Category Archives: Societal Issues

AI and Me

Last week, while fine-tuning my manuscript for publication, doubts clouded my mind. There has been a flood of articles and buzz about artificial intelligence (AI) ChatGPT, including its use for writing and content development. Is there a need for a “Clear and Concise Writing” book? Did I waste my time drafting this? Shall I spend more time getting it published?

The use of AI has advantages and flaws. It can save time and money, reduce errors and increase accuracy, hide one’s lack of competence, and enthuse laziness.

AI “ChatGPT does not have the ability to search the internet for information and rather, uses the information it learned from training data to generate a response, which leaves room for error”. – Ortiz, 2022 (

“As a language model, ChatGPT is not a traditional source that would typically be included in a bibliography. Instead, you can acknowledge the use of the model in the text and a note or a disclaimer. For example, you can add a statement like “This document was generated with the help of ChatGPT, a large language model developed by OpenAI. It’s important to note that ChatGPT is a tool, it does not conduct original research, it only provides the information it was trained on, and it’s not an author”. – ChatGPT by OpenAI accessed on 20/01/2023.

Out of curiosity, I logged in on 22/01/23. This is what it gave me: “Write an acrostic poem about the status of ChatGPT.
C: ChatGPT is currently down
H: Huge demand has caused the site to crash
A: All users will have to wait
T: Time is needed for the servers to catch up
G: Go grab a coffee and check back soon
P: Patience is key in this situation
T: Trust that the team is working hard to fix it up”.

English physicist Stephen William Hawking (1942-2018), famous for his theories on relativity and quantum mechanics, had said: “The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” (Cellan-Jones, Seen on 23/01/23).

Two days ago, I received an email from one of my students that included these encouraging words: “I’ve been thinking about the question you raised earlier about whether you should publish the book or not. I hope you will, and human beings will always do. You (human authors in general) write books, and AI generates them. I don’t care how good an AI-generated book may/will be one day. I like knowing that there’s someone feeling something while writing the book that makes me feel something when reading it”.

I have subtitled my book “Self-confidence and not software -dependence”.

Three lessons learnt before 2022 ended

Cheer for 2023! Wishing you a better year

We have just been through the season of giving and receiving. Like most of you, I gave and received. For a change, I ordered groceries – as a present to one family member – from a company whose website promises a one-day delivery. To date, these groceries have not been delivered. Until now, they have not responded to my half a dozen emails. After three phone calls, a man answered the phone and said they wouldn’t deliver and could only refund me if I gave them a UK bank account, which I refused.

Lesson 1. Stick to a proven or reputable company. (Seek redress. I have contacted Customer Service Coventry & Visa Worldline and am waiting for their responses).

We’ve been receiving parcels from Australia for many years. For the first time last December, we had to pay 20 euros as Value Added Tax (VAT) on a gift that cost 100 euros. I was surprised, so I visited This is what I found out:

In the case of non-commercial mailings between individuals, VAT and customs duties may be requested upon receipt of the package. These shipments must be occasional, concern goods reserved for the personal or family use of the recipients only and sent without payment of any kind. To benefit from customs duties and taxes exemption, the goods’ intrinsic value (excluding transport and insurance costs) must not exceed a certain threshold. These value requirements also apply to gifts: No customs duties from/to the EU (VAT has already been paid in the EU country of origin); Import from a non-EU country to an EU country or to an overseas department (example: Canada to France) ≤ 45 euros – no customs duties and VAT (> 45 euros – customs duties and VAT are due). Exchanges between the EU to their overseas territories “DOM” ≤ 205 euros – no taxation and customs duties (> 205 euros -overseas taxes and VAT are due).

Lesson 2. I should not have told my Aussie family not to send us presents by post anymore, taking their joy from giving. We’re grateful for their kindness.

On December 15, I left our end-of-year party early to be home at 10 pm. After 15 minutes of waiting for the tram, my gut feeling told me it wasn’t coming. I decided to walk and jog for 20 minutes (in high-heeled boots!) to catch my bus home at 9:14 pm. I reached the bus stop, sweating at six °C, and got on in time. I would have arrived home after midnight, instead of 10:30 pm, if I had stayed longer at the tram station.

Lesson 3. Always react promptly to the unexpected and changes.

“If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude.”– Amy Ruth Tan (American author of the novel “The Joy Luck Club”, which was adapted into a film of the same name).

Quiet quitting and quiet firing aren’t the solutions

“I call it a day; see you tomorrow”.
“It’s only 5:30, Paul. Aren’t you waiting for a phone call from Ms Willers”?
“She said at five; it’s 5:30.”
In a soft voice, Rosie asked, “Are you a quiet quitter, Paul”?

Quiet quitting is one of the 2022 buzz phrases that have varied meanings. It can refer to doing what you are only paid for (i.e. what is stated in your job description) and not “going and beyond” in favour of work-life balance. It can include losing motivation due to work dissatisfaction. It can be a minimum performance as there’s no ambition for career advancement. It can be a strategy to get retrenched and be eligible for unemployment benefits. (In France, those who resign can only receive unemployment payments if the official employment committee approves their substantive career change plan).

Quiet quitting has attracted supporters from the proponents of better work-life balance, principally citing the prevention of burnout and mental illness. However, it can have adverse effects. It can cause disengagement and loss of pride in what you do. It can create a negative work atmosphere; imagine having colleagues who work less for the same salary as yours. Then, there’ll be a domino effect – others will practise quiet quitting too. Consequently, there’ll be less productivity, less clientele, less job, more competition, more pressure, and so on. There are occupations, such as in the medical field, when quiet quitting doesn’t work at all.

You can emotionally invest at work without sacrificing your personal life by maintaining healthy boundaries between them. There’s no need for quiet quitting. There must be open communication between company management and employees. Listening to the personnel’s views and opinions, regardless of their position in the organisation, is inclusion and respect, leading to a feeling of belongingness, loyalty, and productivity.

The opposite of quiet quitting is quiet firing. Quiet firing is when a management fashions work conditions that cause an employee to resign. These include non-invitation to staff meetings and functions, deprivation of promotion and salary increase, overloading with urgent work, and non-allocation of tasks. This is a non-confrontational approach to force employees to leave the company without disbursing severance pay. Like quiet quitting, it has its downsides; it builds a toxic work environment.

Our triumph should not be someone’s defeat or misery. However difficult the situation is, the best result is always obtained with the least conflict. Thus, we should go for a “win-win” rather than a “winner takes it all” mentality.

By the way, as promised in my previous blog, here are the things I have already prepared as Christmas presents — books, a hand-written and framed short story, and a photo album. Food hampers and fruit baskets are also on my list.

Ethics on gift giving at work

The holiday season of giving and receiving is coming, and you may wonder whether you should give presents to your supervisors and colleagues. Is there a general rule of thumb regarding workplace gift-giving? I have heard that it should be a top-down flow, i.e. from bosses to floor personnel, rather than the other way around. Giving presents to superiors depends on the circumstance. For example, staff can collect money to purchase a present for a manager who is leaving or getting married. This gift and the accompanying message should be professional in style. Is cash an acceptable gift to superiors? Of course, not, but a voucher can be justifiable. There should definitely be no gift-giving during the appraisal period or the annual performance review.

Employees can exchange gifts with each other. However, giving to receive is a no-no. If you feel like you’re losing something by giving, you are not genuinely giving; you’re sacrificing, which can lead to disappointments or regrets later. Not everyone has the means to buy presents for colleagues or contribute to a gift collection for a boss, particularly at this time of economic crisis and insecurity. The good news is that non-material presents often last longer, and these can be a compliment, attention, time, or patience that builds relationships or maintains peace.

When living in Australia, my co-worker’s daughter-in-law distributed boxes of curried rice to all her colleagues, friends, and family as Christmas presents. I don’t have a signature dish, so I won’t do what she did, but I will go the extra mile to come up with something creative and valuable (I’ll tell you what in my next post). 

