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Differences Between British and American English
08 December 2013
While there are certainly many more varieties of English, American and British English are the two varieties that are taught in most English Foreign Language (EFL) lessons. Generally, it is agreed that no one version is "correct" however, there are certainly preferences in use.
Here are just a couple of differences between the two main varieties of English:
Consistency of Spelling
The most important rule is to try to be consistent in your usage. If you decide that you want to use American English spellings then be consistent in your spelling. For example:
The color of the orange is also its flavour.
Color is American spelling and flavour is British. Here are the sentences with consistent British and American spellings:
The colour of the orange is also its flavour. The color of the orange is also its flavor.
Use of the Present Perfect
In British English the present perfect is used to express an action that has occurred in the recent past that has an effect on the present moment. For example:
I've lost my key. Can you help me look for it?
In American English the following is also possible:
I lost my key. Can you help me look for it?
In British English the above would be considered incorrect. However, both forms are generally accepted in standard American English. Other differences involving the use of the present perfect in British English and simple past in American English include already, just andyet.
I've just had lunch. I've already seen that proposal. Have you finished that report yet?
I just had lunch. OR I've just had lunch. I already saw that proposal. OR I've already seen that proposal. Did your finish that report yet? OR Have you finished that report yet?
Avoid Using Too Many Negatives
01 December 2013
If you want to annoy a reader, use negative words. Not only are negative words annoying, but research shows that it takes the brain longer to understand a negative statement than a positive one. They cause confusion!
In writing, negatives include 'un-' words like 'unnecessary' and 'unless'; verbs with negative associations like 'avoid' and 'cease'; as well as the obvious ones like 'not', 'no', 'except', 'less than' and 'not more than'. When readers are faced with a negative, they must first imagine the positive alternative then mentally cancel it out.
A single negative is unlikely to cause problems, though many an election voter has paused confronted with the polling booth challenge:
Vote for not more than one candidate. (unclear) Vote for one candidate only. (clear)
But when two, three or more negatives are gathered together in the same sentence, meaning may become unclear, as in this note from a lawyer to his client, an underwriter:
Underwriters are, we consider, free to form the view that James Brothers have not yet proved to their satisfaction that the short-landed bags were not discharged from the ship, and werenot lost in transit between Hong Kong and Singapore, when they werenot covered by this insurance policy.
The above sentence is very confusing due to the number of negative words!
Here are some examples of how to rewrite negative sentences more positively:
We willnothelpunlessyou give us a special mention. We will help if you give us a special mention
The corporation will not pay unless employees also contribute. The corporation will pay only if employees contribute.
Your credit will not be extended until you pay us what you owe. We will extend you credit if you pay what you owe. We would be happy to extend your credit once we receive payment for what you owe.
We are not open on Saturdays or Sundays. We are open from Monday to Friday.
We were not prepared for your request. Your request caught us by surprise.
Business Presentation Tips
24 November 2013
Above all, know your audience and match what you say to their needs. Creating your presentation with your audience in mind, will assure that your audience will follow you. If your presentation doesn't appeal to your audience - no matter how well you have developed your presentation - your presentation will fall on deaf ears.
This leads us to the next rule: Know your material thoroughly. Your material needs to be second nature to you. Practice and rehearse your presentation with friends, in front of a mirror, and with colleagues. If you are speaking in a second language, make sure that you record yourself and listen a number of times before going to practice with a native speaker (if possible).
Remember that you are an actor when presenting. Make sure that not only your physical appearance is appropriate to the occasion, but also the tone you use is well chosen. If your topic is serious, be solemn. However, it's always a good idea to begin your presentation with an ice-breaker.
Don't worry about making friends, rather lead the audience through your materials in a calm and relaxed manner.
Speak slowly and clearly, and remember to address everyone in the audience - even the person the farthest away from you.
To achieve the above goals follow these tips when giving your presentation:
Speak with conviction. Believe what you are saying and you will persuade your audience.
Do not read from notes. Referring to notes is fine, but do so only briefly.
Maintain eye contact with your audience. Making direct eye contact with individuals will help them feel as if they are participating in your presentation.
Bring handouts. Don't just use a PowerPoint presentation. Provide audience members with handouts of the most important materials so they can keep your most important take always in mind.
Know when to stop. This cannot be underestimated. You need to make your case, but continuing for too long will only ensure that the audience forgets what you have said.
