Orchid English Blog

Not Quite the Same in Japanese and English

Posted on April 23, 2014

At Orchid English a great deal of our students come from a Japanese language background. Japanese has imported a lot of words of English origin and some of these have evolved a very different or subtly different meaning.  I would like to look at those words that are understandable but unnatural to native English speakers. Here is a selection:

At the end of a season you might go to a “sale” and if you’re lucky you will buy something that is a “bargain”. Be careful! The event itself is not called a “bargain”, the good value items are.

At the sale you might buy a “dress” for summer, (not a “one piece” although this could be a vague description) or prepare for next winter with a “scarf” (not a muffler).

When you need to wash these you can take them to the “launderette” (or laundromat in the US) not the “coin laundry”.

After your shopping success perhaps you will visit an “arcade” on your way home, this is more natural than a “games centre”.

Then you might go home, not to a “bed town” but to your home in the “commuter town”. Perhaps if you are a millionaire you live in an enormous and luxurious “mansion”… otherwise if you share your building with neighbours you probably live in a “flat”(or “apartment” in the US).

After your busy day you definitely deserve a “cup” or a “mug” (but not a “mug cup”) of tea to relax.

So take note of these, perhaps you want to use a “mechanical pencil”. This is more natural than “sharp pencil” which just sounds like a pencil that has recently been sharpened and is ready to use.

Can you think of any more? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter and good luck in your English study!

Talking About Your Past in Natural English – by Emily

Posted on March 31, 2014

One of the phrases that we hear our students say a lot is “in my childhood days”. While this is technically correct it seems rather formal and old fashioned. The idea of “childhood” includes “days” so it’s not necessary to add this. You could say “in my childhood” if you want to sound nostalgic.

If you want to talk about the time in your life before the age of about eight you could say “when I was little”. You can also say “when I was a teenager” or  mention the decade if you were an adult such as “when I was in my twenties”.

Another phrase we hear a lot is “in my junior high school days” or “in my high school days”. As you probably know in Britain we have “primary school” and “secondary school”. When I taught English in Japan I had to learn what ages “junior high school” and “high school” corresponded to so be aware that most British people will also have this problem! If you want to say it more naturally try “when I was at primary school” or “when I was at secondary school” for talking about academic life. You could say: “When I was at secondary school I used to enjoy maths”.

You can mention an age such as “when I was about eight” for non-academic things like “When I was six my parents bought me a pet rabbit”.

You can also use the structure “when I was at university”. Some learners of English tend to say “when I entered university”. This is not incorrect but very formal. A native speaker would probably say “When I started university”. In Britain we only “graduate” university, not secondary school so it’s enough to say “I graduated” rather than “I graduated university”.

Good luck in your English studies and let us know your thoughts and tips for natural English on Facebook or Twitter.

How to Use the Passive Tense Naturally in Business English

Posted on March 14, 2014

The passive is a tricky tense to use naturally. Lots of students at Orchid English come from a Japanese language background and in Japanese the passive is used a lot.

Generally speaking in English we use the order subject – verb – object unless there is a particular reason. So “I ordered some toner” is the most natural way to say it, rather than “the toner was ordered by me”, even though “I” comes first and most people would agree that the toner is the most important thing rather than who ordered it. If you use the active it usually sounds more interesting and dynamic.

 We can use the passive to be more formal or serious. A sentence like “The audit was carried out on 13th March” is more formal than “On 13th March our accountant carried out the audit”. This is quite a formal situation so the active or the passive both sound fine. If you say “The ice cream was bought by Marie” it sounds strange because there is no reason to use the passive for such an everyday, casual situation.

If you were writing a report about a process or scientific experiment, the passive is ideal. Your readers don’t need to know “I set the material alight” it would sound more appropriate to say “the material was set alight”.

In English, the passive is mostly used for one of the following reasons:

You want to protect the identity of the person or group in question

 “The computer screen has been smashed”. Perhaps the person who smashed it is somewhat embarrassed about it! Or:

“A decision has been taken to make some staffing cuts”. This is quite delicate and we assume the person doesn’t want to be named.

 The person or group carrying out the action is obvious

“John has been promoted” we know that John’s boss or his HR manager must have promoted him, but the most important thing is the promotion.

