What are we left with? (Our Memories)

I was asked a question recently that was very deep and thought-provoking. A friend asked me if I had to choose between an old age spent losing my physical abilities but keeping my mental faculties or an old age spent losing my mental faculties and keeping my physical abilities, which one would I choose? The question gave me pause because I normally do not focus a lot on my impending aging but it’s natural to think of what life will be like once you are an elderly person. My friend did not hesitate to say that he would choose having his physical abilities intact since he is a very active person and enjoys running, hiking, and exercising at the gym.

He thought that I would agree with him and I do like to keep active as well physically but I also thought of what would happen to my mind if I could no longer process and retain information about books I love, music I enjoy, and movies where I can recite a lot of lines of dialogue from. Perhaps most importantly, I thought of all the memories I have made up until this point of both friends and loved ones and how it would be anguishing to me if I succumb to a disease of the mind where I lose sight of who I am or who my family or friends are. I think that really is a fate worse than physical deterioration because I find that our physical abilities and our peak performance do not last and Father Time will have our way with all of us regardless of how much we exercise, take vitamins, and play sports. Eventually, your body will break down especially the older you get and there is only so much you can do to spot that.

However, I tend to believe that exercising our mind and our mental capabilities can be a lot easier and take a lot less work than it takes to maintain our physical body. We live in an age where you can learn anything you want about an unlimited number of subjects. Keeping our minds sharp by studying foreign languages, learning new subjects, reading good books, writing our thoughts down in a journal are all healthy activities to kind the mind sharp. I am not an expert in terms of how to keep our mental capacities up as we go through life but I would imagine that putting your brain to the test especially with puzzles, trivia games, and sudoku especially can help you preserve what is most important to you.

Unfortunately, I have seen firsthand how sad and tragic it is for others to slowly lose their mental capacities and that is what tipped me towards the idea of focusing as much, if not more so, on giving myself the best show to work on my concentration, my memory, and my ability to learn new things. I believe that we all have that same capacity to preserve our mental capacities although it does take consistent work that not only last years but lasts decades as well.

Part of the reason why it is good to be able to exercise your brain as much as possible is because I really believe it makes you a more well-rounded and thoughtful person. Learning new things is something you should never really give up on. Having a college degree or a law degree or a medical degree is not really an excuse to stop learning and stop exercising your mind to the most you can push it.

We do not know what old age will hold, what will it be like, what abilities or faculties we will be left with but what we have control over is today and what we focus on whether that is mental or physical exercise. What I do know is how meaningful it is to remember what has happened over the course of your life and to be aware of those special memories that are yours and yours alone. In the end, what are we left with? We are left with our memories and hopefully it is more of an endless ocean than a single drop of water.

To focus today on making those memories with the people we care about and the things we enjoy doing will make old age that much sweeter. If your body one day gives out but your mind is still sharp, I think that is the better side of the deal. Obviously, it would be great to be fit as a fiddle and sharp as a tack until your last day, but I find that to be wishful thinking. I hope to remember who I am, what I’ve done, who I met, and most importantly who I loved when that time comes to reminisce and there aren’t many more memories to make.

Having memories in your mind that are fresh and seemed like they happened yesterday is the best you should hope for and what you can strive for by working today to strengthen your mental capacities as much as possible.  Your body at 70 is unlikely to be as good as your body at 70 but I’m a believer in the capacity of your mind at 70 to be as sharp as your mind at 20 within reason.

There are definitely outside factors to contend for in terms of your ability to retain your memories such as your genetic predisposition, your family history, and your own mind’s chemistry, but you can control a lot today through your own actions what memories you will be left with 50 years later. It also does not hurt to start writing down in a journal or diary on a daily basis or at least a weekly basis what happened in your life. This is especially the case if you live an exciting or an eventful life.

In addition, having photographs of yourself at different ages and in different places will jumpstart your memories and remind you of where you have been and what you did. Towards the end of your life, think of what you will have left. Yes, you will have your money, your possessions, and hopefully good physical health but I wish you also to remember deeply the memories you have made from different parts of your life and they are as vivid as possible. Your life towards the end of it should be like a cinematic movie of many parts, one as distinct from the other, and I hope you can look upon those memories you have made with great enjoyment and great fondness for what was and what it meant to you.

