English Corner – The Building Blocks of Reading Materials

“When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits.”

When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits. It is a necessary complement to your learning and will help flex that muscle needed to retain both the grammar and the vocabulary that can drive your overall proficiency forward. It is not so much which reading material you choose but the fact that it should be appropriate for your reading level as a whole.

For example, it would not make sense to try something very difficult because you think you will advance that much quicker. Often times, if you go beyond your reading level in English, it will often cause an unnecessary step back and you will waste precious time in trying to understand a level of vocabulary and grammar that you are not yet ready for. It is often better to be err on the side of caution in terms of selecting multiple reading materials that you find yourself comfortable with and will challenge you yet you know for sure what the material is about and you can interpret the meaning and explain it to a teacher or a colleague.

If you are a beginner in the English language, I would start off your reading adventure with short poems and short stories, not more than a couple hundred words. Even if you are an adult as well, children’s books are a great way to get more familiar with the language level that you are currently at with basic vocabulary, phrases, and grammar principles. You may also want to read fliers and short email examples as well to become aware of the structure of those forms of writing.

I would also recommend short letters written about different subjects such as sports, weather, the daily habits someone has, and about going shopping or out to eat. It is key to read these short pieces of writing twice or three times to really understand the full meaning of what is being written. You may also want to read the story, the poem, or the letter out loud to work on your own pronunciation too to feel more comfortable absorbing the vocabulary that you are learning. A beginner should not be reading anything more than a few pages in length and at a very low vocabulary level. Preferably, a children’s book, a short email, or a quick poem are best for beginners in this sense.

For the intermediate learner, it is important to challenge yourself more and depending upon one’s age level, there are different options to consider. I encourage students who are younger to choose comic books, short stories, and even short mystery novels as well. Older students may enjoy reading magazines about sports, news, and even fashion depending upon their interests. I also encourage becoming more familiar with reading current events and news articles and being able to explain them to the teacher or to a friend.

Adding on to the difficulty means reading longer reading passages as well as longer letters or poems as well at any age group. You want to make sure that the reading level is higher so instead of at a 1st or a 3rd grade level, you should try to read materials that are at a 5th or an 6th grade level and perhaps up to an 8th grade level. Perhaps most importantly, at the Intermediate level, you should be able to hold a conversation about the topic you just read and to explain the main ideas and supporting ideas of the piece you read. Lastly, with your vocabulary, I would encourage being able to explain too your point of view for an article, what you thought about it.

The advanced learner should be at the point where they can read full books, magazines, and longer-form pieces of writing of at least a few thousand words or more. They should be able to understand and interpret vocabulary at the high school level. Depending upon which English-speaking culture they would like to learn more about, they should do their best to become familiar with writers of different backgrounds and be able to read successfully in a few genres, both fiction and non-fiction.

Reading and interpreting different kinds of texts that deal with different subjects and modern-day issues is also a key part of advancing in the English language. You should be a flexible enough reader at this point to be able to handle different types of reading that is longer than the other levels. From a 500-word poem to a 2500-word article to a 100-page book, being able to handle these types of reading at a high level will set you apart from the beginner or intermediate levels that you used to be at.

Another key to this advanced reading level is one’s ability to speak and write about what you just read with accuracy and by utilizing some advanced vocabulary and phrases learned from these reading exercises. If the professor or teacher were to assign you a persuasive, narrative, or argumentative essay for you to write about your reading assignment, you should feel comfortable by this point in doing so across a number of genres.

‘Building blocks’ take time to assemble and the same goes for building up your reading prowess. Again, it is necessary to start slow with short forms of writing from poetry to a short story to a quick email and then work your way up to a long article or a magazine and then on to the full novel or book that may take a month or two to finish. Getting better at reading in English is a key skill to have and is necessary to boost your proficiency and to do so in a comprehensive manner. It is not only true that your reading skills will get better the more consistent and driven you are with each page but your speaking skills should also improve and your writing abilities will be complemented if you can analyze, interpret, and describe what you have just written in your own words.

