Saturday, May 29, 2010
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Saturday, May 08, 2010
Akifa asks: “Which is correct: Do you know how to speak English? or Do you speak English?”
Answer: Both expressions are correct. A grammarian would diagram both sentences to prove their structural integrity. A linguist would argue that you will not find an answer to your question in a rule book but in idiomatically acceptable expressions, which we arrive at arbitrarily over time. A rhetorician would prefer the concise four-word version over the lengthier seven-word version. But this choice is purely a preference, not a commandment.
Maryann asks: I meet many people who use an extensive English vocabulary; however, their sentence structure is very flawed. Some of these people have made an earnest attempt to improve their grammar but have not received adequate guidance on basic structure. How successful is the attempt to make them learn correct usage—especially in spoken English.
Answer: My three decades of experience in the corporate and academic worlds tell me that the success of nonnative speakers' in English syntax depends on the three factors listed below, in order of importance:
- The person’s natural aptitude in language. I have seen some people enter the USA as adults without any English and learn good English syntax in short time, regardless of their age and national origin; on the other hand, I see others struggle for far longer with less result. These are not isolated anecdotes. I meet both types in every ESL class I teach.
- The person’s dedication to the task. Learning sound English sentence structure takes focused time in multiple modes and disciplines: speaking, listening, reading, and writing; face-to-face and phone contact; use of instructional, popular, and technical materials; study of not only English colloquialisms but of common syntactic errors made by native English speakers (e.g., run-ons, fragments, and pronoun usage) as well as nonnative speakers from their region (e.g., prepositions and non-syllabic past tense for Latinos, and articles and idioms for Chinese, Indians, Russians, and Poles, among others).
- The quality of instruction. The teacher's materials, experience, instructional methods, and assessment make a difference too.
Saturday, May 01, 2010
In an interview of novelist Irving A. Greenfield, I remember him responding to my question about the key to writing success with a wry smile and a blunt, “There are no shortcuts.” His comment clarified for me the adage about perspiration outweighing inspiration.
Believe me, I know it. With few financial rewards over the years, I continue to write into the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning for one reason—I have to. Don’t ask me why; I have no answer.
Yet my book How to Write Fast Under Pressure focuses quite a bit on the attitude necessary for a writer to get through a workday with mounting report, proposal, e-mail demands. With attitude comes inspiration. Writer Fred White does a fine job in making this point in an online article “7 Reasons Inspiration Matters to Writers” for Writer’s Digest. He deftly discusses the delicate but interdependent balance between needing (discipline) and wanting (inspiration) to write.