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052 Happy 1 Year Birthday and All of Your Questions Answered

The Art of Business English Turns One!

Hi everyone and welcome to episode 52 of the Art of Business English. My name is Andrew Ambrosius and I’m very happy today because it is our one year anniversary here at the Art of Business English podcast.

So today, basically I’m going to be dedicating this podcast to answering a few questions I’ve got from some of my listeners. So basically I’m going to be starting with, I’ve got three questions I want to answer today. One is about pronunciation from one of my fans Alejandro and I’ve got another question about present perfect from Judit and I’ve got one more question, if I have time from Mohammed.

Okay, so, let’s have a quick look then at the first one and it’s a great question from Alejandro, it’s what is the 20% of advice that would give me the 80% of the result for better pronunciation? So, Alejandro was asking about the 20/80 rule so basically what is something I can do with only 20% effort that will maximize the result? So what I’m going to do is I’m going to do my best to answer Alejandro in this episode and explain to him what he can do to improve his pronunciation. I have spoken to Alejandro and he has quite good pronunciation so we’ll see how we go today. But for those of you who struggle with English pronunciation then this will be quite interesting and I’m sure you’ll get some value out of it.

Okay, so, what you need to understand firstly, especially if you’re a Spanish speaker is that in English, we do not pronounce all the letters of a word okay? Most people, especially if you’re Spanish, when you pronounce a word or you read out or you spell out a word in Spanish, it’s quite simple, the pronunciation because you only need to know a few rules whereas in English, you need to know other rules.

You can’t pronounce a word with each letter, okay? For example, if we look at the word program okay, in American spelling it’s P.R.O.G.R.A.M, program. But in British spelling it’s P.R.O.G.R.A.M.M.E okay. So if you pronounce that as if you were Spanish, you would say pro-gramme okay or pro-hame. And, obviously that would sound really bad, okay. So it’s important that you understand that you cannot spell out all the letters of a word, okay?

I mean, if it’s a simple word like dog or cat, it’s quite simple but once we get more syllables and it becomes a bit more complex, then you’re going to have less probability of getting the pronunciation correct. So, then I guess you’re asking me, okay, well if I can’t spell out or pronounce every letter of a word, then what can I do to improve my pronunciation?

Well, the first thing, and bear with me because if you’ve never heard this before, it’s going to sound a little strange, but the first thing you are going to need to learn what is known in English as schwa, yeah what is schwa? You must be thinking, God. Well, schwa is basically the most common sound in English as well so it’s something you should know and it is neutral, so it is a neutral sound and the sound is like this uh, okay, so uh.

The reason why you need to know it, as I said is because it is the most common sound and it is used in so many different ways in English. So, my recommendation, if you want to get better at pronunciation, 20% effort for 80% of gain would be to learn and understand the schwa. So, let me explain the schwa for you then. So, as you know, it’s a neutral sound, uh, it’s formed just by relaxing your throat and it’s formed kind of here at the back of your throat, at the back of your mouth, at the beginning of your throat and you just let the sound come out, your jaw is relaxed okay, so you just go, uh, uh, okay?

And we use the schwa with many, many vowels. So as you know, in English the vowels are A, E, I, O, U but as you will also know, the vowels are pronounced differently depending which word they’re in or where they are placed in a word so it could be A or uh, or ah, okay so you’ve got different ways to pronounce just A on its own. Okay, so it’s not the same always as we pronounce it in the alphabet.

So, you need to know the vowels, you need to know the different sounds, you need to know the schwa, okay. So the first thing is learn to pronounce the schwa effectively and then understand how schwa is used with vowels in words and there are many, many examples. Let me start with some okay, I’ll give you some examples. Basically a really simple word would be cortar. Cortar in English is to cut okay? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, you would probably, the first time you see the word cut, you’d probably say coot okay, because it’s C.U.T, oh yeah, it’s coot, okay? It’s not coot, it’s cu, cut okay?

You can see that the U sound here is actually being made or formed as a neutral sound, as a neutral, or the schwa sound so it’s cu, cut okay? So you’re forming the neutral on the vowel and it’s making it cu, cut instead of coo, coot, okay? So that’s a really simple example and it happens in many, many words. For example comfortable, all of the words that end in able, A.B.L.E, able, if they end in able, they are heavily dependent on the neutral or the schwa sound. So it’s not comfort-table, it’s comf-ta-bul. C, co, so you can see the first O, co, c, com, comforta, table. So the O, okay, is neutral, the first O and the A is a strong neutral so it’s comfortable. It’s not comft-able okay?

Responsible, rh, the R and the first E, vowel, rh, responsible. It’s not ree-sponsible, okay unless you’re American maybe you’d say ree-sponsible, but in British English we would say rh, responsible. Okay, so again there are differences in pronunciation depending on where you are located geographically, okay, and even differences within the country. For example in the north, it would be different in certain countries from the south so you need to take everything, you know, with a pinch of salt because it will depend on where you’re living and who you are talking to.

If you were talking to someone who is Scottish and they’re speaking English but their accent would be very strong. So again, you know, pronunciation is also dependent heavily on regional dialects and regional influences okay?

So, back to the schwa, so you’ve got cut, you’ve got responsible, you’ve got comfortable okay? Another word, for example tomorrow, tuh, tomorrow. It’s not toe-morrow, it’s tuh-morrow okay so you can see I’m using the schwa to really soften that sound.

Why else is schwa also important? Well because it is used to link and many languages have linking forms or linking structures and the schwa is used heavily in English to help us link words together. So, let me give you an example, you don’t say tue, maybe if you’re American you’d say tue, but in British English we definitely say tuh. Okay, so for example I want to go to the beach, so we wouldn’t say I want to go to the beach, we would say, I want tuh go. Okay, so to has a weak form which is tuh, tuh go. Okay, that’s a linking tuh.

Okay, we also use the articles, so not ae cat or ah cat it’s a cat, a, a cat. Okay, so you’d use the neutral in articles as well. You could use it for the article the, I mean the has a weak form. If you’re American you might say thee dog or the but in British English we would say the dog, the, the dog. So it’s not thee, it’s the, the. Okay, so you’re using this article in quite soft way.

And it’s also common with things like is. For example if we look at is, it is a dog, we would link it together, we would say it’s a, it’s a, so it is a dog, it’s a dog, it’s a. Okay so these sounds help us naturally link and flow words together and that’s why it’s often difficult to understand native people who speak English. What is important to note though is that you really need to forget about trying to understand everything because a lot of words in English are neutral so you know, I mean we even use neutral for the auxiliary verbs, do and does. We don’t say dew you, we say doya, doya want a coffee? For example, do you want a coffee? Is, doya want a coffee?

So if you hear, you and want and coffee, and there’s an intonation, you know that, that person is asking you a question, even though you only heard doya, doya want a coffee? And want a is wanna, okay so you can see where we’ve linked want with a, wanna. There’s many more lessons here and I’ll get into them.

You can see here that if you understand just the main verb and the main noun, want coffee, then you understand that the person is asking you if you want a coffee and the point I’m trying to make here is that with Spanish, you need to understand practically every single word in a sentence for it to make sense. Whereas in English, you probably only really need to understand 50%-60% of a sentence to understand the general meaning.

So it’s important for people to understand or appreciate that they don’t need to understand every single word, they should stop trying to focus on every single word because a lot of words are articles or auxiliaries and they are neutral okay? So then, you know, it’s just irrelevant, it doesn’t take away from the overall meaning. So in English, because we are using the neutral with these articles and these auxiliary verbs, where helping us to link together sentences or words to form sentences but they are not really having much sound, they don’t really have a sound, they are just uh, er, ah so if you’re worried that you don’t understand everything, don’t worry because as long as you understand the overall meaning of a conversation, you can follow it.

What people do is they try and understand or listen for every single word and then they get lost, they get stuck way back in the conversation and the conversation has progressed and they find it really difficult to follow. So, try and avoid this mania, this obsession with trying to understand every single word because as I said, not all words are pronounced okay?

So, just to recap, the schwa is neutral, we use it for articles, we use it in words with vowels okay, so A.E.I.O.U. We use it to link words together and we could use it with auxiliary verbs like do or does okay?

And, what’s also important to note is because we link things together in English, we also avoid sounds. So, let’s look at how we link things together, now this is going to be quite easy for Spanish speakers because you do have a similar sound in Spanish.

So, when we link things together in English, okay, there’s another tip for pronunciation, we have a linking ya and a linking whu, okay? What do I mean by that? Well, we link things together with a ya or whu sound, there’s two forms okay? So do you want a coffee, ya, do ya want a coffee okay, that’s a linking ya, okay? And two eggs or three eggs? Ya or whu, okay so you can see these sounds I’m making, two-weggs, whu. Three ya, yeggs, three eggs. Two eggs, three eggs, two-wegs, three-yeggs. So this is how we can link, these are the type of sounds we use to link things together.

And it’s very important that you appreciate this sound as well because it’s used instead of things like tuh and duh and kuh, okay? So sounds like duh, kuh, tuh, they’re quite abrasive, they’re quite restrictive okay? So if I say, do you want a coffee, I have to physically stop the pronunciation or the flow of my pronunciation to form the T sound. So, instead of forming the T sound, I’ll just form a linking ya sound, do you wanna or ya, okay, do you wanna coffee? And I’m actually avoiding using the T completely okay, the T becomes a ya sound or a linking whu sound. So do you wanna coffee, do you want a coffee okay? So it’s very important that we understand that we often avoid sounds that do not help us link, okay, all right, so those sounds are Ts, kuh, okay, things like that.

All right so, that is pretty much a quick overview of the schwa sound, the neural linking whu and ya. What else can I give you as a 20% bonus to give you 80% of the benefit? Let me have a quick think.

Okay, so another tip for pronunciation for you great listeners out there, you will need to do the following to improve your pronunciation and it’s going to be a bit strange. You should, where possible, spend five minutes a day reading out loud in en voz alta, okay if you read out loud, you are externalizing a lot of the sounds that normally when you are reading you internalize okay and that will also help you to improve your pronunciation. And if possible, if you can read with a teacher, if you do have an English teacher or you go to English class, get the teacher to make the students read out loud okay. And then, if they read out loud, the teacher will be able to correct the students pronunciation.

And this, over time, has a great effect. It allows you to start appreciating where you’re making mistakes, okay, that’s the first thing and secondly you learn the sounds because they are being vocalized okay? So I do this all the time with my students, I make them read a reading out loud, I correct their pronunciation, religiously and they start to learn that this is a schwa, discussion, not dis-coosion, discu-, discussion okay? Atrapado, caught, it’s caught not cow-t okay? What else? There’s just so many words, oh yep, there you go, another one.

The neutral is often used with nouns as well so proper nouns. So for example with people’s names okay, there’s another tip. In English we don’t really say Pee-tair okay, no we say Pee-ta, Peter. So you can see that the last sound of this noun is E.R, Peter. We don’t say Pee-tair, we say Peter okay? It’s the same with many nouns that end in E.R, we would not say Fa-thair, we would say Father, Mother, Sister, Brother okay? So the last sound of these nouns is a neutral.

So, how many other things can I explain? Well I don’t know I think that’s about it, that’s like 20%, that’s quite a lot of information. So my advice is to learn the schwa sound, start trying to use it as a way to link words together and also to pronounce words or vowels in words correctly and the most important thing is that you are aware of it because over time, you’ll start to adopt it. If you try and force the schwa, it will sound unnatural so I don’t recommend that either.

And secondly, we’ve learnt this linking whu and ya sound okay which is very important. We’ve understood the things that are neutral or schwa are articles, auxiliary verbs and vowels in words and lots of nouns that end in E.R end in the schwa sound okay? So that’s all I want to say about the pronunciation then.

I’m going to move on now to the next question which is a grammar question, yeah I’ve got some grammar questions. So let’s quickly just look at this one, it’s from Judit she said, I have a question about the present perfect, she says that she uses it wrong even though she studied it, okay. And she feels that she understands the grammar but when she speaks, she doesn’t use it confidently or she feels that she is not using it correctly.

Now, I completely understand Judit, because when you are a native Spanish speaker, the present perfect in theory is quite simple because it’s a literal translation like you would say, what would you say? Esta manana he ido a trabajar, okay, this morning I have gone to work, it’s quite simple, esta mañana, this morning, he ido, I have gone, ido a trabajar, so it’s I have gone to work.

So in theory, you would think that it’s very simple, but unfortunately in practice, it’s not that simple. There are some very complete and absolute similarities and you can translate literally, however, the most common mistakes I’m going to tell you now, for example, firstly in English, this morning, you would not say, I have gone to work this morning, you would use the simple past, you would say, I went to work this morning.

When the action in English is finished, it’s finished, it’s simple past. Whereas in Spanish you would use he ido, this structure all day. So today, I’m going to say hoy he hablado con Xavi or hoy he hablado con Marta, so in English, we wouldn’t say, this morning or today I have spoken to Xavi or today I have spoken to Marta, we would say, today I spoke, using the simple past, I spoke to Marta or I spoke to Xavi.

So that’s the first thing, very important that you don’t use the present perfect all day, today, okay, you use the simple past. We would only use the present perfect for very recent things like, I have just spoken to Xavi or I have just spoken to Marta and secondly, this is the biggest mistake I see and I’m just going to quickly share this with you, because I think it’s important. The present perfect in English is used to include time from the past up to present. It’s impossible to talk about something that you have done in the past and has a connection with the present using the simple present.

Let me give you an example because it’s a bit confusing. In Spanish you can say yo trabajo aquí desde hace dos años okay, yo trabajo aquí desde hace dos años. This structure in English must be the present perfect, why? You can’t use the present simple, even though you work at that company now, yo trabajo aquí, yes, I work here, that is fine but what you’re trying to do with this structure is include all of the past two years up to the present. It’s impossible to include the past up to the present using the present simple, okay, so yo trabajo aquí desde hace dos años, desde is used with the present perfect in English because it’s since, okay.

