Think in English with Adah

A TEFL blog: You have to train yourself to think in English

Adah’s 5-step Approach for Dealing with Difficult Bosses

We can choose to join the company that we like, but we can’t choose the people that we work for. Some bosses talk a lot but don’t do much. Others always criticize the work that you did and never take credit for your ideas. Some are controlling and rude. Others are indifferent and unsupportive when you are sick. Difficult people do exist in every workplace. Difficult bosses make the workplace a toxic pool for you to swim through. 

Would you just surrender to their constant backstabbing and waste meaningless time in watching your back while you should be fully engaged in your project? Or would you just ignore your difficult boss at all? I would say NO to both questions. Remember that you are hired to WORK as a professional, but not to suffer a bad boss. If the negativity of the difficult boss begins to make a big impact on your productivity, it must be addressed, not just as an interpersonal problem but as an issue affecting your project progress.

For those who are ready to address a difficult boss, here is my 5-step framework for dealing with a difficult boss.

1. Invite your boss to a private discussion.  When you approach your boss, make sure that you point it out that the discussion really matters to you. Try to arrange a short discussion instead of a long one because it is very unlikely to commit the person to a 1-hour discussion.

For example:

“Hi, Mark. I would like to have a discussion with you about something I have been thinking for a long time. This is really important to me. Do you have 15 minutes today?”

2. Talk about the impact of their behavior on you and stick to “I” statements. They may never be aware of the impact that their actions or words have on you so it is really important for you to let them know it. When you talk about the impact, focus on your experience and emotions instead of pointing your finger at them and criticizing them.

“I felt quite disappointed when you blamed me for the mistake in my last report during our team’s weekly meeting. The reason for me to feel that way is because I didn’t mean to make the mistake. I felt really bad after the meeting and this has begun to affect my work productivity.”

3. Now hear what they have to say about their impact on you and acknowledge their understanding. They may be shocked to know the spell that they cast over you. This could be the first time for someone to point out the negative influence they have on their coworkers. Your feedback should trigger them to reflect on their behavior. Give them some time to think. Since most people are not evil-natured, they may show some sympathy to your experience. They may be more willing to know what you will say next. But be sure to stay positive, supportive and pleasant throughout the conversation. Don’t turn this into an outlet for personal criticism; instead, make it an opportunity to improve work productivity and to reinforce professionalism for the both of you. After the boss reacts to your comments, you may say:

“I am glad that you understand how I felt. I feel much better now after you listened.”

4. Try to reach agreement about further actions. The purpose of any meaningful discussions is to reach agreement about real actions. You the problem-solver should make positive suggestions about how to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future. Make sure that you don’t cause your boss to lose face by using questions instead of statements in your suggestions.

“I should be more careful while writing the weekly reports. I am thinking of making one change to our work procedure. What do you think if I send the weekly report to you for editing before I send it out to the other team members? This can prevent mistakes in the future and I can also learn from you about how to write a great report. Do you think this is a good idea?”

5.  Decide whether you need to follow up on the discussion. If your suggestions work out well and their behavior has gotten better, you will find that both of you are in a win-win situation. However, if the situation hasn’t changed or even gotten worse, you may determine whether a follow-up discussion is necessary. Or you may need to involve others, such as your boss’ supervisor or another colleague who may have the same issue with your boss, in a 3-way or 4-way discussion. To protect yourself, be sure to ask them to keep the information source anonymous when they discuss it with your boss.

You have the right to build professional work relationships and to reinforce a fair competition environment for yourself.  Dealing with difficult people can be challenging but take this as one of the obstacles that you have to overcome on your way to becoming a mature professional. You will win if you try.

For those desperate employees who have to deal with a lot of requests or favors asked by their boss, you may read my previous entry:  How to deal with requests from your boss or client?

Vocabulary bank:

1. to take credit (for something) (phrase) to praise for something you have done or achieved

2. toxic (adj) poisonous and harmful to people, animals, or the environment

3. to surrender (v) to say officially that you have been defeated and will stop fighting

4. to backstab (v) to say or do unpleasant things in order to harm someone’s reputation

5. negativity (n) the attitude of someone who always sees the bad aspects of a situation

6. to cast a spell over someone/ something (idiom) to have a magic influence over someone/ something

7. evil-natured (adj) bad in nature

8. to reinforce (v) to make a situation, process, or type of behavior stronger and more likely to continue


How to Be an Effective Multitasker?

