English Corner – Proper Email Etiquette

“In order to write good emails for your professional pursuits or for your career, you need to be able to understand the proper etiquette that comes with this kind of writing.”

Writing cohesive yet concise emails is a key professional trait to be successful at as part of your overall English writing skills. In order to write good emails for your professional pursuits or for your career, you need to be able to understand the proper etiquette that comes with this kind of writing. If you are able to master the etiquette of emails, you will be able to do a good job in working well with others, being cooperative, and being considered a team player.

Without proper etiquette, you are likely to not be taken seriously at your work and you may not be able to have others take the rest of your email as seriously as it should be. Once you have the etiquette down, the content of your email is likely to be read and taken into consideration for whichever subject you are addressing.

The Introduction: Email etiquette starts with the introduction of any email message so if you do not get it right from the beginning, the rest of the email will suffer. I believe it is important to remember that how you introduce your email depends on if you know the person or not. If you do not know the person, you should begin your email with the following: ‘To whom it may concern,’ ‘Dear Sir’ (for a man but without a known name), Dear Madam (for a woman without a name known). These three ways are both formal and proper in terms of addressing someone at work or for business if you do not know who they are.

However, if you do know the person, it is best to address the email as ‘Dear Mr. __________ / Dear Ms. __________’, their last name should always come after Mr. or Mrs. To indicate the formality of the email and the unknown status of the woman’s marital background, it is best to use Ms. or Miss for the woman’s last name rather than assuming that she is married right away.

Lastly, I would refrain of saying ‘hello’, ‘hello there’, ‘hi’ to start off the email if you do not know who it is you are emailing. It is best to instead go with good morning / good afternoon or even good evening depending upon the time of the day that you are emailing for your work. I would say that once you have exchanged an email or two, you can be more informal by starting off your email with Hello ________, Hi __________, or just ‘Dear _________’ as you had for the first email.

Continuing on with the introduction, the first paragraph should begin with Hello and then a few following options below depending upon your preference.

Hello, I hope that this email finds you well, I hope that you are doing well, I hope that you are having a good week, etc.

You can also say the purpose of your email in that first paragraph by stating your clear purpose up front by something like:

            I am emailing you today because _______________.

            The purpose of my email is to __________________.

            I am messaging you today in the hopes that _______.

            This email is to inform you that _________________.

These are all great ways to start off a formal email and to inform your reader quickly what you are messaging them about, and it should be done in the first sentence after your salutation at the beginning. I would keep the overall introduction just two or three sentences and state the main idea of your email quickly and succinctly. You want to make it easy for the professional person or the worker to know what it is you are messaging them about and how does it involve them, all in the introduction paragraph.

The Body Paragraph(s): There is not too much to keep in mind when it comes to formality in body paragraphs but make sure you use formal words like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘if you could’, ‘it would be great if…’, ‘we would be appreciative of…’, etc. The main thing to keep in mind is that you are using sir or ma’am throughout the paragraph(s) and to add in a Mr. ______, Mrs. _________ every now and then. If you need to ask something or request a few items of need, always use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ for any major thing that you are asking for business purposes.

In order to make the email a two-way exchange, relay what you are planning to do in response to make sure that the business relationship or the exchange of information goes smoothly. Beyond the purpose of the email outlined in the introduction, you should add the supplementary details beyond the ‘ask’ or the ‘request’ in the body paragraph(s). Towards the end of the body, make sure you list a timetable for when you might need a reply back and who else you may have CC’d or added on to the email who is pertinent to the message.

While not the main focus of email etiquette, you should be using formal vocabulary throughout this part of the email and don’t forget to use ‘could’, ‘would’, ‘when’, instead of insisting with ‘you need’, ‘you will’, which is not polite at all. Any request in the email should be made with the possibility that the person may say ‘no’ to you and you should be ready to hear that kind of answer but it can help your chances of success when you are polite not just in the introduction but throughout the heart of the email as well.

The Conclusion: The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to email etiquette in this part is to thank them above all else for their time and their attention to your message. Whatever the ask was in the body paragraph, you should thank them formally for their consideration and that you hope to hear from them soon.

You also want to say that you hope to stay in touch and to leave your contact information with them including your work phone, your best email address, and what time(s) of the day are best to be reached. It does not hurt to also say that you are hoping that they are doing well or if it’s a Friday, ‘to wish them a good weekend’, if you are writing the email before a holiday, it’s nice to also ‘wish them a good holiday’ but only best to do so when it’s a non-religious holiday rather than assume they are of a certain religion, of course.

To end the formal email on a good note, you should sign off with one of these options, which are both formal in nature and also really considerate to other people. Depending upon your preference, any of these options would be fine. It is also key to remember that you put a comma after any of these closing salutations and then write or sign your full name below it so they know who sent the email and who is making the request(s).

The following closings are good ways to end the email according to proper etiquette:

-‘Best,’

-‘Sincerely,’

-‘Warm Regards’,

-‘Kind Regards’,

-‘Regards,’

-‘Best Wishes’,

-‘Warm Wishes’,

‘Thank you,’

‘With gratitude’,

-‘Many thanks,’

The one closing that I would not endorse for a formal email of this nature is ‘much appreciated,’ because it is a little too informal in its vocabulary and would best be used instead with close friends or family members or for a business connection whom you already know very well.

After having the etiquette down well, you will be able to draft much better business or career-related emails because not only will your vocabulary improve but also your understanding of the English-speaking business culture. This kind of email writing takes time and practice but if you are willing to learn from others, practice a lot, and make a few mistakes every now and then, you will definitely be benefitting in your business or career after some time. There are clear differences between formal emails and informal emails and the etiquette that each kind of email shows makes all of the differences known. In order to write a complete email of a formal nature, you have to use etiquette properly not just for the introduction but also for all of the body paragraphs and for the conclusion as well.

