Job Interview Was Too Short? That’s Probably a Bad News for You.

Oleksandr Shelegéda, currently a controlling specialist in financial services, is our interviewee at One on One column today. Oleksandr has 7+ years of experience in finance and change management. After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and interpreting in Kharkiv Technical University, Oleksandr continued his education and obtained a Master’s degree in Project Management. One of his most memorable experiences is working for OSCE observing missions. To learn more about him, visit Oleksandr’s LinkedIn page.

Rina: How long have you been studying English? When did you first realize that you can communicate in it fluently and well enough to be able to live and work in the English language environment?

Oleksandr: I set off on my way of learning English when I was 6 y.o. It was in a small town in the Western part of Ukraine, in a small school, and with a new teacher every couple of years. There was more fun than learning in it to me. Probably, the first time I started to believe that I could speak and understand English was on the day of 9.11.2001. On that day, one of the TV channels was going live without translation and I was interpreting all that to my family.

Rina: Can you recall your first job interview?

Oleksandr: I’ve been on interviews since my University times so I can’t remember the very one. My personal attitude towards interviews in general is that you should go there quite often, just in case. Even if your job is good and you don’t want to change it in the next year. Just try to analyze the information you get there. This skill will only come if you practice a lot.

Rina: Of all the interviews you have been through, what question do you always find the trickiest and the most difficult to answer?

Oleksandr: Once you’ve had enough experience, everything becomes normal for you. You should never be afraid of saying no or I don’t know during interviews. The hardest thing for me now is to keep myself from laughing when I hear some old fashioned questions, like Where do you see yourself in 5 years? or What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Rina: Have you ever had to answer absolutely unexpected questions that took you by surprise? How did you answer them?

Oleksandr: Sometimes recruiters would like to find a person with excellent knowledge of specific areas and they ask you questions out of your working field, like, What kinds of books for kids do you prefer? when you are applying to be an accountant.

Rina: Are you always nervous during the interviews? Does your emotional state during the interview affect your presentation in English? If yes, in what way? How do you prepare for your interviews every time when you get an appointment?

Oleksandr: I would say that it is normal to be a bit nervous before or even during interviews. To me, it really helps when I realize that I am also here to check how good is the company for me, and is it not only them who are in charge of the interview. Also, it always helps to think about possible ways of communication with interviewers beforehand. In this case, you will always have something to say and you won’t be scared.

Rina: How long do your interviews normally last? Do you feel more confident in the beginning or in the end of an interview?

Oleksandr: I would say that usually it takes from 30 to 60 min for a good interview. If it is too short, that’s probably a bad news for you. If it is too long, it may mean that the interviewers are nervous themselves or are unprepared, and then you can’t understand what are they looking for. You should probably forget about them and switch to other opportunities.

Rina: Can you remember any situations of using (not using) particular English words/phrases that influenced your communication with the interviewer? Were there any situations of misunderstanding because of misused words or mistakes made by you or by interviewers? Share any stories you can remember.

Oleksandr: It is always great when you know the necessary terminology in English. Sometimes it can also help when you give an explanation to the interviewers about a specific topic in order to sync with them. That helps in both ways – they can see that you know the topic, and you are not afraid that you are being wrong with your answers.

Rina: What is the best way to refresh your English communication skills before a job interview? How do you usually prepare for coming interviews? How much time does it usually take you?

Oleksandr: It is really hard to prepare yourself for this before the interview, especially when you have another job and the only time you have is a time for commuting between 2 locations. SO the only piece of advice here is to have a good rest on the night before the interview, and then to stay positive and fresh – that helps a lot.

Rina: Have you ever failed a job interview? If yes, what lesson(s) did you learn after it?

Oleksandr: It is not hard to receive a ‘no’ from recruiters. It is hard when they just ignore you and do not write back to you after the interview, not even a short message. Unfortunately, this may happen, so be prepared to send a note to them after some time if they don’t write back – and then, put them on your black list and try to forget about that interview, ASAP!

Sometimes, the recruiters provide you a feedback along with the rejection; it will help you to understand your weak points and to see what you need to learn for the future.

Rina: What kind of advice would you like to give to the young people who are about to have the first interviews of their lives?

