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What does "midnight" mean?

Question: Hi Teacher Joe. I am confused by my English teacher. Sometimes I tell her that I don't go to sleep until midnight and then I wake up at 7 am. She is surprised when I tell her that I only sleep for five or six hours a night. She said I must sleep for seven hours. Why can't she understand me? Bobby Blue in Beijing.

Answer: Hello BB in BJ! Many students confuse "midnight" with "the middle of the night". Actually, the English word "midnight" is very precise. As with the word "noon", it means exactly 12 o'clock. So naturally, if you tell your teacher that you stay up until midnight, she will think you slept from 12 until 7, which is seven hours, not five or six! Of course, if you stay up until "after midnight", then you will get less sleep.

I think the problem for many students is that they try to understand one language using their own first language. This leads to many misunderstandings. Though in Chinese there may not be a word to describe "12 am", there is in English. If you learn a language directly, that is, if you learn English as English, without any influence from your mother tongue, you will be much more successful.

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