeter each) by hand, then attaches them to branching wire forms. The results look like bonsai trees—bonsai trees with birds for leaves.

Onogawa started making the sculptures after visiting the site of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. He felt terrified by our powerlessness over nature when he saw 1,000 paper cranes at the site of a ruined school building. Amazingly, he also felt "empowered by the power of life ... that shined so brightly in the aftermath" of the disaster. This inspired him to create his own art with origami cranes.

In Asian cultures, cranes symbolize long life, truth, faithfulness, and beauty. Legend has it that anyone with the patience and commitment to fold 1,000 origami cranes will be granted their deepest wish or prayer. Onogawa's tiny cranes combine the fragility of life with the power of the human spirit. In the face of terrible destruction, his sculptures are prayers for long life, truth, faithfulness and beauty.

See Naoki Onogawa's sculptures on Instagram

Describe the sculpture in the image above. Use vivid vocabulary so that someone who can't see it can imagine it. Do Homework
How do the tiny cranes in Onogawa's sculptures express what he felt when visiting the site of the Great Earthquake? Do Homework
Name an artist whose art you love. What do you love about their art? Do Homework
What would the world be like without art? Do Homework

The most spoken languages worldwide

There are over 7,000 languages in the world. However, some languages are spoken by a very large number of people.

Over a billion people speak English—mainly people living in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other former English colonies. Another billion speak Mandarin. Mandarin is mostly spoken in China.

Nearly 620,000,000 people speak Hindi. It is a language found mostly in South Asian countries such as India.

Over 530,000,000 people speak Spanish, mostly in Spain and Latin America. French and Arabic are spoken by more than 400,000,000 people. French is spoken in France, Canada and France’s old colonies around the world. Arabic speakers mostly live in the Middle East and North Africa.

Summarize this article. Do Homework
How many languages do you speak? Do Homework
How hard is it for you to learn a new language? Do Homework
Which language would you like to learn in the future? Why? Do Homework

How people approach deadlines

According to The New Yorker, as the last day to complete a task approaches, people respond to the pressure differently. Some, perhaps well-adjusted and diligent people, jump in, figuring that the anxiety of an unpaid bill or an unfinished project is far more painful than the difficulty of sticking to a sensible schedule. However, others live in denial until the last minute, when they bolt to the end, vowing that they’ll do it all differently next time. And still others dismiss deadlines altogether, believing them to be at best imaginary and at worst contrary to creativity.

The magazine editor Christopher Cox said that people often summon the will to do their best work when they think they’re down to the buzzer—but by then it’s too late to actually do it. It’s only by mentally manipulating themselves to act early and often that people can ever do spectacular things. Cox tells us that all his subjects “have learned how to work like it’s the last minute before the last minute.”

The New Yorker jokes: “Everywhere you look, people are either hitting deadlines or avoiding them by reading about how other people hit deadlines.”

Summarize this article in your own words (2 or 3 sentences). Do Homework
How do you approach deadlines? Has it changed over time? Do you procrastinate until the last minute? Do Homework
Do you ever set arbitrary deadlines for yourself in your personal life? If so, how does this affect your mental health? Do Homework
Can great quality work be done at the last minute? Do Homework

The true power of a passport

Most organizations, such as the widely recognized Henley Passport Index, believe the strongest passports are the ones that allow their citizens to enter more countries without a visa. They rank Singapore as the most powerful passport in 2023 because it provides easy access to 194 countries.

But is this the best way to decide how strong a passport is? Global Citizen Solutions has developed a more detailed but slightly different approach. The Global Passport Index analyzes how desirable a country passport is, considering the following:

  • Mobility: The travel benefits of the passport
  • Investment and business potential: The nation’s economic growth
  • Quality of life: How happy, comfortable, and accepted people are

According to their last ranking, Germany has the strongest passport in the world now, with high scores in all categories and a much higher Quality of Life score than Singapore.

Please explain the difference between the two indexes mentioned in the text. Do Homework
In your opinion, which of the two indexes quoted in the article is more valuable? Why? Do Homework
What other indicators do you think are important to measure a passport's strength? Do Homework

A Korean Disney princess

A montage of Disney princesses.

Julian Riew is a Korean-American singer and songwriter, and she studies theater at Harvard. Like many children, she was influenced by Disney princesses while growing up.

In recent years, Disney has made conscious efforts to become more inclusive. Racial and ethnic representation have gained presence in their movies lately. However, Julia felt no Disney princess looked like her so she set herself up for a challenge: to create a Disney-inspired Korean princess.

Watch her interview about her musical featuring Korean-American heritage and have a discussion with your teacher: https://www.youtube.com/embed/QpaSVUKQlXg


What is Julia studying at university? What's her senior thesis about? Do Homework
What inspired Julia to write her musical? Do Homework
Do you think representation is important in movies? Why? Do Homework

Visuals: Alcohol by country

Different cultures have different relationships with alcohol. For instance, Italians tend to drink a lot of wine but have a very low level of alcoholism, as they usually drink a couple of glasses with lunch and dinner. However, Russians are known for drinking copious amounts of vodka, and nearly 15% of deaths in Russia are related to alcohol consumption.

In the East, South Koreans are known for signing business deals in bars and then drinking with each other under the table, while Vietnamese love their Bia Hoi (beer halls), where they spend most of their evenings drinking beer after beer with their friends.

Please take a look at the map below and discuss it with your teacher. Click on the “continue reading” link for an interactive version of the map.

Give a presentation of this map to your teacher. Focus on your country in relation to other countries. Do Homework
Are you surprised at any areas of the map? Do Homework
Describe your culture’s relationship to alcohol. Edit Homework
Do you think drinking alcohol should have an age limit? Why or why not? Do Homework