From the opening salutation to the closing wish, your email etiquette must be consistent and clear for whoever is reading it. Be sure to use your best judgment, edit it before sending, and be patient in waiting for a reply. Do not be afraid to make a few mistakes because emails are sometimes hastily written, and you may fudge a word or two but that should not stop you from forgetting your overall etiquette with that person with whom you are corresponding. Writing the first draft of any email is the hardest part but once you got that part down, you will be well on your way to becoming a great English email writer.

English Corner – The Basics of Business

“However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position.”

It is likely that you will want to improve your English for purely professional reasons at some point. If that’s not you, then this blog post will not apply to you. However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position. I cover a number of these topics in both Business English private lessons and also in an online course specifically for this subject.

For this article, I am going to focus only on the basics of business English and how to get your foot in the door to give yourself a chance to either get hired, get promoted or at least feel more comfortable using your English skills in a professional setting. I am not going to make a huge list of items for you to accomplish but rather give five pieces of general advice for you to get started in this niche part of the language. If you can get these five tidbits down in terms of remembering and utilizing them, you should have no problem getting to the intermediate or advanced topics within the business English curriculum, which is covered in both private lessons and an online course.

Let’s start with the most obvious point and then become more and more obscure from point #1 to #5. Some of these points of advice will seem obvious to you and I hope that others will make you think of your own approach and how it could be improved. I believe you will find these five pieces of advice useful to get you started with Business English and to keep you learning these kinds of topics into the future.

  1. Network, Network, and Network Some More: Networking and connecting with others is the key place to start when it comes to getting started with developing your business English skills. Networking is the foundation for doing the most amount of business and it can take various forms. When you’re emailing, you’re networking. When you’re at an event meeting people and practicing your English, you’re networking. When you’re calling potential partners or future customers over the phone, that too is a form of networking.

The biggest skill you’ll need to develop and hone for the English-speaking business world will be to become a good networker in a non-native language. There is no better test for your speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills then to put yourself out there and network with others who are also English speakers, native or otherwise. Networking also takes a serious amount of effort so make sure you put in the time to practice whether it is for writing e-mails, developing your business cards, or remembering to show up for events.

2. Remember the Small Details: In business, you not only have to remember the big details whether its’ for a project, a trip, or a presentation but it’s even more important to be aware of the small details. Mastering the small, insignificant details can make the difference between a successful business deal or an absolute disaster. What are the small details? Well, they could be a number of things. I like to think of them as peoples’ names, technical details, the times and dates of meetings, and staying on top of your tasks each and every day.

Preventing yourself from slacking off or getting complacent falls under this category of remembering the small details. You may think that names, dates, or the technical details are not important but if you forget or you neglect them, something is likely to blow up in your face. You may also hurt someone’s feelings or cause someone else to feel overwhelmed when you make little mistakes. In business, even small issues can become big issues, so it is better to strive to be a perfectionist than to let the small things slide. It does not mean obsessing over every little thing, but it means treating every part of a task the same and not slack off when something does not interest you because it could mean you making more careless errors. The little details can also make you stand out in a good way when you remember them and earn you greater respect and comradery at your work when you don’t make those careless errors too.

3. Put in The Extra Time: Similar to the Art of Networking extensively when you are starting out in business, putting in overtime to network or to get some extra work done or to put more effort on a project can develop your business acumen a lot quicker. Being a reliable and hard worker on a team can make up for your lack of knowledge in certain areas of the target language like English. However, you should be willing to put in extra time to study and work on the English skills needed to develop your proficiency in business, regardless of what type of business vocabulary and grammar you need.

You will need more than just the normal eight or nine hours doing your job but to develop your English level for business, you’ll need to be studying and practicing an hour per night to get really good at the English needed for your career.For this practice, you will need to mix it up with speaking practice, writing for potential work projects, and listening to other native speakers and seeing if you understand what they are telling you. Extra time not just for your job but also for your business English needs will set you apart if you are willing to put the effort in on a consistent basis over weeks or months in order to move ahead in your career.

4. Mastering Pleasantries: No business can be done without the correct way of speaking to both colleagues, potential partners and your superiors. You have to know how to talk to and interact with each type of person in your office or in your company. This involves studying pleasantries and the different vocabulary words that these conversations involve. There are different formalities and informalities involved when you’re talking with others professional depending on who they are. How you talk to your boss is different to how you talk to your intern who is in college.

Being proficient in business English means being able to have both productive and appropriate conversations with people from the higher ups to the new folks who just arrived. Greetings and goodbyes as well as making small talk are all important aspects of successfully doing business. Any good businessperson also is well versed in cross-cultural communication especially through the medium of a global language like English. Most of business is done over lunch, dinner, or an adult beverage.In order to have productive conversations, it starts with knowing how to address people in your own company and in other companies. It all starts with mastering pleasantries and then you can keep practicing mastering the entire conversation later on.

5. Know Who You Are (Background and Experience): Before you can begin to write about yourself let alone develop your professional resume (CV) and cover letter, you have to be able to know who you are. Knowing who are you means knowing how to write about yourself without bragging too much or boasting of things you did not do. You have to be aware of both your strengths and your weaknesses. You also should know what your skills are and what you still need to learn about. This trait of business involves having self-awareness and giving a fairly accurate perception of who you are professionally to other people.

Before you develop a resume, a cover letter, or even a short writing sample, it’s important that you firstly recounter your professional background up to this point where you start writing out everything in English. You’ll need to be aware of how to tie all of your professional experiences together, come up with a longer ‘pitch’ of what you bring to the table and how a company or business would benefit from you being there. Lastly, it’s key to brainstorm about your experiences, your career goals, and what your professional profile would be before you start putting pen to paper. This fifth basic trait may be the hardest to pull off but if you are to become comfortable using English for business purposes, you need to know who you are as a professional and about what you offer before you start jotting it all down.

These five basics of business for English may seem untraditional but you have to know how to walk before you can run, or you have to know how to network before you can sign the big deal for your firm. Your English skills for business have to master pleasantries, networking, and brainstorming before you can master presentations, deal making, or writing a formal cover letter. Taking these five basics seriously and getting them down first will not only make you a better English learner but you’ll also generally become a better businessman or businesswoman for having taken these bits of advice into consideration and acting on them to improve professional.

