Thursday, 28 April 2011

Overcome Your Fear Of Public Speaking

Standing in front of an audience is already a daunting task, let alone to stand and talk in front of them simultaneously, in English. Giving a structured speech to a group of people who are well aware of the fact that you are going to talk requires a lot more than guts and will. It needs preparation and flexibility, too.

Based on several publications I have managed to read, here I compile and list down 10 famous steps (out of so many) that I believe can and will help you overcome the fear of speaking in public.

1. Prepare your points!

No matter how good you are in terms of talking, you will need to prepare your speech. Get your points right, have some facts to support them and make sure you know everything there is to know about the topic, backwards and forwards.

2. Practice!

Practice the speech and visualize the style of it. Imagine the response you will get from the audience and determine how you are going to handle it. Train yourself to be flexible. Don't forget to check and re-check your grammar!

3. Be there early!

Come early and get the mood right. Check the room and its size so you can tell how loud you should or shouldn't be. Get on the stage and move around it. Make sure you feel comfortable there.

4. Look confident and be confident!

Bring forth your self-confidence. If you think you are not confident enough, then take your time to have it. Do not rush as your confidence will slowly grow by time.

5. Make eye contact!

It is never a good oral presentation if there is no eye contact involved. Look at your audience!

6. Choose a target!

If eye contact makes you feel threatened in some ways, choose a target. Find someone among the crowd who presents you with warmth and positiveness, look at him or her and gradually put your eyes on everyone else. Repeat the steps.

7. Don't forget to smile!

As smiles bring you happiness, give them back! Make sure the audience know that you are happy to be there. It is never wrong to smile at times even when the topic you are presenting is serious. Choose and take your time to smile.

8. Take a pause and breathe!

Do not rush your speech! Take some pauses in-between long sentences and breathe slowly. The more you rush yourself, the more you will panic and lose confidence. So don't.

9. Play with intonations!

Adjust you intonations and make sure they vary from slow and steady to fast and firm. Change them accordingly so that your speech won't be monotonous.

10. It's okay to be nervous!

Whenever you feel nervous, just know that you're being normal. Everybody will experience stage fright, and that includes the experts and those with more experience. The difference is how you handle it. Take it and play along with it. It's okay!

So, what are you waiting for? You know the steps, now speak!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Plagiarism: What Is It?

What makes a piece of writing good? It is every thinkable points of view including clear introduction of notion, effective development of idea, decent choice of diction and more, plus... originality!

In academic writing, plagiarism is a serious matter. The academic society including students, teachers and readers of all levels puts an extreme value on the originality of a written piece. It promotes the spirit of honouring the work of all authors and keeps from unethical violation of copyright.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of intentionally copying, or unintentionally putting in ideas of others as endorsements or main ideas in our own writing without acknowledging the coiner. It can also happen when we 'recycle' ideas that have appeared in our own previous works.

What kinds of plagiarism are there?

Well, there are degrees of plagiarism. Dupli Checker, an online site about plagiarism lists three kinds of plagiarism.
  • Minimal
  • Substantial
  • Complete
Minimal plagiarism is what writers commonly fall into doing when they simply use thesaurus in editing a formerly written text. Thesaurus is a rich resource useful for extending vocabulary. However, when it comes to writing the use of thesaurus must be limited to a sensible level.

Substantial plagiarism happens when extra notions are added to-as the name suggests-substantiate the original text.

Complete plagiarism is the most notable type of the kin. No changes are made to the original text at all, the whole chunk is republished as the new writer's.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Why Writing Is Specially Important

In any language acquisition, there will be four important skills to master before anyone can claim he or she has acquired the target language. Those skills are listening, speaking, reading and writing. Generally speaking, each skill is equally important and to ignore one of them will only mean you're not doing your best to acquire the language.

However, there is one skill that stands a little bit higher than the rest, and as you can see in the title, that skill is writing.

Why is writing different from other skills?

If you compare the four skills with each other, you will realize that writing is the least used skill in your daily routine. You listen, speak and read every single day; it's like an obligation for you to communicate using these skills, but this does not apply on writing. Yet, the most important things that can ever happen in your life will involve writing.

If you want to apply for a job or a scholarship, what do you need to do? If you want to graduate from school with flying colours, what do you need to do? If you want to further your studies towards the next level, what do you need to do? If I'm imagining it correctly, you will need to write. You'll need to write a resume, a formal or recommendation letter, an essay or you have to fill in forms - which still falls under 'writing' category.