Oleksandr: Lots of advice you can see above, so just to summarize a bit –

  • Don’t be too afraid;
  • Remember that you are going to that interview to take a look at the company and your potential manager;
  • Try to take some notes during interview, especially the names, and maybe some key questions;
  • Don’t be afraid to write back to them after a while if they never contacted you; and
  • Ask some questions, especially about general topics like their working atmosphere, their attitude towards working hours, and about payment, and about your possible colleagues and managers. This will help you make up your own opinion regarding the company.

Another Book Has Been Born

English for Your Job Interview

English for Your Job Interview is a preparation guide for a job interview in English. Its 51 units cover the most frequently asked interview questions and offer multiple training exercises and useful tips to help the job candidates communicate effectively with hiring managers during the interview.

The book is perfect for everyone whose English level is Intermediate or higher. It is indispensable for non-native speakers of English, who are seeking employment in international companies at the start of their careers.

Most importantly, English for Your Job Interview offers a way how to develop the skill of acting and communicating confidently during the interview. This book has already helped dozens of young professionals find their dream jobs.

That Smile That Can Win a Job Interview …

The video chat was not long: I needed an interpreter urgently, because the client was already waiting for my email proposal with a whole package of services. A good client, by the way, it would’ve been stupid to loose him. So, I didn’t have much time and I had to choose an interpreter to work with.

The girl seemed smart, reliable, serious and motivated, which was good. But she was so young! Her voice was child-like and she looked like a high school student. We were still talking, but I kind of knew that I was not going to hire her.

I was wrapping up the interview and saying something conventional like “It was a pleasure meeting you”, when all of a sudden she moved a bit forward toward her screen so I could see her face in close-up. She raised her hand in greeting and answered something like “I am sorry I cannot shake your hand”. Her eyes were looking directly into mine and she was smiling genuinely, showing me rows of beautiful white teeth, and I suddenly realized: that was the smile of success!

She had it in her nature, without training or spending years in international work. She was a diplomat by personality type, and so every experience was going to only develop what she’d already had from birth. That was exactly the smile I always expect to see on faces of experts in international business.

I hired her and gave her the job. In the following years, she became a wonderful assistant, and a friend, a good friend. I never regretted that I’d hired her.

So, how does it work? What kind of smile can win a job interview? During years of my career, I learned a few ‘smile-building rules’ that cannot be just  imitated: they become the background for forming the facial expression of success. Here they are:

  1. A good smile is the one that is
    relaxed. A tensed smile only shows your nervousness, but a natural
    one displays your strong ability to control yourself even in
    situations of nervousness.

  2. A smile of success shows
    confidence and independence of a person’s mind: it is not blunt or
    arrogant; it is simply a smile of a person who is completely
    self-sufficient and knows what he/she is doing.

  3. A smile of success is not about
    making jokes or showing your humorous nature; no, it is different.
    It tells everyone without words that you are intelligent and smart.
    This is a smile of politeness and respect for those who you are
    talking to.

  4. A good smile should come on a
    good moment. You should not smile all the time — just keep it like
    a trump card and pull it out when the moment is right.

  5. A good smile reflects your positive nature: it tells to
    others that you aren’t bringing problems, but quite on the opposite:
    you may become their mascot, if you know how to use it.

Well, now, try to imagine that you possess all of the qualities I listed above. Think of a skill that you are really proud of (it may be anything, from cooking delicious foods to making great tea or dancing polka, or  programming). Think about your best skill and tell about it to a looking glass. At some moment you’ll see yourself smiling. This will be the smile. Remember it.

Train it and keep it with you when you come to a meeting that’s very important to you. If this is a job interview, that smile can well get you hired.

How To Read Faces in a Job Interview

The boy was wearing a snow-while shirt and an elegant grey suit, definitely from a very expensive store or fashion atelier. When he entered the classroom, I noticed that his shining black shoes were a bit too narrow to be comfortable (right in agreement with the latest fashion), so I could not help thinking that he possibly did what we — women — use to do: brought the shoes in a plastic bag and put them on right before the exam. No, those shoes weren’t made for walking, they were designed to impress, and a guy wearing such shoes should not be sitting in front of an examination commission: he would look more in the right place half lying behind a huge oak desk, with his legs on the table, showing the soles of those shoes to his visitors.

I think I grinned to the thought, because the boy glanced at me with blatant complacency, frowned, and immediately looked away. At that very moment an urgent phone call made me excuse myself and leave the room for a couple of minutes.

