Author Archives: Marjorie


Collocation is the habitual grouping of a particular word or words with another word or words; particularly nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. They are word ‘partnerships’ and unlike idioms, the individual words in a collocation contribute to the overall meaning.

The way words combine in collocation is key to language use.  Using collocations leads to effective communication. Collocations are like chunks of speech that make it easier to express complete ideas.  Understanding and learning collocation improves vocabulary skills and helps with the acquisition of correct pronunciation: fixed expressions provide you with the stress pattern of the phrase as a whole.

Examples are spare time, spare change, get married and go bankrupt.

Happy New Year, Happy Anniversary, Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas are all collocations.  Although ‘happy’ and ‘merry’ are synonyms, we do not say Merry New Year or Merry Birthday or Happy Christmas.

Collocations are exact.  House work is not the same as home work; nor are overhang and hangover or look over and overlook the same.

There are several types of collocation, including:

  1. Noun and verb
  2. Verb and noun
  3. Noun and noun phrase
  4. Adjective and noun
  5. Adverb and Adjective
  6. Verb and Adverb /Adverb and Verb
  7. Verb + expression with preposition

Examples of each type are:

  1. The dog began to bark when it saw the cat moving.
  2. Snow was falling as our plane took off.
  3. The man was convicted of committing murder.
  4. Amy always does her homework in the evening after washing the dishes.
  5. The students gave their teacher a round of applause.
  6. The first hint that a storm was imminent was a clap of thunder.
  7. His doctor ordered him to get regular exercise.
  8. The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage.
  9. Cheating on his final law exam was an utterly stupid thing to do.
  10. Are you fully aware of the implications of your action?
  11. Mary whispered softly in John’s ear.
  12. I vaguely remember that it was growing dark when we left the house.
  13. We had to return home early because we had run out of money.
  14. When Jane heard about her friend’s death, she burst into tears.

Effective Teamwork

The best definition of effective teamwork is a group of people who work together cohesively, toward a common goal, creating a positive working atmosphere and who support each other to combine individual strengths to enhance team performance.”

 Understanding and identifying team roles is important for successful teamwork: team members need to value and respect each type of individual and role.

Team members who are action-oriented are more focused on tasks than people, have a lot of ‘drive’ and like to see results.  They are good at turning ideas into action and deliver on time.

Team members who are people-oriented include co-ordinators and team workers. Co-ordinators are confident and clear about goals.  They are good at delegating activities, motivating and involving people.  They promote effective decision-making. Team workers are co-operative, diplomatic and ‘mild-mannered’. They listen to others’ opinions, try to avoid conflict and seek harmony in the team.

Team members who are ideas-oriented are creative and imaginative. They are bored by routines and do not always ‘play by the rules’. They have a different way of looking at things and are good at solving difficult problems.

All these team ‘roles’ are necessary for effective teamwork and each team member must value the skills and strengths of the others.

Team members need to be able to communicate clearly and explain their own ideas as well as listen carefully to others, ask questions to clarify others’ ideas and emotions and be sensitive to non-verbal communication.

Effective teamwork requires:

  • Open communication where members feel free, and are encouraged, to express their ideas and to disagree constructively
  • Mutual respect for the contribution of other team members
  • Active listening
  • Co-operation and blending of each others’ strengths
  • Placing group goals above personal satisfaction and/or recognition
  • Sharing of information and ideas
  • Identifying conflicts and obstacles to success and resolving problems co-operatively as they occur
  • Building consensus and facilitating group discussion

The overall goal is achieving a “win-win” solution which achieves the objectives of the team.

The expression ‘esprit de corps’ is a perfect phrase for teamwork; it means the co-operative spirit of a group whose members want to succeed and who are invested in the direction taken and results achieved collectively.

Informal English Expressions – Idioms

Idioms are phrases and expressions which are commonly used in everyday conversation by native speakers of English. They are a type of informal English in which the words together have a meaning that is different from the definitions of the individual words in the expression.

This can make idioms difficult for non-native speakers to understand. Idioms are used in a figurative, not a literal sense.  People use them to express something more vividly and often more briefly. They serve as images or mental pictures.