Once you have the basics down, let me know if you would be interested in a private Business English lesson or in enrolling in a Business English course to take your language skills in this area to a higher level. The sooner that you get started, the quicker you can advance in your career pursuits!

English Corner – Using Worksheets to Succeed

If you are learning a language such as English, it can be tough to justify doing homework and worksheets and additional activities. However, here’s a secret for you, dear reader: you have to do it as part of the learning process. In order to retain the knowledge, you have learned either through online courses, private lessons, or group classes, you need to have worksheets or activities in order to be able to remember what the concepts were that you have to put into practice. While worksheets alone will not make you an English master, the practice you can gain from them is invaluable.

From my experiences as an English as a Second Language teacher and as a business owner now, I can tell you that any kind of lectures or instructional materials whether they are by video, audio, or in-person should come with some kind of assessment in order to make sure that the student has absorbed the content and can make good use of it. Now, that does not mean repetition or intensive memorization but rather in the worksheets themselves, can they utilize this lecture material to write a paper, interpret a passage, form questions, give some answers, or even create a video or audio of their own.

It is a fallacy that worksheets have to be boring especially with languages. You can use them for many different purposes for English including grammar and vocabulary of course to be general but also for speaking, writing, reading, and listening. A true measure of a student is how they are able to discuss their reactions to a music video or answer questions about a movie scene or as well as ask questions of their classmates and write down the answers.

If you are a student and don’t have access to a private tutor or a regular English teacher, try to go online to different ESL websites to see if there are free resources to use including worksheets. Many sites offer free worksheets categorized by topics and themes, which you can then use to self-study English on your own. A good habit to pick up is to bookmark those websites that offer these free worksheets and use them each day depending upon which topic within English you would like to learn. You do not have to spend any money in order to get access to worksheets and they should cover a wide range of activities from speaking to writing to reading.

Also, paid worksheets that come with course videos or private lesson instruction come with the added benefit of the professor or teacher reviewing your work and correcting your mistakes. Having a private tutor can also help you realize where you went wrong, what you are doing well, and what you still have to improve upon. A course without any activities or worksheets is not much of an English course at all so it is very important to try to be able to evaluate yourself after going through some course material with either a worksheet, activity, or assignment to be graded.

We all know how having Homework especially as a teenager or an adult is no fun at all but for language learning, it is key to use worksheets that are due on a certain date and require grading to be used both in the virtual classroom and in the real classroom. Doing worksheets is not only for learning but for practice and to retain your knowledge. You can also be sure that by saving these worksheets for the future, you will be giving yourself a chance to go back, look at your mistakes, see where you are now as having improved and hopefully gotten better.

This is especially the case with vocabulary worksheets to help make sure you remember many verbs, adjectives, and nouns you may have forgot and to study them in order to improve your memory. Who knows? Perhaps you may have a family member or friend who wants to learn English who you can pass your worksheets on to so they can learn these concepts and skills too. Similar to a downloaded video, a downloaded worksheet can last for a while so you can always go back to it a few days, weeks, months, or even years later in case your English language skills start to get rusty again.

As I have mentioned, practice makes perfect and there are few better ways to make that happen than by working on and then completing worksheets. Whether you self-study and do them on your own, work with a friend or classmates, or even work through them together with a private tutor, English worksheets are a key part of boosting your knowledge of this language regardless of which part you are focusing on. You can do a worksheet on any part of the English language and I would recommend getting started with a base of vocabulary and grammar sheets before tackling the more advanced speaking, reading, writing, and listening worksheets.

Do not forget to take your time, check your work, read out loud the answers, or even seek the advice of a friend but make sure you do the worksheets, get feedback, and then save them for the future. You never know when you just might need them next and they are an amazing resource to have as an English as a Second Language student. Lastly, don’t forget to highlight your answers in yellow or cross them out with red ink. Using black or blue ink all of the time could get confusing for you.

English Corner – Creating a Cover Letter

What is a cover letter? Why is it important for an English learner to know about it and also how to create a good one? Well, a good cover letter can make the difference between landing that dream job or hitting refresh on the search results again to find the next job opportunity. Your experience and your professional background need to be succinct and summed up in a well-written way and the cover letter is your best way of doing that. It is an excellent way in which for you to improve your English writing skills and to prove that you can handle your future job’s writing components which there is likely to be many of them since you are a worker during an age of e-mails, 24 hour communications, and instant messaging services.

A cover letter is an opportunity for you to go into more detail about yourself and your experience(s) and background, both professionally and personally. However, your cover letter should focus on the job you are applying for as well as why you are interested in the particular company that you intend to work for. Your cover letter should be a balance of who you are as a professional, what you can offer for the job you’re applying to, and what your interest in the company is. It’s a balancing act between these two objectives and you should remember to personalize your cover letter depending on where you are applying to.

You may be asking yourself as you read this blog post: Why do I need a cover letter and what benefit(s) do I get from creating a worthwhile one? Well, there are a number of reasons for it which I will list below but be sure to note that it’s more than just a chance to land a good job but it’s a chance for yourself to become a better writer and know how to sell your abilities and skills.

Your cover letter is different from the resume in that it allows you to go more in-depth about yourself and why you’re a good fit for the job. Instead of short bullet points, you can highlight your experiences in broader detail. Employers will also expect why you would like to work for their company and how your skills line up with their requirements. It’s a chance to tell your story to them while interweaving how their company or organization aligns with your professional goals. In addition, you have the ability to showcase how good of a writer you are because the cover letter is more grammatically, and vocabulary focused than your resume.

Action words will make up a large component of your cover letter’s sentences so please be sure to put these verbs to good use. Here below are just a sampling of them listed below but remember that there are hundreds that can be used within the context of a regular cover letter. Try not to repeat yourself too much and to keep your usage of action words fresh and consistent throughout the letter.

