Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How to learn English?

Many people are learning English around the world. For example, some 300 million people in China, including children at school and adults in evening classes, are learning English formally.

I see from my blog statistics that readers are accessing this blog in many countries, including Russia, Burma, Korea, the United States, India, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In some of these countries, English is the native tongue, in others it is a second language. Although many readers are looking for help with the finer points of English, others may be looking for a way of starting to learn English, or learning English more effectively.

There is plenty of advice online on how to learn English, much of it from language schools.

The advice on this blog is independent and free. But it's just my point of view. There may be others.

So, what should you do if you are living in a country where people speak another language and you want to learn English? Here is some advice for you whether you are attending a formal English class or not.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Misused words: "Chronic"

"Chronic" is a term commonly used in medicine to refer to a condition that is persistent, long-lasting, as opposed to "acute".

It is incorrect to use it to mean "severe".

You could use it to talk about "chronic" economic stagnation in a country only if the economy had been in that condition for a long time and was not expected to recover. If the economy had shrunk in one or two years, "chronic" would be wrong, however deep the plunge in national output.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Gone are the days of the typing pool full of ladies busily banging away on typewriters.

Now much, if not most, communication takes the form of texting by thumb.

If, though, you do any serious writing on your computer, you should learn to touch-type.

Here's how:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Effective emails

Most of us spend much of our waking lives reading and writing emails. Badly written emails waste time and can hinder instead of promote effective communication.

What are the key things to remember when trying to write emails that will achieve their effects?

Misused words: "Disinterested"

"Disinterested" is frequently, and wrongly, used as a synonym for "uninterested".

If you don't watch football because it has no fascination for you, you can say you are "uninterested" in it. It would be wrong to say you were "disinterested" in for that reason.

"Disinterest" is the negative of "interest" in the sense of "material interest". For example, if you do not own shares in a company you can say that you are "disinterested" in its affairs. You might, though, like to read about what the company is doing in the Financial Times, so you would not say you were "uninterested" in it.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Deborah Hersman of the NTSB -- model communicator

For an excellent (in the original meaning of the word) communicator in the English language, I recommend that you watch news coverage of the Boeing 777 crash in San Francisco including live or recorded press conference appearances by Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the United States National Transportation Safety Board. Her statements and answers to questions are a model of how to use language transparently and responsibly.

These are the features of an ideal communicator exemplified by Deborah Hersman:

Friday, July 5, 2013

"Would" and "Will"

"Will" indicates the future positive, for example, "he will go to work tomorrow".

"Would" indicates the future conditional, for example, "he would go to work tomorrow, but he will not go to work because tomorrow is a public holiday".

Don't use "would" instead of "will" if you know something is going to happen.

Using "would" suggests that it will not happen, but would have happened if conditions had been different.

I am aware that in some places, like Hong Kong, learners are taught to use "would" as a future positive.

It is, nevertheless, quite wrong.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Misused words: "Discrete"

"Discrete" is not the same as "discreet".

"Discrete" means "separate". A camera lens looks like a single piece of glass, but it is normally made up of several "discrete" elements.

"Discreet" means "careful" or "circumspect", especially about imparting information to someone else. When you attend a closed meeting, you are likely to be "discreet" about it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Misused words: "Presently"

"Presently" means soon, not now.

The adverb to use to describe an action taking place in the present is "currently".

It is also all right to use the word "now", if it is not obvious from the present tense of the verb.

Avoid waffle like "at the present moment in time" that adds nothing to the meaning.

In Shakespeare's time, "presently" did actually mean "currently", as you can see in his plays.

Things move faster nowadays!

Spelling words starting with "for" and "fore"

Words beginning with "for" and "fore" are easily confused.

"Fore" is short for "before", so words that have the meaning of "before something" often start with "fore".

Here are the correct ways of spelling some of the most common of these:

"None" and "Neither"

"None" is an abbreviated form of "not one". It can therefore only take a singular verb, never a plural verb.

It is OK to say "none of them is coming". It would be wrong to say "none of them are coming".

"Neither" is an abbreviated form of "not either". "Either" refers to singular alternatives: either this one or that one, it does not refer to both alternatives. Therefore "either" can only take a singular verb. The same goes for its negative form, "neither".

It is OK to say "either of them is all right". It would be wrong to say "either of them are all right".

Similarly, it is OK to say "neither of them is all right" and it would be wrong to say "neither of them are all right".