Speak English Like an American Just Released for Android

Now users of Android-based smartphones and tablets can enjoy the Speak English Like SELA_iconan American app too! It’s just been released on Google Play. Click here to visit Google Play and download it. You get 5 lessons free (no strings attached!). If you like it, you can keep in improving your English with the remaining 20 lessons for $9.99.

In the app, learners will join an American family as they go about their day-to-day lives. Along the way, they’ll master over 300 of today’s most common English idioms and expressions.

While idioms can be tricky for non-native English speakers, author Amy Gillett explains that they are a key part of gaining fluency in English. “Idioms add color to the language. They make it come alive. They make English learners’ speech sound more natural and less foreign.”

The app includes native speakers reading all the dialogues aloud. Users can record themselves reading the lines and play them back, comparing themselves to native speakers. “The record and playback features helps learners remember the idioms and is also a handy way to practice American pronunciation,” says Tanya Peterson of Language Success Press.

Each lesson features an interactive quiz with immediate feedback and reward icons.

Versions of the Speak English Like an American app are also available for the iPad and iPhone.

The app is based on the bestselling ESL book, Speak English Like an American. Since its original release 10 years ago, Speak English Like an American has helped tens of thousands of English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) speakers master everyday English. The book and CD are popular for both self-study and for the classroom, in use at dozens of universities and language schools around the world. A fifth edition of the Speak English Like an American hard copy book and audio CD was released in January.

Midwest Book Review calls the Speak English Like an American book & audio CD “a highly recommended self-teaching tool for those who are familiar with the English language, yet who seek to take their fluency to new heights by mastering common English idioms.”

10 Best Practices for Teaching Accent Reduction

Top Tips to Make You More Effective at Teaching Accent Reductionaccent_reduction

If you teach accent reduction courses either in the classroom or one-on-one, you’ll benefit from reading these terrific tips we’ve gathered from some very experienced accent reduction experts.

 #1: Practice for Success

Tell your students that an accent is a speech pattern. We all have an accent! Despite its name, accent reduction is fundamentally about acquiring a new speech pattern. This involves changing the muscle memory of the mouth so that the new speech pattern becomes “second nature.” The process is similar to learning to play an instrument, and it’s most successful when students make a daily commitment to practice. Make a practice plan with your students and include an accountability measure so they can own their progress. Suggest that when speaking aloud, students focus on one sound per day. Set aside 5 minutes in the morning, in the afternoon, and again in the evening to specifically concentrate on words having that particular sound. This is “mindful practice.” The goal is to build an awareness of both the sound and how to produce it, consistently, in context. Reading aloud is another great way to build proficiency.

This tip and several tips that follow are from Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann of the Accent Reduction Institute. They are co-authors of the book, CD-ROM, and audio CD set “Master the American Accent,” published by Language Success Press. Judy Ravin is also the author of the bestselling accent reduction guide, “Lose Your Accent in 28 Days.” Both of these accent reduction guides are used by accent reduction teachers and trainers around the world.

#2: Set the Stage

Prior to program launch, ask your student to listen for sounds in English that don’t occur in their first language. This begins the process of “tuning their ear” to what’s missing in their own repertoire of sounds. Have them make a list and bring it to the first class.
— Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann

 #3: Have Your Students do “Reverse Imitation”

Have students do “reverse imitation” by having them think how an English speaker sounds when attempting to speak in their native language. Those funny sounds are clues to how they need to change their way of speaking in English. (For example, in Spanish, English speakers usually “slide around” too much with the vowels, so therefore a Spanish speaker needs to be much more active with their tongue for English vowels). This also can apply to facial movement , comparing the faces of newscasters (with the volume muted) in both languages.
—Laura Elias, The Pronunciation Coach  

 #4: Assessments: Keep an Open Mind (Ear)