For example, in the sentence ‘At our weekly board meetings, the director could talk until the cows come home, the expression means ‘for a very long time’. Cows are usually slow-moving animals.

Idioms make the language more colourful.   In the sentence, ‘When worldwide demand for its software decreased, the company had to do some belt-tightening, the image is of someone trying to lose weight, or in this case, reduce expenses.

One reason language learners find idioms difficult to understand is they are not sure what image the idiom is based on.  Idioms, however, are not ‘arbitrary’.  It is possible to guess their meaning from the words they consist of.

Many idioms are derived from physical experiences.  The expressions ‘hot under the collar’; ‘let off steam’, and ‘slow burn’ refer to anger ; the image is of heat, and rising  body temperature.  Likewise, the expressions ‘lend a hand’, ‘try your hand at something’, and ‘hands-on training’ all use the image of the hand to perform an action.  From everyday experience, we know that most activities involve the use of our hands.

A helpful way of understanding idioms is to group them according to the ‘areas of experience’ from which they are derived.  If you recognize the origin of an idiom, you should be able to work out its meaning. Some origins are:

Sailing – take something on board, clear sailing, steer clear of someone, show someone the ropes, be on an even keel

Horse Racing – neck and neck, win hands down, go off the rails

Hunting – don’t beat around the bush, it’s in the bag, a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush

Gambling – hedge one’s bets, up the ante, stick one’s neck out, throw in the towel

Entertainment – behind the scenes, be center stage, a balancing act

Intelligence – sharp as a tack, on the ball, with eyes wide open, hit the nail on the head

Up to 20% of English idioms consist of words that rhyme or that use the same sound at the start of each word.

So, we say ‘go with the flow’, not ‘go with the stream’, ‘it takes two to tango’, not ‘it takes two to waltz’ and ‘through thick and thin’, ‘below the belt’, ’bite the bullet, ‘cash cow’ , ‘crystal clear’, ‘cut corners’ and ‘eager beaver’.

Idioms enrich our speech . They are a good use of imagery when describing attitudes, behaviours and trying to draw someone’s attention to a point you feel is important.

 They are fixed expressions ; if we change the grammar or vocabulary, we lose the meaning.

Finally, idiomatic expressions are used when speaking informally, not in formal conversations.



Direct and Indirect Communication Styles

A communication style is the way in which we use language to share information with others.

Direct communication happens when a speaker’s true intentions are communicated in his/her verbal message. It expresses the speaker’s/sender’s needs and desires explicitly. When a direct communicator wants or needs something, he/she will ‘come right out and say it’.

Direct communicators take the other speaker’s words at face value: they will not analyze the message for underlying meaning. They value the effectiveness of short, direct answers, and expect and respect honesty and frankness.

Indirect communication happens when a speaker’s true intentions are hidden.  Indirect speakers will not make a direct statement or directly answer a question that might cause tension or result in an uncomfortable situation. They are more likely to say “maybe” or “possibly’ when the true answer is “no”.

Indirect communicators believe that being polite is more important than giving a true response; this belief is related to the concept of ‘saving face’ – to avoid hurting another person’s self-esteem.

In the U.S. and most western cultures, direct communication is usually the preferred style. In other cultures, including African and some Asian countries, indirect communication is more prevalent.

To a direct speaker, indirect verbal communication is often considered evasive, even untrust- worthy, while to an indirect speaker, direct verbal communication is perceived as harsh, even rude.

It can be frustrating for speakers in cultures where direct communication is the norm to interact with speakers in or from cultures that use indirect communication.  For example:

A sales manager has just received a poorly-written report with a few unsupported statements. .

If the manager is a direct communicator, he/she might say to the employee, “You have made a number of errors and incorrect assumptions in this report. Go back, check your data and proofread your work.

If the manager is an indirect communicator, he/she might say, “It seems there are some mistakes in this report and readers may question some of your assumptions. Could you check it over another time before finalizing it?”

The goal is the same for the direct and indirect communicator: he/she wants the employee to turn in a better report.   However, the second request may require interpretation.

It can be difficult for someone unaccustomed to a particular style of communication to ‘guess at’ the underlying meaning of indirect communication, and this may create a block to meaningful communication.