Believe it or not, all of us are natural multitaskers. It is all part of life. When we have breakfast, how many of us do not read news from digital media such as cellphones or iPads? We walk when we talk on the phone. We microblog when we are talking to our parents or attending a dull meeting. This is extremely true when you cook in your kitchen. You don’t just spend 2 hours waiting for the long-poached Cantonese soup and doing nothing but staring at the pot!

We are just never too tired to multitask, aren’t we? But multitasking isn’t a bed of roses. 

Researchers at Stanford University warn us that over-multitasking may impair our cognitive control. After running a series of tests, they got a shocking result that high-tech jugglers who always do a lot of media multitasking actually underperformed light multitaskers who rarely do 2 things at the same time. The reasons are probably that the heavy multitaskers were not able to ignore irrelevant information or keep things separate in their minds. It is more difficult for them to concentrate on the chosen information than the light multitaskers.

Maybe it is time to retract my earlier thoughts and rethink how multitasking can do us good.

So here are some tips to help you achieve more when multitasking:

1. To learn to control the beast

Our brain is so good at deluding itself that we think we can be masters of multitasking as long as we practice it more. The temptation to do many things at once is like a beast that we unleash whenever we need to do a lot of tasks within limited time. Though our brain is complex and able to perform various tasks, what we really do when we multitask is shifting our focus from one task to another with high speed. We think we are paying attention to two tasks simultaneously, but we are just switching between them. The more tasks we take on at the same time, the more likely we get stressed by alternating between several tasks; the more errors we tend to make, not to mention the valuable time lost in the switching process because our brain is forced to pause and refocus after each single switch.

So when you feel you become less efficient while doing too many tasks at the same time, you need to chain the beast and keep it in the cage. 

2. To learn to ignore just for a short time

Though a lot of people use the term prioritizing tasks, I prefer ignoring tasks temporarily that are not so important or urgent. To ignore things means you are more able to get fully concentrated on one thing at one time. We have a limited ability to retain information, which gets worse when a lot of information comes in at the same time. The capability to filter out irrelevant information and to focus on one task is really important for achieving high-quality work. Less is more. This also helps us maintain a peaceful and focused mind by ignoring distractions.

3. To do ONLY non-interfering tasks at once

Whether you can multitask effectively or not also depends on whether you make the right choices in what you plan to do at the same time.

If the tasks that we choose to do simultaneously are from the same category, for example, writing an email and talking on the phone at the same time, there is going to be a lot of conflict between the two tasks because both of them involve the speech function of our brain. Similar tasks compete to use the same part of our brain and interfere with each other. But we can be much better off if we do tasks that do not use similar skills at the same time, such as walking and talking with a friend, brushing teeth and listening to news, watching TV and folding laundry, doing computer programming and listening to rock and roll music as one trainee mentioned at class and so on.

4. To practice switchtasking rapidly

We can train ourselves to multitask by practicing switching between tasks fast. Being able to alternate between tasks swiftly is a basic capability that receptionists must have. We can also do well at this if we learn to pause and restart our mind using the shortest time when we switch focus. There are a lot of organizational tools that can help us do speedy switching, such as sticky notes, Outlook alerts, cell phone reminders or even a personal assistant.

5. To unitask when possible

Multitasking isn’t all of our life. There are a lot of other aspects of our life that do not require us to juggle so much, such like art, painting, writing a blog entry just like this one! We deserve to enjoy the simplicity of unitasking and give ourselves a break from time to time.

Word Bank:

1.   long-poached: boiled in liquid gently for a long time

2.  to juggle: to handle two or more tasks at the same time (original meaning: to keep several objects such as balls in the air simultaneously by tossing and catching)

3.   juggler: a person who juggles

4.   to underperform (someone): to perform worse than (someone)

5. to retract: to take back something you have said

6. to delude: to mislead or deceive

7. to alternate: to keep changing between 2 or more things

8. to retain: to keep something in your mind

9. to interfere with (something/ someone): to get involved or involve oneself, causing disturbance switchtask: to switch between tasks unitask: to carry out only one task at one time

How to Speak English Fluently When a Disconnect Happens between Your Brain and Mouth?

