English Corner – The Building Blocks of Reading Materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Corner – 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.

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!

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English Corner – Using Worksheets to Succeed

If you are learning a language such as English, it can be tough to justify doing homework and worksheets and additional activities. However, here’s a secret for you, dear reader: you have to do it as part of the learning process. In order to retain the knowledge, you have learned either through online courses, private lessons, or group classes, you need to have worksheets or activities in order to be able to remember what the concepts were that you have to put into practice. While worksheets alone will not make you an English master, the practice you can gain from them is invaluable.

From my experiences as an English as a Second Language teacher and as a business owner now, I can tell you that any kind of lectures or instructional materials whether they are by video, audio, or in-person should come with some kind of assessment in order to make sure that the student has absorbed the content and can make good use of it. Now, that does not mean repetition or intensive memorization but rather in the worksheets themselves, can they utilize this lecture material to write a paper, interpret a passage, form questions, give some answers, or even create a video or audio of their own.

It is a fallacy that worksheets have to be boring especially with languages. You can use them for many different purposes for English including grammar and vocabulary of course to be general but also for speaking, writing, reading, and listening. A true measure of a student is how they are able to discuss their reactions to a music video or answer questions about a movie scene or as well as ask questions of their classmates and write down the answers.

If you are a student and don’t have access to a private tutor or a regular English teacher, try to go online to different ESL websites to see if there are free resources to use including worksheets. Many sites offer free worksheets categorized by topics and themes, which you can then use to self-study English on your own. A good habit to pick up is to bookmark those websites that offer these free worksheets and use them each day depending upon which topic within English you would like to learn. You do not have to spend any money in order to get access to worksheets and they should cover a wide range of activities from speaking to writing to reading.

Also, paid worksheets that come with course videos or private lesson instruction come with the added benefit of the professor or teacher reviewing your work and correcting your mistakes. Having a private tutor can also help you realize where you went wrong, what you are doing well, and what you still have to improve upon. A course without any activities or worksheets is not much of an English course at all so it is very important to try to be able to evaluate yourself after going through some course material with either a worksheet, activity, or assignment to be graded.

We all know how having Homework especially as a teenager or an adult is no fun at all but for language learning, it is key to use worksheets that are due on a certain date and require grading to be used both in the virtual classroom and in the real classroom. Doing worksheets is not only for learning but for practice and to retain your knowledge. You can also be sure that by saving these worksheets for the future, you will be giving yourself a chance to go back, look at your mistakes, see where you are now as having improved and hopefully gotten better.

This is especially the case with vocabulary worksheets to help make sure you remember many verbs, adjectives, and nouns you may have forgot and to study them in order to improve your memory. Who knows? Perhaps you may have a family member or friend who wants to learn English who you can pass your worksheets on to so they can learn these concepts and skills too. Similar to a downloaded video, a downloaded worksheet can last for a while so you can always go back to it a few days, weeks, months, or even years later in case your English language skills start to get rusty again.

As I have mentioned, practice makes perfect and there are few better ways to make that happen than by working on and then completing worksheets. Whether you self-study and do them on your own, work with a friend or classmates, or even work through them together with a private tutor, English worksheets are a key part of boosting your knowledge of this language regardless of which part you are focusing on. You can do a worksheet on any part of the English language and I would recommend getting started with a base of vocabulary and grammar sheets before tackling the more advanced speaking, reading, writing, and listening worksheets.

Do not forget to take your time, check your work, read out loud the answers, or even seek the advice of a friend but make sure you do the worksheets, get feedback, and then save them for the future. You never know when you just might need them next and they are an amazing resource to have as an English as a Second Language student. Lastly, don’t forget to highlight your answers in yellow or cross them out with red ink. Using black or blue ink all of the time could get confusing for you.

English Corner – Colons

The colon is very useful in the English language, but it is also considered to be a bit underused as a means of punctuation within the world of grammar. You have to understand the circumstances for which a ‘colon’ can be used as well as a few examples of when it can show up in a regular sentence. If you can master colons, you can definitely count yourself as being advanced as an English learner. It will take time, but I hope that this tip will help you get a little bit better in making the colon work to your advantage as a writer.

What is a colon? Well, a colon indicates the meaning of what you want to say as well as to list what is necessary for the reader or the listener to understand. Colons and semicolons are very different in terms of meaning and use. They should never be used in the same sentence and are very rarely used together.

There are a number of uses for colons, but the three top ones would be the following:

Use #1: To introduce two or more items and to list them together separated by a comma(s).

Examples:

  1. You should do the following tonight: Practice your instrument, study for the test, and help clean the dishes.
  2. He got what he wanted today: A big promotion and an increase in his salary.
  3. Remember what we talked about: work hard, tell the truth, and always give it your best effort.

Use #2: To start a letter or an e-mail to somebody.

