Alan teaches the pronunciation of Vowel #3 in American English: /ei/. He includes spelling patterns, exceptions, and sample sentences for practice.
Alan teaches the pronunciation of Vowel #2 in American English: /I/. He includes spelling patterns, exceptions, and sample sentences for practice.
Alan teaches the pronunciation of Vowel #1 in American English: /i/. He includes spelling patterns, exceptions, and sample sentences for practice.
Do you HAVE a hat or WEAR a hat? What about a tattoo? What about dreadlocks? English grammar has a simple rule to answer these questions. Click here now!
Alan looks at a short email between two Americans and dissects the informal language that they use.
Informal Expressions and Their Meanings
shoot you an email = email you (quickly, casually, no big deal)
grabbing lunch = having lunch (not a big commitment)
reach out = connect, contact, communicate (informal)
on your radar = planned, in your plans, in your awareness
swing by = come, visit, stop (for a brief, informal visit)
no pressure = I don’t want to obligate you if this isn’t desirable.
a fit = convenient to your needs or plans
circle back with you = re-contact you
Paraphrasing with a Little Shortening
Last week, I emailed you about having lunch tomorrow. I know you are busy, but I thought I would check to see if lunch was still planned. I am still available tomorrow if lunch isn’t possible. Tom and I will be downtown at a Morgan Stanley meeting today, and if you are free, I could come after lunch to see your new office. No pressure either way if it isn't good for you, but I thought I would re-contact you about this. (86 words, 14% reduction)
Advanced English pronunciation tip: Alan gives nine examples of when native speakers don't pronounce "h" in their speech. A recommendation for sounding less like a robot, more like a native speaker.
Did you know there are three ways to pronounce "h" in American English?
Once you've understood the individual sounds of English (consonants and vowels), it's time to focus on the music of English pronunciation. Alan gives an introduction to English rhythms with this lesson on word stress.
Writers and editors agree to disagree on this: whether the serial comma (also called the Oxford comma) is good for English writing. You can decide for yourself here. If you have examples to share with us, we're all ears!
An overview of the 24 consonants of American English, part 2. Alan gives examples of the "flowing" consonants. In the previous lesson, he went over the "stop" consonants of English.
An overview of the 24 consonants of American English, part 1. Alan gives examples of the "stop" consonants. In the next lesson, he will go over the "flowing" consonants of English.
In this follow-up lesson on English punctuation, Alan handles the pesky hyphen one on one.
How many balls does it take to build a snowman? How you answer says a lot about where you are from. Alan looks at cultural assumptions through the simple act of snowman-building.
Last Halloween, University of Louisville President James Ramsey apologized for dressing up with staff members in sombreros, serapes, and bushy mustaches. But many Americans wondered what the big deal was. The big deal is cultural appropriation. Find out why it's not okay for people to dress up as or parody other ethnicities.
Foreign words can be tricky, especially at fancy hotels and restaurants. Join Alan as he untangles 10 commonly mispronounced words that English has adopted from other languages.
According to Charlton Heston, “Political correctness is just tyranny with manners.” With all respect to the actor who played Moses in the iconic 1956 film, "The Ten Commandments," this information does not come down from God Almighty. It is instead the typical response by people who look a lot like Mr. Heston and (less famously) me: white, able-bodied, hetero, Christian males. Watch here to find out why we need to lose the expression "PC" altogether in the new millennium.
What is the difference between the following statements?
- Latinos are closed to outsiders; they only do business among themselves.
- Trust is important in the Latino community; to do business, you first need to build relationships.
In intercultural conversations, we make a big distinction between stereotypes and generalizations. If you remember only one idea from this conversation, remember this:
- Generalizations are helpful.
- Stereotypes are hurtful.
These two concepts are often confused because they both involve making broad statements about a group of people. This is where the similarity ends.
When we make a generalization, we are attempting to look at the behavior of many people and note similarities. While we do this, we focus on being descriptive and not judgmental. We are also able to modify this broad view if we encounter new examples which disprove the description we are trying to make.
