"I" Before "E" Except After "C"

Being a good speller certainly has its perks. You can ace your English tests, compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, or even be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. And, if you grew up in certain parts of the world, good spelling is often a highly valued trait - often a source of parental pride, if not outright bragging.

But what if you just want to speak English well, and you are a non-native speaker? That is where the trouble often begins. You have to contend with silent letters (salmon, thumb), different pronunciations of letters (cough, phone), words borrowed from other languages with their own spelling quirks (silhouette, ballet, gourmet), words that are often pronounced incorrectly and thus spelled incorrectly (espresso vs. expresso), homonyms or similar sounding words that have different spellings and meanings (pore, poor, pour), and many more idiosyncrasies and challenges! So what can you do to survive?

Here are some tips for getting English spelling under control.

  1. Keep a personal spelling list: Write down words you frequently spell incorrectly. Include how you typically spell it (wrong), the accurate spelling, and any applicable spelling rules to help you remember it in the future.

  2. Be aware of standard North American vs. British English variations, such as pajamas vs. pyjamas, behavior vs. behaviour.

  3. Learn confusing word endings such as -ent vs. -ant and -able vs. -ible, such as relevant, recent, incapable, and invisible.

  4. Learn how to spell words with silent letters such as diaphragm, walk, thumb.

  5. Familiarize yourself with words containing double consonants such as accommodate, necessary, commitment, occasional, and ladder.

  6. Keep a list of words with unusual letter combinations such as ophthalmologist, psychologist, and fluorescent.

  7. Be aware of the different “sounds” various letters and letter combinations make. For instance, “ch” sounds different in Christmas, mustache, and kitchen. Check the RULES by the Sound spelling chart for additional examples.

  8. Know how to spell words that are often mispronounced such as espresso (correct) vs. expresso.

  9. Be careful not to rely blindly on spell-check features, since they make mistakes!

  10. Have easy access to a comprehensive dictionary (online, app, or book format), e.g.


To learn more about idiosyncratic spelling, check out the charts in the RULES BY THE SOUND book.

Check out the word lists for idiosyncratic spellings in this book!

Check out the word lists for idiosyncratic spellings in this book!

Post some of your spelling challenges!




Pronunciation Objectives in the ESOL Classroom

It’s a challenge to integrate pronunciation objectives into an already packed ESOL curriculum.  Other curriculum priorities, time constraints, and teachers’ comfort levels often leave pronunciation and suprasegmentals at the bottom of the list. How can we seamlessly integrate these objectives into the current curriculum?

By learning the stress, intonation, and pronunciation rules that guide American English, ELL (English Language Learners) students can adopt a more listener-friendly communication style, gain confidence, and succeed both academically and professionally.

There are specific rules that help the ELL master the suprasegmentals and pronunciation of American English that can be incorporated into other activities. When a word or syllable is stressed, it is produced with a higher pitch, louder voice, and longer vowel.

Here is a sample of some of the numerous rules that can be addressed in the classroom:

  1. Compound Nouns: Stress the first part of a compound noun, e.g., laptop, whiteboard, midterms.
  2. Adjectives + Nouns: Stress the noun, unless you are contrasting the word, e.g., blue pen; for contrast say, “Please use a blue pen, not a black pen.”
  3. Proper Nouns: Stress the last word, e.g., United States of America, United Nations, The Language Institute.
  4. Initializations (abbreviations that are pronounced one letter at a time): Stress the last letter, e.g., USA, MBA, GRE, ELL
  5. Past Tense: If the last sound of the verb is voiced, pronounced the ending as “d”, e.g., listened, loved; if the last sound is voiceless, pronounce the ending as “t”, e.g., walked, coughed, and if the verb ends in “d” or “t,” add an extra syllable, “ed,” e.g., waited, coded.

The written text can be highlighted to identify the rule patterns. Provide the students with any text to read.1 Highlight the rules with an assigned color.2  Practice reading sentences aloud while following the pronunciation pattern for that rule. This will give the ELL student a practical way to focus on suprasegmentals while addressing other classroom objectives.

Help your students learn the rules for clear and comprehensible speech while still accomplishing your curriculum objectives.


