Conducting Interviews

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In most corporations, Human Resource managers and senior level staff conduct many of the interviews after an initial screening process. However, in smaller companies, individuals who do not regularly participate in these sessions, may be called upon to be part of a group interview, or asked to speak with students seeking internships, or other low- profile or entry level positions.If you find yourself in this potentially uncomfortable position, here are some tips for handling this important task:

Before the interview, brainstorm about the qualities that you and your team are seeking in the candidate. These characteristics go beyond the obvious required technical or professional expertise or experience. Your list may include qualities such as:

  • Passion about what he/she will be doing
  • Outgoing personality
  • Thoughtful and considerate disposition/attitude
  • Mentoring/nurturing communication style
  • Sense of humor
  • Well-rounded person with diverse interests
  • Desire to push boundaries and inspire team members
  • Good time manager

Once you have created your “ideal” candidate in your mind, you can formulate questions that will help guide you in your selection process. Here are some examples:

  • How do you typically handle multiple projects and deadlines? (ability to prioritize, delegate, manage time)
  • Who or what inspires you? (passion)
  • How would you describe your work ethic? (reliability, punctuality, etc.)
  • What projects have you spear-headed? (initiation, leadership, etc.)
  • How do you prefer to give and provide feedback? (communication style)
  • What kind of work environment do you thrive in? (collaborative vs. independent, fast-paced or laid-back, flexible or structured, etc.)

What if you aren't getting the answers you seek? As the interviewer, you maintain control of the conversation, and can probe or push back as needed. Some helpful comments might include:

  • Can you give me a little more background on that particular problem and how you handled it?
  • I’d like to hear more details or specifics about....
  • I’m afraid I’m not following what you meant by...
  • What exactly did you mean when you said....
  • I’m really interested in hearing more about...
  • Can you tell how that issue finally got resolved?

A different style of interviewing using the behavioral-based interview questions. Give the interviewee a situation and ask how he responded. This will give you insight into how he would respond in the new position. For example, “Tell me a time when you had to work on a team and the leader was not accomplishing the goals. What did you do?”

Finally, make sure that the candidates take advantage of the opportunity to ask YOU questions (by Joseph). If they don’t inquire, it may mean that they haven’t done their homework about the position, or the company.

Remember, specific skill training can happen on the job, but you need to make sure you hire someone who will fit in with the culture of your company, and the other employees who may be part of the team.


Reading Aloud to Improve Your Accent

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We understand that it is very difficult to squeeze independent accent modification homework into an already hectic day. One of the best and easiest ways to reinforce what you have learned during the week is just to read out loud as many times per day as possible.

Think of all of the reading materials you come in contact with on a daily basis. Take a few moments to read the first few sentences aloud, making sure to accurately produce a target sound, use appropriate word or sentence level stress, practice voice projection, or reinforce any of your new speech and communication goals.

Here are at least 36 reminders (yes, 36) of what you are exposed to daily to heighten your awareness:

At work:
1. E-mails
2. Business cards
3. Technical manuals
4. Faxes
5. Reports
6. Memos
7. Documents
8. LinkedIn postings
9. Websites

At school:
1. Bulletin boards/announcements
2. Whiteboards/blackboards
3. Dictionaries
4. Blogs
5. Textbooks
6. Assignments
7. E-mails

On the road:
1. Highway signs
2. Street signs
3. Construction/traffic warnings
4. Bus/train schedules
5. Storefront signs
6. Billboards
7. Menus

At home:
1. Novels
2. Newspapers
3. Magazines
4. Advertisements
5. Recipes/cookbooks
6. Carry-out menus
7. Catalogues
8. Children’s books (read-alouds)
9. Cards and letters
10. E-mails
11. Facebook updates
12. Coupons/circulars
13. Calendars

Make a point to read as much as you can out loud every day! You will make a significant dent in your practice time!

Contact us at info@eslrules.com for more independent practice ideas.


Is it "S" or "Z"?

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A common conundrum for many non-native English speakers is how to pronounce “s” in a word. Is it pronounced “s” as it appears or “z”? How do we know? Can one differentiate “diseased” from “deceased”? If not, the message can certainly be misinterpreted, e.g., “The patient is diseased/deceased.” So, in an attempt to clarify some of the English patterns and make some sense to the idiosyncrasies of American English, we organized some patterns or RULES for the pronunciation of “s”.Of course, there are exceptions, and we welcome your feedback and any patterns that you have observed that may be helpful to English language learners.

When “S” is in the beginning or the end of the word, we usually pronounce it as “S.” Beginning of words: see                sip                      same                   said sat                suit                     soot                     soak soft              sock                    soy                       sour sun              sir                        sign                     sale/sail

It is more challenging to determine the correct pronunciation when “s” appears in the middle or endings of words.