Just as in English, there are many regional dialects in most languages. Don’t assume all speakers from a particular language background have the same need. One size does not fit all. For example, some native Chinese speakers have difficulty distinguishing ‘r’ from ‘l’, while others substitute an ‘n’ for an ‘l’. Remember to keep in mind your student’s objectives. Is it important for them to become familiar with contractions and informal speech patterns? Design a learning plan that’s customized and relevant. At the end of the program, provide a continued growth plan.
— Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann

 #5: Phoneme Discrimination is more than Auditory

Adults learn differently than children and adolescents; it’s much more of a visual and kinesthetic process. Therefore, it’s essential to create an awareness of what each sound looks like. Are the lips in the shape of a box for /ɑ/ or an oval for /ɔ/? Is the tip of the tongue visible between the teeth for /ɵ/ and /ð/? Practice in front of a mirror to verify lip, tongue, and teeth placement.  Also pay attention to what the sound feels like. Can the top teeth be felt on the lower lip for /v/?  Providing many techniques for phoneme discrimination is critical for adult learners and gives them an increased ability to self-correct.
— Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann

 #6: Think about Sound, not Spelling

We all learn that we have five (or six, if we include ‘y’) vowels. This is true … for grammar. Yet pronunciation is altogether different. English is particularly challenging because the same letter can be pronounced in several ways. In fact, we use these same five (or six) letters to produce 21 standard vowel sounds. For example, the letter ‘o’ has ten different pronunciations in English: “conduct”, “coffee”, “cook”, “cool”, “no”, “none”, “woman”, “women”, “coy”, “coil”, and “clown”. Learn to associate specific articulation techniques with the sound …not the spelling!
— Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann

 #7: Have Students Use a Mirror

Using mirror is simple and low tech. The instructor should ask the student to closely watch her mouth as she exaggerates the pronunciation of a “difficult” sound and then use the mirror to make their mouths “do the same thing.” Works every time on “th.” Once they have successfully made the sound, they know they can and can use visual practice with the mirror to build a new habit (and confidence!).
— Sharlene Vichness, Language Directions, LLC

 #8: Have Students Slow Down Their Rate of Speech

Have students slow down their rate of speech, model the speech for them, and explain the articulation.
— Judi Srebro, Speech and Communications Coach

 #9: Teach Students Casual English

Casual speech patterns help students understand native speakers. And when they begin using it themselves they do sound more like a naive speaker instead of as if they are reading aloud from a book. In casual speech, “got to” becomes “gotta.” “What are you doing? ” becomes “Whaddaya doing?” “Let me help” becomes “Lemme help.” Students really enjoy learning casual English and find it very useful.
— Anne Maki, Clear Speech Specialists

 #10: Praise, Praise, Praise

Guided feedback is far more than providing instruction! Begin with praise that’s specific and meaningful. Affirmation goes a long way in building confidence and easing apprehension. Most students are aware of their pronunciation weaknesses; few are tuned in to their strengths.  There’s a direct relationship between increased confidence and a willingness to engage in conversation. Helping students excel means creating an environment where they’re recognized for their progress on a consistent basis.
— Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann

 

English Word of the Year for 2012

As it says in the introduction of our ESL book Speak English Like an American, the English language is very dynamic, always changing to let in new words and expressions. ESL students are challenged to “stay on top” of emerging new slang and expressions (many native speakers are similarly challenged!).

Believe it or not, a lot of people spend a lot of time trying to decide what the English Word of the Year is each year. In fact, hundreds of people went to Boston last week to cast their votes for the English World of the Year at the American Dialect Society’s annual meeting.

And the 2012 Word of the Year is … hashtag. That’s right, the written out version of this symbol #. Twitter users will recognize that as the symbol put before a word to make searching posts for that word easier, like: #ESL. This usage started in 2007. In 2012, its popularity apparently exploded. Says Ben Zimmer of the American Dialect Society:

“This was the year when the hashtag became a ubiquitous phenomenon in online talk. In the Twittersphere and elsewhere, hashtags have created instant social trends, spreading bite-sized viral messages on topics ranging from politics to pop culture.”

Thus, the little hashtag got cast into the spotlight. It got its fifteen minutes of fame as we say in English when talking about something or someone that gets a lot of media publicity (often for a short period of time — hence the reference to “fifteen minutes”).