1 Feinstein-Whittaker, M and Wilner, LK, RULES By the Sound, Owings Mills, MD: Successfully Speaking, © 2009.

2 Feinstein-Whittaker, M and Wilner LK, RULES on the Run, Owings Mills, MD: Successfully Speaking, ©2014.

Can You Take a Compliment?

thank you  

“Aw, it was nothing...” ‘I didn’t do anything special...” “I was just part of the team that worked on it...”



For a lot of people, it is very difficult to accept a compliment. Many of our non-native English speaking clients tell us they grew up in a culture where accepting a compliment is considered rude and even boastful.

In the United States, if anything, we are accused of over-using compliments. Recently, there have been many psychology books admonishing this tendency, because many children begin to feel like they are the center of the universe and can do no wrong! Obviously, we need to strike a balance between both extremes.

In the American culture, if you do receive a compliment, it is expected that you will respond politely and honestly to the praise. Certainly a modest response is more favorable than a blatant conceited response. For example,

Compliment: “You did a great job facilitating the meeting this morning.”

Response #1: “I know. I am an amazing team leader.”

Response #2: “Thank you.”

For compliments to be meaningful, we need to be sincere and specific. Instead of telling a client or student, “You are doing great,” it is more helpful to say, “I like the way your took meaningful pauses between your thoughts. It helped you slow down your speech, and made me really focus on your ideas.” In addition, we want our clients and students to know when they are doing something correctly so that they will continue to utilize a trained strategy or technique. Constantly negating or down-playing feedback is not going to help our client gain the necessary self-awareness and confidence to improve.

Here are some expressions that are acceptable to use when someone has offered a sincere compliment:

  • Thank you, thanks
  • That’s nice to hear
  • You are kind to say that
  • I appreciate your comments
  • I’m happy that you liked (it)
  • Thanks for saying that

So remember when giving compliments, be honest and specific, and when receiving them, be gracious. If you need help with social communication skills, contact us at

How Do We Say "oi" and "oy"?

English is fraught with pronunciation and spelling challenges. Our accent modification clients are often puzzled with these RULES. Here is another tip to help you or your clients or  students in the ESOL classroom decipher some of the mysteries. A diphthong (pronounced "dif-thong") is a combination of two vowels. The letter combinations “oi” and “oy” are diphthongs and sound alike. The “oi” spelling is usually found in the middle of words, and the “oy” spelling typically occurs at the end. Of course, there will be exceptions to this rule.

When producing this diphthong, keep the tip of your tongue on the floor of your mouth, right behind your lower teeth. Your tongue is slightly lower than for the /o/ vowel. Round your lips slightly. Then shift to the high /I/ vowel by retracting your lips. Lift the tongue blade high in your mouth and move it toward the front of your mouth. Press the sides of your tongue against your upper teeth (molars). [audio wav=""][/audio]

Practice saying the following words and sentences aloud to practice this sound.

Record yourself, or try our Roy Moyers story in the RULES BY THE SOUND book or on the RULES BY THE SOUND online pronunciation platform






toy                              boy                             joy                               enjoy                       annoy

destroy                      coy                              employ                        deploy                     corduroy

rejoice                       voice                           foil                               boil                           point

boisterous                 noise                           poised                         coins                        avoid

moist                          broil                           appointment                choice                       join

 Now practice these sentences:

1. The secretary gave the lawyer the invoice, and was told to void it.

2. I try to avoid reading the tabloids because the stories annoy me.

3. When you crinkle aluminum foil, it makes a funny noise.

4. Can you point to where the dress is soiled?

5. I dropped some coins in the toy store and the little boy found them.

Add some of your own words below.


Find our RULES BY THE SOUND and other products for accent modification at our ESL RULES WEB STORE. 

Improving Communication Skills in Healthcare

esl rulesLynda Katz Wilner and Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker, co-founders of ESL RULES  (, recently wrote an article published by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in the December 2013 issue of Perspectives on Communication Disorders in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations. The following is an overview with excerpts from the article. Click the link at the end to read the article in its entirely.


