Author Archives: Steve Aedy

Writing in English as a Second Language: Tips for Students

writing in English as a second language

As Columbia University Professor William Zissner observed, what’s valued as “good writing” in one language can be vastly different in another language. An ESL student of his from Egypt observed that Arabic writing uses a lot of proverbs, something an English writer can’t do if they want to be taken seriously. Students from Ethiopia were used to writing long, flowing, complex sentences that demonstrated their education and knowledge. The Spanish language with it’s wealth of Latin-based words is a gold mine for poets and writers as it’s naturally expressive. But what’s considered good writing in English is something quite different.

Here are some tips for ESL students who want to write well in English:

Read a lot to improve your writing

Read newspapers, magazines and books. You’ll find answers to subject-verb agreement questions, plurals, adjectives and past tense and past participle conjugation. You’ll learn spelling, vocabulary and idiomatic phrases as well as basic sentence structure. Reading will help reinforce grammar rules you know and teach you ones you didn’t. Also take advantage of blogs for ESL students.

English speakers value clarity

The English language has over a million words. It’s a language that’s full of nuance. For example, look at the subtle difference between the words yell, shout, scream. You wouldn’t necessarily use them in the same context. You could scream from fright, but not yell or shout from it. When there’s a disagreement, depending on the nature of it, you might call it a dispute, argument, debate, quarrel or fight. Exposure to these words via conversations, music, films and books will help you understand which word you can use and when.

Brevity

Modern English is not what linguists would call a “flowery” language. Its most celebrated writers tend to be the ones who write short, punchy sentences. There’s a very popular app for writers called the Hemingway app that evaluates your text for sentences that are too long, too complex or confusing. It has a special function to detect adverbs. Why is there an app called Hemingway instead of Poe or Faulkner? Because Hemingway was the quintessential “lean” writer and that quality of expressing a lot in few words is highly valued in English.

Action verbs

Some languages form sentences that are like mazes. They talk around a subject because being direct is considered rude. In English, being direct is appreciated. Those who can “get to the point” are praised instead of sidelined. The language itself reflects this with its use of action verbs. Don’t put things in the passive tense. Say it straight. For example: “I threw the ball to Jack” is much easier to understand than “The ball was thrown to Jack by me.” Action verbs are an ESL writer’s faithful ally. Fuzzy on what’s an active verb and what’s a passive verb? Check out this site to learn more.

Don’t overuse Latin-based words

If your first language happens to be a Latin-based one, your tendency will be to make good friends with the Latin-based words in English. And there are many. Depending on which reference you use, anywhere from 40-60% of English words are derived from Latin. Relying on your Latin roots will certainly make it easier for you to express yourself, but will also make your English unbearably formal. Students in American high schools who study Latin generally do so in order to score better on the SATs.

However, if you look at the way English is spoken on the streets, on television, in films or the way it’s sung in music or written in magazines or books, you’ll see that English’s Anglo-Saxon roots are put to use far more often than its Latin ones. So don’t rely on your easy Latin affiliates, and make the effort to delve into the world of Anglo-Saxon based English.

Don’t translate from your native language into English

This is hard for anyone trying to speak a second language. But try thinking in English rather than translating your thoughts from your native language into English. The difference is vast. Thinking in English means you’re also becoming familiar with the logic of the English language, its grammar, nuances and idiomatic phrases.

Trying to translate from your native language into English is like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. The grammar will be awkward and hard to understand and you won’t be able to capture the meaning of what you’re saying. That’s because English is another another with different forms of expression. Learning them will help you communicate what you mean.

English spelling can be frustrating

A seemingly unending stream of vowel combinations (beauty) and consonant combinations (thought) and some words that are spelled the same but mean different things (the noun tear vs. the verb tear). Check out this spelling guide to help you gain more confidence in your writing.

Write a lot

Taking the above into consideration, it’s time for you to practice writing in English. To improve your English writing, you should write every day. But it’s not enough for you to write every day. Someone needs to be able to tell you when you’re making a mistake…

Get help of an English native speaker

Today, the Internet is a huge resource for ESL learners. Whatever your native language is, you can bet there’s a native English speaker who wants to learn it. While a lot of these language exchanges focus more on speaking, you can certainly request to use the chat function as a way to practice your writing. Ask them to correct your spelling and grammar and offer you tips and explanations.

It’s not the same as having a teacher who has more grammatical knowledge, but your average layperson should be able to spot basic spelling and grammar mistakes for you. Visit these language exchange sites to partner up with a language learning buddy and improve your English writing.

The best way to learn to write well in English is to read a lot and write a lot. Make sure a native speaker corrects your work and practice as often as you can to get better.

Main Pitfalls of Learning a Second Language Writing System

learn second language writing system

Second language systems like Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Japanese, Greek and Russian all have different alphabets. Learning the alphabet is the first step in learning to read and write in these languages.

As if learning a new language weren’t difficult enough, the process is made more complicated by having to learn a new writing system on top of it. Here are some of the main challenges of mastering a new alphabet system:

Understanding phonetics

Of course, there will always be a tendency to try to make things sound like the language you’re most familiar with. But in many alphabets, the sounds you’ll be encountering will be totally different from English sounds. Did you know that the “th” sound is unique to the English language and challenging for people learning English to pronounce? Likewise, many sounds in other languages will be difficult for you to grasp at first. Don’t be frustrated if you can’t get a sound right on the first try. Intonation and accent take time to build. Keep at it and you’ll get better.

