More News: Global LT

Fresh on the heels of my admittance in Stockholm University’s Academic Swedish course comes my hiring at Global-LT.  They provide businesses around the world with a number of language-related services, including language lessons, cultural sensitivity training, and translations. I am now one of their contracted English tutors in Stockholm! (Not translating, sadly—at least not yet.)

I’m excited for this opportunity to work with business professionals and meet new people!

Translation, Editing, and Voice

I’ve written before about my secret dreams of becoming a translator. (I guess that makes them not so secret anymore.) Truthfully, there is some amount of translation that I do as an editor; many of the projects I work on are from EFL writers, and oftentimes in these cases, editing becomes the translation of the idea or concept that they’ve described into how a typical native speaker might phrase it. This is not to suggest that the manuscripts I work with are garbled messes. They are not! But there are levels of flow and idea organization that can be difficult to achieve in a foreign language–I’ve experienced this firsthand. When I look anything of at least some complexity that I’ve written in Swedish and think about how it would be translated back into English, the result is never a perfect alignment with what I originally had in mind. In fact, it’s often clunky and childish. The struggle is real.

The question is trickier when the English is not clunky or ambiguous; when it sounds like how a native or fluent speaker would actually phrase something; when not only the meaning but the stylistic intention is clear. Is this repetition of a word deliberate, or is it because the writer couldn’t quite reach for an acceptable synonym? Is this unorthodox usage intentional, or is it the result of a misunderstanding? (My Swedish friends will tell you that I default to menar (“mean” as in “intend”) instead of betyder (“mean” as in a neutral dictionary definition or logical consequence). While one could interpret this idiosyncrasy as a poetic attempt to give words or sentences souls and wills of their own, since that’s not entirely impossible to imagine, the truthful answer is that menar is just closer to “mean” and so that’s the one I hit upon when speaking.)

Generally speaking, I prefer to think of my editing as minimally invasive, especially when it comes to EFL clients. In my opinion, as long as your writing successfully communicates your intention, without ambiguity, unintended double entendre, or distracting word choices, then I will leave it untouched. I’m more than happy to recommend style guides and the like if you want to work on developing your English voice–but I want it to be your voice, not mine.

In my undergrad years, I took a fair amount of writing workshop courses. The final project in one of them was to re-read the entire corpus of work a given classmate had produced over the semester and write a little blurb on them and their style, as well as provide detailed, private feedback on their work overall (as opposed to the feedback provided publicly in workshop sessions). We didn’t get to pick our partners for this assignment; this was a mandate from the professor. To this day I’m not sure if it was a random selection or a deliberate pairing, or something in between.

I remember the classmate I was assigned fairly well, and the general tone of his work (abstract, experimental). I might have used the words “ethereal,” “dream-like,” and “otherworldly.” But what I remember really well is what he said about my writing: that I had a really distinctive voice, and that even without looking at the name on the piece he could tell which submission was mine. He phrased it as a negative, and while at the time I was a bit miffed that he thought that was a bad thing, years later I finally understand that it’s rightfully a mixed blessing, especially when editing.

(That “distinctive voice” all but disappears when blogging; apparently I can only coax it out in the privacy of work that never has to see the light of day. As a result, I rarely feel like myself online. But anyway.)

The urge to go to town on a manuscript and move things around to how I would say them would be overwhelming if I ever let it out. In that respect, I’m like an editing Hulk. Or, more appropriately, when I edit, I’m Bruce Banner: by focusing purely on meaning and (sometimes) flow, I keep the HULK REWRITE urge at bay. I stay the mild-mannered word nerd and let your writing take the spotlight, for better and for worse.

Image courtesy Eneas de Troya

I have been known to let the Hulk out, but only after people have explicitly asked me to do so. I recognize that writing, especially creative writing, is personal. There needs to be a level of trust and openness between writer and editor before those kinds of changes should even be on the table. The best creative writing comes from places of vulnerability and uncertainty; if you can’t be vulnerable and uncertain, the writing will fizzle out.

Greek and Latin Roots: “A” Base Words

I’d like to return to my series on affixes for a while and talk about Greek and Latin roots. These roots refer not only to affixes, but base words (also called “stems”; these are the main word to which affixes or prefixes are added) as well.