On the other hand, stereotypes tend to lock people into categories with the idea of limiting that group. Stereotypes seek to make judgments rather than to describe. Once we make stereotypes, we then are reluctant to modify them.
In the examples we mentioned earlier, statement #1 uses judgmental words like “closed” and “only.” By contrast, statement #2 gives examples to describe (and not judge) interpersonal behavior. We can use this second statement to inform how we might approach Latinos for the purpose of doing business.
The first statement gives us a negative view which doesn't allow any flexibility or growth; this negative view will be retained in our subconscious (where we don't think about it) and can influence our future interactions. On the other hand, the generalization of #2 gives us actionable knowledge which may (or may not) be borne out in individual interactions with, say, Venezuelans or Mexicans, for example. We don’t take the generalization as iron-clad, but it gives us principles to consider when we enter into relationships with members of that group.
Here’s a useful summary to keep in mind.
Generalizations are helpful because they
- are used consciously and analytically
- are descriptive and flexible
- seek to be accurate
- are an attempt to capture similarities and principles
- are constantly modified by new input
Stereotypes are harmful because they
- are used unconsciously and reactively
- are judgmental and rigid
- seek to be simple
- are an attempt to limit and pigeonhole
- are fixed and not open to revisiting
I hope this distinction is useful to you. Let us know if you have good examples of generalizations that have helped you in intercultural situations
This week Alan talks about the world's Beautiful Game and its place in the U.S. sporting hierarchy.
One topic that usually comes up around the water cooler is sports. Americans love sports, and you can usually find someone at work willing to talk about his/her favorite one. The one complaint I hear from internationals living and working here is soccer, or rather, the lack of soccer conversations.
As I said, we love our sports, but we have many to take our attention, including many that were invented here.
In order of popularity—based on revenue or participation, Americans like
- Ice hockey
- Car racing
The funny thing is that this is probably the only country in the world where soccer ranks so low. On the other hand, American football is only played or watched by 5% of the world’s population. With baseball, it’s only a little higher: 13% of the world has access to playing the sport or watching it professionally in their countries.
An accurate observation about American football is that it is seldom played with the feet. The average professional football game has 70 plays, and yet only 9-10 of them involve kicking. In this regard, the sport would more appropriately be called Handball since 87% of the plays involve holding, throwing, or catching with the hands.
The good news is that soccer is on the upswing in the U.S. More youth leagues are being organized across elementary schools and communities. In my case, I grew up never watching soccer, but when my daughter joined a youth soccer league, I was invited to be an assistant coach—which forced me to learn the rules! Today, the U.S. has a professional soccer league, with both American and international players.
On the international level, the U.S. women’s team has won the World Cup, and the men’s team has started advancing into the knockout rounds. If you want to keep up the conversation about the world’s “beautiful game,” you might try organizing a workplace betting pool for the World Cup. During that monthlong event, you could schedule game-watch parties after work or on the weekends. And there’s nothing like a friendly office-wide wagering to keep people’s attention. With a little concerted effort, you might eventually get your American friends interested in the globe’s “other football”!
What language do you speak at work? What language do you speak at home? For millions of immigrants to the U.S., the answer changes as they move from public life to private life. When we’re in the marketplace—as sellers or consumers—we probably conduct a lot of our business in English.
But at the end of the day, when second-language speakers want to kick off their shoes, they probably go back to their native language. For most of us, our mother tongue means familiarity. Home is where we are comfortable. It’s where we express feelings, not discuss spreadsheets. We talk about Tio Jorge’s birthday party, or chubby-cheeked children, or whether the baba ghanoush has too much lemon in it.
Now, there are some Americans who don’t like it when they hear Korean or Punjabi or Spanish being spoken in public. Their typical response is, “This is America, speak American!” Of course, this is very funny, because "American" isn’t a language. What we speak here is called English.
Those same people have tried over the decades to have English named the official language of the United States. They have tried passing a variety of laws to restrict what people speak in this country or what language services are available in this country. Each group is called something a little different and claim they have slightly different goals.
