I’ve answered a few emails recently from potential teachers asking for advice on how to get into TEFL teaching, or teaching abroad in general, so it’s time I shared some of my thoughts. I started teaching English as a foreign language, as many teachers do, because I enjoyed travelling. It’s a great way to explore new places – and I ended up in some rather unusual places with my teaching. But that wasn’t always a good thing! So, what’s the right way to do it? Continue reading
I recently shared an extract from Advanced Writing Skills covering how we use commas to separate clauses (which you can read here). Another useful function of commas in complex, or even just slightly more complicated sentences, is when we use commas around additional information. To cover this, I’ve got another extract from the book below, with some extra information on how this can affect word order. Continue reading
The following lesson is an adapted extract from the book, Advanced Writing Skills for Students of English. I’ve decided to share it here as I’ve had a few questions relating to punctuation and sentence structure lately, and this gives a useful introduction to how commas help signal longer sentences. Commas are typically used to separate clauses in complex sentences, when we have a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses:
- The passengers waited outside, while the steward refused to open the door.
Here’s something for anyone who really wants to go beyond the basics of English. Having recently released Advanced Writing Skills for Students of English, I’ve had a few readers share comments that while they see the value in a clear and simple writing approach they also love long sentences and creative use of English. Once you’re able to write flawless advanced English, what structures and styles can be used to really stand out? How do turns of phrase and idiomatic or poetic language that doesn’t fit the rules work? The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth is an excellent introduction to such ideas.
Forsyth aims to revive a study of rhetoric, the many rules (or, rather, recorded patterns) for very specific, very advanced language techniques. His starting point is the suggestion that Shakespeare was not merely a very talented writer, but a diligent student of the language. Shakespeare used rhetorical devices very deliberately and would have studied them as strategic rules, much as foreign learners have to study the basic rules of English.
Some of the ideas The Elements of Eloquence expand on concepts found in my ELB books, referring to the flexibility of rules and matters of style. Rhetoric puts names to these ideas, such as hyperbaton, the practice of creating sentences that do not fit the usual word order expectations. Some are structural, others more poetic, such as synaesthesia, the cross-application of senses (e.g. Hanslick’s quote, criticising Tchaikovsky, “this music stinks to the ear”). There are some 39 such rhetorical devices covered in the book.
This book is lightly written, making the subject accessible and giving an easy summary of the ideas. It goes beyond the ordinary in English writing (and general usage) to explain why many supposed errors may actually be deliberate (particularly consider enallage, a deliberate grammatical mistake), and how very unusual sentences work. It won’t necessarily tell you exactly when you can get away with using these devices, as they are very nuanced, but it will raise your awareness of them.
Such incredibly specific techniques in English are ideas I would like to explore myself, as a future instructive guide for foreign learners, but it makes me happy that a book like this already exists, providing a window into a fascinating and rarely discussed area. If you’d like to give it a read, check out The Elements of Eloquence here.
I recently had a question through this website but the return email didn’t work, so I’ve posted my answer in the hope that the reader sees it! It relates to spotting the difference between the past simple and the passive voice – specifically, how we can use different verb forms to follow the verb to be. Here we go: Continue reading
The verb “to be” can be used in descriptive clauses or as an auxiliary verb to create certain grammatical structures, such as the continuous tenses and the passive voice. This can lead to confusion when a verb or verb form follows the verb “to be” – how do you recognise which structure is being used? Consider this example: “The museum is supposed to be _______ in the morning.” (open) Opening would form the continuous tense, open would be an adjective form, opened would form a passive sentence. Each of these could be arguably correct – so how do we know the difference? Continue reading
Advent is always a fun time here in the UK, and I like to celebrate it in a small way on this website with some Christmas learning. We have a whole culture of books, films and traditions that can make English more fun – some of which I’ve covered here before. With the holiday just around the corner now, I want to take a chance to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas, to let you know what’s planned in 2018 and to share with you, again, some of the learning material that I’ve put up for the season in the past. Continue reading
As I continue work on my upcoming book on writing skills, I’d like to start sharing some of the lessons I’m preparing for the books. The first, and perhaps the most important, is such a general concept it works like an introduction – the idea of keeping writing simple for more effective, accurate English. There is one rule that is taught in almost all settings of writing skills, which can help whatever the purpose for your writing: Keep It Simple. Continue reading
Whether applying for schools or jobs or simply asking for information, at some point everyone communicating in English must write cover letters. There are templates you can use to get started, as long as you make them personal, but the basic principles for effective cover letters are worth knowing. I have prepared some common tips below, with a consideration for foreign learners. I will be expanding on some of these tips later, including examples and more detailed breakdowns of general business writing principles. Continue reading
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