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.

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Mind Your Surroundings

In an era of nearly unlimited distractions, the best way to make yourself stand out is to mind your surroundings. Ironically, this should not be that hard to do yet so many people struggle today with keeping their eyes and ears clear of distractions. One of the main reasons for this phenomenon is the fact that technology has rendered us with the ability to avert the need to use our eyes actively in sizing up our environment by focusing instead on flashy advertisements, fluorescent smartphones, and glittering video board. Our eyes are being constantly assaulted by so many visual cues from inanimate objects that we have an increasing amount of trouble focusing on what’s real and what’s in front of us. Not only are our eyes being affected by this distracted kind of living but our ears as well. If you want to see the extent of this, go to any street corner, subway / bus stop, or any public park, instead of listening to nature with the sound of birds chirping and leaves falling, we instead close ourselves off from the natural world with our earphones, headphones, and even earplugs.

Now I’m as guilty as listening to loud music through my earphones and also focusing on my smartphone or a cheesy advertisement as much as the next person, however, I try to be as self-aware as possible in limiting the amount of time I devote my eyesight to screens and my hearing to artificial sounds. What I worry about and what I would encourage you, dear reader, to do is to know the time(s) and the place(s) to put the distractions away for good and to focus on the world around you. You may not think it is important now until something unfortunate or unseemly happens to you because you were not in touch with the immediate environment. Anything can happen in a split second and if you are not prepared for that to occur, especially in public, you may end up regretting your decision to look at your phone or to listen to music when you should have put the ear-pods away. ‘Mind your surroundings’ is a simple wish I have for everyone especially when you are not at home or in a private domicile. When you are in an unfamiliar environment, you have to be much more aware of your surroundings than you would otherwise because it could even mean the difference between life and death.

Unfortunately, it’s become well documented especially in recent years with the rise of mobile technology how a few folks have met an early end to their lives because they simply were not paying enough attention to their environment. These terrible accidents and freak of nature incidents could be avoided if people put down their phones, their headphones, and their smart watches to listen and look carefully at where they were going. Unless you have an important call, are lost in an unfamiliar area, or have to look at you watch for the time, it can wait. Minding your surroundings is especially true in public places. You need to be watching out for where you are going, or it could cost you. This is especially true when you are not familiar with the local environment or may not speak the language if you are traveling to a new country. Being able to hear the sound of cars / buses going by, of what pedestrians are doing or saying, and to orient yourself to find out which neighborhood or part of town you’re in, this is absolutely critical to do, and you do not need modern technology in order to do this.

While it’s definitely true that most people have good intentions, this is not always the case. Do not let yourself become an easy target especially when it would only take a few precautionary steps to keep yourself aware of your environment. Multiple people have died from texting while driving, looking at their smartphone as they crossed a busy intersection, or have fallen off a cliff from a ‘selfie’ gone wrong. While we live in an era of technological abundance, let us not also live in a time that is bereft of common sense. You owe it not only to yourself but to your friends and your family to make wise decisions in terms of managing your interactions with the immediate environment. The steps you can take are quite simple, but they take serious discipline which may not be easy.

A few tips that I personally think would make a big difference involve some measure of personal responsibility but are really not that strenuous in terms of total effort. Sitting yourself in a restaurant facing the entrance and exit of a restaurant is key if something unfortunate were to happen or if you would like to have a good idea of what’s going on throughout the place, especially if you’re seated further into the room than right by the entrance. I find this tip to be really underrated when you are with close friends or family members who you want to look out for when they are sitting across from you and facing away from the entrance and/or exit.

Another tip of mine is to put your phone on airplane mode or simply turn it off when you are on the go. If you are walking for a little while, driving in a car (all the time!), or are involved in an activity, which requires serious concentration, you should not tempt yourself to be on your phone, smartwatch, etc. because it may lead to deadly consequences if you are not careful. A public service campaign that I fully support is titled, “It can wait”, which shows how 99% of texts or phone calls can wait a half an hour or even more when you’re busy doing other actions such as driving. Having the discipline to use a hands-free method or to contact the person(s) before you operate a vehicle or other machinery is common sense and saves lives.