Ending of words:

“S” Pronounced as “S” mess           mass                    class                    bass hiss             lease                    dose                    moose/mousse boss            increase              decrease             close (adjective) case            endorse               worse                  purse loose          gas                        horse                  crease nurse         license                 hearse                 terse abuse (noun)                           recluse                refuse (noun) Exceptions: hose, fuse, use, lose, close (verb), surprise, please, his, was, does, is, appease, phase, amuse, cruise, abuse (verb), refuse Middle of Words: “S” Pronounced as “Z” raisin          season                 reason                 disease miserly       easel                    diesel                   weasel rising          closing                laser                     basil/basal doesn't       wasn't                  isn't                     commiserate hesitate      design                 present               causal phrasal       preside

Exceptions: dosing, casing, endorsing, increasing, decreasing, bison, worsen, person, fuselage “S” Pronounced as /ʒ/or “zh” measure     pleasure             fusion                 vision visual          casual                 lesion                 version leisure        incision              provision           exclusion

“SS” Pronounced as “S” lesson          classical             fossil                    guessing depressed   assign                 missile                message possessive  assess

"SS" Pronounced as "Z" scissors       possess “SS” Pronounced as“/ʃ/ or “SH tissue           mission              fissure                 issue possession “S” pronounced as“S” courtesy      curtsy                  crisis                   aside

It certainly appears that in the middle of words, “S” is usually pronounced as something other than “S.” So, unfortunately, we must rely on memorizing the patterns that you see above.

 

If you find more rules or more exceptions, please let us know!

 


May I Have Your Attention?

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The fine art of listening-We are all used to multi-tasking and pride ourselves on being able to accomplish numerous things at once. However, to be a good listener, particularly in the workplace, we have to truly focus on our conversational partner(s).

Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure that we are listening as carefully as possible:

1. Timing is everything: Don’t start a conversation when you have to dash out the door to a meeting in 3 minutes. Allow yourself 15-20 minutes when you can devote the necessary time and attention to the conversation.

2. Select a private and quiet place: Close the door to your office, or go for a walk around the perimeter of the building. That way you won’t have to worry about co-workers eavesdropping at inopportune moments.

3. Be open-minded: You may have strong opinions, but make a conscious effort to hear alternative viewpoints and ideas.

4. Observe non-verbal cues: Look at the speaker, which will help you "read" any non-verbal communication (impatience, distractibility, annoyance).

5. Minimize distractions: Turn off phones and beepers (or put on vibrate), and have portable devices and computers out of reach, and out of immediate view. It is just too tempting to quickly check messages and e-mails.

5. Write it down: Keep a pen and pad handy to keep notes, if appropriate.

6. Keep the conversation going: Maintain good eye contact, nod your head, smile and lean slightly toward the other person to convey interest.

7. Provide verbal/vocal feedback: Demonstrate that you are following the conversation. Use phrases such as, "I see," "I understand," "So what you are saying... ," or "um-hmm."

8. Be honest: If you don’t understand what is being said, or the message behind it, don’t nod as if you are following. Be direct and honest. Use phrases such as, "I’m not following, you," "I don’t understand," "Can you explain what you mean?", etc.

9. Probe: Ask Wh- questions to encourage the speaker to share more information. For example, “What part of the proposal needs editing?,”vs. “Do you like the proposal?”

10. Time’s up: End the conversation clearly vs. just drifting off. Have some closure, including a summary of what was discussed. For example, “I am happy that we had a chance to review the preliminary outline. I will get back to you before the end of the day with my revisions.”

For more information about communication skills in the workplace, contact info@eslrules.com.


What is the Pronunciation RULE for "X"?

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Several of our clients have asked us the pronunciation rule for "X." Some make the mistake of pronouncing it as "S." Many do not realize that "X" is a combination or cluster of two sounds; "K" and "S," as in "six" (pronounced as "sicks"). When it is at the end of the word, we pronounce it like "ks," as in "fax", "mix," or even "next." However, in some circumstances, it is pronounced as "GZ" as in "exam" (pronounced as "egg-zam"). So, what is the rule? When is it pronounced as "KS" and when as "GZ"? Let's look at "X" when it is in the middle of words.


When the "X" is followed by a consonant, it is usually pronounced as "KS."
Here are some examples:
extra exception excellent expect
extract excited experiment experience
exterminate exception exceed excel
excess exchange exclamation exclude
excavate excursion excuse exhale
expectorant expense expel expert
extreme expire explain explode
explore express expunge extrovert

When the "X" is followed by a vowel, it is usually pronounced as "GZ."
Here are some examples:
exist example executive exacerbate
exact exaggerate exude exalt
exam examination examine exit
exasperated exempt exonerate exorbitant
exotic exuberant exude

Exceptions: exercise execution

When there is a silent "H," we treat the word as if it were followed by a vowel: exhausted, exhibit, exhume, and exhort , but not "exhale."

Remember; "X" is a consonant cluster which means you must pronounce two consonants. It will be either "KS" or "GZ."

For more RULES to help you pronounce American English, visit us at www.eslrules.com.



What Does Your Body Language Say?