English Corner – An Introduction to Rhetorical Techniques

Rhetorical techniques are used in English writing to convey a meaning or a sentiment that the reader understands and is able to relate to emotionally or otherwise. A technique like a metaphor or a simile is used to persuade a reader to consider the topic being addressed from a different point of view(s).

There are numerous techniques out there, but I would like to focus on the most important ones that come up the most in English writing. Out of the dozens of rhetorical techniques in the English language, I will highlight the most commonly used and the most popular ones that you should know of as a writer.

The first rhetorical techniques I would like to introduce focus on the type of ideas you use in your writing, the emotions and feelings that you are describing, the characterization of the people you are referencing as well as their credibility, and the strength of your argument. These particular techniques are known as Logos, Pathos, Ethos, and Kairos, which are all likely to come up during your writing exercises. You should keep each of them in mind when you are writing and to know which rhetorical technique is which when you use them in your writing.

  • Logos – Logical and Consistent Ideas
  • Pathos – Emotions and Feelings
  • Ethos – Plausibility and Credibility, characterization of the person(s) involved
  • Kairos – Timeliness and relevance of your argument

Here are some additional and commonly used rhetorical techniques as well as some examples of each of them in action when used in a normal sentence.

  • Metaphor – a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action that is not literally applicable.

Example: He is suffering from a broken heart.

  • Cliché – Not an original thought, an opinion or a sentence that has been used many times before.

Example: They really lost track of time when they were studying for the test.

  • Pun – A joke that plays on the possible meanings of a word or a fact.

Example: “I asked my French friend if she wanted to play video games. She said Wii.”  (Oui)

  • Euphemism – A polite or indirect word, expression that is a substitute for something more blunt or severe.

Example: My grandfather passed away last year sadly. (died)

  • Alliteration – The occurrence of the same letter and/or sound at the beginning of closely connected words.

Example: Alice’s aunt ate apples and almonds.

  • Simile – A different figure of speech in which two different, unlikely things are compared to one another.

Example: Her smile is like the shining sun.

  • Analogy – Making a similarity between the features of two things or people and which a comparison can be made.

Example: “Just as a sword is the weapon of a warrior, a pen is the weapon of a writer.”

  • Allegory – A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to have a hidden meaning.

Example: “When Jack finally finished climbing up the beanstalk even when his Father told him not to, he found an unwelcome surprise at the summit that reminded him of his father’s warning…”

  • Irony – A state of events that seem deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing or bewildering as a result.

Example: Even though John had overslept for the exam and ran all the way to the school to take the exam, his teacher belatedly told him that it was tomorrow, and that today was Sunday.

  • Sarcasm – The use of irony to mock someone or show contempt.

Example: “Tina asked her mother how much her purse had cost her when she bought it. Her mother responded playfully that it was about $20,000 and she had to use Tina’s college savings fund to help pay for it. Tina was upset about her mother’s joke and that she wasn’t being serious with her.”

Here are some of the last major rhetorical techniques to consider during your English grammar studies for writing purposes:

  • Synonyms – Similar in meaning and context with Vocabulary words.
  • Antonyms – Opposite in meaning and Context with Vocabulary words.

Strong – Weak (Antonym)                         Intelligent – Smart (Synonym)

Big – Small (Antonym)                              Caring – Kind (Synonym)

Tall – Short (Antonym)                              Sad – Unhappy (Synonym)

Fat – Thin (Antonym)                                Funny – Humorous (Synonym)

Remember to keep your sentences short and concise as a beginner. As you improve and use correct punctuation, your sentences can become longer and more detailed. Please be sure to focus on the rhetorical techniques that are used the most. There are more than a dozen techniques that you should now be familiar with so try to memorize how, when, and where you use each of them.

Don’t try to memorize all of them but try to become more and more knowledgeable of a few that you recognize that keep coming up again and again. Lastly, do not forget TOP or “Techniques, Order, and Punctuation”, which are the three main concepts that form the basis for correct English writing structure.

English Corner – The Utility of One-on-One Practice

When you are learning a new language especially one where you don’t have a lot of access to native speakers of that language, your ability to learn the foreign language can suffer as a result. Even if you are learning from someone in your country who speaks with advanced proficiency, there is still a discernible difference between a native speaker who also would likely be a qualified teacher for foreign students and one who is a teacher but is still a non-native teacher.

