Tag Archives: Business English

Why is English so Hard to Learn?

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.

Size Matters

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 contact@hello-english.co.uk

What Price Professional English?

What Price Professional English?

Check out this business and professional English blog!

Unleash your inner Viking.

Get to know a friendly Viking!

Danish Delights

Although I spend my working days teaching the delights of English, I often find myself referring to Danish in order to explain the quirks of the English language.

At school, I learnt Latin and French; at university, Old and Middle English. Along the way, to a greater or lesser extent, I have picked-up bits of Hindi, Hebrew, Danish, Swedish, Spanish and Italian. So, why is Danish – my Viking touchstone – so important?

Well, I think that Danish should be taught in England as a mandatory foreign language not just for historical and etymological reasons, but because it is so useful, and simple.

Simplicity

Unlike most languages we learn, Danish doesn’t have a difficult grammatical structure, there are no case-endings or weird irregularities, and many of the words are pretty familiar to a native English speaker. Almost all our vocabulary for the home, the family, farming or fishing, for example, has Danish roots and most are actually the same word, albeit pronounced slightly differently.

Which brings us to the one slightly difficult bit of this proposition: the pronunciation of Danish.

Danes will themselves admit that Danish is not so much a language as a throat sickness. For those of us raised on and accustomed to English, the articulation of Danish – which is further back in the throat – can sound a little akin to gargling.

This is often highlighted by the danes themselves, when they invite visitors to pronounce the name of a delicious redcurrant dessert, served with cream ‘Rødgrød med fløde‘, which is, of course, nearly unpronounceable for ordinary mortals.

Once this skill is mastered, however, the language is simple, clear and a delight to use.

Useful

Now, let’s be honest, there is no answer known to man that will persuade a truculent teenager of the utility of learning another language, but for calmer heads, the human and financial advantages are clear.

So, at a time when they might be learning Chinese, Arabic or Russian (1.6 billion speakers worldwide), why am I suggesting that we should encourage our children to learn Danish (estimated speakers 6 million)?

We will not gain a vast Viking export market, that’s certain. But, do we only learn languages in order to boost foreign trade?  Surely not? One of the most important roles for language learning is to enhance friendship  between nations and for us to expand our capacity to think and imagine in ways that are not possible within the confines of our own language. This is something we need to do.

We have so much to learn from the humanitarian and democratic societies that lies across the North Sea. Whether we are talking about Denmark, Norway or Sweden, these are countries that have been wise about their economies when we have been merely greedy, and have invested sensibly for their futures in their people and their skills. Shouldn’t we be learning more from them?

Apart from French, which is unsuccessfully drummed into most of us from an early age, Denmark is not only geographically close to us, it is our nearest linguistic neighbour. But French is – like English – a confoundedly complex and irregular language to learn.

As Britons, we have been dreadful at teaching foreign languages. So bad, in fact, that we have the worst record among the developed world, even when we have tried to teach children European languages which use the same alphabet, like French, German and Spanish.

How do we think we will do when we try to introduce the xenophobic and lazy linguists in our schools to Mandarin, Russian and Arabic?

Quite.

Viking for Progress

There is another way. By learning Danish as a first foreign language, British school children could choose to learn the more complex languages of our other neighbours having already succeeded in speaking a recognised European tongue.

The acquisition of Danish as a progressor language would give our students increased confidence, creativity and international employability.

Most importantly, improved linguistic confidence, nationally, would encourage the learning of other more complex languages, such as Dutch, French, Italian or German. After all, it is much easier to learn third and fourth languages once you have confidence in a language other than your own.

If we want to encourage language learning and be seen as a country that actually bothers about the rest of the world, perhaps we ought to start by teaching languages that our students will actually use and enjoy.

After all, within us all, there is a Viking waiting to come out!

 

HELLO English will be very happy to help you or any others who may be interested to discover their inner Viking. Others may find our excellent English teaching and successful courses to their advantage. Please do not hesitate to contact us through this blog or through the http://www.hello-english.com website.

Jump Aboard!

Jump Aboard: The financial benefits of investing in You as the economy picks up.

What are better language skills worth to you? Will investing in English classes transform your bank account?

Looking at the latest issue of The Economist, I am struck by the powerful case made in their leader article for nurturing the recovery in the UK economy through considered investment.

Apparently, all of us – governments, companies and individuals – need to start spending sensibly again. But, while the Cabinet tries to decide how to invest for growth, how do we make similar strategic decisions?

Famously, you get ‘owt for nowt’* in this life so, if we want to progress, we will need to invest in our own careers. This is as true for me at 54 as it is for my kids at university, and learning new languages is money well spent.

How does that work for me? Well, I go to French classes each week, which helps me think about how I use language. Also, my extra linguistic ability allows me to see things differently and increases my confidence in communicating, both in French and my other languages.

But the best option for the non-native English speaker is going to be improving their English. That is simply the best strategic investment anyone can make in language-learning.

There is a direct link between the quality of your English and your earning power. Those who communicate well tend to do well. They are always able to put their point of view across in an interesting and persuasive way. In almost every situation, they have the advantage because they know how to express themselves clearly.

This confidence is translated into more formal situations, too. Whether it is in closing sales, winning contracts or gaining promotion, good English will be worth money in your pocket every step of the way.

But don’t just take my word for it. Research into the financial benefits of learning English (Pinon & Haydon 2010), conducted on behalf of the British Council, found that employees with advanced skills in English were promoted faster, enjoyed more international business trips, had greater training opportunities and were more likely to gain economic benefits for themselves and their families. This was true even in countries where English was not an official language.

Interestingly, in spite of these findings, they found that objective reality was not the determining factor. It was the perception that good English was necessary for career advancement that drove recruitment as individuals believed ‘…that they will benefit from higher salaries if they speak the language.’

So, what is better English worth to you?

When you are considering whether to invest in a HELLO English course, one question you may like to ask yourself is: how much – in cash terms – is better English worth to you? The fact is you will only need to increase your annual income by a very small result to pay for the course.

Almost all our students confirm that they have reaped financial benefits worth many, many times more than the cost of tuition. This is why we describe the course as being ‘value for money’.

A first class vocabulary, the ability to write well, improved conversation skills, accurate reading and reliable spelling…these are benefits you’ll enjoy as a result of studying at HELLO English. Benefits that will translate into a higher income for you.

Your investment of time and money at HELLO English will increase your income. That is our experience and also what research tells us.

So, base your investment decision on good sense. Invest for your future in excellent English, taught by experts. It will boost your earning power… and kickstart your economic recovery.

Sources

Leader Article (2012); ‘Heading Out of the Storm’; The Economist, 29th September 2012.

Pinon R & Haydon J (2010); The Benefits of English Language Learning for Individuals and Societies: Quantitative Indicators for Cameroon, Nigeria, Rwanda, Bangladesh & Pakistan; Report compiled by Euromonitor for The British Council.

*Originally a Yorkshire homily:

‘Ear all, see all, say nowt;
Eyt all, sup all, pay nowt;
And if ivver tha does owt fer nowt –
Do it fer thissen.[5]

Translation: ‘Hear all, see all, say nothing; Eat all, drink all, pay nothing; And if ever you do anything for nothing – Do it for yourself.

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.

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