Above all, the advice of ‘mind your surroundings’ is also appropriate in terms of being able to assess your environment quickly and accurately. You cannot do this if you are listening to music, texting, or have your eyes peeled to the ground. Maintain your awareness, be vigilant, and be sure to maintain eye contact that is dead ahead. You may not think that these tips are important now, but you do not want to regret being distracted if it comes to backfiring on you in the future. Whether you are at a movie theater, the beach, in your car, hiking a mountain, kayaking in the lake, you need to be able to be aware of who and what is around you at all times. If you’re lying in bed or relaxing on the couch, then I would say it’s not bad to let your guard down. However, in public, especially when you’re traveling to a new area, city, country, etc., you need to put the distractions away, mind your surroundings, and pay careful attention to what is going on around you. Unfortunately, this needs to be said in today’s world where every minute, our senses are absorbed all of the time especially in urban environments.

Nobody’s perfect but you really have to adapt yourself to the various locales that you put yourself into. A seasoned traveler, explorer, or observer can tell you that being aware and mindful is a key trait to have that will keep you moving forward. Please do your best to follow some of the tips I have laid out and some of the cautions that I have listed. Keep the texting, calling, and Tweeting to a minimum when you’re on the go and you should be fine. Always mind your surroundings to the best of your ability.

English Corner – Writing a Good Essay

In order to become an excellent English writer, it’s very important to have the structure in place if you want to write a good essay. Firstly, you are going to want to make sure that you start with a beginning paragraph known as the ‘introduction.’ With the introduction paragraph, you’re going to set the tone in terms of telling the audience what the topic of your essay is along with some supporting sentences discussing the topic(s) that are going to be covered later in the body paragraph(s). Your introduction paragraph should be between 3 to 4 sentences total and you should also have a thesis sentence laying out the main purpose of your essay and what you hope to get across to the audience. 

After completing the introduction, you should make sure to have a body paragraph or a few body paragraphs next where you can discuss the main topic in more detail depending upon how many paragraphs you need to express your point of view or opinion. 

For example, if you’re discussing the weighty topic of climate change, you’ll need a couple of paragraphs in the body section of the essay to discuss why it’s an issue, what can be done about it, and how should people work together to reduce the effects of climate change. For this particular example, you’re going to want to have three body paragraphs total which should be between 4 – 6 sentences total. In these body paragraph(s), you need to make sure you’re giving examples, statistics, or evidence to support the claims and/or ideas that you brought up in your introduction paragraph. The body paragraph(s) are the meat of your essay or article so make sure that it’s convincing, detailed, and engaging to your audience. 

Lastly, you will need to finish up your essay or article with a ‘conclusion’ or concluding paragraph. The conclusion is similar to the introduction in that it is only going to be 3 – 4 sentences total. For this paragraph, you are going to sum up the main points or arguments again that you want the readers of the essay to take from what you wrote. You’ll want to restate your thesis from the beginning paragraph and make sure to leave your reader wanting more information about the topic that you just addressed. It’s important that you follow the introduction + body paragraph(s) + conclusion structure in order to have a truly great essay. The structure and formatting of an essay is really important so you have to make sure that it becomes a personal habit for yourself whenever you’re writing in English. 

An overlooked part to writing a good essay is the fact that you’ll need to back up your main ideas with real examples. These examples can be more scientific or research-based in nature or they can be based off of your own personal experiences and background depending on what kind of essay you are writing. If it is an academic, scientific, or evidence-based essay, you’ll need to use outside sources that are legitimate and directly related to the main ideas you’re reiterating in each paragraph. 

For an academic essay or paper, you should not be using your own opinions or personal experiences to count as doing research. When it comes to this kind of writing, you need to find research that is evidence-based, that has been backed up by more than one source, and is able to be cited in either the footnotes or the endnotes of your essay. The examples needed for this kind of essay should be not your own but rather those of other authors in your field who came to a similar kind of conclusion based on their research. You can use their quotations to cite the work that they’ve done and use their findings to supplement your ideas while adding validity to your essay’s argument. 

When it comes to a persuasive or opinionated essay, you won’t have to do as much scientific or academic research, but you’ll still have to use your own experiences and personal background to add to your essay. Also, there should sometimes be an added effect in these essays where you can use the experiences of other people to back up your main ideas and thesis statements. Your own background and experiences could be useful in developing one body paragraph but another body paragraph or two could be supplemented by those experiences of other people whether they are historical figures or friends and family of yours. 

