Fill in the blanks exercise – Islamic art

Here is something a bit different for you – a cloze, or gap, test.

The idea is to listen to the speech and fill in the gaps with one or more words that are grammatically correct and match the content and style of the piece.

This is a good exercise for many reasons:

  • it helps you with anticipation. You won’t be able to fill in every gap before hearing the following few words, but some of them can be guessed immediately because they’re part of a collocation, set phrase, or idiom, or because they make sense in context.
  • it helps you work on reformulation: some of the gaps have many possible solutions. How many can you think of?
  • it’s a good listening exercise. You need to concentrate really hard to follow the speech’s thread, so that you can fill in the blanks.
  • it’s a good reminder that we work at the level of ideas, not words. Imagine if you were interpreting the speech from English into your A language: you could make a good guess at the missing words; so if they were unknown words, you would still be able to follow the meaning in most cases.

Audio file – Islamic art

This is quite a challenging text. You will need to draw on your background knowledge and logic, as well as your English skills, to fill in the blanks successfully.

You can find the recording here.

Discussion

I won’t go through every blank, but I thought it might be useful to discuss a few of the blanks where there were several possible solutions.

  • depictions of the prophet Muhammad are……. in Islam: you could say forbidden, or banned, prohibited.
  • The prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how …….., is widely …….. today . There are many ways to complete this sentence, especially as it is ambiguous: does the adjective following ‘no matter how’ refer to ‘images of the prophet’, or to ‘prohibition’? Depending on what you think, you could say ‘the prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how innocuous, is widely accepted’, or ‘the prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how harmless, is widely criticised today’, or ‘the prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how dangerous, is widely accepted today’. You need to think carefully about what has been said so far, and your background knowledge about this issue.
  • there is no such …….. in the Qur’an: this could be instruction, or prohibition, ban, or edict.
  • Islam was the only common …..: could be religion, factor, or denominator.
  • ruling elites ……. Islam as a binding agent: there are several solutions, depending on meaning. You could say used or exploited; or fastened on tolatched on to; or saw, perceived.
  • decade of economic pain and social …..: this could be decline, problems, tensions, or fracture.

Speech transcript

Here’s the transcript of the speech. I have highlighted the missing words in bold.

Though we often hear that depictions of the prophet Muhammad are forbidden in Islam, artworks bearing his image can be found in museums in Europe and the United States. And he is in many carefully curated private collections of Islamic art, appearing from time to time in the catalogues of prestigious auction houses when these artworks change hands.

The prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how anodyne, is widely accepted today – but, as these examples show, it is a distinctly modern edict. The religious justification for the ban is far less clear than its proponents believe: there is no such instruction in the Qur’an. There is, of course, a pre-Islamic aversion to idol worship shared by all the monotheistic religions, and over the centuries this aversion gradually wore away depictions of Muhammad in Islamic art. But this was only a prelude to the modern charge of blasphemy – which arrived only in the 20th century, after the Muslim world had fractured into nation-states.

The modern majority-Muslim nation-state is a weak and unwieldy creature. Across Africa and south Asia, colonial forces lumped together disparate tribes and languages, drew boundary lines around them, and then abruptly decamped to Europe. For many citizens of these new nations, Islam was the only common denominator. In the absence of any coherent political programme beyond the maintenance of their own power, ruling elites fastened on to Islam as a binding agent. From there it was an easy step to pick out some sacred icons, such as the image of the prophet, and to draw arbitrary theological red lines, useful for dispensing with political opponents. The story of blasphemy in contemporary Islam isn’t about doctrine. It is about decline and dictatorship.

There is a lesson in this tale for all of us: the more that a society is preoccupied with its symbols, the more insecure it has become. In the UK, the Conservative government and its court press have seized upon the veneration of national symbols as a consolation for a decade of economic pain and social fracture.

And then, of course, there is the flag, the latest icon to be invested with a sanctity that demands it be flown longer and larger. The government has decreed that after the summer the flag should fly over official buildings every day rather than 20 days a year. No longer is it just jolly bunting on special occasions. This is the endpoint of a journey that began when Nigel Farage took a small union flag and placed it in front of him at the European parliament. In all its absurdity, that moment comes closest to representing what the flag has come to symbolise today – a false but potent claim of liberation from fictional oppressive forces.