With direct communication, there is less risk of misunderstanding, but more risk of surprising or offending the receiver.  With indirect communication, there is more risk of misunderstanding, but less risk of offending the receiver.

In the workplace, the potential for tension and stress increases when the two different styles converge

Handling differences requires understanding and flexibility.  Recognize how your style may affect others, and become more flexible in how you approach people with a different style. Try a slightly different approach – for example, use less “assertive” language with an indirect communicator.

Advancement in the professional world requires learning to ‘cross the bridge’ between both communication styles.

Formal and Informal Language in the Workplace

When addressing one or more individuals in spoken and written communications, and especially in the workplace, it is important to use appropriate language depending on who the audience is, and the context of the spoken or written exchange.  For example, using informal language when addressing a director or senior manager in a business meeting may show disrespect. Or, continuing to address a supervisor as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ at an informal social event may ‘offputting’.

Formal language is used in situations which are of a serious nature (i.e. business or academic meetings) and with people whom we do not know well, including strangers.  Features of formal language include:

  • Impersonal (3rd person) pronouns (it, they)
  • use of the passive voice (It is a widely-known fact that … )
  • complex grammatical sentences with more than one clause (Further to the memorandum sent this morning, all staff are required to..)
  • formal vocabulary and phrases which express ideas precisely (considerable, substantial,the majority of)
  • longer words with suffixes and prefixes (inadmissible, ineligible, irregardless)

Informal language is commonly used in more relaxed situations and with people whom we know well; for example, friends and co-workers.  Features of informal language include:

  • personal pronouns (I, you, we)
  • use of the active voice (We all know that …..)
  • simple grammatical sentences (We request all staff to ……)
  • shorter words that express ideas generally (lots of, a lot, most of)
  • colloquial expressions (“What a drag”, “That’s a no-brainer”, ”)
  • contractions, abbreviations and ellipsis (“[To make a ] Long story short ..:, “[Have you] Seen John around?”, “the girl [whom]I met in Montreal”

Formal language is more commonly used in writing; however, in e-mails and correspondence with friends, we use informal language. Likewise, informal language is usually used when speaking; however, in many business and academic presentations, people use formal language.

English does not have a clear set of rules for the use of formal and informal language; however, speakers and writers do need to be careful how they speak or write in different situations.

In summary, the best policy when faced with the choice of using informal or formal language is to: 1) use formal language when first addressing the person (it’s safest), and 2) listen carefully to the other person when you first meet: listen for the words he/she is using and try to use the same words.

Making Effective Presentations Part I

A presentation is a means of communication that is adapted to various speaking situations.

The role of the presenter is to communicate with the audience and control the presentation.

Although the audience receives the presenter’s message, this reception will be filtered through and affected by the listener’s own experience, knowledge and personal values.

Planning and preparation is the single most important part of making a successful presentation.

Planning and Preparation                                                                                 


Any presentation requires a clear strategy to help you reach your audience.

Strategy refers to what message you want to convey, and how you plan to deliver it, to your specific audience. Have clear goals about what you want to say to and accomplish with your audience.  Is your objective to inform, persuade, explain or motivate?  Be clear about who your audience is and why it is important for them to listen and pay attention. You must tailor your message to the audience.

Identify the tone you want to set for your presentation. If you are presenting to a group of experts, the tone of your voice is professional and respectful, in keeping with the formal language you use.

How long will your talk be? How will you help the audience to remember what you tell them?

What is your policy on questions? Will there be any discussion after the presentation?

When planning the content of your presentation, list the major points of information you want to convey.

Consider the number of key ideas and how much technical detail you want to include. This depends on the audience and the length of the presentation. The shorter the presentation, the fewer the number of key points. Simplify the content for a non-expert audience. Present the information in a logical sequence.

Visual aids like charts, graphs and videos can add impact to and understanding of your presentation, as well as adding variety and helping to increase the audience’s attention. They must be well-chosen, clear and well-prepared. They must strongly support what the speaker says, not just replace the spoken word. No matter who your audience is, the visual aid needs you, your interpretation, explanation, and justification.

