Monthly Archives: October 2011

Happy Halloween!

Halloween Jack-O-Lantern

Halloween is almost upon us!

I would like to take this opportunity to remind all the ESL readers of this blog that even though we focus on speaking English better the blogs’ focus is also on learning and understanding culture.  Why?  Because as I have said many times as an ESL teacher, business English trainer and Communication Coach – English language cannot be used solely as a tool of grammar and spelling.  To truly ‘speak English better’ you must understand the history and culture of English-speaking lands, especially if you are living in one now, permanently or temporarily.

I love Halloween.  As kids we got to make our own costumes (with the help of Mom and Dad of course) and go out ‘trick or treating’ to get a bag full of candy!  What more could a North American kid want?  (All that sugar is soooo bad for you though….but we didn’t care!)

Now as adults we might dress up in costume and go to bars or house parties to drink instead, or we might stay at home and give out candy to little trick-or-treaters who visit our homes.  It’s still fun!  And we MUST watch scary horror movies as well!

In the olden days, the costumes were ‘evil’ creatures, like devils, goblins, vampires, ghosts, and any of the other Silver Screen Matinee classic monsters.  In the olden-olden days, when Halloween was first being ‘developed’ as a practice, the idea was to dress yourself up as an evil spirit in order to fool the real evil spirits around, so that they would leave you alone.  In fact, did you know that one of the reasons why we have the custom of covering our mouths while we yawn is not just out of politeness, but to avoid ‘spirits’ entering our bodies?  Yes, we humans were very superstitious many years ago!

Anyway, if you would like to learn more about the history of Halloween, including the name, the colours, the costumes, the religious influences and the jack-O-lantern (carved pumpkin) please do a little more reading at or start asking folks around you about their experience with Halloween.

Enjoy this rather odd but fun celebration, and do not get sick on too much candy! (or ‘sweets’ as my British friends would say!)

Happy Halloween!!!

Canadian employers want ‘ethnic’ applicants to do more than study

Hello Readers,

I’ve been preaching for years the value of interpersonal skills and understanding cultural expectations when immigrants and foreign workers are looking for a job in Canada.  I’ve met people who think that they will get a job solely based on their impressive education and overseas work experience, as it would be in their home country.  They looked at me strange when I helped them put a “Skills and Interests” section on their CV to highlight that they do more than just study, work and sleep.

Back in the day when I used to do career coaching for immigrants I had a 95% success rate of my clients getting a job within 3 months of working with me.  I know what the Canadian employers and HR are looking for, and it is more than hard skills.  See the related article below please
(From the Vancouver Sun):

A revealing study into how Canadian company recruiters deal with applicants with non-English names is full of surprising results. One of them, which has gone virtually unnoticed (even, apparently, by the researchers), is that employers look much more kindly on applications from people with Chinese or South Asian names — if they show they’ve taken part in extra-curricular activities.

Presumably, the data is suggesting that Canadian employers are wary of the stereotypical ethnic Chinese, East-Asian or South Asian student who tries to live up to his or her parents’ expectations by doing little else but work with tutors to try to score high marks on school exams — with no life outside academic success. Employers have traditionally seemed to fear such job applicants have little or no social/life skills. The topic cries out for further exploration.

The statistical revelation about “extra-curricular” activities is buried in an impressive 50-page research report by University of Toronto researchers Philip Oreopoulos and Diane Dechief. It’s titled “Why do some employers prefer to interview Matthew but not Samir?” I wrote a column last week about this inventive research project, funded by Metropolis B.C. The study is based on the researchers sending out thousands of virtually identical resumes to Canadian employers, changing only the names of the applicants from English-sounding to foreign-sounding.
The reference I saw in the report to the crucial issue of extra-curricular activities was one throw-away sentence on page 45.

That’s where the authors wrote that they found company recruiters were more inclined to call back “ethnically-named applicants” if they had added extracurricular activities to their resume. “This occurs only for those with Canadian education and experience.”

