Friday, February 28, 2014

LANGUAGE FOCUS: How To Write "GOOD"... Explained

Often on the internet, we find grammar or language-related humor which is funny to native English speakers, but which if explained could prove to be educational to students of English as a second language. 

Recently, there has been one going around the web called “How to write good”. It’s got some mistakes. But above all, it's really full of silly writing rules, which are actually contradictions . 

Below you will find an explanation of each one.

If you are a student or teacher of English as a second language, we invite you to read and discuss each item.

A good exercise with these types of "rules" is to evaluate when they are appropriate and when they are not.


How to write "GOOD"? Yes, of course it is wrong! 

ADVERBS (instead of adjectives): Well” is an adverb, which means that it modifies verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. “Write” is a verb; therefore “well” modifies “write”. “Good” is an adjective. It cannot modify a verb, only a noun. They expect natives to detect this mistake and immediately identify it as silly.
  • Correction: How to write well

  1. ALLITERATION: It is a literary device in which two or more consecutive words (or words that are nearby in the same sentence) start with the same letter. It is often used in poetry, literature, slogans, and other propaganda because it is usually impressive and memorable. Another common usage is in tongue-twisters. The example below recommends not using alliteration, poetically and using alliteration. Second sign of silliness. (Ooh, look... more alliteration!)
    • Example given:Avoid Alliteration. Always.”

  1. PREPOSITION AT THE END: Most English native English speakers are taught in school that it is incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition. However, in recent years, grammarians have debated this. More on that here. But to make the reader smile, they decide to end the sentence which says you shouldn't end with a preposition... yes, with a preposition.
    • Example given: Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

  1. AVOIDING CLICHÉS: A cliché is an expression, idea, or element of language or of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning, or effect, and even, to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. In writing - or at least in academic or professional writing - it is highly recommended to avoid clichés. Naturally, this recommendation comes not with one cliché, but two.

  1. COMPARATIVES: One of the ways to compare two things that we believe have the same attribute (quality) is by using the structure: Verb to BE + as + adjective + as. It is not wrong to use this comparative form and it is not a showing of poor writing, as is the case with clichés. The example below is contradictory because it recommends not using comparisons and it uses a comparison. However, there is nothing wrong with using comparisons.
    • Example given: Comparisons are as bad as clichés.

  1. BEING SPECIFIC: It is not always necessary to be specific. In writing, an introductory sentence to a paragraph or a conclusion should be more general. And a detail sentence should be more specific. The example below recommends being “specific”, but the sentence is very general, especially with the ambiguous phrase “more or less”. Again, it is contradictory.
    • Example: Be more or less specific.

  1. GENERALIZE: It’s OK to generalize sometimes if the case requires it. And it’s fine to be specific as well when necessary. The example below makes a generalization about all “writers”, while recommending not to generalize. Yes, it’s contradictory.
    • Example given: Writers should never generalize.

  1. CONSISTENCY: Being consistent when writing complete sentences and paragraphs or even powerpoint presentations helps the reader easily follow the information. A break in the consistency in style or format will distract the reader. The example below does exactly that. It recommends being consistent in the most inconsistent way.
    • Example given: Seven : Be consistent

  1. REDUNDANCY: Any English language writing style manual will have a section strongly recommending writers not to repeat themselves. Just as texts can be redundant, so can people, often annoying others. In the example below, the recommendation against redundancy is done in a redundant way. Contradiction? Of course.
    • Example given: Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
  2. RHETORICAL: A rhetorical question is a question for which an answer is not expected. It used for effect in writing or public speaking. There is nothing wrong with it if used sparingly. In the example below, the recommendation against rhetorical questions is done by asking a rhetorical question. How contradictory!
    • Example given: Who needs rhetorical questions?
  3. EXAGGERATION: In conventional writing - in other words, in non-fictional, non-editorial writing - exaggeration is not highly appreciated or valued. However, it is not grammatically incorrect. Once again, the example allows us to see a contradiction between what is recommended and what is used in the recommendation.
    • Example given: Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

LANGUAGE FOCUS: "DO vs MAKE"... The Rap Song

Make or do? Do or make?
Thinking about it will make your brain ache.
- Fluency MC

The challenge of learning to use DO or MAKE can be a daunting one. Daunting enough to give you a headache.