When I returned, the boy was still sitting across the table from my colleagues, but my first thought was that it was possibly a different student. The snow-white shirt, heavy of sweat, got stuck to his chest in a few places; the nifty grey jacket slid to the side: my foppish boy was desperately looking for words trying to say something in English. His eyes were traveling about the opposite wall, while his arms , strong and fleshy, were hanging on the sides as if they were made of rope; He made a grammar mistake, then another, and one more, and finally, having noticed that teachers began to exchange glances, he fell silent a all.

Read more about it here

As a university teacher with decades of experience behind my shoulders, I have seen similar scenes many times. They are, by the way, very close to what hiring managers see during job interviews. The one being tested can either earn himself a good grade by displaying the right behavior or plunge into the abyss of self-deprecation and spoil the impression about himself once and for all. Below in this article, I have listed a few notes about the right behavior in responsible moments of life: during tests, exams or job interviews. Try to remember them when you face an important moment in life.


If you are sitting in front of an interviewer (and in majority of situations you are), the most prominent part of your body that is openly displayed to the interviewer is your head. Try using it in your favor, not against yourself.

  • When your head is slightly tilted, this displays your interest and empathy;
  • Direct eye contact shows confidence, trust and interest; do not forget to look right into the eyes of your interviewer and do your best to do this without tension;
  • Smile. Put yourself in a positive frame of mind before the interview and try to keep this mood till the very end of the event;
  • Try to control the movements of your eyebrows. Too many changes on your face may cause unnecessary thoughts in the interviewer’s mind.


First of all, control their movements all the time. Too much of gesticulation will tire your interviewer. Just move as much as you need to look natural. Your shoulders and arms should be wide open; this usually means that the person is relaxed and open to discussing ideas. Crossed arms are usually an obvious indication of being unengaged and uncomfortable.


Posture is one of the most reliable indicators of how someone feels. Always pay special attention to the way you sit, stand or walk, because your posture is a piece of your body language puzzle. For example,

  • a straight and open torso indicates that you are at ease and confident;
  • conversely, hunched shoulders and back can indicate a defensive, or weary state of mind;
  • leaning towards the interviewer will make you appear interested in the content of the interview;
  • at the same time, mirroring the interviewer’s body posture indicates an alignment of views, as well as comfort and connection. Do not forget to do this, if you feel it might work in your favor.


Quite often, they are difficult to see, but, surprisingly, they are a good indicator of how someone is feeling towards you. So keep yours under control and if possible, throw a glance at the inreviewer’s.

  • when both of their feet are pointing towards you, this indicates interest and an openness to connection;
  • a foot pointed out or away means a desire to wrap up the talk and leave;
  • crossed legs usually give out a defensive or closed off person;
  • shifting weight from side to side or a leg twitching shows that the person is anxious or stressed;
  • sitting comfortably, with a straight back and both feet pointed towards the interviewer would be the best solution for you. Even in a phone/ video interview when your lower half can’t be seen, if you act as you would in an in-person interview, you will come across as enthusiastic.

Finally, it is good to remember that we are all people. We have our lives and quite often, the most important career-breaking day for you is just another boring day of work for your interviewer. Do not try to guess what they are thinking during the interview (it may be something not related to the interview at all); just try to look confident and friendly and learn to control all parts of your body to make them work in your favor.

Good luck!

The Romantic English Phrase Book has been published!

Finally! The Romantic English Phrase Book is live and available for purchase on Amazon at- The Romantic English Phrase Book is a collection of English conversational phrases to help Russian women in communication with their English- speaking friends. Consider sending the book as a little gift to your romantic Russian friend.If you have any questions about the book, please contact me, the author Iryna Tymchenko, via my social networks pages or via this website. Please find my contacts here.

The Romantic English Phrase Book

Job Interview Tips: “Explain Why You Are Looking For a New Job”

Every time you face a hiring manager in a job interview, you should be prepared to answer questions about why you’re leaving your current job. The ‘trick’ of the question lies behind the hiring managers’ expectations: as often, they do not want to hear about your personal reasons for leaving your team or your lack of agreement with your direct boss. Rather than sharing about your problems and any negative experiences, you should build your answer around discussing the opportunities which this new position is going to open for you.

While the specifics of your answer will depend on whether you are leaving your current company voluntarily or were asked to leave, it’s very important to answer in a way that will work in your favor.

For example, you should never say that your boss is a tyrant or that your colleagues are not nice people. Even if all this is somewhat true, there is no sense or use in pointing this out in a job interview.

