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.



Principal,  Storytelling Communications




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

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




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:







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:






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 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.



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. 



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.


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.


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!



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 (

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

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