Sample Action Words

  • Activate
  • Compose
  • Communicate
  • Develop
  • Direct
  • Manage
  • Organize
  • Review
  • Systemize
  • Test
  • Verify
  • Value

Note: Remember to add –d or –ed to the end of the action verb if using it for the past tense.

In addition, you have to be able to choose and use some phrases and sentences that will come in handy either at the beginning or end of the cover letter so that you will come off as being both professional and serious. You do not have to use all of them but there are a number of them that are cordial in nature that a potential employer will expect from you to see when they read it during their evaluation.

Here are some key useful phrases/sentences that you can use for your average cover letter:

  • Dear Sir or Madam…
  • I am applying for this ________________ opening with _______________ for the purpose of __________________________________.
  • This job appeals to me because ________________________.
  • Your company / organization / firm is my top choice because ____________________________________.
  • I believe that I offer a lot to this position based on my skills and qualifications.
  • For example, last year, I was tasked with ____________________________________ and I was able to help by ______________________________________.
  • Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or comments about my application.
  • Thank you for your consideration of my application for this _________________ position with ________________ and I look forward to hearing from someone soon.
  • Sincerely, __________________ (Your Name).

To give you reading at home a better idea of what the content and the structure of a cover letter looks like, I have included two sample cover letter excerpts that will show you how it can be written and what to write about potentially if you are still struggling for ideas as to how the cover letter should be shaping up.

Sample Cover Letter Excerpts

  • “I have over five years of management experience and led my team of software developers to develop a successful mobile application. This mobile application was instrumental in connecting doctors with patients in an online booking system that took out the middle man from participating in this previously onerous process.”
  • “I believe your company, Syntax Inc., has been successful in implementing various infrastructure projects related to bridges and tunnels throughout the Middle East. These kind of projects are related to what I hope to do with my career and I think that this work is very important to the future.”

Remember that you should know who your audience is and tailor your phrases to reflect who you are writing the cover letter for. Always use formal language such as sir, madam, sincerely, respectfully, please, thank you, etc. Go into detail about the job you are applying for and give different reasons on what you bring to the table for the position opening. Structure the cover letter into multiple paragraphs with an introduction, body paragraph(s), and a conclusion. The cover letter is a formal piece of writing so it should be structured as a formal letter whereas a resume is less substantive and more general.

In the introduction of the cover letter, remember to always put your full name, your current mailing address, your cell phone number, and your e-mail address at the header of the cover letter. The date at which you are sending out the cover letter should go next in the left hand part of the cover letter below your header. Then, you should begin the cover letter with “Dear Sir or Madam..” or “To Whom It May Concern”, or “Dear Mr. or Mrs. ________” if you know who specifically the cover letter should be addressed to. The introduction should be a paragraph or two focusing on what position you are applying to, the company associated with the position, and for which reasons you are applying for this specific position. You can also add the person or place that referred you to this job application especially if the person works for the company you’re applying to.

The body paragraph(s) of the cover letter should be a few paragraphs in total length but not be too lengthy or repetitive. Each paragraph should cover a different part of your professional or educational background and highlight what these experiences meant to you and what skills you developed. You should give a few examples of where you showed leadership, where you completed a successful project, and what you took from the experience. Do remember to not discuss every professional experience or educational program you’ve gone to but instead highlight the relevant ones related to the job application in question. Always use complete sentences for this part of the cover letter and check it over for grammatical coherence and correct vocabulary usage.

When it comes to a cover letter’s conclusion, you’ll want to re-state again why you are applying to this particular position and company. Discuss which characteristics, skills, and personal traits you have that will make you stand out as a job candidate. The conclusion of your cover letter should indicate gratitude and thankfulness for being able to apply and that you hope to hear back soon from the employer. Sign off with a salutation such as Sincerely, Best regards, Warm regards, Best wishes, Cordially, etc. and re-state your full name at the end of the cover letter. Don’t be too presumptuous that you will land the position but let your experiences, skills, and qualifications speak for themselves.

Your cover letter is what you make of it really and if you want the job bad enough, it will come through in your writing and in your sincerity. The point of becoming a better English learner is to put yourself to the test and to make the most of your abilities in this language and developing a good cover letter is a great way to do that. If you follow this advice, practice until there are few if no mistakes at all, and revise multiple times what you have written, you will be well on your way to having better success in your professional career in the English-speaking world.

English Corner – Colons

The colon is very useful in the English language, but it is also considered to be a bit underused as a means of punctuation within the world of grammar. You have to understand the circumstances for which a ‘colon’ can be used as well as a few examples of when it can show up in a regular sentence. If you can master colons, you can definitely count yourself as being advanced as an English learner. It will take time, but I hope that this tip will help you get a little bit better in making the colon work to your advantage as a writer.

What is a colon? Well, a colon indicates the meaning of what you want to say as well as to list what is necessary for the reader or the listener to understand. Colons and semicolons are very different in terms of meaning and use. They should never be used in the same sentence and are very rarely used together.

There are a number of uses for colons, but the three top ones would be the following:

Use #1: To introduce two or more items and to list them together separated by a comma(s).

Examples:

  1. You should do the following tonight: Practice your instrument, study for the test, and help clean the dishes.
  2. He got what he wanted today: A big promotion and an increase in his salary.
  3. Remember what we talked about: work hard, tell the truth, and always give it your best effort.

Use #2: To start a letter or an e-mail to somebody.

  1. Dear Mrs. Jones:
  2. To Whom It May Concern:
  3. To My Beloved ________:

Use #3: To introduce a quote or a short summary of a few sentences:

  1. John F. Kennedy once spoke: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
  2. The author of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, wrote in the second chapter:

“Tom Sawyer went back to his bed and stared at the fence where Jim was painting for Tom’s father. Tom wondered whether his father and Jim were friends or even if they spoke to each other.” (Not a real quote from the book, just an example)

  1. The Presidential candidate was quoted as saying: “I agree that we must move forward on fighting climate change in order to create a better future for our people.”

