Orchid English Blog

Six Quid or Sick Squid?

Posted on October 5, 2015

By Honami Matsutani, Guest Blogger

For those learning the English language, the ability to tell jokes may seem a long way off. From one-liners you might find in Christmas crackers to more complex jokes, it can be quite fascinating to get closer to British people through appreciation of their humour. But demonstrating your witty character or proficiency in English needn’t involve memorising an entire act of a popular stand-up comedian.

I have proudly drilled into my grandkids that making fun of someone to laugh at the person is not a joke. Instead, a joke ought to be clever enough to be able to share the fun with the others around you. My 5-year old granddaughter has now progressed from ‘knock-knock’ jokes (e.g. “Knock. Knock.” “Who’s there?” “Atch.” “Atch who?” “Bless you!”) to a few one-liners taught by her 11-year old brother, though some of which must not be uttered at school.

My 11-year old grandson, on the other hand, now often demonstrates his wit with puns (a play on words, exploiting multiple meanings of words or of similar sounding words for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect, as in the title of this blog), and this is exactly the type of short but effective joke that I would recommend to learners of English to try. As they are contextual, you have to be very quick but I believe they are excellent in improving your brain functions for verbal communication and can certainly impress your native English-speaking friends no end!

So to wrap up this post, here are a couple of examples:

“Every company has to display its name at the registered address. Did you know that?”
“No I didn’t. But wouldn’t every company want to promote its name anyway?”
“Well, sometimes some dodgy companies want to hide themselves.”
“I know what they are called. Invisible inc.”

A shark was on his way to the casino and saw his friend the squid. “Are you coming to play blackjack with me?” the shark asked. “Oh I don’t know, I feel awful today” said the squid. The shark persuaded him to join him. At the casino the staff wouldn’t let the shark in because of his debts. “No!” exclaimed the shark. “Here’s the sick squid I owe you!”

Do consider your poor audience with some of these!

What are your favourite (clean) English jokes? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.


1) “Ach who” sounds like a sneezing noise “Achoo”, and “Bless you” is what people often say hearing a sneeze.

2) “Inc” is short for “incorporated; “invisible ink” is ink you can buy from joke shops that disappears when dry.

3) “Sick squid” sounds the same as “six quid”, or six pounds sterling.

5 Ways To Get The Most From Group Classes

Posted on June 30, 2015

By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English

A lot of the language classes we teach at companies in London are groups. In addition to developing language skills, group classes at companies can be a great way to develop teamwork within a company, to gain confidence and learn more about the colleagues who are in your class. Here are 5 ways to get the most out of your group classes.

1. Sit next to different people

If you are in a mixed nationality group, sit next to classmates who have a different language background to your own. You won’t be tempted to speak in your own language knowing you will be understood, which is good training for real life situations.

Another good reason to sit next to students of different language backgrounds is that you will have different strengths and weaknesses. For example in a pair where a Japanese student is working with a French student, the French student can copy a perfect model of the sound “H” which occurs in Japanese, and the Japanese student can copy a perfect model of the sounds “F” and “V” which occur in French.

2. Speak up

Others often benefit from your question too. One thing that can make teachers feel uncomfortable is being in front of a silent class where everyone is looking things up in their dictionaries. Are they all looking up the same thing, we wonder. Be careful also if you use a dictionary app on your phone; it may look like you are texting. It’s more of a challenge for the teacher to tell if you are lost in a big group so be sure to ask questions during the class. If you wait until the end you may find your teacher has to leave and start another one soon afterwards.

3. Get into pairs quickly

In big company English classes the teachers’ time per person is limited so don’t spend time considering who to pair with next, if the teacher gives you the option. If you choose a different person each time no-one will be offended. It’s a surprising drain on time if people spend a long time changing partners.

4. Prepare

Learn key vocabulary and phrases before the class you can optimise your speaking time. Do something in English before the class so you have “switched your brain to English” before you start. You could even encourage your colleagues to speak in English as a warm up for say 15 minutes before your teacher arrives. Other things include listening to English podcasts like the ones mentioned in last week’s blog post, reading the business news in English or watching a YouTube video in English. Of course, be punctual so that you know what is going on from the outset.

5. Take advantage of the public speaking practice

Having English classes in a group as an adult is such a different environment from what many people experience at school. Most people find it much more liberating and a more positive atmosphere. As you get used to speaking in front of a class of peers you will find challenges at work such as presenting and pitching to be much easier, and maybe even fun!

Do you have any more ideas? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

Optimise Your Commute to Learn English

Posted on June 23, 2015

By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English

Do you ever feel like the time you spend commuting to work is wasted? While I would not recommend your commute as the only environment in which to learn English, it can certainly be a good supplement to in-company English classes. Here are 5 simple tips to help make the most of your commute.

1. Listen to free podcasts

This one is so low-effort you can even do it first thing in the morning. Choose some interesting podcasts and set them to auto-update so that you have lots of current things to listen to. You can even learn like this if you don’t get a seat. Here is a selection of great ones we have tried, which are all free:

British Council podcasts (elementary) on general topics.

BBC 6 Minute English (intermediate and above) interesting topics in short broadcasts, technical words are explained.

