Friday, January 23, 2009

Top 10 Language Tips for 2009

Your language permeates every aspect of who you are. You are judged by what you say and how you present yourself. Make 2009 the year that you commit to the way you speak. Fine-tune the little things that make a big difference with these Top 10 Language Tips for 2009!

1. Speak positively
Your language influences your thoughts just as much as your thoughts influence your language. When you set your resolutions for the new year did you list, “Stop smoking,” or “Breathe freely?” Make sure that you’re sending yourself positive images with the language you use.

2. Practice tongue twisters
If you’re concerned about the way you speak or the way you pronounce certain sounds, tongue twisters are a fun and easy way to begin making progress in the right direction. A simple web search will give you lots of ideas. Practice saying the tongue twisters in front of a mirror so you can see how your mouth changes to make different sounds.

3. Set language goals
Whether you want to speak more clearly, correctly or confidently, set goals for yourself. For example, if you want to improve your vocabulary, set a goal to learn 10 new words per week (or whatever number you think is fair).

4. Read... a lot
The best way to improve your language skills and become a better speaker and writer is to read... a lot. Choose magazines, books, newspapers and online resources that not only interest you, but also have good English language content. If you’re reading the tabloids, you’re probably not getting the best English input possible, which leads me to number 5:

5. Listen to and observe good language models
Whether you’re choosing something to read, or choosing who and what you listen to, the most important thing is that the people you emulate need to speak English very well! Remember, practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice does!

6. Play word games
Word games are a great way to keep your mind active, build new vocabulary and increase creativity. Solve a crossword puzzle, do a word search or choose one of the hundreds of different games that you can find on the internet. Take a breather from your work and work out your mind in a different way.

7. Be aware of your body language
Don’t forget the non-verbal messages you send! Many people think of language and communication as what they say, but what you do is even more important. To show polite interest in what someone is saying sit up straight, lean slightly towards the listener and hold comfortable eye contact.

8. Speak considerately
Remember all the lessons your mother taught you. Say, “Please,” and, “Thank you.” Slow down in large crowds and say, “Excuse me,” when you bump into people. These may seem like little, unimportant things, but they say a lot about the type of person you are.

9. Proof-read your work – every time!
Do not write one letter, send one email, or submit one report without checking over your work. Look out for things like your use of commas and apostrophes, typos and spelling errors. Nobody gets everything right the first try. Assume there are errors and find them!

10. Don’t use a long word where a short one will do
This famous rule is one too many of us forget. Remember that communication is not a vocabulary contest. Successful communication depends on people understanding your meaning. Use common words and phrases instead of over-inflated prose.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

English Language: Grammar Myths

"Never split an infinitive!"
"Never end a sentence with a preposition!"
"Never start a sentence with a conjunction!"

Grammar is scary! So many rules, and so few people who really understand them. Don't feel bad if you feel like you can't get to grips with English grammar. I teach the stuff, and I still look to my grammar reference on a regular basis. Who has room in their head for so many rules - especially when they're constantly changing!

Many grammar rules, like the commands above, are generally accepted to be outdated. Winston Churchill's famous quote,"This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put!" argues the point for terminal prepositions rather well. And if I were to stop starting sentences with conjunctions, it would be very hard to write blog posts in a nice conversational style.

All of this said, there are still some grammar rules which are important to know and practice. Here in Singapore, some rules have been dissected and then overgeneralized, resulting in several English grammar myths. Let's expose two of these myths today and set the record straight.

Myth #1: To make a singular noun plural, just add 's'
A day does not pass in Singapore where I don't hear informations, paperworks, advices, staffs, baggages and/or fruits.

Myth buster: There are two kinds of nouns that do not change in the plural: collective nouns and uncountable nouns.

Collective nouns are nouns that refer to a group of people: staff, management, crew, audience, etc.
You cannot say, "My staffs are very hardworking."
A correct option would be, "The members of my staff are hardworking."

Uncountable nouns are exactly what their name implies - nouns that can't be counted. If you can't count something, you can't make it plural and therefore, can't add an 's.' Make sense? Some good examples are paperwork, information, and advice. They are things like abstract ideas (progress), commodities (oil) and substances (water). So how do we show that these words are plural? We need to add determiners - little words or phrases that give meaning to the number of nouns we are talking about. So, information becomes a lot of information, tons of information or just a piece of information.

Myth #2: Verbs never take 's'
Although here in Singapore everyone likes to add the letter S to nouns, very few people like adding S to verbs. This is a real problem, especially in the third person singular, which, in normal English, means when we talk about he, she or it. I am convinced that this mistake happens not because Singaporeans don't know the rule, but because in conversation it is pretty normal to drop "useless" word endings like 't,' 'd,' and unfortunately, the beloved 's.' That's why we hear people say things like, "He take the bus to work," "She like him," "It make me happy."

Myth buster: Whenever we talk about he, she or it, we absolutely must, without exception, add an 's' to the verb. It will always be, "He takes the bus to work," "She likes him," and "It makes me happy."

What other myths can you think of? Are there any grammar points that get you confused? Leave your comments and I'll try to address them in future posts.

If you would rather have me walk you through these points personally, make sure to register for my new workshop, "Get to Grips with Grammar." I know you don't believe me, but I really do make grammar fun! Come join us!