Then, let's say you have done all these things without breaking a sweat. But now you feel like continuing your studies towards the highest level; a master's degree or PhD. Can you achieve that by just listening, speaking and reading? No! You will still need to write. A normal piece of writing or a more advanced and detailed one; a research paper or a thesis.

What I'm trying to say is, even though writing is not utilised as frequent as the other three skills, whatever you do in life, if it's important, then you will complete it by writing. This is what makes writing special.

So, if you want to improve your performance in English language, then I suggest you to start writing in English now. Expose yourself to various types of English writing and use the experience and knowledge you've gained to develop. There is no harm in doing so.

On a less related note, I always wonder about teachers who teach language skills but don't expose themselves to the same skills they are teaching. I mean, how do you teach a skill when you yourself don't... never mind.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Common Mistakes And Confusing English Words

Let's face the fact that we always make this kind of mistakes. A lot of people do this everyday. Nobody's perfect. But the question is; for how long? Here I wish to help where I can, so now I list down a few (of so many) common 'combinations' that have been confusing students (and even teachers!) for quite a time. I wanted to try my best to give the simplest definitions based on the closest contexts possible, but they would look so boring and become too long to read (because they're so many contexts and definitions!). So I decided to choose the most common confusions and define them through simple sentences. If you still can't see the difference, then by all means, hit the dictionary. Have fun reading!

1. Deadline - Dateline

"You must complete the task I've given you by this Friday! That's the deadline!"

The dateline of the news article shows that the incident happened on Friday, 9th April 2011.

2. Affect - Effect

"Whatever they do will never affect me in one way or the other!"

The tsunami tragedy has given a lot of negative effects on Japan's currency in the stock market.

3. Than - Then

"I'm sorry to say, but he is better than you."

"I have to call my brother first, then we go, okay?"

4. You're - Your

"You're (you are) the most beautiful woman I've ever met!"

"Your job is to make sure they have everything they need for the trip!"

5. Accept - Except

"I'm sorry, but I can't accept your apology for reasons I can't explain."

"Everyone has submitted their homework, except you!"

6. Advise - Advice

"I advise you to stop doing what you're doing now and go home."

"I need some advice from you since you've gone through the same experience."

7. Letter - Latter

"Where is the postman, mom? Has my letter arrived? I need my letter! My friend from Zimbabwe wrote it for me!"

"The students are divided into two classes; those who failed and those who passed. My son is in the latter."

8. Themselves - Theirselves

They have themselves to blame for the terrible accident that happened.

(this word is an informal word made and used by certain group of people in southern USA - a slang. It does not exist and is grammatically wrong in formal English.)

9. Their - They're

"My money is mine. Their money is theirs. So I don't care about how they want to spend it!"

"They're (they are) doing their best to help our son. We should wait outside."

10. Wander - Wonder

"I shall wander around the world, the seas, the forests, and the mountains!"

"I wonder why they called it a mystery. Shall we take a look?"

11. Expand - Expend 

They expand their house by adding a few more bedrooms.

The government will expend the tax money on tightening our national defense.

12. Borrow - Lend

"Do you have an extra pen, dude? Can I borrow it?"

"Oh, I'm sorry! I don't have any. Someone already asked me to lend him one just now."

13. Every day - Everyday

Every day:
"A good kid should brush his teeth every day, okay?"

"The problem has gone from bad to worse. It's like an everyday meal now!"

How was it? Get the picture? Why don't you try these ones below. Some of them might be a bit difficult. Good luck!

Complement - Compliment
Discreet - Discrete
Hear - Listen
Stationary - Stationery
Whom - Who
Moral - Morale
Lay - Lie
Heroin - Heroine
Decent - Descent
Allude - Elude
Illicit - Elicit

Top Jobs Only For Those Who Know The Language Well

From: The Star Online

PETALING JAYA: It does not matter if you are top of your class or have a string of degrees, that dream job will not be yours unless you can speak and write well in English.

Feedback from local and international employers shows that verbal and written communication skills in English remain the most sought-after attribute in prospective employees.

According to a recent Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) survey, it is the most important trait employers look for when recruiting graduates.

The MEF Salary Survey for Executives 2010 revealed that 68% of the companies surveyed named communication skills as the top quality required in job applicants, followed by working experience (67%), interpersonal skills (56.2%) and passion and commitment (55.7%).

MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said globalisation had changed the nature of jobs, making communication skills, specifically in English, a valuable asset for today's worker.
He added that this was an essential criterion even for professions traditionally seen as “backroom” staff such as engineers, technical personnel and scientists. “It is especially so for those working in multinationals and bigger firms,” he said.

“Today, our clients are worldwide. In factories, for instance, engineers are a different breed from the past,” said Shamsuddin.

“Now, they have to be involved in various aspects of business and interact with clients.”
Shamsuddin expressed concern that many local graduates today could not speak or write proper English, saying this was a reason why they faced difficulties getting jobs in the private sector.
Kelly Services (M) Sdn Bhd managing director Melissa Norman concurred, noting that six in 10 graduates who attended its interviews could not communicate effectively in English.

The company is one of the top headhunters in the country.

Norman said it was important to master English as it was widely used among the business community, both in Malaysia and internationally.

The Kelly Global Workforce Index survey released in 2010 listed “communication skills” as one of the top five most desired skills within the corporate sector.

“We have encountered local graduates who are weak in spoken and written English and have limited vocabulary,” said Norman.

“These candidates can only manage to secure jobs in small-medium enterprises and small businesses.”
Various industry and business leaders also warned that the decline in English was affecting Malaysia's global competitiveness.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers President Tan Sri Mustafa Mansur said the young ones who could not communicate in English were unable to negotiate the best deals in business transactions or investments.

“We need to send people out to market our products, negotiate deals or get contracts signed. If they cannot communicate well in English, we will lose out,” he said.

Pemudah co-chair Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, it was important for civil servants to have a good command of English due to a growing borderless world.

“The standard of English also affects the quality of the public sector as civil servants have to interact with international citizens and the business world as well as articulate Malaysia's stand on issues to the international community. These include negotiations on important agreements such as trade agreements.”

Noting that the quality of English in the country had declined over the last two decades, former Human Resource Minister Tan Sri Fong Chan Onn warned that the country would lose out to its neighbours that did not teach English in schools previously.

“Thailand, Indonesia and China are making efforts to improve their English through their education system,” he noted.

Friday, 8 April 2011

How To Develop Speaking Skills And Vocabulary Simultanoeusly

Normally teachers always resort to formal exercises in books when it comes to teaching grammar and other aspects of English language. Well that is good, I won't say it's wrong. However, from my point of view, there are two obvious disadvantages about this kind of exercises. One: it is boring and tiring, second: this type of exercises doesn't develop speaking skills.

I have an idea in mind, so bear with me for a few minutes and let's see if it's good to use. Hopefully it can help attract students to participate enthusiastically in the activity and improve themselves.

First, I'll explain to them what nouns, verbs and adjectives are. It they are already taught in the previous lesson, recap and write some examples for all three categories on the whiteboard for students to refer. Then proceed with the activity.

The activity is:

I'll write a sentence, with a blank in it, on the whiteboard and then ask students to complete the sentence with appropriate nouns, verbs or adjectives (I'll decide which one to use at a time).

The procedures will be:

1. Teacher writes the sentence on the whiteboard. For example, "I'm ......... today". For this sentence, students need to come up with an appropriate adjective to complete it. Students can sit in pairs, or groups, or do it individually, and the only way to play this activity is by saying it out loud; which means students need to speak in order to give their answers. Please be reminded that teacher should provide one good example for the activity before asking the students to produce one of their own. For instance, "I'm SAD today".

2. Then after a number of students have given their answers, teacher changes the sentence as well as the component involved in it. This time teacher can either focus on verbs or nouns. Examples of sentences are; for verbs, "I don't want to ........... them" (love/hate/hurt/help/punish) and for nouns; "I always want to buy a .......... for my mother" (car/beg/house/computer/radio). Just make sure that students come up with with their own answers and produce them orally. This can help build their confidence in speaking up their minds.

This is my personal opinion which I would like to share with all of you. Be happy to use it or develop a new activity based on it. Good luck!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Giving Exercises Is Not The Only Way

When I was 14 years old, I used to score badly for English subject. I would only manage to get a D or once in a blue moon, an 'outstanding' achievement, a C. I never wanted to improve because I thought as long as I could pass the subject, the rest did not matter.

I always loved to play video games and watch a lot of movies. I would debate and argue with many people who were saying that those things gave a negative influence on students’ academic performance. I would say, “do you see any negative influence on me?” Well, they did not reply, but at that time, I knew that I was not doing that great either.

But a year later, I started to improve. I started to get B and even A for the subject. The best part was, I could even speak English and people understood what I was saying! So a lot of people had been asking me about how I could improve and reach that level in just a single year. That included my English teacher, who told me that I was quite a good writer and she was impressed with my development. Since then, English had been one of my ‘A’ subjects.

Honestly, that was the moment when I first realized that my English had experienced a tremendous improvement not by doing exercises from the book. I am not saying those exercises the teachers have been giving their students are insignificant. What I am trying to suggest is that the exercises might only help our students understand the rules, but they might not be able to help them apply those rules in speaking and writing. Therefore, I suggest that we should give them a different approach in order to ascend to the next level.

I improved my English by reading the dialogues involved in those video games I played, and by listening to those conversations in the movies I watched. If provided, I would switch on the English subtitles so that I could see the spelling of each word pronounced by the characters. So, I am suggesting that teachers and parents should provide more opportunities for students to expose themselves to video games and movies, with proper guidance of course. For video games, in my opinion, role playing games (RPG) are the best choice. They have a lot of conversations with subtitles, and hardly involve vulgar words.

A few years back, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree of education Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). In my term paper titled “Favourite Television Series as an Influence in Learning to Write Narratives in Upper Secondary School Students”, I found out that the series involved did provide them a positive influence in a sense of vocabulary choice and characterization. These are indeed vital in developing our students’ English proficiency, and a further proof of the possible encouraging outcome they can get from television.

That is why I am begging every single educator that exists in our country to expand their teaching methods and try to infuse some unconventional approaches in them. Learning English is not limited by only completing the exercises given. Just ask ourselves, “what would make the students learn better? Is it by giving them work and making sure they complete it, or is it by giving them chances to do what they enjoy doing and letting them learn from it at the same time?” If you ask me, I would say that when the students are happy, they learn better.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A Lazy Reader, You Are!

I know that hundreds and thousands of words will make some people go crazy or fall asleep. So I'm just going to make it as short as possible. Wait. On a second thought, I think I won't even bother trying to shorten it. You read it, you get it. You don't read it, well?

I am very glad to have met certain people who enjoy reading. Why? Because I know that if there is a time when I fail to read anything, they will feed some for me. But I cannot expect them to do that all the time. You should not expect anybody to do the feeding every single time.

Now please read the questions I have prepared for you. You can answer them if you want to. You can keep or share the answers; up to you. This is not a survey or some sort of final year thesis. I promise.

1. How many times do you read in a day? (There is no way you don't read at all)
A. Many times
B. Sometimes
C. Very few
D. Hardly hardly

2. What do you read?
A. What I want to read
B. What I need to read
C. A little bit of both
D. Both

3. What type of reading materials do you read?
A. Novel, short stories and something like that
B. Articles, news and something like that
C. Flyers, advertisements and something like that
D. Comics, cartoons and something like that

4. In what language do you prefer to read?
A. My mother tongue
B. The international language - English
C. A language I don't understand
D. I don't care as long as I understand it

5. What will you do if you don't understand the topic you are reading?
A. Read something else
B. Read it again until I understand and seek help if needed
C. Wait until I have the mood to think
D. Oh, this is challenging! I love it!

6. What kind of topics do you read?
A. Love and relationships
B. Gossip and controversies
C. Heavy topics
D. Anything goes

7. Will your frequency of reading drop if the reading materials are ALL written in English?
A. Yes
B. No
C. No! In fact, it gets more frequent!

Okay, I want to tell you that question one until six are purposeless. I mean yes, you can give an answer for each of those questions, but they are very conditional, aren't they? A lot of factors to consider like mood, time, need, and situation. They can change over the time so they are not really conclusive. But question seven is a different case. It's a matter of choice.

Many (not all) local readers claim they want to improve their proficiency in English, but they do not want to read in English - too lazy to get a dictionary to help themselves. Then many more claim they understand English but are too lazy to stretch a brain 'muscle' to translate it, and prefer to read in their native language instead.

So what happens? Nothing. Where does this lead? Nowhere. Why, is it so hard to read in English? I'm not saying you don't read English at all, but the odds are so not fair! And that's because you are too lazy. Come on, Malaysia. You know what I am talking about. The amount of reading itself (regardless the language) doesn't look promising, let alone English reading. You can't expect the next generation to be a whole lot better if you don't start showing them the way.

I just heard a senior citizen complaining about his son or somebody buying an English newspaper instead of a 'native' one. I mean, what the heck is wrong with that? He's reading for God's sake!

And this little piece of advice is meant for me as well. Autobots, let's rrr-read! Okay, that sounded stupid.