Category Archives: personal and social development

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.

Where are these children? Will they lose or reshape their identity?

Two Sundays ago, on my way to join my friends at the nearby coffee shop, I stopped at a commercial space under renovation. The newly replaced stained-glass pieces were in blue and yellow – the colours of Ukraine. I believe its owner did it purposely to mark the dark period we are experiencing.

Like most people, every day, I tune in to the news hoping that the Russians have stopped shelling the once-beautiful buildings and fertile soil of Ukraine. Like many aghast humans, I’m critical of how the writing on the wall was ignored and wonder if the statement “since it’s not a NATO member-country, we won’t intervene” nudged the aggressors to proceed with their nefarious deeds.

While sipping our coffee, my French and Irish friends asked me about our sons. In the past, I was always bubbling with joy, narrating the fun they have living in Canada and England. That afternoon, my answer was one word, “fine”, and my thoughts shifted instantly to the Ukrainian children scattered outside their homeland.  About 1.5 million children have been reported to have left Ukraine since the conflict began and millions more have been displaced internally.

Will they ever go back to Ukraine? When? What are the ramifications of this uprooting from their culture at a young age? How can we help them with the psychological trauma of being separated from their families and friends and being exposed to danger and insecurity?

My two sons left home before their majority age, but it was their choice and to prepare for a greener pasture. Yet, sometimes, I worry about their detachment from Down Under. Last March 11, I gave pro bono lectures at Hélène Boucher High School in Thionville about Australia. After I got home, I emailed them my PowerPoint slides with a note, “In case you want to update your knowledge about your country of citizenship.”

Identity is a conglomerate of attributes, qualities and values that define how we view ourselves, i.e. a sense of group belongingness. An identity can be lost for months or years or suddenly following a significant life event or trauma, such as war and conflict.

Our sense of identity ought not to come from what others think about us; we should not worry about being judged or measured by others based on their criteria. Putting a permanent mask hiding our true identity limits personal growth and happiness.

I believe these Ukrainian refugee children long for social and cultural acceptance and reassurance from their admirable host families who care for them and are cognisant of their culture and heritage. Kudos to everyone who has helped these children to be safe, have self-worth, find peace, and be reunited with their loved ones soon.

Are you a toxic optimist?

Recently, someone asked me why I am “always optimistic when some glasses are obviously half empty?” My belief in the silver lining can be uplifting for some people but suffocating for others, yet I am consistently positive. Perhaps it is my birth sign. Those who fancy astrology and horoscope would tell you that a Taurian is stable and determined.

An optimist says, “The glass is half full.”

A pessimist says, “The glass is half empty.”

An optometrist says, “You both need glasses.”


A positive outlook on life is beneficial for our mental and emotional wellbeing. However, life isn’t always rosy. There are unpleasant events and people that cause us to be sad or angry. Denying ourselves of this sadness can stagnate growth, as it deprives us of the opportunity to face and deal with challenging situations and feelings. Sugarcoating a harsh reality has downsides.

When family and friends are experiencing severe difficulty or even trauma, we can’t tell them to look at the bright side of life. This is because such expression of optimism can be toxic, as it may divert us from the real concerns and issues. Whereas dealing wisely with negative emotions, such as disappointment and stress, can lead to changes that can result in a better situation.

Positive words and deeds that shine externally inspire people. However, pushing optimism into someone’s sore throat is a different thing. It is toxic optimism. For example, when people hold out a hand to us, it means that they are crying for help and don’t need to be told that other humans are experiencing worse.

Empathy is the magic word – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others – i.e. compassion and care. How? Firstly, by being a good listener. While doing so, we should avoid assumptions and judgment. Then, be ready to offer support and help, which may be in the form of advice, goods or services, but only after you have heard all sides of the story.


Feedback and Evaluation are Different: Should they be anonymous or not?

Last month, I received feedback by email that included this sentence: “You gave verbal explanations of each point and systematically wrote any new vocabulary or expressions in the chat or as annotations in the documents to help the participants memorise them”. That feedback had only positive points and a strong nudge to continue the good work. It was her first time observing my online class. In previous years, the former “quality enforcer” always had “one thing” added to “continue the job well done”; I philosophised that she was making her position more worthwhile.  At least, I knew who provided the feedback, and I had the opportunity to explain the whys of what I did.

Training participants are always encouraged to fill in anonymous online forms to rate the “quality” of their trainers. The original intention is to help improve the learning or training experience. However, it can become a revenge tool. Positive ratings and comments are rare from participants or students who have failed or received lower-than-expected grades. Non-constructive feedback derails progress and jeopardises “room for improvement” efforts.

At work, “evaluation” is a more appropriate word than “feedback”. The former is an assessment or judgement based on evidence, data and observations. A regular (i.e. once, twice or thrice a year) work appraisal is an evaluation and cannot be anonymous. Whereas the latter is about giving a message to help receivers shape behaviours that will assist them to improve their skills and performance.

Even with the enforcement of anti-harassment legislation and policy, some feedback continues to include comments about appearance (untidy hair), attire (scruffy), insults (trash, senile), and blaming.

Results of both evaluation and feedback affect one’s well-being, mental health, and personal and professional relationships. Therefore, should those involved hide under the blanket of anonymity? How about when there’s a power imbalance and threat of reprisal or punishment?

The basic fundamentals when giving feedback and evaluation are sincerity, sensitivity, truthfulness, specificity, appropriate language, professionalism, and timeliness. They should be prepared and not given haphazardly.

At work, honest and meaningful feedback and evaluation can motivate employees to perform better in their tasks and open lines of communication, resulting in productivity and contented employees.

An evaluation should be a two-way street; thus, it should not be anonymous. Managers and supervisors should be told the right and ineffective things they do, whereas feedback can be anonymous.

If we want to know whether such feedback is true and sincere, we should consider it positively. Then, ask ourselves if we have received similar feedback from other people (Oh, this comment sounds familiar). How can we use it in a constructive way even though we don’t agree with it? Since it rings a bell, it must be valid and important.

By Raffaella Cetrulo  (Instagram raffainviaggio)

Feedback doesn’t have to be formal. Upon completion of my course, I often receive emails of appreciation and thank you from participants. One of these included two paintings; the artist – Raffaella Cetrulo – has given me her permission to include them here. I have chosen the painting of owls because my late aunt-in-law, who had a handsome collection of owl figurines and statuettes, had said she liked them for their big, wide eyes that give an impression they were watching her. Unlike her, I associate owls with evils because they are awake and active at night. In some cultures, they are considered guardians for a safe morning to come.

Whatever we do these days, there are owls – “walls have ears and eyes”. When we are stressed because someone is looking over our shoulders, let’s think of Athena of ancient Greek mythology. She kept an owl on her shoulder believing it was a blessing that revealed truths and wisdom.

The sandwich approach is often used when giving feedback, i.e. the negative statement is placed between two positive ones. Bear in mind that constructive, negative feedback can get lost in the middle of praises. Likewise, it is likely that only negative comments are remembered, and the receivers become bitter and disillusioned. They might philosophise using this adage: “When I’m right, no one remembers; when I’m wrong, no one forgets”.

All the best when giving and receiving feedback.

I hope you’ve time to read my story “Tongues wagging over Freggy” in  (I can’t wait to have your feedback.  Clicking “like” will go a long way. Thank you.)

Goodbye 2021, Hello 2022

In January 2021, I wished my family and friends good health and success. I thought the COVID pandemic would be over before December. How wrong I was! The Delta and Omicron variants arrived swiftly and worrisomely.

We’re still in the pandemic; consequently, restrictions have been reintroduced or tightened. COVID passports and tests have become pet peeves for travellers. They have hampered many people from being with their families on two of the dearly celebrated occasions of the year: Christmas/December and New Year.

So, what is an appropriate wish for our family and friends in 2022? Is it the usual “good health, peace, prosperity, and happiness”? Which of these is the most important thing to have? Can someone be happy when suffering from poor health? Many poor people in developing countries are naturally happy. Peace is not easy to attain when you’ve poor health. Prosperity contributes to happiness and peace of mind (i.e. not worrying about food, shelter, medicine, etc.)

What is a good New Year’s greeting or wish? What does a sincere message do to us? For family and friends afar, it’s a way of letting them know that they have not been forgotten. Greetings and good wishes bring in positive feelings. They translate into smiles and nods. 

Yesterday, at noon in France, I wished friends in New Zealand a happy New Year (They were the first ones to welcome January 1, 2022). Then, at 3 pm, I rang my family in Queensland, Australia (midnight there). From 12 pm, my mobile phone and e-mail box have been busy with greetings from France, Luxembourg and Belgium. This morning, at 1 am, I greeted our son in London; at 4:30 am, our other son in Canada; at 9:00 am, our friends in the USA. (The difference in New Year times made it possible for me to greet the lovely people in my life. I’m going to bed after posting this).

Aside from texting and phoning, I looked at the photos of my sister’s birthday party in Australia held a fortnight ago. One of them is a table with a copy of the song “That’s What Friends Are For”. I imagined myself singing along, particularly the chorus:

“Keep smiling, keep shining

Knowing you can always count on me for sure

That’s what friends are for

For good times and bad times

I’ll be on your side forevermore

That’s what friends are for”.  

Some friends become family in real terms. Some family members are friends forever. Some colleagues are friends to lean on during tough times at work.

I wish you sincere and lasting friendships. Marvellous New Year! Bonne Anne! Feliz Ano Nuevo!