January 16, 2013 - English is the passport to prosperity all over the world
So said Eric Pickles, the British Government’s Minister for Communities, in a speech entitled “Uniting our Communities” that was hosted by the Future and the Policy Exchange think-tank at the Institution for Civil Engineering in London on 15th January, 2013.
This wise cherub spoke forcefully about the vital importance of fluency in good English if people want to get on in life. While he was talking mainly about the immigrant community in Britain, what he says is equally applicable to everyone who want to get on, whatever their background. It is the key to social mobility. You can be well qualified but if you can’t communicate fluently and accurately in good English you can fail to achieve your potential.
Here are some of the things he said:
“English is the passport to prosperity all over the world. From Mumbai through to Beijing every ambitious parent is trying to get their children to learn English. We should want no less for our children here.”
“Britain is a country built on aspiration. You work hard to get your first job, your first car, your first home. But the reality is you need English to succeed. You can’t really function as a good doctor, a good teacher, a good mechanic, or since we’re in the Institution for Civil Engineering, you can’t be a good engineer, if you can’t talk the language.”
“…kids [who] don’t have fluent English are condemned to a very limited life.”
This is where our revolutionary new all-on-film English Speech and Pronunciation Course can help. It is no exaggeration to say that it can change lives.
December 2, 2012 - Education World Article
We are delighted and honoured that Dr Peter Greenhalgh, co-author of the English Speech and Pronunciation course and one of its presenters, was invited to contribute the following feature article in the 13th anniversary issue of India’s leading education journal, EducationWorld (November 2012). We shall be pleased to receive comments on what we believe is an increasingly important subject.
November 20, 2012 - I shall….
Sadly it seems the difference between these words has almost been forgotten. Actually the two words have very different meanings, sometimes simply expressing is planned for the future, and at othertimes what must happen.
“I shall go to the market this afternoon” simply means that is what I intend to do, and am planning to do later. Similarly “We shall go to the market later”. Remember that this changes to will where the subject is in the second or third person/s (ie you/he/she/they). So “You/he/they will go to the market later”
If there is something you are going to do (or need someone else to do whatever happens!) then shall and will change places.
I will go horse-riding. Nothing is going to stop me!
You shall go to bed now, even if I have to put you there myself.
There are a number of reasons why people are starting to forget about difference between shall and will. We generally use the abbreviation for shall and will in speech, which makes it much more difficult to remember which of the two words it represents. As we generally talk about our own actions, often with other people, we’ll sounds more like will than shall.
The way I remember which one is correct is the story of people who clearly understood the difference between will and shall, and exactly how they should be interpreted.
A man was swimming in the sea near one of England’s beautiful piers. He suddenly started to suffer from cramps and waved madly at the shore. He called out for help:
“I will drown and no-one shall save me!”
All of the people sitting picnicking on the beach heard him, respected his wish to drown, and none went to save him, honouring his wishes.
If discussing future plans with a friend remember the difference again.
“I shall take the car to Brighton tomorrow. Will you follow me or come tomorrow?”
Remember to make sure you use will and shall in the right places – don’t dish out instructions to your friend when you only mean to discuss future plans!
October 16, 2012 - Attention all Lawyers
Class Acts and Class Performers from all Classes
The prevalent media interest in the importance of good and correct English, together with the Gazette’s reference of 8 March, 2012 to the Social Mobility Toolkit produced by Professions for Good, caused me to look again at Dr Louise Ashley’s article of 6 January, 2011.
Dr Ashley wrote about the problems of placing law students with City firms, which she attributed to prejudice against the working-class origins, dress and speech. While I agree that students with great potential may be lost if their speech and dress appear professionally inappropriate at interview, this is hardly the fault of the recruiters, nor is a simple matter of “class prejudice”. It is obvious that future lawyers should speak and write clear, accurate and correct English. As Baroness Deech, chair of The Bar Standards Board, has recently stated, “I want a lawyer who is not just good in English but very good in English, and she told young barristers over a year ago that profession needed to sift out linguistic stumblers, “just as the tone deaf are not admitted to music school, nor are the two-left-footed to ballet school”. What is true of potential barristers is no less true of solicitors.
