Orchid English Blog
Posted on July 11, 2018
By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English
So firstly we can work as a verb. We work, she works. OK. The verb form is easy and regular.
The confusion for many of our students comes with nouns. Is the noun “work” countable or uncountable? It’s not quite that simple, and we hear this mistake regularly. Let’s look at when it’s “work” or “works” in English grammar.
General Business: Work as an uncountable noun
In an office, work is usually uncountable. We can have a lot of work or not much work. If you want to count one task, you could say “a piece of work”.
She finished all her work
There is so much work to do before the conference
You will see below why we can’t say in a general business sense:
She finished all the works There are so many works to do before the conference
Construction: Work or works as a noun
In construction, we can use the word “work” as a uncountable or a plural. Both of these sentences are fine:
We are carrying out some building works on the main road
We are carrying out some building work on the main road
Art: Work or works as a noun
Similarly to construction, we can talk about art work or art works. You could say:
I really love the work of Picasso and
I really love the works of Picasso
These sentences are almost identical but work implies all of it, and works implies that you have some particular pieces in mind.
To return to our previous example sentences:
“She finished all the works” is OK only if she is a construction worker or artist
“There are so many works to do before the conference” is OK only if there are so many works of art to do, or so many construction works to complete before the conference.
Now we know when it’s “work” or “works” in English grammar, you can get back to work! Review countable and uncountable nouns with a good quiz here.
Posted on July 6, 2018
By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English
Have you been enjoying the football this summer? I’m not usually much of a football fan but I do like watching the World Cup. We’ve put together 5 football phrases in English to improve your conversations about football. The best thing? All of these phrases could also be used at work as business English idioms.
To be on the ball
Football English: To focus on the ball without getting distracted.
Business English: To keep yourself informed about what’s happening in your industry, your colleagues and competitors.
Usage: TV reporters need to be really on the ball because the stories could change at any time.
To move the goalposts
Football English: To change the rules to suit one team or player.
Business English: To change the rules to suit particular people, or an industry.
Usage: The sales target for the other team was 100 cars but we have to sell 150. That’s really moving the goalposts!
To score an own goal
Football English: To score a goal in your own team’s goal.
Business English: To do something that really damages yourself and benefits your competitors.
Usage: Why on earth did you recommend our competitor? That was an own goal.
To take sides (negative nuance)
Football English: Of a referee, for example, to treat one team better than the other.
Business English: To unfairly favour one colleague or department over another in a dispute.
Usage: Look, I don’t want to take sides. I can see that both of you have a fair point.
Take your eye off the ball
Football English: To look away at a crucial point when you should have been concentrating on the ball.
Business English: To get distracted and miss an important event.
Usage: The regulation totally changed and I didn’t notice! I mustn’t take my eye off the ball next time.
Which of these football phrases in English do you like the best? Do you have some interesting football idioms in your language?
Posted on June 21, 2018
By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English
Do you speak English as a foreign language? Do you live in London? You must be improving your English then, right? We explore some common myths about learning English.
Learn English just by living in an English speaking country
Before I went to Japan, a monolingual friend assured me that I would learn Japanese in a month or two talking to people in shops. Others assured me that because I would be living in Japan, it would be fast and straightforward to learn Japanese. Full of optimism, I pictured myself chatting away in Japanese, sounding extremely cool, after a short time with little effort. Disappointingly this didn’t happen! Being able to hear the language around you in the street only has limited value.
Likewise, it’s perfectly possible to live in London and stick to your language comfort zone. Many people associate primarily with people who speak the same first language and this slows their English, as well as cultural understanding. If you can read this I’m sure you have no problem speaking English to people in shops, and this is quite limited.
Learn English just chatting with native speakers
Talking to native English speakers will certainly improve your fluency and is the best way to learn English. Currently I am taking Spanish classes and when I was an absolute beginner I started off asking Spanish people to speak to me in Spanish. I lacked any sort of grammatical structure so I couldn’t work out whether people were talking about the future or the past, speaking hypothetically and so on. I highly recommend this speaking immersion method but if you want to speak accurately you should do it in combination with classes.
Hold on, hold on, I hear you say. You learned English after being born in England and grew up speaking to native speakers. So what’s the problem? Our adult brains don’t process new languages in the same way that children’s brains do. Children can work out things that we can’t. However, we adults may be better at learning languages than we think we are, as this article on child versus adult language learning points out.
Learn English first and practice with native speakers later
Another English teacher in Japan told us about this theory during teacher training. One of his students was shy and insisted she would learn English first by herself and then practice speaking with native English speakers. The problem with this approach is that you will forget things quickly without practice. If you practice with native speakers you will keep what you have newly learned fresh.
