On this beautiful “Saskatchewan Day” holiday, a meditation from “Beautiful Mess”

As we enter the eighth month of 2022 and on a beautifully warm, “Saskatchewan Day,” I offer a meditation from Barb Heite, founder of “Beautiful Mess, a Women Connection Group,” on social media. The meditation is for everyone, not only for women and not only for entrepreneurs or newcomers.

Heite calls the meditation

“A few things to do in the second half of the year”: 

  1. Take a moment for yourself. Stop everything, find somewhere quiet, close your eyes and just breathe.

2. Acknowledge what you have been doing well so far. Life has been a lot lately, but you are making progress in many areas. Own it.

3. Take note of the lessons you’ve learned so far and what you could improve upon in the future. No judgment. Just wisdom.

4. Reach out to people you love and thank them for being in your life.

5. Know without a doubt that whatever comes your way, you’re going to be okay. You’ve got this.

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Are you still glad to ‘live on this earth?’ On summer renewal in the July edition of ‘Tell Your Story Newsletter’

July 2022 Vol 4 Issue 7
Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):

Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling
Let me tell your story!

Welcome Mid-July, 2022!

In sharp contrast to June, the last week of July has brought us hotter than seasonal temperatures in Saskatchewan, including one day of 36 degrees Celsius! But gardeners whom I know have been relieved to get some heat, after the cool and rainy days of June. Summer on the Prairies does not feel
“right” somehow, without at least one heat wave!

In Article One, in this issue, I share a new story from a different–more spiritual–perspective than usual. It features a recent visit to my church’s ecumenical camp on the southern shores of Christopher Lake (45 minutes North of Prince Albert, SK). Facing exhaustion and with depression looming on the horizon, I opted to carpool to camp, in order to “unplug” from teaching, writing and to generally escape urban life!  The insights from those five days have been an unexpected gift that I’m delighted to share with you.

In “Storytellers’ Corner,” I share what sounds like a hilarious grammar game (an oxymoron, you say? Maybe not . . . ) from American grammarian, Mignon Fogarty.

And in “Shop News,” I take an “artist’s date” along Valley Road and, in addition to the delights located there, I promote three unrelated businesses which do much to improve the lives of their clients and prospects.

My wish for all of you, good readers, is that this summer will give you time to renew relationships with family and/or friends; to restore your minds with creativity; and to leave you grateful for the blessings and benefits that grace our lives, even in challenging times.

Happy summer.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth

Principal
Storytelling Communications
www.elizabethshih.com
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IN THIS ISSUE:
ARTICLE 1: Are you still glad to live ‘on this earth?’: on summer renewal

STORYTELLERS’ CORNER: The grammar game, ‘Peeve Wars’

SHOP NEWS

ABOUT US
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Article One: Are you still glad to ‘live on this earth?’ On summer renewal

As an ESL teacher and business communications specialist who also contributes many hours as a family caregiver, I’m not someone looking around for things to do!

But coping with burnout and lost productivity, while also wanting to avoid the messiness of air travel in this (Covid) summer, I surprised colleagues by signing up for five days of “helping in the kitchen” at the camp of my church (St. Andrew’s Presbyterian).

Please understand that it’s not that I feel I’m “above” helping out at camp. It’s more that I haven’t expected what happens there to be relaxing–that is, a space of toddlers’ smelly diapers, kitchen fires and chaos, angry wasps, voracious mosquitoes and so on. But, hoping for something better and “itching” to leave town (haha), I made some calls . . . .

My church camp is simply called, “Camp Christopher,” and was started in the 1940s when the church purchased land on the southern side of beautiful Christopher Lake (45 minutes north of Prince
Albert, SK). For decades, the camp has run gatherings of women, men, children and families, as well as provided the meeting space for other, secular groups and organizations.

And entrepreneurs learn and gain so much when we can participate in charitable activities that are organized by capable staff. The time or labour we invest often exceeds any monetary value or payment, on both sides.

Camp Christopher is based on a spirit of “ecumenism,” or openness toward faith perspectives. Every summer, the camp provides (as its mission statement says) a “safe, caring community where all may explore faith, celebrate creation and grow in relationship with Christ.” Rooted in Christian faith, but without lapsing into dogma, fundamentalism or evangelism, youth and children’s camps are designed to build the skills and character needed for the “leaders of tomorrow.”

