Orchid English Blog

Opening Lines in Business Emails

Posted on May 11, 2015

By Emily Stallard

I was asked by one of our Japanese students for some different ideas on how to start business emails in English. In Japan it’s common to start with a reference to the season, which you could certainly do in English as well. In some cultures it is appreciated if you simply get to the point, but depending on your relationship it may be nice to start with some social comment or enquiry.

I would recommend keeping it positive and avoiding exclamation marks unless you are on very casual terms with the person.

A former German colleague of mine tells me that while Germans often like to get down to business quickly, in a business-social email a reference to the last time you spoke is appreciated, something like “I hear the project you mentioned last month went successfully”.

Some more ideas include:

Referencing the last time you met
“It was good to see you on Monday.”
“It was great catching up with you recently.”
“It was a pleasure to see you in person last week.” (A more formal version of the above)
“I enjoyed our conversation at the conference last month.”

Expressing thanks for something they have done for you
Thanks for your email.”
“Thanks for your feedback.”
“Thank you very much for the information you sent.”
“Thanks very much for inviting me to connect on Linked In.”

Conveying your general good feeling towards their wellbeing
“I hope you are well.”
“I hope all is well and you are enjoying the sunny weather we have been having.”
“I trust you and your colleagues are all fine.” (“I trust” is more formal)
“I hope that you enjoyed your recent break.”

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

Business Idioms for Spring

Posted on April 20, 2015

By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English

As spring is upon us and we often get requests for business idioms I thought I’d combine the two. Knowing some idioms is a great way to make your English sound more natural, and it will also help with your comprehension when your colleagues use them.

To spring something on someone. Think of a coil ready to spring rather than the season in this case. This means to surprise someone with something, often something negative like more work or some bad news.
“Did you know about the merger? The director just sprung it on us at the morning meeting!”

We may be in the year of the sheep but the last thing you want to be in business (metaphorically or literally) is a sheep, someone who always follows what other people do or say without thinking for themselves.

Have you ever been on a wild goose chase? This is when you try to do something for a long time, try various different things but it comes to nothing. We often use it if you chase and chase someone by phone and repeatedly get told to contact someone in a different place.

If you are in an awkward or delicate situation you can be said to be walking on eggshells. “He’s so stressed about the deadline, I really feel like I’m walking on eggshells around him”.

Masters of time management know how to kill two birds with one stone; or to accomplish two things at once. If you listen to business podcasts while working out, this is you.

Perhaps spring is the time to start a new endeavour, to move on to pastures new; like a applying for a new job. You could stay in the same industry or conversely you have the option of widening your horizons; looking further afield.

Can you think of any more? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

What is Conversational English?

Posted on April 13, 2015

By Honami Matsutani, Guest Blogger

I have often wondered where the line should be drawn between so-called “conversational English” and it’s presumed opposite – “non-conversational English”. Would the distinction be equivalent to “spoken English” v. “written English”, or even “casual English” v. “formal English”? I am sure I’m not the only one in noticing that the “conversational” label is often used to mean only-good-for-getting-by, and worse still almost regarded as the licence to remain uninitiated. But should this be the case?

There are of course “elementary English” used not only by newcomers to the language but also by young children of the native speakers, and “advanced English” adopted by the reasonably well-educated natives. But surely the degree of being able to speak conversational English varies depending on who is communicating in what circumstances.

Does conversational English mean elementary English? No, it doesn’t. Do proficient speakers of English language never engage in a conversation? Yes they do, and most probably in a rich and comprehensive manner, using more vocabulary and wider expressions. So there should be no excuse for holding yourself back in the supposed “conversational” boundary, as in reality there is no limit in content or context for conversations in English (or whatever language for that matter).

As a long-term learner of English language, I have always strived to increase my vocabulary by reading all kinds of written materials from newspapers to reports and from books to journals. And more specifically to enrich my spoken English, I have often tried reading such manuscripts aloud whenever appropriate to practise dialogues and speeches, so that more intellectual conversation can be mastered. This is a learning method I would strongly recommend to any fellow students to reach towards the Holy Grail of conversational English.

