Orchid English Blog

How to Learn English: 4 Myths

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.


    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.


    Read about how your comfort zone is limiting your language development here.


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How to Get People to Correct Your English 

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?


My advice


  • 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?


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Learn English with Comedy

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.


Korean Billy

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.


Mr Bean

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.


The Office

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.


Phenomena Cunk

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?

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How to Recognise a Double Negative in English

Posted on November 9, 2017

By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English


What is a double negative? Do you use them accidentally? Read on and find out!


A double negative is where you have two negative grammar markers in the same sentence. Consider the famous Pink Floyd song: “We don’t need no education“. The meaning of the title is “we don’t need education” “or “we don’t need any education”.


This double negative using “don’t” with “no” is part of what is called “non-standard grammar” in linguistics. You can hear this type of grammar in songs and casual situations. This double negative grammatical construction acts as a social class marker and this is true all over the English-speaking world; in British English, American English and so on.


Social class was important in British history, and expressing social class through language is an interesting part of English. In standard English, it’s appropriate to use “any” with a negative. So the song’s title, in standard grammar, should be “We don’t need any education”. In a professional situation, it’s more appropriate to use standard English.


For several of our English as a second language students it seems more intuitive to use a double negative construction than to use “any”. This is particularly true for students who speak a Latin language such as French or Spanish. However, literally interpreting “I haven’t had no emails” in standard English is rather strange. It means the opposite of what it is intended to mean. It means “I haven’t had NO emails, so I have SOME emails”.


I listened to a very interesting podcast episode from The Economist recently. The interviewee was talking about the importance of cobalt, and said “you can’t have no cobalt at all”. He wasn’t speaking in non-standard English, and he meant that you needed at least a little bit of cobalt.


Standard construction: Standard English
I haven’t had any emails
He doesn’t go on any business trips
They won’t do a presentation


Double negative construction: Non-Standard English
I haven’t had no emails
He doesn’t go on no business trips
They won’t do no presentation


So now you know! Try this double negatives quiz and try to remember the rules next time you’re making a negative sentence.

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How to say you will pay for someone else in English

Posted on November 2, 2017

By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English


Suppose you’re in a restaurant and you want to pay for everyone’s meal. How do you offer to pay? You can say “this is on me” or “it’s on me”. Then everyone will understand you want to pay for them too. You could also say “I’ll get it”, which is a bit more direct.


“On me” in this context has the nuance of “this is my responsibility”. A more uncommon use of “this is on me” is where you are admitting responsibility for doing something wrong.


Lots of people learning English mistakenly use the word “invite” to mean they will pay for everyone. “Invite” doesn’t imply you will pay, just that you organised the event. If I “invite” you to a restaurant it doesn’t necessarily mean I will pay for you. Maybe it’s my birthday and I want you to join my party so I “invite” you.


I have been confused at the end of meals with non-native English speakers because they have told me they “invite” me”. But we’re already in the restaurant!


In Britain in a group of colleagues or friends we usually take turns to pay for drinks for everyone. We call this a “round” of drinks. Then for the next drink another person pays. So how do you offer to pay? To volunteer to buy drinks for everyone you can say “it’s my round”.


If there is someone who is happy to accept drinks but is reluctant to buy drinks for other people, just remind them with a smile: “it’s your round!”


Learn more about British restaurant and pub culture with our post on how to get good service in London.

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