How to find the right English teacher for you

You need to hire an English teacher. But, you want to find the right one.

Most English teachers teach General English or prepare you to pass an official exam, like the FCE or IELTS.

You’re not looking for that type of class.

You have specific learning needs. You need to improve your English to do your job more effectively.

As you have specific learning needs, you need a teacher with specific teaching qualities. Here are 5 steps you should take to make sure you get the right teacher.

Step 1: Identify your needs

Write down why you need to improve your English. You will probably have several needs.

For example:

  • I need to speak more fluently in order to negotiate more confidently.
  • I need to develop my public speaking skills in English in order to give more effective presentations.
  • I need to improve my listening skills in order to understand what is discussed at meetings.
  • I need to improve my grammar in English in order to write clearer emails.
  • I need to learn specific vocabulary in order to understand reports and business articles.

Step 2: Identify how a teacher could help you meet these needs

Think about how a teacher could help you meet your needs.

For example:

A teacher could teach me useful expressions and phrases used in negotiations. Then, we could practise negotiation training activities to help me become more comfortable and fluent in negotiations.


A teacher could provide me with models and writing activities to help me learn how to write clearer and accurate emails.

Step 3: Identify what knowledge and skills your teacher needs

Think about what knowledge and skills a teacher would need to help you develop those skills.

  • You’ll probably want somebody who is experienced at teaching adults.
  • You’ll probably want somebody with a specific teaching qualification so they are able to teach you aspects of the English language.
  • You might want somebody who has specific knowledge of your industry.

Step 4: Identify other qualities you look for in a teacher and question them

Think about other qualities you look for in a teacher and ask yourself why they are important. We often have outdated opinions or illogical preferences which prevent us making good choices.

For example:

I want a teacher with a British English accent because I believe that is correct English.

Why is this important?

Mmm…maybe it isn’t. I need to speak English to people from all around the world. Americans, Germans, Russians, Chinese. I guess a British English accent isn’t that important.

I want a teacher who is older than me.

Why is this important?

Well, in my culture, we believe teachers should be older than us. But, I’m 52 years old. Why do I need a teacher who’s older than me?

I want a male teacher.

Why is this important?

The last English teacher was a woman and I didn’t like her at all. But, that doesn’t mean that all female teachers are like her. I’m sure there are good and bad female English teachers just like there are good and bad male teachers.

I want a teacher who can come to my office. I don’t want an online teacher.

Why is this important?

My colleague had an online teacher a few years ago and he didn’t like the lessons because there were problems with Skype.That was a few years ago and video conferencing technology has improved considerably since that time. An online teacher could be very convenient actually because I could even take classes from home or in the morning before I leave for work. Maybe I should reconsider.

Step 5: Create a teaching ‘job description’

A professional English teacher does two things before they start teaching you:

  • They assess your level of English
  • They identify your specific needs and goals.

Many English learners meet a teacher for the first time and don’t really know what they want from their lessons. This means that the teacher has to guess what they think the learner needs. What often happens is that learners don’t feel satisfied because the content and style of the lessons are not really what they want or need. The teachers feel frustrated because they realise that the learners are not satisfied but don’t really know what to do to make the lessons more relevant and effective.

Which is why you should tell your teacher what you want, what you need, and what you are interested in doing in your Business English classes before you start learning with them.

You don’t need to write a detailed proposal but you should identify your main needs and your learning goals.

Think of it like interviewing a candidate for a position in your company. You would write a job description before the interview to make sure that the successful candidate is capable of performing the required duties.

This is really useful for your teacher because they will be able to decide if they can really help you or not.

Remember that if your learning needs are specific, you might require a specialist. Specialists are not cheap so you will have to decide if you are able and prepared to employ such a teacher.

Business English Idioms

Why are Business English Idioms important?


Do you use English for your job?

Do you need to speak with native English speakers?

Do you find them difficult to understand because of the strange things they say?

If you answered yes to these questions, you should read on….

Why are people who speak English as a second language easier to understand than native English speakers?

One of the main reasons is that native English speakers use lots of idioms.

Idioms are phrases which have a figurative rather than a literal meaning.

Here’s an example:

If you tell you to take the bull by the horns, what would you do?

Would you find a large – and probably very angry – bull and grab it by the horns? If you did, you would have taken my suggestion literally. This is where you think the phrase means the dictionary definition of the words.

Idioms work in a different way. Although you understand the meaning of the individual words, the phrase refers to something that has a different meaning to the words used.