Of course students have their own lingua franca and dress code, but they must learn to gain respect by emerging from the student chrysalis and adapting speech, language and dress to the codes of their chosen profession and career. In the case of written and spoken English it is particularly essential for a lawyer to acquire precision and clarity to be sure of being accurately understood. If students of whatever social and ethnic background have not appreciated this and learnt to adapt accordingly, it is hard to see how they will display the flexibility of mind and expression to develop into top-class lawyers of the future who will attract class clients to a class firm and serve all sorts of clients with the respect and skill they deserve.
Employment agencies recruiting for far more modest positions for school leavers have understood that how applicants present themselves is immensely important regardless of impressive CVs. They are suggesting training in elocution or “presentation skills”, and promoting “dress for success”. There are many ways for students to help themselves to acquire a command of good English speech and pronunciation, including distance-learning courses that are a convenient, confidential and inexpensive alternative to attending lessons.
To say that regional/ethnic/class accents do not matter and have no influence on recruitment in these progressive days is more “politically correct” than realistic. Intelligent and able students from whatever social or ethnic background should not let themselves be excluded from the future “elite”, when by acquiring the relevant skills in correct, clear, accent-free English they can realise their potential. Indeed, City firms could usefully benefit themselves and contribute to social mobility by sponsor students wishing to improve their presentational skills, besides making this part of their internal training programmes.
Anna Mary Greenhalgh,
Retired partner and consultant, Grant Saw Solicitors LLP
August 14, 2012 - Nouns and apostrophes
Misuse of the apostrophe is one of the most common grammatical mistakes.
The apostrophe indicates missing letters (don’t, it’s) or the possessive when attached to a proper noun (Clare’s books) or a common noun (the book’s cover)
The misuse or omission of the possessive apostrophe is commonly seen in on shop signs, street names or even locations.
Regarding the misuse of the apostrophe, there is a running joke that circulates in grammatical circles which focusses on greengrocers’ (and yes, I did mean to state that as a plural possessive) signs marking the price of fruit and vegetables which often read “apple’s 40p each” or “pea’s £1:50 per box”. Obviously the possessive apostrophe should not be there – the price does not belong to the apples or the peas – nor is there any omission.
Remember where the apostrophe is placed – it is before the possessive letter “s” when added to a singular noun. The whiskers of a single cat are
“The cat’s whiskers.”
If you go on to talk about all of the cats in the world and their whiskers then you omit the possessive “s”, and just add the apostrophe
“The cats’ whiskers.”
This applies to all nouns to which s is added to make the plural, so if you want to mention the lectures given by all of the professors at your university then the correct way to write would be
“All my professors’ lectures were excellent and I could not have asked for more.”
If a noun ends with an s in the singular, then you can either place the possessive “s” after the apostrophe or not. The noun could be a proper noun such as Venus or Charles, or a common noun such as boss or bus. It is best to place the possessive “s” after the apostrophe if that is how you would say the phrase. I would say and write
“The bus’s lights are malfunctioning” and “the bosses’ tea is ready”
“Charles’ computers are all well maintained.” or “Charles’s computers are well maintained”
and “Venus’s gift to Paris was Helen”.
Where the plural of a noun does not end in s then the possessive s is added after the possessive apostrophe as if the word was singular. A certain supermarket has been slated for omitting apostrophes in the signs it hangs over departments. It has signs reading
Which should say
Place names should always have the possessive “s” if needed. Signs marked without a possessive apostrophe – Pauls Alley should be corrected to Paul’s Alley (and the people who approved them sent back to school!). Both the sound of the words and the written text clearly shows the difference between “St Thomas Street” and St Thomas’s Street”. This is another reason that is so important to use the apostrophe correctly – for clarity!
Missing letters should always get indicated with the appropriate apostrophe. Can’t from cannot, I’ll from I will or I shall, and don’t from do not. It is also used in abbreviations such as gov’t for government and fo’c's’le for forecastle (on a ship), which can even gain an extra possessive apostrophe for the fo’c's’le’s timbers! The use of some of the previously used apostrophes has died out (eg on ‘net for internet and ‘phone for telephone) and would now get classed as incorrect.
I know this is a lot to absorb, but here are a few sentences that should help.
