Category Archives: Language Learning

Two Nations Divided

It is often said that Great Britain and America are ‘two nations divided by a common language’: a saying usually attributed to one of two Irishmen: Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw, although it is found in neither’s published works.

Cover of "Pygmalion (Enriched Classics Se...

Cover of GB Shaw’s Pygmalion

Shaw’s sentiments are famously paraphrased in the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ – a reworking of his ‘Pygmalion’ – when Professor Higgins concludes that in America they haven’t spoken English for years. This is an exaggeration to make a point, of course, but we do have different vocabulary and this can cause problems.

NAmE is an acronym standing for North American English. What with Hollywood movies, the Web, and Word on our computers, we’re becoming more familiar with US version of English, but it’s still easy to get it wrong.

Most of us know about problem words like ‘pants’ or ‘ass’, but what about ‘parking’? In America that can also mean “romantic intimacy in a parked car”.

So see if you can avoid social or business embarrassment with these; give their US meanings:

a) AA
b) to appropriate
c) casket
d) compensation
e) fancy dress
f) first floor
g) graft
h) hoo-ha
i) lavatory
j) napkin
k) pud
l) spook
m) to table
n) to tap
o) through (as in “It’s open through lunch.”)
p) to wash up

Click on this link to see how well you did.

God save the Queen’s English

God save the Queen’s English.

via God save the Queen’s English.

Getting it Write.

Getting it Write: Six tips for better English essays

No matter what level of student you are – from beginner through to doctoral candidate – there will come a time when you have to sit down and write. No more scruffy note-taking and no more background reading: the time is now and your seat is waiting at the desk.

So, what is it that stops you from starting? Why do you dither, prevaricate, procrastinate?

Could it be that you make mistakes that others see when you can’t? How do you feel about English grammar? Does writing give you the jitters, collywobbles and screaming abdabs?

Well, here are six simple tips for how to control your fears, reduce uncertainty and get better marks in English written tasks.

Did I mention the evil word ‘grammar’? It is guaranteed to strike fear into the students across the continents. My EFL students assume (wrongly) that they are the only ones who need to be concerned about grammar. Everyone should be. Without it, meaning runs amok.

We need grammar, punctuation and syntax (word order to you and me), to make those funny squiggly things sit in the right sequence and mean what we want them to mean. For that is what it is all about, in the end: controlling meaning. If you don’t master meaning it will govern you … and ruin your writing.

So my six simple tips will put you in control. Believe me, they correct the mistakes that most irritate examiners, so they are really worth knowing.

  1. Spell it Write
    No Good at Spelling? Tough. There is no excuse. You MUST spell correctly.
    Lots of English people are absolutely dreadful at spelling and refuse to improve their language skills because it is ‘too much effort’. They should see how hard my EFL students work.
    You can beef up your spelling by working at it, too. Use cue cards and vocabulary-builder exercises. Memorise pronunciation and spelling patterns. Get friends to give you spelling tests or dictation exercises.
    Hard work pays off with spelling. (Spellchecker on the computer doesn’t.)
    Read more, read differently, and look up words you don’t know. You will expand your vocabulary, increase your spelling accuracy and learn a host of useful new words.
  2. Join the Dots
    Learn the ‘dos and don’ts’ of the dots: the simple rules of punctuation.
    Capitals start a sentence and proper nouns. Full stops end a sentence or abbreviations. Use a question mark after a question and an exclamation mark after something really exciting, shocking or unusual. Commas break up the parts of a sentence, or separate examples or items on a list. Apostrophes show omission or possession: don’t use them for simple plurals.
    If you can follow these simple rules, you will avoid the main mistakes of punctuation, make your teacher more optimistic and examiners better disposed to give you good marks.
  3. To ing or not to ing
    A frequent mistake in student writing is the use of a gerund (walking) instead of an infinitive (to walk). For example, ‘I want walking’ rather than ‘I want to walk’.
    The rule is that we use the infinitive after emotional verbs (I was happy to help) and adjectives (It is too cold to swim), and the gerund for the subject of the sentence (Swimming is good exercise) or after a preposition (without saying a word).
    You’ll need to check your grammar book, but it is worth sorting this out now.
  4. Right that Article
    If I had a Zimbabwean penny for each time I have had to correct errors with the use of articles (or ‘adjectival articles’ as some call them), I would be able to retire comfortably on the proceeds. You need to remember that there are four uses of article: Definite (the), indefinite (a/an) and the zero article, where no article is used. Learning how and when to use each of these forms is key to writing well in English.
  5. Repetition
    This is really a matter of style and vocabulary. There are upwards of 600,000 words in English, so it is considered bad manners to keep on repeating the same word, whether in writing or conversation. With so many words to choose from, there will be a variety of nouns and pronouns you can use to avoid repetition.
  6. Are You In Tense?
    The last of our keys to quality in written English is maintaining consistency in the person and tense you use. It is too easy to slip-slide around in time and number: starting your writing as I/me in the simple past tense, but then talking about he/him, in the present continuous. You must stay in the same person and tense.
    If you are unsure of moving forward and backwards in your writing, stick with one tense per sentence and use simple grammatical constructions. Once you are more confident with working solely in the simple past, say, move on to using other tenses separately. Only when you can do that properly should you start combining tenses in more sophisticated sentence structures.

Of course, this is just a glimpse of what to watch out for in your own or your students’ writing. For a fuller picture, and for a thoroughly expert grounding in English, you should come to HELLO English – our independent language school based in Moseley, in the English Midlands.

At HELLO English (www.hello-english.com), we have classes and worksheets aplenty on all these failings. Among the range of courses we offer, we can help you with your academic writing and written English, and you can choose from our General English (GEC), Pre University Package (PUP) or various A-level, Cambridge and IELTS programmes.

Why not contact us today for more information?

Finding the right course…

The west end of King's College Chapel seen fro...

King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

English Courses in England – What is Available?
As can be expected the UK has more English language courses than anywhere in the world. No matter what you level there is a course for you.

The selection ranges from beginners through to advanced, business and academic or vocational use.

Most English language courses in the UK do not have academic entry requirements, so there really is nothing to stop you from studying English in the UK.

So exactly what English language courses are available?

General English Courses: These courses are available at all levels and are aimed at improving general day-to-day English. You will work on grammar, vocabulary and colloquial English, focusing primarily on speaking, pronunciation and listening allowing you to achieve greater English fluency.
See http://www.hello-english.com for more details

English for Academic Purposes: These courses are designed for students who are enrolled on university courses in the UK. They help students develop the language skills necessary to take notes, write essays, and understand academic journals. Some courses will also help students develop subject-specific vocabulary.
Check http://www.english4professionals.co.uk/e4education/ for academic English.

Study Support: These courses are designed to help students who are currently studying in the UK who have solid English language skills but require a few hours a week guidance to improve their study skills.
Contact Neil on contact@hello-english.co.uk for study and research support.

Business English: These courses are aimed at students who want to develop their English skills for a specific industry, such as business, economics, finance, tourism or law. They enable students to communicate effectively and operate professionally within these sectors by developing vocabulary, report writing and delivering presentations.
See http://www.english4professionals.co.uk/e4business/ for more details of business-focused courses.

English Exam Preparation Courses: These can be residential or non-residential. They can be short, high-intensity ‘cramming’ courses or longer with only one or two hours per week. Either way, they will help you to prepare for IELTS, A-levels resist, IGCSE, Cambridge First, Advanced or Proficiency exams.
For  information on exam preparation courses,  contact info@hello-english.com

Summer Courses: There are several summer courses during the longer summer and Easter breaks that allow students the fantastic opportunity of studying and learning English while also enjoying a holiday. These summer courses really complement students’ English language development and also help students to develop social skills through activities such as sport and sightseeing. For more information about HELLO Homestay English courses, contact Pauline via contact@hello-english.co.uk

Did You Know?

Knowledge of English as a foreign and second l...

Knowledge of English in the EU

In Sweden, Holland and Denmark, between 80% & 90% of the population can speak English?

How’s your Danish?

Did you know that:

  • Only 6% of the world’s population speak English as a mother tongue
  • 3 out of 4 people, across the world, know no English at all?
  • 75% of people in Britain think everyone should speak a foreign language
  • Only one in three Brits actually does.
  • The UK could double trade with Europe if we spoke their languages.

Languages are important and so is our ability to speak them: for trade, for communication, for safety, for humanity.

Contact HELLO! Languages for more information about how we can help!

Language Mismatch

Why doesn’t the language we learn in class match what we hear in the street?

This is a serious problem for learners of English and one of the most common questions faced by EFL teachers.

There are many answers. Including:

  • Because my teaching is very old-fashioned,
  • Because I am using poorly prepared materials,
    or
  • Because we don’t really bother to think things through when we are preparing our courses!

None of these would apply to classes at HELLO! – Learning English in the Heart of England, where classes are well-thought-through, relevant to modern usage and tailormade for your individual linguistic and personal needs.

While there is a grain of truth in the above – in other institutions, I hasten to add – the real reason is, of course, that courses tend to be taught prescriptively, because it is simpler. This uses an approach which says: “Say it like this. This is the correct way.”

It requires a great deal of pedagogic experience and linguistic understanding to design courses using an approach that is both clear, descriptive and up-to-date.

That is what we try to do at HELLO! in Birmingham.

We think it works. Thankfully, so do our students!