Hi. I’m Anil Yadav.
First about the website and then about me.
About Lemon Grad
The website, annually visited by more than 3 million learners from over 190 countries, is primarily focused on writing in English and topics that support writing (grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, and figurative language). That’s why, you’ll find that most blog posts on this website, towards their end, explain how the topic of the post helps writing. Most blog posts also contain real-world examples so that you can associate even a seemingly arcane topic with its real-world use.
Despite boom in videos of all types, writing continues to hold sway. Be it school, college, or work place, it’s hard to escape writing, which can pull us in any form: email, essay, report, proposal, petition, memo, cover letter, resume, blog post, answer, social media post, and so on. With growth in social media and other platforms, its importance has in fact risen: People have now more avenues for self-expression. If you’ve basics sorted – writing variety of sentences to form cogent paragraphs – different forms of writing don’t mean much. You can study the format of, say a cover letter, and off you’ll be with your cover letter in no time. But someone who lacks basics will struggle with all forms.
Lack of good writing skill forces many to lift content from the internet, which can not only get them in trouble for plagiarism but also results in mediocre output because many others are copying the same stuff.
Lack of good writing skill forces many to use the same outreach email (for admission to college, job, sales pitch, etc.) for multiple targets and not use customized emails, resulting in generic message which stands little chance in a competitive process.
Lack of good writing skill results in emails not being read beyond first few lines, leaving many wonder why they get only one positive response in hundred attempts.
Lack of good writing skill makes you dependent on others, at least in important matters. And conversely, good writing skill makes you sought after because so few can write error-free, let alone well (far fewer can write well than speak well in English).
Lack of good writing skill prevents you from publishing your views, say through an article, on platforms where the bar is high, stifling your desire to propagate your views, network with people, and be known.
But none of these has to be.
My first serious brush with writing came while reviewing and improving others’ writing during my work as an admission consultant. In this role, I’ve worked with hundreds of applicants to renowned North American and European MBA programs such as HBS, Stanford, Chicago Booth, MIT, London Business School, and INSEAD. Highly competitive, the admission process to these schools involves significant amount of writing in the form of essays, resume, and other communication. Here are two successful essays (essay 1 and essay 2), in case you’re wondering what they’re like.
The applicants are no average Joes. Many of them work at the biggest names in their industries. (For the uninitiated, applicants to these MBA programs usually have 4-6 years of work experience.) But their writing needs intervention, sometimes significant. And to make those interventions credibly and correctly, I had to up my own skills, which I did mainly by scouring books such as Elements of Style by Strunk and White, a required book in my MBA program.
That was the beginning. As I tasted some success, I got drawn into the topic of writing, embarking on a journey to not just learn but also teach. I went through articles, books, courses, real-world writing, and… what not to learn underlying fundamentals of grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, figurative language, composition, curriculum design, assessment, and so on. I even did a TESOL certificate program by Arizona State University, but nothing matches real-world experience.
In the real world, I dissected – and still do – impressive sentences from popular books and dailies such as NYT, Washington Post, and The Guardian to understand how they’ve been constructed from the elements we learn in grammar and punctuation. (In the process, I’ve also critiqued punctuation of prominent publications, organizations, and personalities and grammar books from popular publishers.) I developed curriculum on communication skills – written and verbal – and trained faculty members and taught few batches of students at a national-level college with twelve campuses. The curriculum included writing from ground up: sentences, paragraphs, and full-blown pieces such as essays, emails, and reports. Besides, I’ve also taught writing and oral communication skills to students from Grade 6 to Grade 12.
During this journey, I’ve run quite a few experiments in learning as well as teaching. The two major ones in learning have been bulking up active vocabulary and improving pronunciation.
My endeavor to improve my own vocabulary and pronunciation
I built a massive active vocabulary and lapped up almost all words I was prone to mispronounce. (For those who don’t know what active and passive vocabulary is, passive vocabulary is the one you can understand while reading and listening, but can’t use in speech and writing. Active vocabulary, in contrast, is the one you can not only understand but also use in speech and writing. As you might have guessed, active vocabulary matters much more.)
In both the endeavors, besides following what studies recommend as best practices, I added my own nuances to achieve high retention. In pronunciation, for example, my retention has been 95+ percent even after two years and so effective that I can catch mispronunciations even in polished speakers without consciously focusing on their pronunciation, a sign of deep embedding. I’ve seen high retention rates in pronunciation among students, even though they didn’t show the required discipline.