Unless you're learning it through the Fluency MC's fun rap song about the different ways to use the two often-confused verbs. In fact, super fun English teacher Fluency MC (aka Jason R. Levine) frequently uses collocations (or collos) - which are small chunks of language commonly used together - in order to help us learn authentic use of language. And he usually presents his lessons as fun and catchy rap songs so that what we learn, sticks!

So for today's post, we invite all of you to check out the Fluency MC's rap song about DO and MAKE. First, view it and enjoy the first time. When you finish, make note of the collocations he uses (shown in bold letters below) that are new to you. Then, view the video a second time and focus more on listening and think about what he says, then about reading.

And finally, answer the following questions:

1. Which of the things that Fluency MC says he does, do you usually DO?
2. Which of the things that Fluency MC says he does, do you usually MAKE?
3. Which of the things that Fluency MC says he does, did you DO this week?
4. Which of the things that Fluency MC says he does, did you MAKE this month?

Make or do? Do or make?
Thinking about it will make your brain ache.
Do yourself a favor. Give yourself a break.
Relax and Repeat, for Fluency’s sake.
I make sure to do my homework; then, I hit the sack.
I make a to-do list to stay on track.
I need to do a few errands; I’ll be right back.
Make yourself at home; be my guest; make a snack!

Do or make? Make or do?
If you’ve heard that they’re different, it’s not exactly true.
Many languages have one word, not two.
When you Collo, it’ll follow and make sense to you.
I make the bed in the morning and do laundry at night.
I don’t make fun of people-that’s impolite or
make a fist or do harm to someone in a fight.
I’d rather do good, make peace, and unite.
You’ve got to do your duty to make things right.
Let’s make a plan to eat out at this restaurant I know.
They make an excellent brunch; can you make time to go?
You’ll have the chance to make friends and make some conversation.
I can make a call now to make a reservation.
You’ll thank me for making such a great recommendation!

Do or make? Make or do?
If you’ve heard that they’re different, it’s not exactly true.
Many languages have one word, not two.
When you Collo, it’ll follow and make sense to you.
When I run out of food, I leave the house to do the shopping.
I do chores like the vacuuming, the sweeping and the mopping.
I’ll make a gourmet dinner and also do the dishes.
On birthdays we make cakes, light candles, and make wishes.

Do or make? Make or do?
If you’ve heard that they’re different, it’s not exactly true.
Many languages have one word, not two.
When you Collo, it’ll follow and make sense to you.
Do research; do experiments; develop your vision.
Make a promise to yourself that when you make a decision,
you’ll make a point to do it well, and then
you’ll make a commitment to do it just as well again.
Try to do good deeds and make a goal to do your best,
though you’re sure to make mistakes or even make a big mess.
To make progress, make great effort. That’s the key.
Make a choice to learn the truth and it will set you free.
Do the math. Make it last.

Peace, Fluency MC.

Enjoy other Fluency MC songs and be sure to give him a like on Facebook.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

LANGUAGE FOCUS: Improve your English in Context

What if we could learn language in a way that is based on experience? What if students could learn to apply the rules, pronounce correctly and grow vocabulary, naturally. Wouldn't that be great?

With over 15 years of experience, English teacher and consultant Paul Ponce (aka StoryPaul) created a method that combines experience, with storytelling and taking ownership of one's own learning.

The Story Method is a contextual approach to learning the English language. Find out what it's all about.

Below, you can READ the Video Transcript and follow what Paul says:

Hi, and welcome! I’m Story Paul and this is my first official video. So, I’d like to tell you a little bit

about myself.