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A lot of what we “say” has nothing to do with speech at all. Dr. Albert Mehrabian conducted a study in 1982 about the likability of strangers. Communication was divided into vocal (how we sound), visual (how we look), and verbal (what we say). The visual aspect of communication was 55% of the impact! (Vocal was 38% and Verbal was 7%). These results have often been misinterpreted and were used to determine only one word utterances. Regardless of the actual results, the importance of nonverbal communication cannot be overlooked. Visual/non-verbal communication including posture, gestures, facial expression, and eye contact, are critical to accurately and effectively communicate our thoughts and ideas. We often make our first impression with non-verbal communication. What is your first and lasting impression?

Here are some tips for “putting your best foot forward.” Body Language · Stand with your feet about 6” apart · Keep your weight on the balls of your feet · Bend your knees slightly · Square your hips with shoulders for a powerful stance · Avoid shifting your weight or leaning on furniture or walls · Keep your chin parallel to the ground · Maintain appropriate personal space distance (be aware of cultural differences) Gestures · Keep your hands relaxed, at your sides · Do not cover your mouth with your hands when talking · Avoid arm crossing, hand-wringing, pointing, and fidgeting · Keep your hands out of your pockets · Gesture naturally and appropriately (be culturally sensitive!) · Take up space with your gestures (your elbows should not be attached to your torso)

Facial Expressions · Smile naturally and appropriately · Open your eyes widely · Move your eyebrows expressively Eye Contact · Look at your conversational partner for the duration of a thought · Don’t dart eyes from side to side · Do not look over your listener's shoulder · Remember to blink-don’t stare · If uncomfortable, look at the bridge of the nose of the listener

Your visual message should be consistent with what you say (verbal) and how you say it (vocal). Your body language SPEAKS volumes!

For more advice on effective non-verbal communication, contact info@eslrules.com


Ten Tips for Effective Communication

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Many non-native speakers seeking accent modification/accent reduction training look for strategies to improve their pronunciation. One-on-one or small group training with a communication skills professional is ideal. There are also many self-help training programs available. Unfortunately, this does not provide the essential feedback to see if you are pronouncing the words correctly. Many software programs are wonderful tools, but don't have the ability to identify subtle stress and intonation patterns which is an essential feature to address in accent modification. Here are some tips to either get started, supplement the training you might currently be taking, or brush up on your skills:


1. Identify a speech role model
Find someone whose speech is pleasant to your ear. This can be a radio or TV personality, a family member, friend or colleague. Do you like the tone, rate of speech, resonant quality, phrasing? Try to emulate those desirable features in your own communication.

2. Get a professional’s opinion
It is difficult to change aspects of your speech if you don’t know what may be detracting from the effectiveness of your communication. Find a specialist who can help you identify areas that may need improvement. Make sure to check references!

3. Video or audio-record yourself
This can be as low or high-tech as you please, but it is very helpful to hear and see how you may present yourself to others. Consider how you look (fidgeting with your hair, wringing your hands, pacing), how you sound (monotone, rapid-fire, nasal, whiny), and how you speak (using professional language or too much slang, rambling or concise)?

4. Solicit feedback from those you trust
If you feel as though your communication may be holding you back at work, ask your manager, co-workers, and others for honest feedback. Seek people who interact with you in a variety of settings such as on the phone, in meetings, during formal presentations, etc.

5. Project your voice
Take deep abdominal breaths and speak as you exhale; do not waste any air. Keep your mouth open and relaxed. Look in the direction you want your voice to go and imagine your breath stream floating along a string to your target (the person or object farthest away from you). Take replenishing breaths as needed so the end of your sentence sounds as loud and strong as the beginning. Stand up when speaking.

6. Pronounce your sounds clearly
Make sure that your speech sounds are accurate and clear, especially at the ends of words. Finish the words so that you say “thinking” vs. “thinkin',” and “biggest,” vs. “bigges-.”

7. Speak at a slightly slower rate
Slightly reduce your speaking rate by stretching out the vowels, and pausing where a comma or period would occur. Chunk information into manageable groupings, and then take a breath before continuing. Try to speak at the same rate as the person with whom you are speaking (assuming they are not racing themselves!)

8. Use appropriate intonation
Try to speak with a natural, varied inflection pattern. Stress the last important word in a thought group.
Stress the word by slightly raising your pitch, , speaking slightly louder, and lengthening your vowels.
If you just use a louder voice, you may sound angry. Smile to infuse a little more energy and/or personality in your voice.

9. Practice whenever, wherever, and with whomever you can
Use every speaking situation as an opportunity to practice your best speech techniques. Listen and observe the reactions/responses to your speech from your mail carrier, doorman, barista, newspaper vendor, secretary, etc.

10. Practice idiosyncratic stress rules when reading
Everywhere you look, you will see proper nouns (business cards); compound nouns (grocery store circulars); numbers (appointment books), and other written references to pronunciation rules. Use every opportunity to read aloud practicing your newly learned techniques for proper stress and intonation.

Contact us at info@eslrules.com if you have any questions.




To Text or Not to Text?

