Stephen Lau's website to help you get the wisdom to live as if everything is a miracle.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Know Your Vocabulary

Words are neither effective nor ineffective; they just impart different meanings to the sentences in which they are used. It is the writer's effective use of words and phrases that makes sentences effective or ineffective.

The English language is made up of nearly a million words and phrases. A writer, especially one whose English is not his or her first language, may face two major problems in writing: not knowing "enough" words; and not knowing how to choose the "right" words. 

Writing is made up of words. Effective writing requires having a good stock of vocabulary, as well as selecting the most suitable words and phrases to express the  ded ideas.



There are many English words and phrases that are frequently confused and misused by ESL learners. This book provides hundreds of those words and phrases with examples to show how they should be used correctly, such as: advance and advancement; acceptance and acceptation; accountable to and accountable for; acquirement and acquisition, etc. 

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau



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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Language is forever changing. What is currently acceptable or popular may be replaced by something else in years to come, and the use of slang is a strong testament to that. Slang is just an alternative way of saying something. It is sometimes hard to identify what is slang and what is not. Slang and colloquial expressions are often acceptable in informal writing because they are used in communication in movies, newspapers, radio, television, and other mass media The more you learn, the more you will know when to use or not to use them in your formal writing. No matter what, knowing these common everyday expressions is a plus for all ESL learners.

By a long chalk: by a great amount.
e.g. He lost his re-election by a long chalk.

Get wise to: discover; realize.
e.g. Soon you’ll get wise to what is really happening under the roof.

Killer: a very funny joke.
e.g. That last one was really a killer;  everybody laughed.

Kick back: relax and enjoy.
e.g I really want to kick back and enjoy the music.

Go the whole hog: go through thoroughly.
e.g. The prosecutor went the whole hog when he inspected the murder weapon.

Alive and kicking: in good health.
"How is your grandmother doing?" "Very much alive and kicking."

For a song: very cheaply.
e.g. I got that piece of antique for a song.

Head above water: out of debt.
e.g. Nowadays, it is not easy to keep your head above water.

Mean-green: money.
e.g. Can I borrow a little mean-green from you?

All that jazz: all that sort of thing; etcetera.
e.g. He was telling everyone about his success in real estate investment and all that jazz. Well, we all heard that before.

In a jiffy: soon.
e.g. The manager will see you in a jiffy.

Head above water: out of debt.
e.g. Nowadays, it is not easy to keep your head above water.

Next to nothing: hardly anything.
e.g. “Did she leave you anything at all?” “Well, next to nothing.”
Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Effective Writing Made Simple


Effective writing is a lifelong communication skill. To master this skill, useful information is needed. But information is useful only when you can apply it to your writing. It is the application of useful and appropriate information that makes a difference in learning effective writing skill, and it is what this book is all about.

Learning effective writing requires four easy steps. You need to find out what to do in order to write well. The next step is to do it. Strangely enough, many people know what to do, but they don’t do it. Then, you need to make sure that you are doing the right things when you write. The last step is to practice and practice writing until you become confident and proficient in your writing.

This book provides you with guidelines and the right information, including basic grammar, correct sentence construction, effective use of words, paragraph development, style and usage, with many examples and illustrations to show you how to write well.

Stephen Lau


Monday, June 17, 2019

Paragraph Writing

Any piece of writing -- whether it is exposition (defining or explaining), description, narration (telling a story), or persuasion (arguing) -- is composed of paragraphs. To write well, you must have relevant ideas that are well presented in your paragraphs. 

How do you write an effective paragraph if you have all the ideas?

You begin your paragraph by identifying the topic. You can achieve this objective using several different approaches: 

  • Direct approach -- saying directly what the paragraph is all about -- e.g. "Racial discrimination is a social problem in the United States." 
  • Indirect approach -- "Iron is essential for life. It is required to transport oxygen in the blood, as well as to burn food and body fat. Iron deficiency has long been a health concern in the medical field. But, recently, scientists discovered that too much iron could cause cancer and heat diseases."
  • Limiting-the-subject approach -- limiting and specifying the topic -- e.g. "Fasting is the most effective way to permanent weight loss," 
  • Catching-attention approach -- arousing the curiosity of the reader -- e.g. "Do you want to lose weight without losing your mind?"

Do not make the opening too long or too short. If it too long, the reader seems to know what you are going to say and may not want to continue reading; if it is too short, the reader may not be able to digest what is about to be discussed.

An effective paragraph should be adequately developed. That means you need to give your point of view, and this can be expressed as:a personal tone: e.g. the use of I, me, and my, or as an impersonal tone, that is, keeping your own views well below the surface. Wherever possible, give examples or facts to support your point of view, followed by a logical deduction or conclusion.