Making Effective Presentations Part II

  • Planning and Preparation


A second step in the planning process is to develop the structure of your presentation.

Once you know what you want to say, you need to consolidate the materials into a meaningful message. In what order and how will you present the information? Don’t assume that the information will speak for itself.  Your audience may hear and process your information in very different ways based on your organization and presentation.

The audience needs to have the following questions answered:

  1. Why should they pay attention to you?
  2. When you have their attention, why should they care about the topic?
  3. If they agree with you about the significance of the topic, how are you justifying your ideas?
  4. Once you have convinced them, what do you want them to do? (What is the desired outcome?)

Develop a flexible, flowing structure. How your topic is relevant to your audience and what the benefits to them are should be addressed right away. Organize the body of the presentation logically; make it easy to follow.  Plan ways to encourage audience participation and maintain your credibility by discussing positive and negative views of what you are presenting. If you’re using visual aids, consider how you will incorporate them into your presentation effectively.


The audience, your purpose and desired outcome will affect the presentation style you use.  How you present the information is as important as what you present.  Organizing your ideas is one of the presenter’s tasks; gaining and maintaining attention is the other.

Your first words must capture the audience’s attention, engage them, even surprise them. Some good techniques include giving a quotation, a startling statement or fact, asking a question for the audience to think about or telling a short story.

Eye contact is your key means for establishing audience involvement: maintain eye contact at least 80% of the time during the presentation.   Other features of a good presentation style are:

  • Speaking clearly
  • Using correct pronunciation
  • Varying the volume and rate of speech a little
  • Using the appropriate level of formality
  • Adding emphasis
  • Using brief notes as aids (but not reading them!)
  • Pausing occasionally
  • Using appropriate gestures and moving around a bit


Good preparation will not only ensure that you have given careful thought to the message you want to communicate, it will also build your confidence.

Making Effective Presentations Part III


The aim is to convey a message that is worth hearing to an audience who wants to  hear it.

A presentation has three parts: 1) an introduction; 2) a body and 3) a closing.  Put simply, in the introduction, you tell the audience what you are going to tell them; in the body, you tell them, and in the conclusion, you tell them what you told them.  The introduction should take up 5-10% of the total time; the body, 70-80 %, and the closing, 5-10%.

Make eye contact with your audience before you start speaking. You need to make a connection with them and make a good impression.

In your introduction, identify the topic and purpose of your presentation. Place your topic in context.  Clarify the benefits of the presentation to the audience (why the presentation is relevant and important for them).  Give the audience an overview of your presentation: explain the layout and scope. State your preference with regard to questions.  Would you like the audience to hold questions until the end or can they interrupt you during the presentation?

Stand with your feet shoulder-length apart.  You should move about a little during the presentation, use gestures that are natural and vary the tone of your voice for emphasis and to keep the audience’s attention, but avoid incorrect body language like shifting continually from one foot to the other, toying with your notes and dramatic changes in the pitch of your voice.

Once you have the audience’s attention, you must maintain it.  Audience members ‘drift in and out’: you won’t have their full attention all the time. To help them refocus periodically and to make the information clear, you can give them different signals, such as:

  1. a list (“I will give you three main reasons why ……”)
  2. a link between parts of the presentation (“Now that I’ve talked about why this is important to you, let’s move on to …. “); ( “That’s all I have to say about …. I’d like to end with a summary of the main points.”)
  3. sequencing (“First, then ,next, finally), and
  4. repetition (“As I’ve already said, …)

The main body of the presentation contains the details of the subject or themes described in the introduction. All of the above techniques are useful in helping the audience to follow the information and remember it. They also help the speaker keep to the planned structure.

In your closing remarks, review and emphasize the key points, benefits and recommendation you talked about. For example. “If you follow these steps, three basic benefits will result ….”  Ask questions like “So what does all of this mean?” to promote discussion.

Techniques to improve your delivery include:

  • Using effective intonation
  • Speaking slowly and clearly: break your sentences into chunks (understandable groups of words separated by pauses)
  • Stressing key words
  • Showing enthusiasm and confidence
  • Keeping eye contact with the audience
  • Using appropriate body language
  • Making sure to keep to the time limit

Remember: you’re lost if you lose your audience.  Having clear objectives, a clear plan, and  clear signals are the secrets of presentation success.

