Tag-Archive for » Flights to Brussels «

Humor: The joys of air travel

Sixteen time zones

This is not my story.

Yet, it is a story that illustrates modern space and time considerations that were not relevant just fifty years ago, coupled with social issues that have had relevance through time immemorial. It is also a story of extreme mental stress.

The location: a vast area of the world covering sixteen times zones between Tokyo, Japan, and Brussels, Belgium, but the crucial focus is on a certain terminal in Heathrow Airport, England.

The time: getting ever later for a vital appointment.

It had been a forward-looking honeymoon when my wife-to-be, Emmy, joined me on a trip to the Orient, specifically for two scientific conferences in Japan. I arranged for her to fly in Business Class on my airline mileage credit and for that reason, she had to fly United Airlines from Brussels to San Francisco, where we met, and then onwards to Osaka.

It was the longer way sixteen time zones around two thirds of the globe while passing around the globe the other way would have taken half the time. However, to travel together for half the trip, we would meet in San Francisco and that gave Emmy the longer journey.

Fifty years ago, the journey would have been a lengthy adventure including an ocean liner, a railway and yet another ocean liner. Crossing the Atlantic would have taken five days. Crossing the United States to San Francisco would have taken three days. Crossing the Pacific would have taken another two weeks. Now, in the reclined atmosphere of Business Class air with music, food, and good conversation the whole thing took less than two days ignoring, of course, the time zones passing forward as time changed backward. Time had very little meaning other than what one’s watch registered when one got off the plane.

Space too had changed in fifty years. Previously the liner would have plodded through the best weather that could be found across the Atlantic and the train would have chugged and rattled over hard rails through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to Chicago, following the last century’s immigration paths before contemplating the long Western journey to Colorado and through passes in the Rockies and the Sierras to California. Nowadays, the plane flew great-circle routes across the ocean as it curved towards Washington, and then onwards above the cloud covering an invisible earth to San Francisco and, finally, a further great-circle route up around Alaska to Asia, hardly passing over the ocean. These

Can Yahoos search technology catch up with Googles?

The question is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft are in the news right now, Redmond having dropped $40B in market cap in response to their bid to buy up the Yahooligans for another $45B in order to produce a “credible number two” to Google’s far-and-away number one in the online advertising space.

They’re all fighting to be the best buggywhip manufacturer in town, particularly when it comes to the mobile space.

Horizontal search, which Google unquestionably excels at, has its uses, but those uses become more and more limited as information (much of it useless) becomes increasingly “available” (i.e. findable). Simply finding a chunk of information that matches your inevitably incomplete attempts at what you think it might look like isn’t usually enough, not when the matching process is driven by how many randomly-chosen others point at this chunk, without regard to who’s looking for it.

A couple of concrete examples: if you just know me by first and last name, you’ll have one hell of a time finding anything that’s actually about me with Googlethere’s a guy who’s worked for Reuters for years with exactly the same name, who gets pointed at a lot more than I do (I’m working on this, I assure you). Most of what you’ll turn up is about him, unless you know more about me than that.

I live in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz, California. When I try to find out something about Santa Cruz,I frequently find myself wading through a stuff about Santa Cruz County, Arizona, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Santa Cruz Island (aka Indefatigable Island) in the Galapagos archipelago, and so on. These are all places, whichwhile I’m sure they’re quite interesting, kindaare not locales that I’m likely to be looking for information about. Because I’m me, but Google doesn’t really know that (although they have enough information to know it better than they do).

I travel a lot. Type “plane flight to Brussels” into Google, and you’ll certainly turn up pointers to places that could get you one. Quite a few of them, in fact, both of the “sponsored” (i.e. AdWords ads) as well as of the “organic” (i.e. directly generated by the search) variety. Now, your work really starts. Out of the, oh, three-quarters of a million responses there, which one gets you the cheapest ticket on the nicest airline leaving (or arriving) at the time you want, and so on…?

Thus, the limitations of the horizontal approach to both

Air Travel In Italy

The price of flying within Italy is often comparable to the cost of rail travel, although be sure to factor in the expense of getting to and from the airport. When flying out of Italian airports, always check with the airport or tourist agency about upcoming strikes, which are frequent in Italy and often affect air travel. The work stoppages, are called by trade unions over contractual disputes, and can also ground or delay flights to and from Italy operated by several European carriers, including British Airways and Air France.

Booking Your Flights
When you book, look for nonstop flights and remember that “direct” flights stop at least once. Try to avoid connecting flights, which require you to change plane. Two airlines may operate a connecting flight jointly, so ask whether your airline flies every segment of the trip. You may find that the carrier you prefer flies you only part of the way. Check web sites to find more booking tip, to check prices and to make online flight reservations.

When flying internationally, you must usually choose between a domestic carrier, the national flag carrier of the country you are visiting (Alitalia for Italy), and a foreign carrier from a third country. National flag carriers have the greatest number of non stops. Domestic carriers may have better connections to your hometown and serve a greater number of gateway cities. Third-party carriers may have a price advantage.

On international flights, Alitalia serves Rome, Milan, and Venice. The major international hubs in Italy are Milan and Rome, served by Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines. American Airlines flies into just Milan. US Airways serves only Rome.

Alitalia and British Airways have direct flights from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports to Milan and Rome. From Manchester, British Airways has daily flights to Milan and Rome. Smaller, no-frills airlines also provide service between Great Britain and Italy.

EasyJet connects Gatwick with Bologna. British Midland connects Heathrow and Milan. Ryanair, departing from London’s Stansted Airport, has daily flights to Milan, Rome, Pisa, and Venice. Meridiana has two or three direct flights each week between Gatwick and Olbia on Sardinia in summer, and daily flights to Rome and Florence throughout the year. From its hub in Brussels, Virgin Express files to Milan, Catania, and Rome.

Alitalia connects Canada and Italy. Air Canada flies to Munich for connections to Rome, Florence, and Milan via Lufthansa. Qantas flies from various cities in Australia via Bangkok, arriving in Rome. Alitalia and New Zealand Air fly from Auckland to Rome with a stop in London. Another option if you’re coming from Australia or New Zealand is Thai Airlines, landing in Rome via Bangkok.

When buying tickets for flights within Italy, on Alitalia and small carriers such as Meridiana and Air One shop around for the best deals. Tickets are frequently sold at discounted prices, so check the cost of flights, even one-way, as an alternative to train travel.

Can Learning Languages Help You Better Understand Science and Technology?

by Philip Yaffe

“I was 24 years old when I first began thinking and speaking in a foreign language. It was like being released from prison. I saw my cell door swinging open and my mind flying free. That was over 40 years ago, but the picture is as fresh now as if it had just happened.”

I am a linguistic iconoclast. Throughout my life (I am now in my seventh decade), I have heard the mantra that learning a foreign language gives you invaluable insights into the cultures of the people who speak it. I don’t believe it.

In addition to my native English (I grew up in Southern California), I have become fluent in two other languages and have a good working knowledge of three more. I doubt that all this effort has given me any insights into the cultures of the people who speak these languages. At least no insights that I couldn’t have acquired more easily in 30 – 60 minutes by reading a well-written essay or in a few hours by attending well-crafted social-cultural lectures.

By contrast, I have acquired a deeper understanding of science.

