About HELLO English
This blog is about HELLO English: a small but perfectly formed language school based in Birmingham, in the English Midlands.
We teach English to students of all stages and ages, and from all around the world.
Read about the lovely people who come to study with us, and how they overcome the problems that this weird and wonderful country throws at them.
Oh, and please add your thoughts and comments to our blogs.
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Excellent Viddy. Watch, Watch, Watch!
I love the English language – in all its quirky beauty and hair-splittingly hare-brained complexity but, as an English teacher, I am all too painfully aware of how difficult this fascinating social creation is for others to learn.
So, why is English so difficult to learn? Looked at from a philological point of view, I think there are many answers.
Actually, elementary ‘survival’ English, is not that hard to pick-up. That is to say, English at a level which corresponds to the average Brit’s grasp of Spanish. With a little preparation, and a handy phrasebook, it is not hard to ask the way to the airport, or order two beers, in any language.
The difficulty comes when you want to speak our language correctly, because English is one of the largest languages on earth, and also one of the most irregular.
That the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists 171,476 words in current use (plus 47,156 obsolete and 9,500 derivative words) simply underlines the size of the language, and this does not take into account entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective). To this you must add the technical and regional vocabularies and words not yet added to the published dictionary, giving a total approaching three quarters of a million.
With 750,000 words to play with, it is no wonder that overseas learners of English have problems unravelling the rules.
Meet the Vocabulary Ancestors
To do so, you really need to start by understanding what languages we are talking about.
In the United Kingdom, there is only one national language, Standard British English, but two autonomous regional languages: Welsh and Gaelic (both Irish and Scots varieties). The difference of these should never be discounted, as anyone who has been to North West Scotland or Wales will know, and English borrows from both quite freely (Loch, cairn or glen, anyone?).
Like all languages, English bears the imprint of its previous users. So, our national vocabulary includes words with Gothonic, Celtic, Gaelic, Latin, Saxon, Viking and Norman roots, but also loanwords from Russian, Hindi, Yiddish, French, German and, because the British got around quite a bit, almost every other language imaginable.
Because of our enduring relationships with some countries, though, we have borrowed from two or three cultures more than others. English shows its roots in Danish for many of the basics of life, the tell-tale traces of our long linguistic love-affair with France, and the influences of the post-colonial powerhouses of America, Australia and India.
Hell is Other People’s Language Patterns
As if this unmanageably various vocabulary weren’t enough, the learner also has the problem of seemingly unpredictable patterns in the way we speak.
This was caused by the differential adoption of pronunciation and grammar by different social groups and classes within British society, so that working words like ‘mallet’, ‘wallet’ and ‘billet’ have a distinctly English pronunciation while we keep a suitably French tone for a word like ‘ballet’.
The retention of donor language forms depends on how recently words were adopted, and by whom. Although pedants may quarrel over the pronunciation of ‘mater’ and ‘pater’, no-one argues about how to say the word ‘tree’ (Viking ‘tre’ related to the modern Danish ‘trae’), for example.
To understand these patterns, it helps to know the relative social status of the adoptees. The language of fine dining, for example, is predominantly French, and is still pronounced as close to the original as possible. This is as much about the education of those buying expensive meals – it was assumed that they would understand French – as it was about exclusivity and the exclusion of ‘undesirables’.
Creativity – Don’t you just hate it!
Every year the OED lists another few hundred words that have been coined by some journalist or cultural commentator. These wonderful new words are sometimes fly-by-night creations and are gone from the lexicon a decade later. Many stick, though, and become yet more for students to learn and puzzle over.
The leading new word this year is ‘Omnishambles’ – coined to cover a continuing and all-consuming cock-up, whether political or administrative. It has it roots in the biting political satire The Thick of It, and has since been used in Parliament to great effect.
For those learning English, creativity is a real obstacle to success. They want simple rules and they want speakers to stick to them. This requires prescriptive grammar and good teaching. (Something that HELLO English does extremely well, by the way!)
The Good News.
The good news is that, whether you are a serious linguist looking at a descriptive grammar or an English teacher with a more normative (prescriptive) approach, English does have simple rules. Just a lot of them.
But it is a language which keeps on giving, and the more that the student puts into learning, the more they will get… and the better grades they will eventually achieve.
And what of us – at HELLO English? Well, as native-speaking English teachers, we realise how lucky we are. We think we won first-prize in the lottery of language, and we are determined to share that good fortune with others.
Why not talk to us today about how we can help you improve your language skills – whether for university, A-levels or for general interest. Check out our website http://www.hello-english.co.uk or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out this business and professional English blog!
I recently saw this blog post. It is written by a newly graduated English teacher. Anyone who teaches English, or languages in general, would do well to have a look.
Teaching grammar doesn’t stifle creativity.
Katherine Brandt 1st July 2011
Although the rules of the English language are constantly changing and transforming, teaching grammar has great value in the school system because it gives students the background that they need to understand their language and use it effectively both in and out of the academic world.
By teaching grammar, educators provide students with the building blocks of language. When students understand each of the building blocks behind their language, they have a greater ability to communicate not only in their native tongue but also in other languages which employ similar building blocks, albeit in a different order.