Patience is a virtue and reading are the biggest part of that quality when it comes to developing your English language skills. You may show quicker gains with speaking or writing but the long-term success of your English proficiency will be determined about how well you read, how you understand the reading, and what you can tell others about what you have read.

English Corner – Double The Word Phenomenon

“The particular reason why this particular comedy hour stood out to me was due to Jerry’s focus on a peculiar aspect of the English language and how it was even strange to him even as a native speaker and whose English vocabulary is varied and mature.”

I was watching Jerry Seinfeld’s new Netflix documentary last week titled, “23 Hours to Kill”, which was pretty funny, and I do recommend it if you are looking to watch a comedy special featuring a native English speaker doing a comedy routine. The particular reason why this particular comedy hour stood out to me was due to Jerry’s focus on a peculiar aspect of the English language and how it was even strange to him even as a native speaker and whose English vocabulary is varied and mature. He was drawn to the fact that in the English language, we sometimes have this tendency to repeat certain words again or back to back and it can still make sense.

While he did not give this tendency a name, I am going to refer to it as what I like to call the “Double the Word” phenomenon. In my opinion, it is a phenomenon because it does not happen that often and if you can spot it, you can understand it easily but it tends to happen rarely and when it does, the speaker is unlikely to repeat it or even explain it to you. They may not understand why they doubled the same words or even know the meaning behind why they said it.

The phenomenon of the ‘double word’ or being back to back is not that complicated. It only takes an example or two for you to get the deeper meaning underlying the expression. I also think you will be able to use them after reading these examples. Hopefully, you will be able to take this knowledge gained to expand your English vocabulary and to explain the ‘double word phenomenon’ to your friends and family. A good skill to develop with English is to become acquainted with our various phrases expressions that you won’t find in your average textbook.

  1. “It is what it is.” This phrase means that sometimes, you can’t change things or people to be what you want and that the situation will not change so it’s not worth fighting it. You have to pick your battles but sometimes it’s best to leave things as is. An example of this ‘double word phenomenon’ would be: “Jamie does not want to change jobs at the moment because of the economy; it is what it is.”
  2. “Business is business.” This phrase is a bit neutral in its meaning in that business could be good or it could be bad, but it goes on as usual and remains uninterrupted or in danger of not going on. The meaning behind its positive or negative significance really depends upon the speaker’s tone and body expressions so it’s something to be on the look-out for. “We are making do with what we have in the store: business is business.”
  3. “Rules are rules.” Rules are not meant to be broken and this phrase makes it clear. Usually, an authority figure of some sort would say this to you to say there are no shortcuts or no easy ways out and laws or rules have to be obeyed. This kind of phrase does not lend it to leniency and means that you have the follow the rules whatever they may be. “There is no diving or jumping into the pool. Rules are rules.”
  4. “A deal’s a deal.” In the English-speaking business world, business deals after being finalized are final hence the phrase of “a deal’s a deal.” You cannot back out of a deal after it has been signed and it is a bad cultural practice to renege on your commitments after giving your signature to the paper. If you back out of a deal or want to re-negotiate, you have to make sure that is a possibility before signing the deal. If “a deal’s a deal”, it means you cannot go back on it and it has no room for further negotiations or changes. “You had agreed on the terms and conditions a week ago and now you want to back out? Sorry, but a deal’s a deal.”
  5. “What’s what.” When a person usually a colleague or a friend want to show or explain something to you. They want to show you what something is, how it works, what its’ function is, and why it’s important. When somebody wants to show you “what’s what”, they want to explain it to you so you can understand how it works and even let you figure it out while they watch. This phrase is especially true of machinery of any kind which takes a skilled person to operate it. “Jack took me to Tesla headquarters to show me what’s what regarding the new car model designed to be emissions-free.”
  6. “Who’s who.” This phrase indicates that you or someone you know is indicating that they want to show you who is really important, famous, or worth getting to know. Regardless of which career field or hobby they mastered, they are the ‘who’s who’ of their profession or craft. You might see this double word phenomenon in a Hollywood magazine to show you who are the famous or important people at an awards show. While not used often, it is an interesting ‘double word’ usage that has a deeper meaning. “The Entertainment Tonight hosts were scouring the red carpet at the Oscars to figure out who’s who for the award ceremony later.”
  7. “Whatever happens, happens.” Sometimes in life, you have to let the unknown play out and not try to control the outcome. You have to leave things up to chance or fate and not try to control it. The double the word phenomenon of “whatever happens, happens” means letting things fall as they might and rolling with what life throws at you. If you are in Las Vegas, for example, you could let down your hair a little and enjoy a party or two because in Vegas, whatever happens, happens. “John knew that Las Vegas was a good trip for his friends’ birthday because whatever happens, happens and it stays there after they leave.”
  8. “Whoever does it, does it.” You are very hands off and laid back when you say this particular phrase. You want to express your desire for the responsibility to lie with someone else and for someone else to also take the lead. You express your preference for the work to be done already and for the person to step up and do it already. “Tina did not have a preference for who starts the group’s presentation and stated, whoever does it, does it.”
  9. “And that’s that.” Conclusions or endings can be very subtle, or they can be very sudden. When “And that’s that” comes along, the ending happens very quickly to a story or an event and it is over quicker than you thought it had started. You want to leave no impression behind of any ambiguity after recalling what happened and to indicate that there is no debate to make because the ending was quite clear. There are different ways this double word can be used but this example could be one to use: “Frodo threw the ring into Mordor, Sauron and his minions were destroyed, and they lived happily ever after…And that’s that.”
  10. “Totally totaled.” This phrase may not be an exact double word, but I wanted to include it because it is close enough and includes two similar words that have the same meaning. “Totally totaled” means that something has been destroyed beyond repair or there is no way of fixing it at all. It may not be a bad thing especially if it was your intent to destroy the thing, but it often refers to a car or other kind of vehicle that was damaged beyond repair. “James was anguished when he realized that his beloved car was totally totaled in the accident that happened last night.”