Becoming a Better Language Learner
17 November 2013
So, you want to improve your English? At your age and level of language learning, there are some things you can't change. For example, you can't change:
the language learning ability that you were born with;
your ability to tell the difference between different sounds and your ability to make sounds;
your ability to remember words and phrases.
However, there are many things you CAN do, and the first and most important thing is to try to change your attitudes about using and speaking English. For example, you can try:
not to be embarrassed about making mistakes;
to be more outgoing and make more effort to socialise with other people;;
to ask questions when you do not understand something;
to greet your English speaking colleagues rather than crossing the room or corridor to avoid them;
to get into the habit of asking other bilingual speakers the question, "How do you say __________ in English?" or 'What does ___________ mean?";
to make opportunities to practice your English (and not just wait for them to come along or expect others to make them for you);
to commend yourself for every extra effort you make to use your English;
to have fun with your English instead of just studying and worrying about it;
to stop saying either to yourself or others, "Oh dear, my English is poor. It will never improve!" It will improve, but only if you use it!
In your efforts to improve your English, it may be helpful for you to understand what the differences are between the Not-So-Good Language Learner and the Good Language Learner.
The Not-So-Good Language Learner:
Doesn't try to say anything he or she doesn't know how to say;
Avoids making mistakes so as not to appear foolish;
Pays little attention to language form, and fails to note language patterns;
Pays little attention to his or her own speech or the speech of others;
Relies too much on grammar;
Doesn't try to guess at meanings;
The Good Language Learner:
Tries hard to communicate, to get his or her message across;
Is willing to make mistakes, even to appear foolish;
Pays attention to language form and looks for patterns in the language;
Monitors his or her own speech and the speech of others, checking for mistakes and deviations from intended meaning;
Pays attention to meaning, knowing that grammar and the surface forms of speech are not in themselves enough to understand the message;
Is willing to make guesses;
Developing Your Vocabulary
10 November 2013
Buy a good monolingual dictionary.
Read as much English as you can. Read anything that interests you, in any format available to you. If you find newspapers or literature difficult, try reading 'graded readers', which are simplified books.
Select carefully the words or phrases you look up in a dictionary. It's frustrating to look up every word that you don't understand. Only look up those words that you think are important, such as:
Words or phrases that occur often
Words or phrases that are essential for understanding a sentence.
You can often get the general meaning of the sentence without having to use a dictionary, so save yourself some work!
From the words or phrases that you look up, decide which ones are vital for you to understand and use. For example, words that you need for your job or study, or words that occur often.
Use your dictionary to get the essential information about these words and phrases (grammar, stress, pronunciation and meaning), then make an effort to practice these words. Write down the new word in a sentence of your own, and try to use the word as often as possible, until you are sure that you remember it.
When you look up a new word, make sure you know which words you can use with it. For example, you doatest, but youmakeaneffort.
When you find a new word, check to see if you can use it in other ways. English is a flexible language - nouns, verbs and adjectives can often be made from each other. For example, to apply for a job, a letter of application, the applicant for the job, and so on.
Keep a vocabulary book with you. You can use it while you are reading, or watching television or a film. You can also refer to it when you have some spare time to help you revise new words and expressions.
Improving your Listening
03 November 2013
Does this situation seem familiar to you? Your English is progressing well, the grammar is now familiar, the reading comprehension is no problem, you are communicating quite fluently, but:Listening is STILL a problem!
First of all, remember that you are not alone. Listening comprehension is probably the most difficult task for almost all learners of English as a foreign language. The most important thing is to practice listening as often as possible.
The next step is to find listening resources that you are really interested in on the radio, television and the Internet.
Once you have started to listen to English on a regular basis, you may still feel that your listening is not improving. What should you do? Here is some advice:
First, accept the fact that you are not going to understand everything.
Don't worry that you can't understand every little word spoken.
Don't translate into your own language.
Listen for the general idea of the conversations. Don't focus on detail until you have understood the main ideas.
I remember the problems I had in understanding spoken French when I first went to France. At first, when I could hardly understand a word, I tried to translate everything into English. This approach usually resulted in confusion. Then, after the first six months, I discovered two important facts: Firstly, translating creates a barrier between the listener and the speaker; Secondly, most people repeat what they say. By remaining calm and focused, I noticed that I could often understand what the speaker had said.
