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 – Introduction to Action Verbs

When you are first getting the basic structure of English sentences, it’s important to base those same sentences around key verbs in the language that we use every day. Knowing what action verbs are as well as when and where to use them is key to becoming better at the beginning stages of your English language studies. In this blog post, we will cover what an action verb is, what it does, and we will cover numerous examples in the past and present tenses in order for students to understand how to use these ‘action verb’s and apply them to regular sentences.

I recommend taking these examples and studying them on your own by copying them or saying them out loud depending on if you are working on your speaking or writing. You can also have a friend, or a family member help you understand what these ‘action verbs’ mean by listening to the context of the sentences and how these different ‘action verbs’ are used. Please remember to memorize this type of English vocabulary because ‘action verbs’ are perhaps the most commonly used in English and will come up quite frequently in both the written and spoken form. Do your best to read through this article and then on your own time or in the comments section, please feel free to give a few examples of sentences that use ‘action verbs’ to complete them.

An action verb is a verb that expresses physical or mental action.

The action verb tells us what the subject of our clause or sentence is doing-physically or mentally.

Examples of Action Verbs:

To find an action verb:

1) Find the word in the sentence that is something someone or something can do.

2) Remember that the action can be physical or mental.

Examples of action verbs: think, smell, love, do, act, run, swim

Examples of action verbs in a sentence:

Maria walked to school.

‘Walked’ tells us what Maria was doing physically. (Past Tense)

Louie thought about the math problem.

‘Thought’ tells us what Louie was doing mentally. (Past Tense)

Below are some more examples of sentences that contain action verbs:

The action verbs are italicized.

1) Sam and Dave ride the bus to school each morning.

2) Jordan wants a horse for her birthday.

3) Isaac reads a chapter in his book each night.

4) Do you think it will rain today?

5) I believe that fairies, monsters, and unicorns are real.

6) Will you help me with my Math homework?

7) Please call your mom, Teresa.

8) The chicken strutted across the road without any fear.

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1) Are you doing your homework today?

2) McGregor and Mayweather will be fighting in the boxing match tomorrow.

3) She is singing a cover of a famous song by Ella Fitzgerald.

4) I’m smelling the flowers and their scent is divine.

5) She is acting in the top musical on Broadway these days.

6) Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

7) We are dancing to the beat of the Salsa music.

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Lastly, as you can see from the numerous examples I have provided, there are dozens of ‘action verbs’ in English but the ones I would like you to focus on primarily are the few that come up most frequently. From my experience as both an English as a Second Language teacher and a student of other languages, ‘action verbs’ like ‘run, go, swim, jump, walk, play, dance, sing’ are all vocabulary words that you should memorize first. Once you have those ‘action verbs’ under your belt, you will be able to move on to more complicated and longer ‘action verbs’ such as ‘think, strut, believe, smell, etc.’ In order to gain an advantage in getting better with English vocabulary, make sure to focus your efforts on ‘action verbs’ first before moving on to other vocabulary topics. 

English Corner – Countable and Uncountable Nouns

It’s important to distinguish between countable and uncountable nouns in English because their usage is different in regard to both the determiners and the verbs. Countable and Uncountable nouns are grammatical topics that are likely to come up again and again in your studies so it’s important to know the main differences between them. If you are looking to improve your usage of numbers and to know how to use them to refer to person(s), place(s), and things(s), which are one or more in amount, then you will need to have a good grasp of countable and uncountable nouns.

Compared to many other grammar topics, countable and uncountable nouns are among the easiest to master but they are also the easiest ones to make careless mistakes about. By not paying enough attention to these basic rules, you will put yourself at risk of not referring to them correctly in either a direct or indirect manner. Please be sure to use the examples below to better your understanding and to also write out your own example sentences as well to get more practice. With enough effort, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the significance of one cow and five pencils. Most nouns are countable but there are a few exceptions which are not countable which you will find out more about in the rest of this ‘English Corner’ blog post.

Countable nouns are for things we can count using numbers. They have a singular and a plural form. The singular form can use the determiner “a” or “an”. If you want to ask about the quantity of a countable noun, you ask “How many _______?” combined with the plural countable noun.

Singular: One cat, one woman, one job, one store, one idea.

Plural: Two cats, three women, four jobs, five stores, six ideas.

She has three dogs. I own a house. I would like two books please. How many friends do you have?

Examples of Uncountable Nouns: tea, sugar, water, air, rice, knowledge, beauty

We cannot use a/an with these nouns. To express a quantity of an uncountable noun, use a word or expression like some, a lot of, much, a bit of, a great deal of, or else use an exact measurement like a cup of, a bag of, 1kg of, 1L of, a handful of, a pinch of, an hour of, a day of. If you want to ask about the quantity of an uncountable noun, you ask “How much?”

-There has been a lot of research into the causes of this disease.

-He gave me a great deal of advice before my interview.

-Can you give me some information about uncountable nouns?

-He did not have much sugar left.

-Measure 1 cup of water, 300g of flour, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

-How much rice do you want?

Exceptions to the Rule of Countable v. Uncountable

Some nouns are countable in other languages but uncountable in English. They must follow the rules for uncountable nouns.

The most common ones are:
accommodation, advice, baggage, behavior, bread, furniture, information, luggage, news, progress, traffic

  • I would like to give you some advice.
  • How much bread should I bring?
  • I didn’t make much progress today.
  • This looks like a lot of trouble to me.
  • We did an hour of work yesterday.

Be careful with the noun hair, which is normally uncountable in English, so it is not used in the plural form. However, It can be countable only when referring to certain examples such as the individual hairs on someone’s head.

Examples:

1) Did you wash your hair last night?

2) Your dad is getting some grey hairs on his beard.

As shown in the multiple amount of examples, Countable nouns can be singular or plural although they mostly are plural in usage. This is in contrast with uncountable nouns which are only singular in their nature and can never be plural. This is an important grammatical distinction which will help you to understand the main difference between these two types of nouns. Do your best to study these examples, create your own sentences, and know why countable nouns are singular and plural while uncountable nouns are only singular. Whether it’s one potato or a hundred potatoes, you have to be able to count both.

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.