The double the word phenomenon may not be that common in the English language, but these phrases can help you improve your proficiency. You will notice the subtle meanings behind idioms such as these and you will be able to use them in a number of situations, sometimes funny and sometimes serious. Like in most other languages, you can find ways to use the same words back to back and it would still make logical sense to the native speaker.

Part of being an advanced learner of English is recognizing these subtle yet important meanings behind seemingly simple words. The added word that is back to back makes it more subtle in terms of its overall meaning and it’s good to be able to know and understand these deeper meanings behind these seemingly innocuous double word expressions.

Also, if you get a chance, try and look up Jerry Seinfeld’s other comedy specials or YouTube comedy clips. He does other skits that focus on the idiosyncrasies of the English language and is able to explain these weird oddities to both native speakers and those learning the language as their 2nd or 3rd languages.  

English Corner – Using Words of Encouragement

A letter, essay, e-mail or other written form of encouragement in English serves the following purposes:

-An expression of approval and support.

-An act of giving hope or support to someone.

We use encouraging words in the English language for helping someone out especially when they are not doing well. We want to encourage each and every person to keep on doing their best.

Some Examples:

-Do not give up faith.

-Do not be discouraged.

-Do not lose hope as there will many more opportunities again.

-It has been a great incentive to get a bonus for my extra sales and I hope that this continues.

-I am confident that our Sales / Marketing team will have no trouble accepting this challenge.

-I am confident that you will make an excellent host.

-Your hard work and determination are greatly valued.

Ten Main Expressions of Encouragement to Use in Your Speaking and Writing

-You’re coming along nicely.

-Keep up the good work.

-That’s good effort on your part.

-You are showing real improvement.

-You’re on the right track.

-Keep going and do not give up.

-Come on, you can do it

-Give it your best shot

-What have you got to lose?

-If at first you don’t succeed, then you must try, try again.

Some Phrases to inspire people.

(You wouldn’t use these phrases often in regular conversation, but when you are writing speeches or creating motivational essays, they sound very inspirational.)

  • Always follow your dreams.
  • You should reach for the stars.
  • Do the impossible.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • The sky is the limit.

How To Use These Encouraging Phrases In English:

Phrases to use when someone hasn’t started yet.