Many people thought the expression “fiscal cliff” would win the Word of the Year (threat of spending cuts and tax increases hanging over the end-of-year budget negotiations). We certainly heard a lot about that from the media!

In addition to the word of the year prize, new expressions and words can win in a variety of other categories. In the most creative category, the new American English expression gate lice was one of the runners up.  Gate lice are those annoying airline passengers who rush to the gates waiting to get on board the plane. How nice to now have a simple way to describe these people. Instead of having to say, “Look at all of those silly people rushing to get on the plane when boarding hasn’t even started” we can now simply say, “Look at the gate lice!”

In the least likely to succeed category, the expression YOLO was the winner (tied for first place with phablet — which is an electronic device sized between the smartphone and the tablet). As just about any American under 30 probably knows, that is an acronym for “You only live once.” It is often used sarcastically (“Go ahead and take the last cookie, YOLO!”). It was popularized by the rapper Drake, who sang about YOLO in one of his songs. YOLO nearly also won for the category of “most useful” — clearly the expression has its supporters, despite being judged “least likely to succeed.” Perhaps it became too popular, too quickly and it’s time has already passed (in other words, maybe it’s no longer cool or trendy to use the word YOLO. I plan to keep using it for another few months, YOLO!).

Since we publish books for learning business English, we are always looking for new business English expressions. We were pleased to see the word disruptive as a runner-up in the “most euphemistic” category. Disruptive in its new sense means “destroying existing business models.” This concept was introduced into business vocabulary by Professor Clay Christensen of Harvard University (who writes a lot about disruptive innovation, meaning innovations that create new markets, as the automobile disrupting railroad transport and the GPS navigation system disrupted the navigational map).

For a complete list of all the words nominated for prizes in 2012, visit the American Dialect Society’s website.

American English Idioms for the Holidays – Christmas eBook

Ho ho ho, it’s holiday time and we at Language Success Press are celebrating with the release of Speak English on Christmas Day. This new lesson teaches 14 American English idioms and expressions related to the upcoming holiday. It’s the Johnson family celebrating Christmas. You’ll remember them from our book Speak English Like an American. The target idioms and expressions in the dialogue are highlighted and defined below. You can also download an eBook edition of Speak English on Christmas here: Christmas English eBook. The eBook also includes a quiz. We hope you will enjoy this English language learning material. If so, print out the ebook, wrap it up, and give it as a holiday gift. It makes a great stocking stuffer! (A stocking stuffer is a small gift given at Christmas).

CHRISTMAS MORNING WITH THE JOHNSONS

The Johnson family is celebrating Christmas. The kids, Ted and Nicole, are home from college for the holidays. Ted’s girlfriend Amber is also with them. Now it’s time to gather around the tree and open the presents. 

Susan: Merry Christmas, everyone!

Bob: It’s wonderful to have the family here for the holiday. Now that Mom and I are empty nesters, the house is usually so quiet.

Nicole: I’m sure you miss Ted’s loud rock music at 2 a.m.!

Susan: Who would like to start out the day with one of my fresh-baked gingerbread cookies?

Nicole: Mom, it’s 10 o’clock in the morning. Who eats cookies so early?

Ted: Get in the holiday spirit! I’ll take a cookie, Mom.

Amber: Mind if I take one too?

Susan: Be my guest.

Bob: Let’s get started with the presents.

(everyone sits by the Christmas tree)

Bob: Here’s one for Amber from Ted.

Amber: (opens box) A beautiful silver nose ring! Just what I wanted. How did you know?

Ted: You dropped a few hints!

Bob: This big box is for Mom from Ted.

(Susan unwraps present and takes out a sweater)

Nicole: Oh, it’s an ugly Christmas sweater!

Bob: Nicole, it’s the thought that counts. Besides, that sweater is quite a conversation piece.

Susan: Thanks, Ted. I love it. Look at all the smiling snowmen on the sweater. Looking at their happy faces would help anyone beat the holiday blues!