Instead of crafting a negative answer, simply highlight the reasons why you’re seeking the new position. For example, “I’m really looking forward to working in a collaborative environment. I do my best work as a team player.” That’s a much better and more positive response.

Your interviewers are not only interested to know about the reasons why you are looking for a new job; they also want to know why you are applying for this particular position in their company. They will also make mental notes when they hear how you speak of your current employer as a gauge to how you would speak to another employer about them. These are very important factors in the hiring decision, so it is critical that you answer this question appropriately.

There are a few mistakes that you should avoid during your interview.

1) Do not try to skip past this question with a vague answer.

2) Try not to show disdain for your duties or your current company.

3) Even if you have personal reasons closely tied to why you are leaving, do not lead with them.

4) Do not try to appear overly saddened to be planning to leave your current position; this can be a bit confusing and come off as deceitful.

The last thing you want to do is leave any doubt in the interviewer’s mind that you have fully thought through your decision to leave your current position.

How to Answer the Job Interview Question: “Why Do You Want to Work Here?”

The dreadful “Why Do You Want to Work Here?” question has spoiled many careers and is continuing to do so. Quite often, candidates do not even realize that this particular question became one of the reasons why they were rejected. They answered it honestly and they never said anything negative — just the truth, like: “I know I can make a good contribution to this company”, or “This company’s products are awesome”, or “my relative, who works here, has told me many positive things about your company”.

In fact, these seemingly harmless answers do not add any scores to the candidate. Even more: they may create some air of disappointment in the hiring manager’s mind, because they let the hiring manager see that the candidate did not understand the basic approach which he/she should follow in a job interview.

By asking every particular question, a hiring manager expects to hear a certain kind of answer. The “secret” is simple: he/she is not interested to hear about the benefits that this job is going to bring you as a candidate; instead, he/she expects that your answer will focus on the benefits of using your professional potential and talent for the benefit of the employer.

Therefore, your answer should not be focusing on your personal interests, but rather it should demonstrate understanding of the employer’s needs. Do you feel the difference? Yeah, this is the sad truth. Well, if so, how should you approach to answering this question then?

The method is quite simple. You need to follow a few steps:

First, and this will be necessary for answering all questions in the interview — learn as much as you can about the employer company, the position, and if possible – about your interviewers. This may help you a lot when you compose your answer with the focus on the company, not yourself.

As the next step, do not forget to keep focusing on the employer company’s needs in your answer: on the quality of their products, or on their reputation, or on some statistics about the company that you managed to find while researching the information about the employer.

Here are a couple of sample answers which are worth looking at. In both examples I underlined the phrases which you may want to use when putting together your own sample answer to this interview question:

Example 1:

I have always been very impressed with the quality of your products (or: with your innovative approaches to… / the company’s attention to customers needs, etc.). With the high quality of your products, marketing them almost feels like a public service. I would greatly enjoy helping you to continue to innovate and to increase your market share.

Example 2:

This company has the reputation of being one of the leading …-producers in the country, with a list of impressive customers such as … . The company is a frequent participant of trade fairs, exhibitions, biennale and various international events. These are signs that this firm is a leader, not a follower. With my background in …, I’m very interested in applying the newest technology (methodology, etc.) plus common sense practices to keep this sensitive information as safe as possible.

Finally, it is always good to remain calm and confident during the job interview. Even if you are not a perfect match for this particular job, they may like you and want to hire you. They may find the right place for you in the long run. So keep trying to show them your best sides and do your best to win that interview. 

Visit Facebook page for English for Your Job Interview

From Learning to Coaching

It was a square, well lit room suited to comfortably sit about thirty people, with four rows of chairs in front of a large while screen and an advertisement board in a corner with large white letters ITEA on scarlet background.

The room was full and, having looked around, I noted with surprise that there were at least two other people in the room who more or less belonged to my age category. The audience was mainly silent — just sitting and waiting for the training to begin; only a few of them communicated in short, quiet phrases. I couldn’t help thinking that majority of them were young — a lot younger than me, not kids anymore, but– well, a lot younger than me, damn it!

The meeting started right on time. The organizers — there were three of them fussing around here and there — had done their best to arrange everything at the upper level of their ability. As I sat watching how a young, beautiful office manager, wearing golden four-inch pin-heeled summer shoes tortured herself by running around the room with advertisement leaflets in her hands, I remembered myself a few years before, as I’d done the same job when I set up an occupational school for hospitality and tourism industry for my city. Yeah, the same stuff, only almost a dozen of years ago.