Vary the length of your paragraphs. Make some paragraphs longer, and some shorter, but never too long.

To write an effective paragraph, you must practice writing as much as possible. The more you write, the more you know how to write, and the better you will write.

Stephen Lau
Read my book Effective Writing Made Simple. Click here for more. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Learn Some Catch Phrases

The English language is rich in catch phrases, which have caught on with the public. Learn some catch phrases to enrich your use of the language. 


There’s blood for breakfast: someone’s temper is very bad this morning.

e.g. Your Mom got off on the wrong side of the bed. So behave yourself: there’s blood for breakfast!

Mum's the word

Not a word of the pudding: say nothing about it; Mum’s the word! (don’t say a word; keep it a secret!).

e.g. It’s just between us; Mom’s the word!

And that’s that: that’s the end of the matter.

e.g. I’m not going, and that’s that! (i.e. the matter is closed; no more discussion)

Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do: giving a piece of good advice.

e.g. Bye now! And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do! (i.e. be good)

Go up one: excellent; good for you.

e.g. Good job! Well done! Go up one!

Not if you don’t: a responder to “do you mind?”—i.e. I do mind!

e.g. “Do you mind if I use yours?” “Not if you don’t!”

He thinks he holds it: conceited and vain.

e.g. I don’t like his attitude: he thinks he holds it.

Don’t I know it: how well I know it.

e.g. You don’t have to tell me! Don’t I know it!

Back to the kennel: go way (in a contemptuous way); get back into your box!

e.g. You’re annoying me! Get back into your box!

Don’t pick me up before I fall: don’t criticize prematurely.

e.g. I don’t want to hear a word from you. Don’t pick me up before I fall!

That’s playing it on the heart-strings: that’s being sentimental instead of realistic.

e.g. Falling head over heals for that girl is more like playing it on the heart-strings.

A snake in your pocket: reluctant to buy his friends a round of drinks or to pay the bill

e.g. Now it's your turn to foot the bill! Have you got a snake in your pocket or something?

Spare a rub: let me have some.

e.g. Don’t take everything: spare me a rub!

Every barber knows that: that’s common gossip.

e.g. That is no longer a secret: every barber knows that.

Easy as you know how: it’s easy—if you know how.

e.g. There is nothing to this: it’s easy as you know how!

I see, said the blind man: a humorous way of saying “I understand!”

e.g. You’re telling me! I see, said the blind man.

I’ll take a rain check: I’ll accept, another time, if I may.

e.g. “Come over to my place for a drink.” “Some other time; I’ll take a rain check.”

Where’s the fire?: what’s all the rush?

e.g. What’s the matter with you? Where’s the fire?

Where’s the body?: why look so sad?

e.g. That’s not the end of the world! Where’s the body?

You must hate yourself!: don’t be so conceited!

e.g. The way you talked to her just now—you must hate yourself for doing that.

Head I win—tail you lose: I’m in a win-win situation.

e.g. It’s mine! Head I win—tail you lose!

Like a red rag to a bull: something that provokes annoyance or anger.

e.g. His very presence was like a red rag to a bull—immediately she looked sullen and sulky.

It’ll all come out in the wash: It’ll be OK; it doesn’t really matter.

e.g. Don’t worry about these minor details; they’ll all come out in the wash!

It’s boloney: it’s utter nonsense.

e.g. To do this is in the wrong order is like putting the cart before the horse—it’s boloney!

A fiasco: a complete failure of organization or performance.

e.g. The government’s bailout of the banks was a fiasco.

Hot from the mint: something “brand new” (mint is a place where money is coined).

e.g. The concept is innovative; it’s hot from the mint!

Straight from the horse’s mouth: first-hand news.

e.g. The story is v
ery reliable—it’s straight from the horse’s mouth.
  
No second prize: used for someone making an unoriginal suggestion

e.g. I must say there’s no second prize for your proposal!

Nothing to do with the case: it’s a lie

e.g. What you're telling me has nothing to do with the case!

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau





Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Learn Some Slang

Learn some English slang. Slang is highly ephemeral: it changes from one generation to another. Slang terms come into existence for various reasons, some obvious, some inexplicable, but most of them are delightfully direct and to the point. The use of slang adds spice to speech and writing.

in low water: short of money
e.g. In this economic time, many people are living in low water.

stunner: an attractive person or object
e.g. This necklace is a stunner on you.

flap one's mouth: talk too much
e.g. Shut up and don't flap your mouth!

off the nail: drunk
e.g. Every time I come home, I find him off the nail with a bottle in his hand.

ditch: abandon
e.g. He's not a trustworthy person: he's going to ditch you before long.

flattened out: broke; having no money
e.g. I tell you what: I'm flattened out!

something out of a bottle: an impracticable idea
e.g. Is your suggestion something out of a bottle?

stuffed shirt: an arrogant person
e.g. He's nothing but a stuffed shirt; nobody likes him.

do oneself proud: indulge in unusual and satisfying extravagance
e.g. Now that he has inherited the family fortune, he's going do himself proud.

fat lot: extremely little
Did you win a lot at the casino? Fat lot!