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Like it or not, we live in a technologically changing world, which has impacted all areas of our lives, especially the workplace. For the most part, these advances are useful and contribute to our efficiency and success.

E-mails and virtual meetings have revolutionized the way we conduct business. People are learning the rules of "netiquette," and can now email without offending the readers with all CAPS or annoying them with the overuse of emoticons!

But where does texting fit into the equation? Yes, it is instant, and efficient, but the biggest pitfall that we see is the lack of a paper trail.

Admittedly, many of us are trying to be green, and do more in less time, but is texting a good workplace practice?

Lately, we have been receiving more and more text messages related to work. We have heard recruiters and management complain that employees are texting in to report absences or appointment changes. Texts are harder to read, difficult to save, and add an extra layer when we need to print them out or forward them. Sometimes you just need a paper trail!

Although texts are great for letting someone know you are running late for a meeting, or communicating with friends or family members, we believe that lengthy, confidential, or contractually-oriented messages just don't work on a Smartphone.

"Textiquette"
1. Turn off alerting pings of incoming messages when you are in meetings
2. Turn off sound to prevent tapping as you text outgoing messages
3. Know your audience and their preferred mode of communication, e.g., text, e-mail, voicemail, instant message
4. Use abbreviations your audience will understand
5. If using voice-to-text feature (i.e., Siri), check it for accuracy before sending
6. Be aware of information that should not be distributed to others
7. Look to see if anyone else is in the message group
8. Learn your company's policy regarding texting in the workplace.

Please let us know if you agree or not! And please respond don't text your response; respond below in the comments section!
:-)


What's Up With Uptalk?

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We have all heard the sing-song Valley Girl intonation pattern...”Hi, my name is Tiffany?”...

Whenever we hear it, we really do want to cringe, especially when it is during a formal presentation made by an otherwise intelligent, sophisticated woman. It is about as effective as shooting oneself in the foot!

However, for many of our clients, ending a sentence with a rising intonation pattern denotes friendliness in their culture (e.g., Turkey, Romania, etc.). There also is a trend among well-educated consultants to use up-talk to reflect a collaborative relationship with their clients.

So what are we as trainers to do?

First, explore why your client is using that type of speech pattern. Is it unconscious or is it intentional? Explore intercultural and work-culture influences.

If you and your client decide that habitual use of “up-talk” is detracting from the delivery of the message, here are a few techniques to work on it.

1. Use audio or video recordings. As with most speech habits, just hearing your own voice can bring the necessary awareness to a speaking style or habit.

2. Talk about how up-talk can be perceived. To many, a rising inflection pattern at the end of a message can incorrectly convey lack of experience or confidence. If that is not the intent, exploring ways to habituate a downward inflection would be
worthwhile.

3. Practice saying the same sentence using 3 different inflection patterns, and talk about how the messages come across. For example, a rising inflection typically indicates surprise, uncertainty; a falling pattern indicates authority or certainty, and a partial rise indicates that more information will follow. Try the following examples out and see what we mean.

- First, say it like a statement of fact (falling pattern)
- Then, say it like you are totally surprised to hear that because you thought otherwise. (rising pattern)
- Finally, say it like it wasn't actually true and you may add more information (partial rise)

a. Yukiko doesn’t like her job.

b. Our grades were posted.

c. We have a conference call at seven a.m.

d. Kayla invited 400 people to her wedding.

e. Kit speaks five languages fluently.

If you need help coming across as a capable and effective speaker, contact us at info@eslrules.com.


Chinese vs. USA Classrooms

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Everyone who works with nonnative English speaking college students understands the cultural differences that comes with living and studying abroad. There are so many adjustments that must be made. Everything is unfamiliar from getting around and using public transportation, buying and ordering food and beverages, dealing with housing considerations, money, social customs, etc.

But another challenge that rarely gets attention is the philosophical and practical differences in the educational system. These cultural differences may ultimately influence behavior in the workplace.

One of our clients shed some light on what he has observed between his education in China and his experiences at Northeastern University in Boston.


CHINA
- Classes are primarily straight lectures.

- There is no concept of “office hours”


- Students do not ask questions or comment


- Students sit quietly, take copious notes and memorize the material

- Tests focus on what students memorized


- Classes are typically 50-minutes

- Students must seek permission



- Serious atmosphere; no banter or jokes


- Unacceptable to challenge the teacher


UNITED STATES
- Classes are more discussion oriented.

- Students have regular access to professors for questions, conversations

- Students are encouraged to ask questions and make comments

Students are expected to contribute to the lesson and interpret the material

- Tests focus on making sure students have learned the material and have comprehended and processed what
was taught. Test formats vary and include take-home, open book, and essay formats

- Classes are typically 60-90 minutes

- Students have freedom to leave the room without permission to get water, make a phone call, use the bathroom

- More relaxed atmosphere, jokes and saracasm is acceptable

- Independent thoughts are encouraged
For this client, and many others like him, students need help “fitting in” to the American classroom. It is often useful to address pronunciation, conversational skills, vocabulary and general topics related to culture so that students can actively participate in their education, and enjoy and appreciate their American educational experience. This will also help them as they enter the workforce in the USA.