I’ve detailed these experiences here:
As you can see, the volume (8,000+ and 3,400+) was huge, but anyone can pull it off with discipline. If you want to undertake any of these endeavors at whatever volume you want, I can tell you from my experience that acing pronunciation is far easier than building active vocabulary.
Few of my observations
1. Grammar has less role in writing than most think
Grammar has less role in writing than most people think, and grammar has much, much less role in speaking than most people think. And a significant part of what is required can be taught as chunks without using grammatical terms.
2. Grammar is not an end in itself
Many see grammar as an end in itself. In reality, it’s only a means primarily to read and write and secondarily to speak. In the real world, people look at your communication (writing and speaking) – and not grammar. If you write well, you’ll be good in grammar. But vice versa is not necessarily true.
3. Far, far more people stand out negatively in writing than in speaking
Far, far more people stand out negatively in writing than in speaking. (It’s just that most aren’t aware.) One reason, as explained in point #9, is that writing is intrinsically more challenging than speaking. Second reason is that writing, unlike speaking which is transient, is captured in hard or soft copy and hence attracts greater scrutiny.
4. Very, very few can use comma correctly
Very, very few can use comma correctly outside its few routine uses. Even reputed news dailies err on this count, this being an example: The mishap, which happened at around 11.45 pm has been captured on a CCTV camera installed outside a shop in the market. As it’s the most-used punctuation mark, any improvement in its use can bring disproportionate benefit to your writing.
5. Regular readers are better writers. (We all know that, isn’t it?)
Regular readers are better writers. (We all know that, isn’t it?) That’s because, over a period of time, they subconsciously pick few patterns and rules, one of the most common being -ing appendage at the end of a sentence. What I’ve seen is that subconscious absorption sometimes leads to half-knowledge, leading to hits as well misses. In other words, regular readers take risks in writing more advanced sentences that they’ve gained through subconscious absorption, but they get some right and some wrong. Because they already have a feel for advanced sentences, they, as compared to non-readers, can quickly improve their writing with little intervention.
To give a parallel from vocabulary-building, Norman Lewis in his book Word Power Made Easy mentions that ‘adults who are no longer attending school increase their vocabularies at a pace slower than twenty-five to fifty words annually’, which is a sharp contrast to many hundreds a year by ten-year-olds. Why? Adults accumulate words subconsciously; kids, purposely.
6. Regular readers have better vocabulary, but…
Regular readers have better vocabulary, but reading benefits their passive vocabulary much more than their active vocabulary. Noticeable difference to active vocabulary can be brought about mainly through deliberate effort.
7. Images can be a powerful tool to teach grammar, vocabulary, and writing
I’ve used images to learn and teach vocabulary and writing. It’s an excellent way to take theory close to reality, making what you learn usable.
8. Almost all non-native speakers mispronounce
Almost all non-native speakers mispronounce, degree varying of course. We all learn pronunciation mainly by absorbing what’s being said around us, but (no prizes for guessing!) non-native environments abound in mispronunciations, which are absorbed and then passed on. The biggest challenge people face in improving pronunciation is to know what words they mispronounce.
9. Most non-native speakers struggle to speak in English not because English is challenging
The main reason why most non-native speakers struggle to speak in English, despite badly wanting to, is lack of regular speaking – even if it’s for ten minutes a day – over several months. And the main reason for not speaking regularly is not grammatical incompetence. The main reasons are lack of non-judgmental environment, peer pressure, and fear of making mistakes, each of which can be overcome or bypassed with little effort.
(From pure grammatical perspective, speaking is far easier than writing. Speaking requires simpler sentences and allows for repetitions, fillers, and fragments, which are frowned upon in writing. Writing, on the other hand, is rule- and convention-based. Evidence in this regard is provided by underwhelming writing skills of grades 8 and 12 American students (only about quarter perform at proficient level), almost all of whom can speak English fluently because it’s the first language for almost all of them.)
Outside work, I’m an adventure-travel enthusiast. I’ve traveled on roads-less-traveled (literally because, among others, it includes loneliest road in U.S.), trekked in Himalayas, and camped in dense forests. I believe you can learn plenty by travel in general and offbeat travel in particular. Few lessons from some of my memorable trips are: