Monthly Archives: December 2013

New Year’s Resolutions and how to make them stick

Resolution is just a fancy word for goal. When we make New Year’s Resolutions, we are just setting goals.

We’re setting them for the whole year though! Most people can’t follow through on their self-challenges for a whole year, but what about for a month? Have you ever thought about setting yourself a 30 day challenge?

Matt Cutts gives a short (3 1/2 minute) presentation about why 30 day challenges are much more effective than big, crazy resolutions. This is an apt discussion for the New Year. Have you considered learning a new English word every day for 30 days? Or simply writing 250 words of whatever you want in English for 30 days? This structure can be especially useful for those who are trying to write academic articles: 250 words a day for a month. Check out the talk below.

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December 30, 2013 · 12:00 pm

The secret structure of great talks | TED.com

Nancy Duarte has discovered a structure for your presentations that can keep your audience engaged and actively listening to your idea. This 18 minute talk gave one piece of advice: describe the status quo and describe what could be. Move back and forth between the two worlds. In this way, we can persuade our audience of the truth or value of our ideas. Watch the talk below to get more details!

 

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December 23, 2013 · 12:00 pm

How to talk about your “appointments” in English

Appointments are an integral part of Dutch life and having to plan get-togethers far in advance is typically Dutch. Some foreigners find this hard to adapt to in the beginning. They say it lacks spontaneity, especially those foreigners who come from the lower latitudes where things are a bit more chaotic spontaneous.english making appointments

I think this is reflective in our use of language: an appointment is something that has been scheduled properly far in advance with one person. A get-together with just one friend at a time seems pretty common in Dutch culture.

However, many times (in other places) social events are not usually planned out so far in advance and frequently happen with groups of people rather than just one. You don’t make an appointment with a group of friends– you get together.

There are so many types of appointments to be made that in English they don’t all fall under one word.

You can use appointment if the meeting is professional in nature, or if you are consuming a service: an appointment at the dentist.

If it’s romantic in nature, then it’s a date.

date

If you’re in a very formal situation and have to excuse yourself without giving a real reason, you can say I have a prior engagement.

However, more casual situations use a completely different sentence structure in English.

If you’re meeting friends then you say: I’m getting together with friends tonight, like at a café.

cafe

If you’re going to grab a beer with some colleagues, then you say: We’re getting beers after work, want to join us?

An appointment in both of these instances sounds stuffy and proper.

You can use a general expression (I have plans) or you can be more precise about your plans.

I’m having dinner with a friend on Tuesday night, can we do Wednesday?

We’re going to the movies on Friday–do you want to join us?

We’re going biking on Saturday if the weather’s nice.

So..

Ik heb an afspraak. = I’ve got an appointment. I’m meeting someone. I have plans.

Bonus tip: Don’t want to say what you’re doing or where you’re going and you’re young (at heart)? Try “Got to go, I’ve got a thing (later).”

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Can or May? The final word. Finally.

Frequently in elementary school, well-intended teachers make you ask permission to go to the bathroom using “May I…?” rather than “Can I…?” (which is what everyone wants to say), leaving grammatically-inept children looking like this:

can or may English

Now the OED has given the final word on the correctness of “Can I go to the bathroom?” in their post Can or May?

The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) says that “the ‘permission’ use of can is not in fact incorrect in standard English. ”

I love the British, but for my poor American ears, can we say this more clearly?

not + incorrect = correct (two negatives, right?)

So, “the ‘permission’ use of can is in fact correct in standard English.”

They go on to say that using can in an “asking permission” context is more informal, whereas using “may” is more formal.

Thank you, OED, for giving us the final word word on the topic. If anyone tries to correct you now (I have a certain annoying high school geography teacher in mind, or a number of elementary school teachers), you can just say that the OED says it’s fine. So it’s fine.

So let elementary school children ask away: “Can I go to the bathroom?” and don’t make them sit there and wait while they repeat the “correct” sentence back to you (“May I go…”)

Little kids have tiny bladders.

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Holiday Greetings

It’s Sinterklaas season! This Dutch holiday (that has been getting a lot of flak from the international community) is more important than Christmas for Dutch kids. Though the rest of us have to wait until December 25th to get our presents, Dutch children get theirs on December 5th.

Whether you celebrate Sinterklaas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Christmas, the Winter Solstice, New Year’s or something else, it seems to be the holiday season for everyone. You send people greeting cards that might even say “Season’s Greetings” so this is the perfect season to talk about the word GREETINGS.

Where you can’t use it

Greetings or Greetz is a favorite among Dutch speakers because groetjes, the literal translation, can be used in many instances:

Say hi to him for me = Doe de groetjes aan hem.

Cheers = groetjes

Bye bye! = groetjes!

(Dutch Word of the Day has done a great little post explaining the use of groetjes in Dutch.)

However, in none of the above instances do we say greetings in English where you say groetjes (or even groeten) in Dutch. Greetings is just not that common a word. Greetz is not a word in English at all, as evidenced by the Urban Dictionary entry: “A term often used incorrectly by non English speaking people who insist on “greeting” people at the end of their message.”

Because both greetings and greetz are used so commonly in Dutch, it can be hard for Dutch people to separate themselves from this word in English. In general, if you’re Dutch, you should take the English word greetings and add it to your do-not-use list.

You might see some old-fashioned usage of greetings occasionally, but as a modern English speaker, you wouldn’t actually say these things because they sound awkward, overly formal, and stuffy:

Greetings if they are still with us to Len Wein and Berni Wrightson, originators of the comic strip.

I reciprocate your seasonal greetings.

Have you been flooded with greetings all day, sir?

In short, do not use it to say hello or goodbye. Do not use it to refer to saying hello or goodbye unless you are trying to sound stuffy.

But of course, there are always exceptions. Around the holiday season, you might see the word greetings in a couple of very specific contexts. This still does not mean that you should use it outside of this context.

Where you can use it

If you are reading a greeting card aloud to someone and it says Season’s Greetings, you can say this out loud. But only in this context–don’t go around wishing people “Season’s Greetings” — instead wish them “Happy Holidays” or the specific holiday they are celebrating: “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy New Year”.

greeting card english

You can use greetings to greet someone if you are imitating a Martian coming to Earth and greeting humankind:

Greetings, Earthlings!

Along these lines, if you are very competent, you can dare to use it in other contexts but keep that mental picture of the alien in your head. I admit that I sometimes receive an email from Coursera with the salutation “Greetings, Courserians!” but I have to think that is done tongue-in-cheek.

You can use greet as a verb, commonly seen in writing (novels, news articles, and the like):

How to greet a customer

He’d usually greet me in the Devon dialect.

When independence came in 1963, the moran were there to greet it with their manyattas intact.

We had all risen to greet them.

Now, go forth and greet everyone appropriately!

Happy Sinterklaas!

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