Your research and outside examples should always be cited in the correct manner whether that is a quotation, a footnote, an endnote, etc. There are many different citation styles that can be used for various types of essays but do choose the one that feels most comfortable for you to implement successfully. Whether its Chicago / Turabian style being used for Business and History writing, MLA (Modern Language Association) style being used for the Humanities, or APA (American Psychological Association) style being used for Education and the Sciences, please choose one of the above citation styles that would fit best for your essay. 

The main point to keep in mind is to always cite your research / findings in some way if it is not your own. You should always be careful in avoiding plagiarism or taking from another person’s work without carefully citing their examples. Depending on the type of essay you are writing, you may also be able to use your own experiences, research, and background to make your writing stand out more to the audience. Without any evidence, examples, or research to support your thesis statement and/or main ideas, your essay won’t nearly be as complete or as appealing to the reader.

It’s necessary to re-state the fact that in order for an essay to be truly complete, the basic structure of an essay needs to be in place in order for the reader to get the most out of it. There is no substitution in the English form of writing for the introduction + body paragraph(s) + conclusion format.

However, once you have the essay structure down, it’s important to be able to brainstorm the main idea of each paragraph followed up two or three key supporting ideas for that paragraph using evidence and/or examples to back up your main idea. Whether it is a research article, an argumentative essay, or a persuasive essay, it’s key to remember that each paragraph especially the introduction and the body paragraph(s) should highlight the main idea and the supporting ideas. When it comes to the conclusion paragraph, you are basically going to re-state the main idea that you introduced in the opening paragraph while citing your supporting ideas once more to leave the reader with. 

The introduction paragraph is used to ‘introduce’ your main idea followed by a brief tidbit about what your supporting ideas are going to entail. Depending upon how many body paragraph(s) you have planned, each supporting idea should be expanded upon in a separate body paragraph where the research and the evidence are cited through facts and details given. In the body paragraph(s), you can rehash what your main idea is but you should not give it too much of your attention. Listed below, I have detailed how the structure of each paragraph should play out along with an example of what a main idea would be along with three supporting ideas for an example essay topic. 

IntroductionTell the audience what the main idea of the essay is along with an introduction to each of the three supporting ideas to be highlighted in the body paragraphs.

BodyParagraph #1 – Supporting Idea #1 with Main Idea briefly discussed (evidence / research needed)

           Paragraph #2 – Supporting Idea #2 with Main Idea briefly discussed (evidence / research needed)

           Paragraph #3 – Supporting Idea #3 with Main Idea briefly discussed (evidence / research needed)

Conclusion: Re-state the main idea of your essay while discussing briefly your supporting ideas and why they should matter to the audience. No more evidence or research should be introduced into the concluding paragraph.

Example Essay Topic

Main Idea: There is too much plastic in the oceans.

Supporting Idea #1Many sea mammals have been harmed or even killed by the plastic in the oceans.

Supporting Idea #2The plastic in the oceans is contaminating our food and even our de-salinization of water efforts.

Supporting Idea #3The plastic is disrupting our oceanic ecosystems and causing coral reefs to be permanently damaged. 

Whatever essay topic you choose to focus on, remember to make sure that you clearly have a main idea and at least two or even three supporting ideas to make the essay flow better whether it is persuasive, academic, or research-based in nature. Writing a good essay is not an easy task but if you’re willing to create an outline with your main and supporting ideas written down, you’ll be off to a good start.

Additionally, good punctuation and grammar will help your essay flow better allowing the reader to easily understand and grasp the ideas you are writing about. As the saying goes, ‘practice makes perfect’ so make sure to practice writing about different topics often and to use peer reviewing and proofreading to fix your mistakes and learn from them.

 

What can the creative process give us?

Anything that is done in the creative process takes effort and hard work. Any work of art, any piece of music, any lengthy novel took days, weeks, months, and even years to create. The creative process allows any person to express oneself in any way they see fit. The idea to keep in mind is that it is best for somebody to discover what he or she would like to create based on what his or her interests are. They then must discover for themselves what exactly they are good at creating and what they have a passion for doing. Being creative cannot be forced on someone.

