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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English in India
Recently, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an excellent documentary on the privileged status of the English language in India (1).
Unlike China, India has no single homegrown national language of government. Hindi, the official unifying national tongue, is an artificial 20th century construct and remains largely unspoken.
Consequently, English has retained a powerful position in the civil service, upper judiciary, academia, national media and corporate business.
The presenter, Zareer Masani, described how India, which claims the world’s second largest English-speaking population (after the USA), has a true love/hate relationship with the language of the British Empire.
While chauvinists and Nationalists have tried to ban its use, dalits (formerly known as ‘untouchables’) have united with privileged elites to adopt English as the language of a new meritocratic India. Enrolment at vernacular national schools has declined, while private English language schools thrive.
A Strange Alliance
The increasing popularity of private English-medium schools shows a coming together of two quite different social groups, and mirrors changes taking place in the Indian economy. Now, the elite and the dispossessed are using them as a means to empower their children.
For rich and poor alike, the acquisition of good English is an important issue. It is the passport to white collar jobs, and the lack of it will hold their children back in their chosen careers.
But, the results are mixed. Predictably, the English spoken by those attending the best schools is excellent and almost indistinguishable from that of educated native speakers. However, at the Anglican schools favoured by the aspiring poor, Hindi is mixed with English to produce Hinglish – a hybrid unintelligible to you and me.
Dreadful or Different
Of course, the claim of 125 million English-speakers in India is a distortion of the facts. So many speak Hinglish that a truer figure might be a fraction of that number, making India an also-ran in the English-speaking stakes.
Or does it? If we think of our huddled masses in Glasgow, Liverpool or Newcastle, perhaps we shouldn’t be too sniffy about those who speak different forms of English. After all, who amongst us speaks perfect English? I’m not even sure if I know what it is!
Raising the Standard
The truth is, of course, that you get what you pay for.
No matter where you are, if you want your child to have a good education, you make sure that they have highly-educated, professional teachers, who love teaching and are passionate about their pupils’ progress. And, for this to have any real impact, you must choose a school with small class sizes.
Great teachers and small classes cost money, so it is no surprise that the privileged elites opt for the excellence that comes from 1-to-1 classes with professional teachers, so that they get the greatest benefit.
Of course, this is what we offer at HELLO English. We are extremely well-qualified, professional English teachers and our reasonable rates and high success rates mean that it won’t cost you the Taj Mahal, either.
(1) Masani Z; ‘English or Hinglish – Which will India Choose?”; BBC Radio 4; 27/11/12 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20500312)
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!
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.
At this time of year, our English students often ask about the story of Guy Fawkes. Why do we remember this failed attempt to blow-up a king?
When Guy Fawkes planned the Gunpowder Plot more than 400 years ago, he could hardly have imagined his treasonous actions would be remembered for so long afterwards and inspire so many books, poems, short stories and songs.
Yet the man who was part of a group – led by Robert Catesby – that tried to kill the king of England in 1605 has been the inspiration for many millions of words – to which we add these few.
Most people born and raised in Britain know the story of the Gunpowder Plot, which was an attempt by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators to kill King James I, when he opened the Parliament at Westminster.
Fawkes and his group cooked up a secret plot to assassinate King James. England was a protestant country and Fawkes and his fellow band of men wanted to have a Catholic king or queen on the throne.
Fawkes planned to blow up Parliament while the king was there. But the king’s guards were tipped off and on November 5, 1605 they searched Westminster Palace and found Fawkes guarding a pile of gunpowder. He was arrested and sentenced to death.
The fact that King James survived was cause for great celebration! People took to the streets to have a party. The country soon followed in the celebration and a party-like spirit spread across England. Everyone gave thanks that God had saved King James’s life.
The king did not want any more attempts on his life. His ministers made sure people did not forget Guy Fawkes, and November 5 became known as Guy Fawkes Night. It continues today as an evening of celebration, with food, drink, songs and stories. Effigies of Guy Fawkes are even burned on a bonfire.
And it continues in our literature because the drama and intrigue of the Gunpowder Plot have appealed to writers across the centuries. The story has been captured in various ways.
The most famous poem, sometimes classed as a nursery rhyme, is “Remember Remember”.
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
In Britain, most children will learn this ditty in infancy, but there are longer versions: the longest being kept in the Tower of London archive.
There are Guy Fawkes related songs, and many of these are period ballads with a decidedly sinister feel to them, including the “Devil and the Washerwoman”, but there is also a more recent “Ballad of Guy Fawkes” by the band Green on Red, which links these seventeenth century events to recent political dissatisfaction.
The most successful substantive account of the Gunpowder Plot has been that written by the renowned historian Antonia Fraser. Her book “The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1996) unravels the tangled web of religion and politics that spawned the plot.
The Gunpowder Plot captures children’s imaginations too. There are many books for younger readers about Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night. Two of the most popular are “The Gunpowder Plot”, by Liz Gogerly, and “Guy Fawkes” by Harriet Caster. Indeed, in towns and cities across the UK, children may still ask strangers to spare ‘A Penny for the Guy, Mister?’, although it is likely to mean a lot more than a penny these days.
Guy Fawkes even shaped our language. In the 19th century the word “guy” was used to describe an effigy or a strangely dressed person. In American English use of the term evolved and it came to mean any male person.
Today, some people say Guy Fawkes Night is overshadowed by Hallowe’en, and the advent of ‘Trick or Treat’ – an American import, described by one Guardian journalist as ‘the Japanese knotweed of autumn festivals’.
So, whether you see Guy Fawkes as ‘The only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions’, or as a treacherous traitor, who deserved all he got, it seems we do ‘Remember, Remember’ pretty successfully, so it is unlikely that ‘Gunpowder, Treason and Plot should Ever Be Forgot!’
At HELLO English, we love explaining the old customs and traditions of England, and we even enjoy exploring those of our near neighbours in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.