Friday, August 29, 2008

English Language: Acronyms Part 2

If you don't live in Singapore, yesterday's post was probably pretty hard to understand. It was also pretty hard for me to write since I generally don't use acronyms or write in short form when I send a text message. When I arrived here a little bit over two years ago, I felt like people were speaking another language! But Singapore isn't the only place where acronyms and abbreviations are common.

As we become more and more busy, acronyms seem to become more and more popular. It's almost like we don't have the time to speak properly anymore! There are many arguments as to why we should avoid acronyms, but the most important one, in my opinion, is simply because they make our messages unclear.

Acronyms are region-specific. I still think it's weird that I have to apply for a work permit with the MOM. Who's mom is that exactly? I guess that since Singapore follows British English and they call their moms "mums" they didn't think it was weird to name their labor department (Ministry of Manpower) after my mom.

We should try to avoid jargon at all costs in our communication, and acronyms are another form of jargon. Every industry has it's own set of acronyms. When my husband tells me about his day at work it sounds like alphabet soup: PO, SIC, QA, PQ, ITP, OQ, RA, MS, etc. Don't ask me what any of these mean - I just hope he can't see my eyes glazing over. But when he's talking to a colleague on the phone, they both seem to understand this secret code perfectly.

The problems occur when you try to speak to a client, or someone outside of the industry about what you do. If you find it hard to explain what you do in simple terms without using acronyms you have a problem. When you use acronyms in conversation you lock people out by making them feel stupid. You assume that they know something. And you know what happens when you assume...

Have you had any funny or embarrassing mishaps with acronyms? I'd love to hear about them!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

English Language: Acronyms Part 1

Arriving home in SG

I stepped off my SIA flight 10 minutes after my ETA and headed for immigration. I was glad I just got my new EP and IC with my FIN from MOM so I could go through the fast lane for PRs and other residents. After picking up my bags, I stopped by the UOB ATM. I thought about taking the MRT, but hopped in a taxi instead. I told the driver to take the ECP, but he said it was jammed so he took the PIE to the CTE.

As we drove past rows of HDBs, I thought about my baby girl that I recently delivered at TMC (my OB/GYN's clinic, TLC is there). I also thought about how lucky I was to have a new FDW to help take care of her while I was away. I wondered if the GIRO application was approved so I didn't need to worry about the BFWL.

As we entered the CBD, I was surprised by how many new ERPs there were. Suddenly I got an SMS: "Hi h! r u back?" It was from my BFF, Sonia. I SMSed her back: "Ya, gr8 trip. how r u?" We decided to meet at OUB Centre since her PAs BF said there was a nice cafe there. Plus her PC was down and the IT guy was busy fixing it; she couldn't get her POs done anyway.

We met for coffee and had a nice time talking. After a long day, everything was A-OK.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Speech Training: Practice Word Pairs to Improve Pronunciation

Minimal pairs are words that are identical except for the one problem sound you are focused on practicing. For example, if you have trouble with the sounds /r/ and /l/ you might practice reading a list of words like read/lead, road/load, fry/fly, fright/flight, crutch/clutch and so on. Slowly say these words out loud and really focus on the sounds and the way you use your voice. Here are some helpful hints to practicing minimal pairs:

- Say the words in a mirror. Exaggerate your facial expressions. Watch your tongue, lips and jaw, and note the differences when you make the sounds. Don’t worry if you look a little strange at first! As your mouth learns how to make the sounds correctly, you won’t have to make such weird faces to produce them correctly.

- Record yourself saying the pairs. Listen to the recording and see if you can hear a difference between how you pronounce the words.

- Choose one word from each pair and say them out loud to a friend. Have your friend write down the words he/she hears. See if your friend heard the words you were trying to say. (You can also do this on your own by noting the words you choose as you record yourself saying them. Listen to the recording a few days later and write down the words you hear. Compare your list to the list of words you recorded.)

Here's a four and a half minute video explaining this exercise. It was casually recorded after a live event so if you hear me refering to a workbook, that's why!