Over the past few months, Tory MPs have tried to burnish their political credentials by posturing more and more aggressively about the flag, demanding that it be compulsory in all schools (and that anyone who has concerns can be “educated” into compliance). It is an even shorter distance between that public, official intimidation and private citizens taking matters into their own hands. Earlier this year, one mayor in Cornwall received death threats for removing flags that had been put up without the council’s permission.

“You can’t eat a flag,” said John Hume, one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process. When Muslim countries erupt with rage over images of Muhammad, I see governments who cannot feed their people, or provide them with dignity or democratic rights, so they feed them false pride instead. The images we see on the news from Cairo or Khartoum of protests against cartoons or authors, are pictures of astroturfed anger, whipped up and bussed into town squares in government vehicles. Some of that anger seeps into corners that then become impossible to scrub. The worship of icons, whether flags or statues, may seem like a harmless performance on the part of a government that has little else to offer. But behind it lurks the threat of something much more sinister.

I hope you enjoyed this exercise!

Fill in the blanks exercise – education for girls

Here is something a bit different for you – a cloze, or gap, test.

The idea is to listen to the speech and fill in the gaps with one or more words that are grammatically correct and match the content and style of the piece.

This is a good exercise for many reasons:

  • it helps you with anticipation. You won’t be able to fill in every gap before hearing the following few words, but some of them can be guessed immediately because they’re part of a collocation, set phrase, or idiom, or because they make sense in context.
  • it helps you work on reformulation: some of the gaps have many possible solutions. How many can you think of?
  • it’s a good listening exercise. You need to concentrate really hard to follow the speech’s thread, so that you can fill in the blanks.
  • it’s a good reminder that we work at the level of ideas, not words. Imagine if you were interpreting the speech from English into your A language: you could make a good guess at the missing words; so if they were unknown words, you would still be able to follow the meaning in most cases.

Audio file of the speech

You can find the file here.

Discussion

I won’t go through the whole text; you can check the missing words in the transcript below if you like.

I thought it would be useful to go through just a few of the missing words, when there were several possible solutions.

  • the near-insurmountable …….. facing school-age girls in the world’s poorest regions: this could be challenges, but also obstacles, hurdles, difficulties, or even problems, if you couldn’t think of anything better.
  • Her story ……. that of millions of girls around the world: this could be mirrors, or perhaps echoes, or simply is similar to.
  • There is a need to ……stronger policies to ……. progress: the first gap could be devise, or develop, propose, plan, implement, push through, support. The second gap could be stimulate, boost, speed up.

Transcript of the speech

I’ve highlighted the missing words in bold.

Bright-eyed and clever, a young girl from a small village in Malawi shares her wish for a better life. From her confines, up early in the morning, cleaning and cooking, eating last, marrying young, she has little chance for school, much less a future with a career.

“Give me a chance,” she says disarmingly, “and I’ll take it from there.” The three-minute video, produced by Plan International, a UK-based global advocacy group on children, tells the story of the near-insurmountable challenges facing school-age girls in the world’s poorest regions, including many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.  Her story mirrors that of millions of girls around the world whose prospects are severely limited because they cannot finish school.

According to the 2014 Millennium Development Goals Report, a United Nations annual report that tracks progress towards achieving the MDGs, some 33 million children in sub-Saharan Africa were out of school in 2012.  While the situation varies from country to country and between rural and urban areas, overall 56% of the out-of-school children are girls

There is no doubt that a concerted global push for universal education has narrowed the gender gap in primary school enrolment between 2001 and 2008, says UNESCO, the UN agency on education and culture. Over the past seven years, however, the gap appears to have remained the same, according to the report. Pervasive poverty and persistent cultural attitudes, including forced early marriages and child labour, continue to be the main obstacles to girls’ education in sub-Saharan Africa. 

