Orchid English Blog

How to Make the Most of Your Notes

Posted on 12月 4, 2018

By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English


Do you make notes in your English classes? I’m always amazed by the number of adults who don’t make notes on corrections or new information given by the teacher. If you don’t make notes, the teacher’s advice may be very difficult to recall. After the class, you need to make the most of your notes by reviewing them.


Making notes enables you to review what you have done after class and you are less likely to make the same mistake over and over again. The following tips detail how you can improve your English fast by making the most of your notes:


Write Notes by Hand


There is a lot of evidence that taking notes on a device won’t help you remember the information. In addition to being ineffective, using devices in your class almost always creates some typing noise, and popups on the device are distracting.


OK so the first step is to make handwritten notes during the class, but then how do you make the most of your notes between classes?


Read Notes Both Silently and Aloud


At home, read your notes aloud as well as silently. Often the word feels different to pronounce to how you had expected, especially a long word or a word with a tricky sequence of sounds. And if your objective is to improve your speaking, it will help to familiarise yourself with the feel of the word.


Note Down the Pronunciation


English doesn’t have as high a correlation between spelling and pronunciation as we may hope when learning it. It’s no good if you know the spelling but not the pronunciation, which makes noting down irregular pronunciation really essential. Otherwise when you return to your notes you will fall into traps with the pronunciation. Learn more about spellings and pronunciation in English here.


Are you familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA? Lots of advanced speakers of English know the IPA, so they can note down the pronunciation of a new word. To be honest, if you feel that learning the whole IPA is too much, you can get a very long way just learning the vowels, and the two “th” sounds.


Do More Research Online


When you are presented with a new concept in English, do some more research on it online. When your teacher intruduces the past perfect tense, for example, search for different sources for past perfect quizzes and explanations to really ingrain your understanding.


Controlled Practice Writing


There are structures that you really want to commit to memory. Say you always hear the phrasal verb “get up to“.


  • What did you get up to this weekend?
  • Up? I wasn’t up! What do you mean?


You ask your teacher who explains that “get up to” a casual way to say “do”, especially for something interesting or mischievous. Now you realise why people ask you about it all the time, and it’s a useful phrasal verb to be able to use too.


Much better than reading about it, make some sentences of your own with this phrasal verb, transforming the tense. Writing lines seems unfashionable these days but I think it can be a good way to ingrain knowledge and use the language actively.


  1. What did you get up to on the bank holiday?
  2. It’s so busy at work I haven’t been getting up to much in the evenings recently
  3. Those children look like they’re getting up to no good!
  4. When we were unsupervised, my brothers and I used to get up to a lot of mischief


Make your Own Charts and Posters


I really enjoy making my own wall charts from my class notes to help me learn Spanish! You can add mnemonics and colours according to your learning style. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a great artist, what’s important to make the most of your notes is to ingrain the new words or grammar points in your mind.


If you have a list of gerunds and infinitives for example, you could design a poster with all the words that trigger the gerund on the left and words that trigger infinitives on the right. If you combine them into a scene you will be more likely to remember them.


So in summary we have: reading your handwritten notes silently and aloud; making a note of pronunciations; doing more online research; writing your own practice sentences and making your own charts and posters. Do you have any more tips? How do you make the most of your notes from your English classes? We’d be interested to hear them.

What’s the Difference Between Shade and Shadow?

Posted on 11月 27, 2018

By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English


Are you going away for some winter sun this year? Perhaps skiing or even further away to a warm climate for a few weeks? When I can, I love going somewhere hot for a holiday in the middle of winter. And then I say… “It’s so hot in the sun! Let’s find some…” which? What’s the difference between shade and shadow?


What’s the difference between shade and shadow? They are very similar but it can sound unnatural if you use one in place of the other.


Shadow is a particular shadow. We have our own shadows in the shape of ourselves, as do buildings and trees.


Shade is a more general word. When we look for shade we don’t care what makes the shade. We are just looking for a place out of the sun.


As if often the case in English, one is countable (shadow) and the other is uncountable (shade).


Now I think about it, consider that Americans call sunglasses “shades”, it’s because they create a general shade for everything that you see. Learn more about interesting American and British language differences here.


Something I hear a lot in the summer is people learning English saying “let’s find some shadow”. But this sounds unnatural because it sounds like they are looking for a particular shadow. Much more natural to say “let’s find some shade”.


There is some crossover because you could say “Let’s find some shade. How about the shadow of that tree?”


The difference between shade and shadow is interesting in English because many other languages don’t differentiate between the two concepts. Does yours?



Typical Mistake by Spanish and Italian Students: Double Subjects

Posted on 11月 22, 2018

By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English


This is a post for adults learning English whose first language is a Latin one. In our company English classes around London we teach lots of Latin students who work here.


Additionally, about 15 years ago I taught English in the pretty Italian city of Naples. I’m learning Spanish at the moment so I have some Spanish friends as well as Spanish students of English. This is a typical mistake by Spanish and Italian students that we teachers hear on a regular basis:


  • Does your teacher correct the same mistakes over and over again?
  • Yes, my teacher she always corrects my grammar.


