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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.

Top Ten Tips for Effective Pronunciation and Speech

Many 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 approach does not provide the essential feedback to learn if you are pronouncing the words correctly. Many software programs are wonderful tools, as well, but don't always 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 you 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 speaking, 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 lower 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 (by Joseph). Smile to infuse a little more energy and/or personality in your voice. 
  9. Practice wherever, whenever, 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, street signs); 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. 

If you find these tips helpful, please feel free to visit www.eslrules.com  to learn about more effective speech and communication techniques, resources, and training.

Do You Speak American English?

"I have no problem with English. I have been speaking it since grammar school." How often have we heard this comment? Although many people speak “The Queens‘ English,” and have excellent grammar and vocabulary skills, there are some stylized differences between RP (Received Pronunciation) and North American English pronunciation. Understanding these differences can help bridge the communication gap with our friends across the pond.

How is American English pronunciation different from English learned abroad? Syllable stress - Patterns of North American English are often different from the stress patterns of British English. Just listen to the BBC to hear differing stress and intonation styles. Americans say EDucate, not eduCATE; TRANSlate, not transLATE; and iDENtify, not identiFY. These minor syllable stress variations can sound “different” if we are not accustomed to that stress pattern in our own speech.

Sentence Level Stress - In North American English, sentence-level stress is very critical when relaying information. If no word is stressed, monotone speech results; if an unimportant word is stressed, the rhythm or melody of the sentence is altered.

A word is stressed by saying it with louder volume, higher pitch, and a longer vowel sound. An increase in loudness alone will make the speaker sound angry or impatient. An inappropriate rising pitch at the end of the sentence will sound uncertain, tentative, or immature. In North American English, the last important content word is usually stressed. We put the primary stress on the first word in a compound word. In the UK, it is the exact opposite: while we tell our friends to enjoy their WEEKend, they will implore us to have a nice weekEND!

Vowels - The production of vowels often differs between mainstream North American English and RP, as they are spoken with different mouth tension and positions. Just like the regional dialects of the US, there are many variations in vowels throughout the UK. Traditional English was "rhotic," meaning the "R" is pronounced in words such as "park" and "another." In the 1800's, non-rhotic speech was used by the upper class and currently, non-rhotic speech is more prevalent. One can hear this influence in the New England and New York dialects, e.g. "anothuh"/another, "come ovuh he-ah"/come over here.

Consonants - The pronunciation of the "t" sound is noticeably different between North American speakers and those who learned English abroad. In American English, "t" is pronounced differently according to its location within the word. In particular, when the /t/ appears in or before an unstressed syllable, it sounds fast and like an imprecise /d/ and is called a flap /t/. For example, Italy, city, water, photograph, sit up. In contrast, the /t/ in all of its positions is precise and crisp in RP.

Figurative Language - Naturally, language/vocabulary differences abound between the two styles of English.  For example, in the United Kingdom a lorry means a truck; the tube is the subway system; a subway is a pedestrian underpass; and a roundabout is a traffic circle. A "hole in the wall" is an ATM in British English but a small out-of-the-way place in North America. If an American has been traveling for work, he/she might say, “I have been on the road a lot lately.”  Someone who speaks RP may say, “ I haven’t been at the station for a while.” Charming, yet confusing at the same time!

Spelling - Differences also exist between British and American English, e.g., flavour/flavor, learnt/learned, favourite/favorite, pyjamas/pajamas, and defence/defense, to name a few.

Of course, neither RP or North American English is more appropriate or correct. These are differences that should be acknowledged, respected, and appreciated. In fact, many people find accents charming and exotic!

Lynda Katz Wilner and Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker formed ESL RULES, LLC in 2006. Through this joint business venture they provide workshops and produce and distribute their unique training materials for accent modification and communication training. Their line of products address critical and frequently confused English grammatical, semantic, and syntactic rules of speech and pronunciation for nonnative English speakers in the financial/business, scientific/medical, information technology, hospitality, and religious/spiritual settings. 

For more on the ESL RULES line of products, please visit www.eslrules.com

Tips for Telephone Interviews

Many of our accent and communication clients have asked for help preparing for telephone screening interviews. Here are some tips for making them as successful as possible: (1) Before the Interview

  • Focus on accountability: confirm the details of the call (date, time, who is initiating the call, etc.)
  • Research the company
  • Generate a short list of relevant questions