This is another “how to” article for those who have found stumbling blocks on their way to becoming fluent speakers of English.

If you take a look at the people around you who believe they speak English in China, it shouldn’t surprise you that most of them have been learning English since school for more than 10 years. But if you are hoping that most of them can speak fluid English without pauses, you must be disappointed. However, if you really give a thought to it, speaking fluent English is not that hard. There are some handy language techniques that make it possible for you to speak English that flows freely – or at least smoothly.

1. Try not to pause for more than 2 seconds

It happens to me when I simply forget what I am going to say next or what the right English word is, especially when doing a public speech with many eyes staring at me. This may be caused by an unexpected blackout of our brain – a temporary loss of memory and thoughts that results in a disconnect between ideas. (I bet this also occurrs to you and some of you may even wonder where you are and why you are standing here doing a speech. )

Most people would just stop talking if their consicious minds put on a strike. But don’t panic. The key is you shouldn’t have a silent pause for more than 2 seconds. This seemingly insignificant time span can be detrimental to the fluency of your entire speech. As they say it in English, a little gall spoils a great deal of honey.  

Now it is the perfect time to use some small words and phrases that can help you get over this horrible moment. Here are some life-saving hesitation devices:

er…         I mean…       Let me see/think…       

uhh…     sort of/ kind of…       basically…            

mmm…     um…      you know…        well…       

Using these devices can help to maintain a highly fluent speech. If you use them skillfully, it doesn’t even come to the audience’s notice that there is a disconnect between your ideas.

And the best thing is, using these words does not require you to think at all. When we are applying these words, we should think fast in order to generate the next idea. I am sure that all of you can multitask well. Because we think much more speedily than we speak, two seconds should be enough for us to brainstorm the next sentence. You may just seam the ideas together by using this easy yet powerful needle - hesitation phrases.

2. Do NOT repeat words or phrases

Some people like to repeat a part of their sentence when they are working on the next part. A few people even repeat a word for more than 5 times! Repetition actually makes things worse. You can leave a bad impression either that you do not own enough vocabulary to support your opinions or you are really nervous at the moment. Repetition is a sign for many kinds of weaknesses and you should never let it get in the way.

My suggestion is there is no point in going backward. Always move forward, even though you may speak slowly because you are trying to figure out the next part of your sentence. Slowing down is better than going back. If you still haven’t worked out what you are going to say after you have lowered the speaking speed, you may need to refer to the first section of this essay.

I believe your English will undergo a metamorphosis after you practice following these tips here. Be sure to share how you feel about this post by adding a comment down below.

Word bank:

1.  stumbling blocks (noun phrase) something that causes problems and prevents you from achieving your aim

2. fluid /’flu:id/  (adj) smooth, graceful and flowing like a liquid

3. blackout (n) a temporary loss of consciousness, sight or memory

4. seemingly (adv) in a way that appears to be true but may in fact not be

5. detrimental /ˌdetriˈmentl/ (adj) harmful (~to someone/ something)

6. gall /ɡɔːl/ (n) a digestive juice secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder that is usually bitter

7. multitask /ˌmʌltiˈtɑːsk/ (v) to do several things at the same time

8. seam /si:m/ (v) to sew or join two edges of fabric together; (n) a line along which two edges of fabric, etc. are joined or sewn together

9. needle /ni:dl/ (n) a small thin piece of steel that you use for sewing, with a point at one end and a hole for the thread at the other

10. metamorphosis /ˌmetəˈmɔːfəsɪs/ (n) a process in which somebody/something changes completely into something different from an immature form to an adult form, such as the process that a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly

How to deal with requests from your boss or client?

Would you just say NO to your boss when they ask you to help them fix their computer at home this weekend? Or would you just say YES but deep down you really hate to do this using your weekend time?  