The person in question has to decide what they enjoy doing and how far their talent can take them. Sometimes, the person can discover his creative vocation on his or her own but other times, it’s often the recommendation of a close friend or family member who gives the person inspiration to continue on with their craft. The key to remember about the creative process is that it can add value to people’s lives and also provide substantive meaning for any human being.

Being creative allows you to step outside of yourself and observe the external world in some way to shape it in a way that you see fit. Whether it is painting, writing, sculpting, etc., you’re putting yourself out there to see how you can do it differently and how can you create something truly unique. The creative possibilities out there are infinite and it’s important to choose a hobby or interest that appeals to you and which you can devote serious time to.

Some other traits that you can develop besides being observant and aware of the world around you are to become more collaborative and open to learning from others. A creative person will learn from others who have come before him or her in order to develop themselves as an artist, writer, builder, etc. Without copying them directly or replicating their kind of work, a creator will take what they have learned and studied to develop their own style or add value to their field. You don’t have to become the next Mozart or Rembrandt but you should try to innovate or change up the creative field so as to do something that will be remembered in the future.

Collaborating with other creative people and working alongside them or just to learn from them can make you more skilled in your work. You can learn a lot of valuable lessons from other creative people and they can mentor you based on their years of experience if you’re just starting out. Even if you suffer setbacks or false starts, knowing that you have a network of people similar to you in your creative world who can give you advice or a new perspective will give you the extra motivation to continue forward and learn from your mistakes. Through collaboration, you’ll learn to be less defensive and tame your ego so that you can learn and become better at your creative vocation.

Harnessing your creative energies can make you more outgoing, more connected to the world and can make you more humble. In a world that seems to be moving faster and faster, being able to slow down, observe your surroundings, and collect your thoughts is a great way to fuel your creative impulses. While we cannot control much outside of our own choices and decisions, harness your creative abilities will give you a sense of control over the external world. You can also gain a lot of satisfaction from putting something out into the world even if it never gains popular recognition. To keep it as a healthy endeavor, exercising your creative abilities should never be done for the possible fame, fortune, or notoriety of it but rather for your own benefit.

Without any kind of creative outlet, humans can stagnate both mentally and physically. People can often be placed into two categories: producers and consumers. We have the capacity to do both but we are often told by the larger society and culture to consume, consume, and consume some more. While there’s nothing wrong with consumption within reason, being able to channel our energies into a productive endeavor can be good for both the mind and the body. This is especially the case when you’re working to solve a problem or to make life better for people. You don’t know what your own potential or capacity for creativity is until you begin to do it. Everybody has the ability to be creative but they have to figure out where they can contribute the most to an idea, a project, or a work of art.

There has never been a better time in human history to be a creative individual. The advent of the Internet and global social networking has allowed people of all backgrounds to express themselves in various ways. More than ever, the average person is a website, a YouTube channel, an eCommerce shop away from sharing their creativity with the world at the click of a button. While the creative process is long, challenging, and comes with no certain reward, the benefits to a person’s mental and physical health cannot be overstated. The Einsteins, Beethovens, and Rembrandts of the world knew that their creative contributions would change the world in one way or another. They did it not just for the world though but their own sense of fulfillment and purpose. Instead of asking themselves what they could receive from the world, they thought instead of what they could contribute to the world with their individual talents.

Being creative, innovative, and experimental comes with risks but also a number of rewards. Even if you fail or don’t reach your goals, you will still learn a lot about yourself as well as what you are capable of. The key is to keep working at it to find out what you are skilled at whether that’s being an artist, a writer, an architect, an engineer, etc. Everybody has a creative flame within them that can be harnessed and molded. You just have to figure out for yourself how to develop, practice, and become proficient in your craft throughout the creative process.

 

 

A Lifetime of Learning

Contrary to popular belief, one’s education does not stop when you finish high school, college, or even graduate school. While formal education is often necessary and useful especially for skilled and professional fields, it is not the end all be all for actual learning. Even if you have been through 12 – 18 years of formal schooling, that doesn’t mean that you should stop learning. If anything, you may have the time, the money, and the ability now to study and learn about subjects that you never had the chance to before. Learning doesn’t stop in your teens or in your 20’s. It’s a lifelong process and you should never want to stop learning.