So since, is from a fixed point so I have been working here, I have worked here, he trabajado aqui desde 2016, okay, so I have worked here since 2016, that’s a fixed point, that works for the present perfect because you’ve included the action that started in 2016. It hasn’t finished, it’s continued all the way up to now and it’s still relevant now, okay?

Secondly, you can’t say, desde hace because hace is ago and in English, when we say ago, it’s with the simple past so I worked here two years ago means hace dos años que trabjé ahí, I worked, simple past, action finished.

So the biggest problem I see with the present perfect is this structure and even people who are quite advanced speakers, they make this mistake, they’ll say I work here since two years ago or they say I work here for two years, incorrect, you can’t say that. You need to, here, use the present perfect, you need to say, yo he trabajado aquí durante dos años, and even though in Spanish it sounds like the action has finished, in English it hasn’t finished okay? You would say, I have worked here for two years and I still or will continue to work here now and into the present okay? So really, that’s probably the most common mistake I see with the present perfect.

If you want to talk about things that started in the past, have continued over time up to the present, you must use the present perfect okay? So that is my advice for you Judit when using the present perfect okay?

So guys, I don’t know if I have enough time for the last question, I’ll just quickly see what I can do for Mohammed, basically Mohammed says that his English is okay and that he feels that he wants to communicate with foreigners but then he always feels like some form of limitation and even that he’s always making grammatical errors and he’s not sure if they’re right. He really wants to improve his English but he finds it really hard and he’s watched a lot of videos in English and reads many books in English but it’s hard for him to speak or write English accurately.

So I mean reading is incredibly important, I encourage that a lot. Watching movies or watching things in English is great for your listening comprehension and to a certain degree, improving your knowledge of vocabulary and expressions. However, the only way at the end of the day you can improve your speaking is by speaking with people and preferably native people where possible or people who have a really high or advanced level of English.

And secondly, the writing aspect, it’s really difficult to improve your writing unless you write a lot okay, so, unfortunately with writing, you’re going to need to write things and have someone correct them for you. Just to put it into perspective Mohammed, when I started writing emails in Spanish, it took me a year to write them comfortably and my wife used to correct them for me and it was very frustrating because I wanted to send, in your native language you send an email, it’s for work, you’re busy and I would literally want to send an email quickly to a potential customer or to a client or to one of my colleagues and before I sent out an important email, I had to have it checked, every single time because of all the mistakes I was making and it took this constant revision over time for me to learn all the mistakes and the silly things that I was doing in Spanish.

So, unfortunately with your writing, I mean the secret is to write and try and have someone correct it. You can also interact with native people but you need to adopt their expressions and try and bring them and assimilate them into your vocabulary but you’re going to have make sure you do that correctly. I’ve seen on many, many, many occasions people in companies who have adopted expressions from other people’s emails, which they think they’re using correctly and at the end of the day, they are absolutely wrong and the context is completely wrong as well. So you need to be careful when you’re using other people’s, or your taking expressions from other people’s emails, you need to make sure that you’ve fully got them in the right context.

So my recommendation is to try and have a pen pal or try and find someone in another country maybe who is a native speaker who wants to learn Spanish or whatever language your native language is and then you can have a pen pal, a pen pal relationship where they send you comments or their emails in your native language and then you send them your emails in English and that way you could work together, especially if you wanted to do it free and if you wanted to help each other.

If you wanted to do it paying, then I would recommend that you get a personal coach or trainer that can help you, they wouldn’t even need to be in your county, they could be anywhere else in the world because you’re sending email. So my advice for writing is to write and to write a lot and have someone correct it for you.

And with the speaking, again, it’s a pretty similar situation, you need to speak to people and if possible, have them correct you. But with speaking, the most important thing is to speak, be understood and don’t worry too much about your errors and your mistakes because as long as people understand you, you will gain confidence and you’ll improve over time.

Okay, so that’s my advice for this episode, this happy birthday episode. I’m pretty excited and pretty proud that we’ve made it to episode 52 and I’m really thankful and grateful for all my listeners and those people who are joining and subscribing every single month, it’s great to see the Art of Business English growing little by little every single week and every single month, it makes me feel proud and happy and it’s a pleasure here to be here to help you guys and to serve my listeners.

And, if you are interested in improving your English, well you know where to come, you know where to go. We’ve got a presentation workshop coming up next week if you are listening to this podcast in November of 2018. And of course we’ve got other programs that we can help you with, if you are interested and we’ve also got the Art of Business English membership site where you get access to forum, a weekly coaching call with a small group of people and all the transcripts and quizzes.

But apart from that guys, it’s a pleasure having you, I really love helping and serving my listeners and my fans and I really appreciate having you all here so if you need anything, just send me an email, let me know and I’d be more than happy to answer your questions in the future.

So, have a great week, take care and thanks again, bye for now.

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Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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