Bob: And this present is for Ted from Nicole.

Ted: (unwraps present) It’s a book. Chemistry for Dummies. Just what I wanted. Did you save the receipt?*

Nicole: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!

Bob: And here’s a present for Ted from Mom and me.

Ted: (unwraps present) A new iPad. Great! Thanks a lot.

Nicole: Now Ted can spend even more time playing video games.

Ted: Mind your own business!

Susan: That’s enough, guys. I hope you two won’t be at each other’s throats for the entire holiday.

Bob: Right. Don’t forget what Bing Crosby* said: “Christmas has a way of bringing out the best in everyone.”

Ted: Bing Crosby never met Nicole!

* Ted is asking for the sales receipt so he can return the book.
* Bing Crosby was an American singer and actor (1903-1977). His most popular song was his 1941 recording of “White Christmas,” written by Irving Berlin.

 —————————

IDIOMS & EXPRESSIONS

at each other’s throats – arguing with each other; fighting

Example: Gina and Jim are always at each other’s throats. I can’t believe they’re still married!

be my guest – help yourself; go ahead and do something

Example: “Do you mind if I slice the apple pie?” — “Be my guest.”

(to) beat the holiday blues – to do something so that one does not feel stressed and depressed during the holidays

Example: Susan always says that helping others is a great way to beat the holiday blues.

(to) bring out the best in someone – to cause someone to behave in the best way; to bring out their best qualities

Example: With her great sense of humor and positive attitude, Amber always brings out the best in people.

conversation piece – something unusual that attracts attention or makes people talk

Example: My boss gave me a sparkling angel pin for Christmas. It’s a real conversation piece!

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth – don’t be ungrateful when you receive a gift

Example: “These earrings Jane gave me are so ugly!” — “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

(to) drop a hint – to give a small hint or clue about something

Example: I don’t know what you want for Christmas. I wish you’d drop some hints!

empty nester – a parent whose child has grown up and left the house

Example:  Now that Tina and Carl are empty nesters, they’re planning to travel around the world.

(to) get in the holiday spirit – to start having good feelings about the holidays

Example:  Anna put on a Bing Crosy Christmas CD to try to get in the holiday spirit.

How did you know? – asked when someone gives you just the gift that you wanted

Example: Great, a new Hermès tie! How did you know?

it’s the thought that counts – it doesn’t matter what the gift is, at least the giver was kind enough to give something

Example:  “Look at these bunny rabbit slippers my friend gave me. They’re ridiculous!” — “It’s the thought that counts.”

mind your own business – don’t interfere in matters that you are not a part of

Example:  “Nicole, who was that guy you were talking to on the phone?” — “Mind your own business, Ted.”

(to) start out the day with – to begin the day with

Example:  Nicole always starts out the day with a jog around the block.

ugly Christmas sweater – a tacky sweater with holiday themes like Christmas trees, reindeer, or snowmen and bold colors

Example:  Mike always wears his ugly Christmas sweater to his office holiday party.

Note: Ugly Christmas sweaters became a trend about 10 years ago. They are often worn with irony (the wearer knows they look a little silly, but they enjoy it). There are even ugly Chistmas sweater parties.

Talk Turkey on Thanksgiving: an ESL ebook

In honor of Thanksgiving, here’s a brand new lesson teaching American English idioms and expressions related to Thanksgiving. It’s the Johnson family celebrating Thanksgiving. You’ll remember the Johnson family from our book Speak English Like an American. The target idioms and expressions in the dialogue are highlighted and defined below. You can download an eBook edition of Talk Turkey on Thanksgiving here: Thanksgiving eBook. The eBook also includes a quiz. We hope you’ll enjoy this English language learning material!

A THANKSGIVING DAY FEAST

The Johnson family is celebrating Thanksgiving with a traditional Thanksgiving day feast. As usual, Ted and his sister Nicole are having trouble getting along. Fortunately, Ted’s girlfriend Amber is with the family and helps break up the tension.