What does science have to do with language? Actually, very little. But it has a lot to do with flexible thinking. And this is where science and language learning converge.

Contrary to the common belief, science is not about certainty but rather uncertainty. Good scientists are always looking for what has been overlooked, i.e. they are always searching for surprises and welcome them when they happen. They know that moment we believe a phenomenon is “natural” and must be that way, or that it is “unnatural” and cannot be that way, we are either heading for trouble or missing out on something important.

For example, Albert Einstein investigated the “unnatural” belief that a beam of light in space must always have the same velocity; other scientists had spent decades trying to disprove this. He wanted to see where this “unnatural” might lead. In fact, it lead to e = mc², the formula for atomic energy, and transformed the world.

It is not necessary to be a genius like Einstein (who spoke German, French, Italian and English), or even a scientist at all, in order to profit from the mind-stretching benefits of learning foreign languages. In our daily lives we all make assumptions about how the world works; often we are not even aware that we are making them. And that’s the danger. If we are insensitive to our assumptions, we are almost certain to end up believing things that aren’t true and refusing to believe things that are true.

Learning languages can help correct this parlous state of affairs. How? Quite simply, because nowhere else are our assumptions more rapidly and forcefully challenged by other assumptions about what is or isn’t natural that are equally valid.

Here are some simple examples.

1; Trailing Adjectives

It is “natural” to put adjectives before a noun, e.g. “an unidentified flying object”. Well not really. Many languages put adjectives after the noun, e.g. “un objet volant non-identifie”. You could argue the “naturalness” of these conflicting practices both ways. In English, we prefer to describe something before identifying what it is, as if to build up the suspense. In French, they prefer to identify what it is first and describe it afterwards. Who is right?

2. Optional Pronouns

English speakers take it for granted that constructing a sentence requires a subject and a verb. The subject can be either a proper noun (John talks) or a pronoun (He talks). If you have any acquaintance with Spanish, you know that in this language the pronoun is usually not necessary. You would still say “Juan habla” (John talks); however, in most cases you would simply say “Habla” for “He talks”. In fact, if you use a pronoun where it isn’t required (“El habla”), you would be committing a serious error.

3. No Distinction between Male and Female

English speakers learning French are often puzzled by the language’s apparent inability to distinguish between male and female. For example, “This is his book” and “This is her book” in French are both “C’est son livre”. The possessive adjective “son” means both “his” and “her”. If it is absolutely necessary to distinguish between “his” book and “her” book, there is a way of doing so. However, it is employed only when absolutely necessary.

But isn’t it always absolutely necessary? It seems so unnatural not to specify whether the book’s owner is male or female. Isn’t this fundamental information?

It may seem so, but it isn’t. By the same logic, it should be fundamental information to distinguish between male and female when saying “This is their book”, but we don’t. “This is your book” can be either male, female, or both, but we never specify. Even “This is my book” can be either male or female, but again we don’t specify.

Having grown up speaking only English, you probably have never noticed this inconsistency in the language. Neither had I. I simply knew that is was “natural” to distinguish between his and her book, until a Frenchman asked me why. I couldn’t tell him.

4. Inclusive and Explicit Forms of “You”

In English, we have only one way of saying “you”, which covers all situations. Many languages have several ways of saying it, notably the “formal you” and the “familiar you”. English used to have a familiar “you” (thou), but it has essentially disappeared. But in French and Spanish, for example, it is still widely used, making speakers of these languages feel that English is somehow “incomplete”.

Spanish speakers are particularly poorly served. In their language, not only do they have a formal and familiar “you”, they have them both in the singular and plural. In other words, in Spanish there are four ways of saying “you”: formal singular (one person), familiar singular (one person), formal plural (several persons), familiar plural (several persons). For Spanish speakers, having these four options is natural and necessary; not having them in English is unnatural and constricting.

5. Exclusive and Explicit Verb Forms

English has very few verb forms. For example, in the present tense we say “I cook”, “You cook”, “He cooks”, “She cooks”, “We cook”, “They cook”. In other words, there are only two forms of the verb, “cook” and “cooks”, depending on whom we are talking about. In the past tense English has only one verb form, e.g. “I cooked”, “You cooked”, “He cooked”, “She cooked”, “We cooked”, “They cooked”. Likewise in the future tense; everyone “will cook”.

In other languages this is quite unnatural, because they use distinct forms for each different person being talked about. For example, in French and Spanish “I” is associated with one verb form, “you” with a distinctly different verb form, “we” with yet another form, etc. And of course there are distinct verb forms for the “familiar you” and “formal you” (singular in French, and both singular and plural in Spanish).

But doesn’t all these differences make other languages significantly more complex than English? Yes, indeed. However, they also make them significantly more precise. For speakers of these languages, it is crucially important to make these distinctions, because this is how their minds have been trained to work. Just as it is crucially important for English speakers to distinguish between “his” and “hers”, because this is how our minds have been trained to work.

Examples of these different ways of doing things from one language to another are endless. Each time we encounter them our mind opens up a little bit more, because the unexpressed assumptions we all carry around with us are continually being challenged.

Growing up in California, I used to be strongly opposed to language learning because it seemed so difficult and pointless. I have since changed my mind. I now strongly advocate language learning. Not because knowing a foreign language teaches us very much about others, but because it teaches us so much about ourselves.

Accepting that language learning is more about mind expansion than culture implies that language teaching must be fundamentally reformed.

I live in Belgium, where speaking two or three languages is the norm rather than the exception. This is generally true throughout Europe. In these countries, teaching languages in the belief that people will actually use them makes sense. The mind-expanding aspects of the effort come along as a welcomed bonus.

However for English speakers in general, and Americans in particular, it is almost impossible to learn to speak foreign languages because it is so difficult to practice them outside of the classroom. Here, the mind-expanding aspects of language learning should be the primary objective, and courses designed and taught in consequence.

If this were done, I believe that the American fear – and dare I say loathing – of other languages could be reversed. The schools would lay down the foundations of a language without trying to force students into the hopeless and demoralizing task of trying to speak it.

With this foundation firmly in place, when a person traveled to an area where that language is spoken, he would be able to rapidly turn his passive knowledge into active use. Even better, even if he traveled to an area with a totally different language, he would understand how languages work and therefore be ready to learn the new language rapidly and without fear.

Finally, the general aversion – and again dare I say loathing – many monolingual English speakers have of science and technology might also moderate. A mind made flexible by language learning would find it much easier to grasp and appreciate scientific principles than one still imprisoned in single-language rigidity.

In an age dominated by science and technology, surely this would be a benefit of ineffable importance.

Philip Yaffe is a former reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal and a marketing communication consultant. He currently teaches a course in good writing and good speaking in Brussels, Belgium. His recently published book In the “I” of the Storm: the Simple Secrets of Writing & Speaking (Almost) like a Professional is available from Story Publishers in Ghent, Belgium (storypublishers.be) and Amazon (amazon.com).

For further information, contact:

Philip Yaffe

Brussels, Belgium

Tel: +32 (0)2 660 0405

Email: phil.yaffe@yahoo.com

Novel excerpts: Satire

From ‘Days in the Life’

Chapter 8

It was the time of sending hundreds of job applications. Sometimes, I just sent for the sake of sending, but occasionally I found something of interest where I’ve said to myself Oohh, that is a bit of me.’ Such was the case with this ad for a famous press agency, looking for sales people to promote it globally. So I applied.. Three weeks passed, I already forgot about it.