In a previous article titled, “A Wealth of Knowledge”, I highlighted a number of ways and places where you can continue to learn new things to broaden your horizons and expand your interests. As I mentioned previously, we are currently living in a time where knowledge is seemingly infinite, more affordable, and easier to access than ever. While information, data, and subject matter is limitless in the ways that it can be obtained and analyzed, the ways in which you can stand out as a learner is in how much time you devote to the learning process and how dedicated you are to absorbing this knowledge.

Whether it’s coding, learning a language, or developing financial literacy, the amount of effort you put into it will decide how much you get out of it. Even if you’re just learning a new skill or subject as an interest or hobby, it will help you to stand out from the crowd. If you use part of your free time to develop yourself by learning a new skill or trade, it is guaranteed to help you both personally and professionally. There are also different types of learning so if you happen to decide to revisit subjects you forgot about from high school like algebra, physics or chemistry, you may be doing your brain a favor. If you’re not so much into math and science but enjoy the written word much more, perhaps you would be better suited for strengthening your reading, writing, and editing skills. You may want to start your own blog like I did, or become a freelance editor to make extra money, but you are using your personal interests to further your learning to make yourself well rounded.

Reading a new book each month, learning a language for one hour each day, or doing a daily crossword puzzle takes both discipline and effort. A lifetime of learning is not for everyone because it takes some characteristics that some people aren’t capable of implementing. You have to set goals when you’re learning outside of a university or a class setting. Only you will be accountable for your actions and how far you go when it comes to your outside the box learning experiences. It can be difficult to learn new things when you don’t have a teacher or professor looking over your shoulder but you’ll develop more self-confidence, maturity, and intellectual depth by being able to learn and study on your own.

When it comes to learning by yourself, in addition to no one holding your hand through the process, don’t expect others to recognize the work or effort you put in to it. You should be learning for yourself and not for the approval of other people. If you’re expecting recognition just for reading a lot or creating your first website, the world doesn’t work like that. Being confident in your abilities, proud of your efforts, and seeing the fruits of your labor change the world in some way is the icing on the proverbial cake when it comes to taking the initiative to learn.

To make the excuse that you don’t have time or you’re too old or it’s going to be too hard are not good enough. There’s a popular expression that you never know until you try. How can you know that you’re going to fail if you haven’t even tried yet? Don’t limit yourself based on your educational background as well because you may find that you were bad at mathematics but ended up becoming a great coder when you gave it a shot. If you find that you don’t like what you’re learning or that you’ve made little progress over the period of at least a few months of serious effort and hard work, then it may be a good idea to do something else.

You should always be learning something, especially when it’s something new. Letting your creative and intellectual juices stagnate is not good for either the mind or the body in my opinion. Even if learning new things may become more difficult as you get older, it’s still not impossible and it would be good for your mental dexterity. Do not let pressure from your friends and your family prevent you from learning. If they love and care about you, they’ll support your thirst for knowledge. Reading a book, learning a foreign language, or playing an instrument are activities that we should always be encouraging in people regardless of their age and background.

Learning new skills has many mental benefits especially for the brain. ‘Myelin’, the white matter that makes up a good portion of our cerebral nervous system becomes denser when we learn new skills allowing us to improve our performance when it comes to processing new information. In addition to your brain chemistry seeing a boost, the more you learn, the more neural pathways are formed in the brain allowing the electrical impulses to fire off quicker than ever making it continually easier to learn new things. It’s a positive feedback loop for your brain when you learn on a consistent and unyielding basis.

Existing knowledge that you’ve compiled is also more easily retained because you’ll be making connections between the new information you’re learning and the old information that you remember clearly. Having more knowledge and more learning experiences is proven to make you a more interesting person as well. Being able to discuss a wide variety of books or have a detailed conversation with another person in a foreign language are great ways to form deeper connections with people and to boost your self-esteem.

If you’re bored and don’t have much of a challenge in your life, then try something new! Putting yourself to the test with learning a new skill is perhaps the most rewarding thing you can do in your life. In this hyper-technological age, adapting to change is a key trait that you’ll need to take on in order to succeed both personally and professionally. Adapting to the times often means learning new skills so if you embrace this process, you won’t be as afraid of change and you will be better able to meet those challenges.