(2) During the Interview

  • Make sure you are calling from a quiet, private, environment
  • A landline phone may be preferable if you don't have excellent cell phone reception
  • Do not eat, drink, chew gum, etc.
  • Keep water nearby
  • Have paper and pen ready
  • Have your resume and/or short list of qualifications/skills that match the job description criteria
  • Answer the phone by identifying yourself: "Hello. This is ____________ speaking."
  • Smile when you are speaking. This will make your voice sound more energetic and lively
  • Speak slowly, clearly and loudly enough
  • Avoid saying "um" when thinking or translating your thoughts
  • Use your interviewer's title (Mr., Ms.) unless asked to use a first name
  • Don't interrupt when the interviewer is speaking; jot down questions if necessary
  • Provide short, succinct answers; brief pauses to organize thoughts are acceptable
  • At the end, ask when you can expect to hear from the company regarding the next step
  • Thank the interviewer

(3) After the Interview

  • Send a handwritten thank you note in a timely manner
  • Write down some of the interview questions and your answers, as well as any questions you would like to ask at the face-to-face interview

Lynda Katz Wilner and Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker formed ESL RULES, LLC in 2006. Through this joint business venture they provide workshops and produce and distribute their unique training materials for accent modification and communication training. Their line of products address critical and frequently confused English grammatical, semantic, and syntactic rules of speech and pronunciation for nonnative English speakers in the financial/business, scientific/medical, information technology, hospitality, and religious/spiritual settings. 

For more on the ESL RULES line of products, please visit www.eslrules.com

Helping Clients Practice When They are On the Road

Recently, it seems like a majority of our accent modification clients are jet-setting around the world for a little time with family in far-a-way destinations, or to fulfill work obligations. They have been asking for suggestions as to how to practice during these hectic times when attendance at their accent modification classes is not possible and they do not have time to schedule distance training sessions.

Here are some practical tasks:

  • For clients who will be speaking Business English on their trips, they can audio/video record presentations or their end of telephone calls, and we can share/critique upon their return. They can also evaluate the recordings on their own to develop a self-awareness of their newly learned strategies.
  • If they are traveling in English-speaking countries, they can try to find the stress and intonation rules of North American English  on all written materials, including restaurant menus, hotel brochures, business cards, etc. When they practice reading aloud using  the correct pronunciation of proper nouns, compound nouns, acronyms, etc., they are learning to carry over these skills into daily situations.
  • We suggest that they take a copy of the RULES personal introductory script and tape it to a mirror so they can practice it numerous times during the day/evening.
  • They can review  the words from their personal pronunciation notebook and put 10 challenging words with the same  target sound on separate index cards. They rotate the cards every week, depending upon how long they are traveling.
  • If they have internet access, they can sign into the RULES BY THE SOUND online platform and continue the exercises they have worked on at home.

Of course, it is very difficult to maintain the same discipline for practice that they have while actively attending accent modification sessions at home.  However, practicing new speech habits  for several, brief  “mindful” periods of time during a trip, makes the transition back home less frustrating in the long run. This is particularly important if  they are  communicating in their native language for an extended period of time.

Lynda Katz Wilner and Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker formed ESL RULES, LLC in 2006. Through this joint business venture they provide workshops and produce and distribute their unique training materials for accent modification and communication training. Their line of products address critical and frequently confused English grammatical, semantic, and syntactic rules of speech and pronunciation for nonnative English speakers in the financial/business, scientific/medical, information technology, hospitality, and religious/spiritual settings. 

For more on the ESL RULES line of products, please visit www.eslrules.com.

New Year’s Resolution: Take Control of Paperwork!

It’s that time of year again: If you’re like me, you’ve thrown out and/or donated bags and bags of unused and unwanted items accumulated over the past year. And that doesn’t include the piles of paperwork that we amass for our clients. As corporate trainers, we are not under the same legal obligations to hold onto reports as we are in other clinical settings. However, we still need to keep track of what if going on with our clients with regard to payments, attendance and other details.

I have found it helpful to use a simple checklist that I staple to the inside cover of each client’s folder, so that I can keep track of things and not trust my memory (overtaxed at this time of year in particular!)

The things I need to know are:

  1. Dates of training and time remaining in hours
  2. When the evaluation summary was sent or emailed to the client
  3. Materials disseminated to the client (as specific as possible)
  4. Payments received (check #, date, amount). This is particularly important for clients on an installment plan
  5. Sessions cancelled (with 24-hrs notice there are no consequences; without it I need a note that the session has been forfeited)
  6. Time/date of next session
  7. Comments related to performance, future training issues, follow-through with resources and/or referrals, etc.

Since we use the RULES program as our primary training vehicle, I’ve also found it handy to put a copy of the table of contents into the folder and simply check-off which units have been covered. Lynda and I have developed an organizer for using the information above and the RULES program.

Lynda Katz Wilner and Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker formed ESL RULES, LLC in 2006. Through this joint business venture they provide workshops and produce and distribute their unique training materials for accent modification and communication training. Their line of products address critical and frequently confused English grammatical, semantic, and syntactic rules of speech and pronunciation for nonnative English speakers in the financial/business, scientific/medical, information technology, hospitality, and religious/spiritual settings. 