Then one boring day, I came home from shopping and my answering machine, which is dead most of the time, kept blinking at me. I kicked off my shoes, lit a cigarette and pushed the play button. A female voice said: Hi, this is Esperanza, you applied for the sales position with our agency, please call me back for an interview’ I strained to listen to the voice rattling a Spanish phone number.

I sighed.. After months of fruitless job interviews and silly telephone calls where they ask you questions such as what motivates you to do sales, how do you speak to a client you’ve met for the very first time.’ I was happy. I say silly because I’m an international sales professional with 8 years of experience closing multimillion dollar deals. Excuse me, did you even read my cv? When I think of the types of people that interview potential candidates I decide that I wouldn’t let half of them watch my dog. I’m sure you’ll know what I mean.

The end of it was that I got invited to Brussels for the first interview. The company does not pay the costs of this first interview, but if you pass, you’ll get invited to the second round which is in Madrid, and that you will get reimbursed for..’ I rolled my eyes as I listened to her. I was painfully low on funds as it was, but okay, no pain no gain, right? I will have to if I wanted to be a posh representative of this firm, flying all over the world, selling and selling, making loads of bunce, and occasionally sipping a pina colada at some exotic destination.

I clicked onto the German railway website (the wonderfully efficient Deutsche Bahn) and found a Belgium online special and bought a return ticket for 92 Euro. Not bad, not bad.

Once you have a ticket on ‘special’ this means you’re tied to those particular trains at those particular times, the ticket is invalid for any other train and/or time. So the journey was like this: Leave Heidelberg at 6:05 am, switch in Mannheim, switch in Cologne, switch in Brussels Nord and arrive to the final destination: Brussels Centraal. The return journey was on the same

Can the Fundamental Principles of Non-fiction Writing be Applied to Fiction?

I have never written fiction and never intended to. My 40-year career has been in journalism and marketing communication. However, a few months ago someone who had read my book on expository (non-fiction) writing and speaking contacted me to ask if I could help her with some fiction projects. I was inclined to say “no”, because I couldn’t really see what my kind of writing had to do with hers. By chance, a few weeks earlier I had came across a compilation of comments on writing by noted novelists and was struck by the similarity of what they had to say and what I had say. So I decided to give it a try.

The lady asked me to look at a novel she had written a few years earlier. We will first analyze the prologue of the novel according to some key principles and practices of expository writing, then look at how it was revised.

But first, what are these key principles? There really are only three of them. However, if properly understood and applied, they cover most writing situations, both creative and expository.

A. Clarity Principle

Being clear is not a matter of personal appreciation. According to the clarity principle, to be clear you must do three things:
1. Emphasize what is of key importance.
2. De-emphasize what is of secondary importance.
3. Eliminate what is of no importance.

If you follow the formula, before you start writing you must first determine what is of key importance, i.e. what are the key ideas you want your readers to take away from your text?

This is not always easy. It is far simpler to say that everything is of key importance, so you put in everything you have. However, unless you do the work of defining what you really want your readers to know, they won’t do it for you. They will simply get lost in your text and either give up or come out the other end not knowing what they have read.

Next, you must be certain to de-emphasize what is of secondary importance. Why? Because if you want your readers to recognize and retain the key ideas, you don’t want them to get lost in the details. Details (information of secondary importance) explain and support the key ideas. They must never overwhelm them.

Finally, you must eliminate what is of no importance. Why? Because any information that adds nothing to explaining and supporting the key ideas will tend to obscure them. This is exactly the opposite of what you want.

B. Conciseness Principle

According to the conciseness principle, your text should be as:

1. Long as necessary

2. Short as possible

“As long as necessary” means covering all the key ideas you identified under “clarity”, and all the information of secondary importance needed to explain and support them. Note that nothing is said about the number of words, because it is irrelevant. If it takes 500 words to be “as long as necessary”, then 500 words must be used. If it takes 1500 words, then this is all right, too.

“As short as possible” means staying as close to the minimum as you can, because all words beyond the minimum tend to damage clarity. Subconsciously, readers will continually be trying to understand why those words are there, and will be continually failing because they serve no purpose.

Anything that doesn’t add to the text, subtracts from it.

C. Density Principle

According to the density principle, you text should contain:

1. Precise information

2. Logically linked

Using precise information aids clarity. For example, if you say it is a “hot” day, what do you mean? One reader might interpret hot as 24° C, while another might interpret is as 36° C. However, if you say the temperature is 28° C, there is no room for interpretation – or misinterpretation.

Using precise information also generates confidence, because it assures your readers that you really know what you are talking about. This helps to hold their attention, making it easier to get your points across.

To these three fundamental principles of expository writing, I would like to add a specific technique. Analyze each sentence or passage you write to see what question it may raise in the reader’s mind. Then answer it!

Usually these questions will be subconscious; the reader won’t even be aware of them. However, a lengthening list of “what is this?” and “why is that?” will inevitably cause the reader’s mind to wander away from what you are trying to say. When it has wandered far enough, it is unlikely to come back.

The reader will complain that the text is shallow, boring, insipid or confusing. And he will be right.

Analysis

Below you will find the “Analysis” of the prologue of the novel. For best benefit, you should probable read the text straight through, ignoring the comments in parentheses. Next, re-read with the comments. Finally, compare this original with the “Revision”, produced by applying the above principles.

The purpose of the prologue is to:
1) Introduce the principal characters
2) Outline the plot
3) Generate a sense of mystery and expectation
These are the key ideas; everything in the text should bend to them

———————————–

Aurora searched for his signal as the 737 taxied past her. (Where is she? Could she possibly be on the tarmac?). She saw nothing, but her belief didn’t waver. (Is she expecting some kind of major event?)

As the aircraft rolled almost out of sight, she noticed two distinct flashes. It was Mitch. As always, he’d remembered. Almost a year ago, they’d devised a system of code to communicate from the terminal to the plane when she’d complained that she couldn’t see in the tiny jet’s windows – a flash of his silver business card case meant that he loved her and he’d be back soon. (Hardly the major event suggested earlier.)

And she knew he would, considering the long-awaited engagement ring he’d just given her before he boarded – a solitary white diamond with heart shaped clusters on both sides and smaller diamonds embedded on the band. (Would a man really give a woman an engagement ring at an airport just before flying off to leave her for a week?)

Over fifteen minutes passed and finally the plane’s engines whined into action. Heaving greatly, the Rolls Royce motors overcame the aircraft’s stagnant weight and the immense mass accelerated down the long tarmac strip. Once having gained speed, it only took a small flick of the wing’s flaps and the steel structure effortlessly rose into the air and was magically in flight. (This seems a rather dramatic description of a plane taking off, particularly for people like Aurora and Mitch, who are used to flying. What is the purpose of this description?)

Aurora breathed a sigh of relief that was echoed by the few relatives that had remained on both sides of her – a petite woman, a young girl, a man.
The plane was away safely. (More drama about the airplane taking off. Is this paragraph really necessary?)

