Labouring over ‘labourers’

Some people claim that working hours for labours in factories are too long.

Indonesian flag Here an Indonesian student is trying to find a synonym for ‘worker‘. Unfortunately the hierarchy of ‘work‘ is labelled differently in English.

In English a ‘labourer‘ (‘labour‘ + ‘er‘) does work that distinguish him or her from other kinds of worker:

  • Labourers are usually unskilled.
  • Labourers often have to use physical strength because their work requires them to lift and carry things.
  • The work of labourers is generally outdoor work.
  • Labouring is often dirty work.
  • Labouring is not very well paid in most countries.

Here are some pictures of ‘labourers.

If you want to use a synonym for ‘worker’ then try to consider:

  • where the work takes place
  • the level of skill involved
  • the salary it attracts

These considerations will lead you to a more accurate label for the work you are talking or writing about. In IELTS a more accurate label is also likely to get you a higher score for Lexical Resource (vocabulary).

This dictionary entry offers a wide selection of labels for different kinds of work.

Other word forms and idioms

Labourer – the person (countable)

Labour – noun (uncountable, abstract meaning)

Labour – verb

Laborious – adjective (Sometimes skilled work can be ‘laborious’, especially if it requires physical effort or is repetitive).

Hard labour – A form of punishment used by tyrannical governments, often for political prisoners. If my work feels like hard labour, it’s very hard work!

In labour – Giving birth!

Labour over something – Work extra hard at a task.

When ‘existence’ should not exist

Some people believe that the existence of machines helps to generate more profit than loss.

Indonesian flag This is a common translation problem for Indonesians. Keberadaan!

In English it is automatically assumed that things and people exist, unless otherwise stated.

  • Some people believe that machines help to generate more profit than loss.
  • Some people believe that the absence of machines can result in losses.

Incidentally, can anyone guess the names of the couple in the cover photo for this post, and why were they chosen? Comments below!

Humans are usually redundant

In conclusion, long working hours are necessary for human beings.

Indonesian flag I’m guessing this may be a cultural issue.

Let’s try a quick test. Which of the following sentences is NOT about working hours and humans?

  1. Long working hours are necessary for human beings.
  2. Long working hours are necessary.
  3. Long working hours are necessary for ants.

Hopefully you chose number 3. In any discussion of working hours, and indeed of many other topics, we’re usually talking about human beings, unless otherwise specified.

The only time we really need to mention humans is when we’re contrasting them with non-humans!

Ethnic(ity)

Different ethnics will have different languages to communicate.

Indonesian flag This is one of those situations where the English word has been borrowed and its use altered. In this case what was in English an adjective has been turned into a noun.

English offers two word forms – ethnic (adjective), ethnicity (noun):

  • Different ethnic groups will have different languages to communicate.
  • People with different ethnicity will have different languages to communicate.

And by the way, how exactly do you describe your own ethnicity? Comments below!

Are the benefits benefitial?

Constructing impressive buildings benefits more for visitors than local people.

Indonesian flag This is another word that often gets at least partly lost in translation. Let’s look at some possible improvements.

Benefit – verb

  • Constructing impressive buildings benefits visitors more than local people.

The verb ‘benefit‘ is transitive, no preposition. Notice the position of ‘more‘ in the comparison!

Beneficial – adjective

  • Constructing impressive buildings is more beneficial for visitors than for local people.

The adjective ‘beneficial’ may be followed by a preposition phrase – usually ‘beneficial + for‘ (except “When attempting to lose weight it is more beneficial to exercise than to diet.“).

Without a comparative you might also write:

  • Constructing impressive buildings is beneficial.

Benefit – noun

  • The benefits to visitors of constructing impressive buildings are greater than the benefits to local people.

The noun ‘benefit‘ – when applied to people (visitors) – is followed by ‘to‘.
When applied to things (constructing impressive buildings) it is followed by ‘of‘.

(And) besides

Search features help shoppers to find what they’re looking for. Besides, online shopping offers customers various payment methods.

Besides…
And besides…

These are often used inaccurately as they don’t translate well from other languages.

Besides

Let’s use besides to modify the following argument:

  • I don’t think we should go to the cinema tonight. First of all I don’t like the film. Secondly, there is an unusual amount of traffic in town. Finally, we don’t have any money.

Here there are three supports for not wanting to see the film:

  1. I don’t like the film.
  2. The traffic in town is heavy.
  3. We don’t have any money.

The same argument could be expressed using besides, as follows:

  • I don’t think we should go to the cinema tonight. Besides not liking the film and the unusual amount of traffic in town, we don’t have any money.

The second sentence (the supports) can be represented:

  • Besides + claim(s) [expressed as noun phrases] + , + final claim [expressed as a sentence].

In this case ‘besides‘ simply means ‘as well as‘.

And besides

Here the meaning is a little different:

  • I don’t think we should go to the cinema tonight. First of all I don’t like the film. Secondly, there is an unusual amount of traffic in town. And besides, we don’t have any money.

The claim introduced by and besides is much stronger than the preceding claims. In fact, it is so strong that it is really not necessary to consider the previous claims. If we have no money, then there’s no way we can go to the cinema!

