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 – Creating a Resume

What is a resume? To sum it up, it is the backbone of your professional background and experience summed up in a one or two-page document which you will be showcasing to potential employers and/or co-workers. It is not the sum total of who you are as a person but rather who you are as a worker and what professional skills you have to offer and to whom your skills would be useful for. In order to get a better job, to get a better salary, or to get that promotion to take the next step in your career, a good resume could make the difference between a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer when it comes to you getting that employment opportunity.

The resume is how you showcase yourself to the professional world and let companies and organizations know what your value would be to them. It’s a document that is the heart of your application, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle to getting a job. The ideal resume by U.S. standards is 1 to 2 pages length and nothing longer than that. The CV (Curriculum Vitae) is different from a resume.

Again, a resume should highlight your professional experience, educational background, job skills and knowledge, and your technical capabilities. You can create different resumes depending upon the job you’re applying to especially if you can only highlight certain previous work experiences. Without the interview or direct networking, the resume and the cover letter, if requested, are the only ways that you will be able to reach potential employers.

It’s a summation of who you are professionally, what you can offer in business, and should showcase your work effort and drive. It is also a great way for employers to verify that you are qualified for the job opening and that you would be an asset to them rather than a liability.

Compared to less qualified candidates, if your resume looks good on paper, you’ll be able to stand out for a potential interview when your qualifications are better than the other applicants.

When you first beginning writing out your resume, you are going to want to make sure to use action words to highlight those professional experiences and your previous accomplishments you’ve had as well. These actions words should not be the same each sentence and you should never repeat the same one more than once. Also, it is important to use the present tense or past tense correctly based upon if you are still doing the same job or if it was done previously and that you are no longer there.

There are hundreds of action words in the English language and learning a good amount of them is a great way to ensure that you have a good resume. In order to keep the interviewer interested, you do not want to repeat the same action word twice or three times so be sure to do your best to learn as many as you can and know what the meaning of those words are too.

Your action word is a key component of making the resume look legitimate to the reader. The action word should always go at the beginning of the sentence (i.e. next to the bullet point) during the ‘work experience’ part of the resume. If you are currently working at a job but are applying to change to a new job, the action word must be in the present tense. However, if you are writing about previous work experience in your resume, your action words should be in the past tense. Without using action words, your resume won’t look as persuasive or as actionable as it could be otherwise. Your employer will want to know what you bring to the table based on your past work experiences.

Here is a list of good action words you can use in your resume if they apply to what your profession does, it is a small sample list but includes many words that commonly come up in professional resumes and accurately depict what some jobs do:

  • assemble
  • assist
  • build
  • cook
  • drive
  • fly
  • operate
  • program
  • repair
  • sell
  • sew
  • supervise
  • translate

Action Word – Sentence Examples

  • Assemble the cars in the manufacturing plant before they can be inspected.
  • Assembled over 10,000 cars in the manufacturing plant before they were inspected.
  • Cook meals that were prepared by hand without any outside training.
  • Cooked dozens of meals per day that were prepared by hand without any outside training.
  • Lead a Sales team of five people to sell medical device products to clients.
  • Led a Sales team of five people in selling hundreds of medical device products to clients in biomedical industry.
  • Develop software products to make it easier for customers to order their groceries online.
  • Developed ten different software products that made it easier for customers to order their groceries online.

In the introduction of a resume, you will want to be able to do many things well to set it up on sound footing before getting to the heart of your resume by introducing yourself and your current skillset. You will want to have a statement of one to two sentences discussing who you are and what you can offer to the employer. It’s basically a summary of your resume and a short summary of what your professional skillset is.

“My name is John Anderson and I have over 10 years of experience in digital marketing focusing on SEO, social media, and advertising campaigns. I am a dependable, hard-working, and motivated individual looking to expand my knowledge and expertise.”

Remember to include at the top of your resume your full name, address, e-mail address, and cell phone number so the employer may be able to contact you.

Headline Example:

John Doe

22 Winston Way, Toronto, Canada 24589

   John.Doe@gmail.com

                                                  +( ) (   ) (   ) (    ) –> Phone Number

 The body part of your resume should focus on two major parts: your professional experiences as well as your educational background. At the top of your resume, you’ve introduced yourself and your professional profile but now you want to go more into detail.

Make sure to include relevant bullet points regarding actions you undertook in each of your previous jobs as well as what goals you were able to accomplish. Remember to write in complete sentences and use a timeline in chronological order from most recent to furthest away in terms of commitment.

For example: Bachelor of Arts Degree, Stanford University; Biochemistry (Major), Physics (Minor). 2011 – 2015.

In the conclusion, you want to highlight what your area of expertise is. You want to leave the reader aware of what kind of professional abilities, skills, and technical capabilities you have. Also, if you have any awards or earned any professional honors, you will want to list them in chronological order from most recent to furthest in the past.