Then I thought that, in fact, this was the first time in decades that I was sitting in the classroom audience… I mean, not teaching, but listening and watching. For sure, I thought, I’d feel more comfortable on that side of the classroom, against that wall with the screen, as a teacher or a coach, with a pointer in my hand.

Then, the meeting started, and from the very first minute of it to the end, I could not help thinking that I have no right to be sitting in the classroom when I have to be there, on that end of the room — as a coach, or a tutor, or a manager to these wonderful, smart, talented people, who still have so much life ahead of them, and who still have a lot to learn.

I really liked the fact that these modern schools of professional education are run by very young people. I could sense their energy in the room. Even when their speech was a bit undeveloped or funny; or when they couldn’t overcome nervousness, or when they did not know what to do with their body while speaking in front of the audience… Yes, this was the most precious thing: at all times I could sense their energy in the room. Inspiration: this is the word. Yes, inspiration: it is the answer to doing successful trainings and presentations for young IT professionals. I found it in ITEA, and I am thankful to them for this. I am going to display more of it in my own coaching work now.

Effective Communication and Us

This post opens a series of articles on effective communication, which I am going to publish in this blog in 2019. I’d like to survey the reasons why so many people lack skills of effective communication. Then, I am going to discuss some techniques of effective communication and methods of developing this skill.


This article is an introduction into the topic, so here we will only touch a few fundamental “rules” of behavior during conversation, which everyone should use to communicate effectively at all times.

It is a well-known fact that your success in a job interview, as well as your general success in life, largely depends on your ability to communicate effectively in all possible situations. Communication is a skill that develops through years of living in human society, and as so, the skill can be learned, improved, or upgraded, or… well, whatever you call it, the skill can be used in your favor!

Knowing how to communicate effectively is the key to any relationship, be it business, or family life, or friendship, or just a casual meeting with someone you have never met before. Whether you’re giving a masterclass at work, working out a difficult situation with your group mates, trying to resolve a misunderstanding with your spouse, or just chatting with a friend, you should know how to express your thoughts, feelings and opinions in order to achieve the desired result. Each of us, modern people, spends hours each day talking to other people, and still, only few can confidently call themselves effective communicators. At times, reaching our communication goals is a surprisingly challenging task. This time, we will take a look at a few basic tips that reflect a good communicator’s strategy in convertsaion.

1. Have a goal. Knowing your subject matter always puts you into a strong position in every conversation. But even more important it is to have a goal and lead the talk to a certain solution, then the whole process of communication becomes meaningful and beneficial to all participants of the conversation. When you know what kind of agreement (or decision) you would like to reach, you inevitably tend to lead the whole conversation to the anticipated result.

2. Learn to lead conversations. Changing the subject in a conversation and directing it to the topic we like is a kind of art that only few people have mastered. Sometimes, it requires finding a topic somewhere in between the one you are discussing and the one you would like to have, so the verbal bridge you build can move you smoothly to the desired destination.

3. Find certain conversational tactics in every particular situation. Effective communication is about setting a goal and pursuing it during the process of communication. Whether you’re giving a lecture or telling your friend a funny story, it’s important to figure out how to frame it to make it interesting and engaging.

4. Never forget to listen. This sounds almost ridiculous, but very few of us, people, are good at listening to others. Most of us are capable of hearing, but the ability to hear does not guarantee the ability to listen. At the same time, effective listening is the basis of good communication. Whenever you become a party of a dialogue, you should focus on your partner’s words, understand them and ‘process’ them in your mind in order to come up with a timely, relevant and meaningful answer.

5. Do not underestimate body language. Besides the actual speech, your conversation partners use another powerful tool of communication: body language. Every change on their faces, their body movements, as well as physiological reactions like yawning, laughing or frowning, have meanings. The one who knows the ‘morphology and syntax’ of body language, can communicate a lot more effectively than others.

6. Use context to uncover real meanings of words. Quite often, what we say in a conversation is not equivalent to what we really mean or think. It is very important to understand your communication partner very well. Te context – verbal and non-verbal – can help you understand the real meaning of your communication partner’s speech.

7. Not saying anything is a way of communication, too. In some situations, silence is more meaningful than words. The one who knows when the moment is right to make a pause in conversation, is usually a very effective communicator.