- English Only
- U.S. English
- Official English
The trouble is, many of these people are monolingual folks who don’t understand the difficulty of learning a second language. And they want everyone to talk like them, without the understanding that speaking many languages is the natural way of doing business in the world. We need to promote multilingualism, not discourage it!
Usually these English-only or official-English folks claim they want to unify the country under one language. But how unifying is it to be told how you should communicate? The fact is that living in the U.S. means needing to make some attempt at learning the English language to get along. In other words, it’s a natural consequence of adaptation, but it doesn’t need to be a law.
It’s interesting that these same people don’t want the government to tell them what to do in other areas of their life; they call it intrusion or Big Government. Sometimes they think it will save money because they can get rid of interpreters in courtrooms or hospitals.
Let me ask you something. If you were traveling to another country and had to have surgery or go on trial, wouldn’t you want to understand—in your own language—what was happening to you? In an advanced country, that is my expectation of how the system should work.
Of course, the longer that immigrants live in the U.S., the better their English will usually become. Eventually, they may not need so much help. But what about the 75-year-old grandmother who moves to the U.S. from India because her granddaughter just opened a business? To be a good citizen and vote responsibly on ballot proposals like senior housing or school millages, they may need some help...unless you believe in a country that requires literacy tests for voting rights.
And finally, do you remember taking French or Spanish in high school? Was it hard for you? Maybe you quit after two years. Well, guess what? Just because you’re not good at language learning means that you’re a bad citizen. It just means you stink at language learning. I know you have lots of other skills you bring to your neighborhood or your workplace.
For Americans who grumble about “those people” speaking funny languages instead of English, I say let them alone. If younger immigrants want to get ahead, let’s let the marketplace determine how they adapt to American English and culture, and not our xenophobia.
I was driving home last week when I saw a sign that made me turn my car around. (If you are a language nerd like me, you probably like to take pictures of signs.) At this housing complex, the owners are asking you to sign a twelve-month rental agreement, and the first month is free. What is funny about the combination of these two words—free rent—is that “free” means you don’t pay money and “rent” means you pay money. In English, we have a word for such mixed expressions. They’re called oxymorons. The word comes from the Greek: oxy meaning sharp, and moron meaning dull.
Some oxymorons are famous. JUMBO SHRIMP is one of them. These are large shrimp we get from the seafood department. It’s funny to think about because jumbo means large and a shrimp is a slang word for a very small person. Fancy restaurants are criticized for their shrimpy—but expensive—portions.
Here are some oxymorons that people say all the time.
• pretty ugly (Now, is it pretty or is it ugly?)
• a minor catastrophe (Is it small, or is it a major problem?)
• freezer burn (Is it frozen or is it burning?)
Now, there is a second group of expressions that people CALL oxymorons, but I think they are just saying that to be cynical. What do you think?
• student organization (I think the person who put this on the list wanted to imply that students are not usually organized.)
• country music (I think the wise-guy who included this expression doesn’t think this is a valid form of music.)
• airline cuisine (Cuisine is a fancy word for cooking, but many flyers believe that food on an airplane is not very fresh or tasty.)
We have many more oxymorons below. And if you have a favorite one to add, please share it in our comment section. The feedback we get from our viewers is...awfully good. ;-)
• jumbo shrimp
• sanitary sewer
• a brief wait
• home office
• same difference
• free rent
• metal woods (golf)
• pretty ugly
• real fake
• awfully good
• terribly funny
• mighty weak
• conventional wisdom
• minor crisis
• painless dentistry
• limited success
• artificial intelligence
• grow smaller
• "I have something I'm looking for."
• plastic glasses
• only choice
• civil war
• constant variable
• act naturally
• freezer burn
Are these true oxymorons or just cynical judgments?
• military intelligence
• student organization
• country music
• professional wrestling
• postal service
• honest lawyer
• a happy marriage
• consulting ethics
• airline cuisine
• Reagan's memoirs
Please share your favorite oxymoron with us!