Understanding the logic

The English alphabet, also known as the Roman alphabet, is about sounds, not about symbols. The letters are building blocks to create a word and usually have no meaning unto themselves. But not all writing systems have the same logic. In fact, for many other language systems, the letters of the alphabet are symbols that stand for something on their own. By looking at the alphabet as a phonetic building block, you miss the logic of the other language which is to use symbols to build meaning.

In Chinese, which is a language based on symbols, you can’t pronounce a word if you don’t understand its meaning. In English, however, you can sound a word out based on the letters without having any clue what the word means. Don’t try to apply the logic of the Roman alphabet to a different writing system. Learn its logic in order to understand the language.

Identifying different fonts

Just like in English, you’ll have to learn to identify writing in different fonts and styles. Handwriting will be different from printed text and there will be variations of printed text as well. Think about cursive writing, capitalization and the thousands of different printed fonts that any English reader can easily identify. However, a young child who has only just learned to write the alphabet wouldn’t be able to identify a letter written in cursive.

Other languages will offer this same challenge. In addition, some languages have different writing systems. Japanese, for example, has three writing systems which are all distinct from each other. The best way to learn these various writing styles and fonts is to expose yourself to all of the different styles of writing that exist in a language so that you’re not confused when faced with a different style.

Learning to write

Reading is one thing. Writing is another. Everyone remembers that phase when they were learning to write the alphabet. How it was a painstaking process that was much more akin to drawing the letters than to writing them. Over time, it became more natural. Now, you’re in a phase where you’re learning not only what the letters of the new alphabet look like, but how to write them. Some languages, like Hebrew and Arabic are written from right to left. If you try to write these languages from left to right, it will hardly be legible.

Imagine if someone tried to write a sentence in English by writing all the words backwards. It would look strange and awkward. All languages have a specific way to write their characters and letters. Learn the order of the pen-strokes and the direction correctly so that your handwriting will be readable.

Attitude is everything

The biggest reason people fail to learn is that they give up too easily. It’s not that the language is too hard or too impossible or too different. Anyone is capable of learning anything as long as they dedicate themselves to it. Get through the slow awkward phase, realize that it’s different than when you were learning to read English as a child and focus on small triumphs. Maybe you could recognize a word written in different fonts or you were able to read a whole sentence out loud without pausing. Celebrate these milestones and keep working at it.

How To Ask For Feedback on Your Writing

ask for feedback on your writing

No one was born a writer. All writers had to go through the process of “becoming a writer” and, if you’ve read as many writer’s biographies as I have, you’ll know that it wasn’t an easy path for anyone.

Maybe you want to ask for advice from a professional writer but you’re afraid they won’t respond. It’s a logical assumption that they won’t. Except for the fact that when they were starting out, many of today’s successful writers had mentors who were experienced and established.

It’s not impossible to get a writer to respond to a cold email requesting their advice. But it is a delicate endeavor and one that requires some finesse. Here are some tips on how to persuade a writer to write you back:

Read their work

First of all, if you’re going to write to a Stephen King or a Joyce Carol Oates and you’ve never read any of their work, you might want to either pick another author whose work you do know or crack open one or two of their books to get to know their writing better. It’s only fair if you’re asking them to read your works that you’ve at least done your homework and read some of theirs first.

Do background research

Read some interviews and biographical information about them. Follow their blog, Facebook Page or Twitter account if they have one. Find out what kind of philosophies they have about writing, how they got their start, what they’re currently working on. Having a feel for this information will help you craft a more personal letter. It will also help you not tread on their toes by accident. For example, if your chosen writer is an adamantly against e-books, you might not include the fact that you’re considering publishing your work as an e-book.

Work on your subject line

As with all writing, when it comes to titles, headlines and email subject lines, it’s all about grabbing their attention. It’s worth the time you put into perfecting your subject line pitch. Otherwise, even if you wrote the outstanding letter, you run the risk of them never even opening it.

Consider sending snail mail

It’s easy to ignore an email. Hardly anybody receives real mail today. There’s something about the effort you had to go through to handwrite a letter, put a stamp on it and send it off in the mailbox. That differentiates you from someone who shot off 100 emails to a bunch of famous authors. It’s the ultimate way to personalize a message. If you do send a letter by snail mail, make sure to include your email in the letter. Don’t expect them to sit down and write you a letter in reply. Make it easy for writers you want to reach out.

Why are you writing to them?

Can you articulate why it is that you’re writing to that authors in particular? Is it because you admire their work or you’re writing a book on a similar subject as one of their books? Is it because of something they said in an interview that captured your attention? Why do you think their advice would be helpful to you? Explaining this to the writers will help them take your request more seriously.

Keep it simple

You’re probably aware that professional writers are busy people. Asking them to take time away from their own projects to help you with yours is a delicate matter, so do them a favor by getting to the point fairly quickly. Professionals will appreciate you keeping your message brief. You might even want to acknowledge that you know they’re busy and you appreciate them taking them time to read and respond to your message.

What are your credentials?

People like to help people who they think are going to succeed. If you’ve published any other works, you should reference them. If you’ve won any awards or have an MFA or worked as an assistant to a famous screenwriter or author, or have worked in editing or publishing, then it would be good to mention those things. Whatever credentials you can (briefly) provide will help them get an idea of who you are and why spending time reading your work wouldn’t be a waste.

Ask them something specific

Try to ask writing experts something specific rather than something general. For example, don’t ask: How do I get published? That’s way too general and an annoying question to most authors. Where to begin? Instead ask a specific question. Make it something that’s relevant to their work or their experience that you think they will be able to give you the best answer about. It’s much easier for someone to reply to a specific question than to reply to a request for “advice” in general.

Do you have anything to offer them?

If you have something special to offer that you think they might appreciate, go ahead and offer it. If the author lives in the same area as you, go ahead and offer to take them to lunch or buy them a coffee. Maybe their next book is set in Brazil and you lived there for three years. Offer to share some of your experiences that might be helpful to them.

Make it easy for them to reach you

Give authors a lot of options for reaching you. Everyone has their preferred form of communication, so give them your phone number, email, and Skype account. Let them know when you’re available to talk and make sure you’re available if they try to contact you.

Thank them if they write back

If you do manage to catch their attention and they decide to respond to your message, make sure to thank them. It really is a big deal that well-known writers took the time to reply to you, so the least you can do is acknowledge their effort by letting them know how much you appreciate it. It will also make it easier for them to respond to you should you reach out to them again.

5 Best Ways To Improve Your Critical Reading Skills

how to improve critical reading skills

Critical reading is a crucial skill for anyone seeking in-depth knowledge of a subject or who are aiming to become an expert or thought leader in a certain area. Critical reading means not taking things at face value, but really engaging in a text by asking questions, thinking about possible future research and taking the devil’s advocate role. Being able to read critically is basically the difference between being able to recognize the words written in an article and being able to understand their meaning, context and significance.

Critical reading is an essential part of academic life, and many professional careers require this skill. It will help you get into college and graduate school and help you as you move on in your career after school. Most major standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCAT and others, have critical reading sections.

Becoming an effective critical reader is a valuable skill, but one that often requires effort to hone. Besides a high score on your SAT, critical reading will allow you to assess opinions presented about important events in the world. It will help you take important decisions about causes you may want to get involved with or political stances to take or not take. In the professional world, critical reading will make it possible for you to understand the big picture of research or activities in your field and allow you to weigh cost/benefits with greater accuracy.

Here are some tips for you to enhance your critical reading skills:

Read it more than once

A single read-through of an article is usually not enough to read it critically. Depending on the complexity and length, it may be necessary for you to read it a few times in order to really understand the arc of the author’s logic. So, take your time, don’t skim, but read slowly and methodically, taking in the text a second or third time to make sure you understand it thoroughly. Each time you read it, you’ll uncover new layers, make new connections and pay attention to new facts that didn’t catch your eye the first time around. The preliminary step to critical reading is giving the text multiple readings.

Take notes

If it’s not on paper, print a paper copy so you can use a highlighter to highlight major points, underline, jot down notes and questions in the margins. Engaging in the text this way allows you to recognize main arguments and important facts such as names and dates. It forces you to pay attention as you read and to read more slowly rather than skimming. It also provides you a springboard from which you can then form your own analysis. Good notes are an important step in critical reading.

Discuss it with others

Engaging others in a discussion about the article is a great way to increase your understanding of it. Maybe the other person will take the devil’s advocate role or maybe you will. In any case, the more thoughts you can gather on the subject, the stronger your comprehension of it will be. Other people will be able to look at angles of the subject you hadn’t considered. In order to be a critical reader, you must also be open-minded. Maintaining a strong bias based on your personal feelings about a subject will inhibit your ability to read critically. Failing to be objective also means you’ll fail to read critically.

If you’re reading an article about the Republican party’s presidential candidates, for example, and you’re a die-hard Democrat, it would be great for you to talk to a Republican to understand the other side of the political coin. Whether it’s a heated or an even-keeled discussion, you’ll get more out of it than if you had just gone along with your pre-formulated opinions.

Write a critical summary

A great way to make sure you really understood the text is to write a summary of the article. Using your notes and highlighted areas, think about the following themes:

  • Who was the article written for?
  • What is the goal of the article?
  • Did it achieve this goal? If not, what kind of information is missing in order for it to be more successful?
  • What are the main points of the article?
  • How could it be improved?
  • What are the possible next issues to be addressed on this particular subject? What does the future hold in this area?
  • Who else is writing about this subject? What do they have to say that’s different from the author’s take?

A useful way to establish your thoughts on the article is to write a classic five paragraph essay that elaborates a thesis, anti-thesis and supporting ideas.

Practice SQ3R

This stands for:

  • Survey. Skim the text in order to get the gist of it, looking out for main points, dates, names and important descriptions.
  • Question. Before you do an in-depth reading, make a list of questions relevant to the subject or assignment you’ve been given based on the skimming you did. Examples of some questions you could ask:
    How does this author’s position on gay marriage differ from author X’s position?
    In what way is this issue relevant to me or to my family/community/school, etc?
    What impact is this article going to have on the way we think about X?
  • Read. Read the article thoroughly, taking notes as you go along.
  • Recall. Write down the main points and arguments that you remember from the text. This is a crucial point in deepening your understanding of it. Without having to look at the text again, recall the essence of the argument and the main points that you can remember. What stood out to you?
  • Review. Go over your recall notes carefully and give the text another reading. Fill in any gaps that are missing in your notes based on your new reading.

Whether you’re a student, a professional or a citizen looking to engage more deeply in public debates, critical reading is a crucial skill that’s worth developing.

How To Organize Your College Essay Properly

how to organize college essay
College freshman may get a rude awakening when they hand in their first college paper. What would have earned them high marks in high school is simply not acceptable anymore. High school papers, namely the five-paragraph essay, were your training wheels for more in-depth writing. Instead of looking at facts and pointing out general themes and concepts, college writing asks you to take a deeper look into logic, reasoning, context and analysis and structure your college essay well.