The camp offers a wide variety of supervised water sports, art classes, photography, movie and reading times, delectable food (three square meals plus yummy bedtime snacks!) and more. There is even “tuck,” where campers can enjoy candy and treats that return them to early childhood.
(Remember “Mr. Freezies” and blue whales, anyone?)

Camp programming has meant much to generations of youth and families, over the past 80+ years. For instance, two of the camp’s most mature counsellors–two indigenous young men from Prince
Albert–are coming into their own. Yet they declined other, more financially lucrative, summer job prospects, in order to return to camp, for a final year. Thoughts of “reconciliation” between indigenous and settler communities were open for meditation and discussion.

Donna Wilkinson (Camp Administrator, runs a group home for autistic men in Regina, working shifts that allow her to finance running the camp) and Nicole Lindgren (Camp Director and head facilitator for children and youth, who administers the property between May and October, and has worked with
youth for years) are deeply talented, resourceful women. They are also delightful to spend time with.

Hearing their memories and the camp’s “success stories” can make your hearts glow. As I found, volunteering at a grassroots camp (that still needs camperships and funds!) can help us to get “back the basics” of our lives while also helping campers to experience life-altering programming.

Camp Christopher helps participants to return refreshed and better able to make critical decisions, whether on career or family.

My five days at camp involved hard work: I helped the talented, red-seal chef Bev Redman in the kitchen (what she jokingly termed a “sous-chef” position), set tables for meals, and cleaned up afterwards. But the dramatic change of scene from Saskatoon and simple repetition of tasks helped me to feel restored, emotionally and spiritually.

I lived the comment shared by meditation expert, Sam Harris:

“Just look around you and take a moment to feel how
blessed you are—
you get another day to live on this earth.”

I hope, good readers, amid the long daylight hours of this season, that you have an opportunity to pause from the rushed pace of life, to observe summer’s unfurled beauty, and to store its warmth in your minds.
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To visit Camp Christopher, inquire about this summer’s schedule (camperships are still available), or to donate to its programming, please contact Donna Wilkinson at (306) 535-6916.

And now it’s your turn: How are you finding renewal this summer? Please share your experience with me; I’d be delighted to use it in another issue of “TYSN!”
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STORYTELLER’s CORNER . . . .

 

 

 

 

Words, Stories, Riddles and Jokes on Writing and Editing . . . The grammar game, ‘Peeve Wars’

Looking for another summer escape, without leaving the patio or pool deck? Grammar and writing specialist Mignon Fogarty recently announced that she’s developed a “card game for summer fun.”

It’s called “Peeve Wars.” The object of the game is to collect the highest number of grammatical “pet peeve” cards, to annoy your opponents to “death!”

“Hi, yous all,” “I seen that already,” “Irregardless, I’ll participate,” are only three of many, offending examples that come to mind.

Only grammar heroes such as lexicographer “Noah Webster” and the game’s resident librarian will protect you!

The game can be played by two to four players, requires strategy and promises to be “different every time.”

It’s available for $15.99 (USD) from The Game Crafter.

Do you have a story, riddle or joke on any aspect of communications? Please share it with me; I’d be delighted to use it in an upcoming issue.
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SHOP NEWS: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROMOTIONS and SHARING . . .

Since summer is best when it involves R&R (see “article one” of my time at camp), I thoroughly enjoyed a visit last week to Floral Acres on Valley Road, only a few days after returning from camp! Although we are now late into gardening season, with both annuals and perennials struggling in their
greenhouse, Floral Acres also boasts a huge selection of (happier!) houseplants, and lovely trade items that pertain to indoor and outdoor plant life!

Capping off the afternoon with a stop at The Berry Barn for some of their wonderful Saskatoon berry cobbler, I felt the time was what writer Julia Cameron calls an“artist’s date.” But in this case, it was enjoyed with a like-minded friend!

Have you explored Valley Road, lately?

In addition to the places we visited, it is home to Black Fox Farm & Distillery (with its famed wildflower farm), and the Robertson Valley Farm, a great source of fresh garden produce.