 “Poverty lies at the heart of many of the challenges that hinder girls’ access to education. The pressures of poverty mean that parents must constantly make decisions about how to utilize extremely limited resources and how best to provide a secure future for their family,”

Poor families, mostly in rural areas, are forced to send boys to school while keeping the girls at home helping with chores in the belief that chores are sufficient lessons for girls to learn how to keep a family. Even as more girls are enrolled in primary schools, their chances of dropping out continue to be greater than boys’. Girls may be withdrawn from school by parents for reasons linked not only to costs but to unwanted pregnancy.

There is a need to devise stronger policies to revive progress. UNESCO and UNICEF are recommending that countries focus on “broad investment to strengthen and expand education systems, a sharp focus on improving the quality of education on offer and targeted interventions for the children who are the very hardest to reach.” 

In a joint report, the two agencies said the priority should be to ensure that even the most vulnerable and disadvantaged girl has access to a school close to home—a school that meets her most basic needs for safety, privacy and cleanliness. 

I hope you enjoyed the exercise!

Interested in more material like this to help you boost your retour? Why not join my monthly membership site, Rock your Retour, with tailor-made written materials and weekly live group classes (online)?

Interpreting Coach logo with strapline

Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills.

If you’re interested in personal coaching, why not book a free discovery call?

An improvisation exercise to help you talk about time pressure

In this exercise, you will produce a short speech (5-10 minutes) using several idioms or phrases related to time.

I am providing you with a scenario to use for inspiration, but you are of course free to adapt it, expand it, alter it, or whatever you like!

Ban on single use plastics in the UK

Background reading:

article in the Guardian

article from the Independent

Article about time (see below).

Scene-setting for your speech:

You are a campaigner for a ban on plastic items such as drinks stirrers, straws, and cotton buds. You welcome the UK’s announcement that it plans to ban these items, but you believe we need to go much further and look at legislation to tackle all forms of plastic packaging.

Prepare an introduction to your speech, giving your background, the current legal situation, and any other background you think is relevant.

Choose Option 1 OR Option 2.

Option 1: time is short, and time has been wasted

Explain why it is urgent that this ban come about soon. Use several idioms and phrases to indicate the urgency of the situation, and back up your points with some facts and figures (e.g. about plastic waste in the sea).

Point out that the UK could have acted much faster in proposing legislation on this matter, and will now have to make up for lost time. See if you can come up with some reasons for the delay.

Option 2: this proposal comes just in time; the EU legislation will be too late

Explain why this proposal comes just in time – because the EU is about to legislate, but the EU legislation will be too late for Brexit-related transposition into UK law. At least if the UK legislates now, it will keep in step with EU environmental legislation.

Use several idioms and phrases related to time, and some facts and figures to back up the urgency of the situation (e.g. about plastic waste in the sea).

Conclusion

Conclude your speech with a call to action about future, broader, legislation on plastics in general.

Vocabulary assistance: how to talk about…time

Here are some tips to help you talk about time: time passing, time being short, getting things done in time, etc. etc.

The time is ripe

Here is a collection of phrases to express the idea that it’s the right time, or perhaps past time, to get something done:

It’s about time… Curiously, this can mean either that something needs to happen immediately, or that it is now happening, but should have been done sooner.

It’s about time the government provided more funding for mental health services.

It’s about time they tied the knot – they’ve been together for 17 years!

It’s high time…. This phrase is synonymous with ‘about time’ (see above), but a little more emphatic.

There’s no time like the present! The meaning of this phrase is ‘now’, ‘immediately’.

‘When would you like me to start working on the project?’ ‘There’s no time like the present!’

The time is ripe for… means the time is right, the timing is good.

The time is ripe for a remake of this classic film.

Being short of time

Let’s imagine you’re interpreting at a meeting, and the agenda is very long. The Chairman might say one or all of the following:

  • I’m just keeping one eye on the clock, because we have a lot to get through this morning.
  • Time flies! It’s already 11 o’clock, so we need to wrap up this point.
  • Time is marching on, and we need to move on to the next agenda item.
  • We’re short of time today, so we’ll have to come back to this proposal next week.
  • We’re a little pressed for time, I’m afraid. Perhaps we could discuss this bilaterally.
  • In the interests of saving time, I won’t read out the whole document.