Giggle, Giggle..... :-)

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Many of our clients reveal their nervousness, particularly in public speaking situations, by giggling. There may also be a cultural component to this reaction. However, in the USA work environment, giggling detracts from a speaker’s credibility, power, and effectiveness. What can be done to curb this behavior?

One of the best techniques to bring this behavior to your clients' or employees' attention is to videotape them during their sessions or more formal presentations. Once they are aware of the behavior, we have found it helpful to track the frequency of occurrences, so they can note a decrease over time as they learn to some practical strategies.

These behaviors can be tracked as follows:

1. During every session, keep a running log and mark off a blank sheet of paper with check marks or hash marks every time the behavior occurs. You can track occurrences during spontaneous conversations or structured tasks.

2. Keep track of the number of times the client can successfully inhibit the behavior with gentle reminders, such as modeling a slow, deep breath.

3. Track the instances when the client self-monitors and self-regulates using trained strategies.

Strategies:
- Taking a few gentle “candle breaths” (easy exhalations as if gently making a candle flicker)
- Taking a sip of water or tea
- Changing visual focus (look away momentarily)
- Distract yourself; look around the room and silently name what you see, e.g., "white walls," "green carpet," "wooden desk"
- Ignoring and re-directing thoughts with a transitional comment such as,“Getting back to what I was
saying.”
- Silently counting to five.

If you need additional help controlling your nervousness, contact us at info@eslrules.com.


Peaches, Nectarines, and...

5425379We recently talked about idioms in our September ESL RULES  newsletter. It is clear that this language area is a significant challenge for many nonnative English speakers who want to understand their American colleagues, sound natural, and speak in a colorful manner to express their ideas.Some comments that we heard from clients this week highlight these challenges.

One client said, "I understand that comparing apples and  oranges means to try to talk about two very different things as though they were the same, but can I talk about other fruits in the same way? In other words, can I say 'it is like comparing peaches and nectarines?' "

I also heard a Para-Olympian interviewed on television recently. He was  talking about how inspired he was by one of his fellow athletes. He stated that he had “tears in his eyes and had chicken bumps.” Again, substituting one poultry breed for another (chicken for goose) is not going to make sense to most listeners.

One of the problems with idioms is that the expressions have to be used exactly as they were intended. Using a “substitution” often renders the entire expression meaningless. So, conceptually it may make sense to compare bananas and mangoes,  but no one will understand what you are talking about. Similarly, although chicken and geese are related creatures (poultry), the expression just doesn’t work.

Another client explained to me that he thought “all thumbs” meant very coordinated. When I asked him to explain his reasoning, he told me how people can type so fast with their thumbs on their Blackberry. This was fascinating and I understood his reasoning completely. Imagine his surprise when he learned that “all thumbs” meant to be clumsy and uncoordinated!  Another client told me that she thought “all thumbs” meant to do a great job, considering the common “thumbs-up” gesture that we give one another for encouragement.

Sometimes, in our changing world, the old expressions don’t suit the current technological or social environment. Will these expressions change over time?

Please weigh in with your thoughts and any examples of idiom confusion!

For additional resources on teaching idioms, check out Medically Speaking Idioms and our resource page on our website at www.eslrules.com.

Organized Writing

3529970 Many clients frequently have to generate written documents, above and beyond the daily barrage of e-mails. For many nonnative English speakers, this can be a daunting task due to concerns about choosing the appropriate words, grammar, and other linguistic challenges.

Here are some tips for writing concise and organized reports, memos, and other work-related documents.

Step One: Decide how you want to organize your information. You have many logical choices. For example, you can organize your report by geographical locations (report on the Northeast, Southwest and Western regions of your company) or any other  common subject or theme. You can organize your writing sequentially; use words such as first, next, then, before, after, and finally. Include dates and timelines when using this style. Relevance is another strategy. Try to put the most important information at the beginning, so readers don’t have to wade through pages to find the information that is most relevant for them. You can signal the reader with a phrase such as,  “The most important decision made by the Board of  Directors...”

Step Two: Make sure your paragraphs are in proper form. Educational settings often utilize  the acronym COPS to  help you to remember important writing strategies: C  -  Capitalize the first word of each sentence. Also capitalize proper nouns. -  Organize your paragraph by including a topic sentence (main idea), a body with 3 key points (supporting details),  and a closing summary sentence. P  -   Punctuate your remarks with the correct period, question mark, or exclamation point. S  -  Spell words correctly. English has many confusing words such as loose vs. lose, cloths vs. clothes, principal vs. principle.  Make sure you have access to a good online or print dictionary.

Step Three: Use active voice if possible. “I conducted  the experiment under the following conditions,” vs. “The experiment was conducted.”