My students have told me they are not allowed to receive presents worth more than 50 euros from external collaborators in their organisation. For gifts that cost less than 50 euros, they must share these with their colleagues.

How about doing random acts of kindness at work and elsewhere? For instance, saying hello to a co-worker you haven’t spoken with for ages. How about sending emails, text messages, and cards with cheerful greetings and messages? A few months ago, my ex-students invited me to lunch. One of them said that the birthday card I gave her more than 10 years ago is still in her drawer, and she smiles every time she sees it.

My memorable gifts in 2020 were the five-star book reviews on Amazon that have had a positive snowball effect on me. I don’t know and have the contact details of these generous readers, so I haven’t thanked them. I hope this message reaches them (better late than never): I appreciate what you have done and wish to return your kindness one day. “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston S. Churchill.

“It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” – Mother Teresa

Pronunciation matters and not accents

Tongues wagged when Cuban-born and Spanish-raised actress, Ana de Armas, was cast to play Marilyn Monroe in the Netflix movie “Blonde”. According to the media, director Andrew Dominik (a New Zealand-born Australian) admitted hesitating to give her the role because of her accent and had only recently learnt English as a second language.

Is accent important in an individual’s career?

A US-based startup Sanas has developed software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to mimic a person’s accent on the phone and modify this when responding through a phone or computer microphone. Apparently, this new technology reduces abuse from native English speakers of call centre staff who do not have their accents. Its proponents believe it leads to better clarity and understanding and improves customer satisfaction.

Accents are a vital part of our history and identity; they give clues about who we are and the cultural community or national group we belong to. Everyone has an accent; these different accents showcase the richness of our world and its cultures.

English is an international language, and there are more non-native than native speakers who use it regularly. The issue is to communicate with others, i.e. understand and be understood, not accents.

An accent is not the same as pronunciation. You can get a pronunciation ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but there’s no right or wrong accent.

My former student used to pronounce analysis “analaiz” (the correct pronunciation is “ə-na-lə-səs”). One of her sentences was: “This analaiz domontrit the importance of flexibility at work”. French native speakers do not pronounce the ending letter “s” of words in their language. The letter “e” sounds “o” (e.g. peu, which means little in English, is pronounced as “po”). They pronounce the English letter “e” as “e” only when it has a grave accent (è), as in mère (mother) and père (father).

If you mispronounce, you can be misunderstood. However, a person can speak English flawlessly with whatever accent. Even among native speakers, there are many accents. Last year, our supervisor asked me if I wanted to take over a class; this was our conversation —

S: We have a client who is not easy to please. She wants to improve her English and have a British accent. Do you have a British accent?” (As if he had not heard me speak before).

R: Which one? Scottish, Irish, Welsh, London English, Liverpool English, BBC English?

S: I don’t know. She didn’t specify. Any of these will do.

R: Ninguno de estos.

S: Perhaps you can still take her. You’ve said that you like teaching challenging students.

R: Thanks, but I’m afraid it’s NO. I go for learners with a half-full glass mentality and a good sense of humour, in addition to being motivated and proud of their cultural and linguistic heritage.

When your pronunciation is correct, you can communicate effectively with others, whatever your accent. In business and financial environments, airports, touristic places and universities, people speak English as a second or third language, a lingua franca. Thus, the goal of having a native speaker’s accent is irrelevant.

To understand our fellow humans and communicate with them successfully, we have to come into contact with different accents so that we can cope with the real people in the real world.   

Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you’ve to do is read

The Earth consists of the southern and northern hemispheres. Summer in the southern hemisphere (Antarctica, Africa, Australia, South America, and Asia) is in December, January and February. Last week, when I phoned a friend in Australia, she was already tucked in bed at 5:00 PM reading a non-fiction book (it’s winter there).

