Orchid English Blog

Thinking Phrases in English

Posted on 12月 4, 2013

You know when you’re speaking in a meeting and trying to think of the word for umm, the thing, and you can’t remember what it’s called?

It’s a device that lets something get through one way but not the other… umm… hold on… what is it? The valve! Yes, that’s it, the valve.

What do you say while you need a second to access the word? If you’re Japanese I bet it’s “Nan darou?” and if you’re French I bet it’s “Comment on dit?” or “Qu’est-ce que c’est deja?” When you teach English abroad, some of the first phrases of the foreign language you learn are the phrases people say when they are trying to think of the word in English.

If you just need a second to access a word in English, it sounds much better if you can use one of these English thinking phrases rather than one in your first language:

“How do do you say it?”

“How”, asks more for a description, and “What” asks more for a set word or phrase.

“What’s the word?”
“What do you call it?”
“What’s it called?”
“What is it?”

“How can I put it?”
“How can I put this?” Use this especially when it’s something delicate.

We hear the following phrases a lot from our students, but they are ungrammatical:

“What you say?”
“How to say?”
“How do you call it?”

Remember it’s “How do you say it?” but “What do you call it?”

If you know the word is in the depths of your brain somewhere and you just need a reminder, you can add the word “again” at the end of these phrases to convey this:

“How do you say it again?”

Good luck! The more you practise speaking English the more you will build fluency and the less need you will have for thinking phrases in any language.

Stress Rules in Business English

Posted on 11月 27, 2013

“Is stress really that important?” our students sometimes ask, secretly hoping we will say no. Well yes, it is quite important. If you modulate English correctly it sounds interesting and it is much easier to understand. Stress is quite hard because there is often some artistic licence and native speakers will stress the same sentence differently. As a rule of thumb the most important words are stressed and little grammatical words are not stressed unless they are there for contrast.

“She APPLIED for the JOB and we HIRED her.” All the important words for meaning are stressed.
“We HIRED her?” – Sounds like: I saw a woman get interviewed, have we hired her?
“We hired HER?” – Sounds like: She seemed crazy, why on Earth did our company hire her?

If I were to read the next paragraph aloud here’s where I would put the stress:


Incorrect stress on a word can mean the difference between a noun and a verb in many cases, like “an EXport” but “to exPORT something”. Similarly, you want to make it clear whether you are “preSENTing” to your clients, or giving them a “PREsent”. So in these pairs and many others, the noun is stressed on the first syllable, and the verb is stressed on the last syllable.

Some affixes don’t change the stress of the word. The suffix “un” doesn’t change the stress of the word (unless you are making a comparison). So you can say the meeting was “uneVENTful” or the supplier was “unreLIable”, just as you would say the meeting was “eVENTful” or the supplier was “reLIable”.

Good news! The following suffixes don’t change the stress in a word:

In compound nouns, the stressed word is almost always on the first word, the “type”.
COFFEE machine (What type of machine is it? A COFFEE machine).

Some suffixes change the stress of the root word. “JaPAN” + the suffix “ese” become “JapanESE”. Similarly, your clients may be from “CHIna” and TaiWAN” but the people are “ChinESE” and “TaiwanESE”.

If a word ends in “ion” the stress will be on the syllable before the “ion”. So: “We managed to find a resoLUtion”, “There was some conFUsion over the contract”.

This was not a full list but I hope it was useful in improving your English intonation. Please let us know what you thought, or your experiences with English intonation on Facebook or Twitter.

What I like most about autumn in London

Posted on 11月 13, 2013

While I do like the summer best of all, there is something very relaxing about autumn in London. In Japan people are keen on going to the countryside to see the changing colours of the Autumn leaves and there is even a particular name for this, “Momiji-gari”. My Japanese students ask me where they can go around London to see this and are often surprised we lack a particular word for this in English! There are lots of places where you can see wonderful red and golden leaves around London, especially in Hyde Park.

If this is your first Autumn/Winter in Europe you must try mulled wine. It’s a hot, sweet spiced wine, you can get it in bottles in supermarkets or make your own from spice sachets and add wine. Pubs have started selling it too if you want to try different recipes. Some pubs also sell mulled cider which is also delicious and often has a lower alcohol content. Dictionaries I have looked at don’t show proof of similarity in the origin of “mull” as in “to heat, sweeten and spice” and “to ponder” as in “We’re just mulling over her proposal”. I feel as though the wine has been sitting and pondering as the spices infuse.

There are lots of Christmas markets starting around now such as the one at the Southbank Centre (16th November – 24th December) where you can drink mulled wine, eat mince pies and buy traditional European winter food and presents. German markets are especially popular. Did you know that the word “German” derives from the Latin “Germanus” meaning “genuine”? Of course there is always Christmas itself to look forward to – although I overheard a customer in Boots yesterday crossly ask the cashier that the Christmas music be postponed until it is actually near Christmas.

Fancy going further afield? You could always “Skith” as an Old Norse speaker may have said, “skith” meaning “a stick of wood” or “snow shoe”, or “ski” as we say in modern English today. I don’t know, however, whether Old Norse speakers were as keen on verbing (turning nouns to verbs) as English speakers are or whether they would have tutted and lamented the decline of their language by young people today. Oddly enough, in French  “snowboarding” is called “le surf”.

What do you think? What is your favourite thing about this season? Please let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

What I’ve learned about learning a foreign language as an adult – by Emily

Posted on 10月 12, 2013

After about 10 years of teaching English I thought I would share some ideas about learning languages. Children and adults learn languages in different ways. Children’s brains are phenomenally sponge-like and absorb vocabulary at an astounding rate, particularly aged about 2-4. They also work out complex patterns in grammar by themselves in a way we have to study.

As an adult this is much more difficult, our brains will always to some extent use the model of our first language to base the second one on, rather than acquire it in its own right. We make mistakes that betray the mis-applied rules of our first language; Japanese students will tend to over-use the passive in English, French students will not use the present continuous enough, Italians will set English intonation to their own rhythm. When I speak Japanese or French I am told I modulate it like English.

I always tell students to try to think of language as a journey of discovery. Lots of students become disheartened that they still make mistakes after many years of study but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Try listening to native speakers of your first language and I bet you will hear them make mistakes, I do. When I read the paper even in English I come across words that I don’t know, so I look them up. When preparing an article to discuss with the class I might look up several words because I can understand them in context but not explain them. I have on more than one occasion had to look up a difficult spelling that has come up in class by chance.

I have met several adults who speak near-native level English and bemoan the fact that they do not sound perfectly like a native speaker. However, a non-native accent when you speak English can sound very pretty to native English speakers, and a different way of expressing things can be thought-provoking. Do not let this discourage you!

Another cliché that is also true, don’t compare yourself to other people. Who knows how many hours of study we have all really put in learning languages? There are also several other factors like working in an environment where that language is spoken, or having friends that will speak to you in that language.

Play around with methods of remembering information that work best for you. For me, I like to listen to vocab and grammatical structures on MP3s and (if I’m not on the tube!) repeat them aloud. I used to write and re-read lesson notes almost exclusively to learn but then I realised my listening and pronunciation was poor.

Good luck and let us know your own tips on Facebook or Twitter.


You know you’re an English as a foreign language teacher when…

Posted on 1月 25, 2013

To all of you lovely EFL teachers out there!

To all of you lovely EFL teachers out there!