Hold on! What’s the mistake here? Let’s look at the reply.


Native speakers only use constructions like “my teacher… she” if they get distracted and there is a long pause after the subject. Then it turns out we have to start a new sentence.


This is the kind of thing a native speaker might say:


  • My teacher… oh, yes, could we have two medium lattes, please? …She explains complicated grammar in a really simple way.


So what should you say in the first example sentence? You have to choose a noun or a pronoun, but not both together:


  • My teacher always corrects my grammar
  • She always corrects my grammar


There is a useful quiz here to test your knowledge and ingrain the habit of using only one subject.


Read more about typical mistakes made by Latin students here in our previous posts: How to recognise and avoid using double negatives, and how to say you will pay for someone else.


10 Popular Email Abbreviations

Posted on 11月 15, 2018


By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English


Do you send emails in English? Do you receive emails from native English speakers and wonder what some of the email abbreviations mean? Hundreds of modern email abbreviations and acronyms go in and out of fashion constantly and while researching this post I was surprised how many I didn’t know.

Here are some common email abbreviations that we often use in work emails, instant messenger between colleagues and text messages.



As soon as possible

Americans tend to pronounce this as “aisap”, British people tend to pronounce all the letters individually. In the email abbreviations below in this list, all letters are pronounced individually.



Be right back

This is really good when messaging colleagues or friends. When you’re having a conversation on instant messenger and need to break off suddenly, for a delivery or a phone call, BRB tells the person all they need to know in a second.



By the way

It means, as an aside, to start a new topic. Quite informal and good for messenger.



Estimated time of arrival

  • When are you arriving?
  • It should be about a 40 minute drive so our ETA is 3pm.



For your information

Often this is used sarcastically so this can seem a bit rude if used incorrectly. In my opinion, FYI is almost a filler and doesn’t really add more to your message. If in doubt, it’s best to avoid this because it can seem abrupt.



In my opinion

On Facebook native speakers will often use IMHO which can stand for “in my honest opinion” or “in my humble opinion”.



Laughing out loud

Super casual! If it’s really funny this can be LOOOOOL.



Not safe for work

Do you have a friend who likes to send funny emails? NSFW means you shouldn’t open it at work, the content is inappropriate.




This is a nice one – often used at the top of an email or letter.



Répondez s’il vous plaît

Parlezvous français? If you don’t speak French this may be totally different in your language. It just means “please reply”. Don’t just ignore the invitation and assume the sender knows whether you’re coming or not!



To be honest

Like the two below, this is very casual and well suited to instant messenger although you could use it with colleagues.



Talk to you later

A friendly and casual sign-off to a messenger conversation.




For the mega-busy, who have to conserve all their writing energy…


Want to know more about email writing in English? Learn how to start and finish emails in English and some ideas for conversational openers in opening lines in business emails.


Hungry to learn even more email abbreviations? There are even more in this article aimed at sales and applicable to general business English here.

5 Common Grammar Mistakes in English You Can Fix Easily

Posted on 11月 9, 2018

By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English


Over the last month I have been listening to several adult students of English to put together a list of five really common grammar mistakes. We hear people from all over the world make these mistakes too. Below is what I heard over and over again, even from students who are upper-intermediate going on advanced. Often, when corrected, the students reply “Oh! I always say that!”


Here we go:


My manager she said yes

To be honest, most native speakers will hear this without making a correction because it’s very easy for us to understand, it just doesn’t sound natural. What’s wrong with this? You shouldn’t use two subjects. So you need to choose either “My manager said yes” or “She said yes“.


We are five

Well, maybe this is OK. Are you all five years old? If you are, well done for reading this; I was reading books about talking animals at your age! But you probably mean “there are five of us“. Adults learning English often say “we were twenty in the negotiations workshop” and what they mean is “there were twenty of us in the negotiations workshop“.


Ask to a colleague

We often hear sentences like this:

“It’s not my department, but let me ask to a colleague.”

The meaning is clear but the preposition “to” shouldn’t be used here. I say to students that the verb “ask” already includes the idea of “to”. If you use “to” after “ask”, it means for permission or a request. Correctly, you should say “Ask a colleague” “I asked Daniel to email me the figures” but not “I asked to Daniel to email me the figures“.


Married with

Aha! Well sometimes “married with” can be OK. But it’s misused by learners of English 90% of the time.

  • Is John at the other branch?
  • No, he’s on his honeymoon.
  • Honeymoon?
  • Yes! He got married to his girlfriend Raquel last week.

“Married with” is usually followed by the number of children. Perhaps John and Raquel plan on being “married with three children“.


Call to

“Call” is a funny verb. What’s the difference between these?

  1. I called his supervisor
  2. I called to his supervisor

Number 1 is what we would usually use in business, it means “I phoned his supervisor”.

Number 2 sounds similar, right? But it actually means “I shouted from a distance at his supervisor”. You “call to” someone from across the road.

“Call” doesn’t take a preposition if you mean “phone”. It’s rather like the verb “ask”, it includes the idea of movement towards the object.


So, that was a roundup of five really common grammar mistakes in English and I hope it was useful. Had you been saying any of these? Do you hear other people say them?