Friday, August 15, 2008

Communication Etiquette: Active Listening Skills

Listening is just as important (many would argue even more important) than speaking - but only if you know how to listen correctly. There's a big difference between hearing someone speak and actually listening to what they say.

If you are a good, active listener, you do these things:

1. Reserve judgment
It is hard to truly listen to what someone is saying if you are too busy passing judgment on the person, their views, their language, their look or anything else. Try your hardest to understand what the person is trying to say before formulating all of your arguments against them.

2. Focus your attention on the speaker
Stop what you are doing when someone is speaking to you. That might mean you have to close your laptop and turn the TV down or off. Make eye contact and focus on what the speaker is saying.

3. Give visual responses
Just because you aren't the one talking, doesn't mean you shouldn't be involved in the conversation. Speak with your body language. Physically positioning yourself facing the speaker is a sign that you are focused on them. Leaning towards the speaker also shows interest. And of course, make eye contact and nod your head when appropriate.

4. Encourage with verbal cues
Show that you are listening and understanding by adding short verbal cues like, "uh-huh," "yes," "right," "I see." The point of active listening is to show the speaker that you understand what they are saying.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

English Language: Build Your Vocabulary with Word Games - Let's build a list of the best on the net!

People always write to me saying that they have trouble finding the right words and knowing what to say in certain situations. The answer to these worries is simply to build your vocabulary. No one likes to hear that answer because it immediately brings up images of memorizing word lists and staring in the dictionary. But learning new words doesn't have to be that boring.

There are so many fun word games out there. You don't have to do crossword puzzles in pen; you can find plenty of games online that match your proficiency level and interest.

If you subscribe to my newsletter, then you know that my favorite word game online is at I like this site because as you play, you also support a great cause. You'll be given a word and four possible definitions. For every word you match with the correct definition, will donate 20 grains of rice through the UN World Food Program to feed hungry people around the world. It gets pretty addicting, and it feels good to see the piles of rice adding up! If you go to the options tab before you start playing, you can choose to remember your best vocabulary level and the total amount of rice you've earned. Then every time you come back you can continue where you left off.

I'm always interested in finding new word games. Do you know of any great sites on the net? Do you have any favorite games? Leave a link in the comments so we can all go check them out. I'll feature my favorite in my next newsletter. Have fun!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Public Speaking: Just do it!

For some reason a lot of people think that being able to speak in public is a natural talent. People always say to me, "It's easy for you. You're a natural speaker!" To which I reply, "Says who?" I entered my first public speaking competition when I was 12 years old, and I've been learning and practicing ever since. I really hope that I've shown some improvement in my public speaking style over the past 16 years!

Just because I started earlier doesn't mean my path has been any easier. I've completely blanked out in the middle of my speech. I've tripped. I've spilled water on myself. I've sweat excessively. My hands have shaken so hard I've knocked my visuals over (this was before PowerPoint). I've mispronounced words. I've said ridiculously stupid things and tried to cover them up with a smile. You name it and it's happened to me. The point is, you learn your lessons through experience, and you get better every time.

Anyone can become a good public speaker, but like everything else in life, it takes some work. It's easy to make excuses and let fear get the best of you. The people that go out there, take a chance and make an effort are the ones that will succeed in public speaking. You can't get better at something if you don't start trying.

The first step to improving your public speaking style and overcoming your fear is to just go out there and do it. Volunteer to speak at every opportunity. Clubs and associations are always looking for speakers for their meetings. Volunteer to do the speaking at work when your team needs to present the findings of the latest report. Or just start with your child's career day at school.

Think of every speaking opportunity as a learning opportunity. Set realistic expectations and don't be too hard on yourself. Have a friend or colleague critique you, and choose two or three things you would like to work on before your next talk. Take small steps and with time you'll suddenly notice what great leaps you've made since you started.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and make your mark on the world!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Speech Training: Improve Your Pronunciation with Tongue Twisters

Everyone thinks I'm crazy when I tell them to practice tongue twisters to improve their pronunciation and articulation, but it really does help! Tongue twisters help to strengthen the muscles necessary for proper speech while you practice the correct placement of your tongue, lips and teeth.

When you practice tongue twisters, don't just mumble through them. Really focus on your articulation. Start slowly at first and as you feel more comfortable speed up. Try watching yourself in the mirror to see the shape of your mouth and where you are placing your tongue.

Here are some of my favorite tongue twisters. You can also check out the new gadget I added in the right sidebar that will show a new tongue twister every day. (Don't ask me why the picture isn't showing correctly. I'm lucky I was able to figure out how to install the gadget!)

i & ee
I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit.

s & sh
Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore.
Shy Shelly says she shall sew sheets.

l & r
Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry.
There are four pilots on the flight deck.
River Valley Road
A flea and a fly flew up in a flue. Said the flea, "Let us fly!"Said the fly, "Let us flee!"So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

th, d & t
Lesser leather never weathered, wetter weather better.
Thank the other three brothers on their father's mother's brother's side.
I’m thinking of 3,333 things.
Tim, the thin twin tinsmith.

p & b
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

Want more? A great database of tongue twisters in several languages can be found here:

Related article:
3 Fun and Easy Ways to Improve Your Pronunciation

Monday, August 11, 2008

Speech Training: English Word Stress

As if we weren't stressed enough, now we have to think about how our words are stressed too! Word stress is a very important part of the English language and varies among different types of English. If you flip back and forth between CNN and BBC you'll notice the differences in word stress in words like controversy (US) and controversy (UK), laboratory (US) and laboratory (UK) and many others.

Normally non-native English speakers are much better at understanding the different varieties of English word stress. It's the native speakers that have issues with it. If you are speaking to a native-English speaker from a different country (or sometimes just a different region of the same country) than you, it will help to be familiar with their word stress to avoid misunderstandings.

Here's a quick quiz on "standard" English word stress. See if you can pronounce the sentences correctly on the first try. Then scroll down for the answers. I've chosen words that are pronounced the same in both US and UK English so it doesn't get too complicated! For a more in-depth discussion of word stress, follow the article links following the quiz.


1. The farm was used to produce produce.
2. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
3. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
4. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
5. I did not object to the object.
6. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
7. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

Here are the answers:
1. The farm was used to produce produce.
2. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
3. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.*
4. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
5. I did not object to the object.
6. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
7. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

*If you have trouble remembering the difference between spelling desert (n. hot and barren landscape, v. to run away from, leave) and dessert (n. yummy treat, usually including chocolate), my mom taught me a great trick when I was little: "We always want more dessert, so we add an extra s!"

Confused about word stress? Review these related articles:
Word Stress: Does it really matter?
Word Stress in 2-Syllable Words