“VAT has been increased by 2%” We know that this could have only been done by the government so we don’t need to mention “by the government”.

The person carrying out the action is unknown

“The entrance to the building has been vandalised”.

Good luck! Let us know your thoughts or questions on the Orchid English Facebook page or Twitter.

How to Succeed at Exams Like TOEIC, TOEFL and IELTS

Posted on February 25, 2014

At Orchid English we often prepare students for popular English exams. It’s important to study the content and also to do some practise tests before the exam. Take the practise exams slowly and don’t worry if your score is lower than you had hoped – the aim is to progress not to get top marks first time. You may also find that you make mistakes that are not entirely down to English ability, such as not sticking to the point in a piece of writing.

Have a study timetable and concentrate on the parts that you find difficult. For a lot of students this is listening or speaking. It’s more pleasant to revise the parts you find easier but you know it’s not the best plan for exam success!

If the exam you are taking includes a writing section and your first language is not written using the Roman alphabet, it really can be worth practising writing by hand to speed up. At school in the UK we are taught joined up writing in a particular order, generally going from the top down and then going back to “dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s.” Some of our students do this the opposite way which makes writing English very time consuming. Writing like this is hard to join up because the letters don’t finish in a logical place to start the next letter.

You can print and practise joined up writing here:


If your first alphabet is the Roman alphabet just remember to keep it tidy enough for the examiner to read.

In TOEIC in particular you really have to concentrate so as not to be caught out. Some statements seem correct until the very end, don’t be fooled by a correct beginning and choose the wrong one. For example, the picture might show a little boy putting flowers on the table, with chairs around the table. The listening track might say something like “The young boy is putting flowers on the chair”. Until the last point this sentence is correct – don’t choose it!

Another thing that is hard is being able to concentrate on questions for a long time. If you do lots of practise tests with your teacher you can improve your concentration.

On the day of the exam be sure to have a good breakfast as this is really important for concentration. In the exam, try to relax! If you can take a drink into the examination room with you, bring an energy drink to keep you alert.

If you really don’t know which answer to choose in a multiple choice question, it’s best to choose one. That way you may not lose a mark if you happen to get it correct. You may be able to at least eliminate one that you know is incorrect.

Good luck! Let us know any more exam tips you have on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

How to Address People at Work in Britain

Posted on January 27, 2014

One thing that takes some getting used to is the level of formality in business English. Compared to a lot of other cultures, British language at work can be very relaxed. Of course, all companies have different cultures but these points are what I consider typical in British work culture.

Among colleagues we rarely use titles like “Mr” or “Ms”; I might use a title to approach someone I had never communicated with before, a client or to address a letter. Job application emails are also an appropriate time to address people with titles, if you know the person’s surname from the job advert.

When I worked abroad in Japan and France I was surprised that even after you have known a colleague a long time you do not really begin to speak to them casually. In the UK we might start an email to someone we don’t know using any of the following depending on how well we know the person, what our relationship is and what the email is regarding:

Dear Ms Smith,

Dear Alice,

Hello Alice,

Hi Alice,

 If the person replies addressing us by “Hi” and our first name we might reply in kind. By the third email we may have even abandoned first names entirely and just started using “Hi”.


One of our students recently expressed surprise that her  British female colleagues addressed her as “babe”! I can understand why this seems odd but for the most part we like to be casual with people we see regularly.


Adults almost always call their own teachers or instructors by their first names. Sometimes my adult students ask if they should be addressing me by my title as they would in their culture. I would say that this is only really appropriate for children addressing their teachers. It would sound natural to address your child’s teacher using their title because it fits with the culture of the school and the teacher would see you as setting a good example to your child.


Be careful also that you only use titles with surnames; “Miss Smith” sounds generally polite but “Miss Alice” sounds like a servant addressing a noble child of the house. I assume, readers, that you are not in this position!


Among British colleagues, most business-casual emails tend to start “Hi (first name)” and sign off with “Thanks”. This may look very informal but bear in mind that using this formula in most emails between friends would seem too formal. When I email friends I might start “Hi” or “Hey” with no use of the person’s name, and sign off using something like “See you soon” or “Talk to you soon”.

It may be the safe option to be more rather than less formal, but pay attention to what your colleagues do and think about trying to match it. Good luck!