Translating creates a barrier between yourself and the person who is speaking
While you are listening to another person speaking English, the temptation is to immediately translate into your own language. This becomes stronger when you hear a word or expression you don't understand. However, when you translate into your own language, you are taking the focus of your attention away from the speaker and on to the translation process in your head. This situation leads to less, not more, understanding.
Most people repeat themselves
When people speak in their own language, do they repeat themselves? I don't mean word for word; I mean the general idea. If they are like most people I have met, they probably do. That means that whenever you listen to someone speaking, it is very likely that they will repeat what they have said, giving you a second, third or even fourth chance to understand the main message.
By remaining calm, allowing yourself tonot understand, and not translating while listening, your brain is free to concentrate on the most important thing: Understanding English in English.
27 October 2013
Right now you are reading English. That means that you are using your brain in a very active way. Reading is a very active process. It is true that the writer does a lot of work, but the reader also has to work hard. When you read a text, you have to do some or all of these:
imagine a scene in your head
understand clearly what the writer is trying to say
agree or disagree with the writer
When you learn a language, listening, speaking and writing are important, but reading can also be very helpful. There are many advantages associated with reading, including:
Learning Vocabulary In Context
You will usually encounter new words when you read. If there are too many new words for you, then the level is too high and you should read something simpler. But if there are, say, a maximum of five new words per page, you will learn this vocabulary easily. You may not even need to use a dictionary because you can guess the meaning from the rest of the text (from the context). Not only do you learn new words, but you see them being used naturally.
A Model For Writing
When you read, it gives you a good example for writing. Texts that you read show you structures and expressions that you can use when you write.
Seeing "Correctly Structured" English
When people write, they usually use "correct" English with a proper grammatical structure. This is not always true when people speak. So, by reading you see and learn grammatical English naturally.
Working At Your Own Speed
You can read as fast or as slowly as you like. You can read ten pages in 30 minutes, or take one hour to explore just one page. It doesn't matter. The choice is yours. You cannot easily do this when speaking or listening. This is one of the big advantages of reading because different people work at different speeds.
If you choose something to read that you like, it can actually be interesting and enjoyable. For example, if you like to read about football in your own language, why not read about football in English? You will get information about football and improve your English at the same time.
Try to read at the right level. Read something that you can (more or less) understand. If you need to stop every three words to look in a dictionary, it is not interesting for you and you will soon be discouraged.
Make a note of new vocabulary. If there are four or five new words on a page, write them in your vocabulary book. But you don't have to write them while you read. Instead, try to guess their meaning as you read; mark them with a pen; then come back when you have finished reading to check in a dictionary and add them to your vocabulary book.
Try to read regularly. For example, read for a short time once a day. Fifteen minutes every day is better than two hours every Sunday. Fix a time to read and keep to it. For example, you could read for fifteen minutes when you go to bed, or when you get up, or at lunchtime.
Be organised. Have everything ready:
something to read
a marker to highlight difficult words
your vocabulary book
a pen to write down the new words
Read what interests YOU. Choose a magazine or book about a subject that you like.
Using the International Alphabet
20 October 2013
When talking on the phone, you may have difficulty with clearly communicating the spelling of your name, or understanding an important word spoken by the person you are calling. In these situations, it is a good idea to use the International Alphabet:
Play the audio file below to listen to the alphabet:
A for Alpha
B for Bravo
C for Charlie
D for Delta
E for Echo
F for Foxtrot
G for Golf
H for Hotel
I for India
J for Juliet
K for Kilo
L for Lima
M for Mike
N for November
O for Oscar
P for Papa
Q for Quebec
R for Romeo
S for Sierra
T for Tango
U for Uniform
V for Victor
W for Whisky
X for X-ray
Y for Yankee
Z for Zulu
So if your name is Zhane, you would say:
"My first name is Zhane. That's Z for Zulu; H for Hotel; A for Alpha; N for November; E for Echo - Zhane."
Keep the international alphabet with you when you make a phone call, or better still try to memorise it!
Use of Pronouns to Avoid Sexist Writing
13 October 2013
Pronouns like he, she, it, we, they, andyoustand in for nouns and must therefore match the nouns they are replacing in number (singular or plural) and gender (male or female). If the noun is singular, the pronoun must be too.
Everyone needs to remove their belongings. (Everyone is singular; their is plural.) Everyone needs to remove his or her belongings.
Don't use only 'his'to refer to a noun - this is regarded as sexist language!
In a short document with a single pronoun reference, we recommend that you use his or herin place of the noun.
