Orchid English Blog
Posted on July 20, 2019
By Emily Stallard, owner and trainer at Orchid English
Do you want to improve your English as fast as you can? One of the things we get asked a lot is “How can I learn English fast?” The first thing to say is that all languages take time to learn. However, we can speed up the process a lot when we use good learning techniques. Here are our top 7 tips.
Don’t let negative experiences stop you. Everyone has had embarrassing situations where they didn’t understand, or people got frustrated with them. It’s tough but the more you put yourself in immersion situations with native speakers the faster you will learn. Read more about how your comfort zone is limiting your language development. If someone makes an unhelpful comment about your English, focus on what you’ve achieved in learning English so far.
Look words up when you don’t understand them. This is a great habit to get into although few people do it regularly! Will you know what the word means if you hear it again? There is a theory that immersion in a language will lead to fluency but if you hear the same word ten times and you don’t know what it means, you aren’t learning.
Watch TV or read books in English, if necessary with subtitles in your own language at first. If you struggle to read books in English, try “readers“, which are classic books like Oliver Twist simplified for adults learning English. This way you can optimise your time alone after work to improve your English and you will learn faster.
Ask your colleagues and friends to correct your English. British people are usually hesitant to correct English spontaneously for fear that it will seem xenophobic. Have a look at our post about how to get people to correct your English. However, if you don’t get corrected you risk ingraining the same mistake and then it’s hard to un-learn.
Supplement your face to face English language learning with an app or online quizzes to consolidate what you learned in class.
Integrate with native English speakers as much as you can in London. It may seem easier in a foreign country to stick with people who speak your first language or come from a similar culture. In doing so though, you will learn English at a much slower pace, and culture shock will probably be more severe.
When you have British flatmates, colleagues and friends you can practise your English and also learn how and why British people do things differently. Meetup is a fantastic way to make friends with local people in London who share your interests.
How can I learn English fast? The fastest way to learn English is with face to face English language classes tailored to your needs. Your teacher will design English classes to focus on the aspects of English that you want to improve. Our prices are reasonable and we have great reviews. Get in touch for English classes at your London company.
Posted on July 16, 2019
By Emily Stallard, owner and trainer at Orchid English
Is English the hardest language to learn? This is something that a lot of people wonder.
When I was at secondary school, I remember a teacher telling us that English was the hardest language to learn for foreigners. Then I lived in France and Japan, where people also told me their own languages were the hardest to learn for foreigners. Wait a second, I thought. Everyone thinks their own language is the hardest!
There is a certain amount of linguistic chauvinism, which means having a superior attitude to one’s own language. I can see amazing richness and difficulties in English that I can’t see in other languages I speak because English is my native language. After teaching English for ten years sometimes students would ask me a question about English and I would have to check it. So is English the hardest language to learn? It would be tempting for me to believe, but I just can’t see the intricacies in other languages.
The most difficult language to learn largely depends on the languages that you already speak. As a native English speaker it’s much easier for me now learning Spanish than when I was learning Japanese. My Japanese former colleague in Tokyo once told me he was going to start learning Korean, because it would be easier than English. I had to laugh because to me Korean seems very difficult! But it’s quite similar to Japanese so it would be easier for him.
The more similarities English has to your native language, the easier it is to learn. If you’re interested in learning more about the development and history of English, there is a brilliant article on English Club here.
Here is a brief list of what I consider to be the biggest difficulties in English, plus some more straightforward features of English.
- Spelling correspondence to pronunciation: rules and irregularities.
- Volume of phrasal verbs.
- Primary and secondary word stress – unless your language has this too, like Spanish or Chinese.
- The Roman alphabet is shared across several languages, with only 26 letters.
- Conjugation is more straightforward in English than many other languages.
- High volume of media in English means you can expose yourself to a huge amount of films, music and books in native English.
So, is English the hardest language to learn? It depends. Probably not, unless your first language is extremely dissimilar to English. If you can read this article you’ve already reached a good standard of English.
What do you find difficult about English? Our English teachers can come to your company in London and you can get tailored classes that focus on your particular needs. This may be speaking, grammar, writing or something else. Get in touch today for a free demo class.
Posted on June 26, 2019
By Emily Stallard, owner of Orchid English
In recent years there are so many apps and websites promising to help you learn English online. Are they worth it?
I tried a popular app for learning French. It was OK. It gave me a vocabulary drill and probably boosted my vocabulary somewhat. I found it infuriating that the app kept drilling me on words that were almost identical in French and English. I’m used to face to face classes and a real teacher can take this into consideration.
The most important thing that the app lacked was training how to think on your feet when you’re speaking to a native speaker. Trying to make your own sentences and express your own opinions. And of course, how to understand native speakers when they are talking to you.
At the moment I’m learning Spanish. What’s really hard in Spanish if it doesn’t occur in your native language is the subjunctive. Broadly speaking, the subjunctive means you have to use a different verb conjugation depending if it’s a fact or just a wish, or desire. We have echoes of the subjunctive in English (like “if I were you” but not enough to help me much!