Here’s a video which explains the meaning of ‘taking the bull by the horns’:

Learning Business English idioms will help you understand natural English used by native and fluent speakers.

At first, you’ll find them difficult to use when speaking. That’s not so important. What is important is being able to understand them when you hear them. In other words, you need to understand them in context.

Understanding idioms at work will help you improve your English because you will be able to follow what fluent speakers are saying.

I have a video course on Business English idioms. You can get the course for just $10 if you click the link below. The video above was an example lesson. There are nearly 50 more idioms in the course.

learn english phrase for work

discount for business english idioms course

If you don’t want to buy the course, you can listen to the idioms for free by clicking on the link below. You will be directed to my Speaker page and you can listen to short podcasts (each one teaches a different idiom).


Listening practise.




8 Reasons Why Learning Idioms is Easier than you Think

Learning idioms is an impossible task. There are thousands of them in English and you have to learn every single one!

Just kidding! There may be as many as 25,000 idioms in English and I doubt that I use more than a few hundred on a regular basis. But, as a native speaker of English, I am able to understand most idioms when I hear them because I can guess the approximate meaning from the context.

As an English learner, you won’t be able to guess the meaning from the context as quickly or as easily as me,  but you’re probably much better at it than you might think.

Let’s have a try:

Jack: I’m starving. I could eat a horse.

Mary: There’s some pizza from last night in the fridge.

So, what does the idiom ‘I could eat a horse’ mean?

That’s right – we use it to say that somebody is starving (very hungry).

What can make learning idioms difficult is that the words used separately often have a basic and common meaning, but are used to refer to something else when used in an idiom.

Words can have two or more meanings. One meaning (the common and basic one) is literal and the other (used as a metaphor or to symbolise something else) is the figurative meaning.

Idioms are fixed expressions which have a figurative meaning. Knowing the individual words may not help you understand the idiom.

The problem is that many English teachers will sympathise with your struggle with idioms. They say things like:

Yes, idioms are really difficult for English learners. Maybe you should just learn grammar.

Well, I would disagree with this view. Idioms can seem strange at first but they are not randomly generated – there is always a story behind every idiom, even if the roots of the idiom go back hundreds of years.

The idiom above probably refers to the fact that the horse was seen as a noble animal and was also extremely valuable as a form of transport, unlike a cow or a goat. Therefore, you only actually ate a horse as a last resort – if you were lost in the wilderness with nothing to eat. I doubt that this idiom is used in countries where horse meat is eaten.

In this post, I would like to persuade you that learning idioms is not so difficult and can even be fun.

Reason 1 – Idioms are fun

In my two decades as an English teacher, I can’t remember a student coming up to me to say: learning grammar rules is great fun. But, many students have told me how enjoyable they found a lesson on learning idioms.

One of my favourite idioms is ‘to run around like a headless chicken’. Watch this video below for an explanation.

By the way, if you like the video and want to learn more Business English idioms, you can get my video course here.

Idioms help make ideas, concepts, situations, and feelings more real. They work like stories, using unusual images to reveal something about life. This makes them memorable.

Reason 2 – Idioms are usually fixed expressions

You can’t make many changes to an idiom. Apart from changing the verb tense (and this isn’t often necessary), you don’t tend to alter idioms. They are generally fixed expressions, which means the grammar and the word order can’t be modified much.

To remember them, what you have to do is focus on the content words (nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs). As long as you learn the essential parts, you should be able to remember the meaning of the idiom when you hear it.

To run around like a headless chicken has three key words – run, headless, chicken. The grammar words (around, like, a) are not so important and you could even say something like ‘he is running in the same way as a headless chicken’ and native or proficient English speakers would understand what you’re trying to say.

In other words, make learning the content words in an idiom your priority – the grammar words will come with practice and exposure.

Reason 3 – Idioms usually refer to the physical world

Do you remember the difference between concrete and abstract nouns? Concrete nouns are things we can see, hear, feel, touch, and even taste, whereas abstract nouns do not have a physical state. A horse is a concrete noun but happiness is an abstract one.

Most idioms use physical references. They refer to real objects and actions in the physical world. Many idioms are decades of even centuries old and commonly refer to people, actions, animals, geography, cultural practices, food and drink, sports, modes of transport.

This makes them easier to remember and easier to access from your long-term memory because they are stored as images. If I ask you to think of a horse or a mountain, your brain instantly selects an image. Your horse or mountain may not be the same as mine, but we would both recognise each other’s images. When we think of happiness, we may recall events or feelings, and our ‘mental references’ may be very different.