  1. Dear Mrs. Jones:
  2. To Whom It May Concern:
  3. To My Beloved ________:

Use #3: To introduce a quote or a short summary of a few sentences:

  1. John F. Kennedy once spoke: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
  2. The author of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, wrote in the second chapter:

“Tom Sawyer went back to his bed and stared at the fence where Jim was painting for Tom’s father. Tom wondered whether his father and Jim were friends or even if they spoke to each other.” (Not a real quote from the book, just an example)

  1. The Presidential candidate was quoted as saying: “I agree that we must move forward on fighting climate change in order to create a better future for our people.”

As you can see now, there are three main uses for colons as well as some rules that have to be observed. Let us now look at some of the important rules for using colons and how to make sure that we abide by them.

Rules of Colon Usage

  1. Colons are used in the middle of most sentences and are usually followed by a list of items or words belonging to the same or similar categories.
  2. Colons can also be used between two sentences especially if the second sentence relates to the meaning of the first sentence.
  3. A colon should always be used to introduce a numbered or a bulleted list, such as for grocery items or different types of grammar concepts.
  4. As mentioned earlier, colons can be used to introduce a quote from a speaker who was reported to have said the following words and sentences. This kind of long quotation does not need quotation marks if you have already introduced who the speaker is and what they are talking about followed by the comma (:).
  5. Colons can also be used at the beginning of a letter or an e-mail in both formal and informal settings for co-workers, bosses, friends, and family members. From seeing the examples above, you can note that instead of a comma (,), a colon (:) is being used instead to introduce the salutation or the greeting for the reader of the letter or e-mail.

These are the main rules for how to use colons and it’s important to keep in mind that a colon can:

  1. Never start a formal sentence.
  2. Never end a formal sentence.
  3. It is rare to have more than one colon used in a single sentence.
  4. Colons can be used between two sentences provided there is no period (.) separating them.
  5. While not very prominently used like a comma or a period, this form of punctuation has its uses which you should know how to utilize.

Colons are a tricky subject but once you understand both the main uses and the main rules, you will be well on your way to creating better sentences and more detailed quotes from the use of this punctuation. Similar to semicolons, colons are an advanced topic that separate an advanced English grammar learner from an intermediate learner. Once you can list items, introduce quotes, and start an e-mail off right, you will know that you are using colons correctly and for the right reasons.

English Corner – An Introduction to Rhetorical Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example: He is suffering from a broken heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example: Alice’s aunt ate apples and almonds.

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

Example: Her smile is like the shining sun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Corner – Semicolons

Similar to commas, Semicolons are an important punctuation mark that plays a key role in many English sentences. When you think of a semicolon, think of it being a slight pause in a sentence between the two main clauses or parts that should be separated as you would do with a comma. You will want to use the semicolon in between two independent clauses within a basic sentence and this is especially true if there is no coordinating conjunction being used such as and, or, but, etc. A good example of when semicolons can be used is when you are writing a list of items or things that need to be separated from one another. This is probably the most important use of a semicolon, but it is far from being the only usage.

Semicolons are often used in the middle or towards the end of a sentence if apart of a multi-item list. You won’t see a semicolon being used at the beginning or the end of a sentence as you would with a period or a question mark. Semicolons, colons, and commas are all part of what is known as ‘internal punctuation’, which forms the backbone of a complete sentence. Semicolons can be used with other semicolons within the same sentence as it would be the case when commas are used with commas in a similar sentence.

Semicolons can be used interchangeably with commas as well within the same sentence depending on whether two different people, places, or things are being referenced separately. It is perhaps most common that the semicolon is used with another semicolon or more, but it can be used with other forms of internal punctuation. In addition, semicolons can be used with a colon (:) because the colon often precedes the semicolon(s) in a complete sentence in terms of usage.

Let us look at a few examples where semicolons are being used with a colon preceding it:

1.)   Jackie bought the following items from the supermarket today: Corn; String beans; Tomatoes; Bread.

2.)   James listed his worst fears for his teacher in the following order: Flying; Being in front of an audience; Heights; Spiders.

Let us look at how semicolons (;) can be used with commas (,) correctly within the same sentence:

1.)   George’s family included John, his older brother; Jenny, his younger sister; and Jerry, his younger brother.

2.)   There are McDonald’s restaurants all over the world including Istanbul, Turkey; Mexico City, Mexico; and Bogota, Colombia.

3.)   The astronauts had to decide about the countdown: Would they count from three, two, one; or one, two, three?

All these examples show how interchangeable punctuation marks are within a complete sentence especially when you are listing family members or restaurant chains in different cities. You can see how commas and semicolons can be used together, especially to highlight pauses within a sentence to show differences between places and/or people. Semicolons are not used as often as commas but they play an important role.

Let’s look at how semicolons are used to separate independent clauses especially when a coordinating conjunction is not being used in its place:

1.)   Tim goes to France; I go to Spain.

2.)   Jenny wanted to play tennis; I told her the courts were closed due to rain.

3.)   Jack has three dogs; Tommy has one.

4.)   I believe in UFOs; Jordan thinks I have gone crazy.