As mentioned before, your brain is full of muscles that need to be exercised like any other part of the body. You don’t want one of your most important organs to atrophy and stagnate. A good way to prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s is to keep learning throughout your life to make those degenerative, painful diseases less of a possibility. Learning is contagious so if you have a friend or a family member who seems bored by life or wanting to pursue something new, give them a few suggestions and see what they do with them. Practicing a new language or joining a book club are examples of ideal social activities that are focused around these new learning experiences. A lifetime of learning can truly do a world of good.

SourcePreventing Alzheimer’s Disease

The Need for Critical Thinking

Facts are a tricky thing, but the importance and recognition of them is vital in order to consider yourself a critical thinker. In this era of ‘alternative facts’ and opinionated media, it’s necessary to be able to read, analyze, and think about all of the information that you’ve been taking in and figure out for yourself if it’s truthful or nonsense. In this day and age, opinions are easy to find everywhere but what have become harder to find are the cold, hard facts. The famous expression, “take it with a grain of salt” can be applied to you if you want to be a critical thinker.

The first thing you have to do, as a critical thinker is to be able to sort out the facts from the falsehoods. You should be able to use more than one source of information and before you use those sources of information, you need to verify that they are both unbiased and trustworthy. The evidence that you gather for these facts have to be based off of real sources, who have compiled the information and verified its’ authenticity.

For example, if you’re a Chemistry student and you’re trying to do an experiment on making a chemical volcano, would you choose to get the information from an actual scientist who has their PhD and teaches Chemistry at a local university or would you trust the advice of a best friend in your Science class instead?

While it’s desirable to be a good friend and trust them because they would like to help you most likely, it’s likely their advice will pale in comparison to the Chemistry professor with the PhD who wrote a ‘how to’ article on chemical experiments in the latest edition of ‘Science Weekly.’ If you’re a critical thinker, you would choose option #2 100% of the time because you would like to create an experiment that’s going to be the best that it can be and using your friend’s advice won’t get you to that point.

Regardless of what professional or educational field that you decide to pursue, you’re going to need critical thinking. Being inherently skeptical at first of the information you’re receiving is important to do because you need to be able to discern if what you’re reading, watching, listening to, etc. is factual. In your daily life, you’re going to need to identify prejudice, bias, propaganda, etc. that you’re likely to encounter in your daily life. You have to do your best to discern fact from fiction even if it takes some time. You could decide to ingest every bit of information that you see in the news or at the office as being factual but it would benefit you instead to deep a bit digger by doing your research, verify the source(s), bounce it off other pieces of information to see if there’s a pattern, and then decide if it’s factual.

A true critical thinker is not lazy and does not take shortcuts. He or she goes the extra mile to gather the right information, prioritize it to give it credence in your decision-making, and then recognize, solve the problems in order to move on to the next goal. If you’re in a field where you’re working with data on the computer, you have to be able to interpret it, evaluate it, and then use it for your business or company’s needs. By being able to communicate effectively and clearly is also a necessity when it comes to being able to take those fresh facts you’ve verified and then pass it on to the next person so they know that they’re not being misled by you.

As a critical thinker, it’s also necessary to disregard generalizations made about complex topics, which require in-depth research and analysis. Instead, critical thinking also necessitates the ability to draw conclusions from the evidence and the facts that you have gathered. Then, you have to be able to pass those conclusions on to the right people so they know what’s true and what’s false.

Conclusions that you’ve made in the past can sometimes change in the present or in the future so it’s vital to not be stubborn about your beliefs. Critical thinking requires that you also be flexible in your beliefs especially if you’re able to take in new evidence, and logic. A man or a woman who does not change their views on anything despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary cannot consider himself or herself to be a true critical thinker. While it can be difficult to let go of your innate biases and prejudices, you still should be open-minded and be able to accept the truth and the facts even if they contradict with yours.

If your mother, someone who you loved and respected, happened to have told you one day that the sky was the color red instead of blue, would you accept her statement at face value or would you go outside of the house to check, verify her statement to see if it was true or false? If you are not a critical thinker and a great son, you would choose option #1 and believe that statement without actually checking to see if it’s true. If you are a critical thinker but still a good son, you would choose option #2 and tell your mother later that the sky is actually blue because you went outside to see its’ color for yourself. Even if your mom might be offended by your conclusion, she would still love and respect you for being a critical thinker as is necessary.