If you cannot leave town for long this summer, do please explore these businesses to leave behind the concrete and tedium of urban life!
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I’m delighted to update you on the success of digiSMART, the latest programming from Saskatoon’s own Praxis School of Entrepreneurship.

DigiSMART allows entrepreneurs of all kinds to “upskill” their digital knowledge.

The program’s first cohort has finished and are fast at work applying what they’ve learned.

Now: be honest. What skills do you need for your business, but haven’t had the time or money to invest in?

Taking digiSMART training has been made possible by provincial funding and so is even available FREE for business owners in and around Saskatoon!

Select from a range of 40 modules: Basic, Strategic and Specialized. Register for just one or four or 40 and build your skills toolbox.

It’s not too late to register for modules in Cohort 2, running from July through October!

Training is held at the start of the business day, from 7:15 am to 8:45 am, at 131 Wall Street (PSE Office, Saskatoon).

Going to the lake, you say? No problem! Join digiSMART via Zoom!

Special, in-depth seminars on SEO, cryptocurrency/ blockchain, podcasting, blogging and social media will be offered as the summer progresses (including by facilitators like me).

Contact Elaine (elaine@globalinfobrokers.ca) or at (306) 664-0500 to get the outline of modules and for information on how to register.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity of the summer (that will last long beyond): digiSMART!

And spread the news to other business owners who want to upgrade their tech skills in order to grow their businesses!
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A shout-out this month to freelance office furniture expert, Rory Perron, a fellow alum of the “startSMART” program at the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship.

Having years of experience in selling office furniture, Rory now leads “Local Liquidations,” acquiring and selling top-quality (pristine), matching pieces of hotel and commercial furnishings, at affordable prices.

He has the experience also to advise on layout, and can arrange for delivery and installation.

Cubicles and filing cabinets as well as smaller pieces (desks, chairs, window coverings, etc.) are available.
Rory is also appreciated for collaborating with others, including entrepreneurs at Prairie Office Moving and Installation (earlier featured in this newsletter) and has been known to run a marathon or two!
Find Rory at localliquidations.ca, or by phone at (306) 230-4177.
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Closer to home, I am enjoying teaching ESL students, involving detailed conversations spanning topics from the history of modern cinema (with a major on director, Ernst Lubitsch), to European opera to classical singing with my student, Eliane, who lives south of Paris (France).

I also teach the fundamentals of English grammar (focusing on reading and writing) to a newcomer student, who is a refugee from Eritrea.

ESL can involve such highly diverse teaching and students that I often wished I’d entered it before 2021, when I first received certification (from TEFL.org,
Inverness, Scotland).

I continue to be encouraged by TEFL’s professional webinars and blog postings that share some of the field’s diversity with those building experience, like me.

There are always new businesses and entrepreneurial programs to promote. Please write me to share your stories . . . . . .But this is a wrap for mid-July!
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ABOUT US:
Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.

Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now help newcomers to Canada to secure better jobs by improving their language skills; I help small- and medium-sized businesses to close more sales by communicating more effectively; and I help major companies to
tell their legacy stories.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant
website (www.elizabethshih.com).

After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!
Please visit my website for more information (www.storytellingcommunications.ca)

When to knock on your prospect’s door . . . . and wait for their response!

 

In a recent blog posting, marketing genius (and entrepreneurial visionary) Seth Godin warned  about the limits of communication:

“Knock, knock” is a fine guideline for what communications documents need to say, he says:

“The purpose of most communication isn’t to completely explain yourself–Too often, we get stuck relieving tension, making our case and closing the door on the discussion.

The purpose is to open the door to interaction, learning and action. ‘Who’s there?’ is a fine response to hope for.

Communication is a process, not an event.”

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More specifically, communication should not be an invitation to an event where all of the salient details (and then some) are outlined without a chance for the reader/prospect to respond.

For instance, I recall promoting my writing and editing services in a letter of introduction I sent to prospects,  ten years ago. After I inserted the logo (in reduced size) and provided my contact coordinates, the body of the letter itself spilled onto a second page.  Hmmmm, I thought, at the time. They do say “less is more. But . . . . . ” I thought the ideas were so important that I allowed a 1.25 page letter to go out via Canada Post (which I used to avoid anti-spam legislation)!

