Orchid English Blog

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!


Using “The” in Business English

Posted on December 18, 2013


By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English


Do you wonder when to use the definite article “the” and when to leave it out? You’re not alone. I have put the following list together as a quick guide to using “the” in business English.

Articles can be a real problem for people learning English. This is because:

  • There are a lot of different rules,
  • Sometimes you can use “the” or not use it without a difference in meaning, and
  • Other times it’s just a question of nuance


In my experience, students learning English with an Asian language background tend to use too few articles overall.  Students with a European language background such as French or Italian students will tend to use too many articles overall, or use them in the wrong place.



Political unions such as states or kingdoms

  • The United Kingdom
  • The United States
  • The United Arab Emirates


Republics need “the”, if you mention the republic

  • Ireland
  • The Republic of Ireland
  • China
  • The People’s Republic of China


Countries which have a plural name

  • The Philippines
  • The Netherlands


Public Organisations

  • The BBC
  • The NHS
  • The council
  • The government


HMRC is an organisation but does not need an article because it includes a possessive in the name: Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. If you wanted to describe HMRC you would have to use an article in: “The tax office”. Companies do not usually take “the”, so “I work for Orchid English” not “I work for the Orchid English”, “He works for Toyota” not “He works for the Toyota”.



  • The most effective strategy
  • The best way forward
  • The worst method we have tried


Ordinal Numbers

In spoken British English, for dates:

  • We say “Friday the 20th of December” but write “Friday 20th December”

In both British and American English:

  • The fifth conference of this year


So that was a selection of some useful rules on using “the” in business English. If you just remember one thing from this blog post, remember whether to use “the” for the country you’re living in! We hear lots of people say “I work in UK” or “My client is in US“. Now you know you need to say “The UK” and “The US”.  Learn more about using “the” in country names here.

Thinking Phrases in English

Posted on December 4, 2013

You know when you’re speaking in a meeting and trying to think of the word for umm, the thing, and you can’t remember what it’s called?

It’s a device that lets something get through one way but not the other… umm… hold on… what is it? The valve! Yes, that’s it, the valve.

What do you say while you need a second to access the word? If you’re Japanese I bet it’s “Nan darou?” and if you’re French I bet it’s “Comment on dit?” or “Qu’est-ce que c’est deja?” When you teach English abroad, some of the first phrases of the foreign language you learn are the phrases people say when they are trying to think of the word in English.

If you just need a second to access a word in English, it sounds much better if you can use one of these English thinking phrases rather than one in your first language:

“How do do you say it?”

“How”, asks more for a description, and “What” asks more for a set word or phrase.

“What’s the word?”
“What do you call it?”
“What’s it called?”
“What is it?”

“How can I put it?”
“How can I put this?” Use this especially when it’s something delicate.

We hear the following phrases a lot from our students, but they are ungrammatical:

“What you say?”
“How to say?”
“How do you call it?”

Remember it’s “How do you say it?” but “What do you call it?”

If you know the word is in the depths of your brain somewhere and you just need a reminder, you can add the word “again” at the end of these phrases to convey this:

“How do you say it again?”

Good luck! The more you practise speaking English the more you will build fluency and the less need you will have for thinking phrases in any language.

Stress Rules in Business English

Posted on November 27, 2013

“Is stress really that important?” our students sometimes ask, secretly hoping we will say no. Well yes, it is quite important. If you modulate English correctly it sounds interesting and it is much easier to understand. Stress is quite hard because there is often some artistic licence and native speakers will stress the same sentence differently. As a rule of thumb the most important words are stressed and little grammatical words are not stressed unless they are there for contrast.

“She APPLIED for the JOB and we HIRED her.” All the important words for meaning are stressed.
“We HIRED her?” – Sounds like: I saw a woman get interviewed, have we hired her?
“We hired HER?” – Sounds like: She seemed crazy, why on Earth did our company hire her?

If I were to read the next paragraph aloud here’s where I would put the stress:


Incorrect stress on a word can mean the difference between a noun and a verb in many cases, like “an EXport” but “to exPORT something”. Similarly, you want to make it clear whether you are “preSENTing” to your clients, or giving them a “PREsent”. So in these pairs and many others, the noun is stressed on the first syllable, and the verb is stressed on the last syllable.

Some affixes don’t change the stress of the word. The suffix “un” doesn’t change the stress of the word (unless you are making a comparison). So you can say the meeting was “uneVENTful” or the supplier was “unreLIable”, just as you would say the meeting was “eVENTful” or the supplier was “reLIable”.

Good news! The following suffixes don’t change the stress in a word:

In compound nouns, the stressed word is almost always on the first word, the “type”.
COFFEE machine (What type of machine is it? A COFFEE machine).

Some suffixes change the stress of the root word. “JaPAN” + the suffix “ese” become “JapanESE”. Similarly, your clients may be from “CHIna” and TaiWAN” but the people are “ChinESE” and “TaiwanESE”.

If a word ends in “ion” the stress will be on the syllable before the “ion”. So: “We managed to find a resoLUtion”, “There was some conFUsion over the contract”.

This was not a full list but I hope it was useful in improving your English intonation. Please let us know what you thought, or your experiences with English intonation on Facebook or Twitter.