8. Learn to look and sound confident, no matter what. If you have done this once, you will want to do this again and again. Try to avoid hemming and hawing and do not slow down your speech even is you aren’t sure about what to say. No matter where the conversation goes, try to look calm and confident.

9. Get familiar wit the art of asking questions. Asking clarifying questions, for example, is a well-known tool of confident communicators: it is not only a method of showing your partner that you are paying attention. A well-worded, timely question helps you take leadership in dialogue; it also helps you understand what your conversation partner is saying, and gives you a few extra seconds of time to think over your response.

10. Find common interest(s) or opinion(s) with your conversation partner. This is a good little ‘rule’ to follow at all times. Every conversation partner wants to be well understood. So, as soon as you find common grounds, the whole process of communication will become a lot more enjoyable for both of you, even if a minute ago you were facing misunderstanding.


A Talk About Languages: An Interview with SinDe Barnwell

SinDeBarnwellSinDe Barnwell, a retired physicist, devoted decades of her life to science. An American by birth, she lived for a while in the UK, where she got acquainted with the British version of English. During her life, SinDe used to travel a lot and got familiar with a number of foreign languages and cultures. Now, SinDe lives in Tennessee, USA, and enjoys painting, writing fiction and interviewing creative people for her blog. To read more about SinDe, please scroll down to her bio passage below the interview.

Rina: It is not a secret to anyone that many of the world’s best communicators are the people of science (remember Michio Kaku, Brian Greene, Bill Nye and many others). Scientists are very observant, and so, they often notice the things that ordinary people  take for granted and simply pass by. My questions today will be mainly about human communication; more precisely, about the ways people behave when they have to speak foreign languages in order to understand each other. In this connection, my first question to you will be about the importance of knowing the language of a country which you are visiting. Let me begin with an example. An American once told me in a private talk that he truly believed that all immigrants arriving to the USA without knowing English were fools.

SinDe: OUCH! That hurts!

Rina: Yes, this is true. He believed that, being unable to speak the state language of a country, one is unable to find a decent job and therefore, unable to set up normal life.

SinDe: Of course, each of us needs to expand our knowledge of languages. As Americans it is our obligation to the world to learn a few languages and not be so arrogant.

I once turned in a physics paper written in English to a German lab. The gentleman explained to me that the English language may be accepted everywhere else, just not in his German lab. From that day forward, I have turned in work in both English and the native language, not so much because it was expected (most often it wasn’t), but as a courtesy and to show respect for the people I worked with.

Rina: How often do you hear English spoken by foreigners? What is your first reaction to the mistakes they make?

SinDe: I quite often hear English spoken by foreigners. My first reaction is to try to understand what they are meaning to say. Often I will repeat to them what I am hearing and what I think they are meaning to say.

Often my reaction depends on my relationship with the person. If it is a friend, I often correct their error in speech and then explain what they originally said means to Americans. Occasionally, we laugh at our errors (going both ways) when we realize what we have actually said versus what we intended to convey.

Rina: If you note that a native speaker of English makes a mistake, what is your first reaction? Is it similar to that of the one you have when foreigners make mistakes?

SinDe: My reaction to a native speaker of English depends on the person and the situation. If it is a young child, I will usually correct his wording, particularly as it relates to verb tense or pronunciation of a new vocabulary word.

If I hear a teenager using incorrect grammar, depending on the familiarity with the teen, I may or may not correct the grammar. If I hear an older person using a word incorrectly, especially verb tense, I ordinarily bite my tongue, shudder, and accept it. With older adults I often consider they have been using a word or saying a word incorrectly all their lives and suggesting an alternative word or the correct verb tense will offend them. In daily life, I let it go. If it relates to business or matters of importance I may ask them to clarify what they have said.

Rina: You mentioned once that you’d had some experience of living in Great Britain. Can you share about your most exciting experiences related to the differences between the US and British accents? Can you remember any funny, exciting or a bit embarrassing stories?

SinDe: A story of my first day in England which I shared on my website comes to mind first:

It all happened in 1978 on my first trip abroad and hence, my first trip to the UK… My employer had several positions available in Europe, I chose England. My reasoning was sound… I speak English… , there would be no language barrier in the workplace.

I hopped a plane, flew across the ocean, and landed at Gatwick Airport… My soon to be employer sent a driver, Colin, to retrieve us from Gatwick Airport and deliver us to the Savoy Hotel.