BBC World Service (advanced) for world news.

TED Talks (advanced) for thought-provoking and often very inspiring speeches on a range of topics.

2. Read something interesting

When I lived in Paris and taught English classes at my students’ offices I used to practise reading the free newspapers in French while on the Métro. Taking advantage of the free newspapers on the tube is a great way to absorb vocabulary and collocations in a calm environment as well as keeping up to date with current events. Knowing about local events makes social conversation with colleagues easy, and provides an insight into the local culture. However, please be aware that the free papers on the tube do have a political bias and you may wish to mix them up with other reading material.

3. Pronunciation

Listen out for tube announcements and learn how to pronounce the tricky place names such as Borough, Leicester Square and Marylebone like a local. Don’t focus on the spelling to tell you the pronunciation. Something we hear a lot: the first vowel of “London” is pronounced “U” like “Underground”, not “O” like “hot”. Listen out next time you’re on the London Underground!

4. Ingrain your knowledge

You know how your teacher is always correcting that one repetitive mistake? Do rote learning exercises such as gap-fills in your notebook on the tube – it helps to push your knowledge deeper and then next time you are speaking it will come naturally. Making different sentences around one point you want to drill can be quite meditative too.

“We have been living in London for 6 months”
“I have been working in the Liverpool Street office for 2 months”
“I have been doing this exercise for 5 minutes”

5. Make and learn vocabulary lists and collocations from your notebook


Do you have any more ideas? Let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter.

Coping with Plateaus in Language Learning

Posted on June 16, 2015

By Honami Matsutani, Guest Blogger

Some years ago, one of my British friends (a Welsh man to be precise) had been living in Japan for many years and was going through a bad patch in learning Japanese. He thought his ability to learn the language had reached a kind of plateau and he was repeating the same mistakes and struggling with the same issues over and over again. He was becoming increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with his lack of progress, particularly in reading and writing.

It is often said that Japanese is one of the most difficult languages to learn, and I can imagine those of you who are not from that part of the world thinking my friend was very brave (almost foolhardy) in attempting something so hard and feeling sympathetic towards him. Yes, he was utterly dejected at that moment.

However, it turned out that what he was experiencing was not a permanent state of decline and I merely caught him in one of his “low” periods in between the contrasting “high” phases which he also went through from time to time. In other words, his improvement had always been intermittent and, although his development was generally upward, his progress had been step-like with repeats of advance and stagnation.

Now, I think this type of cyclical progress is quite normal in learning anything, especially mastering a difficult language. My experience of learning English has certainly been in that fashion. No matter how much effort I put into my homework or how systematic my vocabulary learning routine was, my progress has never been a steady upward move but instead, a repetition of a triumphant stage followed by a period of little success. Nevertheless, my achievement over the course of my life-long learning (30 odd years so far) has been quite satisfactory on the whole.

Over a long period of time, our learning method might change (e.g. intensive study of the essential skills to start with, then gradually turning into more real-life learning through observations and corrections) and our pattern of progress might vary (i.e. the height and depth of the “steps”), but it’s your continuous effort that counts in the end.

So please be assured and keep it up, my fellow learners!

And as for my friend, his Welsh-Japanese daughter is now very happy with Daddy’s bedtime stories in Japanese.

What Language Do You Dream In?

Posted on May 20, 2015

By Honami Matsutani, Guest Blogger

“Do you dream in Japanese or in English?” If I was paid £1 each time I was asked this
question, I would have made enough to pay for a good few lessons with Orchid English by now!

In my early days of living in Britain, my reply to this question tended to be “I’m not sure”. Not that I was avoiding answering the question properly but I was literally unsure of what to say, as my English friends and family members would often appear in my dream speaking fluent Japanese and my mother with no word of English would suddenly be found conversing freely with my wife in English. Then years later I came to conclude that I was more likely dreaming in abstract and I was for no apparent reasons interpreting the scenes (or rather ‘dressing them up’) in one language or another as afterthoughts.

Only recently, my new Japanese colleague at work said to me “Oh, you must be thinking in English when you speak (in English) by now”. Well obviously, or do I? In fact, does anyone think in any particular language? That seems to me awfully cumbersome.

I know that some people say you (this is a general ‘you’ who understand the Japanese language) use different parts of your brain when you read or write in English and Japanese, due to the pictorial nature of the latter. But surely no Japanese person speaking in English would think (i.e. visualise a sentence) in Japanese first, then translate and imagine it in English, and finally read it out in English. Or worse still there may be another stage in the process of writing the English sentences out in Katakana, or phonetic Japanese expression, and reading it out accordingly in the final stage. Well, that may explain why some Japanese people never manage to rid of their heavy Japanese accents and intonation.

But if you can do all your feeling, thinking and reacting in abstract as in my theory, then it should become much easier and natural for any foreigners, let alone the Japanese, to speak English fluently. So, keep dreaming in abstract. However, I will leave you with one word of warning. Don’t get too used to living in the world of the abstract thinking, if you want to become a simultaneous interpreter. To me, they are brilliant but strange people with only a thin dividing line between two languages with no abstract part. No matter how bilingual I become, with the broadened no man’s land in my head between the two languages, I just cannot crack such an amazing art.