Learn English just from reading books
When I first saw the TV show Lost, I was horrified that the Korean character Sun appeared to have learned very good English just from reading a book. Later in the series it turned out that she had been having English classes in secret. If you learn English only from books you will go some way, but speaking and listening skills are key too. With English it’s particularly important to listen because our writing system often doesn’t show you how to pronounce the word correctly.
The key to improving your English is to balance study, practice and integration. It will improve your English to live in an English speaking country, chat with native speakers, build on your English from school and read books in English, just not in isolation.
What other myths about learning English have you heard? Let us know in the comments.Facebook Comment
Posted on June 15, 2018
By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English
Do you wish native English speakers would correct your English? As corrections are essential to learning a language, I will share some tips below. First, a story from my own language-learning experience.
I’ll never forget this particular conversation with my Japanese friend. We were sitting and waiting for a bus one Saturday afternoon in Tokyo. We chatted about various things and made plans for the next week. When I wanted to say “about 3 o’clock” naturally, to my English brain, I said “goro (about) san (3) ji (o’clock)”.
My friend said “Oh, actually you should say “goro san ji” not “san ji goro”. You should put the word “about” first in Japanese. Horrified, I insisted “But I always say that!” As my friend is a native Japanese speaker, I had to stop short of asking him whether he was sure. I had used that structure wrong more times than I could count. No-one had corrected my broken Japanese, I suppose, because my meaning had been obvious.
The situation in which my friend corrected me was one in which we were alone and not really in the middle of anything. My friend had the time to correct me and he knew that I wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of anyone. He knew I was studying Japanese and would be grateful for his corrections.
When I asked Japanese people whether you could say a particular sentence in Japanese, people often said yes. If I pressed, they said “Yes, everyone will understand your meaning.”
Reasons native English speakers have for not correcting your English could be
- Not wanting to hurt your feelings or embarrass you
- Not having studied English grammar so they can’t explain why something is wrong. I didn’t know what the present perfect was until I started teaching English!
- Believing that it’s xenophobic to correct a foreigner’s English
- Considering it tolerant to listen to English with mistakes without “complaining”. Like my experience in Japan, if you say “can I say this in English?”, people may interpret this as “is this understandable?”
- Not realising that you want people to correct your English
English as a People’s Language
Many native English speakers believe that we can speak English how we like. There is no official regulator for the English language like the Académie française for French, and others. I rather like the absence of a regulator because it allows us to be flexible and innovative with new words, and to drop what we don’t like. Even among native English speakers from the same region there is a variety of ways to say several words such as scone.
The idea of English being a language of the people is further complicated by the fact that English can be spoken along a scale of standard to non-standard according to situation and social class. I would feel rude and rather ignorant correcting “I ain’t got time” to “I don’t have time”, even though I have never used “ain’t”. So if you pronounce it “I sink” rather than “I think” and everyone understands you, is correcting your English inappropriate?
- Remind everyone you’re learning English and want to get better. Talk about your English classes! Try to inspire people to correct your English and help you
- Keep asking native speakers how they would say things in English. Not “Is this OK?”
- If native speakers say they haven’t studied English grammar, assure them you just want to know how they would say it.
- Ask specific questions to friends and close colleagues in private when you both have time for them to correct your English
Good luck! What is your experience in getting people to correct your English? Do you have any more tips?
Posted on June 8, 2018
By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English
Do you like watching funny YouTube videos or funny programmes on TV? What kind of comedy do you like? It’s said that British humour is understated and that we like awkward humour. I particularly like political comedy and language jokes.
Learning English with comedy will not only improve your English comprehension but also your cultural understanding. YouTube videos often have English subtitles which can make it easier for people learning English to understand.
Do you live in the UK? Billy is a Korean student here who has a hilariously open-minded, inquisitive attitude. He loves exploring regional differences in English and makes brilliantly funny videos on local accents and colloquial language. Here is one of my home city, Bristol.
Classic comedy with very little speaking. I was amazed and somewhat proud to hear from a pair of Italian students that Mr Bean is well-known in Italy. I have often used Mr Bean videos in class and got the students to describe what’s going on, or suggest alternative outcomes to practice the third conditional. This is an episode containing one of my favourite clips, where Mr Bean goes to the barber.
An ironic and awkward sitcom about working in an office with colleagues who seem to have different irritating qualities. The British version is the original from 2001; then in 2005 came an American version on the same theme.
The actress Diane Morgan is perfectly straight-faced as the earnest, clueless Philomena Cunk. Her poor interviewees often don’t know how to break it to her that her assumptions are completely wrong. If you live in the north of England you may find her accent useful to practice listening. Be warned, she can be very rude!
Have I Got News for You
A topical news comedy programme on the BBC. The regular panelists are so witty with impeccable comic timing I wonder how they do it. A good opportunity also to listen to different regional accents, and even funnier if you have been following the news closely the week leading up to the episode.
Do you know any more good comedies? What is the typical humour like in your country?