If you are having trouble coming up with lists of your own, or are unsure whether the words you’ve chosen are correct, check out linguist John Higgins’ website. He has listed hundreds of minimal pairs in this database:

Taking time to practice your pronunciation is vital if you are to reach your goal of improving the clarity of your speech. Be patient with yourself! This process takes time, but the pay-offs will definitely be worth it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

English Language: How to Proof-read for the 5 Most Common Pitfalls

I know that I've mentioned the importance of proof-reading your writing in earlier posts, but I really can't stress it enough. We talk about proof-reading all the time, but few really know how to do it successfully. It's like when you write something in Word and suddenly it's underlined in green. The sentence looks good to you. Why's it underlined? If you can't figure out what's wrong with your sentence, it's really hard to fix, isn't it?

Here are the top 5 most common problems I see when I'm asked to proof-read someone's work (including my own) and how to fix them.

1. Typos
It can be extremely hard to find typos, but trust me, they're usually there. Sometimes I'll read something 15 times and it's not until I send the copy to the printer (or post to my blog) that I realize there's a major typo. Read through your writing slowly and focus on each word individually. Sometimes it helps to read each word out loud.

2. Confusing contractions
A very common mistake that I see is contraction confusion. For example, writing it's instead of its or they're instead of their. If I'm using contractions in my writing I always read them as two full words when I proof-read so that I'm sure I've used the correct form. Let's look at a sentence from #1: Sometimes I'll read something 15 times and it's not until I send... When I proofread that sentence I read: Sometimes I will read something 15 times and it is not until I send... By reading the sentence in its full form I can be sure that I'm using my contractions correctly. Conversely, every time I see its or their I stop to ask myself if I really mean to be using the possessive.

3. Punctuation
I'm not sure why punctuation has to be so confusing. The period (full stop in UK English), question mark and exclamation point are easy enough, but what about things like colons and semicolons? These are commonly misused.
Colons (:) are used to introduce lists or a summation. They come directly after a complete sentence.
I told him I like many flavors of ice cream: vanilla, orange sherbet, cookie dough and cookies & cream.
Semicolons (;) are used to separate two complete sentences. You could actually use a period instead of the semicolon, but for some reason you want to stress a connection between these two thoughts.
I really like ice cream; my favorite flavor is vanilla.

4. Subject-verb agreement
I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, they are
I have, you have, he/she/it has, we have, they have
I work, you work, he/she/it works, we work, they work

If you're confused about this point, see my earlier post on the topic.

5. Confusing constructions
Make sure that you write what you mean. It's easy to get wrapped up in fancy verbiage and crazy punctuation and completely lose sight of your point. Keep your sentences clear and simple. Use the active voice instead of the passive voice to make your sentences direct and interesting. For example, instead of writing "He was robbed by muggers" try writing "The muggers robbed him."

There are many other hang-ups in written English, but these are the very first things I look for when I proof-read a piece of writing. If you start looking for these pitfalls every time you read, and also think about them as you write, it will become second nature to automatically correct them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Public Speaking: Should I memorize my speech?

Someone sent me an email today asking whether word-for-word memorization was the best method for preparing for a big speech.

Generally speaking, I never encourage anyone to memorize a speech. When you memorize something word-for-word the delivery becomes artificial. Also, if you suddenly 'blank out' it's very hard to pick up the pieces.

That said, sometimes memorizing small parts of your speech like your introduction and conclusion can help. Your introduction is one of the most important parts of your talk. If you fumble on your introduction you can lose some of the audience at the very start. Even worse, your confidence can falter and that can have a negative effect on the rest of your speech.

Another good reason for memorizing your introduction is because it can help with a fear of speaking. Have you ever noticed that you're most nervous at the beginning of your talk? After a few minutes when you see that everything is going well and your confidence builds, your nervousness starts slipping away. A great introduction isn't only great for your audience - it's also great for you!

Your conclusion is equally important. You want to leave the audience feeling good about your subject and, more importantly, you. You don't necessarily need to memorize your ending, but have a really good idea about how you want to end. You want to make a great impact! If you feel more comfortable memorizing, that's fine, but make sure that your delivery is spontaneous and authentic.

Other than these two parts, I suggest that you memorize your main points in outline form. You should definitely know what you want to say and where you're going, but trust yourself to find the right words in the moment. You will come across as being more honest and authentic. Let yourself speak from your heart and your audience will definitely respond to your message.