Tag Archives: English language

Image

Season’s Greetings

2012 Xmas Card

Advertisements

English in India: a strange alliance.

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.

Love/Hate Relationship

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)

The BDSM Approach to English.

Looking through some language advertisements recently, I saw one I hadn’t been expecting: Free English Lessons! Now, I know that the world and their best friend are offering English lessons in these troublesome times, but free lessons? I had to find out more.

On further reading, it turned out that the advertiser was offering English conversation classes free to anyone who was prepared to walk up and down on his back while wearing high heels! This is certainly a novel approach to pedagogy, but not one that I would advocate for the serious student of English.

So, with so many people offering to teach English, what should a student look for when choosing where to study?

There are two types of factors to consider: those that cannot be controlled (your location, age or budget) and those where you have a real choice: the qualifications, experience and professionalism of your teachers.

For example, on the one hand, the students who come to HELLO English do so because they either live here, or were happy to come here for their course. On the other, they chose to come to us because they liked our combination of qualifications, maturity, professionalism and commitment to teaching English.

What our competitors don’t have, and what our students won’t see, perhaps, is our fantastic range of qualifications in foreign language pedagogy, including up-to-date language qualifications (CELTA 2012) and post-graduate studies in linguistics and philology.

Let’s be clear, though. You do not need to be an expert in grammatology or onomastics to speak sparkling, crisp English. But, if you want to teach students how to use such elegant expression, and to enable them to spring from stumble to fluency, then some serious qualifications in language and teaching will be needed.

On my philology course, we learned about phonetics, poetics, syntax and semantics, among other things, and I use this knowledge every day as an English teacher. But, do I really need to know the difference between prescriptive and descriptive grammars in order to teach about the present continuous tense?

Well, yes, actually. If you want to be able to answer your students’ questions with more than a simple ‘…because that is what the book says…’, you need to know as much as possible about the English language. You should be so fascinated that you live and breathe intelligent insights to convey to your students.

So, students should take care to choose not just cheap teachers (cheap at what cost?) but, rather, teachers who are experienced, well qualified, professional and committed to teaching English.

Elegant English is much like a swan. A great deal of hard work has to be done before you can glide gracefully through the choppy waters of linguistic life.

If you would like to swim smoothly through your English lessons, choose someone who really knows their subject. Talk to HELLO English today about conversation classes or Cambridge exams, IELTS or A-levels.
http://www.hello-english.co.uk

Stephen Fry on Language.

Excellent Viddy. Watch, Watch, Watch!

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

In Defence of Grammar Teaching

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

ImageAlthough 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.

What do I need to do to pass IELTS at Band 7?

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.