As you can see now, there are three main uses for colons as well as some rules that have to be observed. Let us now look at some of the important rules for using colons and how to make sure that we abide by them.

Rules of Colon Usage

  1. Colons are used in the middle of most sentences and are usually followed by a list of items or words belonging to the same or similar categories.
  2. Colons can also be used between two sentences especially if the second sentence relates to the meaning of the first sentence.
  3. A colon should always be used to introduce a numbered or a bulleted list, such as for grocery items or different types of grammar concepts.
  4. As mentioned earlier, colons can be used to introduce a quote from a speaker who was reported to have said the following words and sentences. This kind of long quotation does not need quotation marks if you have already introduced who the speaker is and what they are talking about followed by the comma (:).
  5. Colons can also be used at the beginning of a letter or an e-mail in both formal and informal settings for co-workers, bosses, friends, and family members. From seeing the examples above, you can note that instead of a comma (,), a colon (:) is being used instead to introduce the salutation or the greeting for the reader of the letter or e-mail.

These are the main rules for how to use colons and it’s important to keep in mind that a colon can:

  1. Never start a formal sentence.
  2. Never end a formal sentence.
  3. It is rare to have more than one colon used in a single sentence.
  4. Colons can be used between two sentences provided there is no period (.) separating them.
  5. While not very prominently used like a comma or a period, this form of punctuation has its uses which you should know how to utilize.

Colons are a tricky subject but once you understand both the main uses and the main rules, you will be well on your way to creating better sentences and more detailed quotes from the use of this punctuation. Similar to semicolons, colons are an advanced topic that separate an advanced English grammar learner from an intermediate learner. Once you can list items, introduce quotes, and start an e-mail off right, you will know that you are using colons correctly and for the right reasons.

English Corner – Semicolons

Similar to commas, Semicolons are an important punctuation mark that plays a key role in many English sentences. When you think of a semicolon, think of it being a slight pause in a sentence between the two main clauses or parts that should be separated as you would do with a comma. You will want to use the semicolon in between two independent clauses within a basic sentence and this is especially true if there is no coordinating conjunction being used such as and, or, but, etc. A good example of when semicolons can be used is when you are writing a list of items or things that need to be separated from one another. This is probably the most important use of a semicolon, but it is far from being the only usage.

Semicolons are often used in the middle or towards the end of a sentence if apart of a multi-item list. You won’t see a semicolon being used at the beginning or the end of a sentence as you would with a period or a question mark. Semicolons, colons, and commas are all part of what is known as ‘internal punctuation’, which forms the backbone of a complete sentence. Semicolons can be used with other semicolons within the same sentence as it would be the case when commas are used with commas in a similar sentence.

Semicolons can be used interchangeably with commas as well within the same sentence depending on whether two different people, places, or things are being referenced separately. It is perhaps most common that the semicolon is used with another semicolon or more, but it can be used with other forms of internal punctuation. In addition, semicolons can be used with a colon (:) because the colon often precedes the semicolon(s) in a complete sentence in terms of usage.

Let us look at a few examples where semicolons are being used with a colon preceding it:

1.)   Jackie bought the following items from the supermarket today: Corn; String beans; Tomatoes; Bread.

2.)   James listed his worst fears for his teacher in the following order: Flying; Being in front of an audience; Heights; Spiders.

Let us look at how semicolons (;) can be used with commas (,) correctly within the same sentence:

1.)   George’s family included John, his older brother; Jenny, his younger sister; and Jerry, his younger brother.

2.)   There are McDonald’s restaurants all over the world including Istanbul, Turkey; Mexico City, Mexico; and Bogota, Colombia.

3.)   The astronauts had to decide about the countdown: Would they count from three, two, one; or one, two, three?

All these examples show how interchangeable punctuation marks are within a complete sentence especially when you are listing family members or restaurant chains in different cities. You can see how commas and semicolons can be used together, especially to highlight pauses within a sentence to show differences between places and/or people. Semicolons are not used as often as commas but they play an important role.

Let’s look at how semicolons are used to separate independent clauses especially when a coordinating conjunction is not being used in its place:

1.)   Tim goes to France; I go to Spain.

2.)   Jenny wanted to play tennis; I told her the courts were closed due to rain.

3.)   Jack has three dogs; Tommy has one.

4.)   I believe in UFOs; Jordan thinks I have gone crazy.

In these sentences, you are particularly going to use semicolons when the thoughts in each independent clause are opposed to each other or neutral to the other. When you want to contradict the previous clause, you can use a semicolon to highlight the difference between the two points of views instead of using a coordinating conjunction. To put it another way, coordinating conjunctions are used with independent clauses that are similar to each other whereas you use semicolons with independent clauses that are opposed or contradictory of one another. Sentences with semicolons tend to be shorter than those sentences that use commas or coordinating conjunctions, which do a better job of lengthening the sentence without making it a run-on sentence.

Lastly, a semicolon has an important usage in between sentences or within sentences when it comes to quotations. A comma can replace a period after a quotation and then is followed by a semicolon to link the two sentences together especially when the two people are in a conversation.

Let’s look at a few examples of how semicolons are used within a sentence where there are quotations cited as part of a larger story or narrative:

1.)   “I don’t want to do this,” he stated; “You have no choice in the matter.”

2.)   “Is this your home?” she asked; “Why don’t you go inside to your family?”

3.)   “Why do you look so upset?” he inquired; “What do you have to worry about these days?”

Unless followed by the beginning of a quotation or a proper noun or subject, semicolons are followed by a lower-case letter. You can see from these examples and the explanations given that semicolons are a key part of English grammar and punctuation. Whether its with connecting short independent clauses or bringing together a series of quotations, semicolons can be very useful in English writing. The most important use of semicolons remains making lists especially of different people and places along with their descriptive qualities. Please be sure to follow the example sentences I have given to form your own semicolon sentences. Keep practicing, do your best, and be sure to read this blog post again in the future to better understand this important punctuation mark.