What if there is a sense of urgency about a proposal/piece of legislation/action on the part of the authorities? Try:

  • Time is of the essence with this proposal: it will be discussed at the Plenary in a fortnight, so we need your written comments by Monday evening.
  • There’s no time to lose. We need to act immediately.
  • We’re in a race against time. Our competitors are ready to move on this, so we need to make our offer immediately.
  • The emergency services are working against the clock to reach earthquake survivors under the rubble.
  • It’s crunch time! Something needs to be done urgently.
  • Desperate times call for desperate measures.

If time has been lost for some reason (delays, illness of the project leader, documents lost in the post…), you might say:

  • We’re working around the clock now, to make up for lost time.

If there is no great urgency, you might say:

  • All in good time. We don’t want to be too hasty.
  • We have all the time in the world, as there’s no deadline.

Just in time

If something was done/adopted/achieved at the last possible moment, you can use the following phrases:

  • at the eleventh hour: The Parliament was still proposing changes to the Bill at the eleventh hour.
  • in the nick of time: We arrived at the airport in the nick of time; the flight was just about to start boarding.

If it’s too late, you might say:

  • Better late than never!

Miscellaneous

    • in no time means ‘very quickly’: the revised proposal was ready in no time.
    • to make good time refers to a journey, and means it took less time than expected. We’ve made good time, so we can afford to stop for lunch before hitting the motorway.
    • ahead of its time means radical, innovative (for the time): The play explored ideas about prejudice and tolerance in a way that was ahead of its time. The company was ahead of its time in its employment practices.
    • before my time means before I was born, or before I was old enough to understand. Margaret Thatcher and the poll tax? That was all before my time.
    • to buy time means to delay an event so as to improve your own position in the meantime. I bought some time by telling my supervisor I was ill. He postponed the essay deadline by two days. 
    • to call it a day means to stop for the day, even if you haven’t finished what you’re doing. OK, we still haven’t covered Item 5 on the agenda, but it’s 6 o’clock and we’re all tired. Let’s call it a day and reconvene tomorrow morning.
    • in time vs on time. What’s the difference? ‘On time’ means at the pre-arranged time, e.g. The meeting began on time, at 9 o’clock. ‘In time’ means before a deadline, before something begins: he arrived in time for the beginning of the meeting. He turned up just in time for the beginning of the speech. Imagine a meeting that begins at 9 with a presentation by an invited speaker, but the speaker starts a few minutes late. You could say: I didn’t arrive on time, but I was in time for the presentation.

Last few…

To stand the test of time means to remain popular or in force for a long time.

  • The US Constitution has stood the test of time.
  • Few pop songs of the 2000s will stand the test of time.

Time will tell is an incredibly useful phrase. Will a proposal be adopted following a round the amendments? Will the public support a groundbreaking idea? Will Donald Trump be booted out? Will the UK really leave the EU? Time will tell.

I haven’t mentioned it so far, but the adjective timely can prove useful. It means ‘happening at the best possible moment’ and can be a good translation for words like ‘opportun’ in French, for example.

  • The protests in London at the weekend were a timely reminder that this is still a controversial issue.
  • The change in the exchange rate provided a timely boost to the company’s falling profits.
  • Your comments on the proposal are very timely. We’ll amend the text as soon as possible, since the deadline is next week.

Finally, don’t forget a week is a long time in politics.

A reformulation exercise for English retourists

The purpose of this exercise is to help you work on the versatility of your English B and on deducing meaning from context and applying background knowledge.

I have chosen a short excerpt from a Guardian article, and blanked out some of the words.

Your task is to read each paragraph carefully, and come up with possible solutions to fill in the gaps. See how many options you can find.

If you like, you can be more radical, and change the whole phrase around that word.

Think about the solutions you’ve come up with. Are some of them lower register, or more formal?

Spoiler alert: I’ve given you the solutions under the text of the article, so avert your eyes if you want to make this a real exercise.

Text of the article

“MPs have criticised a project by academics that involved sending emails from fictitious constituents claiming they were concerned about financial support during the coronavirus lockdown.

Researchers at King’s College London (KCL) and the London School of Economics (LSE) sent emails to every MP’s inbox from _____________________characters including a cleaner and lawyer.

Copies of messages seen by the Guardian showed the ________________senders – who_____________ with names including Paul, Thomas and Maryam – wrote that they worked for large companies but were “______________about the long term” and saw “people all around me who are______________jobs or _____________pay cuts”.