Only three out of about 25 prospects responded and for most, I don’t doubt,  the length made the letter too much to process.

In more recent years, I provided a reference letter for a mentor who was nominated for an annual award.  Then I recognized that human attention span and intensity are shorter than we may think: as a copy or content writer, you will be far more deeply involved in the service you describe than the assessors of it will be (and care to be)!  Less truly is more—without exception—whether or not you have a logo that gobbles space!

Beyond that one page limit, too much content detracts from the reader’s impression. You don’t need all that detail!  A finite promotion is not a legal report or government legislation!

As Godin says, “relieving” your tension as a writer, making a “foolproof” case  are me-centred, not prospect-centred,  strategies. 

Such writing does not stop with the “knock, knock,” but assumes the admission and meeting to come,  all without the prospect’s consent!

Don’t delude yourself that you’ll “blow the reader away,” when you’ll more likely tire them out!

A cardinal rule of copywriting is to remember that the prospect comes first.

So when preparing your next cover letter, focus on the employer’s needs, not your own.

And when preparing your resume, don’t tell your life story! Only the highlights that pertain to the job posting will matter to the hiring committee. Think a maximum of two stories/storylines for a two page resume.

Leave all of your impressive ideas for the job interview (and for the job!) that you’ll more likely secure by keeping your document to a  “knock, knock.”

And now it’s your turn: Have you read a communications document recently that fails to stop in time? Please share your experiences: I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Can English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers teach learners to write more effectively? On language misuse in this month’s issue of “Tell Your Story Newsletter”

June 2022 Vol 4 Issue 6

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):

Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling

Let me tell your story!

Welcome Mid-June, 2022!

We have had cooler than seasonal temperatures this month and a week of steady rain as I write this issue. But gardeners and farmers alike are mostly relieved for the moisture, which renews the parched soil of our province’s precious grasslands.

Many Saskatchewanians dread “construction” season which is all the more intense because the road and sidewalk projects from earlier Covid years have been postponed until now. But all around us the greening of the trees and grass and the recent flowering of lilacs and fruit trees have brought remarkable beauty to our neighbourhoods. I hope amid the rushed pace of your schedules, good readers, that you can find time to observe summer’s unfolding beauty and to store the season’s warmth in your minds.

In Article One, this issue, taking two public signs as examples of language misuse, I raise the question, “Can English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors teach learners to write more effectively (than we do)?”

And in “Storytellers’ Corner,” we consider etymologist Bryan Garner’s discussion on the term “disconnect,” a “casualism” in which a noun is extracted from a verb and used in informal speech and writing.

In the news are many signs of strife and difficulty, from the soaring costs of gasoline and food, due to Russia’s war on Ukraine and Covid’s disruption of our supply-management chains; to unstable and uncertain air travel in these late pandemic times. . . And yet, as many of us strive to do work that “lights us up” while also making a difference in our communities, we see that much continues to be good in our world and warrants our awareness of it.

May this summer be a time to renew relationships with your family and/or friends, good readers; and to relax enough to restore your minds and creativity; and may we all remember to be grateful for the blessings that still grace our lives.

Happy summer.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth

Principal,  Storytelling Communications

www.elizabethshih.com

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IN THIS ISSUE:

 

ARTICLE 1:  Can ESL instructors teach learners to write better (than we do)?

STORYTELLERS’ CORNER: The case of “disconnect” with Bryan Garner

SHOP NEWS

ABOUT US

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Article One: Can ESL instructors teach learners to write better (than we do)? 

Sometimes, even in unexpected places like supermarket shelves and the doors of downtown office buildings, passersby can find evidence of poor writing–of language misuse.

Recently, while shopping for food at a discount grocer’s chain, I saw a sign that begged to be edited:

_____________

CRACKERS 

MOVED TO

MIDDLE OF 9TH

ISLE

____________

Now, since editors can occasionally sound grumpy about the poor language skills native speakers show in public places, I must first acknowledge the thoughtfulness of this sign, intended by store staff to notify shoppers that inventory was recently moved. The intention was to alleviate confusion and inefficiency for shoppers.

Since I had been looking for  whole wheat, saltine crackers, I was mostly grateful to read this sign.

That said, as you’ll have noted, the sign misspells the word “aisle” as “isle,” ironically advising shoppers to find the “9th isle” (sic), which they would (in a literal sense) be hard-pressed to locate in the dozen or more “aisles” in the store.

“Never you mind,” a voice may say in the heads of many native speakers of English: the sign does a “good enough” job of communicating where in the large store one can find those elusive baked biscuits.

The only remaining problem is that the sign also begged for some editorial fact-checking, since my visit to the store’s “9th [a]isle” told me that crackers of any kind were not there to be found! Glancing at my watch and aware of other errands queued up for the afternoon, I opted to drop the item from my grocery list, going without some food that I’d recently included in my meal planning.

“So what?” might say the voice in many shoppers’ heads: the crackers could wait for another week, during which time someone in the store (shopper or staff) would certainly have recognized the misinformation in the sign, and perhaps also its misspelling, improving accuracy, all around.

Then one short day later, when I was running errands downtown, I encountered another (arguably well-intentioned) sign that miscommunicated its message:

______________

PLEASE CLOSE

DOOR WIND

HOLDS IT OPEN

______________

The fused sentence between “door” and “wind,” which begs for punctuation, had none at all. Furthermore, the line breaks in the message (which designers or layout people might also lament) confuse the grammatical object of the action of what should be the sign’s first sentence (“door”) with the grammatical subject of what should be the sign’s second sentence (“wind”).

The hapless person who fashioned the above sign also used universal “caps lock” formatting, further confusing where one thought ends and a second begins.

This sign forces even a native (first language) speaker of English entering the doorway to read its message (at least) twice, before understanding what it may mean to say.

“Now, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill,” a reader might say, since re-reading the sign would likely still allow most pedestrians to understand its jist and so to manually close the door behind themselves.

“All’s well that ends well,” such a reader might conclude. Whoever posted the sign intended to preserve the safety and security of the building from undesirable, seasonal weather. The door was in fact closed and intact, when I came upon the sign.

“But not so fast!” (might say Saskatoon’s master editor, Wilf Popoff, who has given riveting and hilarious talks on such commonplace sloppy communication). Are these two instances of faulty signage really adequate in our already helter-skelter, fast-paced world?

One can imagine an episode of Mr. Bean, when he would lose hours in [a]isle nine, searching for saltine crackers at the supermarket; and where the door with the second sign would slap him in the face, as the wind caught it and forced it open . . . .

And who among us wants to live like Mr. Bean?

Furthermore, in my work as an English as a Second Language teacher to newcomers to Canada, I find myself feeling annoyed when I see linguistic misuse. “Get a life” some readers might say, but good communication is especially important when we teach the English language to those who are first learning what good usage in English means. That knowledge is vital, as newcomers strive to participate in our communities.

In a recent webinar, fellow italki.com ESL teacher, Emma Blackledge, observed that “teaching writing to ESL students” means “teaching good writing principles.” Whether a student is a beginner, an advanced user of English, or even a native speaker like many of us, “everyone needs better writing skills.”

Now, my reading lately as an ESL teacher has involved survival English, often referred to as “literacy” instruction. It is about communicating how to introduce oneself to others, hold a pen, open a bank account and understand what “windchill” means at the outset of a prairie winter.

Yet from my perspective, the two public signs I’ve described are valid “texts” for newcomers (and not only native speakers) to consider, because the signs invite the kind of interactive and collaborative exchanges that make language learning come alive.

Albeit for a level four to eight student (and not necessarily for a “survival” one), one lesson plan could demonstrate the importance of correct spelling and checking the accuracy of facts; another lesson could examine the importance of grammatical sentence structure in conveying a sign’s meaning . . .

So to prevent ourselves and newcomers to Canada from experiencing chaotic and unfulfilling lives (resembling Mr. Bean’s) and without disregarding the humour that can arise from faulty signage, my point is that we ALL need to demand–and teach–better language use.

