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English Detective #27, Better Work Through Better Motivation: December 3, 2013
December 02, 2013

What motivates you, or makes you want to do your very best? Two researchers discuss recent experiments on work and motivation. Their findings go against what a lot of employers assume. Making changes based on their findings could lead to a big increase in productivity, as well as in happiness.

After watching and reading Dan Pink’s talk on what scientists know about motivation (and what businesses need to understand), try a comprehension test to see how much you understood. The video of the talk and a link to the written transcript are both on that page.

It also includes a discussion of two useful idioms: “Thinking outside the box” (see the last paragraph before question 1), and a “knock-out”—see question 12.

If you teach ESL, you might also be interested in the high intermediate lesson plan I wrote for this talk (including warm-up questions, vocabulary practice, listening, reading, and discussion, and then a 12-question comprehension test.) The link is to an EnglishHints page with the suggested plan. You can download a pdf copy of the plan, warm-up questions, and/or quiz from the page.

The second TED talk is about the huge difference a positive attitude can make in our lives. As Shawn Achor points out, psychologists have confirmed that happiness enables better work and more success, not the other way around. Many of us, at least in the U.S., have grown up thinking that if we can just work hard enough to succeed, we will be happy. He says this is backward. Not only can happiness help us succeed (among other reasons by releasing brain chemicals that make it easier to learn), but when we succeed, we often immediately focus on another goal, missing the happiness we thought we would find.

This 12-minute talk is VERY fast. I suggest you read it through first-- or at least don’t worry if you cannot understand all he’s saying the first time you listen. It’s worth reading and listening two or three times, both for the English and for the ideas he shares. At the end of his talk he shows a slide with a few simple activities—just minutes a day for a month—that can cause a real change in attitude and your happiness levels.

Click here for the talk on happiness and better work.

After the vocabulary list, you can find a discussion of words made using the prefix “auto-.”

Your First Clue: Vocabulary we’ll Emphasize in this Issue

Review (AWL) vocabulary: attach, automatic, confirm, incentive, intelligent, intrinsic, motivation, norms, ratio, retain, reverse, stress, trend.

New words (not on the Academic Word List): autonomy, extrinsic, mismatch, performance.

Notice how these words are used in the readings and practice activities. Then try to use some of them yourself, in a sentence or two. See if you recognize them when you read them again.

A few notes about the new vocabulary:

For ‘automatic’ and ‘autonomy’ see Word Family Investigator below.

‘To confirm’ is to show that something is correct or going to happen. When we call to confirm an airline ticket, we let the airline know that we intend to be on that flight, and they confirm that they still plan for that flight to leave as scheduled. People confirm an appointment, an agreement, or a commitment. It is an assurance that the plans have not changed and each side will do as agreed. Reporters should get confirmation of a story— make sure their information is correct-- before they present it as a fact.

‘Intelligent’ means smart— able to think well and solve problems.

A ‘ratio’ is the relationship between two things, comparing their proportions in size or numbers. You can talk about the ratio of soldiers to civilians in a country (the proportion of the population that is in the military compared to those who are not) or the ratio of literate people to illiterates (the higher the better for a society.)

To ‘retain’ is to keep something. (The noun is ‘retention,’ and the adjective is ‘retentive.’)

‘Stress’ is a feeling of pressure. If someone has too much to do or needs to finish something in less time than they need to do it all, we say they are ‘stressed’ or ‘in a stressful situation.’ ‘To stress’ is to put emphasis on an idea or syllable. (In English, the vowels in unstressed syllables make an neutral sound called a ‘schwa.’)

A ‘trend’ is the direction of change in some area of life. We often talk about fashion trends (what’s popular at the moment, and becoming more popular.) However, there are also trends in politics, education, and even the weather: whatever is becoming more popular or stronger at the moment. Trends are temporary. Something that is ‘trendy’ right now may be old-fashioned or forgotten in a few years— or even months.

The rest of the vocabulary is well-covered in the TED talks or Comprehension Test.

Word Family Investigator:

‘Auto’ is Greek for ‘self.’ A number of words in English start with auto, including autocrat (ruling alone, by oneself), autograph (writing something oneself), automobile (a vehicle able to move by itself.)

To automate something is to cause it to work by itself, so automation is producing machines that don’t need people to control or guide them. We talk about automatic weapons, that don’t need to be re-loaded before firing again, and automatic vehicles, that shift gears by themselves. When something is a habit, we may do it automatically— without thinking about it.

Autonomy is independence (literally living by one’s own law.) The autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that functions without conscious thought, and regulates things like breathing and heartbeat.

Mystery Phrases:

“Thinking outside the box” means considering things that are not obvious and finding unexpected connections. It involves right-brain, creative thinking, not logical analysis.

A “knock out” is a complete victory, leaving no doubt. It comes from boxing. If a boxer can “knock” his opponent “out” (hit him so hard he becomes unconscious), he wins immediately.

For more on both expressions, see the comprehension test mentioned at the beginning of this newsletter.

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Coming in the next issue: How our Brains Process Language

In case you missed these: Earlier issues of English Detective have articles on a number of topics, plus practice with all 570 words from the Academic Word List. You can check them out with the link to the back issues page below (or find what words were practiced each issue here. or here for the most recent issues.

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