Cornell University

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Cornell University; Ithaca, New York

Stewart Park

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Stewart Park near Cayuga Lake; Ithaca, New York

Book Recommendations – Volume XI

“There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading?”

There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading? Regardless if the book is fiction or non-fiction, spending a few hours each day reading a good book can make the time pass by quicker and get rid of any kind of twiddle-your-thumbs moments that can happen when you don’t have a movie, concert, or sporting event to distract you. While live events may be out of order this summer, your bookshelf is dying to have you open up a book, sit down on your favorite couch or chair, and let your mind wander to an imaginary or a real place to pass the time.

  1. The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and The Case for Its Renewal by William J. Burns

William J. Burns might be one of the best diplomats the United States has ever had. With over thirty years of experience and having served in two of the most important regions of the world, Mr. Burns’s story is an example of the good that diplomatic efforts can do in resolving conflicts, promoting peace, and ensuring cooperation among both allies and adversaries. He is one of only two career diplomats to have ever earned the title of ‘Deputy Secretary of State’ and he gave advice and counsel to five U.S. Presidents and ten Secretaries of State.

Mr. Burns’s storied career includes Ambassadorships to both Jordan and Russia and he held numerous Assistant Secretary positions within the State Department during his three-decade tenure. He was partly responsible for ceasefire agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians, for helping to eliminate Libya’s nuclear weapons program, and for helping to reset U.S. relations with Russia in the early 2010s. He also shares insights in this book that were previously not publicly known involving his views on the Iraq War, the Civil War in Syria, and of the Russian aggression against Ukraine at the end of his tenure.

This 400+ page memoir is simply a must-read for anyone interested in how diplomacy works and how vital it is to maintain within a government’s foreign policy. In a time now where it has been underinvested and mismanaged, Burns’s book illuminates how big of a difference it can make and how one man’s impact can be felt throughout an entire foreign policy apparatus due to his vigorous study of culture, languages, and history in order for him to be taken seriously. The book is not only educational but is also gripping in terms of his recall of major events throughout his diplomatic career as well as the written cables that explain them. It is a real page turner and should be required reading for any student of international relations and who hopes to become a diplomat in their own future career.

2. On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey by Paul Theroux

Cooperation, friendship, and understanding is important among friends, but it is even more important among your neighbors. The US-Mexico relationship has been fraught with mistrust and tension especially during the years of the Trump administration. The best way to do away with stereotypes and misgivings about each other is to visit the lesser known places of a country and visit the non-touristy areas. Paul Theroux may be the best living American travel writer today.

From his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi in the 1970s to his trek in the American Deep South, Paul Theroux has traveled around the world over five decades and counting. His latest novel about his travels in Mexico is a must-read for Americans and anyone else looking to understand Mexico from an outside lens. While not an exhaustive take on the complex country and its people, Theroux’s book, somewhat observant and otherwise felt like you’re in the middle of his travels is both illuminating and powerful.

Paul Theroux is really a true traveler and even though this is the first of his travel novels that I have read, this one felt very timely as it was released in 2019 during a time of souring relations between the two North American neighbors. Theroux spares no miles or kilometers in seeing all of Mexico that he can. From the desert Region of Sonora in the North to the Mexico mundo of Mexico City to the Southeast of the country where he visits the Zapatistas, this is an extremely educational look at modern Mexico.

Theroux’s book highlights the issues that Mexico is going through from immigration from the Northern Triangle to the ever-present threat of the drug cartels to the hopes of Mexico’s indigenous populations who believe that they have been left behind as other villages and towns hollowed out while the economic gains went elsewhere. It’s not just the issues that Theroux shines a lens on but also the beauty of the country’s culture and its warm people. As an elderly traveler, Theroux is treated with great respect and even reverence as ‘Don Pablo.’

He is welcomed as a guest, kept safe by complete strangers, and invited to interview Mexicans who normally would not talk to foreign travelers. Theroux travels all the way from Massachusetts across the border where few Americans are found to cross. He does so in his own car on his own dime and does not travel with any security or any kind of companionship. He learns Spanish and teaches writing to Mexican students. He is a refreshing kind of traveler, one who remembers to show people through a human lens and to not deal with harmful stereotypes.

Overall, ‘On the Plain of Snakes’ is an excellent travel novel for anyone interested in learning more about Mexico’s people, its culture, its struggles, and its hopes for a better future.

3. Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World by Michele J. Gelfand

This book has been my favorite one of 2020 and I only heard of it through a weekly David Brooks column in The New York Times Opinion section. The differences and similarities between cultures and societies is a topic that has fascinated me for years. As someone who has lived in both loose and tight countries as Mrs. Gelfand so brilliantly classifies, it is fascinating to see her extensive research come into fruition and how these loose and tight countries affect our outlook on everything from celebrations to driving to health care to tattoos.

Tight countries are cultures where norms are preserved and breaking them is frowned upon. Societal cohesion is encouraged and straying from norms is open to punishment. Loose countries are cultures where norms are often broken and breaking them usually comes with a shrug or a lack of care. Why do Germans always stop at a red light even when its 3 AM? Why do Brazilian clocks never run on time? Why do Japanese trains always run on time? Why do Singaporean laws ban gum from being chewed?

These tight and loose differences do not just extend to countries but also to states, cities, organizations, businesses and even within us. This book of ‘tight and loose’ norms highlights how we feel about any subject and how that is reflected in how we act with others. There is no right or wrong answer as to whether living in a tight culture is better or if living in a loose culture is better. Mrs. Gelfand excellently points out in each chapter how they both have their advantages and disadvantages depending upon the norm being considered.

Our upbringing, our environment, our country’s history, etc. all have effects on how ‘tight’ a culture is or how ‘loose’ a culture is. There can also be changes to a culture depending if there are big events like a terrorist attack, a pandemic, a natural disaster, etc. Cultures can tighten or loosen depending upon what is going on in the country and how people are being affected by these natural or manmade shifts to our lives.

Having seen both ‘tight cultures’ and ‘loose cultures’ up close and personal, this book has been a revelation to me in terms of explaining what I thought about only in my theories that I concocted after traveling from country to country but never really expressing it as well as she has in this great book. Mrs. Gelfand has done extensive research across many countries and continents to explain why some countries have more ‘rule makers’ and why other countries have ‘rule breakers.’ In order for our own cultures to shift from one spectrum to the other, we have to first understand why the country’s culture is the way it is and if it can shift, what benefits are there to tightening up or loosening up depending on what is going on in our lives and in our society at the time?

Buttermilk Falls State Park

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Buttermilk Falls State Park; Ithaca, New York

Museum of Tomorrow (Museo do Amanhã)

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Museum of Tomorrow; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain)

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

English Corner – Proper Email Etiquette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            I am emailing you today because _______________.

            The purpose of my email is to __________________.

            I am messaging you today in the hopes that _______.

            This email is to inform you that _________________.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-‘Best,’

-‘Sincerely,’

-‘Warm Regards’,

-‘Kind Regards’,

-‘Regards,’

-‘Best Wishes’,

-‘Warm Wishes’,

‘Thank you,’

‘With gratitude’,

-‘Many thanks,’

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

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

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

Rio from the Water

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Downtown Rio and Leblon

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Leblon Beach and Downtown; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

English Corner – The Basics of Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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