Which is why you should use images to record idioms. Make simple flashcards with the idiom written next to the image.





Reason 4 – Your language may have a similar idiom

In English, there is an idiom ‘to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth‘ which means to be born into a rich family. In Spanish, the idiom is “nacer en cuna de oro” which translates as ‘to be born in a golden crib (the object that babies sleep in).

The idea behind the idiom is the same in each language. It doesn’t require much mental work to make the connection between ‘a silver spoon’ and ‘a golden crib’.

Now, many teachers may tell you not to translate an idiom from your language into English. This is a misguided view, in my opinion, because adult learners are likely to look for a conceptually-related idiom in their first language automatically. And you are not translating word to word; you are connecting concepts.

So, when you hear a new idiom, try to match it to an idiom in your language and focus on the concept not the specific details.

Reason 5: Idioms often repeat sounds

You know when you hear a song for the first time and spend the rest of the day singing the chorus. Well, idioms are often catchy too. They have been passed on from person to person, becoming more concise and memorable in the process.

There is also a special effect found in many idioms: alliteration. This s when a sound is repeated at the beginning of words. Here are some examples of alliterative idioms:

tried and tested

below the belt

the grass is always greener

beat round the bush

a dime a dozen

cutting corners

curiosity killed the cat

It takes two to tango.

your guess is as good as mine

Reason 6: Idioms are like memes, short and sweet

In the digital age, things which are memorable get shared on social media. Striking images and striking phrases get passed around until they become part of our communal culture. Idioms are basically the forerunners of memes; in a world in which most people couldn’t read, idioms moved like a virus, passing from person to person through spoken (oral) communication.

Our short-term memory doesn’t appear to be very good at storing long phrases, which is why idioms tend to be short and sweet. Longer ones, like ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ tend to get shortened naturally, which is why we don’t always remember full idioms.

Another feature of idioms is that they are grammatically simple. Most idioms use basic conjunctions (and, or, but) and repetition. They are often binominals (two-word expressions) such as ‘rough and ready’ or ‘tried and tested’ or trinominals (three-word expressions) like ‘signed, sealed and delivered’ or ‘cool, calm and collected’.

Another type of idiom is the simile. This is when we compare one thing to another, usually with ‘like’ or ‘as’:

He’s as cunning as a fox.

It worked like a dream.

Reason 7: Idioms often have fascinating, if frequently untrue, back stories

When you watch a film, you often wonder about a character’s motivation. For example, why did Bruce Wayne (Batman) decide to fight crime? If I was rich and handsome, I would choose the life of an international playboy rather than dress up as a bat beating up bad guys!

But, my parents weren’t murdered by a nasty criminal in front of my eyes. That’s Bruce Wayne’s back story, the reason why he became Batman.

Idioms have back stories too, which can help you remember them, although the origins of these idioms should be ‘taken with a pinch of salt’ – you should not believe them 100%.

Have you heard of the idiom ‘ to let the cat out of the bag’?

It means to reveal a secret.

But, what do secrets have to do with cats in bags?

Well, apparently it was a trick played by market traders on the customers back in the 15th century. Imagine you go the market to buy a piglet ( a baby pig) for your Sunday lunch. The market traders used to put piglets in bags or sacks so you picked one up, paid for it, and took it home. Some unscrupulous traders used to put cats in these bags and convince their customers that they were buying piglets. The poor customer had a nasty shock when they got home, opened their bag and found they had bought a worthless cat rather than a delicious piglet. On opening the bag, the secret was revealed!

So, a great way to learn idioms is to read about their origins. Idioms are not created by chance; they almost always refer to real events, actions or objects.

Reason 8: Idioms reflect cultural values

The final reason why idioms are not so difficult to learn is related to reason 7: they reflect cultural values and ideals. Although many idioms are based on specific cultural practices, the deeper values are usually universal. In other words, they express emotions, ideas, concepts and situations which are probably found in your cultural background too.

Idioms deal with universal themes: food, religion, politics, work, family life, art and music, relationships, money. homes, and community.

As I discussed in reason 4, you may have similar idioms in your language. You shouldn’t try to translate them word for word, but you will remember them if you identify the deeper meaning behind them. Once you do that, you will understand them on an emotional, logical, psychological, intellectual, socio-cultural and maybe even spiritual level.

The idiom mentioned earlier (the grass is always greener on the other side) reflects that universal feeling of wanting to change your life by changing your environment. This is a feeling we all experience at some point in life.