My friend’s cat’s toys – the toys belonging to one cat of a friend of mine
My friend’s cats’ toys – the toys belonging to the cats of a friend of mine
My friends’ cat’s toys – the toys belonging to the cat owned by friends of mine
My friends’ cats’ toys – the toys belonging to the cats owned by friends of mine
My cat’s ball – the ball belongs to my cat
My cats’ ball – the ball belongs to my cats
Those things are my cats! – those are my cats!
These rules are fine for nouns and we shall return to pronouns another time.
July 23, 2012 - IMPACT!
I am not sure if the word impact is just being horribly misused, people have forgotten what it means, or a bit of both. The definition of impact is one thing hitting another with great force.
We constantly hear it being misused by politicians, businessmen, and even journalists! Naturally the word sounds more impressive to someone who does not really know what it means, but it is spreading through the media like wildfire, causing an epidemic of errors.
It is still used correctly, although very rarely. If the report was about a horrific crash then the word would make sense. When it is used to describe a situation such as doctors going on strike and the problems that will cause for the NHS it is wrong.
People want to sound important, but the best way to do that is to use words accurately. It is better to use simple words to describe things (as you are certain of their meaning) rather than try to sound clever by using words you are not 100% sure are accurate. It also sounds far more impressive if you do not just echo the words you hear all the time. If you speak and are confident your words describe the situation accurately, and are as precise as possible it will make people stand up and listen, as well as take note of you name.
One reason that the word impact may be spreading so rapidly through the spoken word is that people are often unsure of the difference between the words affect and effect. I want to give you two sentences that should help you to keep the difference between them locked into your brain forever.
Fermented apples affected the antelopes and they needed to lie down straight away.
The effect the earwigs had on the elm was extraordinary.
I hope that helps!
May 18, 2012 - Endorsed by the Queen’s English Society
The English Speech and Pronunciation course has been warmly endorsed by the Queen’s English Society. The following is the text of a review article by the Society’s President in the recently published Spring 2012 edition of its journal QUEST.
English Speech and Pronunciation
In the Queen’s English Society, we try to help people to improve their knowledge, use and enjoyment of the English language. Although we can do a little through personal contacts, we need nationally available resources to assist more generally. For grammar, spelling, punctuation and style in written English, we can recommend my book, The Queen’s English and How to Use It. For spoken English, we are delighted to welcome a new ally in our fight to spread the use and appreciation of good spoken and written English against the seemingly remorseless deterioration of standards. This is English Speech and Pronunciation, which has produced a brilliantly filmed course and also offers personal online tutorials using Skype video and web cams. Many aspiring actors could benefit for parts requiring “the Queen’s English”, as could people needing clearer, more universally understood spoken English in their jobs or social life.
The trouble with most distance-learning courses is that they are such lonely, uninspiring and tedious affairs that they are almost never completed. This is not the case with this new course. Every word is presented to the student on film by a small number of well-known actors and top tutors, sufficient to give a variety of voices but few enough to allow the student to establish a real rapport with them. Its producers say that they have never seen anything as exciting, attractive, enjoyable and effective as this, a joy for the eye as well as for the ear.
At present the course is available in a set containing a 700-page book and 14 beautifully filmed DVDs, but the publishers are planning wholly electronic versions that will come out during the year. The course offers some twenty hours of filmed tutorial. Priced at under £300, it represents excellent value for money. Anyone with a reasonable command of written and spoken English and wishing to speak the Queen’s English confidently, fluently, clearly and without embarrassing mistakes could find no better way to learn. A certificate of proficiency may be awarded following an oral examination (using Skype video and webcams), though the ability of any student who has complete this course to speak good English well and attractively will be so immediately obvious that it will scarcely need documentation.
Complementing the course are personal one-to-one live tutorials through which a tutor and student talk directly to each other, face-to-face, anywhere in the world, using Skype video and web cams as though they were sitting across a desk in the same room. This is valuable for those experiencing any particular difficulty of pronunciation, or wishing to make a speech or presentation, or to practise for an interview or to learn to pronounce technical or professional vocabulary. English Speech and Pronunciation also has an online shop with recommendations for study aids, including The Queen’s English and How to Use It, and through its blogs it will be recommending many audiobooks featuring some of the best of English literature and drama beautifully read aloud.
Clare Greenhalgh, whose brain child this revolutionary new course is, and her father Dr Peter Greenhalgh, who collaborated with her for over three years to create it, are to be heartily congratulated on what is a real tour de force. Their timing is perfect as little could be more appropriate in the Queen’s Jubilee year. Their achievement needs to be experienced to be appreciated, and we strongly recommend you to visit the publisher’s web site, with which the Society’s own site has a mutual link, www.speechandpronunciation.com. And while few of the Society’s members will themselves be needing tuition in the Queen’s English, they should not hesitate to recommend it; if they were to sponsor a student it could be one of the most valuable gifts they could give.
February 27, 2012 - Homer’s epic works
The epic poems of Homer, the blind Greek bard who composed them orally nearly three millennia ago, are as fresh, exciting and gripping today as when they were first heard.
The Iliad, a monumental epic over 15,000 lines long, describes an episode in the tenth year of the Trojan War that starts with the wrath of Achilles when dishonoured by Agamemnon and culminates the death and funeral of the Trojan hero Hector (whom all decent English schoolboys prefer to Achilles!). It is a tremendous, action-packed tale of war and honour, setting the claims of personal pride against those of altruism, although its bloodthirsty battle scenes, which leave nothing to the imagination, are generally more admired by the male mentality even in these egalitarian days when the fairer sex fights in our armies – though it is not without its more touching moments like that Hector’s last farewell to Andromache that was read by the Prof at the end of our study of the letter H.
The Odyssey is the Iliad’s sequel, the story of the fraught return of the Greek hero Odysseus, whom the Romans called Ulysses, from the Trojan War to his own island kingdom of Ithaca. It is without question still the greatest adventure story of the western world. We follow Odysseus through his encounters with the Lotus Eaters and the Cyclops, the terrifying Laestrygonians, the witch Circe, the Shades of the Dead, the beautiful but deadly Sirens, the monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis, his rescue from utter desolation by the kindly Phaeacians who take him home to Ithaca, where he recovers his kingdom from the arrogant young nobles who have taken over his palace and are forcing his wife to marry one of them. But this pathetic outline does little justice to a story of richness, excitement and characterisation that is unsurpassed in literature (though it was not “literature” at all when it was composed orally in the pre-literate so-called Dark Ages of pre-classical Greece).
Not surprisingly these great works have found innumerable translators, including Walter Leaf, whose version of the touching farewell of Hector and Andromache was read by the Prof at the end of our study of the letter H. Leaf’s translation of the Iliad is excellent and its archaic English is highly effective and appropriate to the archaic Greek of Homer, but happily we have very recently been blessed with a new and brilliant modern translations by Ian Johnston that sent our Prof into ecstasies of delight when he heard them read by Anton Lessor unabridged on audiobooks. It is hard to know whom to praise more – the translator or the reader. They complement each other perfectly to produce a work of art that is absolutely stunning and worthy of Homer’s genius. On a long car journey or during a sleepless night, on the beach or just curled up before a roaring fire on a winter’s night, you will find this productions absorbing, moving and absolutely compelling. And no parent or relative could do better for bright children than give this version of The Odyssey to stimulate their imagination, introduce them to a story that is fundamental to western culture, and hear good English beautifully and dramatically spoken. Our “star” recommendation isThe Odyssey, withThe Iliad held in reserve.
Do buy Ian Johnston’s text to follow while listening to Anton Lesser reading it – neither is cheap to buy, but they are worth every penny, and the text of The Odyssey is also now available for download to a Kindle at a very cheap price (though be sure you choose the unabridged version).
The Odyssey – audiobook, read by Anton Lesser
The Odyssey – paperback, translated by Ian Johnston
The Odyssey – Kindle edition, translated by Ian Johnston
The Illiad – audiobook, read by Anton Lesser
The Illiad – paperback, translated by Ian Johnston
The Illiad – Kindle edition, translated by Ian Johnston
February 20, 2012 - Proliferating Prepositions
“Prepositions are like women – always there when you don’t want them and never there when you do!”
Having a lady blog editor English Speech and Pronunciation can never be accused of disrespect to the fairer sex, but even she generously thought this adapted quotation witty enough to use as the introduction to the Prof’s comments on the misuse of propositions. Just look at this typical mixture of sins of commission and omission:
Heading off to London he didn’t want to miss out on meeting up with his friends protesting [against] the hike in students’ fees, and wanted to inquire as to why his name was not heading up the list of protesters.
All the prepositions marked in red are not only unnecessary but ugly, like a rash of pimples on a fair face. They are all sins of commission. But there is also one very important sin of omission, which, regrettably, like the sins of commission, is part of the verbal oil slick that washes across the Atlantic to pollute clear English.
The protesters referred to are presumably against, not in favour of, the increase in students’ fees, and we must say so. The word protest means to bear witness (as in the word testament) on behalf of or in favour of something (pro), and as there is no word “contra-test” we must add the word against in this case (or use a different word altogether ‒ for example, oppose). The following sentence will make the point nicely:
She protested her innocence and protested against the illegality of the court.
But it is not just the misuse of prepositions that mars our original sentence. Why do we start with “heading” and not simply “going” or “leaving for”? Everyone seems to head everywhere these days, as though it were a matter of note that we generally take our heads with us when we go anywhere. (We covered this in another blog, Off with their heads!). And do let’s reserve the word hike for its proper sense of a stiff walk: the correct word to use here is rise or increase.
Here then is the original sentence translated into good English:
Going to London he didn’t want to miss meeting his friends protesting against the rise in students’ fees, and wanted to ask why his name was not heading the list of protesters.
February 11, 2012 - Actor Robert Portal has rowed the Atlantic for charity!
We raise a glass to our very own Bertie Portal, one of the actor-presenters in our English Speech and Pronunciation course, for having raised a huge sum for charity by rowing across the Atlantic with his crewmate James Cash in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.
Despite breaking their oars half way across and various other near-catastrophes, he and James have made it to Barbados, where they are now resting their salt-blistered bottoms, creaming their calloused hands, and, we trust, tucking into some decent food and drink at last.
Of course, it’s just the sort of gung-ho, never-say-die thing that Richard Hannay would have done; but it’s one thing to be footing the boards of a London theatre playing Buchan’s hero of the Thirty-Nine Steps and quite another to be plying an oar on the boards of a rowing boat in towering seas in the middle of the Atlantic. But the upper lip stayed stiff. Failure is no more an option for the real Bertie Portal than it was for the fictitious Richard Hannay, a part which he has made his own.
With typical understatement his report in today’s Daily Telegraph made light of what must have been a pretty hairy Odyssey. He was disappointed by the lack of sea-life (which may have been disappointed that he wasn’t David Attenborough with a camera crew), and the fishing was not great (his best catch being a couple of pairs of Spanish mackerel, tasty but inadequate).
The daily routine involved a lot of tedious distilling of sea-water, and cooking was a difficult chore with much burning of fingers and scalding of legs, but there were some seriously cathartic moments too. He describes having to get used to the continual onset of waves so mountainous that they would have terrified Captain Ahab. It often seemed impossible that the little boat would ride over them, and on one occasion it was! They capsized, and as the boat turned turtle it smashed their computer and most of the stuff in the tiny cabin where Bertie had been sitting listening to Highway to Hell on his iPod. But there was nothing Hannay couldn’t cope with. Apart from such alarms and excursions, he said it was mainly rowing and sleeping, taking it in turns two hours on and two hours off, day and night, interspersed with strange hallucinations ‒ one of which made the slapping of the waves under the keel sound like “a rather good dinner party going on downstairs”. Bertie is indeed a master of understatement!
But do read the full story of Bertie and James’s adventure on the Talisker Atlantic Challenge website, www.facingtheatlantic.com. However much Bertie plays it down, these two were Captains Courageous, and their 63 day Odyssey has raised a lot of money (£400,000 already) for a very worthwhile cause – the Face the World charity that treats children with facial disfigurements in developing countries.
Facing the World was set up by Bertie’s late friend, Martin Kelly, and doing the Atlantic challenge was, he said, something he just had to do for Natascha, his friend’s widow, whom he had known ever since drama school.
So let’s all raise a glass of Talisker’s straight malt to the heroic Bertie and James, then make a donation on www.justgiving.com/facingtheatlantic. This charity literally changes disfigured children’s lives, so please be generous and help more of them to be able to “face the world”.
Clare and Peter Greenhalgh