English Corner – Sentence Order and Structure

In previous ‘English Corner’ posts, I have covered ‘Personal Pronouns’ and ‘Singular and Plural Nouns’. I now would like to focus wholeheartedly on how the average English language learner can create a basic yet complete sentence that follows the SVO rule.

What is the SVO rule you may be asking? Good question. SVO stands for Subject – Verb – Object, which is the chronological order for which English sentences are made of. Other languages besides English may be forming sentences as Subject – Object – Verb, Object – Verb – Subject or Object – Subject – Verb but just for this particular language that we are learning which is English, we are going to stick with Subject – Verb – Object and the SVO rule.

If you have doubts about remembering that SVO stands for Subject – Verb – Object as an acronym, you can instead remember it as Some Valuable Onions (SVO) or So Very Open (SVO). These are just two examples of acronyms that you can associate with the SVO rule. It is important to remember that an English sentence will not make any sense unless it follows this particular rule and of placing these characteristics in the right chronological order.

Let’s begin with the Subject:

Subjects are often personal pronouns or proper nouns, which begin the English sentence. If you are using a personal pronoun, you would begin your sentence with I, You, We, They, He, and She if you are referring to a person. You would use a proper noun to refer to an object or a thing as ‘It.’ In addition, you can focus on using proper nouns as well that refer to specific people, places, and things. For example, you could begin a sentence with ‘The President, Albert Einstein, The Miami Dolphins, Hollywood, etc.) These proper nouns are usually formal titles referring to a person’s rank, their full name, or the title of the object or thing being referenced to.

Let’s continue with the Verb:

There are thousands of verbs that we can put in the heart of our sentences but let’s focus here on just the basic ones that are the come up the most frequently. When it comes to verbs, they usually will come right after the ‘subject’ in terms of the order to be in the middle. You also may need to add another verb or two to the sentence to make it complete with an additional subject word at the beginning if you are referencing another person in the ‘personal pronoun’ form.

When it comes to ‘verbs’, you will have the main verb of the sentence and then the ‘auxiliary verbs’ before or after the main verb which are meant to support the actual meaning of the sentence. Auxiliary verbs are not integral to basic sentence structure, but it is something to be aware of as most English sentences will have more than one verb. If you mess up the order of verbs in the sentence, do not be too concerned because that is an easy mistake to make. The key thing to keep in mind is that you are putting the verb after the subject and before the object or object(s) of the sentence.

Let’s finish with the Object:

The object of a sentence brings meaning or purpose to it so without the ending or the ‘object’ being made clear, the sentence will not function on its own within a larger paragraph or an essay. Objects can be either ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ in terms of their relation to the subject. Types of objects include animals, people, places, things, etc. that are referenced to in some way at the end of the sentence.

A preposition can also go in front of the ‘object’ such as ‘for, to, on, with, by’ and can either be prepositions of place or prepositions of time.

Objects can be abstract, real, theoretical, or imaginary as long as they relate to both the previous subject(s) or verb(s) of the sentence. You can refer to an object directly in the sentence or indirectly depending upon the context.

It is important that the sentence when you finish writing it makes sense grammatically and in terms of using the correct vocabulary. Lastly, while you need a complete sentence, it does not have to be a run-on sentence meaning that you can break up a sentence in two or more sentences if you are saying too much.

Let’s look at a few examples going from the shortest sentence to the longest sentence:

Example #1: I like football.

Example #2: I want to play video games.

Example #3: She was not a good ballet dancer, but she was an excellent writer.

Example #4: You are not supposed to be at the music festival as you have a big test to study for tomorrow.

Example #5: Abraham Lincoln is known as the 16th President of the United States but he was also an avid reader, a lawyer, a U.S. Senator, and an outdoorsman.

Each of these examples sum up the varying levels of complexity that make up sentences in the English language. As you can see, it is likely that the longer a sentence is, the more complex it will be with additional subjects, verbs, and/or objects. The key to avoid run-on sentences is to look over your written work to make sure that the sentence is following the SVO rule but has the right vocabulary to go along with it.

The first example starts us off with one subject, one verb, and one object. The second example adds an auxiliary verb to the sentence and adds a preposition as well. The third sentence enters in a comma as well as an explanation regarding how ‘she’ was ‘not’ a ballet dancer, ‘but’ was an excellent writer. You have two objects, a preposition, and the same verb being used twice in the simple past tense. To add on to the complexity, the fourth sentence highlights the two objects as well as three total verbs and has a time frame by using ‘tomorrow’ as its indirect object at the end of this example. Lastly, the fifth and most complete English sentence discusses a real-life subject in President Abraham Lincoln and how he could have a number of other ‘objects’ associated with him. This sentence also has different verbs as well as a descriptive adjective like ‘avid’ to add some flair to this last example.

As you can see from my explanations and my examples, English language sentences are as diverse and as varied as the language itself. Whether it is three words or thirty words, one complete and compelling sentence can make all the difference in making you both a better English writer and a better English learner overall. Good luck and remember to use this post as a way to begin your quest to create excellent English sentences!

English Corner – Spot The Mistakes

Once you have learned to embrace your errors, the next key part of being an editor of your written English language work is to spot the mistakes. You need to become proficient in catching your mistakes, understanding why they were mistakes, and then fixing them. You are bound to make some mistakes with your English writing but the best way to get over that hurdle is to spot them, understand them, and fix them. It doesn’t even have to be your English when it comes to spotting the mistakes.

Beyond your own work, look at the English language wherever you go and see if there are any mistakes that other people have made. You may be able to help other writers whether they are friends, family, colleagues, or fellow students by helping them spot their mistakes and assisting them in getting them fixed.

Part of becoming proficient as an editor is getting that extra practice that comes with spotting errors in the English that others have put forward. You should always point out their mistakes in a polite and courteous manner, but you should be able to learn from their mistakes in addition to your own. Peer editing is a crucial part of becoming a better English writer and it will make you more adept as an editor too when it comes to be time to review your own work.