Grammar is an important tool because people who do not understand it have difficulty communicating well, and as a result their ideas are often overlooked. Consider children who have yet to learn how to speak well or foreigners who misunderstand how to use prepositions or adjectives. For example, a Spanish-speaker learning English might say, “The sock red has a hole small.” Though people may understand sentences like this one, they might also need to make a conscious effort to achieve understanding.
Although the idea of the foreigner is an exaggerated example, students who understand the idiosyncrasies of English grammar will, in a much more subtle way, be able to control the voice, meaning, and level of formality with which they write. As a result, they will be able to write for an educated audience without the embarrassment of making obvious mistakes.
I have been able to see grammar’s importance in my own education. When I was a child, I attended a private elementary school where we were constantly drilled in grammar. We diagrammed sentences, learned parts of speech, and revised incorrect sentences time and again to master the language.
When I was twelve, my family moved, and I went to a public junior high school where the teaching of grammar was considered unimportant and indeed somewhat damaging to a child’s voice. Nevertheless, in my first month of class, my English teacher checked for students’ basic understanding of grammar. To my shock and dismay, I was the only person in the class who could recognize verbs and complete sentences. My peers consistently struggled with their essays because they had never been taught how to construct a complete idea within a sentence. They had been to school for seven years and could not write a simple sentence. I wondered what they had learned in all that time.
Imagine reading entire papers composed of fragments such as “When I went to the store.” These papers might convey meaning but certainly not in the way that the students intend – with clarity. From the time I entered the public school system, I was at the top of my class in English simply because I had been taught how to put words together correctly. As a result, my teachers could understand and respond to the ideas that I expressed in my papers. All children need to obtain at least a basic understanding of grammar in order to communicate effectively and meaningfully in the educated world.
Knowing grammar also gives students another advantage when it comes to learning foreign languages. When I first started taking Spanish, I had greater understanding simply because I knew some grammar. My teacher, in vain, explained how Spanish speakers position nouns and adjectives differently from English speakers; most of the students did not even know how to differentiate a noun from an adjective. On the other hand, I easily understood what she was explaining because I had been taught to identify parts of speech and their function within a sentence. The other students struggled and guessed their way through the course because every unit presented new parts of speech. Indefinite and definite articles, participles, and verbs were among the difficult concepts that they had not even learned in their native tongue.
I pity my peers who came from a system of those who have written off grammar as unimportant. I have heard these educators say that the study of grammar “stills the creative voice.” My personal experience has shown the contrary. Grammar has been my key to creativity because, with my basic knowledge of the language, I know how to coherently express my ideas so that others can appreciate them. I also know the building blocks to learning other languages which will only expand my creativity and not inhibit it.
It is time for educators to take a stand and teach children to use grammar well so that they may be able to participate both creatively and formally in the educated world. Even as we would not cripple architects by taking away the resources that they need to build beautiful buildings, so we should not cripple our young writers by refusing them grammatical knowledge. From a strong foundation in grammatical understanding will come better, stronger writers who will know how to use the tools educators give them to create beautiful and original writing.
Good IELTS* scores are needed for registration in many professions. In addition, similar proof of English proficiency is becoming a pre-requisite for post-graduate and even undergraduate courses at university in the United Kingdom.
So, how do you achieve Band 7 or above in the four elements of IELTS?
1. Be Realistic
The level of English that a score such as this represents is very high. To achieve marks in Speaking, Listening, Writing and Reading at this standard is no mean feat, and you should not expect to achieve this without a considerable amount of studying.
If you are starting as a Lower Intermediate Learner, and aiming for Band 7, you should allow for 6-12 months tuition. This does not have to be full-time, but should be at least 3 hours per week: ideally as two 90 minute lessons.
2. Control the Variables
Exams can be stressful, so it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the testing centre and the requirements of the test, considering all aspects of the tasks involved. This is just common sense. If you can control the variable elements in a stressful situation, you will reduce the risk of confusion when it comes to the exam.
3. Consume More English
No-one is going to seriously improve their English if they do not listen, read, write and speak in English regularly. It is no good just coming to lessons once a week. You should also be listening to BBC Radio 4, reading books and newspapers, writing and interpreting information from a range of sources in English. If you are not prepared to do that, you will be spending a lot of money on exam re-takes!
4. Use BE not IE!
Some students say ‘I speak International English, not British English.’ Fine: but there are no exams in ‘International English’. IELTS is an exam which, in this country, tests skills in British Standard English. If you want to pass IELTS, you will have to learn to use English the way we do over here. Sorry, but there it is.
5. Think Academic
IELTS has two modes: the basic and the academic. Levels 5 and upwards are only awarded for the Academic form of the exam. If you want to gain Band 6 or 7 scores, you will need to be able to think and write in good academic English. Although this may sound like a a contradiction in terms, it is not. Clear, crisp written English will be of tremendous importance to your academic career. This is a skill which you will learn through practice with a good English academic.
6. Get a Good Teacher!
Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? At HELLO English, we are very experienced at helping students pass the IELTS exams so that they can fulfil their dreams and ambitions. We offer IELTS classes to undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as pre-registration medics, nurses, lawyers and other professionals.
Could we help you to gain high scores in the IELTS exam? With hard work from both of us, I am sure we could. Why not contact us to find out more?
* The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is rapidly becoming the default requirement for proof of English skills in the professional and academic world.
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.
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:
b) to appropriate
e) fancy dress
f) first floor
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.