She dabbed her forehead with a handkerchief Mitch had given her. GMA it was initialized – Greg Mitchell Adderby – silver-haired, he was her boss, her mentor, her first real love (how old is she?). She breathed in the Antheus scent that still clung to it – his scent. Then she rubbed the sweat of her palm (still concerned about the takeoff?) against the jeans he’d bought for her at Harrods in London on their first excursion together, her first trip out of America. Ruby red denim. They were his favorite color, just like the ties he always wore. That was only a year ago.

She’d become so much a part of Mitch’s life since then, his wisdom and maturity a guide to her (how old is Mitch?). He had promised to protect her (against what?). And she marveled at the company he co-founded (with whom?), Rad Foods International, a distribution company for fresh and irradiated fruits and vegetables, a place where she could work happily, sometimes even excel.

But now he was gone. What would she do for a week? (Doesn’t she work in the company?) How she wished she hadn’t had to stay behind for the awards dinner, Young Business Designer of the Year. But she was proud of the achievement and the recognition. In his absence, Mitch had arranged for Gerard Marques, their lead salesman, to accompany her. “There’s no one else I’d rather rely on,” he had told her. (Aurora seems to have won award. For what? What kind of work does she do?)

On the plane, Mitch fumbled nervously with his briefcase (why “nervously”?). Then he stared out the window and caught a glimpse of Aurora in the oversized terminal window. Long, flowing, dark brown hair. Long waist, long, slender limbs. Even from a distance, the brightly dyed jeans and fire-engine angora sweater that clung to her svelte frame were a beacon to him. “My ray of sunshine,” he whispered, and breathed deeply, pensively. (Where is Mitch going? Where is he leaving from?)

As her tall figure dwindled to a mere dot, he took off his seatbelt and turned his neck almost backwards, straining to see her for a few more seconds.

Suddenly, the plane jerked. He was lurched abruptly, and a searing pain bolted from his head down his spine. He faced forward again and rubbed his sore neck. “Oh,” he cried, as the plane wrenched him another excruciating time, on this occurrence with even more force.

“For God sake man, get your head down,” a bearded man next to him yelled.
(Why bearded? This seems to be a gratuitous detail, shifting reader attention away from Mitch.)

“What?”

“Get your head down.”

Confused, Mitch obeyed the strict command and plunged his chest to his knees, gripping onto the silver card case through the chest pocket of his black Armani suit (is this dramatic moment an appropriate time to describe what Mitch is wearing?).

“Fire,” someone screamed from the economy section. “It’s the engine.” (Why economy section? Should we assume that Mitch is in business or first class? With the plane in crisis, does it really matter?)

“Place your head between your knees and be calm,” a shrill female voice wailed over the loudspeaker. (Would a trained stewardess “wail” in a “shrill voice”?) Her words were barely audible over the chaos.

As the aircraft reeled again, a luggage rack jarred opened above them, and a vivid fuchsia bag smashed into the aisle, its zipper bursting – bras, socks, and underwear spilling out. So steep was the jet’s angle now that the clothes tumbled down the length of the aisle with the ease of marbles. (Enumerating the contents of the bag shifts reader attention away from Mitch. Is it relevant?).

Next to Mitch, two women were sobbing hysterically. “This can’t be happening,” one screamed. (Once again, reader attention is shifted away from Mitch. Why?)

Unexpectedly, the doors of another overhead compartment swung open, this time hurling yellow cups onto the already frightened passengers (Is this sentence necessary?).

“Put on your seatbelt…” the bearded man shouted to Mitch from beside him. His hands fumbled to obey.

On the ground, Aurora swore that the plane lurched unevenly. It wasn’t ascending anymore. Suddenly, it made another wrenching motion and then pitched itself downward.

“My God,” she cried, looking fearfully at the dangerous angle. Everyone around her at the Niagara Falls terminal gaped at the scene. (Why this shift of attention away from Aurora just when it has been re-established?) The plane was only a few hundred yards off the ground, with no hope of enough room to level out for a smooth landing.

Suddenly, the aircraft tilted sideways and turned back towards the building. A colossal burst of fire spewed from the engine.

“They’re gonna die!” someone screamed.

“No!” Aurora pleaded as the metallic mass dropped to the asphalt with a force that violently quaked the ground, as if a Goliath was tumbling to earth. (This seems to be a gratuitous, distracting metaphor. Is it necessary?) The plane’s wing scraped along the airstrip with a deafening noise, and thick choking puffs spilled out of the hull.

An explosion blew out the left jet, and flames began raging.

Aurora was sure that Mitch was in one of the windows. She was with him – she envisaged the last time they’d eaten a romantic dinner together, the last time he’d snuck a kiss at work, the last time they’d made love– He was reaching out to her. (This seems a distracting interlude during a crisis. Is it necessary?)

Finally, the lamed giant skidded to a standstill on the tarmac just in front of the window where she stood.

———————————

The scene continues in very much the same manner, i.e. raising questions that aren’t being answered, unnecessary shifts of attention, distracting details, etc.

Revision of the Prologue

Here is the revision. See how application of the three expository writing principles (clarity, conciseness, density) and the question & answer technique have altered it.

——————————-

Aurora looked out of the terminal window, searching for his signal as the 737 taxied past her. She hadn’t yet seen it but she knew she would. As the aircraft rolled almost out of sight, she caught sight of what she had been waiting for, two distinct flashes. It was Mitch.

Almost a year earlier, she had complained that she couldn’t see him through the tiny jet’s windows, so they had devised their private signally system. A flash of his silver business card case meant that he loved her and would soon return.

And there it was. They had used the system many times over the past year, but this time was special. Just before boarding, he had given her what she had been praying for, an engagement ring. It was in the form of solitary white diamond with heart shaped clusters on both sides and smaller diamonds embedded on the band.

Mitch had planned to give it to her after his return, but as he said, “I just couldn’t wait.
“That was just like Mitch,” Aurora thought. Generally cool, calm and methodical, but capable of occasional flashes of appropriate spontaneity.

The moment he put it on her finger, all of Aurora’s girlish dreams about an elegant candle-lit dinner, a romantic moonlight stroll along the river, and maybe even her suitor down on one knee, instantly vanished. Mitch was as eager as she. That was all that mattered.

At the age of 26, she had of course been in love before. But never like this. It couldn’t have been like this.

The plane rested on the tarmac a good 15 minutes. Finally, its powerful Rolls Royce engines roared into action. It began taxiing down the runway, gathering the speed necessary to lift its heavy mass into the sky.

Aurora withdrew the handkerchief Mitch had given her from her purse. It bore the initials GMA – Gregory Mitchell Adderby. She briefly pressed it to her nose and breathed in the Antheus scent that still clung to it – his scent. Oh yes, she had been in love before, but never like this.

Just over a year ago, Mitch had been only her boss, but then became her mentor, her lover. And now her soon-to-be husband.

She touched the engagement ring he had put on her slender finger less than 30 minutes ago. Each time Mitch had gone away before, the days had dragged. But how was she going to get through the coming week now.

Mitch was on his way to the Young Business Designer of the Year awards dinner in Chicago, where he was to be honored. At 31, Mitch was still a boyish-looking if silver-haired entrepreneur. Six years ago, he and a university buddy had founded Rad Foods International, a rapidly growing distribution company for fresh and irradiated fruits and vegetables. Still small compared to its competitors, the company was generally recognized a real comer and would soon take its place among the big boys.