Tell you what, my colleagues who work in the IT outsourcing field would not really dare to say No to their boss or client. It is very brusque (rude) and even risky to say NO to your client or boss especially in China. The reason is rooted in the Confucian doctrine that prevails in the Asian cultures. You are supposed to “obey” a person who is superior (having a higher rank) to you, especially when you work for this person.  

However, is there a way for you to work an angle (to make something suit your needs or purposes) about this? There is such a way and I am going to write about it for you.  

Remember, what your boss/ client asks you to do is just a request, not a complaint. In the service industry, a request is a statement or act of asking for some extra products or services beyond the service scope. The word “extra” means what your boss asks you to do is outside of your job responsibilities. You have a right to think about whether you have to grant (to allow someone to have or do what they want) the request or not. You may ask yourself this question “Is it really that easy for me to do this favor?”  

So first, instead of giving a YES or No answer directly, you may explain to your boss/ client the difficulties in fulfilling the request. Use polite language in your explanation though. For example, if you have already made a plan for this weekend, you may say:  

I’m afraid that helping you fix your computer this weekend is not so possible because I have made a travel plan for the weekend. My girlfriend/ boyfriend really looks forward to this trip. ” 

Or  Unfortunately, it won’t be possible for me to come to your home this weekend to fix your computer because I have made an appointment with the dentist and I may have a small surgery then.” 

Knowing your difficulties, your boss/ client should start to understand the predicament (a difficult situation) that they have put you in now. But people don’t stop unless they find a solution to the problem. Then why don’t you offer a solution to the requestor by giving some extra conditions?  

The following solutions can be good enough to show that you do care about your boss/ client’s request and you may impress your boss/ client by your solution providing skills: 

Solution #1: However, as you need to use your computer this weekend, if you can bring your computer to the office this Friday morning, I can have a look at it.” (condition: changing the deadline)

Solution #2: On the other hand, I know a computer maintenance store just near the office. They fixed my computer last time at a very low price. You may call this number to get a technician for door-to-door service.” (condition: recommending another company)

Solution #3: The only thing I can suggest is that you can ask our colleague Jim to check your computer. I know that he just lives next door to you!” (condition: recommending another person) 

Which one is your favorite? : P 

How to make successful personal complaints face-to-face?

How to make complaints face-to-face that people can actually accept (even with delight) is not a hard task. You may become a skillful complainant after you take my two cents (meaning: opinions said in a humble way).

1. Anger  makes things worse

Of course our toleration has amounted (meaning: to add up in quantity) to a maximal point when we feel the need to make a complaint. But don’t let anger rule us. If you vent (meaning: express) your anger on the person who upsets you, the negative emotions may rebound (meaning: to spring back) on you in a way that could make it even worse.

For example, suppose you are dining in a restaurant and another customer sitting at the next table is smoking, but you don’t smoke. This can actually happen in any public places in China, such as a restaurant, a railway station or even a library. If you just use the blunt (meaning: very direct) language in the signs that we usually see in public places in China – “No smoking” or “Stop smoking”, the smoker may feel that their self-esteem (or the term “face” that originated from our Chinese culture) is under threat and they may even go further and blow smoke in your face!

I have to point out that the moral standards that people are supposed to feel guilty when receiving complaints can’t really apply here in urban China. But I am not saying that these common moral standards do no exist in China. They are still observed in the less urbanized areas such as my hometown. However, you need to be careful when making complaints in the cities of China because strangers can simply get quite aggressive (meaning: angry or rude with a tendency to fight, attack, or argue) and hostile (meaning: unfriendly) with each other. It can be just the reverse in China. The complainee can even shout at the complainant. So don’t show your anger unless you want to get yourself into real trouble.

2. Use polite language and an amiable tone

Making complaints face-to-face can have a quite face-threatening effect on the person that you complain to. However, the politeness of your language can have a great effect on the results.

Let’s refer back to the previous example. Compare these 2 ways of raising a complaint:

(1) “Stop smoking!” / “Don’t smoke here.” (in an angry tone)

(2)  “Could you please not smoke here because this is a non-smoking area?” (in an amiable and polite tone with a smile)

You’d better use a question instead of a statement in order to avoid challenging the complainee’s face.  Asking the complainee a question means they are still entitled (meaning: have the right to do something) to choices, but a statement sounds more like a strong negative order. The complainee may feel they have been forced to do something they are not willing to do. Face is a big deal in China. Nobody likes to lose face in front of the public.

3. Always include a solution in your complaint

A complaint that does not suggest a solution is not a real complaint, but merely an expression of negative emotions. Giving a appropriate solution is the real purpose of any successful complaint. 

It is equally important that the complainee actually accepts the solution that you propose. To make your complaints easier to be adopted, you can mention the solution as a kind suggestion, which makes it less menacing (meaning: threatening). You may even offer your help if necessary.

Here comes a refined complaint for the smoking scene:

“Excuse me. Would you mind smoking in the smoking area just over there? I’m sure you will like the fresh air there. You may meet some new people there.”

This is another one for finding a seat on a metro train/ bus:

“Excuse me. I’d like to sit down. Could you please move your bag onto the luggage rack? If you don’t mind, I can help you with it.”

If you were the smoker, would you feel comfortable and delighted to follow my suggestions? : )

A Game – Choose the Odd One Out

This is the game we used in the discussion session this week.

One of the objects in the following sets of 4 is odd. Please choose the odd one and explain the reasons. Some sets allow more than 1 reasonable answer.


Cabbage fish tomato carrot

Answer: Fish is the odd one out because the others are all types of vegatables.

1. Duck turkey lamb chicken

2. Milk salt rice tomato

3. Banana mango pineapple raspberry

4. TV computer mobile fridge

5. Syrup sauce icecream chocolate

Make your own choices and write your own explanations.

Off the Car or Out of the Car?

We discussed about what should be the right preposition (small words such as ‘on’, ‘off’ and ‘out of’) to be used when we enter or leave transportation tools. We didn’t spend too much time in looking into this topic at class because we don’t want to turn our lively English training sessions into Medieval Latin school teaching grammar, do we? : )

So this entry may shed you some light on how to use these small but possibly important words properly. I have found some useful references and I have categorized them into the following types:

1. To get on/ off + transportation tools large in size

To get on/ off (as a phrasal verb) means – to enter/ leave a train, bus or aircraft (or any vehicle that is large in size) from “Cambridge advanced learner’s dictionary”.

To get on/ off a plane

To get on/ off a bus

To get on/ off the train

2. To get on/ off + transportation tools that we ride above

To get on/ off a bike

To get on/ off a horse

3. To get in/ out of + transportation tools small in size

To get in/ out of a car

To get in/ out of a taxi

4. “You! Get off my car!!”

Sometimes you can also hear native speakers use this above sentence. This sentence in oral English means ‘Don’t touch my car/ Leave my car alone!” instead of “getting out of my car”.

If you are still interested in the difference between “to get off the car” and “to get out of the car”, why not do a little exploring at following link with a thorough discussion on this topic?

“Off the car of Out of the Car?” at

I hope this post can bring you to the awareness of the importance of the details of English.

Common Mistakes in Quiz Essays

I am going to post some common mistakes I found in trainees’ essays from the bi-weekly quizzes out of two reasons.

First, some of the mistakes are so common that I give the same revisions and suggestions to trainees who made them over and over again. If I post the mistakes here, all I need to do is to refer trainees to my blog. This will cut a good part of the duplicating work.

Second, it would be better if the mistakes from quizzes are sorted out into categories and explained in an organized way. Trainees may get a better idea of similar mistakes and will get to know the root cause behind those high-frequency errors.

Here we go.

1. Weak beginning

The following sentences came from the beginning of trainees’ essays. 

Essay title: Are You a Support of Voluntary Euthanasia? Why?

(a) * “Yes. I support that. …” (The example came from a trainee’s essay. Names will be ommited here to avoid causing any unwanted feelings. The asterisk “*” means the sentences are incorrect in certain ways, which will be explained as below. )

The problem with (a) is that we don’t usually answer the essay title in a yes-or-no way. The first sentence of a convincing English essay should be powerful and overwhelming.  A smart writer usually spends a bit more time in working out a very witty beginning sentence to attract readers. Otherwise, readers might probably be turned off and lack of interest to read on.

Essay title: Should Students Invest in the Stock Market? Why?