Amber: She’s got a carving knife, she knows how to use it!

Susan: Amber, what a pretty song!

Amber: I’m killing two birds with one stone. I’m coming up with new songs while helping you get Thanksgiving dinner ready.

(ten minutes later)

Susan: Everything’s on the table. We’re ready to eat.

Bob: Before we dig in, I think we should count our blessings.

Susan: I agree. We have so much to be grateful for. For starters, we have our whole family together with us today.

Bob: I’m grateful to the National Cookie Company for buying Susan’s Scrumptious Cookies. That helped us buy our new house.

Ted: I’m grateful to Amber. With her beautiful singing voice, she helped us land a recording contract with Big Deal Records.

Susan: Yes, Amber is certainly blessed with a lovely voice.

Amber: I’m grateful that Ted was able to quit smoking this year, cold turkey!

Susan: What? Ted smoked?

Amber: Oh, not that much.

Nicole: Not much at all. Only about a pack a day!

Ted: It’s a mixed blessing being here today. On the one hand, I get to see Mom and Dad. On the other hand, I have to put up with my sister!

 (Everyone is eating)

Susan: Amber, you’re eating like a bird. Everything okay?

Amber: I stuffed myself on turkey while I was cutting it in the kitchen.

Nicole: I thought I noticed a leg missing. I though it walked away by itself!

Ted: Everything was delicious. I’m stuffed!

Susan: I hope you saved room for dessert. We have pecan pie and pumpkin cookies for dessert.

Nicole: Pumpkin cookies?

Susan: Yes. Now’s a good time to break the news. The National Cookie Company* has hired me as a recipe consultant. I’m having all of you test out my new recipe tonight.

Amber: Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

* In the book Speak English Like an American, Susan and Bob sell their cookie business to the National Cookie Company for a “small fortune.”

 —————————

IDIOMS & EXPRESSIONS

(to) kill two birds with one stone – to get two things done at the same time; to solve two problems with one action

Example: Susan killed two birds with one stone by listening to the new Stephen King novel on audiobook while cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

(to) dig in – to start eating

Example: Dig in! Everything will get cold if you don’t start eating.

(to) count one’s blessings – to think about the good things in one’s life; to express gratitude for all that one has (and not focus on what one does not have)

Example: We need to count our blessings. Many houses in town were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, but ours was hardly touched.

for starters – as a first step; to begin with

Example: We need to clean the house before our company comes. For starters, let’s vacuum downstairs.

(to) land a contract  – to get a contract; to finalize a contract (note: land in this context means to gain or secure; you can also land a deal, a job, a contract)

Example: The National Cookie Company landed a contract to distribute its cookies in the largest supermarket chain in California.

blessed with – lucky to have a special quality or character

Example: Nicole finds her chemistry and physics classes very easy. She’s blessed with a scientific mind.

cold turkey –  immediately, not gradually (when you quit a habit cold turkey, you stop doing it immediately instead of gradually stopping it)

Example: I drink five cups of coffee a day. If I quit cold turkey, I’m sure I’d start getting headaches.

mixed blessing –  a situation or event with both good and bad aspects

Example: Having house guests over Thanksgiving is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we need to prepare rooms for them. On the other hand, we have people to help us eat all that leftover turkey!

(to) put up with – to endure without complaint

Example: Tina’s husband always complains about her cooking. I don’t know how she puts up with him.

(to) eat like a bird – to not eat much; to have a small appetite

Example:That’s all your having? A turkey wing and a small blob of mashed potatoes? You eat like a bird!

(to) stuff oneself / to be stuffed – to overeat; to eat too much / to feel very full

Example: Unfortunately, the dinner was so delicious, I stuffed myself. I don’t think I’ll be able to eat dessert.

(to) save room for dessert – to not eat too much so that one can still eat dessert

Example: “May I have seconds?” – “Sure, but be sure to save room for dessert. We’ve got pumpkin pie.”

(to) break the news – to make something known

Example: Ted said, “Now’s a good time to break the news: Amber and I are getting married!”