E-Mail in the Workplace

Professional E-Mail Messages

The most common form of communication in the workplace is e-mail.  People’s professionalism is often judged by how they communicate online.

E-mail can serve different functions: to inform, invite, request, thank, apologize, confirm, or to develop a relationship.

The language/words used depends on whom you’re sending the message to and your relationship with them.

The tone of an email, which expresses a mood or emotion, should be respectful and formal, yet friendly, particularly with supervisors and managers.  E-mails, after all, do not give the sender the advantage of facial expressions and other non-verbal language used in face-to-face encounters, which can be used to modify one’s message to avoid giving offense or creating a misunderstanding.

E-mail messages sent at work must follow stricter guidelines than casual e-mail messages sent to friends.

The following are some basic rules of e-mail etiquette:

  1. Always include a clear subject line using words that focus on the topic of the message. This gives the reader a reference point. Use a different subject line for each separate message
  2. The salutation should be ‘Dear Ms./Mr.______’ when writing to a manager or supervisor – unless you’re on a first- name-basis with them. Avoid ‘flowery’ language like “Most Highly Esteemed Sir/Madam”
  3. Keep the message brief, but not so brief so as to appear rude or impatient. For example, do not reply to a detailed memo with words like “Me too” or “Good idea”. The response should be of an appropriate length
  4. A prompt response to someone’s e-mail is best. Don’t ignore it. Try to respond within a day
  5. Do not use emoticons (smiley faces, ASCII characters), especially in e-mails to people you don’t know well
  6. Do not use all capital letters; this is considered the equivalent of shouting
  7. Limit the use of abbreviations, such as FYI, PLS, THX or ASAP. Abbreviations like e.g., i.e and etc. are acceptable
  8. Do not keep replying to and sending the same e-mail about one subject over and over. Start a new email
  9. Never write or send an e-mail when you’re angry: the ‘tone’ in your e-mail is likely to offend the receiver, or give the wrong impression
  10. The signature at the end of the message should be short
  11. Read your message before you send it to make sure your message is clear.

Small Talk

Rules of Conversation

Even though small talk is casual conversation between two speakers who do not know each other well, there are certain guidelines that both parties are expected to follow – particularly in the workplace.

First, if one speaker asks a question, he/she should always comment on the answer given by the other or ask another question related to the topic.

As an example, suppose a businessman from Japan is visiting a client in Canada.  He is speaking to the production manager at the Honda plant in Alliston, Ontario.

The production manager asks, “Have you ever been to our plant before?” The client replies, “No. In fact, the only time I’ve been in Canada was for an auto exhibition five years ago.”  The manager then says, “How about I show you around our plant and then we can have some lunch?”

Why is the production manager’s response not appropriate?  Instead of abruptly changing the subject and asking a question about an unrelated topic, he should have commented on his visitor’s answer.  He could have asked him questions about the exhibition — where it was, what companies were represented, etc.

To keep the conversation going, provided the other speaker has shown an interest in the topic, one should ask open-ended questions: asking questions which elicit only “Yes” or “No” does not help to maintain the ‘flow’ in the  conversation.

Second, one should not interrupt the other speaker while he/she is talking. One speaker could show interest during a pause by saying something like, “I see” or ‘That’s interesting”, or nodding his/her head to show agreement.  Each speaker should listen carefully to what the other is saying.

Just as it is inappropriate to interrupt the other speaker, it is disrespectful to interrupt two other speakers who are carrying on a conversation.

Third, both speakers should maintain eye contact.  In many Western societies, a person who fails to is often regarded as unfriendly or impersonal, or rude.  Staring at the other person makes him/her feel uncomfortable and is considered disrespectful.  Also, speakers need to be aware of non-verbal messages they might be sending, including crossing their arms, fiddling with something in their pants pocket, tapping their toes, or shifting from one leg to the other.

Small talk is about building a relationship with another person. Speakers who conduct small talk need to be aware of conventions and unwritten rules to guide their conversations and build successful business connections.