Most of us go about our daily lives trying to not focus on the advertisements or the notices that come across our path. However, another crucial way to boost your English language skills is to look closely at those words and phrases you see every day when you’re out and about. You may not notice it but there are sometimes silly and easily fixable errors that are in these notices and advertisements.

When you spot them, take the time to snap a photo with your phone and then when you’re home later, you’ll be able to write down the incorrect word or sentence and re-write it, so it is correct. In order to make this happen, you have to be observant and you have to sometimes get close to the notice, advertisement, or posting in public and really look carefully at it to see if the written English is right. What may be tedious at first may end up being a fun game of sorts that you can play with friends and family to improve your English.

Spotting errors does not only have to be with regards to advertisements or public notices. Despite how well edited written pieces of work are, you are likely to still find small errors in publications such as newspapers, journals, magazines, and even short stories. If you have purchased any one of these items, you should take the time to highlight the errors you find because there may be a few that have slipped the radar of the editor before it came time for publication. In addition to highlighting these errors, you should consider fixing the mistakes and even making the publisher and/or author aware of the fact that there were some mistakes left in the final version of the written piece.

The last key component when it comes to spotting English mistakes is having a way to document them whether you found these mistakes either in public or in private. It would be really beneficial to have a list of English mistakes that you have noticed and fixed as well as what was the running theme that they may have had in common. It would be wise to group those mistakes in categories whether they were grammatical errors, structural errors, or spelling errors. You could also write about the patterns of the mistakes in a journal or a Word document so you can keep track of where, how, and why you spotted those English errors.

Also, there are hundreds of activities, worksheets, and general practice problems out there that any student can use to boost their proficiency in being a better English editor. You will need to be already a decent writer to make proper edits, but you can do so at the Intermediate level or above. In addition, daily or even weekly practice by completing those ‘mistake’ correction worksheets will go a long way to become a good editor not only for yourself but for your fellow classmates or work colleagues.

There are many different websites out there where you can download, open, and use these activities for free and they are really easy to do so on your own. After completing these worksheets, be sure to get a trusted friend who is good in English or a qualified teacher or professor to look over your corrections to make sure that you did well in spotting and correcting the errors in the paragraph, essay, or article. Without proper oversight, you will not be as well off as an English editor so having a person for peer review is key in this case.

Spotting the mistakes that you make with the English language is easy enough, but it takes a lot of hard work and effort to spot the mistakes of others. However, by doing so, you’ll develop the skillset necessary to be a good Editor not just for yourself but for other English writers. Having the chance to practice spotting errors and mistakes in writing will set you apart from other learners. You should not be afraid of challenging yourself or your ego to point out the mistakes that you or others will inevitably make and then fix them.

While doing so, keep a running tally of these mistakes and understand if they are a pattern and how you can overcome making the same mistake over and over again. As I have mentioned previously, you learn through making mistakes and this is the case for both native English speakers and for English as a Second Language learners. Nobody’s perfect and we all have flaws in our language abilities. Instead of hiding from these mistakes, let us hold each other accountable and bring them out into the open so that we all may improve and become better English learners.

English Corner – Utilization, Not Memorization

Many English language learners and students are taught from a young age to memorize, repeat, and regurgitate what they have been assigned by their teachers. When it comes to the main focus of English as a Second Language, there is a tendency for educators in this field to focus on having memorization be the main focal point of an English student’s language base when it should not be this way. Instead of memorization and repetition, we should instead focus on helping English language learners with utilization, which means putting the English grammar and vocabulary they have acquired for actual use.

While learning different types of English vocabulary and understanding English grammar rules are very important parts for a beginner student to master, instead of focusing on fill-in-the-blank, matching, and multiple choice questions, teachers should instead focus on putting the English student in situations where they need to use this vocabulary or remember these grammar rules so they’ll better be able to retain the knowledge they have gained. Relying too heavily upon vocabulary sheets or grammar rules sheets for too long will disengage the students from enjoying the process of mastering a foreign language.

A good lesson should encompass grammar and vocabulary together, but for which leads to a chance for the students in the class to be put in activities or lessons where they need to use what they have learned right away so they retain it better. There are numerous examples out there on how to achieve this kind of lesson plan but a good one would involve speaking and writing parts, so students not only engage with the material alone but also with each other or in small groups. English does not have to be boring but a strict curriculum with the same activities over and over again will not help students to improve their retention of the language.

Students have the responsibility to study the grammar and vocabulary that the teacher has assigned in class, but it is the teacher’s responsibility to mix the subject matter up enough so that the students will have enough chances to let the material sink in over time so that they can absorb it better. In addition to speaking and writing exercises, utilizing listening and reading activities are crucial too. To break up the monotony of continuous vocabulary and grammar exercises, a good English teacher will mix it up in different ways to make the class more fun and interactive.

In my experiences as an English as a Second Language teacher, I have noticed a deficit in some cases where the students are able to do well on grammar and vocabulary assignments but struggle greatly when it comes to utilizing these lessons to improve their speaking and writing capabilities. By incorporating related speaking and writing activities to supplement the new material, students will better able to progress in these areas as well. Going through the textbook, doing the same kind of activities over and over again is no recipe for a proficient English learner.

When it comes to speaking, if you are doing a unit on types of food and drinks, it’s good to do an activity where students ask each other questions and get answers from their classmates. They could ask, “what is your favorite food?”, “what do you like to eat for breakfast / lunch / dinner?”, “What supermarket do you go to?”, “Do you like to cook? why or why not?” These question and answer activities are extremely effective in keeping the students engaged and allow them to put their grammar and vocabulary knowledge to good use by actually applying it in a real-life situation.