I’m an English teacher and consultant. I teach private students and I also teach groups, online. And

I've had a long experience working with companies and university students; executives from all

over the word.

I really enjoy working with language. And today, I would like to tell you about the method that I

use if you study with me.


The Story Method is a contextual approach to learning the English language.

Now, when we talk about context, you may have heard people say that context is king. Right? It’s

got the crown. Not content, but context. So, what is context? (See definition in the video)

In a lot of English programs, people learn to study endless rules. And they learn those rules out of

context. And of course, the result is not very surprising.

So what if we could learn language in a way that is based on experience? Wouldn’t that be great?

Kind of the way a child learns to speak. The way an immigrant learns a new language.

I know a lot about this because my family is not from the United States. And I’ve watched how

they struggled. But I’ve also watched how they learned things in context.

So what if students could learn language in context? So they would learn to apply the rules,

pronounce correctly, grow vocabulary, naturally. But most importantly, they would be able to

speak English confidently in real situations.

Does that mean without making mistakes? No, it doesn’t mean without making mistakes. We all

make mistakes. As we learn more we make less mistakes. But making mistakes is part of being

human. So don’t be so afraid to make mistakes. And don’t be so crazy about knowing all the rules.

Your main concern should be to be fluent and to speak well in a context. And that’s what we do


THE STORY METHOD: How does it work?

The Story Method: Story, Time, Objective, Recognition and You. And of course, the nice thing

about this is that it’s adapted to each individual student.


Step number one is called the Story. We need to understand what’s going on, what the story is all

about in a lesson. It doesn’t matter if it’s business English, travel English; or maybe you want to

have conversational English, where in each different class, we’ll focus on a topic.

Whatever it is, each class, each unit of learning has to have a story behind it.

Why Storytelling? 

Storytelling is powerful. And I teach the topic in a story kind of way because when you think of

situations in terms of a story, you remember them more. Storytelling is part of who we are as

human beings.

Storytelling has been with us for hundreds, thousands of years of human history. It’s a natural

form of human communication. We naturally tend – when we explain something that happened –

to tell it in the way of a story.


The next thing that is very important is time. When we communicate in a new language, it’s super

important to know: Are we talking about the past? Are we in the present? Or are we talking about

the future? Right?

Whatever the context of the day is, whatever the lesson of the day is, we’ll work through the time

in that context.


It’s very important for students to know the objective of the lesson. So before we start: We define

what the story is about. We define the different times we’re going to be dealing with. And next,

we understand what the objective is. What are we trying to achieve and learn? So that you can

recognize that word, that expression, that sound, that vocabulary, when somebody else produces



Recognition, right? It’s like those movies where the witness of a crime is called by the police to

recognize the criminal. You know… the guy that robbed the bank.


MOVIE SCENE*: Paul is behind a window, as a group of suspects lines up in front of a wall. He is trying to recognize the one that committed a crime. 

PAUL: No, it’s not that one. He’s got a beard. (Finally recognizes the bad guy) That’s the one! 

*Film footage: courtesy of “The Usual Suspects” 


So that’s what you've got to do. You've got to be able to recognize the language structure that you

know, used by somebody else.


You are a part of this story. In fact, you are the protagonist. This is how you relate to the story, to

the context we’re learning about. It’s how you relate to the time and if you understand it; and if

you can use it. It’s how you relate to the objectives. They have to be your objectives. You have to

embrace them.

You have to own the language, so that you can recognize it when you hear it. And you really have

to make this course, this lesson, part of your life, part of your journey.

The most important thing for me as a teacher; and honestly, the most important thing for you

should be to be able to use this beyond the classroom in real situations.

I’m your coach here too. I’m here to provide guidance, support and encouragement. If you want to

know more about it, send me a message, and we can talk in a 30 minute hangout.

So thanks so much for your time and I look forward to meeting you.