On the plane, Mitch was at a window seat, head turned back trying to catch a last glimpse of Aurora through the oversized windows of the Niagara Falls air terminal. Flowing auburn hair, long waist, slender limbs. Even at this distance, he could make out the ruby jeans and fire-engine red angora sweater he had bought her a few weeks ago when they were in London. “My beacon, my ray of sunshine,” he whispered.

As Aurora’s svelte figure dwindled to a dot, Mitch took off his seatbelt and started to open his briefcase. Suddenly, the plane lurched and he was thrown forward, hitting his head against the seat in front of him. He straightened up, rubbing his sore neck and just beginning to feel pain radiating down his body. The plane lurched again.

“For God sake man, get your head down!” yelled the man across the aisle.

“What?”

“Get your head down, you idiot! The plane is going to crash!”

There was no doubting the authority in the voice, so Mitch obeyed. He thrust his chest to his knees, gripping the silver card case through the chest pocket of his jacket.

“Fire! It’s the engine!” someone screamed.

Then a sturdily dispassionate but slightly wavering female voice came over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and Gentlemen, please place your head between your knees and remain calm.”

As the plane lurched again, an overhead luggage rack jarred opened. A fuchsia lady’s traveling case crashed to the floor, spilling out a rainstorm of equally colorful intimate apparel – bras, panties, stockings, nighties.

“Quite a show,” Mitch thought, trying to calm is rapidly fraying nerves. But the respite lasted only a moment.

“Put your damn seatbelt on!” thundered the man across the aisle. Mitch fumbled to comply, but never quite made it.

On the ground, Aurora was watching the scene in horror. The plane was no longer rising. Instead, it was wobbling from side to side as if trying to make up its mind which way to go. Abruptly, it pitched downward.

“Oh my God,” Aurora cried, her heart pounding and droplets of sweat pearling on her forehead.

Suddenly, there was a bright flash and a torrent of fire and smoke gushed from the plane’s fuselage.

“It’s going to crash! They’re all going to die!” someone shouted.

“No!” Aurora pleaded as the stricken aircraft plummeted out of the sky. Just before hitting the ground, the pilot regained some kind of control. He sent it along the runway. It screamed and screeched as its crippled undercarriage gouged huge trenches in the tarmac along its path.

Another explosion, more fire and smoke. Finally, the plane skidded to a stop just in front of the window where Aurora was standing.

————————————–

To answer the question at the beginning: Can the principles of non-fiction (clarity, conciseness, density) be applied to fiction? Indeed, they can. And with considerable effect. So if you have always wanted to write fiction but felt it was beyond you, why not give it a try? You may be better than you think.

Philip Yaffe is a former reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal and a marketing communication consultant. He currently teaches a course in good writing and good speaking in Brussels, Belgium. His recently published book In the “I” of the Storm: the Simple Secrets of Writing & Speaking (Almost) like a Professional is available from Story Publishers in Ghent, Belgium (storypublishers.be) and Amazon (amazon.com).

For further information, contact:

Philip Yaffe
Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +32 (0)2 660 0405
Email: phil.yaffe@yahoo.com,phil.yaffe@gmail.com

Exclusive Escorts – Relax Into a World of Pleasure

If you ever find yourself in need of an escort, we should always resort to the services of Lifestyle models from Brussels. They are one of the most professional escort agencies in the field, being completely dedicated to serving their clients and having only the finest model available. Together, you will travel with them to anywhere in the world, the destination being completely your choice. No matter if you want to go to the South of France with one of our beautiful ladies or you pick out a city hotel, the choice is yours. All you have to do is to enjoy the company of a Brussels escort and remain with long lasting memories.

The Internet holds a wealth of information about this agency providing exclusive escorts and you can easily browse their website to find out more about them. You can browse their gallery for as long as you want and pick out someone that suits you. The lifestyle models hired by this company have a full time career as fashion models, flight attendants or secretaries but they all are of an extreme beauty, guaranteed to put a smile on your face. A professional escort agency knows how to provide what you need respecting three golden standard rules: privacy, superior service and luxurious accommodations.

After you decide which Brussels escort is the one you want, you have to determine whether a hotel arrangement or a lifestyle arrangement is more suitable for you. Just keep in mind what your needs and preferences are and feel free to browse the gallery holding those beautiful, bewitching lifestyle models. With exclusive escorts, you are ready to travel to any destination in the world, transforming the whole trip into a romantic escape, filled with luxury and passion. Anywhere around the globe, any city and any hotel you want, you can have one incredible Brussels escort with you. If you decide for the exclusive yachting experience, then you should know that the South of France is an unbelievable place to visit.

The first step after picking out one of the exclusive escorts (Anne, Daniela, Evelyn or Ingrid) is to mention the name of the hotel and the desired travel schedule. You will also have to provide the city and the country the hotel is situated, plus the arrival and departure time. You can book one of the lifestyle models for at least a night and you can ask her to accompany you for business trips, parties and receptions, plus various other events. No matter what you kind of event you might need her company for, you are guaranteed to have the time of our life, with a beautiful, intelligent and extravagant woman. Make reservations on the Internet and prepare yourself to dazzle everybody with your Brussels escort.

The exclusive escorts can also make sure that you have one of the most unbelievable yachting experiences you’ve ever dreamed of. Together with them, you can travel to Cannes, Monaco or Saint Tropez, visiting unexpected places and taste a little bit of the exotic and unknown. Cannes is well known as a famous city festival and you can have high-quality time strolling through the city where celebrities come to enjoy the same life full of luxury and pleasure. You will be treated as royalty, picked up by a limousine and boarded on what can only be called a deluxe yacht. The Mediterranean lifestyle will totally suit you and your lifestyle model, relaxing on the beach, drinking an exotic cocktail or swimming in the crystal clear water. This experience will defeat any limits of your imagination.

Monaco can offer you another taste of the Mediterranean lifestyle, attracting you with incredible surroundings and the possibility of residing on an exclusive yacht. Along with the model of your choice you will be experiencing the entire Cote d’Azur coastline, feeling pampered and excited every step of the way. The South of France will seem to you more than incredible, especially since you will visit elegant and refined destinations such as: Saint Tropez, Ste Maxime and Cannes. The company of a Brussels escort and the beauty of the places you are going to visit will represent a dynamite combination, making you feel incredibly relaxed and happy.

Saint Tropez is another sweet destination that can guarantee you the time of your life. You will be taken on board with our lifestyle model, the boat being made only of luxurious Mahogany wood, with stylish interiors, finely decorated and accommodated with all you need. At Saint Tropez, you will enter the high lifestyle, attend the coolest parties and visit those famous beaches you have always heard so much of like Tahiti Beach and Nikki Beach. You will certainly be excited by the sexy atmosphere and feel like in heaven. Saint Tropez is a medieval town that can offer a lot of great things, exclusive parties and you can also have a taste of the delicious French cuisine. The whole city exudes an air of mystery and you can enjoy it all with a Brussels escort. Plunge into the world of high lifestyle and let yourself drawn into the whirlpool of pleasure.

