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)
Given the weather we have had this year, I imagine that there are many who feel like copying him, although perhaps without the complete domestic menagerie he brought along.
It is also about now, my almanac tells me, that Stir-Up Sunday falls: the last Sunday before Advent on which the Collect begins “Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of the faithful…” which was taken as a reminder to stir-up the mixture for Christmas puddings and pies, in order to allow them time to mature.
It was parodied thus:
Stir up, we beseech thee,
The pudding in the pot,
And when we do get home,
We’ll eat it piping hot.
Christmas puddings and pies should always be stirred clockwise with a wooden spoon. All present in the house should take a turn to stir in order of age: father, mother, visitors, children and babies by seniority.
Is there a connection between ‘stirring’ and women? Certainly Johnny Nash and later Bob Marley thought so in the reggae classic ‘Stir It Up‘ – and they weren’t talking about ecclesiastical ructions within the Anglican church.
Anyway, in this house, if I want a Christmas Pudding I shall have to make it myself, so I wish you all have a safe ark to carry you forth and that you remember to stir your pudding clockwise. (What happens if you don’t…?)
And if you don’t know how to make one, here’s a Christmas Pudding recipe, for you to try at home.
At HELLO English, we enjoy all the oddities of English traditions – whether in the English language, or in our weird and wonderful institutions, even if their arcane rules seem a little outdated from time to time. To find out more, contact us here.
Excellent Viddy. Watch, Watch, Watch!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.