All emails ended with the request: “I’d like to know what you and the Conservative party are going to do to______________this crisis in the best possible way.” Some added they were a “Conservative supporter”.

_____________________in different MPs’ offices discovered the connection only when they replied with a standard question, asking for the sender’s address so they could confirm they were the right person to help, and received no response.”

Para 2: the missing word is invented. You could have used fictitious or even fake. If you found made-up, be aware that this is more informal.

Para 3: the missing words are purported, signed themselves off, worried, losing, experiencing. You could use supposed instead of purported. You have several options for worried, including concerned – you just need to watch out for the preposition, which limits you. For experiencing pay cuts, you could try being hit by, being affected by, suffering because of…

Para 4: the missing phrase is get us through. You could have used overcome, tackle, address, get us out of (which is more informal), etc.

Para 5: the missing word is staffers, and you could simply have used staff.

———————————————————————————————————————

Interested in more material like this to help you boost your retour? Why not join my monthly membership site, Rock your Retour, with tailor-made written materials and weekly live group classes (online)?

Interpreting Coach logo with strapline

Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills.

If you’re interested in personal coaching, why not book a free discovery call?

An improvisation exercise for English retourists

The purpose of this improvisation exercise is to help you consolidate your knowledge and active use of verbs, phrases and expressions meaning ‘begin’ and to give you an opportunity to improvise a short presentation in English similar to something you might hear in a real meeting. You can also use this exercise to practise your presentation skills and get some feedback on your use of English.

The whole improvisation exercise should take you a maximum of 30 minutes, unless you want to do extra research on a topic area of your choice. You can tailor the exercise to suit your ability level and vocabulary lacunae; I have given hints as to how to do this. Be creative and have fun with it!

If you need a little more help with finding suitable phrases (and the right register), scroll down to the part of the post that is BELOW the exercise, for lots of suggestions.

Instructions

Choose between Option 1 (a short presentation) and Option 2 (playing the role of the Chairman of a meeting).

Option 1: prepare a short presentation

Pick onePick 2 or more adjectivesPick 2 or more verbs or phrasesPick 3 or more adjectives
PRODUCT LAUNCH: pair of smart glasses + smartphone app + trained assistants. Blind or visually impaired people wear the glasses and call an agent when they need help with everyday tasks (reading a recipe, separating laundry, buying an item in a cafe); the assistant can see what the blind person is seeing in real time. More info here: https://aira.io/

OR

CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN for an app to find the best way to get from A to B. The app can search bus routes, find taxis, buy train tickets, automatically post on carsharing websites, find hire cars and calculate the cost of fuel, and calculate projected CO2 emissions for the trip.

OR

a product, service, initiative, project or campaign of your choice
delighted
thrilled
honoured
excited
pleased
optimistic
gratified
daunted
nervous
elated
overjoyed
ecstatic
tickled pink
break new ground
pave the way for
blaze a trail
breath of fresh air
pioneer
usher in
initiate
launch
embark on
begin
start
originate
set about
groundbreaking
innovative
ambitious
unique
unprecedented
revolutionary
cutting-edge
pioneering
tantalising
trendsetting
radical
original
experimental
inventive
ingenious
state-of-the-art
creative
imaginative
inspired
visionary

Your task is to take the elements of your choice (type of presentation, adjectives describing feelings, phrases relating to ‘beginning’, adjectives describing your product or service) and prepare a 5 minutes oral presentation to pitch your product.

It is up to you to decide who you are selling or presenting your product to: potential investors? An NGO or charity?

Your presentation will have the following format:

  1. Brief intro to address the audience and introduce yourself and use your ‘feeling’ adjectives, e.g. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I am thrilled to have been invited to this conference to present our brand new product. I am, of course, a touch nervous at addressing such a knowledgeable audience, but I’m also confident that I will be able to convince you of the real benefits that our product can offer partially sighted people.’
  2. your presentation of the product/service/campaign, using the idioms and descriptive adjectives you have chosen.
  3. A conclusion or call to action (e.g. please invest/here is our website for further information/please spread the word etc.)

If you need a helping hand with the English: do some extra research by choosing a real product or service and visiting the website to pick up more vocabulary.

If your retour is already advanced: choose an area that you’re not very familiar with, and take the opportunity to increase your vocabulary in that field (e.g. robotics, engineering, IT, medicine).

Option 2: act as Chairman of a meeting

Depending on your level of English and knowledge of conference vocabulary, you can choose to keep it quite general, or much more specific.

Pick EITHER agenda 1, OR agenda 2 plus EITHER the product launch OR the crowdfunding campaignPick 2 or more adjectivesPick 2 or more verbs or phrasesPick 3 or more adjectives
AGENDA 1:
General Session of the AFB Leadership Conference 2018 —How Leading Tech Companies Are Raising the Bar for Blind and Visually Impaired Users
Panelists: Sarah Herrlinger, Director, Accessibility Policy and Initiatives, Apple; Mark Lapole, Lead Product Developer, AIRA (assistive technologies for the blind); Megan Lawrence, Accessibility Technical Evangelist, Microsoft; and Jeffrey Wieland, Director of Accessibility, Facebook
Description: Representatives from the world’s leading technology companies will share their insights on how they operationalize accessibility, engage with assistive technology users, and improve opportunities for persons with visual impairments.

OR

Agenda 2:
Adoption of the agenda, Minutes of previous meeting, Item 1 (presentation by Mr Michael Miller followed by Q&A), Item 2 (recent developments in the industry).

PRODUCT LAUNCH: pair of smart glasses + smartphone app + trained assistants. Blind or visually impaired people wear the glasses and call an agent when they need help with everyday tasks (reading a recipe, separating laundry, buying an item in a cafe); the assistant can see what the blind person is seeing in real time. More info here: https://aira.io/

OR

CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN for an app to find the best way to get from A to B. The app can search bus routes, find taxis, buy train tickets, automatically post on carsharing websites, find hire cars and calculate the cost of fuel, and calculate projected CO2 emissions for the trip.

OR

a product, service, initiative, project or campaign of your choice
delighted
thrilled
honoured
excited
pleased
optimistic
gratified
daunted
nervous
elated
overjoyed
ecstatic
tickled pink
break new ground
pave the way for
blaze a trail
breath of fresh air
pioneer
usher in
initiate
launch
embark on
begin
start
originate
set about
groundbreaking
innovative
ambitious
unique
unprecedented
revolutionary
cutting-edge
pioneering
tantalising
trendsetting
radical
original
experimental
inventive
ingenious
state-of-the-art
creative
imaginative
inspired
visionary

Your task is to chair the first five minutes of a meeting where an invited guest will be presenting an innovative new product/service/crowdfunding campaign.

If you chose Agenda 1:

You are the moderator of a general session at the AFB Leadership Conference (American Foundation for the Blind).

Your presentation will have the following format, but feel free to take liberties.

  1. Open the session
  2. Welcome panellists
  3. Introduce the first speaker, Michael Miller, CEO of the company that has created smartglasses for visually impaired people (more info here: https://aira.io/how-it-works or see below). Use your ‘feelings’ adjectives to describe how excited you are that he is here, and your idioms and other adjectives to say a few words about his product.
  4. Give Michael Miller the floor.

Description of the AIRA smart glasses: pair of smart glasses + smartphone app + trained assistants. Blind or visually impaired people wear the glasses and call an agent when they need help with everyday tasks (reading a recipe, separating laundry, buying an item in a cafe); the assistant can see what the blind person is seeing in real time.

If you chose Agenda 2:

  1. Decide what kind of meeting this is. You can keep it general, or be very specific (for example if you want to do some extra research and widen your vocabulary in a specific area).
  2. Start your oral presentation: go through the agenda as if you were in a real meeting (e.g. ask if the agenda can be adopted, ask if anyone has comments about the minutes of the previous meeting, maybe say a few words about how you intend to tackle items 1 and 2).
  3. Make a few housekeeping points of your own devising, for instance about timings of coffee breaks, colleagues who are absent, etc.
  4. Turn to Item 1, and introduce the first speaker, Michael Miller, who will be presenting the product of your choice (or the smart glasses or travel app). Use your ‘feelings’ adjectives to describe how excited you are that he is here, and your idioms and other adjectives to say a few words about his product/service/campaign.
  5. Give Michael Miller the floor.

4 ways to use your presentation:

  1. If there’s no-one at home who can listen to you, deliver your speech out loud to practise your delivery and presentation skills. Use a mirror or the camera on your smartphone!
  2. If you have a practice partner, record an audio file of yourself and ask your partner for feedback on your use of English and delivery.
  3. Film yourself and put the speech on Speechpool for others to use as practice material.
  4. If you’re a member of a practice group with people who have an English C, give them the speech as practice material!

Extra help with vocab

Here are some suggestions to help you with the exercise.
Some of these phrases are very useful during meetings, e.g. when the chair takes the floor for the first time, or when a speaker is presenting a new proposal or project. You may know most or all of them already, but this way you have them all in one place!

Getting down to business

First, a few expressions a chairman might use first thing in the morning, when the meeting begins, to indicate a general readiness to start work.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think it’s time to make a start.

It’s time to start today’s meeting.

Let’s begin the meeting.

Lower register and grumpy, verging on the rude and impatient, would be let’s get on with it.  Let’s get this show on the road! is idiomatic but rather conversational; you could perhaps use it if the speaker was being humorous or flamboyant. In most meetings, you wouldn’t get away with it’s showtime!

showtime

To show that his introduction or general remarks are done with, and it’s time to talk about the actual subject of the meeting, the chairman would use one of the following expressions (listed here in rough order of how specific they are).

Let’s get straight to it.

Let’s get down to business.

Let’s get down to brass tacks.

Without further ado, let’s turn to today’s agenda.

Shall we turn to the first item on the agenda?

Let’s start with an item of other business.

Let’s get straight on with the main point on today’s agenda.

Before we get to the nitty gritty, I want to give the Commission the floor on an item of other business.

First things first, I have a few points of housekeeping to discuss, before we move on to the agenda proper.

And to make sure that the beginning is auspicious, the chairman might say:

Let’s start as we mean to go on, and limit ourselves to two minutes’ speaking time each.

Who’s going to make the first move?

Someone has to be the first to speak in a debate. Here are some options for you in these circumstances:

Who’s going to get the ball rolling? Who’s going to set the ball rolling?

Who’s willing to kick off our discussion? *NOTE that willing to does not mean the same thing as wanting to!

The floor is open for your comments. Who would like to take the floor first? Who would like to comment first?

Who’s going to open the discussion?

Who wants to be the first to speak on this point?

Who’s going to break the ice?

Who’s going to dive in?

Chairman, I want to jump in at this stage, to clear up a misunderstanding.

A few verbs

The verb begin has many synonyms. Let me try to give you some hints on usage and nuance, so that you can decide when to use begin, start, originate, set about, usher in, embark on, launch, inaugurate, initiate and commence.

  • Begin is the most general verb, and start is a near synonym. They are virtually interchangeable. You can use both of them with an object or without:

We’ve begun our analysis of the text. We’ve started our analysis of the text.

The lecture begins at 9 a.m. The lecture starts at 9 a.m.

  • In some contexts, you can use get underway (meaning begin to happen) as a synonym when begin or start are intransitive; however, it is less concise than begin/start.

The lecture got underway at 10 a.m. The project got underway in 2012. The festival gets underway on 20th August. The Party Conference gets underway tomorrow in Cardiff.

  • To talk about the origin or inspiration of a proposal or project, use originate (intransitive). Avoid using originate with an object (i.e. don’t say who originated this expression? but rather where did this expression originate? or who coined this expression?)

The disease was thought to originate in Africa. This technology originated in the US.

  • Initiate is a formal way of saying cause something to begin. It needs an object, and often collocates with words meaning conversation, discussion, negotiations, consultations, but also goes well with words meaning initiative. You can use it in the passive voice as well:

The peace talks were initiated by the special envoy.

Our company initiated talks with competitors last year.

Arsenal ‘have initiated talks’ to sign Lille striker Nicolas Pepe in the January transfer window.

The minister was credited with initiating a series of welfare reforms.

  • Commence is also a formal or technical way of saying begin, and can be used either with or without an object. Familiar contexts for commence are space travel (commencing countdown…) and military activities (commence firing!). You will see from the examples that it sounds stilted in normal conversation, and is chiefly used in contracts or on very formal occasions.

Construction work is expected to commence in two weeks.

Legal proceedings will commence immediately.

The policy will commence under the abovementioned conditions.

The wedding ceremony will commence at noon.

  • Set about means begin doing something and takes a gerund (the -ing form of a verb):

He set about cleaning out the garage.

  • Embark on means to start a project, the nuance being that it is likely to be time-consuming or complex. It collocates well with nouns that mean journey (metaphorically), project, or venture, e.g. adventure, endeavour, programme, pursuit, undertaking, experiment.

She embarked on a new career at the age of 40.

The company has embarked on a risky new venture.

  • Inaugurate takes an object, and suggests the beginning of a significant era or of some formality. Personally, I would use usher in rather than inaugurate in the sense of usher in a new era.

The new political regime was meant to inaugurate a new era of peace and prosperity.

The peace envoy helped to inaugurate the new round of peace talks.

  • Usher in collocates well with nouns meaning era, such as period, cycle, season, spell, or time.

The political reforms ushered in a period of economic prosperity.

  • Launch means to set in motion. It takes an object and implies a deliberate act (as opposed to a phenomenon that occurs spontaneously). Speaking literally, you would launch a vessel, such as a rocket or a ship; metaphorically, you could launch a career, a business/company, an initiative/campaign, a project/programme/scheme, a new radio station/TV station, a product or service, and finally an attack/assault. You can use almost any synonym of the nouns I have listed with the verb launch, which is very versatile.

Being innovative

So… finally you’ve got something started: a project, a campaign, whatever. But are you a leader or a follower? Here are some phrases that can help express the idea of being innovative.

The early bird catches the worm.

Our company is blazing a trail.

We are spearheading this campaign. – when it’s not used in a military sense (to spearhead in invasion), spearhead means ‘lead a course of action’ and collocates with nouns meaning campaign, initiative, project.

Our pioneering work will pave the way for others to follow.

Our product breaks new ground.

This market needs new blood. Our company is shaking things up.

This young start-up is like a breath of fresh air in a stagnant market.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Our CEO pioneered this type of marketing.

Starting over

If you’re starting something all over again, you might be starting from scratch, starting over, going back to the drawing board (for example, when designing a product or drafting a text), or going back to square one.

These are all useful phrases in meetings if the proposal on the table is doesn’t suit the negotiating parties, for example.

If a person is beginning a new life or adopting a different attitude, they might be starting over, wiping the slate clean, starting afresh, turning over a new leaf (which implies behaving more responsibly), or making a clean break (cutting ties with bad influences, for instance, or moving on from a divorce).

Horses and races

A couple of idioms related to races:

We’re under starter’s orders means we are ready to perform a task. Here is an example from the news:

Potential buyers of a country house which boasts its own racing stables are under starter’s orders in an online auction which ends next month.

The starting gun/ the starting pistol has been fired, and we need to come up with a solution immediately.

The starting gun has been fired in a brutal leadership contest.

Hurrying up

There is a plethora of expressions meaning ‘hurry up’, many of which are fairly colloquial. The common theme here is that the speaker is urging someone to do something or go somewhere. These are generally unsuitable in a conference situation, either because of context (they don’t describe the act of beginning to examine a document, say) or register.

Let’s get moving!

Let’s get going!

Get a move on!

Shake a leg!

And something you might say to family members or your children: Get a wriggle on! Chop chop!

Here is an example of a suitable context for these phrases:

We have to leave the house before 5 o’clock, or we’ll be late for the show. Let’s get going! (or: Shake a leg! Get a wriggle on! etc.)

If you want to watch some TV this afternoon, you need to do your homework first. Get a move on!

Wow! That was epic! I hope this post has given you plenty of ready-made solutions to use in meetings.

Interested in more material like this to help you boost your retour? Why not join my monthly membership site, Rock your Retour, with tailor-made written materials and weekly live group classes (online)?

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Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills.

If you’re interested in personal coaching, why not book a free discovery call?

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