And now it’s your turn: What errors have you found in public signage recently? How would you correct them if you found yourself teaching new learners of English? Please share your experiences; I’d be delighted to include them in a future issue.

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STORYTELLER’s CORNER . . . . 

STORYTELLER’S CORNER: Words, Stories, Riddles and Jokes on Writing and Editing . . .

This month: the case of “disconnect” with Bryan Garner

This month and in the context of the signage analyzed in Article One, I was interested to read in his recent blog, American etymologist, Bryan Garner, discuss the noun “disconnect.”

Garner says that “disconnect” is a short form of “disconnection,” that arose in the 1980s and became “ubiquitous after about 1995.” He writes that the term “is primarily used to label (1) a clash between what is expected and what happens; or (2) more mundanely, the failure of a connection, such as the internet, telephone, or utility.”

“Disconnect,” Garner writes, “typifies a popular trend in CASUALISM, by which an established noun (‘disconnection’) is truncated to form a new noun that looks the same as the corresponding verb, but differs in pronunciation.

The new noun has the accent on the (/dis-kә-nekt/), while the verb has the accent on the last (/dis-kә-nekt/). This pronunciation scheme follows the pattern of many standard verb-noun pairs, such as ‘contest’ and ‘progress’.”

Garner concludes (perhaps with annoyance?) that these “new forms” are not appropriate in formal writing. They also reflect a degree of English usage that is higher than that of literacy or foundational learners, but which native speakers should be aware of, so as not to confuse those learners.

Do you have a story, query or joke on any aspect of writing or communications? Please share it with me; I’d be delighted to use it in an upcoming issue. 

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 SHOP NEWS:

This summer, I am engaged in the certification process of studying the Canadian Centre for Language Benchmarks (CCLB)’s “Bootcamp,” on the theory and practice of literacy or “survival” ESL in Canada.

Reviewing multiple manuals of theory and examples, I look forward to applying this knowledge to both public and private classes of learners of ESL.

Special thanks also this month to Lindsay Matheson and Pat Kuzmik, of Saskatoon Open Door Society’s Language Training Unit, for discussing the discipline of survival ESL with me.

Since the fall of 2021, I have led a conversation circle at Open Door, including “Discover Canada” (for newcomers seeking citizenship); and, since last winter, a general “conversation circle” for newcomers, targeting Canadian Centre of Language Benchmark levels four to six (pre-intermediate to intermediate).

It’s heartening to witness more of the amazing work that local non-profits, supervisors and volunteers do in language traning; and also, how well that work is received by many of our newcomer population.

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Congratulations this month to two women entrepreneurial experts who are bringing better knowledge of (and engagement with) digital technology to our province and well beyond: Katrina German and her team at “Ethical Digital” recently piloted their “Social Media and Well-Being Certification,” to content creators who know the relevance of digital technology to everyday life (not to mention its challenges).

Katrina will officially launch the program at the IABC World Conference in New York on June 27th, when it will become a paid training option for communicators and other users.

And this past winter/spring, Monica Kreuger and her team launched the new program “digiSMART” for entrepreneurs, which teaches hands-on, market-ready technology training to people of all backgrounds who don’t want to fall behind on (ever-changing) technology use.

(Full disclosure: I will teach some business communication modules in the future of digiSMART; but I am not paid affiliate’s fees to promote Katrina’s or Monica’s programs.)

These are two amazing women entrepreneurs with powerful, specialized teams! Check out the programming both provide to witness the power of technology for entrepreneurs and their clients, on a world-class level.

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There are always new businesses and entrepreneurial programs to promote. Please write me to share yours. . . But for now, this is a wrap for mid-June!

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 ABOUT US:

Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.

Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now help new immigrants to Canada to improve their English language skills, so as to secure their first or better jobs. I also help small- and medium-sized businesses to close more sales by communicating more effectively; and I write chapbooks for major companies, to promote their legacy stories.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant website (www.elizabethshih.com).

After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!

Please visit my website for more information:  (www.storytellingcommunications.ca).

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STAY IN TOUCH:

Follow us on Twitter Become a Facebook fan Subscribe to my blog Contact us

 

ESL learners and teachers: Do you think you know the English language? Ten eccentricities of our West Germanic tongue

English language learners, teachers, bloggers and other wordsmiths, do you think you know the English language well? English is spoken as a first language by over 400 million people. And it’s a second or third language to over a billion people, which amounts to one-seventh of the world’s population (Tefl.org, 2022). Many people internationally have already learned English or are currently doing so.

But should we assume that many users are experts? English as a language has an interesting and “quirky” history, the blogging team at Tefl.org writes, in its fortnightly blog:  English is “sometimes frustrating, often confusing, but never boring.” The language is West Germanic and derives a lot of influence from Latin (using the Latin alphabet), French and Old Norse.

While it might appear that English has been standardized in common use, Tefl writers say that there are actually many variations, dialects and accents that cause English to vary between places where it’s used (spoken and written). Tefl recently shared 10 fun facts that many native speakers do not know about the language and which I adapt for today’s blog posting:

  1. English has words with contradictory meanings, called “contronyms.” For instance, you can have a “variety” as a particular type of something, and also, distinctly, as a “great number of something.” So there are many “varieties” of the Haskap Berry, while a “variety” of different fruit are studied at the University of Saskatchewan’s Fruit Breeding Program.

Similarly, we can “dust” a tabletop (to remove something from it) or “dust” (i.e. add) a layer of icing sugar to a dessert. Both are very different activities.

Newcomers need to rely on context to guide them on which way a specific word is being used. This takes much practice.

2. Shakespeare, as a poet and playwright, is credited for adding more than 1000 words to the English language! He created words like “swagger,” “uncomfortable” and “bandit,” as well as phrases like “break the ice,” and many more (as undergraduate readers of his oeuvre often discover for the first time).

3. English has “ambigrams,” words that look the same from various positions on the page and looked at from different angles. For instance, the word “swims” reads as “swims” even if you turn the page upside down! So too with “big,” and, depending on the handwriting involved, “awesome” and “blessing” may look the same, either way up!

4. Our alphabet used to be longer. Over history, letters like “ash” (æ) and “ethel” (œ) have been dropped, although they are still used in Scandinavian languages. Currently, our alphabet has 26 letters, but it once had more than 29 letters.

5. In 1066, the Norman Conquest of England permanently changed our language. The Normans added new words and phrases to English, from the old French. Many words with French origins (e.g. “niche”) are common to English (writing and speaking), including “parliament” and “banquet.” Many of the words we use to communicate about food, and the game of cricket, actually derive from Norman French.

6. We have some very long words in English. Tefl reports that some may think the longest word in the language is “antidisestablishmentarianism.” But in fact, it is “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.” Even seasoned learners might do a double-take at that! The world is the name of a lung condition that comes from inhaling sand or ash! Try that at your next, post-Covid dinner party!

7. The most commonly used noun in English is “time,” which outranks other, heavily used words like “person,” “year,” “way” and “day” (who round out the top five).

8. Some words that appear simple have very complex meanings. For instance, the word “set” has an entry in the Oxford English dictionary (OED) that is 40,000 words long and has over 430 definitions! As Tefl’s writer writes,” you can set a table for a set time, you can complete a set of something” and so on.

9. Other words have surprising origins. British English refers to people lining up in “queues,” which sounds French to some users. But it comes from the tail of a beast in medieval art, so that a queue (what Canadians call a “line” or “line up”) resembles the tail of such a creature, in “either single-file” or “snaking around bends.” 

10. Do you know what is the most commonly used letter in the English language? It’s the vowel “E!” “E” can be used as many as five times in a word, such as in “beekeeper,” “effervescence” and “teleconference.” Try combining those words in a single sentence!

These quirky eccentricities about English make it easier to see why non-native English speakers can sometimes get confused. And there are variations of English, including American, Canadian and Australian English. But it has become popular internationally and is often named as the “language of business worldwide.”

New words and phrases are added to the OED yearly, whereby pop culture has a strong influence on new words, idioms and terminology.

Sharing some of these truths can help learners to recognize that English is not only complex but also fascinating; its character cannot be contained within even our best dictionaries or grammar guides!

And now it’s your turn: Did you know some of these eccentricities of the English language? Please share your word wonders in English:  I’d be delighted to use them in an upcoming posting.