In these sentences, you are particularly going to use semicolons when the thoughts in each independent clause are opposed to each other or neutral to the other. When you want to contradict the previous clause, you can use a semicolon to highlight the difference between the two points of views instead of using a coordinating conjunction. To put it another way, coordinating conjunctions are used with independent clauses that are similar to each other whereas you use semicolons with independent clauses that are opposed or contradictory of one another. Sentences with semicolons tend to be shorter than those sentences that use commas or coordinating conjunctions, which do a better job of lengthening the sentence without making it a run-on sentence.

Lastly, a semicolon has an important usage in between sentences or within sentences when it comes to quotations. A comma can replace a period after a quotation and then is followed by a semicolon to link the two sentences together especially when the two people are in a conversation.

Let’s look at a few examples of how semicolons are used within a sentence where there are quotations cited as part of a larger story or narrative:

1.)   “I don’t want to do this,” he stated; “You have no choice in the matter.”

2.)   “Is this your home?” she asked; “Why don’t you go inside to your family?”

3.)   “Why do you look so upset?” he inquired; “What do you have to worry about these days?”

Unless followed by the beginning of a quotation or a proper noun or subject, semicolons are followed by a lower-case letter. You can see from these examples and the explanations given that semicolons are a key part of English grammar and punctuation. Whether its with connecting short independent clauses or bringing together a series of quotations, semicolons can be very useful in English writing. The most important use of semicolons remains making lists especially of different people and places along with their descriptive qualities. Please be sure to follow the example sentences I have given to form your own semicolon sentences. Keep practicing, do your best, and be sure to read this blog post again in the future to better understand this important punctuation mark.

English Corner – The Utility of Commas

The Comma is an integral part of any English language sentence and while it may not come up all the time, it is likely to come up many of your sentences especially if they are longer than 10 sentences. The comma helps us to avoid run-on sentences or sentences that are too long-winded, which will distract the reader, and take away from the meaning of your sentence(s).

Commas should be used moderately to not to introduce many pauses within your sentences. You should be looking to use conjunctions in lieu of commas or with them depending upon the context. What you do not want to do is not use commas at all or use them too much. There is a key balance there that a writer in the English language must learn through trial and error as they develop their grammar proficiency.

What a comma (,) does in not just English but in other languages as well is to break down sentences into individual clauses with the comma acting a pause in the action to let the reader catch his or her breath. Commas are used in several scenarios but none as so important as forming a list of two or more items. In a list type of sentence, the comma is effective in separating the people, places, or things into an order from first to last to differentiate them.

If there are two or more items in the list, the comma will come before the conjunction (and, but, or) to finish out the sentence properly. This kind of arrangement forms the basis of the ‘oxford comma’, which is still being debated by English grammar scholars, but for which is popular with some English language students and is advocated for by certain teachers. The comma + conjunction combo is not only just for the oxford comma but for a wide variety of sentences.

If you had to summarize the main uses of commas in sentences, they function in terms of being placed between items for formal lists and they also establish separate yet interdependent clauses within a single sentence. The supplementary uses for commas involve being used between parts of speech such as adjectives, adverbs, and before quotations. Commas can also be used for dates related to days, months, and years in terms of how it is written.

Let’s break down the different uses of commas but listing a few examples for each type of popular usage:

Main Uses

1.      Building lists

·        Not only was Jenny captain of the Varsity soccer team but she was also President of the Chess club, and a member of the National Honor Society.

·        Felix had several things to get from the supermarket today: eggs, milk, bread, meat, and soft drinks for his daughter’s birthday party.

·        I think my grandmother, Jean, will be there along with my grandfather, Patrick, and my mother, Eunice.

2.      Separating the clauses

·        Jack wanted to go out with his friends to the movies, but he couldn’t do so because he had to finish his homework.

·        Lying to other people is not a good idea, and it often hurts other people’s feelings.

·        They were lost in the woods, hoping to get home by morning, but they were out of food and without a compass to guide them.

Supplementary Uses

1.      Adverbs and Adjectives

·        However, he was not guilty of the crime they thought he committed.

·        Moreover, they apologized to him and let him go free.

·        The dreary, sad day was encapsulated by the rainy weather.

·        President Franklin Roosevelt was fervent, unwavering in his belief in the American people’s ability to contribute to the war effort.

2.      Quotations and Dates

·        Mr. Johnson told his students, “You should always know how to use commas in sentences.”

·        LeBron was dismissive of the reporters stating, “I scored 50 points and did my best to help the team win the game.”

·        Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th, 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky, United States.

·        Independence Day happened on July 4th, 1776 as the United States declared its independence from the British Empire.

As you can see from these examples, commas play a really important role in both English writing and in English grammar. There are several main uses and supplementary uses that the English language learner should be aware of. You must be able to practice each of these comma uses regardless of the purpose. In order to use commas properly, you must write your own sentences, make corrections if necessary, and get feedback from your teacher or your other classmates.

Each comma use is important whether its to separate sentence clauses, making a list of items, putting them with adjectives and adverbs, or using them for quotes or dates in those type of sentences. Without commas, you won’t have a complete sentence and you’ll run the risk of having a run-on sentence, which is what you want to avoid as much as possible in mastering English grammar and writing.