How to get back to basics and know God

No Room

It was my ninth birthday in July 1963, and my family was driving to Washington D.C. for a few days of sightseeing. We had planned to spend the night in a motel somewhere in eastern Ohio or western Pennsylvania but my father, ever the intrepid traveler, felt we should push on closer to our destination. By the time 11 PM rolled around, we were all tired and not just a little cranky so we started looking for vacancy signs at road side motels. Most were posted no vacancy by that time of night, and many simply had shut off their lights. We stopped at a few with vacancy still lit, but all they had available would never accommodate a family of five.

We kept driving east, and though I was hungry for sleep, I became ever more anxious that we really would never find a place to lay our heads. My eyes grew wider and I was more awake than ever, having never stayed up beyond 1 AM before and certainly, I’d never had the experience of being awake all night long. It still goes down in my annals as my longest birthday on record.

By 2 AM we arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and my dad had reached his driving limit and my mom had declared we were not traveling another mile. We headed downtown where the brick Harrisburg Hotel stood some 10 stories high, an old structure in a questionable area of town, but the lights were on and there were signs of life inside.

They did have a room that gave us two saggy double beds to share for eight dollars, with sheets and blankets with dubious laundering history, a bare light bulb that turned on with a chain and a bathroom down the hall. I’m surprised my mother even considered laying down on that bed, but she did. I don’t remember getting much sleep that night, but it was a place to rest, and the sirens and shouts out on the street did make for interesting background noise.

Some 12 years later, I had another experience of finding no room to lay my head after arriving late at night in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, with supposed reservations at the local YMCA for myself and my three student friends traveling together on our way to Gombe to study wild chimpanzees. We landed at the airport after midnight after a day long flight from Brussels, managed to make it through customs intact and find a taxi, only to arrive at the Y to find it dark and locked. It took some loud knocking to rouse anyone and with our poor Swahili, we were able to explain our dilemma-we were supposed to have two rooms reserved for the four of us. He

Italian Air Travel Booking Tips

The cost of flying within Italy is often comparable to the cost of train travel, although be sure to include the expense of getting to and from the airport. When flying out of Italian airports, always check with the airport or tourist agency about upcoming strikes, which are frequent in Italy and often affect air travel. The work stoppages are called by trade unions over contractual disputes, and can also ground or delay flights to and from Italy operated by several European carriers, including British Airways and Air France.

Things to Think About when booking

When you book, look for nonstop flights and remember that “direct” flights stop at least once. Try to avoid connecting flights, which require a change of plane. Two airlines may operate a connecting flight jointly, so ask whether your airline operates every segment of the trip. You may find that the carrier you prefer flies you only part of the way. Check web sites to find more booking tip, to check prices and to make online flight reservations.

When flying internationally, you must usually choose between a domestic carrier, the national flag carrier of the country you are visiting (Alitalia for Italy), and a foreign carrier from a third country. National flag carriers have the greatest number of non stops. Domestic carriers may have better connections to your hometown and serve a greater number of gateway cities. Third-party carriers may have a price advantage.

On international flights, Alitalia serves Rome, Milan, and Venice. The major international hubs in Italy are Milan and Rome, served by Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines. American Airlines flies into just Milan. US Airways serves only Rome.

Alitalia and British Airways have direct flights from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports to Milan and Rome. From Manchester, British Airways has daily flights to Milan and Rome. Smaller, no-frills airlines also provide service between Great Britain and Italy.

EasyJet connects Gatwick with Bologna. British Midland connects Heathrow and Milan. Ryanair, departing from London’s Stansted Airport, has daily flights to Milan, Rome, Pisa, and Venice. Meridiana has two or three direct flights each week between Gatwick and Olbia on Sardinia in summer, and daily flights to Rome and Florence throughout the year. From its hub in Brussels, Virgin Express files to Milan, Catania, and Rome.

Alitalia connects Canada and Italy. Air Canada flies to Munich for connections to Rome, Florence, and Milan via Lufthansa. Qantas flies from various cities in Australia via Bangkok, arriving in Rome. Alitalia and New Zealand Air fly from Auckland to Rome with a stop in London. Another option if you’re coming from Australia or New Zealand is Thai Airlines, landing in Rome via Bangkok.

When buying tickets for flights within Italy, on Alitalia and small carriers such as Meridiana and Air One shop around for the best deals. Tickets are frequently sold at discounted prices, so check the cost of flights, even one-way, as an alternative to train travel.

Fast-tracking Foreign Languages: How to Meet the Linguistic Challenges of Working Abroad

Native English-speakers are increasingly exhorted to learn foreign languages to play a more effective role in globalisation. However, we tend not to learn foreign languages for three very valid reasons.

1. Many other peoples in the world are not just exhorted to learn English, they are required to do so. Thus, you can find English virtually everywhere you go.

2. The grammar of most other languages, certainly most European languages, is much more complex than English. Thus, native anglophones often view language learning as a daunting, and even demoralising task.

3. Most native anglophones, especially in North America, live in almost exclusively English-speaking environments. We virtually never hear other languages spoken live, on radio or television, and virtually never see them written in newspapers, magazines, books, etc. This is hardly motivating.

The fact is, the world conspires against anglophones learning other languages. So if you speak only English, you have no reason to be ashamed.

Nevertheless, whilst these factors explain why so few anglophones know other languages, they are not valid excuses for not learning them when the situation calls for it. For example, you are sent to open or manage a foreign subsidiary, you are assigned to negotiate or maintain working relationships with a foreign partner, etc.

How should you go about learning a foreign language with the least pain and most gain? In my personal experience, the secret lies in changing your mindset.

I live in Brussels. I speak French fluently, understand and can more-or-less get around in Dutch and German, and I am now rapidly acquiring Spanish. But the first language I mastered was none of these. It was Swahili, which I learned when I spent two-and-a-half years working in Tanzania.

Like many (probably most) Americans growing up in an essentially English-speaking environment, I thought the ability to speak another language required superior intelligence; only people endowed with this unique talent could actually achieve it. Shortly after I got to Tanzania, I visited in a remote tribal area where virtually everyone spoke three languages. Moreover, virtually none of them had ever seen the inside of a school (there just weren’t any schools), let alone graduated from a prestigious university (UCLA).

I therefore had to radically rethink my attitude towards language learning. This new mindset has significantly helped me master the languages I now regularly use. I will illustrate with French, the language I know best. But remember, these same ideas and techniques apply to virtually any language you may need to acquire.

Some Useful Psychology

The good news is: Learning to speak a language is the easiest part of the job.

I know you may have thought that speaking would be the most difficult part. However, I would argue that most people, with minimal effort, can learn to speak a foreign language reasonably well really quite quickly.

Writing a language is very a different story. French, for example, is one of the most complex written languages in the world. In fact, written French and spoken French are almost two separate languages. Therefore, if your objective is to speak, concentrate on the spoken language and leave the written language to come along later.

I know this may sound like heresy, because the majority of language courses try to teach both at the same time, particularly in public schools. They spend a demoralising amount of time making you write a language (probably because it is easier to grade students this way), although this is the last thing you really need to know.

When I say that speaking is the easiest part of the job, I am not advocating “total immersion”. Few of us have the luxury of spending a week, or preferably several weeks, totally concentrating on learning a language. What I am advocating is doing things in the proper psychological order.