LEARN SLANG AND COLLOQUIAL EXPRESSIONS



Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Friday, June 7, 2019

How to Expand Your Writing

To write effectively, you must know not only how to write correct sentences but also how to use your sentences to expand and develop your ideas. 

Develop Your Topic 

After introducing your topic, you begin to develop it by giving it more substance. Before you do that, you need to help your readers follow the flow of thought, which is expressed in the following: 

Point of View 

This relates to how you present a subject. It can be explicit or implicit; it can be personal or impersonal.

Personal tone: You play the role of the writer openly and directly. In this approach, you frequently use I, me, and my.

Impersonal tone: You keep your personality below the surface.

Your point of view should be stated or implied in the opening paragraph, and maintained consistently throughout your writing. Remember the following:

Select your point of view appropriate to your subject.

Establish your point of view in the beginning paragraph.

Maintain your point of view consistently. 

Tone 

This reflects your personality in your writing. Your tone is inevitably implied in the choice of words you use, how you use them, and their arrangement within your writing. You reveal your tone towards your subject (it can be objective, subjective, or even angry), and towards your reader (it can be assertive or intimate). 

Plan Your Writing

 Begin your statement of purpose

Now that you have pulled in all your ideas for what you are going to write, begin your statement of purpose. Writing one to two paragraphs describing what you are going to say.

Remember the following:

This statement of purpose is for yourself, not your readers.

You have to think about what you can say before you can think of what you are going to say. 

Ideas have to be sought, and then arranged accordingly. 

Writing the Introduction 

Introductions serve the following purposes:

Setting the tone of your writing

Defining your purpose

Drawing your readers into your writing

Ways for effective introductions

Begin with a relevant quotation that leads to the subject.

Begin with some background information that leads to the subject.

Begin with a relevant question that leads to the subject.

Begin with directly speaking to your readers in an imaginary situation related to the subject.

Begin with a relevant anecdote that leads to your subject.

What to avoid in introductions

Avoid making obvious general statements.

Avoid making personal statements, such as the use of I.

Avoid making statements that lead to nowhere. 

Planning the Outline 

Divide your subject with all its ideas into major parts, and then into subparts. Your plan provides a guideline for you. You can always update and make changes to your outline.

Expanding the Writing

You expand your writing by giving it more substance in different paragraphs, with a topic sentence in each.

A good topic sentence is concise and emphatic.

e.g. The United States is now in an economic expansion.

A topic sentence can be in the form of a rhetorical question.

e.g. Why do people go into debt?

A topic sentence is generally placed in the beginning or near the beginning of a paragraph. 

Writing the Draft

Write your draft, which is an early version of your writing. Keep writing, and don’t worry about making mistakes in your choice of words or in sentence structure. Just keep on writing, editing, and revising.

In revising, read slowly, and read aloud so that you see as well as hear your words. Revision makes you more thoughtful and critical of what you have written; you will spot mistakes in punctuation, spelling and typing, lack of clarity, or inconsistency.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Prepositional Words and Phrases


Touch up: repair.


e.g. Can you touch up the scratches on the car?

e.g. This chair needs some touch-up.


Make up: invent; apply cosmetics; become reconciled.


e.g. He had to make up an excuse explaining why he was so late.

e.g. She made up beautifully before she put on the fancy dress.

e.g. After the heated argument, the man and his wife made up.


Run against: compete


e.g. I am going to run against him in the coming mayor election.


Die away: disappear.


e.g. The noise died away and it was silent.


Hand over: yield control of.


e.g. The manager has handed over the human resources section to the assistant manager.


Call off: cancel


e.g. Due to the bad weather, the meeting was called off.


Check out: leave; pay bills.

e.g. We are going to check out the hotel at noon.

Check up on: investigate.

e.g. The account will check up on the sum of money unaccounted for

Walk over: go to where someone is.


e.g.  I have something to give to you. Can you walk over?


Back down: retreat from a position in an argument.

e.g. Knowing that he did not have a valid point, he backed down.

e.g. We cannot back out of the contract; we are legally obligated to do what we are supposed to do.

Back up: support

e.g. Are you going to back me up if I decide to go ahead with the project?

Dally over something: waste time doing something.

e.g. Don't dally over your food. Just eat it!

Dally with: flirt with someone.

e.g. Don't dally with that girl; she has no interest in you.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau