Tutor profile: Shari C.
How can I write more clearly and concisely?
There are two mistakes that people often make when writing. The first one is writing in the same manner in which they speak. This creates a tendencies to be repetitive, to write in fragments, or to "ramble." The second is to do the opposite. That is, they write in sentences that are wordy, too long, or complex because they see writing as a very different form of communication than speaking. The best way to introduce clarity into your writing is to proofread by reading what you have written aloud to yourself. If you stumble over your words, have to take a breath before finishing a sentence, or hear yourself saying the same thing more than once, it is best to rewrite those parts of what you have written. Reading aloud allows you to "hear" your communication the same way that your readers are likely to receive it.
Is behavior influenced more by nature or nurture?
This question has been asked since Freud created the field of psychology and the answer has fluctuated based on the zeitgeist. At present, we are learning more about the intimate details of human biology and the scales are tipping more toward the influence of "nature." In particular, genetics are being better understood as science progresses. It is not only the case that we may have character and temperament propensities based on our personal genetic makeup, but we may find that certain characteristics are switched on epigenetically. Diet and eating habits can be influenced, for example, by the experiences of ancestors who experienced starvation. There was a Dutch famine from 1944-1945 which resulted in their progeny being overweight, prone to diabetes, and heart disease. The eating habits and health of children can be influenced by their ancestors in a way no one would have predicted prior to the study of epigenetics. While genetics and epigenetics can have a profound impact on both mental and physical health, that does not mean that nature is not profoundly important. While our biology may pull us in a certain direction, our experiences and our upbringing in particular can reshape how our genetic propensities assert themselves. Children who have the epigenetic switches that could create anxiety and depression may find that those switches are never turned "on" as a result of growing up in a supportive, peaceful, natural, and enriching environment. Even if those switches are turned "on," those mental health issues may be managed with parental guidance or healthy outlets to help manage their mental health challenges. The answer to whether or not behavior is influenced more by nature or nurture is one we will likely never be able to answer definitively because of the personal nature of both our body chemistry and experience. The only thing we can know for certain is that both have an influence. It is likely that one is not more important than the other in considering how we treat and regard mental illness.
Subject: English as a Second Language
Why do people in some cultures misspell certain words persistently? For example, why do Japanese people confuse "r's" and "l's" when they speak and write?
There are several reasons that people from different cultures may struggle to spell words in English correctly. One is that there is inconsistency between how various sounds are spelled in English. For example, the "ow" sound can be spelled as "ow" (e.g., cow) or it can be spelled "ou" (e.g., found). It is all too easy for someone who hasn't read expansively in English to spell by sound rather than in accord with the idiosyncratic rules of English spelling. Another reason that spelling errors happen is that hearing errors occur which lead the writer to believe they heard a different word. This often happens because a non-native speaker of English may not have grown up hearing the English sounds and lack the brain networking to distinguish sounds naturally. For example, in Japanese, there is no "r" or "l". There is a sound which exists between them so it's difficult for Japanese people to tell the difference unless they have a lot of experience with the language or they are making a focused. Additionally, some people may have grown up surrounded by English misspelling or the incorrect use of certain words. If they see a mistake often enough, they assume it is correct. I encountered a fast food chain in Japan called "First Kitchen." The name was unusual and I came to learn that it was a spelling mistake. The name of the chain in Japanese characters was equivalent to "Fast Kitchen." I had to correct many reports from students with this mistake because it was so woven into their cultural experience that they believed that "fast" was spelled "first." When I explained the roots of this mistake to them, they were far less likely to repeat it because they were able to keep it in mind every time they saw a sign for this particular fast food restaurant. Regardless of the cause, the solution is two-fold. First, ESL students need feedback to develop an awareness for areas in which they are likely to make mistakes based on their native language and the sounds they are unfamiliar with. This will help them learn to proofread their own work more effectively after the first draft. The second solution is for the student to read in English on a regular basis. They can read whatever they like and I would encourage them to read a topic that they find especially enjoyable to motivate them to keep reading, but they must read regularly to become more familiar with common spelling conventions. This is how children in English-speaking countries improve their spelling and it works for those who are studying English as a second language, too.
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