In a longer document with multiple pronoun references, you could alternate between his and her throughout the document to avoid constant repetition. If that doesn't work for you, simply rewrite the sentence so you don't need to make the choice.
The above sentence could also be rewritten as:
You need to remove your belongings.
Changing the subject to a plural also works:
Employees need to remove their belongings.
Job Interview Tips - Part 2
06 October 2013
You've written a great CV (resume) and covering letter, and the company has asked you to attend an interview. You need to make sure that you make the right impression to get the job! Here are five more tips to help you succeed at the interview.
1. Check you understand what people say to you.
When you say ..., do you mean ...? Could I just go over this point again? Sorry, do you mean ...?
2. Use a range of vocabulary to present your achievements and experience.
I achieved sales growth of ... I managed sales of ... I increased sales by ...
3. Try to remember names and titles (or company positions) when you are introduced.
A good way of remembering names is to use them immediately after you hear them. So, if someone introduces you to "Deborah Jones, our Marketing Manager" you can say immediately "Pleased to meet you, Ms Jones."
Pleased to meet you, Ms Jones.
4. Be aware of your gestures and movements during the interview.
Nod your head to show you understand and agree with the other person. Keep eye contact with them and try not to use nervous gestures. Ask your friends to help you rehearse the interview - they can tell you if you appear nervous!
5. Make sure you know what will happen after the interview.
The interviewer could say things like:
So we will contact you in a couple of weeks. We'll let you know at the beginning of next month.
Methodology for Learning New Vocabulary
29 September 2013
Here we suggest some methods you can use to learn new vocabulary.
When you see a new vocabulary item (new word), always ask these questions:
Is it positive, neutral or negative?
Beautiful is a positive word
Ugly is a negative word
Negotiate is not positive or negative, so it's neutral
Is it formal or informal (casual)?
Cool is a casual word
Negotiate is a formal word
Is it a vocabulary item or an Idiom?
What did you do? (uses vocabulary)
What did you get up to? (uses an idiom / idiomatic phrase)
Does the word have a prefix or suffix that you know? (may give you a hint)
Prefix:Unhappy, unfriendly ('un' often a negative prefix)
Suffix: Careless, thoughtless('less' often a negative suffix)
If you see a new vocabulary item, such as 'undisciplined', you can take a guess that it may be a negative word from looking at the negative prefix, even if you do not know what the word means.
Is it a noun, adjective, verb or adverb?
Can the word be used only as a noun?
Can the word be used as both a verb and an adjective?
Can the word by used as an adverb?
Which context / situation should the word be used in?
'Negotiate'is a strong verb for formal business situations, such as negotiating a contract with a client.
'Negotiate' should not be used in social situations like two friends arguing over paying for drinks at KTV.
Create your own example, preferably about your life, to demonstrate (show) understanding of the new word; this makes it easier to remember
I negotiated my salary package with the HR Manager.
I negotiate the delivery date and price with our clients.
Job Interview Tips - Part 1
22 September 2013
You've written a great CV (resume) and covering letter, and the company has asked you to attend an interview. You need to make sure that you make the right impression to get the job! Here are five tips to help you succeed at the interview.
1. Use polite phrases.
Remember that if someone asks you "How do you do?" the correct response is "How do you do?"
When you meet someone for the first time, you can say "Pleased to meet you." If someone says this to you first, you can reply "Pleased to meet you, too" or "It's a pleasure to meet you, too."
If you didn't hear someone's name, you can say "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."
Pleased to meet you. Pleased to meet you, too. It's a pleasure to meet you, too. I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name.
2. Ask questions which you have already prepared.
You should have the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. You can prepare some before the interview. This will help you research the vocabulary you need and it will make you look interested in the company and the job.
There are different types of questions. "Direct" questions use words like "who", "when" or "what" or have an auxiliary at the beginning of the question.
Who is the manager of the department? When would the job start? Do you have a company pension? Can I also work from home?
You can also ask "indirect" questions to make what you say sound less demanding. Indirect questions start with an introduction:
I'd like to know if you offer private health care. Could you tell me if you offer options?
3. Try to predict the questions and plan the answers.
Can you tell us more about your experience with ... Oh yes. When I ... What qualities can you bring to this post? Well, I'm an organised person and I ..
4. Show you are listening.
As well as maintaining eye contact, you can use phrase such as "Mmm", "I see" or "OK" to show the other person you are paying attention.