Now, there are a lot of great foreign teachers of second languages including the English language out there who are non-native speakers but I think that if a student has the chance to work with native speakers especially if they have taught before and are certified, your odds of getting better at the target language will increase exponentially. Most group classes or formal class settings for language learning instruction place an emphasis on a comprehensive strategy involving reading, grammar, vocabulary, and listening comprehension. However, while there is a little bit of speaking and writing practice, it is often not enough and there is also no time spent on the individual student and their own strengths and weaknesses.

If you are in a class of 25 to 30 students, one teacher will not be able to effectively work with each student as much or as effectively to improve either the speaking or writing skills in such a constrained time period. If you have four or five hours of English language instruction per week, the chances are high that out of that amount of time, there will only be 30 minutes to an hour dedicated to either speaking or writing instruction, which is very little.

While group or class settings can be ideal for addressing certain proficiency needs such as the aforementioned reading, listening, grammar, and vocabulary practice, such a large setting is often not conducive to conducting good lessons related to addressing speaking or writing practice. In order to boost a student’s proficiency levels specifically with regards to their speaking or writing needs, then you’re going to have to go smaller to get the best results. Any student of the English language must take it upon themselves to find one-on-one practice because that is the best way to help them achieve the best results when it comes to improving their English especially when it comes to speaking or writing.

Even if a student has no access to one-on-one practice, an admirable alternative would be small group sessions or roundtables of no more than five students so they can get as much individualized attention as possible. The key point to make is that one-on-one or small group practice will help the individual student advance a lot more in English than in a large classroom setting. Large classroom settings can benefit ESL students in some ways especially for socialized learning and group practice, but it lacks that kind of one-on-one correction and encouragement that a foreign language student often needs to succeed.

If the English student in question doesn’t have the funds or the time to research private options, it would be ideal for the school or learning institution providing his class study to provide him or her with some outside options for additional learning, especially online if the student is able to do so. While funding private one-on-one learning may not be possible for the academic institution, to improve their students’ performance, they should do their best to make one-on-one tutoring as cost effective as possible.

If it cannot be offered within the institution, then it should be subsidized as much as possible and referred back to other trusted learning centers or individual teachers who will do a great job in assisting the student in one-on-one tutoring. One-on-one learning, especially for speaking and/or writing purposes is extremely effective for a number of reasons. The greater amount of attention, the ability to correct the student quickly and show them how to fix their errors, and the ability to have a longer, more in-depth conversation or writing session is key to helping the student than they could receive instead in the classroom setting.

To have the ability to study the language on a one-to-one basis is a key part of becoming a better English speaker and writer. To have an hour or two of one-on-one practice will do wonders for the student’s self-confidence, their comprehension, and their ability to cover more topics than they would in a class with 25 other students. The next best option that the student has without spending any money is to attend a language exchange event if available in their city or town where they can practice English with another speaker in exchange for sharing their native language with another student or more. These language exchanges are a great way for language students to meet each other, practice their native and foreign languages, and build a community of like-minded students. While these are not specifically one-on-one practice events, you are likely to be speaking to one other person at a time as you rotate to talk to other people at the event as they likely go for a few hours each time.

By practicing one-on-one, you are not able to hide from your language ability and will put them to the test. Overall, that is an excellent way to develop your English proficiency and to do it more quickly. In a classroom, you can hide as other students answer questions and do work on shared projects but there is no hiding in a one-on-one practice session. While it can be intimidating to work with a teacher or a peer one-on-one, it’s not only good for the student’s English language skills but also for their personal development and socialization.

An added bonus to this is that the student can learn from a native speaker perhaps or a person from a country where the language is native to them. Lastly, with the advent of digital learning, it is now easier to work online with a native speaker from halfway around the world in English or another language for free with a peer or with a paid tutor for anywhere from thirty minutes to a couple of hours each week.

Group lessons and classroom learning are key to being better at English but if you really want to develop your proficiency to the highest level, you should consider learning and practicing on a one-on-one basis as much as possible. You’ll be putting yourself out there and may mistakes but that is a natural part of any learning process and you will definitely grow as a result of being accountable for both your failures and your successes as a language learner.

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.