To put it bluntly, there are a lot of people out there in different industries that are not critical thinkers and they’re hoping the same about you. I don’t want to name names but you’re likely to encounter them in your neighborhood, your city, and your city. However, if you’re able to develop the right personal habits and characteristics, you’ll be able to set yourself apart as a real critical thinker rather than just a person who believes what he hears, reads, or listens to all of the time regardless of the source it’s coming from.

Those habits involve being a problem solver, an evidence gatherer, a decision maker, a rational thinker, being able to reason with others, and an inquisitive learner above all else. While critical thinking isn’t mandatory in life, you’ll still go a lot further and succeed more when you put those skills and habits to use when compared to those who don’t. If you’re an open-minded, intelligent, mature, and inquisitive person, you’ll turn out to be a good critical thinker and a positive example for others to follow.

Cuisine Spotlight – Sancocho

Many cultures around the world have their own unique take on stews and soups that are both hearty and comes with a number of different ingredients. This is also the case in many Latin American countries where the stew itself is called ‘sancocho’ and is closely related to the Spanish stew known as ‘cocido.’ Along with the Spanish influence, Sancocho takes most of its’ ingredients from local foods that are popular and add flavor to the dish. Sancocho is also considered to be the national dish in a few of the Latin American countries where it is made and eaten.

Among the countries where Sancocho is a popular food dish includes the Canary Islands, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Venezuela, etc. so you could say that it’s a staple and has become popular in many households and restaurants. Sancocho is believed to have originated from the Canary Islands where it is a dish that heavily is made of a whole-cooked fish with broth and potatoes.

The dish was brought over to Latin America when the Canarians and their descendants immigrated to parts of the new world centuries ago. As is the case with many different foods, the immigrants who move to a different part of the world often bring their favorite dishes with them. While fish was a main ingredient in the ‘original’ sancocho, there are many different types of meats and vegetables that make up variations on the popular dish depending upon which country you’re in. Sancocho is especially common to be served during lunchtime as it is quite filling and can hold a person over until dinner comes around. It’s common for Sancocho to be served in a huge pot for a family gathering or birthday party where the dish can be expanded to served dozens of people total.

In Colombia, specifically, sancocho is an extremely popular dish with a wide range of ingredients that can range from chicken to ox tail. Other meats that can be apart of sancocho include hen, pork ribs, cow ribs, fish, etc. For example, sancocho with fish is really popular on the Atlantic coast of Colombia while pork and beef is more commonly found in the interior of the country. In addition to mean, sancocho can also include large portions of plantains, yucca, potatoes, and various vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, cilantro, scallions, mazorca (corn on the cob), etc.

There is simply no limit as to what can be put into sancocho and each country puts a different spin on the popular dish. In the Dominican Republic, for example, there is Sancocho de siete carnes, which is a dish made up of a mixture of different meats including chicken, beef, pork, etc. Sancocho de gallina, which is made up of free-range chicken is quite popular in Panama and is also the national dish of the country. Puerto Rico has the distinction of even adding smoked ham, pork feet with chick feats, which is known as sancocho de patitas and is quite unique in terms of its’ culinary characteristics.

The beautiful thing about sancocho is that there are so many different regional and national varieties to this dish are that the possibilities of mixing and matching different ingredients or toppings is simply endless. Any nation that has been touched by Spanish influence or colonization has adapted their own version of sancocho including even in the Philippines, which has a huge amount of meats and vegetables to offer in its own national take on the dish. Keeping to the Spanish heritage of the dish, they call it cocido as it is known in Spain.

If you decide to come to Latin America and find yourself at someone’s family gathering, hanging out with a few friends, or enjoying a birthday party, it’s likely that you’ll get a good serving of sancocho. In addition, the sancocho you get depending upon the country or the region in which the dish is being served to you will most likely be different and have some variation to it. The beauty of a popular dish like sancocho is its’ history, its’ adaptability, as well as the chance to gather with a group of people and dig in to this delicious food together.