5. Don't be afraid to ask for explanations if you don't understand something.
I'm not sure I understand completely the relationship between these two departments. Could you explain a little further, please? I'm afraid I don't really understand the difference between these two contracts. Could you go over it again, please? I'm sorry, but I didn't understand what you just said. Could you repeat it please?
Three Common Punctuation Problems
15 September 2013
Punctuation is important because those little marks are like signs along a roadway, helping your reader navigate your document. When you put punctuation in the wrong place, it can change the intended meaning of your sentence and send your reader in the wrong direction.
Here are three common punctuation problems.
1) Putting a Comma Before 'and' in a Series (or Omitting the Comma)
The company makes pocket calculators, electronic keypads, and pocket translators.
The company makes pocket calculators, electronic keypads and pocket translators.
Which is correct? Both are. Whether you use the serial comma is entirely up to you. The key is to be consistent. Make a decision and stick to it throughout your document. Inconsistency is the grammar mistake.
2) Using Two Spaces after a Period or Colon
The two-space rule is a hold-over from the days when printing presses and typewriters used letters that were all the same width. Today, computers compensate for the varying widths of letters and only one space after end punctuation is the preference.
3) Putting a Comma Between the Subject and the Verb
I suggest that Billy, Pete and Mary, attend the conference.
In this sentence, a comma splits the clause's subject Billy, Peter and Mary, from the verb attend.
I suggest that Billy, Peter and Mary attend the conference.
A comma after Peter would also be OK in the above sentence.
How to Give a Speech in English
08 September 2013
Every speech or presentation has two main aspects:
WHAT you say (content)
HOW you say it (delivery)
You obviously have a lot of control over the content, because you can plan out exactly what you want to say. But you can also do a lot to make sure your delivery is effective too. The advice that follows will help you deliver a powerful speech:
Remember that a listener usually only has one chance to understand what you are saying.So you must do everything you can to make it easy for him or her to follow your ideas.
The best way to do this is to "signpost" your speech. At the beginning, say how your speech will be divided up. During the speech, make it clear when one part has finished and the next part has started. (For example, "Now that I have explained some of the causes of air pollution, I want to tell you what we can do to reduce the problem.") At the end of your speech, make it clear that you are finished (e.g. by simply saying "Thank you!").
The most important parts of a speech are the beginning and the end. Think about a strong first sentence that will capture the attention of the listener. Be calm and confident; give the impression that you are well-prepared and have something interesting to say. End with a strong sentence: make people laugh or give them something provocative to think about.
Practise your speech before the big day. In particular it is useful to think about how and where you will stand/sit, and where you will put your materials before and after you have used them. Practise using your speech cards.
Speak loudly and clearly. Remember that your voice (your intonation) must do the job that punctuation does in your writing. Try not to speak too fast. Never just read full sentence notes - it is boring and makes your speech very difficult to follow.
Make sure you can be seen as well as heard.Don't hide behind your sheets or the overhead projector. It is important that every listener feels you are talking to him or her personally. Therefore look round the room and try to make eye contact with everyone in the audience at least once during your speech.
Be careful not to distract your listeners by swinging on a chair, tapping your feet etc.
It is useful to include visual material with your speech. For example, if you are talking about places, show a map. If you are using numbers, write them for all to see. (It's very difficult for listeners to keep large or many numbers in their head.)
If you are going to have audience participation be very clear exactly what you want from them. If you ask a question, be ready for strange answers, and expect to have to answer it yourself.
A Little" vs "Little" vs "A Few" vs "Few
01 September 2013
Use a little with uncountable nouns, e.g. a little help, a little progress, a little information, a little advice, etc.
Use a few with plural countable nouns, e.g. a few days, a few meetings, a few employees, a few sales, etc.
Little and Few
Little and few tend to be rather negative because they mean not much or not many, while a little and a few are more positive and mean some. For example:
We have few clients.(sounds negative) We have a few clients(sounds more positive)
There is little time to complete this. (sounds negative) We have a little time to complete this. (sounds more positive)
When you are speaking to someone, it is better to use not much/not many or only a little/few instead of little and few. Little and few tend to sound more formal and are better used in writing. For example:
We haven't had many enquiries about our new product. (not many/informal/spoken) We have had few enquiries about our new product.(few/formal/written)
We haven't sold many properties in the past month.(not many/informal/spoken) We have sold few properties in the past month.(few/formal/written)
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