Again, for teachers, I would still highly recommend the book Greek and Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary. For students, I would like to feature what is probably the most useful chunk of the book here: common classical roots of English vocabulary. All content here, while essentially common etymological knowledge, I’m taking from Appendix C of Greek and Latin Roots, with periodic changes in the sample words (just because I felt like it). Since I’ve already talked (to an extent) about affixes, I’d like to start with base words. No Swedish translations are given this time, as they would be much more difficult to sort, and not nearly as helpful.

Base Meaning Example
(a)llel one another parallel
ag, act, igu drive, go agile, action, ambiguous
adelph brother Philadelphia (“the city of brotherly love”)
aer(o) air, wind aerate, aerobic
agog(ue), agogy lead (verb) pedagogy, synagogue
al, alma nourishing alimony, alma mater
alg pain, ache nostalgic, analgesic
am(a), amat, amor love, friend amiable, amateur, amorous
ambul walk ambulatory
angel messenger angelic
angle angle triangle, quadrangle
anim life, soul animate
annu, enni year annual, perennial
anthrop(o) human being, mankind anthroplogy
ap(i) bee apiary
aqu,aqua water aqueduct, aquarium
aquil eagle aquiline
astr(o) star astronomy
athl contest, struggle athlete
audi, audit hear, listen audience, audition
avi bird* avian, aviator

*Note that this one has also become synonymous with flight; while “avian” means “pertaining to birds” and an “aviary” is large, enclosed space to keep birds, an “aviator” is not a bird, but a human being who pilots an airplane (or other flying machine).

If the sample words are new to you, or you’re not sure how they connect to the meaning of the base word, I recommend looking them up in the Online Etymological Dictionary.

Why I Still Study Foreign Languages

I’ve always been interested in foreign languages — my electives in high school were essentially all the music and foreign language classes I could fit in my schedule — so it’s not surprising that I would fall into teaching as a career.

I’ve made oblique references to studying Russian and Swedish elsewhere; I’ve also studied, in increasing order of fluency, Korean, German, and French. If you peek at my DuoLingo profile, you can see that I’ve also dipped my toes into Turkish. (It’s been a while with that one; I wouldn’t claim any kind of proficiency or knowledge.) While I’m just plain interested in languages, I think it’s important for language teachers to keep up their own language studies throughout their careers.

Image courtesy Hans Hillewaert.
Image courtesy Hans Hillewaert.

1. You can understand your students better.

If nothing else, when you have a better understanding of your students’ mother tongue, you can better understand where there might be L1 interference or confusion. My Korean students and friends, for example, often would use the verb “play” in a manner that, while not technically wrong, sounded odd, especially coming from someone older than 10. (“How was your weekend?” “It was good, I played with some friends.”) If I didn’t know any better, I would just be confused or annoyed by this persistent pattern in Korean English. But it’s an idiosyncrasy that’s a lot easier to understand because I know (a little bit) about Korean.

As it turns out, in Korean you can use the verb “to play” for everything from schoolyard games to company dinners (놀다) to just shooting the shit in the park, whereas in English we quickly outgrow it unless it’s in the context of a sport or a musical instrument. I hope that, if I taught my teenage Korean students nothing else, I got them to start using “hang out with” instead of “play with” when talking about their weekends.

2. You can remember what it’s like to be a student.

After a few years of pedagogical training and work, it can be really easy to fall prey to teacher hubris. Being a beginner again helps foster a sense of empathy with your students and their own struggles.

3. You can learn to be a better teacher.

This one is a little tricky if you’re not actually taking a class, but you can probably still be inspired by a good textbook or workbook. While there is plenty of EFL material written by plenty of highly qualified EFL experts, English isn’t the only language out there. The more you can branch out into other languages, the greater pool of inspiration you have to draw from. Maybe the worksheet you did for French is the perfect thing to adapt to your direct object lesson next week, and so on.

4. Your students can feel more comfortable with you.

Many argue for the immersive “target language only” philosophy; this is the approach I was taught when I did my CELTA. While I agree that the immersive (or faux-immersive) environment can be exactly the challenging situation that a lot of students need, and that it sometimes is the best practical situation (e.g. a class of international students who don’t all share the same mother tongue), I don’t think it’s always entirely appropriate. Some students are shy, or not quite confident in the target language–sometimes just knowing that they can ask a clarifying question or use a word in their mother tongue is the Dumbo’s feather that they need to take productive learning risks. The more languages you know at least a little bit about, the more students you can reach.

So I study languages for all of these reasons, but also just because it’s something I’m interested in. I’m not the most diligent student, I’ll admit, but I still make an effort. I’ll get into my own study habits and schedule in another post. But for now, I’ll leave things here.

Availability Announcement: Tutoring

As of August 29, I will be studying Academic Swedish at Stockholm University. This means that my tutoring calendar for the fall of 2016 is nearly full. Starting today, I will only be accepting, at my discretion, individual and very short-term (as in, 1 week or less) tutoring appointments. I will resume booking long-term and ongoing tutoring appointments sometime in December (date subject to change).

My editing calendar remains largely unaffected, so please feel free to contact me with editing inquiries.

Tatoeba Tips

Tatoeba began as the brain child of Trang, inspired by the English–Japanese website The name “Tatoeba” even comes from the Japanese word for “for example.” You can read more about the history of on Trang’s blog, but the long and short of it is: Tatoeba is a collection of open source, community-generated sentences in multiple languages—something like a huge, global phrasebook. These sentences can be a great resource in your language study. But Tatoeba can also be overwhelming at first, so here are some tips to get you started.

1. You should probably register.

The nature of Tatoeba is such that everyone can browse it and look up sentences; registering allows you to contribute translations, add your own sentences, and (eventually, if you decide to ask for such privileges) tag and link sentences. If you’re just curious about a word now and then, you probably don’t need to sign up. But if you want to dig deeper, you’ll need a proper account. (It’s free!)

Note that Tatoeba, unlike Lang-8, doesn’t make a clear distinction between your native language and the languages you’re studying; rather, you list any languages you can speak, and then rate your fluency in them, from “almost no knowledge” to “native level.” So go ahead and add everything you’re interested in and know about. Here are mine, for example:


There is no limit to how many languages you can have in your account, and there’s no fluency requirement, so add as many as you like. My Korean, for example, is in absolute shambles, but since I at least know how to read Hangul, I listed it (and then put it at level 0: “almost no knowledge”).

2. Learn to use the search function.

Tatoeba uses Sphinx Search to account for all of the complexities of language. It’s mostly intuitive, but there are some wrinkles to be aware of. You can learn more at the Tatoeba Wiki.

Sphinx Search relates to the search bar at the top of the page. This search focuses just on the content of sentences, looking for actual, literal words. If you’re interested in a particular category of words, such as sports or politics or weather, you can search the tags instead. This search function is much less complex and does not use the same operators as Sphinx Search.

3. Add sentences.

If you want to improve Tatoeba (and of course you do, right?) and you have the time, you can also add sentences of your own. There are two ways to do that.

First, you can simply add a sentence directly to the corpus. Tatoeba even helpfully suggests vocabulary that hasn’t yet been featured on the site, so you can maximize your helpfulness by focusing specifically on those words.

The other way you can add sentences is by translating sentences already in the corpus.

When you’re looking at sentences on Tatoeba, you’ll see a little symbol in the upper left corner of every sentence, like this:


This is the option to translate. It’s not necessary (and even, arguably, flat-out unhelpful) to give a translation that’s identical to what’s already on the site. (Alas, there’s also no upvoting/approval system like there is on Lang-8, so there’s no good way to tell if a given translation is good or bad.) But if you look at sentence and see that it doesn’t have a translation in a language you know well, or the other translations are awkward or inadequate, then you can feel free to add one! When you click that symbol, a little box comes up:

I’m not actually brave enough to try to translate this into English. Yet.

Tatoeba also uses indirect (from L1 to L3 by way of L2) translations. It distinguishes between direct and indirect translations with blue arrows (indicating direct translations) and gray arrows (indirect translations). But you have to be careful: if you decide to translate something indirectly, make sure you click the translation you’re working from first. This will take you to a new page where that L2 translation is the “main sentence,” rather than just a translation. That way, your L3 translation is appropriately marked on the original L1 sentence as an indirect translation, and the code stays neat and tidy. (You can read more about Trang’s philosophy here.)

The principle of translating on Tatoeba is sentences and meaning, rather than word-for-word correspondence. “I’m 25 years old” is not, technically, a word-for-word translation of French (“I have 25 years.”) or Russian (“To me there are 25 years.”), but it’s how native speakers would express the idea of being 25 years old, so it’s the best (and only) possible choice.

4. Submit high-quality work.

Tatoeba is not a playground, or an opportunity for feedback/error correction. When you submit a translation or a sentence, you are submitting study material for other learners to use. This is why Tatoeba stresses that you only add translations and sentences only in languages in which you have fairly high levels of competency. Anything else—grammar or vocabulary practice, writing practice, proofreading—is better saved for elsewhere, such as Lang-8.

That’s Tatoeba in a nutshell! I’d like to shout out to my friend Yousef, who was the first to alert me to the existence of Tatoeba. It’s a great project but a little overwhelming, so if you need help (or if I missed anything), comment below or let me know on Twitter!


Short Stories for EFL: 5 Online Resources

What do you do when newspaper articles are too short, but whole novels are too intimidating? Pick up a short story! And now, thanks to the Internet, there are plenty that you can find for free.

At least in the anglophone world, short stories aren’t quite as popular today as their longer counterparts. Not counting back issues of magazines like Analog or Asimov, I’ve read exactly one short story collection in the past three years and counting. I suspect this is a trend in most languages today: people are more interested in long-form novels rather than short fiction collections.

Image courtesy semiphoto on MorgueFiles
Image courtesy semiphoto on MorgueFiles.

But while they might not be your usual cup of tea in your mother tongue, short stories are perfect for reading practice in a new language. The language isn’t scaled down like in typical journalism, so it’s a great place to find higher level or more niche vocabulary (useful if you’re studying for something like IELTS) and to grapple with the more complicated aspects of English grammar (again, useful if you’re studying for something like IELTS).

The Internet is absolutely full of free short stories. What follows here are the sites that I think are the best for EFL students, whether because they include audio files, simplified language, or just a large variety of writers and genres.

1. takes a lot of its material from the Voice of America, which means that it’s inherently very America-centric. This is no less true for their selection of short stories, which are all also public domain. It would normally be a challenge to study such (relatively) old stories, but these are all presented in VOA’s “special English,” which is to say that they’ve been adapted (somewhat) into simpler, more modern English. This resource is especially useful for beginner and lower intermediate students. Advanced students might not find it particularly challenging, in which case they might want to find the original versions of the stories listed, or move on to one of the other sites on the list.

While the stories at ManyThings are adapted from literary short stories for adults, StoryNory features folk and fairy tales aimed at children. That doesn’t mean they’re not interesting, however! Their stories come from all over the world, from Ghana to Russia to China to the Philippines. Like ManyThings, StoryNory also includes an audio file with each story.

ESLbits is a really fantastic resource. The short story collection is extensive and comes with sound files, and if you run out of those you can move on to novellas (longer than a short story, shorter than a novel) or even full-length novels. None of the English in these has been adapted (as far as I can tell), so I would recommend this for the upper intermediate and advanced learners. Both British and American writers are represented, and the selection is a little more modern than on ManyThings.

ClassicShorts is a site targeted to native language readers rather than EFL readers, so they haven’t been adapted and also don’t include any sound files. You can search their library by story title or by author name. They have a lot of goodies that are somewhere between ManyThings and ESLbits in terms of age.

Eserver is a project of Iowa State University; their goal is to create an accessible online compendium of writing in a variety of topics. This includes a host of short stories, but they also have novels and poetry. Like ClassicShorts, this resource isn’t aimed exclusively at EFL learners, so you’ll find the pieces in their original English and without any sound files. This one and are best saved for upper-intermediate and advanced learners.

So there you have it: more than enough short stories to round out your reading practice! Let me know which ones are your favorite! (My own favorite short stories are, of course, fodder for another post.)

A Freelancing Introvert Versus Phones

Does anyone like talking on the phone these days? It doesn’t seem like it.

I contributed more than my fair share to the phone bill as a teenager, thanks to summer camp friends who lived a few area codes over. I never stressed over making those calls, or having to exchange brief niceties with a parent or sibling, or leaving a message on the answering machine.

Image courtesy Lia
Image courtesy Lia

But something about the phone changed, and I don’t know what it was. Maybe the introduction of the cell phone–now people can be anywhere when you call them. That seems trivial and unrelated until you think about all of the new ambient noise that includes. Before, if you called someone’s landline, they would actually have to be home to take the call. Even the loudest family, I think, isn’t as loud or as sound distorting as traffic or crowds. Also, it might be my imagination, but the sound quality on a cell phone is a little (or a lot, depending on your reception) worse than a landline. Ambient noise + iffy quality + the never-ending problems with poor reception = a lot of “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Maybe it was growing up. By college I connected with friends via the Internet instead of the phone. The phone was now either for chores or for tedium: booking appointments, telemarketers, calling into work sick, etc. Phone calls meant I was getting called in to cover on my day off or something equally unpleasant.

