5 myths around academic writing debunked

English lessons UtrechtIf you can stop believing in these myths, you’ll make writing that paper much easier on yourself.

5. I need to use big words.

Generally, you’ll already have quite a few big words to describe the specifics of your research. Since you can’t change those words, you should try to balance it out with shorter, simpler words in between. The most common example is “use” instead of “utilize”. Using shorter, more normal works gives your reader a chance to catch her breath!

4. Passive voice makes me look objective.

Passive voice does not have the power to cause objectivity. Passive voice takes away the agent of an action, that’s all. Sometimes the passive voice can help you (e.g. when discussing methods or processes), but other times it can hinder you (e.g. when drawing conclusions). If used incorrectly, it can actually make you look like you are not taking responsibility for the conclusions you’ve drawn or decisions you’ve made.

3. I need to have a complicated sentence structure because my topic is complicated.

Actually, the more complicated the topic, the more simple and straightforward the structure should be. A complicated structure blocks your message because you give your reader two things to decipher (structure and message) rather than just one. Think of your structure as something that the reader shouldn’t notice at all. Focus on your message.

2. I should use a thesaurus to avoid repeating any words.

On the contrary, you will need to repeat certain words exactly and consistently to avoid confusing your reader. If you’re writing about type 2 diabetes, for example, and you call one group “the obese group” and then later call that same group “overweight,” your reader will wonder whether you’re talking about the same group. Remember that rarely do you find two words that are exact synonyms. If you change it up, have a reason, don’t just change the words because you think you are using them too frequently.

1. The only way my article will get accepted is if I write the way everyone else is writing, even if I don’t like it myself.

Have the courage to write an article you would want to read. Don’t use words you wouldn’t normally use when talking about your research. If you read a sentence and can’t understand it yourself, then no one else can either. Publishers and journals want you to write clearly, concisely and actively; they don’t want jargon-laden, noun-heavy paragraph-long sentences.

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Your Professional Reputation: will

English lessons Utrecht

In the Netherlands, you don’t hear will frequently enough among non-native speakers of English. Maybe this is because we actually contract it to make I’ll and you’ll (and those are terrible to pronounce!) or maybe because in Dutch you frequently use the present tense to talk about the future.

Whatever the reason, adding will back into your vocabulary is an easy way to sound more fluent quickly.

 Instead of…       Use…
 I see you tomorrow  I’ll see you tomorrow
 You join us later?  You’ll join us later?
 He goes to Amsterdam this Friday.  He’ll go to Amsterdam this Friday.
 They are late tonight.  They’ll be late tonight.

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How language transformed humanity

Biologist Mark Pagel shares an intriguing theory about why humans evolved our complex system of language. He suggests that language is a piece of “social technology” that allowed early human tribes to access a powerful new tool: cooperation.

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March 10, 2014 · 12:00 pm

Quit wasting time: 5 ways to study English more effectively

You think you’re studying the right way, but you don’t feel like you are getting anywhere? Most likely you just need to change your approach to become more efficient. Fluency in English doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen in school. So take your learning outside of the classroom and make improving your English an active part of your daily life.

5. Be consistent

Invest (a little time every day) in a vocabulary trainer on your smartphone or tablet.

4. Focus on the right things

Groups of words, not individual words. If you read one online article per work day in English, take one expression from the article and add it to your vocabulary list. Take expressions from your (English-speaking) colleagues’ emails and add them to your vocabulary trainer. You probably know many of the words already, but can you use them together with such flair?

3. Write every day

When you talk, you need someone to listen. Writing can happen alone and it is one of the easiest ways to convert your passive knowledge into active knowledge. You can write your emails, your to-do list, your meeting minutes in English, or even start a blog or journal.

2. Use your down time

Change your subtitles from Dutch to English. Dutch subtitles are a crutch that is preventing your brain from processing the English that you hear on the TV all the time.

1. Connect with context

This is for all the high school students out there: no one can memorize lists of random words. Add context to your vocabulary lists: write a short, catchy sentence for every word. You’ll have an easier time remembering the words within a context.

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Writing in English: How to get the passive voice right

It’s hard enough to write in the active voice, but once you start writing in the passive voice, things can go haywire. Let’s start with the basics.

How do I form the passive voice? (in four easy steps)

Example sentence: We made a mistake.