For more on the ESL RULES line of products, please visit www.eslrules.com

Pronunciation Practice by Watching and Listening to Videos

by Lynda Katz Wilner, M.S., ESL RULES Co-Founder  I came across a wonderful website for individuals who are looking to modify their foreign accent:

http://www.englishcentral.com/

English Central is for English language learners to practice their pronunciation. You have the opportunity to both listen to and watch a variety of speeches on many topics:  working, business, health, science, engineering, presentations, environment, technology, interviews, famous speeches, to name a few.

It's easy: Listen to the speech and watch the video simultaneously. As you listen, you can read along with the text. Finally, you can practice one sentence at a time and record yourself with a recorder that is on the platform.

Once you do all of the above, you will receive a score on your pronunciation.  You can also roll the cursor over specific words and hear the native speaker and your production and then see the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) transcription of both samples; red highlights will indicate where you sound different from the model. If desired, re-record until you are satisfied with your pronunciation.

Positives:

  • Excellent way to supplement your accent modification training with your instructor
  • Wonderful resource library of speeches for various topics
  • Great way to work on listening and pronunciation skills
  • Tool for vocabulary development particularly related to key topics
  • Learning tool for cross-cultural communication tips
  • Language proficiency levels can be set
  • Basic platform is free (you can upgrade to add on other features for a fee)

Negatives:

  • Some speakers don't demonstrate ideal voice quality or pitch
  • The platform doesn't rate your intonation patterns, an essential feature for understandability of speech
  • If you pause, you lose points, and pausing is an effective strategy to enhance communication
  • As a native speaker, I couldn’t always get a perfect score and it was difficult to see why I lost points

Overall, I recommend it to non-native English speakers who are striving to improve communication skills, modify or reduce their accent, and learn the American accent. It is an excellent way to support your other training materials.

Our RULES BY THE SOUND pronunciation platform is a very different way to practice pronunciation by reading sound-loaded stories.  Non-native speakers will achieve confidence when they can focus on a particular sound within the story. This would serve as an intermediary step for the student who has specific pronunciation concerns.

It's wonderful to see all of the pronunciation and accent modification materials that are available to the non-native English speaker!

Lynda Katz Wilner and Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker formed ESL RULES, LLC in 2006. Through this joint business venture they provide workshops and produce and distribute their unique training materials for accent modification and communication training. Their line of products address critical and frequently confused English grammatical, semantic, and syntactic rules of speech and pronunciation for nonnative English speakers in the financial/business, scientific/medical, information technology, hospitality, and religious/spiritual settings. 

For more on the ESL RULES line of products, please visit www.eslrules.com.

Accountability for Accent and Communication Programs

by Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker, M.S., ESL RULES Co-Founder  Accountability is a big part of our work as accent modification consultants/trainers.

Why?

  • Money is invested into our accent and communication programs and services
  • Clients/Executives are granted time away from responsibilities to participate in training
  • Measurable, positive results are expected

Thus, as consultant/trainers, we give our utmost to help our clients achieve the desired goals: We evaluate strengths and weaknesses, observe, critique, educate, and motivate.

But we are only part of the equation.

The other part? Our clients have to practice or the expected positive results will not be achieved.  Getting in the way of that are the usual excuses: lack of time, work/family imbalance, lack of discipline, you name it.

How can we assure that all parties are satisfied at the end of communication skills training?

  1. Set clear, realistic goals from the beginning. Then, make sure everyone - client, trainer, managers- are all on the same page about what can be accomplished in the designated time frame.
  2. Sign agreements with the economic buyer stating that specific improvements cannot be guaranteed. Explain the variables that influence the outcome, such as strength of accent, related communication challenges, responsiveness to training, insight, commitment to training programs, etc.
  3. Maintain close contact with managers throughout the entire process: Provide initial, mid-term, and final documentation. Be sure to support each piece of documentation with audio/video records.
  4. Help the client develop a disciplined approach to independent study. A simple checklist will help clients be accountable for the time they should devote to practice. (We've attached the checklist that we use with our clients, as an example.) These documents can be shared with managers, should results fall short of expectations.

Accountability on all sides will ensure the best results!

Lynda Katz Wilner and Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker formed ESL RULES, LLC in 2006. Through this joint business venture they provide workshops and produce and distribute their unique training materials for accent modification and communication training. Their line of products address critical and frequently confused English grammatical, semantic, and syntactic rules of speech and pronunciation for nonnative English speakers in the financial/business, scientific/medical, information technology, hospitality, and religious/spiritual settings. 

For more on the ESL RULES line of products, please visit www.eslrules.com.