Talk about … – That’s an example of; we were talking before about … (often used when a topic has recently mentioned and another example has come up, or to add emphasis to a point you are making)

Example: Talk about overeating. Ted just ate two turkey legs, a big pile of stuffing, and half a green bean casserole!

Spooky English for Halloween — Thirteen Idioms to Try out for the Holiday!

Halloween is celebrated on October 31 in the United States. It’s a time when children  HappyHalloween

dress up in costumes and, when it turns dark, go door to door to collect candy from neighboring houses. When someone opens the door, the child is supposed to say, “Trick or Treat,” at which point the person at the door deposits candy in the child’s bag (or plastic pumpkin).

We at Language Success Press specialized in idioms and expressions. So we gathered up some spooky American English expressions in honor of Halloween. Use these expressions to frighten (or entertain) your family, friends, and others in your path! First I’ll give an example so you can see if you can figure out the idiom. Then you can check below the example for the explanation. There are 13 idioms list on this list because 13 is a spooky number. Superstitious people consider it unlucky.

1) I need to get to sleep. It’s already past the witching hour.

the witching hour – in modern times, this means midnight (in the old days, if referred to the time of night when supernatural creatures such as witches were thought to appear). Note that this expression can also be used to refer to any time of day when something bad is likely to occur.
_________________________ 

2) Sam shouldn’t be driving anymore. He’s blind as a bat!

blind as a bat – completely blind (note that bats are not really blind. Their eyes are small but functional. I feel a little bad that bats are getting a “bum rap” here, but I’ll probably keep using this expression anyway!).
_________________________  

3) When a giant witch answered the door, the trick-or-treaters ran away from the house like a bat out of hell.

like a bat out of hell – very fast
_________________________ 

4) You scared the bejusus out of me with your plastic rat. I thought it was real!

(to) scare the bejusus out of – to scare very badly (note: this is slang. The out of is usually pronounced as one word, “outta.”)
_________________________  

5) Is everything okay? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost!

You look like you’ve (just) seen a ghost! – you look frightened or upset (as one would expect you to look if you had really just seen a ghost!)
_________________________  

6) We were scared witless when the closet door in our old hotel room opened by itself.

scared witless – really scared (note: this is the child-friendly version of this expression!).
_________________________  

7) The movie “Nightmare on Elm Street” sent shivers down my spine. After I watched it, I had nightmares all night.

(to) send shivers down one’s spine – to make one feel scared or nervous (shivers are little shakes you get when you feel cold or scared — not something you want to have traveling down your spine!)
_________________________  

8) My friend told me a story about a farmer who died 100 years ago, but who still returns to his farm each year to harvest pumpkins. It made my hair stand on end!

(to) make one’s hair stand on end – to cause one to be frightened
_________________________

9) The man in the grocery store kept looking at me as I was buying my Halloween candy. He was really giving me the creeps!

(to) give one the creeps – to make one feel frightened or nervous (note: there is also the variation: to give on the willies. Take my word for it: you don’t want either “the creeps” or “the willies” if you can avoid them!).
_________________________ 

10) Why is Sandy wearing that witch costume to work today? The boss specifically said no Halloween costumes this year, and he’s going to be very made when he sees her. She’s digging her own grave!

(to) dig one’s own grave – to be responsible for the trouble one gets into
_________________________  

11) Mary has a skeleton in her closet. She was a practicing witch for ten years before she decided on a career change. Now she’s an accountant.

(to) have a skeleton in the closet – a secret that would create embarrassment if discovered; a shocking secret
_________________________

12) Our decision not to book a hotel room in advance for our visit to Salem, Massachusetts has come back to haunt us. All the hotels in town are booked, and we have nowhere to stay!

(to) come back to haunt someone – when one makes a bad decision and later feels the consequences
_________________________  

13) Trick-or-treaters Billy and Emma knocked on the door of the old Victorian house twice and rang the doorbell four times before finally giving up the ghost.

(to) give up the ghost – to stop trying; to give up
Note: this idiom has two other definitions:
1) to die: At 101 years old, Gertrude finally gave up the ghost.
2) to stop working: I’ve had this computer for 10 years. One of these days, it’s going to give up the ghost).

To be updated on new blog posts and when new materials for English language study become available, please follow up on Twitter: @LanguageSuccess Happy Halloween!

Fun idioms about Food

At Language Success Press, we’re all about idioms. Six of our books focus on American English idioms and expressions, including our bestseller, Speak English Like an American. In addition to loving idioms, we also love food. So we were excited to see this very nice poster below called “10 Idioms About Food.” Several of these idioms are featured in our various books. Other food-related idioms not in this list that are featured in Speak English Like an American include:

  • no use crying over spilt milk – there’s no point in regretting something you can’t change
  • too many cooks spoil the broth – too many people involved in an activity can ruin it
  • that’s the way the cookie crumbles –  that’s the way things go sometimes and there’s nothing you can do about it
  • rolling in dough – very rich

Enjoy this poster, which is courtesy of Grammar.net.

ESL students and the SAT

Did you hear the news? SAT scores were at the lowest level in 40 years. That means not since 1972 did students get such lousy scores! The average scored on the reading section was 496 out of a maximum of 800. How can we explain this decline? Some are saying it is due to the profile of this year’s test takers. A significant percentage — 25 percent — are not native English speakers. Could these ESL speakers have brought down the average on the reading section? Yes, indeed.

While English as a Second Language speakers do, of course, spend a lot of time mastering English vocabulary, it is often not the type of vocabulary that appears on the SAT reading section. The words you find in the SAT are often more literary words … rare in spoken English but not so rare in written English. For example, I can’t remember the last time I used the SAT word “lachrymose” in a sentence. It means sad or tearful (from the Latin; lacrim = a tear). Why would I saw “lachrymose” when people will understand me better if I just say “sad”? But I read “lachrymose” in the following sentence in a Wall Street Journal article recently discussing an exhibit by the painter Salvator Rosa:

“Rosa’s human figures never smile; instead they seem grim, wary, defiant, sullen or lachrymose.”

There are other SAT vocabulary words that I’m sure I haven’t seen in written form lately (by lately, I mean in the past few years!). These include:
crepuscular – active at dawn and dusk
exceptionable – very bad

Then there are those SAT words that I use in spoken English regularly. I am even surprised that they are SAT words because, to me, they do not feel like “big words.” However, I can understand that for an ESL speaker, they would be. These words include:

trivial – unimportant
tangible – something that can be touched; concrete
hedonist – a pleasure seeker (one of my favorite words!)
hypochondriac – one who complains a lot about one’s health

Here’s the truth about SAT vocabulary words in general: the vast majority of native English speakers needs to spend quite a lot of time specifically studying these words. They buy books like “500 Key Word for the SAT, And How to Remember Them Forever.” They buy flash cards like “Picture These SAT Words in a Flash.” And nowadays, they buy mobile apps. And of course, many of them pay big money to take SAT preparation courses in which word lists are handed out and homework includes memorization.

So for the English as a Second Language learner, the workload is heavy. They need to learn useful words that they will actually hear (and want to use) every day. Then they need to learn this test vocabulary too. Some of which indeed, they will want to never forget. Some of which they’ll be lucky to remember (and process) on the day of the test.

If you would like to test your own SAT vocabulary knowledge, I recommend this fun test online:
http://dynamo.dictionary.com/games/53/sat-greatest-hits-most-common-words-on-the-sat/match

 

 

Watch out! Avoid these Five Pitfalls of Slang and Idioms

Slang and idioms are very tricky for non-native speakers of English. So there are pitfalls.

Avoid these pitfalls of English(What’s a “pitfall?” you ask. It’s a hidden danger or difficulty. By hidden, I mean that it’s not obvious or clear).