I’m wondering why the University of Toronto scholars didn’t follow up this important piece of data. Maybe they will in the future. To their credit, the researchers did add a lengthy exploration of what Canadian employers seem to expect, or fear, regarding various applicants and their English- or French-language proficiency.

( )

Do You Prefer the Staff to be Nameless or Individuals?

My wife and I recently went to Summerhill Spa to redeem our freebie (mentioned below), and the first thing I should get out of the way is that the 90-minute hot stone therapy massages were great and we were satisfied.  We tipped well to show our gratitude.
The one thing my wife and I both noticed and thought odd, and is the subject of this blog post, was that no one introduced themselves, either when we came into the establishment nor right before our massages were to start.  They were all Asians in black – well one had a white T-shirt on, but essentially if you did not ask for their names you could not request the masseuse again.  I actually did ask their names (as is my habit and training) and both ladies seemed surprised.  So my first thought was that this was a customer service training mistake, and also it was doing a dis-service to the masseuses as surely their tips and requests would rise if they introduced themselves at the beginning, built rapport and thanked the patrons as they left, giving the patron a name to go with the face and service.
Then it occurred to me that perhaps the management had not over-looked something.  Perhaps they intentionally did not use name-tags, and did not encourage the staff to introduce themselves. 
Why would that be? 
Perhaps to establish a sense of standardization of service at the spa.  In other words – don’t come to the spa just for your favourite girl, because if/when she leaves to go work elsewhere, she might take clients with her!  At the very least clients who’d grown accustomed to her may not return. 
The funny thing is as mentioned before that all the girls are Asian, so if you are not too good at differentiating between Chinese, Korean and Japanese, and if you didn’t ask for names, you simply could not request the same masseuse you had for the next time.  You would have to trust in the standardization of quality of the ‘Women in Black’.
I don’t know which way is better, and I don’t know for sure why the management decided to use this no-name style.  Do you have any thoughts?
For now I think I am going to stick to my belief and communication skills training that says that a name is the most wonderful sound in the world to a person, and to be remembered by someone is flattering and the beginning of building rapport and a healthy relationship.  I always endeavor to remember names of folks in the service industry, especially at places I frequent.  I think I would hope for the same from others.  What do you think/prefer?

15 Most Butchered Phrases in the English Language

Compared to other languages, English isn’t particularly complex. But do other languages have nearly as many similar sounding words and phrases? We’ve all made the mistake of consistently butchering a phrase or two, not realizing it until someone had the nerve to correct us. Unless you couldn’t care less about sounding silly, it’s wise to double check the ones about which you’re unsure. Listed below are a few of the most commonly misheard and misunderstood phrases — those pesky egg-corns and malapropisms that have multiplied through the years. Avoid these at all costs.

1.     “I couldn’t care less” — not “I could care less:”

It should be noted that phrases do evolve, and the new way of saying them can become the accepted colloquialism. There is some debate as to whether or not that should be the case with “could care less,” which is recognized by the Oxford Dictionary. Even still, the phrase doesn’t make sense, as it means that you care at least a little bit. If you couldn’t care less, then you couldn’t care at all. There’s a clear difference.

2.     “A moot point” — not “A mute point:”

According to Merriam-Webster moot means obsolete, essentially meaning when someone makes “a moot point,” it’s completely worthless to debate. The words sound alike and the incorrect phrase somewhat makes sense — if you can’t hear a point, then what’s it worth? — But it would be wise to mute the “mute” completely if you tend to use the phrase.

3.     “For all intents and purposes” — not “For all intensive purposes:”

This phrase originated in 16th century England when King Henry issued the Statute of Proclamations, which was “to all intents and purposes,” allowing him to modify it at his discretion. Eventually it morphed into “for all intents and purposes,” meaning “in effect.” The use of “for all intensive purposes” has increased in the Internet era, though documented use of it occurred during the 19th century.