Whatever the reason(s), by adulthood I had a proper aversion to using the phone. Anxiety, even, would not be far off the mark. Even as an introvert, my friends and social connections are important to me; much as I love my hidey-hole, once in a while I need some company to share it with. I love hosting parties and lecturing people about my niche interest. (Do you want to know about caves? The subjunctive mood? Greek mythology? I’m your woman.) This enthusiasm surprises people sometimes, and they wrongly assume I’m an extrovert. Nope nope nope. Outside of a controlled scenario that includes boundaries and scripts, I’m a mess. Surprise interactions with new people are stressful, not exhilarating. And “surprise interactions with new people” pretty much defines telephone calls.

Now I’m a freelancer. People need to be able to get in touch with me, so I include my phone number in all of my advertisements. This means I have to be open to random phone calls at any point during the day. Not only that, but phone calls from strangers and unknown numbers–calls that, as a student, I could afford to screen. Especially since an unknown number usually meant some kind of marketing scheme or other. Not anymore. Now that unknown number might help me pay the bills or have dinner. (Or it might be the tax office, which is not nearly as profitable but nonetheless important.) Someone once said that you should do one thing every day that scares you. For me, it’s answering my phone. (Hah, if only I were getting daily calls from new customers!)

Image courtesy DodgertonSkillhause
Image courtesy DodgertonSkillhause

Of course, with the advent of cell phones came texting. A godsend. A text message isn’t instantaneous–it’s only as fast as you can text–which is sometimes an issue, but it has the advantage of permanence. If you give me directions over the phone, I’ll have to scramble to write them down or ask you to repeat them a few times to make sure I won’t get lost. If you text me, I can just open up the message and access that information anytime I want. I can take all the time I need to formulate my response without seeming rude or inattentive.

Fortunately, most other people seem to be in the same boat as me. Whether it’s because of the tension in my tone, or because of their own personal preferences, a new customer almost immediately switches to text messages after the initial phone call. Is it because more and more people have developed an aversion to phone calls? Is it because we’re all immigrants struggling with a shared foreign language? Have I lucked out and attracted a client base with a similar temperament to mine?

I don’t know, but keep on texting.


Take This MOOC: Learning How to Learn

First of all, what is a MOOC? “MOOC” stands for Massive Open Online Course: free courses you can take online, usually alongside dozens, maybe hundreds of other classmates from around the world. They’re created by professors at prestigious universities and experts in the field and usually consist of video lectures, readings, and homework assignments.

Whenever I have a lull in my schedule, I like to see if there are any MOOCs coming up that pique my interest. I’m a member of, but I hear that also has a lot of great classes and will be looking into it in the future. MOOCs can be hit or miss, so I thought I’d collect some of the hits here.

The first MOOC I’d like to recommend is Coursera’s Learning How to Learn. It was created by Dr. Barb Oakley and Dr. Terry Sejnowski and is offered on Coursera via UC San Diego.

In my experience, it’s really easy for MOOCs to fail. There are two traps they end up falling into: (1) spoonfeeding you almost no information, or (2) throwing you in the deep end right away. Learning How to Learn charts a middle course; it might even err towards spoonfeeding, but because the information is immediately applicable to learning and habits generally, it maintained my interest throughout the course. The videos were short and punchy, making them the perfect thing to watch while taking a break from something else. There are quizzes with every module, but to be honest they are low stress and not excessively challenging. They’re clearly designed to repeat and reinforce information rather than to challenge students or freak them out.

Learning How to Learn covers these areas:

  • What is learning?
  • Chunking
  • Procrastination and memory
  • Renaissance learning and unlocking your potential

The video lectures are in English, but if you’re not comfortable enough to take an entire course in English, the subtitles have been translated into a variety of languages: Arabic, French, Russian, and Chinese (among others). As far as I’m aware, the quizzes are still in English, though I could be wrong.

The most helpful parts for me came in the third week (procrastination!) and in the weekly email digests. I finished the class long ago, but I still get the weekly “Cheery Friday Greetings” newsletter. Normally email newsletters are not my bag, but Dr. Oakley and Dr. Sejnowski manage to dig up a lot of great book recommendations on memory, learning, and psychology—it’s a really great free source, in my opinion, especially for anyone studying or teaching a foreign language.

Overall it’s a casual but nonetheless helpful MOOC that I think anyone, especially students, can immediately apply to their lives. Take it! Let me know what you think!