Again, it’s useful to diagram the structure:

  • Weak claim(s) + And besides + very strong (and final!) claim

Here the meaning is more than just ‘as well as‘. ‘And besides‘ introduces a very powerful claim that makes all other preceding claims redundant.

The use of ‘usage’

The usage of technology is very important to learn effectively.

OK this is a tricky one. I’ve searched online for an answer but could find only one that is useful for IELTS candidates and EAP students. I’m going to borrow heavily from this person’s post. Unfortunately I cannot include an attribution because link added to the post is no longer active.

When we refer to word usage, we might be talking about how much of a thing is used or has been used. This is usually in the context of fuel consumption:

  • Darling our electricity bill was huge this month. We really must cut down on our usage!

In language learning, meanwhile, we use usage when we’re talking about the conventions for using words:

  • This text describes the principles of word usage.

By ‘conventional’ use, we mean:

  • how a word is conventionally used in a certain communicative context
  • how a word is conventionally used next to other words in a sentence
  • how the same word is conventionally used in a particular language (The Indonesian meaning of ‘convenient‘ is not quite the same as the English meaning.)

When we refer to ‘use of words’, we mean only the employment of words:

  • He is noted for his frequent use of wrong words.

People frequently use usage when they should use use. The noun usage should not be substituted for use when the meaning is ‘the employment of’ – even if you think it sounds more sophisticated.

Neither of the following is correct:

  • The wise usage of computers saved the company money.
  • Usage of insulation can save fuel.

In both of these examples, use is the appropriate word.

Returning to our opening example, we need:

  • The use of technology is very important to learn effectively.

usage

Even better, avoid ‘use‘ altogether and begin with a more coherent theme:

  • Technology plays an important role in effective learning.
  • Learning is more effective with the help of technology.

Incidentally people also write utilisation when they mean use. That’s another one likely to get you into trouble, so just avoid it. Use is all you need!

To show purpose, that’s why!

I would like to study abroad one more time, especially for achieving a doctoral degree.

Indonesian flag This is an Indonesian translation for ‘untuk‘ as a way to explain purpose.

In English the answer to this kind of ‘why‘ question is nearly always ‘to + V1‘:

  • I would like to study abroad one more time, especially to achieve a doctoral degree.

Questions that focus on purpose include:

  • Why do you want to..?
  • Why did you..?
  • What did you (do that) for?

The answers will always contain ‘to + v1..’ – what is referred to as ‘the infinitive of purpose‘.

For + noun‘ is used to explain some kind of function:

A: What’s that machine for?
B: It’s for pounding rice. (function)
A. Oh. I see. But why use a machine?
B. Maybe to save time. (purpose)
A. Ah. Right.

Indonesian flag Indonesians – next time you want to translate ‘untuk‘, stop and think. Are you talking about function or purpose?

When is a school not a school?

I have also been a teacher in one of high schools in Padang.

Indonesian flag This is a common mistake made by Indonesians desperate to translate ‘salah satu‘ or maybe ‘sebuah‘.

In English, when we want to communicate one of many, we use the indefinite article ‘a/an‘:

  • I have also been a teacher at a high school in Padang.

This is sometimes called generic reference. The school in the example is not a particular school – we don’t yet know the name of the school, its address, etc. So far we’re just imagining a typical school. The image of the school in the writer’s mind will not be exactly the same as the image of the school in the reader’s mind, and that doesn’t matter.

I might use ‘one of‘ if I’m introducing more specific information about ‘a‘ school. For example:

  • There are many schools in Padang. One of them is close to my house.
    (information about the location of the school)
  • Only one of the schools in Padang offers an international curriculum.
    (information about the curriculum of the school)
  • I studied at one of the best schools in Padang.
    (information about the quality of the school)

Notice also that ‘one of‘ is followed by certain words, in particular:

  • the / them (pronouns)
  • these / those (demonstratives)
  • my/his/their (possessives)
  • superlative adjectives

For more examples, click here.

As a general rule – if you’re talking generally (generically!), use ‘a/an‘ for countable nouns. For uncountable nouns use ‘some‘.

Not everything is ‘convenient’

Physical shops are more convenient than online stores. Firstly, in physical shops customers are able to touch goods and try on clothes. Secondly, shopping in physical shops can be a social activity.

There is a category of physical store aptly named ‘convenience stores‘. Many countries have 7 Elevens. In Indonesia we have Indomaret, Alfamart and Circle K.

Indonesian flag Indonesians might call a shop that sells everything at a low price ‘convenient‘. However, the prices in convenience stores like Circle K can be quite a lot higher than average. These shops inflate prices precisely so that they can offer ‘conveniences‘:

  • they are numerous, especially in cities
  • they have ample parking if they are situated on a road
  • they can even be found inside large shopping centres
  • they stock items that most people need on a daily basis
  • they provide fast and efficient service

These are all features that native English speakers would consider ‘convenient‘. In English something is ‘convenient‘ when it saves you time and effort. Being able to touch goods is not a matter of ‘convenience‘. It may be practical, but it is not what most people would call ‘convenient‘, and neither is meeting your friends when you go to physical stores.

For your convenience, here are some definitions of ‘convenience’, as well as some pictures of convenient things.