Measurements (A short story for ELLs)

509 words total
98.00% within GSL  (98.6% excluding proper nouns)
Flesch Reading Ease Score: 89.7
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 3.3

I like to measure things.  I know exactly when it started.  It was July 16, 2002.  I was 7 years, 214 days, 3 hours and 6 seconds old.  I was looking at an old wall clock in the living room.  I said to my mother, “I’m hungry.”  She pointed to the clock.  She said, “Dinner is in 10 minutes.” 

I watched the second hand move.  600 seconds later, I sat down at the dinner table.  34 seconds after that, I began to eat.  I don’t remember what we ate.  But I do remember that it took me 1022 seconds to finish my meal.  At the time, I was only 239,252,406 seconds old, but I knew something important.  If you could measure time, time which you cannot see, or hear, or touch, or taste, you could measure everything.  And I did.  

I measured myself twice daily (currently 174 centimeters), how fast my mother talked (210 words per minutes), and how slowly my father walked up the stairs (1.3 kilometers per hour).  It was after I entered high school that I began to measure things most people claimed could not be measured.  For example, loneliness.  Loneliness can be measured in eye contact.  An average person who only looks into another person’s eyes 37 times per day will feel lonely.  When I was fourteen, I spent 62% of my days in loneliness.  And fear, fear is when your heart beats 21.3% faster than average.  I spent one month in fear, studying for my high school entrance examinations.  

I had an old friend.  Her name was Tammy.  She used to hold my hand with 30 kilograms of force or 7 kilograms more than the average girl her age.  Her eyes were blue.  Color is a wave.  The blue of her eyes was 472 nanometers long, which is the same as the ocean on an August afternoon.  She told me that really, I could not measure anything.  She said that 1 centimeter, 1 second, 1 kilogram were just ideas and did not really mean anything.

The day before we left for our separate universities, we ate in the best restaurant in town.  We ate cake topped with gold leaf.  The cake had 248 calories, enough to keep a body running for 3218.69 meters.  She said goodbye to me 19 times.  The last time she said goodbye, she looked down at a 37.4 degree angle.  She did not look up when I said I would see her again soon.

At university, I learned to measure the electrical force of surprise, the speed of memory, and the time loss of confusion.  I wrote papers which my friends did not read, but still said were wonderful.  I moved into my own office on the first floor with a big window.   But lately I think that maybe Tammy was right.  Maybe measurements do not mean quite so much as I think.  When Tammy used to talk to me, her breath smelled almost sweet.  It was a special kind of smell.  I think it might have been vanilla.  But I cannot be sure.  And I have no idea of how to measure a thing forgotten.


8 thoughts on “Measurements (A short story for ELLs)

  1. Wow. This is incredible. Not only quirky and interesting but also potentially useful for students of many levels as well as a nice springboard for discussion. Well done, Sir. (MG)


  2. I hope your students know how lucky they are 🙂 This is my favourite of your stories I've read so far. They all seem so beautifully Japanese – I say that having read only a handful of books translated from Japanese, so I may of course be wrong – but there's something about the sentence patterns and this kind of wistful things-unsaid vibe…I don't know. Anyway. I like.


  3. Thank you sir,Actually, as measured in discreet units, this story contains a whopping 1,346,891 applicabolts (an applicabolt is the recognized unit of usable English structures/ideas within a given portion of text). And this reply to your comment has an immeasurable level of grativols (or the feeling of indebtedness when someone throws a great idea your way during a slow day at work).Kevin


  4. Hi Laura,Thanks for your comments. I'm trying to write about things most Japanese high school students are grappling with. That's why I have so many exam references. I think it's also one of the reasons for the whistful-thing going on. So glad to see it left an impression.Don't know if my students think of themselves as lucky. Would have to guess not. I snagged a bunch of them and made them sit down and chat about the graded readers they read during spring break. All the other students in school got to go home early. Oh, the danger of International Course. They were kind of grummbling as they walked out the door. Maybe in June I will give them a day to think about how lucky they are. But I think they will just go to Karaoke instead. Good for them.And anyone who hasn't checked out Laura and Mike's (mikecorea) blogs, they are the my first stops every morning.Laura's The Daily Ptefldactyl's ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections


  5. hi kevini used this story with some first year engineering students and it seemed to go down well. most of the reactions to the story involved questioning the sanity of the author! :)thank you muchly!mura


  6. Hi Mura,Thank you for letting me know that you used the story. And I can't imagine a better audience for this story than a group of engineering students. The story was actually inspired by my school's science teacher who kind of randomly said, "The genius of measurement," to me one day. I think he'll be thrilled to find out that the first students to read this story outside of our school were studying engineering. You are welcome muchly and please let your students know that according to the author's daughter, the author's sanity is very much in doubt.Kevin


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