Most people can master enough of the fundamentals to be able to speak (poorly but nevertheless coherently), and to understand what is being said to them, within only 2 – 3 months. The trick is to recognise that the major obstacle to acquiring a foreign language is not grammar. It’s vocabulary.

If you don’t know the verb you need, it doesn’t matter that you know how to conjugate verbs; you still cannot speak. If you don’t know the adjective you need, it doesn’t matter that you know how to decline adjectives; you still cannot speak. And so on.

I therefore suggest that the most effective order for learning a language would be:

1. Basic grammar

The minimum necessary to put together an intelligible (if incorrect) sentence.

In my experience, this is most efficiently done self-taught. Sit down with a grammar book for about 10-15 minutes each day until you begin to feel somewhat comfortable with it.

2. Basic vocabulary

The minimum necessary to begin using the basic grammar.

Again, in my experience this is most efficiently done self-taught, i.e. the classic “learn five new words each day”. It won’t be very long before you start seeing how different words are related, so you can begin to guess what new words mean without resorting to the dictionary.

3. Speaking the language

Putting basic grammar and vocabulary to work as soon as you can actually begin using them.

This is the time to consider a language school or a personal tutor. With the foundation of what you will have already learned by yourself, you will certainly progress more easily and rapidly than if you had leapt into formal language instruction at the very beginning.

4. Writing the language

Tackling the daunting task of putting the language on paper.

You will almost certainly never need to do much writing. And what you do write will certainly need to be revised and corrected by a native speaker.

Since vocabulary is crucial, then the largely unrecognised key to mastering another language is: Learn to read it.

There is nothing like being able to sit down with a newspaper, magazine, or even a novel in the language to reinforce both grammar and vocabulary. The more you read, the more your vocabulary will expand. And the more some of the language’s apparently bizarre ways of doing things will become increasingly familiar.

best results, the novel should contain a maximum of dialogue and a minimum of description. With dialogue, you can frequently anticipate and interpret what the characters are saying; with description you haven’t a clue.

When I was learning French, I used novels by Agatha Christie and the adventures of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs, because they are about 90% dialogue and 10% description. Hardly my favourite literature, but they served the purpose. I would also suggest Animal Farm by George Orwell and Candide by Voltaire. However, any novel with a high ratio of dialogue to description will do.

Important Tip

The purpose of reading in the language is to learn vocabulary automatically. Constantly looking up unfamiliar words will break your reading rhythm and damage your enjoyment. Consequently, keep use of a dictionary to an absolute minimum.

It isn’t heresy to say this, just common sense.

In fiction, very few words are crucial for understanding the story line. Do you really need to know precisely what a room looks like? It’s enough to know that is large and elegantly furnished. Do you really need to know precisely what a landscape looks like? It is enough to know that it is isolated and windy.

Moreover, words repeat. You will certainly see an unfamiliar word many more times throughout the text. At least one of those times, the way it is used will tell you exactly what it means, with no effort at all.

As a rule of thumb, if you are using a dictionary more than 2 – 3 times a page, you are probably being too fastidious. Stop it. Just read and enjoy!

Once you arrive on site where the language is spoken, all the grammar and vocabulary you have stored up in this way will rapidly show its worth.

In my case, this occurred only a very few weeks after landing in Tanzania. At the beginning, I was speaking by translating through English. However, one magic day I suddenly realised that I was no longer translating through English. I was speaking in Swahili directly. It was like being released from prison. Although this happened more than 40 years ago, the picture of my cell door flying open and my mind flying free is as vivid now as the day it happened. It’s an experience not to be missed!

Having discovered that I could really speak a foreign language – and that I didn’t have to be a genius to do it – I tried to determine how it had happened. I came to the conclusion that the single most important psychological factor is resignation.

Different languages have different ways of doing things, some of which will seem quite absurd. It is useless to keep moaning: “Why do they speak in this ridiculous way when it is so much easier to do it the way we do it in English?”

Whatever it is you find so annoying: Don’t fight it; accept it.

This is how children learn languages. They don’t constantly question grammatical structures, because it would just never occur to them to do so. And we all know how much more easily and rapidly “naïve” children learn languages than do we “sophisticated” adults!

Three Fundamental Principles

With Swahili as a basis, I also tried to determine the fundamental principles of language learning that could help me go on to mastering others. I found three to be particularly useful.

Facility Principle

What you don’t have to do is always

easier than what you do have to do.

In other words, the less you have to think about in learning a language, the more rapidly you will learn it. And the fewer mistakes you will make. As I will demonstrate below, French has certain features and characteristics that make it dramatically easier than English. Take advantage of them.

Here is the second principle that can smooth your way.

Familiarity Principle

Familiar habits and patterns of thought

are often hard to break.

Paradoxically, some of the aspects where another language is easier than English at first glance appear unfamiliar – and therefore falsely difficult. Although it may take you some time to accept them, once you begin to think in the language, you will rapidly come to appreciate them and enjoy their benefits.

Here is an anecdote to illustrate the point.

One time I was talking with a Dutch-speaking friend. He agreed that English is fundamentally simpler than his own language; nevertheless, he complained that he just couldn’t get used to English’s simpler sentence structure. In certain instances, Dutch grammar requires the order of the words in the sentence to reverse; this never happens in English. Objectively, then, English sentence structure should be easier than Dutch. But to him, not reversing the word order just didn’t seem natural.

Here is a third principle you will find extremely useful.

Context Principle

By themselves, words and sentences

have little meaning; often they can

be understood only in relation to

other words and sentences.

This is very reassuring. It means that even if you say something incorrectly, in general people will still understand you because of the context in which you say it. Likewise, even if people say something to you using unfamiliar grammar or vocabulary, in general you will still be able to understand them because of the context in which they say it.

In short, you don’t have to approach perfection in a language in order to use it effectively.

Focus on Simplicities, not Complexities

To conclude, let me fulfil the promise I made to demonstrate that French has certain features and characteristics that make it dramatically easier than English. This is equally true of most other languages, regardless of how difficult they may seem at first. The important thing is to focus on the simplicities, not the complexities.

Here are just seven examples; I could cite many more.

1. No tonic accent

Most people are largely unaware of how seriously difficult their own native language could be to a foreigner. As a native speaker, you probably find that English is quite easy to pronounce. But the fact is, French is even easier.

What! With its nasalisation, trilled “r” and other difficult sounds? Absolutely!

First, it is important to understand that no sounds, in any language, are inherently difficult to pronounce. If they were, they wouldn’t exist because the native speakers would never have accepted them in the first place.

Learning to pronounce unfamiliar foreign sounds is never easy. Francophones learning English have a terrible time pronouncing the “th” sound in words such as “the”, “they”, “through”, “throw”, etc., because there is no French equivalent. But they do it reasonably well. Just as you may have difficulty with certain French sounds that have no English equivalents. But you can also do it.

Where French pronunciation has an undeniable advantage over English is its virtual lack of a “tonic accent”.

Tonic accent simply means that certain syllables are given more stress than are others. For example, “difficult” is pronounced “dif!-fi-cult”; the first syllable carries the tonic accent. It could just as easily be pronounced dif-fi!-cult, or even “dif-fi-cult!”