Step Four: Use parallel structure (consistent grammatical forms, i.e., all statements using the same verb form), andconcrete, precise vocabulary.  "He is surfing the internet, texting his friends, and completing his assignment," vs. "He surfedthe internet, is texting his friends, and completed his assignment."

Step Five: Proofread and revise as necessary before you sign off on your document. Eliminate sentences that are redundant or irrelevant. Rewrite awkward, wordy sentences. Correct spelling mistakes.

Create a lasting impression with proper writing skills!

If you need additional assistance with your writing or  recommendations for excellent resources for independent self-study, contact us at info@eslrules.com.

Apples and Oranges, Break a Leg, and Other Idioms

applesorangesMany nonnative English speakers are challenged by idioms and figurative language despite a high degree of proficiency with regard to grammar, stress and intonation, pronunciation and other aspects of communication.  It is apparent that the “mastery” of English has to include this essential skill. There are literally thousands of idiomatic expressions in common use. It is not possible to memorize them all. Besides, memorization doesn’t often translate into practical use. We need to remind our students/clients to ask for clarification when they have trouble understanding figurative language.

Let's look at the following examples to see if you or your students understand the figurative meaning.

Have fun and “break a leg!” Circle the letter that defines the underlined idiomatic expression: 

1. Go ahead and tell me, I am all ears. a.  I am Jimmy Durante’s relative b.  I have intense hearing acuity c.  I am interested in listening to you d.  I just had my ears pierced

2. Can you believe it?  I am all thumbs this morning! a.  very coordinated b.  very clumsy c.  learning how to become ambidextrous d.  working with an occupational therapist

3. That's like comparing apples and  oranges. a.  going fruit shopping b.  looking for similarities between two different types of things c.  being totally confused d.  a vegetarian

4. Let’s go back to square one. a.  home b.  play chess or checkers now c.  start over d.  move to another location

5. Please don’t barge in. a.  interrupt b.  make me go on a boat c.  push so hard d.  put so many people in one room

Answers:     c, b, b, c, a

1.  All ears means eager to listen. “ You said you weren’t feeling well. Tell me what is bothering you. I am all ears." You can make your own sentence using the correct usage of  “all ears.”

_______________________________________________________________________________.

2.  All thumbs means clumsy. " I tried to insert the needle, but I was all thumbs." Make up your own sentence using the correct usage of  “all  thumbs.”

_______________________________________________________________________________.

3.  Comparing apples and  oranges means comparing two completely different entities. “That’s ridiculous. Now you are comparing apples and oranges." Make up your own sentence using the correct usage of “apples and oranges.”

_______________________________________________________________________________.

4.  Back to square one means starting over. “This procedure isn’t going to work. We have to go back to square one.” Make up your own sentence using the correct usage of “back to square one.”

_______________________________________________________________________________.

5. (To) barge in means to intrude. “Why did you barge in when I was having a private conversation? Make up your own sentence using the correct usage of “barge in.”

_______________________________________________________________________________.

Now practice using these idioms in your daily conversation. To learn more idioms, check out Medically Speaking  Idioms.

Water Cooler Talk

water coolerWe’ve  written blogs on small talk and conversational skills before, but with two weeks of non-stop Olympic coverage on virtually every cable station and NBC, the time seemed ripe to revisit the old water cooler! You may not personally be as addicted to this sports extravaganza as we are, but you can bet that much of the conversation at work is going to center on the action in the pool, on the polo grounds, at the track and field center, Centre Court in Wimbledon, or any of the other venues in and around London.

So, what can you do if you don’t know the difference between a javelin and an arrow, or a pommel horse and a thoroughbred? Take a nice deep breath and ask lots of questions. 

  • Have you been watching the games?
  • What is your favorite event?
  • What was the biggest upset in yesterday’s events?
  • What sports did you play as a kid?
  • Did you ever dream of becoming an Olympic athlete?

If  you show some genuine interest, a passionate sports nut is going to "talk your ear off" until your cold water is lukewarm!

If  you are still at a loss for words, you can talk about London itself, or some of  the behind the scenes/background drama like the Phelps-Lochte rivalry, the hometown Olympic hero, the comeback kid, etc.

You can always watch a few quick video clips on YouTube to get up to speed enough to ask a few on target questions.

Remember, water cooler talk is NOT a waste of time. It is a chance to bond with your  colleagues, establish and maintain healthy working relationships, "blow off some steam," and even enjoy some of your time at the office.

Check out this article from an online posting from Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business (by Newton). You will understand why socializing around the water cooler is a part of who we are as a civilization. http://knowledge.wpcarey.asu.edu/pdf.cfm?aid=404

In  summary, the article states:

  • People are social human beings and want to feel a sense of belonging with other people. The feelings about their organization or management is dependent on how they feel about their team of immediate co-workers or "tribe."
  • Lower-level managers  can  help connect the "tribes" to the larger organization.
  • Teams function better when there is rapport amongst the employees.
  • Social networking technologies that encourage personal connections can actually help connect employees to their  coworkers.
  • The accomplishment of an organization's goals and initiatives is related to how the "tribe" or team interprets and acts on them.