Colin was tall, with dark hair and blue eyes, and about my age. To top it off, he had one of those sexy British accents that could charm the pants off almost any American girl… He checked us in at the Savoy and saw us to our rooms.

My employer had planned a “meet and greet” dinner for 7:00 p.m., so when Colin was about to leave, he announced, “Get some rest if you can. The dinner is at seven so to ensure we have plenty of time, I will knock you up at six.”

I can smile now, but I have to say, in that instant I looked like the naive, untraveled southern girl that I was. And, that’s when I learned English really is my second language.

Getting “knocked up” in England is having someone “knock on your door.” In America, if someone knocks one up, he gets you pregnant.

Here is another example. At a dinner in England, I once asked a server to please get me a napkin. Mine had slipped from my lap onto the floor. He was absolutely shocked. In UK, a napkin is a sanitary “napkin” or Kotex used by a woman during her menstrual cycle. In the US, a napkin is a “serviette” or a thin paper with which one wipes her mouth while eating.

And one more story: Once I was attending a formal dance in England, enjoying all the people doing all sorts of dances when I asked my escort for the night if he “shagged” only to be totally embarrassed. Along the southeastern coast of the U.S. “the shag” is a dance. In England, shagging is having sexual intercourse.

(Learn about American shag dance)

I could go on and on with my errors in speech, but these are a few that stand out in my mind.

Rina: What do you think about the fact that very few Americans can speak foreign languages? What do you think about the role of learning (or knowing) a foreign language in a life of a person?

SinDe: I am absolutely embarrassed at and horrified by our American arrogance when it comes to learning languages. I am fluent in speaking none but can stumble my way through a few of the social amenities. I can read several languages sufficiently to understand what I am reading with clarity, but have had little opportunity to learn speech.

I make it a practice to learn to say a proper greeting in the language of foreign persons with whom I come in contact, just as I make it a practice to learn and remember names. A name is special recognition of a person, giving him an identity unique to himself. Learning a few words of greeting in another’s native language shows respect and caring for that person. As such I attempt to learn a few words of greeting. Saying “hello” and “it’s nice to meet you” or “How are you?” in the person’s native language is easy enough to learn and often brings a smile.

Rina: Can you remember any situations of misunderstanding that happened because someone (or you) misused some words or phrases? Something that was funny or unusual and made you learn something new about the English language or communication in general?

SinDe: My husband once asked our Spanish speaking housekeeper for “gateau” meaning cake in French. (We were practicing our French lessons.) She stared at him in disbelief. She heard “gato” meaning cat and we already had six.

Rina: What aspect of English seemed most difficult to you when you studied it at school?

SinDe: English is a most difficult language, I think, unless you are a native speaker. Grammar and spelling rules abound, but there are so many exceptions that sometimes it seems overwhelming.

My parents were very strict about grammar and education, in general. My mother had no hesitation when it came to “correcting” my grammar, and particularly my pronunciation. As a southerner in the U.S., our use of grammar and our pronunciations are very regional. For example, if you are attempting to say “you all” to include everyone. (i.e. “You all are welcomed to come to our party” in the south would sound like “y’all are welcomed…” and is pronounced “yawl” which is a sailboat.) In the northeast, especially the New Jersey area, one would hear “you guys” instead of “you all.” It is pronounced “use guys.”

Written words often have difficult spellings and occasionally are not read phonetically.

Most of my problems in understanding English are due to regional dialects. The U.S. is a large country and our pronunciations vary by region, often making it more difficult for a non-native speaker. For example, in the southeast a Pepsi-Cola or a Coca-Cola is referred to as a “soda” while in the middle of the country it may be referred to as a “pop” and in other parts of the country as a “drink.” In the southeast, if someone asks if one would like a drink, he is probably referring to an alcoholic beverage rather than a Coke or Pepsi.

While American English is far different from British English, the diversity of language and usage is just a varied within the U.S.

Rina: What in your opinion can help learners of English improve their speaking skills?

SinDe: Immersion in the language. When I attempted to learn a few words of Italian, I moved in with an Italian family for a week. No one was allowed even one word of English. After a week, I could get around in Italy, ask a few questions and understand the answers sufficiently to be comfortable and not too confused.

I would suggest that immersion helps avoid translation, which I find to be a hindrance to understanding the language and the intention of the spoken word. Words do not translate as precisely as we may like. Often, in conversation one may say the exact translated words but miss the intention or meaning.