Technically, the tonic accent does exist in French, but it is very hard to hear it. For example, in English we say “rest!-au-rant; there is a distinct stress on the first syllable. In French, this is “rest-au-rant”, with no stress anywhere. Likewise, “con!-ven-tion” has a distinct stress on the second syllable. In French, this is simply “con-ven-tion”, with no stress. And so on for every word in the language.

Thus, you never have to guess where the tonic accent should go, so you can never make a mistake.

You have grown up with the tonic accent, so you might not immediately recognise what a problem it really is, even between native speakers. Britons, for example, like to say “con-tro!-ver-sy” whilst Americans prefer to say “con!-tro-ver-sy”. And sometimes they don’t understand each other because of this difference. Britons say “gar!-age” whilst Americans say gar-age!”, again with the possibility of misunderstanding. And so on. In French, there is no tonic accent, so this problem simply doesn’t exist.

2. Gallic Impersonality

A. Use of “on”

or anglophones, imbued with the idea that French is a very personal language (the so-called “‘language of love”), few things are more surprising than the frequent use of the very impersonal “on” (pronounced ohn). By contrast, francophones learning English are surprised to discover that English has no equivalent of “on”, so they have to search all over the place for substitutes.

Actually, this is not entirely true. English does have an equivalent, “one”, but it is seldom used. The Queen of England uses it: “One has considered the matter carefully” rather than “I have considered the matter carefully”. Moralists use it: “One should not kill”, “One should be ready to fight for one’s country”, etc.

French uses “on” without the slightest embarrassment. In fact, using it prevents a lot of embarrassment. For example, a key problem in English is avoiding “genderism”. This is the explanation for the very odd use of the plural pronoun “they” as if it were a singular. Example: If someone studies hard, they will succeed.

Why do we make this apparently illogical switch from the singular pronoun “someone” and the singular verb “studies” to the plural pronoun “they’? Because otherwise, it would have been necessary to say “he will succeed”. However, the sentence clearly is not directed only to males. Alternatively, it would have been necessary to say “he or she will succeed”, or “he/she will succeed”, which are cumbersome. French has no such problem, because “on” (one) is the universal solution.

B. Use of possessive adjectives

Here is another example of how Gallic impersonality avoids genderism. Consider the sentence: “Everyone who studies hard will see their effort rapidly rewarded.” We start the sentence with a singular subject and verb; however, we finish it with a plural possessive adjective (“their”). In French, the sentence remains singular all the way through, because there is no gender distinction. “Son effort” can mean either “his effort” or “her effort”, according to the context.

Thus, the inherently impersonal nature of French grammar automatically precludes a lot of “political incorrectness”. In English, we can achieve this only through some rather illogical and inelegant grammatical contortions.

3. Use of infinitives

A major problem French speakers (and most other Europeans) face in English is the correct use of infinitives. As a native speaker, you probably never realised that infinitives can be a problem. After all, an infinitive is just an infinitive.

Well, not quite. English infinitives are in fact very unusual compared to French infinitives. This is because French infinitives are unified, whilst English infinitives are separable. For example:

1. French: manger (-er marks the infinitive)

2. English: to eat

The French infinitive is always a single word; however, the English infinitive can be used with both parts or only the second part. The problem is, in many cases this is not optional, but required. For example: “I need to eat something” (both parts), but “I must eat something” (only second part). So what’s the difference? Why in the first example is the “to” necessary and in the second not only isn’t it necessary, using it would be quite incorrect?

In French, this problem never arises. “J’ai besoin de manger quelque chose” (I need to eat something) and “Je dois manger quelque chose” (I must eat something). Simple, isn’t it. Just imagine if French worked like English. You would constantly be making choices about which form of the infinitive to use – and in many cases you would be wrong.

4. Use of definite articles

Use of the definite article (“the”) in English presents pretty much the same problem as use of the infinitive. In other words, you must always be making choices about when to use it and when not to use it. French is much simpler.

Really! Doesn’t French have three definitive articles (le, la, les) compared to only one in English? Absolutely! But the problem is not deciding which definite article to use. Rather, it is deciding whether or not to use any definitive article at all.

In French, you retain the definite article much more frequently than you do in English. Thus, you have considerably fewer decisions to make, and therefore considerably fewer opportunities to make a mistake.

Example

1. “I like cats” (cats in general)

2. “I like the cats” (specific cats, not necessarily all cats)

In French, both statements are rendered “J’aime les chats”, so no decision about whether or not to use the definite article. You distinguish the meanings of the two sentences from the context in which they are used, not their grammatical form.

5. No distinction between “a” and “one”

The words “a” and “one” are the equivalent of “un” in French. Fundamentally, these two words mean the same thing; however, “one” is more precise, so it adds emphasis. For example:

1. I saw a Chinese film (at least one, perhaps more)

2. I saw one Chinese film (only one, no more)

Both of these sentences are rendered in French as “J’ai vu un film chinois.” As with the definite article, you distinguish the meaning from the context.

Many francophones speaking English frequently make the mistake of saying “I have eaten in one Japanese restaurant” when they really mean “I have eaten in a Japanese restaurant”. As an anglophone speaking French, you will never make this mistake, because it simply isn’t possible!

6. Simple & progressive (continuous) tenses

English makes frequent use of progressive (continuous) verb tenses, whilst French almost never does.

The progressive tenses are formed by two verbs: the helper (auxiliary) “to be” and the “present participle” (-ing form) of the other one. Example: She is eating.

English uses progressive tenses to distinguish between the general time period during which an action takes place and the exact moment that the action takes place. French generally does not make this distinction. “Elle mange” means either “she eats” or “she is eating”. Once again, French leaves interpretation of the correct meaning to context.

And once again, since there is only one grammatical form, there is no possibility of error!

7. Converting verbs into nouns

Because of its fondness for progressive verb tenses, English has a characteristic way of converting verbs into nouns, i.e. using a verb as the subject or the object of a sentence.

In French, and many other languages, you simply use the infinitive: Marcher est bon pour les poumons. You can do the same thing in English: To walk is good for the lungs. However, the preferred form is: Walking is good for the lungs. To anglophone ears, “walking” is more dynamic than “to walk”, i.e. it seems to give a better picture of what is happening.

This may very well be the case – in English. But there is no such distinction in French. So once again, there is no way of making a mistake!

Admittedly, learning another language is never easy; it takes time, energy and dedication. However, as we have seen, there are three powerful strategies you can use to make the job considerably easier.

• Focus on the simplicities of the other language rather than on its complexities.

• Channel your energies according to the best psychological order:

1. Basic grammar

2. Basic vocabulary

3. Speaking the language

4. Writing the language

• Concentrate on reading the language to comfortably and automatically master its grammar and vocabulary

Good luck! Bonne chance! Veel geluk! Viel Gelück! Buena suerte! Buona fortuna! . . . .

Philip Yaffe is a former reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal and a marketing communication consultant. He currently teaches a course and conducts one-day workshops in writing and public speaking in Brussels, Belgium.

In the ‘I’ of the Storm: the Simple Secrets of Writing & Speaking (Almost) like a Professional, his recently published book, perceptively and entertainingly explains the key principles and practices of persuasive communication. It is available from the publishers in Ghent, Belgium (www.storypublishers.be) and Amazon (www.amazon.com).