If  you need help fine tuning your water cooler presence, contact us at info@eslrules.com.

How to Present Accent Modification Training Programs to Employees in a Positive Manner

If communication is a critical component of an employee’s job description, companies may choose to offer onsite training as part of an overall professional development benefits package. In order to ensure that these voluntary programs are perceived in the best light, trainers and Human Resources consultants must consider several factors including the employee’s:

  • Personality and customary communication style
  • Gender and age
  • Level of responsibility within the organization
  • Seniority
  • Preferred learning style

Other recommendations for handling this potentially sensitive area are as follows:

  1. Handle dialogues about accent and communication with sensitivity and tact.
  2. Help employees recognize that communication is a core competency for many job descriptions, and reassure candidates that they are not being singled out for their ethnic or cultural background.
  3. Discuss how offering this training is part of a diversity initiative to increase awareness and acceptance of communication differences, while facilitating effective and respectful interactions among colleagues, customers, and others.
  4. Present the program as an optional professional development opportunity.
  5. Encourage employees to speak with others who have participated in similar programs to get a sense of how it has helped them in the workplace.

When presented as a positive professional development opportunity, most employees are more than willing to actively participate in these programs to help further their career and enhance their daily interpersonal communication.

For more information, please contact info@eslrules.com.

"Casual" Speech

Using a relaxed and natural speaking style facilitates approachable and confident speech. Contractions, syllable reductions, h-reductions, and linking all contribute to more conversational speech. However, speech that is too casual- such as leaving off the -ing ending (talkin’ vs. talking) or using grammatically incorrect sentence structures, such as “me and Joe,” can sabotage the message and detract from a professional image. How can you utilize “casual” speech without derailing your professional image? Here are some of our tips:

1.   Contractions: Unless you are writing your dissertation, applying for an NIH grant, or writing a very formal document, contractions are preferred in some writing and most speaking situations.

For example: -  Can you  grab a coffee before the meeting?” - “Sorry. I cannot go with you.”  (This sounds formal and stilted). - “Sorry- I can’t, but thanks for asking.” (This sounds more natural and conversational).

2.   H-reductions: Usually pronouns such as he, his, her, etc. are not critical to the meaning of a sentence. Since they start with an “h,” and require a lot of breath support, they are often reduced by eliminating the “h” when the pronoun occurs in the middle or end of a sentence. For example, instead of saying, “Is this her house?” we often say “Is this ‘er house?” so we can emphasize the important word in the sentence. We may stress the pronoun for emphasis or contrastive stress, e.g., "This is her house, not his."

3.   Syllable reductions: Although there are some regional variations/preferences, we often eliminate the weakest syllable in some words with 3 or more syllables. For example, even though these words are spelled as if they have 3 syllables. we don’t say the middle syllable. e.g. choc(o)late, bus(i)ness, Cath(o)lic. Many words that have a vowel + R in the weakest syllable are reduced (favorite, respiratory, difference ) .

4.   Linking consonant to consonant: A smooth connection within and across words is critical for fluency. Even though we strive to clearly pronounce the ends of words, there are times where the beginnings and endings are assimilated. For example, if one word ends with the same sound as the word that follows (or a cognate pair such as s/z, f/v, t/d, p/b, k/g), we often blend them together and only say the sound once (by Joseph).  For example, team member sounds like "teaMember" or bus stop, sounds like "buStop,"  "laughvery loudly," hotdog."

5.   Linking consonant to vowel: Connect the final consonant with the following word beginning with a vowel if it is not divided by punctuation, such as a comma or period, e.g., "was . . . open." When the final consonant is a "t," the pronunciation changes to a flap /t/ to link the words, e.g., "a lot . . . of" sounds like "aloddof."

6.   LiaisonsWhen words ending in /d/ are followed by "Y",  as in the phrases would you; could you and should you, the two words are connected and they form a "J" sound, e.g., "wouldjew."

Contact info@eslrules.com for any questions about making your speech sound fluent, natural and effective.

How to Find the Right Speech and Communication Trainer

There are many considerations for selecting a variety of consultants with whom we choose to work. Accent modification training is a process that requires a good relationship between the trainer and client in order to achieve optimal results. Here are some considerations when making this important commitment of both your time and financial resources: 1.  Accessibility: Look for someone who is in your general geographic location, is willing to travel to your place of employment, or whom you can access via web-conferencing, Skype, or other long-distance training options.

2.  Flexibility: Not every approach works for every person. Look for a trainer who is familiar with a broad spectrum of teaching tools and techniques. You want someone who can customize a program according to your individual needs, learning preferences, etc.

3.  Experience: Accent modification and communication training is a specialized niche. Look for someone who has experience working with a wide variety of clients from  different cultural and language backgrounds, various levels within an organization, and professional fields such as medicine, business, information technology, engineering, scientific fields, the clergy, etc.

4.  Qualifications: Does your trainer have specialized credentials? Some trainers may have a background in speech-language pathology, and have taken advanced courses in accent modification. You should feel confident in his/her ability to effect change. Solicit word of mouth recommendations from colleagues and friends, read testimonials, and check references.

5.  Personality:  Do you feel comfortable with this person? You will be asked to expose some vulnerabilities - does your potential trainer appear understanding, supportive, good-humored, professional? Make sure that you are a good fit as you will be spending several months in each other’s company!

It is best to either have a telephone call or meeting with a potential trainer before committing to a training program. At that time you can discuss logistics, fees, etc. Feel free to contact info@eslrules.com with any additional questions.

Question and Answer Sessions

When giving a presentation or a talk, it is inevitable that members in your audience will need you to clarify something that you said. Many of our clients, both native and non-native English speakers, are concerned about this extemporaneous part of a presentation. Here are some tips for managing Questions & Answer (Q & A) moments or sessions:

  • In  your introduction, tell your audience when you will be answering questions. If your discussion is informal, you may invite the audience to raise their hand at any point to interrupt you.  However, in more formal presentations, it is usually best to instruct your audience to wait until the end of your talk to ask questions. Tell them approximately how much time will be allotted for questions.
  • Try to anticipate the kinds of questions you may be asked. If you are presenting technical information to a relatively lay audience, be prepared to explain things in a less complex manner.
  • It is helpful to repeat a question so that all audience members can hear it. This also gives you a few minutes to organize your thoughts.
  • If you do not understand the question, rephrase the question. “If I have understood you correctly, you are asking...”
  • Try to avoid saying, "That is a good question," because it implies that other questions may not be! Instead, say "I'm glad you asked that," or "you make an interesting point ..."
  • If you don't know the answer to a question, admit that. Tell the person that you will find out and get back to them. You can also ask the audience members for their input if they are an experienced group.
  • If you are asked a multi-step question, respond to one portion at a time: "Let me speak to the first part of your question ..."
  • Check in to see that your answer is adequate: "Does that answer your question?" "Was I able to clarify that point for you?" "Do I need to elaborate further?"
  • If the question is intended to throw you off your game, you can choose to ignore it: "That question doesn't relate to my discussion today."
  • If you have an audience member who is dominating the Q & A, after you respond to the question, look away to a different part of the room.
  • If you are running out of time, say, "We have time for one last question." If you didn't have a chance to answer all of the questions, invite members to e-mail you so you can respond at a later time.
  • Always finish the Q & A with your final take-away statement. This is particularly important when you have people in the audience who are attempting to "take control."

Handle questions with grace and gratitude. If you need help managing the Q & A portion of your presentations, please feel free to contact us at info@eslrules.com.

Controlling Nervousness

For native and nonnative English speakers alike, many aspects of public speaking can be stressful. People worry about doing or saying something embarrassing, having technical difficulties, appearing unprepared, getting flustered by difficult audience members, forgetting what they planned to say, not being understood due to a foreign accent ... there are endless reasons why people fear public speaking. On the list of the top 10 fears, public speaking ranks higher than death: Comedian Jerry Seinfeld joked that most people would prefer to be the person in the casket at a funeral than the one giving the eulogy!

We all respond to being nervous in a variety of ways. Some typical symptoms of nervousness include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling voices, hands or “knocking knees”
  • “Butterflies” or nervous stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Dry mouth

What can you do to control the normal nervous reaction before speaking in front of others?  Here are our favorite tips:

1. Practice, Practice, Practice!

  • Rehearse all aspects of your speech, but do not memorize your material. Memorization makes you sound unnatural, and may case distress if you forget a line and then "freeze"
  • Your introduction and conclusion are most important for making a first and last impression; practice them so you know them "cold"
  • Practice standing in front of a full length mirror
  • Audio or video record yourself and critique
  • Have brief notes available or use your PowerPoints to remind you of the content (do not read them exactly from the slide!)

2. Warm-up

  • Release some nervous energy by doing neck stretches and shoulder shrugs, swinging your arms, walking briskly, etc.
  • Take deep, calming abdominal breaths and exhale with candle breaths (imagine gently blowing to make a candle flicker) to smooth out your exhalations and get rid of the "jitters"

3. Take your time

  • Arrive early so you can set up
  • Get settled at the lectern
  • Breathe, look at the audience, smile, then begin

4. Relax your body

  • Remember your candle breaths; they will slow down your heart rate
  • Avoid clenching your hands on the lectern (people can see your white knuckles!)
  • Curl your toes downward and imagine that they are roots of a tree (this will take tension away from the rest of your body)
  • Bend your knees slightly
  • Have room temperature water available

5. Visualize a successful talk

  • Use positive self-talk: you are speaking because you are knowledgable on that topic! People want to listen to you
  • Tell yourself "I'm not nervous ... I'm excited!" Your tension will enhance your performance

If you are prepared, confident, and relaxed, you will do your very best!

If you have concerns about how you look, sound, or generally "come across" to your audience, please don't hesitate to contact us at info@eslrules.com.