Ok, fine. But how do you accomplish that exactly? What does it look like? Here are some basic guidelines for how to organize your college essays:

Introduction

Your introduction should accomplish several things:

  • Introduce the topic you will be writing about.
  • Make the reader care about the topic.
  • Give them important information about the topic.
  • Convey your position on the topic in your thesis statement.

You can accomplish these with a few different introduction styles:

  • Offer a compelling example.
  • Quote statistics.
  • Use a knock-out quotation.
  • Tell a relevant anecdote.
  • Pose an intriguing question.

Tips on getting your introduction right:

  • Try writing it last. Sometimes, the introduction is the hardest part to write. After you’ve written your supporting paragraphs, you may have an easier time finding the right way to introduce them
  • Don’t be too broad. The “Since the dawn of time humanity has…” introduction should be eliminated. Give some of the above examples a try. Overly broad introductions are a waste of words. Get to the point.

Thesis statement

Your thesis statement defines your take on the subject you’re writing about. It guides the rest of the paper’s arguments. Ask yourself the following questions about your thesis statement:

  • Is it polemical? Can someone argue for or against this statement? If not, it’s weak and needs to be reworked.
  • Does it answer the question or prompt proposed by the professor?
  • Is it contained in a sentence or does it sprawl? A thesis statement is one sentence long and usually comes at the end of the introduction paragraph. Don’t use the introduction paragraph to write a long sprawling thesis statement. Instead, make it concise, specific and packs a punch.

Body paragraphs

This is where your essay will differ from high school writing the most. Body paragraphs will be developed in order to support your thesis statement, just like in a five-paragraph essay. However, the type of research and analysis you will use will be different. In the five paragraph essay, it was okay to write a paper on MacBeth by providing plot point summaries. But in a college paper, you can skip the summary.

You’re not proving to the professor that you read MacBeth. You’re proving that you did research and have developed an interesting and original analysis of it. Same goes with high school history papers where you basically listed events in your supporting paragraphs to prove your thesis statement. That’s no longer acceptable. Instead, you’ll be analyzing why and how certain events occurred, not affirming that they occurred.

Good body paragraphs should contain the following:

  • Well-researched evidence. Use credible sources from experts in the subject. Don’t quote dubious sources or statistics. Forget Wikipedia or someone’s personal blog (unless it’s a professor’s blog). Look for academic publications from known authorities on the subject.
  • In-depth analysis. This is where you start to develop critical thinking skills. Go beyond “who,what,where,when” and start to answer “why and how.” Consider historical context. If you’re writing about an artist, what was the political era in which his work was produced? What were his influences? How did he come to develop his particular style? Why was it important then and why should we care about it now?
  • Contain counter-arguments. It’s not enough to support your thesis statement. That alone doesn’t make for a strong essay. If you wrote a great thesis statement, that means there should be a strong counter-argument to be considered. Your research should reflect not only why you chose the side you chose, but the scope of your choices. What does the opposition think? Why do they feel that way? What is the basis of their argument? Your essay will be all the more convincing if you show the reader that you’ve considered all sides of the subject, and chose the position presented in your thesis statement.

Conclusion

In high school, your conclusions were a summary of the main points in your essay. College essays require a more elaborate conclusion that goes beyond summary and shows reflection, analysis and synthesis of the ideas presented. Here are some ideas for how to conclude a college paper:

  • If you introduced your essay with an anecdote or example, revisit it at the end to close the circle. How have your arguments shed new light on this story?
  • If you didn’t use a quote in your introduction, consider using one at the end. Especially if it seems to capture the essence of your arguments.
  • Suggest ideas for next steps in this area or further research needed in order to make advances and solve problems.
  • Indicate why this issue is relevant and why people today should care about it.

Edit

After you’ve written your first draft using the guidelines from above, it’s a great practice to do a reverse outline. A reverse outline provides a thorough review of your essay draft by checking for flow and helping you spot gaps in your logic as well as spelling and grammar mistakes.
After you’ve written your draft:

  • Read and take notes on your draft. Does it make sense? Is there a better example you could have used? Have you stayed close to your thesis statement or did you start to stray?
  • Number your paragraphs. Sometimes you may find that reordering your paragraphs will help the essay flow better. Numbering them will make it easier for you to reorganize it later.
  • Make your outline. Dissect your draft by using it to make a basic outline. What are the main points of each section? Then take a look at your outline and analyze which areas need to be reworked for coherence and flow.

10 Must-Read Books for Fall 2015

must-read books fall 2015Nothing like fall book releases to make you want to run out and buy the latest novels, curl up in an armchair with a cup of tea and settle down as the chill begins to set in.

This fall has a wonderful mix of established and new authors offering forth their literary efforts to readers across the continent. Their books will take you around the world, spanning continents and, in some cases, centuries. Some wild adventures, somber mourning, political spoofs and love lost and found again will bring you into fall.

Here are 10 picks for you to look forward to:

1. Purity.

Jonathan Franzen’s much anticipated latest novel is a departure from his past works which focused on the American family. This one traces the journey of a political activist from East Germany and his American intern who follows him to Bolivia where they operate a media and government-watch organization.