Hospital reimbursements are linked to patient satisfaction surveys, which are directly related to interpersonal communication between provider and patient. In today’s healthcare environment, interactions are challenged by diversity-Limited English proficient (LEP) patients, medical interpreters, International Medical Graduate (IMG) physicians, nurses, and support staff. Accent modification training for health care professionals can improve patient satisfaction and reduce adverse events. Surveys were conducted with medical interpreters and trainers of medical interpreting programs to determine the existence and support for communication skills training, particularly accent modification, for interpreters and non-native English speaking medical professionals. Results of preliminary surveys suggest the need for these comprehensive services. 60.8% believed a heavy accent, poor diction, or a different dialect contributed to medical errors or miscommunication by a moderate to significant degree. Communication programs should also include cultural competency training to optimize patient care outcomes. Examples of strategies for training are included.

Key Points

  • Hospitals and medical centers in the United States are rich with diverse providers, ancillary staff, and patient populations. Each culture has its own value system, communication style, and beliefs about health and illness.
  • These diverse providers and patient populations provide a growing niche for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and other communication consultants to provide communication training in the workplace. 
  • A comprehensive accent modification program should address skills for efficiency, adaptability, clarity, credibility, active listening, and empathy.
  • Assessment of the health care provider’s ability to pronounce medically related vocabulary and scenarios should be included. RULES  and materials for improving communication in healthcare are discussed.
  • Health care providers need to understand and know how to appropriately respond to the unique social, cultural, and economic influences affecting their patients (Gray, 2013).


Improved health care and cultural communication impacts the overall experience for both the English speaking  and LEP patient, IMGs or United States Medical Graduate physicians, and the diverse nursing and support staff. Consequently, patient satisfaction, delivery of positive outcomes, the facility’s reputation, and decreased risk exposure of the hospital are the end product of effective language and cultural communication. In the new health care model, this will ultimately improve the sustainability of medical systems in the United States. As SLPs, (speech-language pathologists) we can have a substantial and positive impact facilitating clear, understandable, and compassionate communication amongst all of the parties involved.

Perspectives article ASHA 2013

Contact us about any curriculum or materials needs. We also conduct workshops to medical professionals.


Is Silence Golden?

They say that silence is golden. Whether or not that maxim rings true, silent letters can be perplexing to second language learners and can be challenging for their pronunciation. Our clients who attend accent modification/accent reduction classes realize that effective communication involves mastering these idiosyncratic rules. Of course there are many exceptions, but the following are examples of some common words containing letters that should not be pronounced. /b/ is often silent when following /m/ at the end of a word

comb                   tomb                    climb                    thumb                 dumb

/b/ is often silent preceding /t/ in a word

debt                      doubt

/l/ is often silent when followed by /m/

palm                     salmon                 psalm                   calm                     balm

/l/ is often silent when followed by /k/

talk                       walk                     chalk                    yolk                        folk   

/gh/ is often silent

daughter              through                although              dough                   taught

/g/ is often silent when followed by /m/ or /n/

align                     foreign                 resign                   malign                   ensign                 

/w/ is often silent before /r/

written                 wreath                 wrap                     wrought                wrong

/t/ is often silent at the ends of words

ballet                    cabaret                gourmet                  bouquet                buffet   

/k/ is often silent before /n/

knight                  knit                       knife                     kneel                      knot

/p/ is often silent

receipt                 pneumonia          raspberry             psychologist

/st/ can be silent

listen                    whistle                 thistle                   glisten

 /ch/  can be silent


/h/ is silent in the beginning of some words:

honor                   herbal                   honest                  heirs                      honorable

There are many more examples of silent letters in the English language, and exceptions to the “RULES” mentioned above.

Let us know which words you can  find.rulesrulesbythesound

To learn more about pronunciation variations for English consonants and vowels and practice their pronunciation variations,  please see RULES By the Sound.   the RULES by the Sound Pronunciation Platform, and RULES: Rules for Using Linguistic Elements of Speech.

Reading Aloud to Improve Your Accent


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 for more independent practice ideas.

Is it "S" or "Z"?



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?



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

What is the Pronunciation RULE for "X"?


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

What Does Your Body Language Say?



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

Ten Tips for Effective Communication


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 if you have any questions.

To Text or Not to Text?


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.

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?


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

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

Chinese vs. USA Classrooms


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.

- 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

- 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..... :-)


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.

- 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
- Silently counting to five.

If you need additional help controlling your nervousness, contact us at

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

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

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.

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