For starters, slang and idioms are not often included in textbooks. If they are included, the expressions are often outdated. English is, of course, a living language and one that is constantly absorbing new words and expressions. How do you “stay on top of” these expressions? One way is to maximize your communications with native English speakers. The more conversations and email exchanges you have with native speakers, the more you’re going to hear English as it’s really spoken – today. Another way is to read business newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal. You can also check out my books on Business English featuring dialogues taken from American workplaces. I wrote these books to offer non-native speakers a quick way to learn business idioms and slang.

At the same time as new terms are coming into English, older terms are falling out of usage. They’ve been used heavily (and sometimes misused) for a period of time. They’re tired, and they’re going stale. When they start to get stale, they become what’s known as cliché (which means they’re so overused, they lose their original meaning or impact). Here we come to pitfall #1: using slang or idioms that have already fallen into the cliché category. Of course, it is partly subjective on which terms fit into this category and when. I would say that many Americans would agree that “think outside the box” is now a stale expression. But a dozen years ago, it was solid advice to offer if you wanted someone to think more creatively about solving a problem. It was recently featured in a Forbes magazine article on annoying business jargon. The article quoted one of its readers as saying, “Forget the box. Just think.”  (The full Forbes article can be found here).

Now we come to pitfall #2 in using idioms. Idioms are a group of words that work together to take on a meaning different than the meaning of their individual parts. Idioms cannot be translated word for word. But of course, if you’re hearing a new idiom for the first time, you often don’t know you’re hearing an idiom — so your brain goes to work on the parts. An idiom such as “hit the glass ceiling” clearly has nothing to do with glass or the ceiling that is above your head. It means to be unable to reach a top position in an organization due to discrimination.

Recently a Russian friend of mine was at the doctor. The doctor told her she had “a garden variety flu.” She left the doctor’s office a wreck. This did not sound good at all. How could she possibly have picked up such a strange type of flu? She lived in New York City and hadn’t even stepped foot in a garden in years. She went home and Googled “garden variety flu.” Nothing came up. For some reason, Google was behind on information on this type of flu! Finally, she turned to an American friend and was relieved to find that “garden variety” is an idiom meaning ordinary.

Sometimes non-native speakers will forget the exact words in an idiom. Idioms are usually pretty unforgiving, and this brings us to pitfall #3: using a wrong word in an idiom. A few years ago, after I’d helped a student, he said to me, “You’ve got the heart of gold.” After receiving such a nice compliment, I hated to have to tell him he should have said “You’ve got a heart of gold.” If you go over something carefully, you “go over it with a fine-tooth comb.” If you slipped up a little at the end and said, “go over with a fine-tooth brush,” you may get a laugh (perhaps not the desired response!).

Pitfall #4 has to do with spoken English versus written English. In spoken English, many sounds get reduced.  “Want to” becomes “wanna,” “got to” becomes “gotta,” “must have” becomes “musta.” Don’t be tempted to use these casual spoken forms in written conversations. Writing, “I gotta work on another project first before I start yours,” is not appropriate business language (yes, this is a real-life example!). Even though you may say “gotta” and “wanna,” do not use these shortened forms when writing.

Another pitfall (pitfall #5) in using slang is choosing the right words appropriate for you. When older people – be they native English speakers or English as a Second Language speakers – use certain slang terms, it can sound just plain silly. Recently, a 45 year-old business contact from Poland addressed a 50-plus year old American colleague of mine as “Dude.” The American was quite surprised.You’d expect to hear two guys on a college campus addressing each other as “dude.” A close cousin of pitfall #5 is using slang that is too cutting edge. A non-native English speaker may learn that “sick” means “cool.” But this term has not penetrated much beyond youth culture – at least not yet. Use it with the wrong native speaker of English and he or she will not understand what you are trying to say (and will probably conclude that you – the speaker – is confused!). It’s the same story with newer slang like “legit,” “epic” “lego” and many other terms.

Despite all the pitfalls, using slang and idioms in your daily speech is what gives you style and makes you sound more lively. So “go for it,” but keep the pitfalls in the back of your mind!

 Amy Gillett is the author of 5 books on English idioms and expressions, including Speak Business English Like an American and the new “Speak English Around Town.”