4.     “Nip it in the bud”– not “Nip it in the butt:”

There’s quite a difference between stopping something before it flowers and biting someone’s bum. One refers to ending a problem before it grows into something bigger; the other is an action that would cause problems.

5.     “Without further ado” — not “Without further adieu:”

Ado means “fuss.” Adieu means “farewell.” From those definitions, you can probably deduct which makes more sense. Think Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. It was much ado about nothing when you stayed up all night worrying about the results of the exam you eventually found out you aced.

6.     “Pique one’s interest” — not “Peak one’s interest:”

Some may assume “peaking one’s interest” is correct because you’ve reached the highest point of their interest. However, “pique” is the correct verb in the phrase, as it means to excite or arouse. In this case, your curiosity has been stimulated.

7.     “Deep-seated belief” — not “Deep-seeded belief:”

Something that’s “deep-seated” is situated far below the surface, according to Merriam-Webster. Of course, a deep seed would also be situated far below the surface. states the correct phrase comes from horseback riding; not gardening or farming.

8.     “Champing at the bit” — not “Chomping at the bit:”

When you’re “champing at the bit,” you’re showing impatience. But it seems that the authorities of the English language — such as Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary — have shown patience with the use of “chomping at the bit,” which is now more common than the correct phrase, despite the fact that the substitution is inexplicable.
(NOTE from Ric – the authors seemed to have missed the idiomatic understanding that this phrase ‘chomping at the bit’ refers to a horse that is biting the piece of rubber in its mouth (the bit) which is attached to the reins.  That is why we say ‘chomping’.)

9.     “Never ceases to amaze me” — not “Never seizes to amaze me:”

“Seize” means “to take possession of,” “to attack or overwhelm physically,” or “to bind or fasten together with a lashing of small stuff,” according to Merriam-Webster, so it obviously doesn’t belong in this phrase. Nor should it replace “cease” in “cease and desist” or “cease fire.”

10.  “Reap what you sow” — not “Reap what you sew:”

To “sow” is “to plant a seed for growth especially by scattering, ” according to Merriam-Webster. To “reap what you sow” is to get what you deserve — whatever grows is the outcome of sowing. A shirt or sweater would be the outcome of sewing.

11.  “Once in a while” — not “Once and a while:”

“Once and a while” yields 6,320,000 results on Google and a handful of results on Google News. It’s a common error, but most people seem to recognize the correct phrase from the incorrect phrase, as “once in a while” yields a hefty 58,000,000 results.

12.  “In layman’s terms” — not “In lame man’s terms:”

A layman is someone who lacks specialized knowledge on a topic. If you’re discussing football, and a layman enters the conversation with useless opinions, then it would be totally lame, man. But it wouldn’t be correct, or nice, to label him a “lame man.”

13.  “In the midst of” — not “In the mist of:”

The distorted version of “in the midst of” is a mondegreen, a term for when someone mishears or misinterprets a word. “Midst” and “mist” sound very much alike, but obviously shouldn’t be substituted for one another. “In the midst of” means “in the middle of” or “in the process of,” and has nothing to do with getting wet unless water or mist is inserted after the phrase.

14.  “Off the beaten path” — not “Off the beat and path:”

Venturing away from the path most taken can be an offbeat move, but you’re not venturing “off the beat and path.” That little bed and breakfast 20 miles south of the interstate is “off the beaten path.”

15.  “Out-of-body experience” — not “Outer body experience:”

You can go into “outer space” or have an “out-of-body experience,” a sensation in which you float outside of your body, but you can’t have an “outer body experience.” Keep that in mind if you ever choose to retell the tale of your traveling soul.

Free Business English Classes for New Immigrants

Although I have no affiliation, I like to support and pass on great initiatives like this one.  Free occupation-specific language training courses offered by 13 Ontario colleges will teach you the language and workplace culture skills required to communicate effectively in your job, for some industries. Gain the communications skills you need to build a successful career in your field.  Must have at least intermediate level English.  For more information click here: