Friday, March 27, 2009

Bad Bosses and Work-Related Stress

A recent study traces a link between poor management and heart disease among employees. It has been proven that employers should reconsider their managing styles if they are to ensure that workers’ health isn’t endangered. 3 000 workers were interviewed on issues regarding adequate communication between management and staff, senior managers’ attitude towards their juniors, as well as clearly set goals and overwork. Results show that mutual respect accounts for healthier employees and healthier businesses as a whole.

While it is a fact that some people work better under pressure, excessive pressure in the work place, causes the majority to act inadequately and produce less. Experts concluded that taking precautions to ward off work-related stress will also save a business time and money. The negative effects can result in absenteeism, low productivity, employee tardiness and increased customer complaints. Therefore, companies are advised to re-train bosses in order to improve employees’ health and ensure thriving businesses.


Do you think you would be a good boss?

What makes a good boss a good boss?



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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sentence Stress

If you've been studying English for a long time now, you probably know
that intonation can change the underlying meaning of a whole sentence.
Read on to find out which words are important to be pronounced well and clearly and which can be “swallowed”.

Languages, like French and Italian, are considered syllabic languages and each syllable is pronounced clearly, and takes up roughly the same amount of time. English is a stress-timed language and syllables may last different amounts of time. Only main words are stressed and given importance in pronunciation and small non-essential words are reduced and glided over.

Consider these two sentences:

The banks say their programs offer convenience.
I'm just calling to let you know that I'll be a little late to the game tomorrow night.

Both sentences need the same time to be pronounced, despite the second one containing more syllables. This is because they have the same amount of stressed words.
We usually stress content words, carrying the essential meaning, like nouns, main verbs, adjectives and adverbs. When we pronounce these words we raise our voice there or may prolong the sound. The small connecting words, usually called grammatical or structure words, like auxiliary and modal verbs, pronouns, articles, and prepositions are not stressed but rather sound like one long unstressed word.
You can check this for yourself while you watch a movie in English, some TV show or the news or speak to a native speaker. Notice the way they stress the key words only and the rest of small words are scruncheddown. This will improve not only your listening comprehension but also your pronunciation, when you start stressing words correctly, yourself.

Further reading:
Sentence Stress
Pronunciation Materials
Talking in Rhythm: How to Manage Stress of American English

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How Intonation Can Change Meaning

Another important thing, when it comes to learning English is, being aware of intonation. Intonation in American English is the way the voice rises and falls while you speak. Very often, it changes the main idea of what is said, going beyond the exact meaning of the words to indicate how the speaker feels. The very same sentence and the same word order, might result in quite a different idea behind your words, by only shifting the stress from one word to another.

Try reading this sentence by stressing the word in bold each time.

1. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
In this case, you mean that it’s not him who is traveling but someone else. As in: “He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow. His brother is.”

2. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
Here, the emphasis is on the word “isn’t” to say that, it’s not true that he is flying. As in: “Do you know that John is flying to Paris tomorrow?” “He isn’t flying to Paris tomorrow. He was intending to but he changed his mind later.”

3. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
By stressing the word “flying”, we intend to say that this is not what he’s going to do but maybe something else. As in: “He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow. He is actually driving.”

4. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
If you say the word “to” louder, you’re saying this is not the direction he’s flying into. As in: “He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow. He is actually flying back from Paris.”

5. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
Stressing the word “Paris”, in this example, would mean that this is not the actual destination of John’s flight. As in: “He is not flying to Paris. He’s flying to New York.”

6. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
Giving emphasis to the word “tomorrow” would mean that it’s not tomorrow he’s flying but another day. As in: “He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow. He said he would be flying the day after tomorrow.”

As you can see, you are saying the same words every time, just pronouncing a different word at a higher pitch. In this way, you are actually saying a different thing every time.

Why should you bother to remember this? Well, being aware of the various intonation patterns is what will make you capable of conveying the intended message. That is to say, even if you pronounce each word clearly, if your intonation is non-standard, your meaning will not be clear.

Also, in terms of comprehension, you will lose a great deal of information, if you are only listening for the actual words used. You get to understand people better, and people understand YOU better and can then focus on the point you are trying to make, rather than struggling to "decode" your pronunciation.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Using Song Lyrics to improve Listening Skills

It's probably no news to you that song lyrics can be a great listening exercise and practice. You can improve your comprehension and pronunciation and, also, learn a couple of new words and structures. So over here, I would suggest a way to combine your interests in music with learning English.

One thing you can do is, have gap-filling exercises with song lyrics. You listen to the song and try and find the missing (erased) words in the lyrics. Or, you can have a sort of dictation, where you listen and write what you hear and then check your work.

It's easy to find ready-to-use exercises of that type online. But if you're interested in a specific song you can't find exercises for, you can do it yourself. Get the lyrics and erase some of the words in it.

Once you're ready with that you can start doing the exercise.

1. Listen to the song to understand the main meaning, what it is about etc
2. Listen to it trying to fill the gaps.
3. Check your work and listen to it again.
4. Take out the unknown or interesting words. Search the internet for more collocations and associations with those words. Make your own sentences with them.
5. Listen to the song again (and sing along if you're in the mood :-)) You can do that while reading along and then without the written lyrics, trying to see if you can understand everything you hear.

Actually, this goes for any kind of listening material you're planning to use. You can practice with narrated stories or conversations. Of course, you will need the scripts and the recorded audio material. Luckily, you can easily get hold of the lyrics of almost any song, or the scripts of any movie or a show online.

This may sound like a lot of work, but after all, you want to learn, right? And apart from that, if you really like the song or the artist in question, you won't necessarily feel like you're doing any work at all. :-)

Try similar songs lyrics exercises that I have made myself

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wonder what Sitcoms and English-as-a-foreign-language exams have in common?

In my previous post, I mentioned how watching TV shows can help you improve your English. Today, I will give you an example of how this can be beneficial not only to your general English skills, but can turn out to be very useful when preparing for an advanced English exam.

Last year, I was preparing a Greek student for the ECPE (Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English) and like many others, she had been learning English mainly from textbooks. As a result, she had gotten more used to written language and, secondly, to more academical language. That wasn't bad at all, but the exam also tests colloquial and idiomatic structures, as well as listening skills in both formal and informal contexts.

Together, we started looking for ways to get her exposed to more real-life English and get her to improve her listening skills, at the same time. So, I was sitting at home one evening, watching 'Desperate Housewives", when I noticed that every other word or joke in the episode, had actually been included in the practice test we had done earlier that day. It was rich with colorful expressions covering all language levels. Characters like Gabrielle or Susan, used a lot of idioms and slang ("take a rain check", "serves him right" etc), while Bree and Mary Alice traditionally express themselves in a more sophisticated manner using more complicated sentences.

"Desperate Housewives" may not be your favorite show, but you might as well, look for something else, within your area of interests - a cartoon, a sitcom, songs, Oprah Winfrey, National Geographic etc Watch and put down the useful words and expressions that you come across. You'll be surprised to find out, how many of them are actually mentioned even in advanced English exams, such as the ECPE or TOEFL.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Learning a Foreign Language

Learning a language is a gradual process. It takes time and dedication. It's not just a book that you can read overnight and be done with it. It takes years before a person masters his or her first language, being exposed to the language almost 24 hours a day. Whereas, with a foreign language, you're exposed to it only a fraction of that time. Living in the country the language is spoken can be helpful, but it takes more than just that. You need the right approach and guidance.

It's both different from the way we learn our first language and, at the same time, quite similar. In a way, you'd have to follow the same sequence. First, input and then output. First, you should be gathering examples of how the language works (grammar) and how things are called (vocabulary), through reading and listening, before you actually start speaking. Second, you start with easy and simple language before you try looking for ways to express more complicated ideas.

Of course, it would be best if you had someone, like a teacher, to guide you down the road; someone to organize your learning material and direct you. But you can do a great deal of the job on your own, as well. You can turn learning into fun by watching foreign language Tv programs and shows and browse Internet pages related to your interests and hobbies, in the language you are learning. With all the modern technology and the Internet, possibilities are endless. It’s only up to you and your motivation!