If your work has been published or if you have any items in your professional portfolio, you’ll want to highlight the title of these articles as well as for which publication they were featured in. Depending upon what kind of employer you are focusing on, it’s sometimes beneficial to list what kind of hobbies and interests you have even if they are not professionally related. Regarding coding or foreign languages, you should highlight by the end of your resume which languages you know whether its Python (coding) or Spanish (foreign language) to stand out from the competition.

With a great resume, you will have a much better chance of landing that dream job. While it is not guaranteed, if you can explain yourself well professionally with good vocabulary with the correct action words as well as few or no grammatical errors, it’s likely you will be called in for an interview or be able to take that pivotal next step towards landing your next employment opportunity.

English Corner – Idioms

If you are looking for a mainstay of most living languages, you should look no further than the concept of the ‘Idiom.’ The Idiom is the closest thing that humans have in terms of a universal connector among the diversity inherent in all forms of spoken language. The most important thing to understand about the idiom is that you are not supposed to take them literally but you are still supposed to take them seriously. There’s a deeper, implied meaning beyond any idiom regardless of the language it’s spoken in. This is especially the case in the English language where there are hundreds, if not thousands of idioms that can be used for any matter or circumstance.

Idioms can be extremely diverse in their range and can refer to any amount of unique subjects or topics. Idioms can also be used very locally, regionally, or nationally depending upon the language and the culture it comes from. A dialect, jargon, or accent can also lend to the idioms used by a certain group of people who share common interests and/or beliefs. Idioms can be used in reference to business, politics, science, art, music, and other parts of daily life.

It can be tough to decipher which idioms are the most used in the English language but there are a few of them that stand out in terms of their popularity and their different ways of usage. Most people who speak English are likely to be familiar with these idioms below or have used them themselves.

Examples

  1. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Meaning: Don’t get ahead of yourself before things are accomplished.

  1. Have a chip of my shoulder.

Meaning: You’re bothered or annoyed by something that won’t go away.

  1. Don’t jump to conclusions.

Meaning: While not taking this statement literally, you shouldn’t pass judgment on someone or something before you receive all of the facts.

  1. A dime a dozen.

Meaning: Very common, easily found anywhere and everywhere.

  1. An ace in the hole.

Meaning: A secret advantage or a benefit that no one else knows about and is going to be used soon against an opponent or adversary.

Sentences

  1. The science project isn’t finished yet because we still have to build the volcano. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
  2. I don’t like critics doubting my basketball skills. They really give me a chip on my shoulder.
  3. We don’t know whether or not he’s telling the truth about his new invention, Let’s not jump to conclusions.
  4. These Amazon ‘Alexa’ AI devices are a dime a dozen. You can find them everywhere and they are really popular.
  5. I have Matt Ryan as my starting Quarterback in Fantasy Football this weekend. He’s my ace in the hole.

Idioms can refer to someone’s actions and the consequences of those actions highlighted in example idioms such as ‘Pay the piper’ and ‘Rub somebody the wrong way.’ Idioms can refer to people in general when you say that they are ‘sick as a dog’ or ‘six feet underground.’ Lastly, colors in English can often become part of idioms themselves such as when you describe somebody as feeling upset or depressed as having ‘the blues.’ You know that the person isn’t actually ‘blue’ in their color but rather they have ‘the blues’, which is referred to as when somebody isn’t feeling well. There is a whole musical genre that is devoted to this kind of mellow music called the ‘Blues.’ ‘Out of the blue’ is another example of a color kind of idiom that refers to something happening when you least expect it to.

It can be very difficult to get the hang of idioms especially if your proficiency level is at a low level. First, you need to be able to conjugate verbs, have a good grasp on the vocabulary by knowing a lot of different words, and then you need to be able to understand the meaning behind the idioms and use them with other native speakers in the right way. The idioms being used depends upon the region, the culture, and the social group you find yourself in. That is why there are such a sheer variety of idioms that can be used in any given situation regardless of the language that the idiom falls under. Idioms cut across language and cultural barriers and can have similar meanings to each other depending upon the situation.

The best way in which to comprehend and start using English idioms is to talk with native speakers who will use them throughout a conversation even if they don’t realize it at times. The more conversations you have with English speakers, the more idioms you will pick up on and remember. They will most likely want to help you out so do not be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand the meaning of the idiom or why it’s being used in a certain sentence.

Before you start using idioms yourself, you want to be absolutely clear that you’re using the idiom within the right context for the right meaning. It can be a bit embarrassing if you tell your American friend who is starring in a Broadway play that you want him to ‘jump the gun’ instead of to ‘break a leg.’ Idioms take time to understand, use, and master but they are an important part of learning any language, including English.
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If you have liked what I have written in this ‘English Corner’ post, and you are interested in improving your English language skills whether its’ with speaking, writing, or just boosting your knowledge of grammar, I would be happy to help you reach your language learning goals. Check out Learn English With Ben to book a private lesson with me today!