For grammar retention, writing sentences and even essays are a key aspect to utilizing the grammar lessons that they have learned in the past and applying them in the present. For example, if you introduce an essay topic or question such as “Where do you see yourself in ten years?, what will you be doing with your life, and what would you like to do?”, this essay assignment is a great way to jog the student’s memory so that they remember how to use verb tenses such as the ‘simple future tense’ or the ‘future progressive tense.’ Letting students use the future tense to describe their future selves is a great way in engaging them honestly and utilizing their understanding of English grammar by putting it into the written form.

Your English students will also be more engaged when they can utilize their base grammar and vocabulary knowledge to both read and listen. Having high levels of comprehension in these two areas is crucial in becoming a proficient learner of this language. For Reading, it’s important to incorporate different forms of reading for your class such as poetry, short stories, interesting magazine articles, and relevant newspaper articles.

For example, if your class is learning about how to describe weather in English, it would be good to share the newspaper section, which covers the weather specifically, and have the students describe the weather in different cities and towns from reading the descriptions in the newspaper. Having the students read newspaper articles about current events and other news will help satisfy their curiosity about English-speaking cultures and countries. There are numerous speaking and reading activities that can be done together to utilize what the student has learned to be put to good use.

Lastly, being able to utilize listening to music, audiobook passages, or news reports will do a great job in allowing the students to hear the grammar and vocabulary necessary to further their comprehension. You can get very creative with listening lessons and add on speaking and writing components to give your students more chances to utilize their English language skills in different ways. Testing the students without multiple choice, matching, or fill-in-the-blank activities can be done by assessing their comprehension of listening passages. Listening and repetition is also another way to help students retain their vocabulary and grammar knowledge.

A huge reason why English as a Second Language students struggle with retaining their knowledge of the language is that they are simply not utilizing it enough. Teachers should be aware that endless vocabulary and grammar lessons that are based around memorization and repetition are not helping their students but hurting them instead. In addition, focusing only on teaching to the test is a recipe for disaster and students will not enjoy actually learning the language if the teacher is not utilizing creative lesson planning, fun activities, and group cooperation when it comes to improving their students’ English skills.

In order for students to keep their English skills going into the future, teachers should focus on speaking, writing, listening, and reading lessons so that students will not only utilize the language in various ways but to also remember and use it years into the future long after they finish working with that teacher.

English Corner – The Keys to Public Speaking

It can be difficult to speak in front of another person when you are not so sure of your English abilities. You’re probably comfortable when you talk to your family or your friends but you struggle to practice your English skills in front of random strangers. You’re fine on the phone with your best friend and may have no problem talking to them one-on-one. You might even be comfortable speaking in front of a class to practice a dialogue that your teacher prepared for you.

However, what about when it comes to speaking in English in front of a large group? Public speaking makes most people uncomfortable or nervous even when they are talking in their native language. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make it easier especially when it is your first time talking in front of strangers or an audience where you do not know anyone. The next time you have to do a presentation or make a speech, try these techniques and see if they help you. The more you practice your English in front of people who don’t know you, the more you’ll be able to gain self-confidence and get better at speaking even if you happen to make a few mistakes.

Choose a Topic You Know Well: Think about your background and experiences. Who are you? and what do you know a lot about? When you speak to a group for the first time, you have to be yourself. Don’t try to talk about something you know little about. Also, remember to not try to be someone you’re not. If you love sports, for example, do a presentation on your favorite baseball team and why you like them so much. You could also discuss what sport is your favorite to play and how it is played.

In order to grab the audience’s attention, remember to include personal stories from your own life and use a conversational tone as you would with a friend or a family member. Your audience wants to hear about your knowledge and expertise but they also want to get to know the real you along with how you were able to become the person you are today.

Practice and Practice Again: After you plan your formal presentation, it’s time to practice your English. If you do not want to practice it in front of friends or family, at least try to practice in front of a mirror or in front of your pet if you have one. You should use a clock or an alarm so that you know how long your presentation will take. Then, do your whole presentation out loud without stopping, even if you catch yourself making a few grammatical errors.

It is absolutely necessary that you follow through with your presentation even if you are not perfect at it during your practice runs. Also, please be sure to practice with the equipment you plan to use such as a laptop or projector. You may also need to practice with a microphone so you can know if you need to be louder or if you need to tone down your voice a bit for the future presentation. Practice more than once and when you have put that fear behind you, remember to practice in front of a friend or family member if possible. They might be able to give you some helpful advice about your tone, grammar, subject matter, etc. They will be your best critic because they know how your English is in spoken form.

Use Eye Contact and Gestures: Words are only one way that we communicate during a spoken presentation. You can also connect with your audience through your body language. First, always make eye contact with someone in the audience. Remember to look directly at different people in the audience so that they feel that you are talking to them personally. Second, use natural movement with your body and use gestures to get your points across. You do not have to wave your hands and arms around ecstatically but it is good to move them around to emphasize a certain part of your speech that you feel is uniquely important. Walking around the stage or platform a little can make you look less nervous and also gives you an air of confidence. On top of all that, being able to use your hands while you talk can also be helpful for your presentation.

Never Say “You’re Sorry”: Finally, don’t ever apologize for being nervous during a presentation, especially when English is not your native language. The audience probably doesn’t know or realize how nervous you are, and they are more interested in hearing about your topic for which you are an expert in. Also, if you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s alright to admit that you don’t know it and to move on to the next one. You don’t have to say you’re sorry. However, it’s great if you can explain to that audience member that the question is not something you know about. When you can do this in a polite manner, you will be able to move on to the next question without offending the audience you’re talking to.

Do Your Best: Nobody’s perfect at public speaking even if their native language is English. You may make a few mistakes but the audience will respect and admire you for giving it your best and presenting to them about a worthwhile topic. As the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and neither will the perfection of your public speaking skills. The main things to take out of your public speaking experience are to develop your grammar, diction, vocabulary, and overall cadence. Putting yourself out there is hard to do but you will be a better English speaker for it and after having gone through these experiences, you will have more confidence and better communication skills. Whether you are pitching your new business, explaining your scientific discovery, or examining the witness at a trial, good public speaking is absolutely key to your professional development.