2. The Japanese Lover.

Isabel Allende’s story that spans the globe from Poland to San Francisco, during WWII, this story tells the tale of political refugee Alma Belasco and her unlikely romance with the son of a Japanese gardener in her aunt and uncle’s house in San Francisco. Ichimei, the gardener’s son, is sent away to a Japanese internment camp and they are never reunited but remain in each other’s thoughts over the course of their lives. Then Alma begins to receive gifts in her nursing home that are suspected to be from Ichimei. A story that interweaves politics, fate and passion.

3. Death by Water.

Nobel Literature laureate Kenzaburo Oe’s new novel is a captivating mixture of Japanese folklore, memoir and meta-fiction. The plot features a celebrated writer whose father had drowned and who’s grieving process included writing a book about it. The book’s first sentence sets up the story beautifully: “The year I went off to university in Tokyo, something fateful happened when I returned home to Shikoku for one in the last in a series of traditional Buddhist services for my father.”

4. The Heart Goes Last.

It is as surreal as any of Margaret Atwood’s previous novels with the plot centering on a social experiment which allows couple Charmaine and Stan to live in a luxurious suburban home in exchange for agreeing to live in a prison cell every two months. While they’re serving their time in prison, another couple lives in their home. Eventually, the connection between the couples leads to feelings of sexual attraction, guilt and paranoia.

5. Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.

It is author Salman Rushdie’s modern take on Arabian Nights. With figures such as Henry James, Mel Brooks, Mickey Mouse and Aristotle, it’s an eclectic, comical and thoroughly entertaining tale. Weaving the forces of good and evil throughout the ages from 12th century Arabia to modern day New York, Rushdie travels through time and space to bring us this magical twist on a classic story. The first line he delivers sets you up for the ride: “Very little is known, though much has been written, about the true nature of the jinn, the creatures made of smokeless fire.”

6. M Train.

Patti Smith’s follow-up memoir to her celebrated Just Kids, M Train traces the singer’s artistic path through narratives that span 18 subway stations across New York City. In this new memoir, Smith takes us to the cafes where she used to drink black coffee and muses about her thoughts on other artists such as Frida Kahlo, Jean Genet and Sylvia Plath. She recounts the tragic 1994 death of her husband Fred Smith and its long-standing effect on her.

7. Fates and Furies.

Lauren Groff’s third novel is about the twenty year marriage of Lotto and Matthilde. Already garnering raves by Publisher’s Weekly and one of the most popular books on display at BookExpo America, Groff’s novel about marriage, co-habitation, betrayal and heartache follows the arc of a long-term marriage. A comment on the beauty and hope of loving someone, as well as the tragic disappointments that sometimes come along with it.

8. The Story of My Teeth.

National Book Foundation winner “Five Under 35”, Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli spins a mighty elaborate story of unparalleled traveling auctioneer Gustavo “Highway” Sanchez Sanchez. Set in Mexico City and following Sanchez Sanchez through more adventures than you could count, as well as racking up unusual talents such as imitating Janis Joplin and standing an egg upright on a table, the book gets its name from the fact that he’s planning to replace his teeth. That and the fact that he happens to be in possession of a pair of dentures he swears belonged to Marilyn Monroe. Fun, wacky and defined by Granta as “delightfully unclassifiable”, reading this novel is an adventure in itself.

9. Numero Zero.

Celebrated Italian writer Umberto Eco offers a fascinating conspiracy theory about Italy’s famous dictator Benito Mussolini. Moving back and forth from 1945 to 1992, the plot revolves around the idea that Mussolini’s death may have been faked. The book features a love story between a ghost writer and a celebrity gossip writer who find a dead body in an alley in Milan. Theories begin to spin including the murder of Pope John Paul I, the Italian secret service and the CIA. The timing is right as 1992 marks the beginning of the truly tragi-comic era in Italian politics.

10. Man Tiger & Beauty is a Wound.

They are written by Eka Kurniawan and translated by Labodalih Sembiring and Annie Tucker respectively. Eka Kurniawan has broken onto the literary stage with stories that evoke the oral traditions of his home village in Indonesia. Man Tiger is the story of Margio, a young man who is also half white tiger. Beauty is a Wound is about a prostitute who rises from the dead as set forth in the first line; “One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years.” Both books have earned enormous critical acclaim for their originality and scope of human suffering and spirit.

Get Back to Studying Routine (Checklist for College Students)

studying routine for college studentsout of your hair and get yourself into back-to-college mode again.
It’s that time again. The long days of summer are coming to an end and the fall semester is upon us. Some students have a difficult time leaving the liberty of their summer days behind and getting serious about studying again. It’s perfectly natural, but it’s also time for you to shake the sand

If you need some help regaining your focus after the long break, here are some tips for you on how to develop a studying routine:

Make a schedule

The best way to start getting into a routine is to make a schedule of all of your activities. Whether you write out your schedule by hand and tape it to your wall or use a time management app like rememberthemilk, writing down your commitments helps you remember to keep them. Include things like class schedules, extracurricular activities, sports, clubs, job schedules and important events. By making a schedule, you’re also mapping out where there might be conflicts, so you can anticipate them and come up with a solution.

Choose your study environment

Part of establishing a routine is finding the place where you’ll study. Some people do great work in public places like cafes or on a park bench. Other people need utter silence and prefer to study in an isolated corner of the library or in their room. Figure out where you work best and carve that space out as yours. If you’re tempted to lie down and take a nap if you study in your room, pack up your books and head to the library. Wherever you choose, try to stick to that place. It’s a way to trigger your brain into work mode when you sit down at your favorite study spot.

in study groups

If there’s a study group for a course you’re struggling in, sign up for it. Exchanging ideas with your peers can help answer questions and clear doubts you have about the material. It can also help you prioritize studying for this course, which is exactly what you should be doing if you find yourself falling behind.

Set goals

Set your goals for the semester. Not only academic goals, though they should definitely be included on the list, but goals for other activities you participate in. Don’t make your list too long. Prioritize and focus. What’s really important to you? Maybe you want to earn a 3.5 this semester. What kind of grades would you need in order to achieve that? Maybe you want to make the Varsity Women’s Rowing Team or be elected class president. What steps do you need to take in order to make that happen? Pick 2-3 goals and write them down somewhere you’ll see them often. Goal-setting gives you direction and purpose in your activities and helps you maintain your focus.

Prioritize

Don’t let yourself become overloaded with activities. A full course load, a part-time job, captain of the basketball team, lead in the play, volunteering for a local tutoring program, etc. It’s not always possible to do everything you want to do and when you try doing too many things, you end up short-changing yourself. Choose the most important activities to you and eliminate the rest. If you find yourself with enough free time, then you can start adding more activities to your schedule.

Limit social media

Social media is the most popular way to procrastinate and the easiest way to waste precious studying time. If you find yourself grabbing your cell phone and checking your messages every time you try to read your Advanced Economics textbook, it’s time to get your social media habits under control. Consider leaving your cell phone in your room while you go to the library to study so you’re not tempted to look at it. Or, if you need to have your phone with you, at least turn off the sound notifications so you won’t check it every time it beeps. Limit the amount of time you allow yourself to check it every day and stick to it. Turn your cell phone off at night and get a good, uninterrupted night’s sleep.

Get enough sleep

Though many college students adopt the adage “You can sleep when you’re dead” throughout their college years, sleep deprivation and brain functioning don’t go together. In fact, the average adult needs 8-10 hours of sleep in order to achieve optimum brain activity. Lack of focus, tiredness, crankiness are all symptoms of not getting enough sleep. For more information on sleep and how it effects you, read this article. Remember that the point of college is to study and earn a degree. Take it seriously so you can show up to your classes and give your academic life the attention it deserves.

Eat well

College students are notorious for their poor eating habits. For many students who live on campus, this is their first time away from home and their first experience having to control their diets. Excess caffeine, junk food and alcohol are epidemics on college campuses. The brain is an organ, like any other organ in the body, it functions best when it’s being fed a healthy diet. Tuna, salmon, walnuts, and blueberries are all considered foods that contribute to healthy brain activity. For a list of healthy food choices, click here. Constant hangovers, sugar highs and upset stomachs can have negative effects on your academic life. Eating a balanced diet can give you the energy you need to complete your workload.

Have fun

Don’t forget to have fun. Working too hard can become counter-productive. If you have a tendency to be a workaholic, it’s best you start learning this lesson early before you begin your professional career. Take breaks when you need to. And make sure you spend time with your friends and the rest of the campus community. Giving your brain some time to relax will allow you to return to your studying with new energy.

How to Stay Passionate about Writing

how to be passionate about writing

Every writer hits a dead end now and then. Creativity is a quality that’s defined by peaks and valleys. Many famous writers have gone through dry periods of writer’s block where they felt their work was worthless.

It’s not just fiction writers who suffer this fate. Journalists, researchers and even students also reach points where they feel uninspired by their work.

So what should you do if your spirit is lagging and you can’t find the joy and thrill in creating something new?

Go to conferences and workshops

Part of the challenge of writing is that it’s a solitary endeavor. And the human mind is a tricky beast, it can dry up pretty fast in the absence of outside stimulation. Attending writer’s workshops and conferences can spark your enthusiasm again. Getting feedback on your work can give you a new perspective on it. Hearing the advice of the coordinator can set you in a new direction.

Meet other people working on interesting projects, this will fill you with the desire to keep going or to start anew. Get yourself out of your work space – the site of so many frustrating hours – this can refresh your senses and help spark new ideas.

Try a different genre

If you’re a sociologist working on a dissertation, try writing poetry or fiction. If you’re a fiction writer, try writing an editorial article about something you feel passionate about. It’s a way for you to keep practicing writing without getting stuck in a rut.

It can also help take the pressure off. You’re not trying to publish a book of poems, you’re just playing around with words. You’re not aiming to become a journalist, you’re just finding another way to express yourself. Sometimes branching out into different areas and experimenting with styles can bring a light-heartedness to your work.

Re-read your favorite book

Some writers have a particular book that inspired them to write. Maybe it influenced their writing style or opened them up to new possibilities in writing. When you’re experiencing a lull in your work, go back to the early source of your inspiration. Re-read it. Religious people turn to their sacred texts when they’re in doubt. Turn to yours. What did it teach you all those years ago when you first read it? What does it teach you today?

Teach

If you’re struggling to find the purpose in your work, try teaching. There’s nothing better to light your fire than passing on the accumulated experiences of your years of writing to eager young writers. You’ll have the chance to take stock of all the challenges you’ve overcome to reach the point you’re at today. It may give you the courage to overcome your current block. Giving advice to them is also an indirect way of giving advice to yourself.

Make sure you have enough time

Maybe your problem isn’t lack of inspiration but burn-out. Did you take on too many commitments at once? Are you trying to balance work and family and over-stretching yourself? There’s nothing like having too much on your plate to snuff your creative fire. Exhaustion, stress and guilt are a toxic cocktail that only work to keep the muse at bay.

Rearrange your schedule to include enough time for leisure activities, to do the non-writing related things you’re passionate about. Sparking passion in other parts of your life may have a contagious effect on your writing life too. Also, allowing yourself space from your problems is what gives you the perspective to solve them.

Take on work that you love

Nothing kills your passion for writing like writing about subjects you find boring. So, if that’s what you’re doing, stop. There are more than enough writing gigs to go around in the area that you love. Take this advice from Ray Bradbury: “I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.”

Join a writer’s group

Preferably one that meets in-person rather than online, but if that’s not possible, then an online one is better than nothing. It helps to talk to other writers and share your work. Most writers tend to have a circle of writer friends, but it can be a tricky thing to depend on your friends to give you honest feedback. A group of professional writers can not only offer more objective advice, but they can give you the support and encouragement you need to work through difficult phases and reach the finish line.

Look at the small picture

Sometimes your writing dreams are too big. You want to write the Great American Novel or win the Nobel Prize for Literature. But instead you’re sitting in front of a blank screen every day. So, try something else. Don’t think about goals. Don’t even think about finishing your book. Think about today. One word after the other. And after you’re done, put it away and stop thinking about it. And then tomorrow do the same thing.

Take the pressure off to turn your passion on. Mark Twain explained his writing method this way: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Whatever lull you’re going through right now, remember that many writers before you have gone through it too. Don’t give up. Just make it to the bend. Once you round it, things will look different again.

Helpful Blogs for ESL Learners

blogs for esl learners

Learning English isn’t easy. There are so many exceptions to the grammar rules, strange pairings of vowels and consonants, the dreaded “th” sound that’s common throughout the language yet hard for non-native speakers to pronounce. Yet, English is a universal language and that’s why there are over 1 billion ESL students worldwide. Whether you’re a foreigner living in the US or studying English in your country of origin, it’s becoming more and more indispensable to learn English. Fields like information technology and international business require English proficiency. For travelers, English is essential.

If you travel frequently for business or pleasure, it may not always be possible to learn every language of the countries you’re visiting, but English is spoken almost everywhere. If you’re learning English and would like a little extra support, you should check out these ESL blogs:

Phrase Mix offers lessons on idiomatic phrases in English. You can scroll through over 400 pages of phrases and choose ones that interest you. The lesson breaks down the phrase into chunks and explains each part and its meaning. It also offers an audio recording so you can learn the proper pronunciation. And the graphics give a visual representation of the phrase being featured – for those who are visual learners. It also offers articles with practical advice on things like taking the TOEFL, how to express condolences, and English phrases for car owners.

Espresso English offers you daily English lessons sent to your email by ESL teacher Shayna. She also has an e-book and offers self-paced English courses online. She posts informative articles with titles like “11 Advanced English Words with Confusing Pronunciations” and “Answers to 5 Quick English Grammar Questions” as well as colloquial phrases and much more. Access 50 podcasts to improve your pronunciation and auditory skills.

Real Life is perhaps the most comprehensive site out there with the greatest investment in quality. It offers professional videos on a variety of topics from vocabulary building to pronunciation. They have podcasts and articles on all aspects of English learning, from slang to business English and more.

ESL Hip Hop is aimed to make English learning cool. You’ll learn English through hip hop slang. After finishing Stephen Mayeaux’s lessons, you’ll be able to hang out and party like a born hip hop star. By far the most entertaining ESL site out there, with quality content to boot.

About.com features ESL expert Kenneth Beare’s blog. This site offers the standard grammar and pronunciation lessons, but really stands out with its dynamic mix of exercises like short stories and quizzes. They help students improve vocabulary, and you can also try writing exercises that ask students to continue a story. It also offers help on practical things like business English and how to write a resume. You can choose to sign up for daily or weekly lessons sent to your email.

ABA English offers articles and videos on everything from “How to Write a Cover Letter” to “How to Enjoy Your TOEFL Prep”. Fun, real-life videos in their “Street Challenge” section test your auditory and grammar skills. One of the best explanations of the many uses of “Get” I’ve ever seen. Cute illustrations on idiomatic expressions. A fun and light-hearted blog with great content.

My English Teacher is a site that offers English lessons via articles and videos as well as useful references for language exchange websites and best ESL Facebook pages to follow.

Elllo uses short videos to teach students different vocabulary in English. Videos are divided into Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced levels and quizzes are included to make sure you understood the content correctly. The site’s founder, Todd Beuckens, posts two new videos each week.

English with Jo focuses on practical uses of English in conversation for those who want to reach fluency quickly. With posts on topics from “Books & Literature” to “Safety” and “Drugs & Alcohol”, this site introduces you to practical topics and their applications. A “Word of the Day” post helps build vocabulary and a section on Business English is for even more comprehensive learning.

TalkEnglish is an ESL franchise that’s been around for the last decade or so. Their site offers 900 English lessons and 9000 audio files for free. A variety of reading, speaking and listening lessons are available on a range of topics.

Real English is a site that offers English lessons via videos and exercises. The videos are listed in order from beginner to more advanced and follow a certain logic and order. It’s a great resource for beginning students.

Linguarama is a no-frills ESL site with links to quizzes that test your vocabulary and grammar skills. If you’re confused about adverbs, present continuous tense and prepositions, this site offers simple explanations and exercises to get you on track. It also offers great examples of business English.

Business English Site specializes in lessons on business English. With categories that range from “Sales & Marketing”, “Accounting & Finance” and “Information Technology” as well as “Medical English”, they have you covered. A simple vocabulary-building technique is used to improve your business English, so you can impress people in interviews and meetings.