(b) * “As we know, Chinese stock market attracts all people, they talk about stock market every second, and we know some students also buy stocks, they are involved in the stock market. So the discussion comes up: should student invest in the stock market.”

All sentences in (b) serve great as an introduction to the topic. But the thing is, readers are not interested at all in how the dicussion became into being because almost every reader already has some basic knowledge (or commonsense) about the stock market.

Suggestion: Cut it short and come down to the dicussion right after you type the first word.

2.  Overly general sentences with broken information

I don’t know whether it is a patent of Chinese people to write overly general sentences or not, but most people would define sentences shown in following examples as carrying a “Chinese tone”:

(c) *”Stock market reflects various relationships (-_- meaning?), economic phenomena (-_- such as what?) and thoughts of people(-_- what kind of thoughts?).”

(d) *”On the other hand, students doing that can broaden their prospect and social experience, and improve their ability about analyst, logic, mathematical comprehension and something else. (-_- what on earth do all those concepts mean?)

All the phrases with sophisticated concepts in bold font seem to mean a lot of things. But they actually mean nothing. It is somehow useless to put forward so many concepts without giving clear examples of each of them. For instance, if you want to talk about economic phenomena in the stock markt, you could talk about bull market or bear market and the reason behind those so-called economic phenomena.

Suggestion: Less is more. The more clear you write, a better understanding that your readers can get.

(e) *”From preventing from inflation(-_- meaning?), everyone should do investment (-_- why? What is the connection between the two clauses?).”

Chinese people sometimes jump from one thought to another, without giving any information to connect the 2 thoughts. However, English essays are believed to be more reader-friendly because a sentence always leads you well to the next. I believe this is the only way to convey your ideas effectively to your readers.

Suggestion: So give your readers more reference on how you come to an abrupt conclusion.

3. Boring sentence structures  

(f) *“Letting the people that you love suffer so much is not good!”

(g) *”Students investing in the stock market moderately is a good thing.”

(h) *”I think allowing students invest in the stock market is really a bad thing.”

(i) *”Social experience and investing in the stock market for students is not a bad thing.”

(j) *”Moreover, their economic condition that they easily ignore is not good.”


Suggestion: Read more English articles by native speakers. Borrow some great sentence structures everyday from fantastic writers and make them your own.

4. Chinese translation  

(k) *“They need to face risks, need to learn more knowledge about investment.” (suggested revision => need to face risks and learn more knowledge…)

(l) *“…, parental guidance is recommended when their children are participating the stock market investing activity.” (suggested revision=> are investing in the stock market)

(m) *“Firstly, these students have stayed at school for more than 12 years, they are really in lack of touch of society.” (=> suggested revision = > really lack social experience)

(n) *“From so many examples, they may have a good cognition: the money should be earned by hard work, and no cakes fall from the sky.”(suggested revision=> understanding)

(o) *”Touching the society and investing in the stock market for students is not a bad thing.”(suggested revision=> Social experience)

When we write in a foreign language, sometimes we inevitably use some words or phrases inherited from our mother tongue.  It is not our fault to write in this way because we do not think in the same way as English native speakers. But there are still things we can do to avoid writing “Chinglish” sentences.

Suggestion: Think in English when you write an English essay! Do not translate Chinese sentence structures or words into English because the two languages are sometimes independent of each other. 

If you really need to know the English word for a Chinese thought, check it in a dictionary to make sure the English translation has the right meaning.

5. Repeatition

(p) *Now in the law of China, there is no law to prevent students from investing in the stock market.”

(q) *”If we throw a ball to the wall, the ball will rebound back.”

Suggestion: Make it a habit to cut your essay short. Always delete superfluous words.

6. Long sentences without giving your readers a break

(r) *“As we know that, Chinese students have less opportunities to have more practice in the school, because many parents still insisit that students’ duty is study, but I think that shool is only a place to guide students how to study, so, stock market is also a place to pratice.”

It is such a common problem of trainees that they such long sentences that readers might need to raise their memory (like that of a computer -_-) to process those long sentences.

Suggestion: Split a sentence up into several when it is longer than 2 lines. Spare your readers more time to relax their eyes and brain.

I really hope those suggestions can help all of you! : )