Summer in the northern hemisphere (United States, Canada, Russia and Europe) happens in June, July and August. Here in France, we have been experiencing heatwave on and off. When it’s too hot to do outdoor activities, many people (including myself) read. I don’t go for books everyone buys and have just finished reading a non-profit/philanthropic organisation-published book, “Stories of a Pandemic”.

It’s common knowledge that reading stimulates our brains. Some studies claim that reading books slows down mental disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and improves memory. It enhances one’s knowledge and vocabulary; recently, I read an article that had the word “finfluencers” (The first “f” undoubtedly stands for funds, funding or finance. Thus, they are influencers – personal coaches and consultants, celebrity billionaires, magnates, moguls and tycoons – who focus on money-related topics).

While reading an article on workplace challenges, I encountered the acronym BOT, “bathroom time off”, a break taken during work time to go to the toilet to avoid responsibilities or chill out in addition to the call of nature. I smiled thinking of the Canadian rock band, BOT, composed of Messrs Bachman, Turner and Overdrive.

A person dear to me passed away last August 25. For two days, my bedtime reading was mixed with nostalgia and tears. I felt his soul/spirit/ghost (whatever you want to call it) grinning every time I skipped paragraphs and turned well-written sentences into non-sense, e.g. “You’ve another thing coming” (meaning – You should think about it again/Rethink your idea) became “You’ve another tank coming”. Reading has been helping me mourn the loss of this beloved human.

If you’re fond of novels and read regularly, you’re developing your analytical skills, as you are forced to assume, predict or make guesses. (I take this bronze opportunity to advertise “The Whisper of Regrets”. Hopefully, you’ll help me convert this into a golden one). If you’re stressed and want something to divert your attention, read (Why not English Language Lovers – Teaching, Learning and Conversing?)

In a nutshell, there are intellectual and health benefits to reading books. “For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods.”- Louis L’Amour ( seen on 01/09/22)

There’s always something to yearn and learn

Almost after a decade of being an EU member, Croatia will officially adopt the Euro on 1 January 2023; hence, I won’t need to trade for Kuna next time I go there. The currency exchange bureaus I saw on the borders between Croatia and Slovenia will surely disappear. Hopefully, those who depend on this for their livelihood have already found alternative sources of income. Proactiveness and foresightedness are qualities needed to survive in our continually changing world.

I was surprised to undergo a border check between Slovenia and Croatia, two EU countries. Meanwhile, my Aussie family members travelling with us were delighted to have their passports stamped. They were awed by the number of countries they had crossed in one day (Germany, Austria, Italy, and Slovenia).

Our visit to enchanting Montenegro was stained by my brother-in-law’s accident in Perast. It was raining; as he stepped down from the side of a restaurant to test the river’s water, he slipped together with his travel bag of cash, credit card, passport, etc. He had a cut on his stomach from trying to get up on cemented steps that had no railing; he fell twice. In the USA, this happening could be a playground for lawyers. For instance, Kittell Law Firm had litigation against the GoldStrike casino on behalf of a client who slipped and fell on a wet floor in its buffet. It also obtained a confidential sum against the owner of the Day’s Inn in Mississippi for a client who, when exiting his vehicle and proceeding to take his luggage out, stepped back into an open hole at the edge of the parking lot that could not be seen because it was not lit (

Montenegro, a non-EU member, uses Euro while Croatia doesn’t. Kosovo and Montenegro use the euro as their de facto domestic currency. “This is keeping with an older practice of using the German mark, which was previously the de facto currency in these areas” (

I didn’t expect to be driving through Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is situated in the western Balkan Peninsula of Europe and has a 932 km border with Croatia. (Bosnia occupies the northern and central parts of the country while the latter has the south and southwest). On July 26, a few days after we had left Dubrovnik (Croatian city “Pearl of the Adriatic” famous for its old town district, medieval walls, a maze of narrow lanes and terracotta roofs, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the long-awaited Peljesac  Bridge opened, bypassing Bosnia’s territory.

On our way home, we spent a day in Grasse, the world’s perfume capital that sits on the hills of the French Riviera. Since I’m allergic to strong smells and odours, I didn’t visit perfumeries. Instead, I soaked up Grasse’s scented ambience on a comfy pink deckchair in a quiet, shady corner of its old town. The summer holiday is over for me, and I’m now ready to resume teaching and writing.

Failure to keep a promise

(Unusually, I’m posting this today and not on the first of July, as I’ll be travelling tomorrow with limited Internet access and no time to write).

As a child, I had already realised that I couldn’t achieve and have everything I wanted. Still, there are moments when this is not easy to accept; it has been a struggle whether or not to give up my promise of wearing blue and yellow clothes till the war in Ukraine ends.

When the first tanks rolled into Ukrainian land, I instantly decided to wear the colours of the Ukrainian flag as a show of support and solidarity. I thought that with the help of the international community, the war would end in less than three months. I was dead wrong.

However, this failure to keep a promise has been a source of new knowledge and self-discovery. I believe I have achieved my purpose. I was stopped by strangers and acquaintances if my wearing yellow and blue was to send a message or if it was pure chance. My family and friends were encouraging, whereas some people thought it was ridiculous and didn’t do anything for Ukraine. I beg to differ.

Today, I’ll revert to wearing other colours, but Ukraine and its people will always be in my thoughts. There are different ways to help: talk about the impact of wars and the interdependence of nations, donate money/goods/ services to Ukraine, and lobby governments and international organisations to help end this war and ensure that no country gets invaded. 

This is the summary of the above publication:

“This report comprises an independent inquiry into whether the Russian Federation bears State responsibility for breaches of the Genocide Convention in its invasion of Ukraine and concludes there are:  1) reasonable grounds to conclude Russia is responsible for (i) direct and public incitement to commit genocide, and (ii) a pattern of atrocities from which an inference of intent to destroy the Ukrainian national group in part can be drawn; and 2) the existence of a serious risk of genocide in Ukraine, triggering the legal obligation of all States to prevent genocide”.

The following paragraphs were taken verbatim from the 47-page report:

  • “Mass Killings. Investigations have determined that Russian forces have rounded up Ukrainian civilians for mass executions across occupied territory, marked by a pattern of common killing methods — hands tied, tortured, and shot in the head at close range. The well-documented Bucha massacre may indicate consistent tactics employed by Russian forces across currently inaccessible occupied areas. The number of mass graves in Russian-controlled areas are (sic) rapidly expanding, as documented by investigators and satellite imagery, though the full extent of the killing will not be known until access to sites controlled by Russian forces is secured”.
  • “Deliberate Attacks on Shelters, Evacuation Routes, and Humanitarian Corridors. Russian forces are systematically attacking shelters and evacuation routes with precision, indicating military policy, killing and trapping civilians in besieged or conflict areas”.
  • “Destruction and Seizure of Necessities, Humanitarian Aid, and Grain. Russian forces have destroyed and seized vast stores of grain, including expropriating hundreds of thousands of tons to Russia, and repeatedly blocked or seized humanitarian aid or workers seeking to evacuate civilians, using starvation as a weapon of war”. 
  • “Rape and Sexual Violence. Reports of sexual violence and rape in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine suggest a widespread and systematic pattern, including gang rape, rape in homes or shelters, rape of parents in front of children and vice versa”.
  • “Forcible Transfer of Ukrainians. Russia has reported the relocation of over one million people from Ukraine to Russia since the invasion began, including over 180,000 children. Refugees and officials have reported being transferred by force or threat of force. According to Ukrainian officials, Russian legislation is being reformed to expedite the adoption of children from the Donbas, while Ukrainian children forcibly sent to Russia are forced to take Russian classes. The forcible transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia is a genocidal act under Art. II (e) of the Genocide Convention”.

The media have reported that this week’s Russia’s bombing of a crowded shopping centre in Kremenchuk killed 18 and injured 60 people.

Compliments and the magic phrase

Has your supervisor said to you, “Well done”, “Fantastic work”, or “Keep up the good work”? What did you say in return?

A mere “Thank you” – the magic phrase –  is enough to show that we appreciate the compliment. Complimenting is not and should not be a one-way street. Some employees complain that their managers do not praise them, but do these staff members give their bosses compliments?

These are some compliments I have heard and read:

You are really good at what you do.

We appreciate your optimism and “can do” attitude.

We enjoyed your contribution during the staff meeting.

You gave an excellent presentation.

You are an indispensable member of our team.

You are a reliable boss.

You are a considerate supervisor.

You are a dedicated employee.

You always perform well, even under pressure.

I enjoy working with you.

Some people find it easier to give than receive compliments. Last year, a French friend commented: “I can’t believe it; I read a novel in English, the first novel in English. It took me only two weeks. You’re a great storyteller”. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “It was a six-month COVID lockdown manuscript. I could have written it better”. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, but I put myself down with that response. I should have simply told her that I appreciated her compliment. After all, didn’t I deserve it?

Being suspicious about a compliment is unproductive and causes misunderstanding. Meanwhile, if insecure and devilish humans give you insincere compliments (bordering sarcasm), be upfront and ask them what they really want to discuss with you.

Three weeks ago, I received a text from someone I didn’t know personally, who is in our Whatsapp Ex-UQ/Bne Lunch Grp, that he had bought a copy of my latest book English Language Lovers and would submit an Amazon review. Many authors find this revelation “not a biggy”, but it’s for me. I consider this a compliment, so I thanked him right away.  

I don’t know about you, but I like giving and receiving compliments when they are due because they make people feel good. A compliment can brighten a day, motivate, and instil confidence and trust. During my lessons and encounters with new acquaintances, I use compliments to break the ice. These are sincere compliments and not done haphazardly. Fake compliments are easy to spot.

Often, I get positive responses to my compliments: “Thanks, that’s nice of you. You came up with helpful ideas, too”; “Thanks, that’s kind of you”; “Thanks for noticing it”; “Thanks for liking it”; and “I appreciate that, have a nice day”.

Let’s continue giving and receiving sincere compliments; these are free and improve performance and relationships.

The death of a dream can unleash creativity and resourcefulness

What’s your life’s dream? Has someone told you to go for your dream? Did you believe that if you can dream it, you can achieve it?

I dreamed (also correct “dreamt”) of seeing my book displayed in bookstores and reaching a wider global audience. After one year of email exchanges with prospective publishers and literary agents, this is now an impossible dream.

The best-selling non-fiction series “Chicken Soup for the Soul” by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen were rejected by over 100 publishers before it sold over 130 million copies. Canfield had said, “The first time we went to New York, we visited with about a dozen publishers in two days with our agent, and nobody wanted it. They all said it was a stupid title, that nobody bought collections of short stories, that there was no edge — no sex, no violence. Why would anyone read it?” (

Unlike Jack Canfield, I can only depend on words of mouth. That’s why I am reaching out to you.

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live; remember that.– From Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

My book “English Language Lovers” addresses mixed-bag adult learners’ different needs and attributes in face-to-face and virtual classrooms. It discusses trainers’ and participants’ qualities, responsibilities, and challenges using first-hand experiences and anecdotes. It showcases the importance of language skills and answers questions on levels, standards and quality; for instance: “Are native English speakers the best teachers for adult learners?”

“I found your manuscript both engaging and very informational from start to finish. At times, it was humorous, and I found myself being corrected on my own grammar which was very humbling being a native English speaker. Also, it was humbling because English has been a strong suit in my academics, but I continue to find out how much I did not learn in school as I read different books such as yours” – J.A. Cox, Beta reader and American writer.

Every chapter has photographs or memes and information on grammar, vocabulary, and idiomatic expressions presented in an amusing yet educative way.

It is for those who enjoy honing their skills in English communication, teaching, or learning amid a continually changing world. It is a nice coffee table book or a gift for any occasion.

Thank you for reading and sharing it with others.

This is available on Kindle, paperback, and hardcopy.