English with a Twist is a really fun blog by ESL teacher Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat. It is one of the only blogs out there designed by someone who isn’t a native English speaker. This blog shows you the ins and outs of all the ESL challenges you could imagine from someone who has gone through it herself. Using a charming mix of humor and practical tips, this site is well worth a visit for anyone wishing to improve their English. No matter what level of English you’re at, these blogs can help enhance your vocabulary, grammar and auditory skills. Colloquialisms and idiomatic phrases present a particularly steep learning curve for non-natives.

Most of the above blogs dedicate their efforts to helping you learn how to speak naturally. Isn’t it great to know there are so many resources out there to help you speak better English?

Persuasive Essay Writing Techniques: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

persuasive writing techniques

Persuasive writing is a delicate endeavor. There are those who make an art out of it, and those who make a mess out of it. When persuasive essay is written by an experienced author, it can be inspiring, moving and, dare I say, persuasive. But, when it’s done poorly, it will turn the reader off, confuse them rather than draw them in.

So, how do you do it right? Here are some guidelines for writing great persuasive essay.

Things to avoid in persuasive writing

    • Hyperbole. Don’t exaggerate. If your argument is that President Reagan’s economic policies damaged the American middle class, don’t write “Ronald Reagan destroyed America and threw our economic progress back to the Stone Age.” It’s too dramatic and only serves to undermine your authority. The reader won’t trust the rest of your argument if you come out guns blazing without any facts, stats or historical analysis to back you up.
    • Don’t use first person. A persuasive essay earns its credibility by achieving a certain level of objectivity. By making it personal and using “I” statements, you make it sound more like a personal opinion, rather than a well-researched analysis.
    • Don’t leave out opposing arguments. One of a persuasive essay’s greatest strengths is recognizing the arguments that exist against your position. That way, you’re presenting the reader with all the facts and allowing them to choose which side they find more valid. By ignoring the other side, you lose the opportunity to address it directly, and discredit it with your own argument. Providing an analysis of the opposition’s opinion also shows that you’re an expert on the subject: you’ve studied both sides of the issue before making your decision.
    • Don’t rant. Nobody appreciates being on the receiving end of a rant. Even if you’re convinced that the Republican or Democratic party are spawns of the devil, unless you have specific facts and evidence to prove it, your words won’t be taken seriously. If you go rambling on with no structure or organization and pure emotional impulse, then your readers may get bored and stop reading.
    • Don’t be mean, catty or rude. No name-calling or swearing. Strong language and insults once again do more damage to your reputation than they do to your opponents. Nobody wants to be verbally assaulted, and reading offensive and aggressive commentaries will turn the reader against you.

Things to use in your persuasive essay

  • A good hook. Get the reader’s attention right off the bat with a powerful quote, an anecdote or a statistic.
    Quote. “I like your Christ. I don’t like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
    -Mahatma Gandhi
    Anecdote. Last week’s scandal of financial corruption and pedophilia that shook Smalltown, USA’s church community poses the following question: are church leaders really following Christ’s example?
    Statistic. A shocking 40% of Catholic Churches in the United States have been the subject of investigation over pedophilia charges.
  • Refine your thesis statement. Your essay’s thesis statement is the crux on which the rest of your essay hangs. If it’s strong and solid, then you’ll have an easier time backing it up. If it’s weak and rambling, then it will be harder to defend. It should be a polemical statement, meaning that someone could easily argue the other side of the issue.

Example of a weak thesis statement: “College graduates are facing hard times.” It’s okay. You’ll be able to find research to defend this. But it’s not polemical enough. There’s no counter-balance to it. It would be difficult to find a counter-argument.

Example of a strong thesis statement: “This year’s college graduates will have a harder time finding a job than their parents did thirty years ago.” It’s easy to find credible research to back it up and it provides two specific groups that are being compared: this year’s college graduates, and college graduates from thirty years ago. There could be a strong counter-argument for this statement, so it’s a better choice than the first one, even though they’re both expressing a similar idea.

  • Provide credible research from reputable sources. Personal blogs that spout opinions by people who hold no degree in the subject they write about aren’t credible sources. Wikipedia is not a credible source. Newspaper articles, reputable magazines and specialized publications should be used to support your ideas.
  • Include your research in well organized supporting paragraphs. Structure your essay in a way that’s easy to follow and that provides clear examples to support your thesis statement. Don’t forget to include opposing arguments.
  • Use transition words. Transition words can do wonders for the flow of your essay. A persuasive essay isn’t just about proving your point, but making it easy for the reader to follow you. Words such as “moreover”, “furthermore”, “in spite of”, “however” serve as guides throughout your essay. They help to:
    1. Reinforce a point already made.
    2. Alert the reader of a contrasting statement.
    3. Signal the introduction or conclusion of an idea.

    Here’s a comprehensive list of transition words and their uses.

  • Take advantage of the conclusion. Don’t just summarize the main points of your essay. They’ve already read your essay and know what it says. The concluding paragraph is an opportunity for you to explore further questions to be answered about your subject.

If you’re writing about conflict in the Middle East, raise the question about the next steps. What are the risks of withdrawal? What are the benefits of continued presence?

If you’re writing about global warming: who can provide answers or offer guidance? What kind of research is needed to solve the problems presented?

The conclusion should demonstrate your expertise on this subject and should leave the reader inspired, intrigued and, hopefully, on your side.