In our high schools (last four years of school before university) we are “taught” conversational languages. I learned a few words that helped in my life after university, but mostly I learned to ask questions like “where is the train station?” Unfortunately, when a native French speaker gave me instructions to the train station, I didn’t understand a single word.

I would also suggest that reading and writing, and speaking are two separate activities. As you know, I could learn a few words of Russian in the spoken language, but not be able to read a single word (in this case due to different alphabet)

Given enough time, watching foreign movies with subtitles in the foreign language can be helpful. One can hear the words, as naturally spoken with accent, and see the written words in the same language. However one chooses to learn a language, I believe it is best to listen to the cadence and rhythm of the native speakers to learn the phrases and intonation. Situational learning rather than trying to learn words in translation seems to be the quicker method for me. Learn to laugh at your mistakes. Correct them. And, keep trying.

Rina: What is the relationship between being intelligent (reading a lot) and being able to speak foreign languages? Can regular reading help one to speak a language better?

SinDe: Yes and no. I am reminded of my mother who always said, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

Personally, I have had my best successes tackling the spoken language first. For example. My neighbor’s last name is “Tucci.”

As a native English American speaker, many (probably most) Americans would pronounce her last name as “to-see.” But, having heard so much Italian spoken I had learned that “cci” or “ci” is pronounced “chee.” Hence, “to-chee”.

Reading her name would not have helped with the pronunciation. Having heard the words first, I was able to recognize the written words. And with that base knowledge of “ci” I could use it to help with other pronunciations.

That said, once a spoken base is established, reading only enhances the vocabulary and usage. Recently, I read Madame Bovary in French. My spoken French has withered, but my reading skills have not. It was a most enjoyable read. So, yes, reading can help enhance one’s understanding of a language and build vocabulary, form and usage, but I firmly believe a base level of speech (and hearing) is necessary.

I also subscribe to several European magazines in the native languages. With pictures and words I can usually get a pretty good idea of the content. I also have quite a few friends who are non-native English speakers. I do not hesitate to ask for help and instruction.

Rina: If it was in your power to set a rule for all people of the world to speak one and the same language, which language would you select as a common language for all mankind? Why?

SinDe: Based on my limited knowledge of world languages, I would probably choose French or another romance language. I like the French rules of grammar. Of course, they seem so simple after having been brought up as a native English speaker. And, far more consistent.

French has a softer sound than English, German, Russian. Occasionally, I think the sounds play so much into our interpretations of intent. The guttural languages sound harsher.

While it will forever be impossible for the world to speak a single language, in my opinion, it would be my wish that every person on Earth learn his or her language proficiently and then learn a second language, and maybe a third.

Rina: What would you recommend to all learners of English who intend to come to your country for a long term of stay (study, work, marriage, etc.) as a way to adapt to the US lifestyle?

SinDe: Learn the basics of speech and learn as many idioms as possible. Americans talk in idioms that have stood the test of time, not necessarily slang.

Watch movies in English with subtitles, over and over again. One can pick up much from hearing and seeing simultaneously, as well as gain an overview of American life. (But, choose the movies carefully.)

Find a mentor or a teacher and be open to learning. Learn to laugh at the mistakes. They will happen. Do not be offended if corrected. Use corrections as learning experiences. When in doubt ask a trusted person how to say a new phrase. And, with a solid base, read, read, read.


SinDe Barnwell about herself:

Education: I have a Ph.D. in physics, emphasis on particle physics, worked in labs in the US and UK, and have traveled extensively lecturing (in English) and participating in seminars and research.

Background: My parents were not university educated. In fact, my father did not graduate from high school but he was one of the smartest people I have ever known. He understood people and taught me to respect every human being as a special person of great worth. He encouraged me to pursue the sciences and maths when it was not readily acceptable for “girls.” To balance my “nerd” tendencies, he often took me to community kitchens or to the less desirable neighborhoods to help those who may have been less fortunate. I have written a couple of essays on my website about a few of my experiences with my father. He always told me that all men (and women) can teach you something and to never overlook or look down upon any person. From my father I learned humility and empathy.

I volunteered in Liberia during my summer holidays working with AIDS patients. That was a life changing experience that I have never forgotten. Today, as a retired senior citizen (age 70) I try to volunteer locally as much as possible.

I make jewelry and dabble with writing and painting as hobbies. Perhaps, as I get older I most enjoy interviewing artists and authors in an effort to learn from them. There is always something to learn.

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