(You can say these phrases to someone who is trying to figure out whether or not to do something that seems difficult or risky.)

1. Give it a shot.

Example: Your friend has never asked a girl out for coffee before. You offer to introduce him to your friend since she is single.

2. Go for it.

Example: One of your colleagues at work is looking for a raise and is thinking of asking his boss for one. You encourage him to do so.

3. Why not do it?

Example: Your wife asks you if she should enroll in a cooking class on the weekends. You tell her why not do it and see what happens.

4. It’s worth a shot.

Example: Your brother wants to try out for the Varsity basketball team at his high school but is not sure if he should do it. You tell him that it is worth a shot.

5. What are you waiting for?

Example: You are waiting for your friend to go down the waterslide and have some fun. You ask him ‘what are you waiting for?’

6. What do you have to lose?

Example: Your brother asks you whether or not he should take his girlfriend on a nice vacation to Italy this Summer. You tell him, “What do you have to lose?”

7. You might as well.

Example: Your professor asks you to see her after class to do some extra work so you can understand the class material better. “You might as well” to get a better grade.

8. Just do it.

Example: The famous Nike slogan but whenever you are put to the challenge physically or mentally, you say to yourself or others, “Just do it.”

Phrases to use when someone is already doing well.

(You can “encourage” someone to continue doing what they are already doing.)

1. There you go!

Example: You hit a home run to tie the baseball game and your teammates cheer you on.

2. Keep up the good work.

Example: You get an ‘A’ on your history exam and your professor commends you for your good work.

3. Keep it up.

Example: You are running in a Track and Field race and you have one lap to go. Your coach urges you to finish strong.

4. Good job!

Example: You improve your Grade Point Average (GPA) by a few percentage points and your parents want to congratulate you.

5. I’m so proud of you!

Example: You tell your grandmother about you getting in to your dream college and she exclaims how proud of you she is.

Phrases to use when someone is having trouble.

(These phrases are ways to tell someone to keep doing something even when it is difficult.)

1. Hang in there.

Example: Even though you have to hike for another hour, you need to ‘hang in there.’

2. Don’t give up.

Example: Life can be difficult but you need to persevere through its challenges by not giving up.

3. Keep pushing.

Example: Even though the weights you are lifting are very heavy, keep pushing and get them done.

4. Keep fighting.

Example: You have three rounds left to fight against the heavyweight champion of the world.

5. Stay Strong.

Example: I know losing a pet is very sad and difficult but you have to stay strong for your siblings.

6. Never give up. Never give in.

Example: Even when you have schoolwork, a job, and a mortgage to pay, don’t give up or give in.

7. Never say ‘die’.

Example: Anything is possible in life so there is a chance that your dreams can come true.

8. Come on! You can do it!

Example: When you have 500 meters left to swim and you’re in first place. You have the ability to win the race.

Phrases to use when someone is facing a hard decision.

(These phrases are ways to tell someone to keep trying)

1. I will support you either way.

Example: If you choose not to go to college and join the Army instead, I will support you either way.

2. I’m behind you 100%.

Example: Your family should be behind you 100% as long as you are working hard to better yourself.

3. It’s your call.

Example: I’m not sure where to go out tonight, sweetheart, ‘it’s your call.’

As you can see, there are numerous examples in English of this kind of supportive language. Words and phrases of encouragement play a key role in showing the person(s) or people that you care about them and that you want them to succeed. If you have a friend, family member, or a work colleague who is a native English speaker and you want to encourage them to improve, get better, or to do their best, you’ll want to use some of these examples listed above.

There’s not much that can make a person’s day more than receiving some encouragement so they can face their challenges head on and succeed in their goals. This list of vocabulary words and phrases will help you do just that as an English learner in both your speaking and writing abilities. In the English language, there are dozens if not hundreds of these vocabulary words but if you are able to put them to good use, you’ll be seen as being more proficient in the language. You will also be better able to connect emotionally with people and gain a few new friends through your kind words and actions.

If you would like to improve your English skills especially with regards to your grammar and vocabulary, check out my English grammar course offerings on Teachable:

https://english-from-a-to-z.teachable.com/