1. Identify the verb and verb tense in your active voice sentence.

made, past tense

2. Make your object your new subject.

A mistake…

3. Put the verb “to be” in the tense that you identified in #1.

A mistake was…

4. Put the past participle of the verb after it.

A mistake was made.

When do I use the passive voice?

Not all the time! Not even often! Please read this post about when and why we use the passive voice.

For Dutch speakers…

If you’re Dutch and writing at a high level, the passive voice is going to trip you up. It’s all about the words is and was: we use them in both languages but in vastly different places.

When you use this in Dutch

…use this in English!

 wordt  is
 werd  was, has been
 is  was, has been
 was  had been (was, has been)

The trick is to avoid using is and was in English in the same place as in Dutch. It will be tempting, but resist!

Dutch to English Passive Voice:

1. Deze afdeling wordt goed geleid.
This department is managed well.
2. De binnenlandse markt is hard geraakt door de verhoging van de BTW.
The domestic market was hit hard by the VAT increase.
3. De ideale oplossing is gevonden.
The ideal solution has been found.
4. De eerste auto werd gemaakt in 1886.
The first car was made in 1886.

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Top 10 English mistakes among Dutch speakers and how to correct them

Dear Dutch compatriots,english utrecht

Maybe this year you resolved to improve your English on a professional level. In order to get you started on the right foot, please find below 10 small changes that you can make today that will greatly improve your fluency.

10. I live in Utrecht for two years.

Dutch tenses are used differently than English ones, even if they look similar. Beware! Whenever you have “for 3 months” or “since December” use the form “I have lived” and not “I live”

✔I have lived in Utrecht for two years and I’ve worked here for three months now.

9.  Maybe I do it soon.

English uses the future tense more than Dutch does. Start pronouncing the ‘ll and your English will noticeably improve: I’ll, you’ll, he’ll, she’ll, it’ll, we’ll, they’ll. Read more about when to use will in English.

✔Maybe I’ll do it soon. Don’t worry, I’ll get it done before the end of the week.

8. Yes. No.

You know this: English is less direct and more polite than Dutch. Answering with just one word sounds rude (I know you don’t mean to be!) Remember the rule of three to be more polite:

✔Yes I do. / No I don’t. / Yes I have. / No I haven’t.

Have you finished that presentation yet?

No I haven’t.

7. Hereby

You only use this word in English if you’re writing a contract. Since you probably aren’t doing that, throw this word away. When attaching a document to an email, use

✔Please find the revised version of my article attached.

6. on school

Many prepositions are used similarly, so it’s hard to tell which prepositions are different. On is an easy one though: Are you sitting on the roof of your school? If not, then you are

✔at school

5. Greetings

There are innumerable ways to translate groetjes or groeten, none of which are greetingsRead the blog post about how (not) to use greetings.

✔Cheers/Take care/Kind regards

4. The report is published.

Is published is the past tense in Dutch but the present tense in English, so it usually does not translate exactly. Read more about how to get the passive right in English.

✔The report was published (yesterday). / The report has (already) been published.

3. I am having an idea.

Certain verbs cannot be used in the ing form, even when you’re talking about right now. The most commonly misused one is have because have also appears in many expressions where it means something else, like

We’re having dinner (have = eat)

He’s having a great time (have a great time = enjoy oneself)

When have only means have, it can only appear one way:

✔I have an idea. He has a plan. We have our own company.

2. When I would do that, you wouldn’t like it.

There are actually two issues here: when and would do. Read the post about if/when and conditional sentences.

✔If I did that, you wouldn’t like it.

1. I have seen that yesterday.

I have seen/I saw sounds a lot like ik heb gezien/ik zag. However, you use each form in a completely different way than you do in Dutch. When an action is finished (last week, on Tuesday, yesterday), you have to use I saw even though you would make the sentence with ik heb gezien in Dutch:

✔I saw that yesterday.

If you learned something from this post, please share it with your friends or colleagues!

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Why you should be talking to yourself

english language learning utrecht

Have you been trying to learn a new language (or even English–aren’t we always learning?) and can’t seem to get really comfortable speaking? You do your homework, review your notes, try to consume English-language media…but when you have to turn around and talk to a real person, it just doesn’t feel so fluent?

You are missing one thing. You should be talking to yourself.

Out loud.

Crazy, you say? Not so, according to PsychCentral, who asserts that talking to yourself is a sign of sanity and may even make you smarter.

And how else are you going to get in hours of practice conversing in a new language without frustrating the kind native speakers who volunteer to talk to you or picking up other learners’ bad habits?

I spoke to myself a lot, both when I was learning French and when I was learning Dutch. Especially in the Netherlands, I always got comments on how fast I was improving and how fluid my speaking was becoming. It didn’t happen all on its own. I had to talk to myself a lot to get there! I am now no longer actively learning either, and have noticed that the less I practice speaking, the less easy it is the next time I need to do it for real.

It’s easy to practice reading and listening–you don’t need anyone’s help. But usually people shy away from practicing speaking because they worry about what others will think when they make mistakes. When the only audience is you, you don’t have to worry. Just put it out there and listen to how it sounds. Correct yourself. Say the same sentence five times until it feels right.

Does the idea of talking to yourself still feel a little funny? Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Read out loud to yourself.

2. Ask yourself questions, then answer them.

3. Tell the story of your day as you’re brushing your teeth at night.

4. Practice giving your opinion on a topic that interests you or a topic that came up in conversation last week that you weren’t prepared for.

5. Practice planning a get-together with friends or talking about what you do for a living.

6. If you’re a more advanced speaker, then you have to do the same things native speakers do: practice that sales pitch out loud. Practice your presentation out loud.

Remember this: you can’t improve your speaking unless you speak. Speaking out loud is different from imagining a conversation in your head. Your vocal chords and mouth have to get used to new forms and vibrations.

Plus, if you talk to yourself, then the next time you speak to the native speakers they are that much more impressed because they don’t know about the time you put in practicing when they weren’t there. Good luck!

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Punctual, prompt, and on time

Punctuality is valued differently everywhere it seems, but here in the Netherlands, it is valued! Time is money, right? Maybe you’re turning over a new leaf this year and trying to be on time more often. How do you talk about it?

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Punctual and prompt are used in slightly different ways.

Punctual means arriving exactly at the appointed time.

We expect guests to be punctual at meals.

He is not a particularly punctual person.

You can use on time in almost the same way, but you can’t use it just before a noun.

We expect guests to be on time at meals.

He is not a particularly on time person. He is usually not on time.

Prompt means punctual, but it also means doing something quickly, without delay.

He answered the phone promptly.

She responded promptly to my inquiry.

Thanks for your prompt reply!

Now, if you’re going to start being on time, there are a few more words you need: sharp and on the dot. They both mean “exactly, precisely” and are used with time.

english lessons utrecht

This is what 6:00 on the dot looks like.

The meeting starts at 9 o’clock sharp.

We’ll see you at 6 o’clock on the dot. Please don’t be late.

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Turning over a new leaf

It’s January and everyone seems to be turning over a new leaf. Here a leaf is like a page in a book, not a leaf like something that falls from the trees in the autumn. This is an empty page, a chance to start over, to begin anew. When we turn over a new leaf we try to do better, to be better than we were before.

english lessons utrecht

Likewise, we can use leaf as a verb when talking about turning pages: to leaf through a book.

He leafed through the book quickly, trying to find the answer.

When you leaf through something, you turn the pages quickly, looking briefly at each page or even every couple of pages. You don’t read every page. You generally leaf through a book in the bookshop when deciding whether or not to buy it.

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She fell off the face of the Earth.

I haven’t posted here for the last few weeks and I’ve been pretty absent on social media too. (It’s ok if you didn’t notice!) That’s because I was on vacation! However, to the outside world, it might have looked like I fell off the face of the Earth. When you say this about someone, you imply that you haven’t seen or heard from them in a long time. They have, essentially, disappeared, or they are not making contact. It sounds pretty extreme, I know, but that’s the fun of it!

Why do we say the face of the Earth? This is not your eyes-nose-mouth face, but the face that means surface. If you fall off the face of the Earth, you can imagine falling off a cliff like this one in Ireland:

english lessons utrecht

This expression seems to imply that the Earth is flat and that we’ve fallen off the edge, never to be heard from again.

Here are some other expressions with the face of the Earth:

She’s the nicest person on the face of the Earth. (~in the world)

He dropped off/disappeared off the face of the Earth. (~completely disappeared)

The virus was wiped off the face of the Earth. (~was eradicated)

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