Let us know your views on Facebook or Twitter.

Tips for Italians Learning English – by Emily S

Posted on March 26, 2015

Recently I have had the opportunity to teach some Italian professionals who are learning English in London with Orchid English. Italians are at an advantage learning English over a lot of other learners of course, with some 29% of the English language coming from Latin.

In my experience Italians also tend to have a good ear for intonation and a tendency to plunge into learning with enthusiasm and without the fear of making mistakes.

Here are some typical mistakes Italian speakers make that I have heard:

Omitting “H” when it should be pronounced, and inserting it when it should not be there. For example “Ello Hemily” (Hello Emily). “I’m hungry” may sound like “I’m angry” due to the omission of “H” and the “U” being pronounced like “A”.

As you may already know the city was named “Londinium” by Roman settlers 2000 years ago which evolved into the word “London”. A lot of Italian speakers pronounce “London” with two “O” sounds – but don’t be tricked by the spelling; the first vowel is “U” like “Underground” and the second is a weak schwa sound. Listen out for it next time you are on the tube!

Saying “It’s so” rather than “It’s like that”. While “it’s so” is not entirely incorrect it sounds poetic or old fashioned in most situations these days.

Overusing rhetorical questions in everyday speech. When should you use rhetorical questions? In spoken English we normally reserve this for giving presentations, or occasionally in written English to emphasise a point.

Some surprising false friends:

Italian Table

I hope you ultimately found these tips relevant – Let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter!

How Your Comfort Zone is Limiting Your Language Development

Posted on February 25, 2015


By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English


Recently I was speaking with a business contact and friend who is Japanese and who speaks excellent, see-if-you-can-spot-he’s-not-a-native-speaker English. What, in his opinion, did very high level non-native English speakers have in common?  His advice: you need theory and also, crucially, practice. The practice part is where we need to leave our language comfort zone.


Language Comfort Zone 1: Books and silent self-study

This is my experience learning Japanese and I’m sharing it so that you don’t copy it! When I lived in Japan I used to study Japanese a lot. My teacher gave me homework and I would spend a long time studying; during my commute, at lunch and at weekends. Disappointed at how long it was taking me to be able to have a conversation, I would easily forget vocabulary and kanji that I had learned a few months before. It would take me a while to access the words I wanted too.

My Japanese friends spoke with me in Japanese at the weekends and I spoke to my colleagues in Japanese between classes. However, as a result of teaching English all day,  I didn’t spend a large proportion of my time speaking Japanese. I didn’t put myself in a Japanese immersion environment where I had to communicate in new and challenging ways. I was in my language comfort zone most of the time; speaking English, or Japanese with people who I knew for short periods.


Language Comfort Zone 2: Listen and Repeat

Students who use a listen and repeat method to study slow their learning in a similar way. Listen and repeat is stress-free because you won’t be caught out by a question you don’t know the answer to. To progress, we need to produce sentences of our own spontaneously, when someone else is partly in control of the conversation. Listen and repeat often only familiarises students with one accent of English, and this is a nice clear accent done for the recording.


Advice on Leaving Your Language Comfort Zone

If you can speak to people and feel the stress of not knowing words, guessing and not knowing what’s coming next in the conversation, this is really the high-progress zone. Living in Japan, it was stressful to be in situations where I didn’t understand what was being said to me in Japanese, or I couldn’t express myself. But looking back, I wish I had had put myself in more situations like that. At parties and other social events where the conversations were in Japanese or French I remember feeling awkward. But actually it was good practice and people were almost always nice about my linguistic efforts. The parties were still fun!

So for real progression you must leave your language comfort zone and get stuck in. Lots of students do not take opportunities to practise outside of the classroom. They speak their own language with their friends and colleagues so the new words and structures they have learned in English are soon are forgotten. Knowing enough English to go to shops in London is quite easy to achieve and this becomes their new language comfort zone.

If you are worried about making mistakes ask yourself this: when non-native speakers of your own language speak to you and make mistakes, do you think they are stupid? Of course not; you know your language is complex and hard for people to master perfectly.


Read about why you should never say “I don’t speak English” here.


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