I spent a lot of time doing grammar quizzes online to supplement my face to face classes. It’s fine for learning verb conjugations, although studies show writing notes by hand is better for your memory. What I have noticed with learning Spanish online is that I can get good at the online quizzes, but when I’m speaking to a real Spanish person in Spanish, I don’t use this tense at all! It’s like it’s dormant knowledge.
At no point when learning online do I practise speaking, and if I did, there is no-one to say whether they understand me. I speak in Spanish class and to my Spanish friends as much as I can. I’m sorry to say that native Spanish speakers often don’t understand my Spanish sentences! Practising making yourself understood is really necessary.
One of the great difficulties with English is that the spelling can be very different to the pronunciation. The standard of English language teaching worldwide is improving a lot. In the past there were whole generations of people who learned English at school with books, but were unable to speak or understand effectively in English.
If you learn English online or use an app with no audio, you risk falling into this trap. Not only do you need to know the pronunciation, but you need to be able to pronounce it so that native English speakers understand.
If you live somewhere in the world where you really can’t have English classes in person with a teacher then it could be a good study supplement to learn English online. However, if you live in London it’s much better to have classes face to face with an English teacher. Find out what sort of classes you can have at your company here.
Posted on May 23, 2019
By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English
As some of you know, I’m learning Spanish at the moment. Some years ago, I learned Japanese and normally if you don’t know the word, you have to guess it from context or look it up.
Happily, in Spanish, often the word I want is similar to a word I know in English anyway. Recently, ready to learn a new word, I’ve had the lazy pleasure of discovering words which are identical in Spanish and English.
Sometimes I can’t believe the words are identical because they don’t seem like words that would be similar. When I say identical, this is in spelling only.
Anyway, if you are a native Spanish speaker or if you have a good command of the Spanish language, these 12 English/Spanish words are “buy one get one free”!
That was a list of my favourite words that are the same in Spanish and English, the ones I found the most surprising. Tractor? Could you believe it? There are even more than this – which ones do you know?
Posted on January 11, 2019
It’s said that it’s essential to start learning languages as young as possible, but is this really the case? Does age matter when learning languages? Here are some of my experiences learning languages with age, from a teenager until now.
French as a teenager
I first studied French at secondary school and we did a lot of grammar and verb conjugations. Does anyone enjoy verb endings? Like lots of British people, what I remember most clearly is learning how to ask for various items of stationery from our partners. I remember wondering why French people were so interested in stationery and assumed their conversations must be very boring!
At our school we had a lovely native French teacher and our accents really improved when we tried to copy a real French person.
A teen magazine article gave me the idea to learn vocab with mnemonics which I enjoyed a lot. After five years of studying French I got grade “A” but was unable to hold a conversation or understand a simple dialogue between French people in real life. I do sympathise with the school system trying to measure accuracy in language, which is, I think, more of an art.
Japanese in my early twenties
Before I was qualified to teach English I regret to say that I didn’t know how to study languages effectively. I had a great private tutor in Tokyo and spent a lot of time studying alone from books and notes. What I should have done was spoken more and made more mistakes and got through it, in addition to our private language classes.
French again in my mid twenties
After not speaking French for about eight years I moved to Paris to teach English. One reason I chose France was because I had studied French at school and was looking forward to refreshing my language skills.
On the ferry I realised that I needed to get my phasebook out to look up how to order a coffee. My French was dormant, and needed a trigger to get it back to the front of my mind. Fortunately this wasn’t such hard work as learning it the first time. I took group language classes to improve the accuracy of my French.
Happily, French people don’t ask each other about stationery much, as I had been led to believe at secondary school. Speaking French in real life as opposed to in school taught me that you have to make mistakes as part of your journey to learning a language. People will be impatient with you but you just have to carry on.
Spanish in my mid-thirties
Everyone says languages are easier when you’re younger. But my experience learning languages with age has been the opposite. My Spanish is much less precise than my school French but I’m able to communicate better and I learned it much faster because of previous experience learning languages.
One thing I find harder about Spanish is that it has taken me longer to get a sense of the “music” of the language. Recently in our group language class a young classmate told me that I spoke Spanish with a strong English accent, and I had to agree!
Then, to my surprise, my Spanish teacher said that he didn’t start learning English until he was in his mid-thirties too, and he speaks English with a very accurate British accent.
I have met several retirees who say they will only ever be able to speak a couple of words and phrases in the language they are learning. Well, in the words of Henry Ford: “If you think you can do a thing, or you think you can’t do a thing, you’re right”. I honestly think it’s more about attitude, and self-identifying as “bad at languages” than age.
I have been impressed by classmates in their eighties in my group language classes who are profient in Spanish and Japanese. We can often surprise ourselves.
In conclusion, learning languages with age may take longer but it’s not a race anyway. People who learn second languages as children can often fool native speakers into believing that they are also natives.
As adults we are unlikely to be able to do this, but we are still capable of getting to an advanced level in a foreign language. With age, hopefully we become more patient with ourselves too, which is key when learning something time consuming.