So, I hope I have convinced you to keep learning idioms. Understanding them is more important than using them, so take your time and don’t start using them until you are ready. But, understanding them will really help when you are having natural conversations with native and proficient English speakers. You’ll be able to follow their thoughts and keep up with the flow of the conversation. And when you actually start using them, they will be extremely impressed!

If you would like to learn common idioms we use at work, you might be interested in my course on Business English Idioms.

Here is an example lesson:

You can get the course by clicking on the image below.

Great speaking pace. Very nice examples of idioms and opportunities for self-check. Thank you for the course!







3 Deep Questions about how to speak English

At British English Coach, I receive a lot of questions about how to speak English well. The 3 most common questions are:

  1. How do I speak English fluently?
  2. How do I change my accent?
  3. How do I stop making grammar mistakes?

These 3 questions show the problems most of you have when speaking English so I want to examine the beliefs behind these questions in the hope that discussing them helps you gain a clearer understanding of how to improve your speaking skills.

deep questions speak english

How do you speak English fluently?

Most people learning a second or foreign language want to become fluent speakers. They want to speak English with the same amount of confidence and comfort as native speakers.

But, have you ever really thought about the meaning of fluency?

What does fluency mean anyway?

Fluency is difficult to define. According to the Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, fluency refers to:

“ the features which give speech the qualities of being natural and normal, including native-like use of pausing, rhythm, intonation, stress, rate of speaking, and use of interjections and interruptions.”

I find this definition problematic  for two reasons.

  • The phrase ‘native-like use’. English, unlike many languages, is spoken as a first language in many different territories and so this phrase ‘native speaker’ encompasses so many different varieties – each with a range of dialects and accents – that the notion of a ‘native speaker of English’ becomes really difficult to define. It becomes even more confusing when we consider the varieties of English in territories where English is an official language alongside local languages. Are bilingual English uses native speakers?
  • Native speakers of English vary considerably in terms of fluency. Some of us hesitate, pause and stumble over words and sounds while other native speakers communicate in a fluid, smooth manner. Rate of speaking differs enormously among native speakers and some non-native speakers have a higher rate of speaking than native speakers.

Reading on, I see there is another definition of fluency in the dictionary:

“In second and foreign language teaching, fluency describes a level of proficiency in communication, which includes:

  • The ability to produce spoken language with ease
  • The ability to speak with a good, but not necessarily perfect command of intonation, vocabulary and grammar
  • The ability to communicate ideas effectively
  • The ability to produce continuous speech without causing comprehension difficulties or a breakdown in communication

This definition seems to me to be far more practical and useful for those of you who are learning English than the former. Becoming as proficient as fluent native speakers is not an easy goal to reach. Moreover, the amount of time, effort and dedication needed to attain native-speaker like competence may not produce a good return on investment.

How do you change your accent?

Before discussing your accent when speaking English, I’d like you to assess your accent when you speak your first language?

  • Do you like your accent?
  • Does your accent ever change depending on who you are speaking with?
  • What are the characteristics of your accent?
  • Are some accents viewed more positively than others in your first language?

When we talk about accents, we tend to generalise. People talk about an American accent, a British accent, or an Italian accents. Yet, accents are incredibly varied and this variety exists within countries (Does a New Yorker have the same accent as a Texan); within regions (Do all people from the North of England have the same accent?); within cities and towns .

Do people from North London speak English exactly the same as people from South London?); between social classes (Do middle-class Londoners have the same accent as working-class Londoners?); between generations (Do elderly people from Edinburgh speak with the same accent as teenagers from the same city?). Also, what differences are there between members of different ethnic /socio-cultural groups within the same local area?

Accents are more complex than we think

When we start to think deeply about accents, we realise that we have a tendency to generalise. We often have an idea about a specific accent and think that applies to all members of a linguistic group.

By thinking about the variety of accents among people who speak our first language, we should be able to understand that there are differences among speakers of every language. These differences result from a complex set of factors: age, social class, geographical location etc.

Why do we think some accents are better than others?

The other notion we have about accents is that some accents are better than others. How do we assess the ‘quality’ of an accent? In the UK, which is a society in which social class is particularly important, RP (received pronunciation) was seen as a prestigious accent and many people deliberately disguised, reduced or changed their accent if they wanted to find professional success.

Most of us are guilty of accent discrimination; we judge people not by their actions but by their accents. But accents reveal so much about us: where we are from; which social class we grew up in. Why should we decide to disguise who we are?

We change our accents when we speak to different people

And that brings me to the next point about accents. Accents are not fixed. We have the ability to adopt different accents. Some people are far better at identifying and appropriating accents than others but we can all do it to a greater or lesser degree. I’m sure that many comedians and actors in your country are known for their ability to shift between different accents.

Even politicians change their accents to suit their audience.  There are often criticised for doing so but some studies suggest that many successful communicators do the same.

Accommodation theory states that we find a middle ground when we communicate. For example, if I have a conversation with an American, I may modify my accent slightly by reducing or dropping some of the features of my accent and adopting some of the features of my conversational partner’s accent; my conversational partner may well do the same. The result may be that we end up speaking with trans-Atlantic  accents, a blend of British and American.

What is a standard accent?

Which is possibly why we value accents which we consider ‘neutral’. Neutral accents do not really exist – many people use the term ‘standard accents’ – but most of us have an idea of accents in our first language which seem to be fairly easy to listen to.

In other words, we tend not to discriminate against people when they speak with this accent, which allows us to concentrate of the content rather than the delivery. These accents do not reveal much background information about the speaker; there are few clues about their social origin.

How do you stop making grammar mistakes when you speak?

When we talk about speaking English skills, we often contrast fluency and accuracy. I have had students who speak fluently yet make many mistakes and students who speak with a high degree of grammatical accuracy and yet lack fluency.

Communication breakdown can occur with fluent but inaccurate speakers because the quantity and serious nature of their errors can result in confusion.

A breakdown can occur with accurate but hesitant speakers because listening to slow, deliberate English requires a great deal of patience and concentration which can lead to tiredness or frustration. Fluent speakers have to work hard to resist the temptation to interrupt and/or complete the other speaker’s utterances for them.

Why mistakes are so important

For many reasons, most notably the influence of the grammar-translation method on teaching approaches and curricula, speakers of second or foreign language feel the need to avoid making mistakes when they speak. This means they are often reluctant to speak or feel frustrated when their errors are noticed.

Yet, many second language learners have excessively high standards and think they should be able to use complex grammar structures found in written language in their conversational output. Many grammatical structures found in written English are rarely used in spoken English.

Differences between written and spoken English

Recent studies of corpora (databases of written and spoken English) have confirmed that there is a substantial difference between written and spoken English.

Some differences:

  • Simple and present tenses
  • Continuous and perfect tenses used in narratives
  • Simple conjunctions far more frequent than complex conjunctions
  • Direct speech used in favour of reported speech
  • Incomplete sentences
  • Communication strategies: repetition, reformulation, repairing

In other words, native speakers rarely speak in grammatically perfect utterances either. When I trained to become a teacher, I remember going for a drink with friends and found myself correcting their English. Spoken English is generally spontaneous and interactive, which means that we do not always know what we are going to say before we speak; we use formulaic phrases; we correct, clarify to express ourselves.

You may disagree with some of my opinions and beliefs in this post. That’s great – we understand more about how things work by discussing ideas.

What is important is that you think deeply about these issues and challenge your own beliefs.

If you want to make changes, you may need to change how you think and what you believe.


33 maneras de hablar mejor inglés sin ir a clase

Si está leyendo esto, imagino que desea comunicarse en Inglés con confianza y de forma competente.

Cuando nos comunicamos modo efectivo somos capaces de expresar nuestras ideas y opiniones, compartir experiencias estableciendo relaciones con los demás. Cuando la expresión es una lucha para expresarnos, sentimos inseguros e infravalorados. Como seres humanos, queremos participar en discusiones grupales y tener un impacto en la sociedad que nos rodea.

En la sociedad moderna, nos comunicamos más allá de las fronteras. El inglés es lo más cercano que tenemos como idioma internacional.

Al hablar mejor Inglés, la gente pueden escuchar nuestra voz en todo el mundo. Pero para hablarlo mejor, necesita un profesor, ¿verdad?. Las clases de inglés son necesarias ¿verdad?.

Sin duda, los profesores y las clases de inglés le ayudarán. Sin embargo, estudiar Inglés durante unas horas a la semana no mejorará mucho puede su Inglés hablado.

Lo que se necesita es conseguir ser un alumno autodirigido, alguien que asuma su responsabilidad y cree de su propio programa de aprendizaje para desarrollar el conocimiento Inglés.

Es un hecho que hablar es una actividad social y se lleva a cabo óptimamente con otras personas.

Sin embargo, esto se puede extrapolar a diversas actividades. Leo Messi se convirtió en un jugador de fútbol maravilloso porque se pasó muchas horas diariamente y durante años practicando.


Y esto mismo usted puede hacerlo mismo con su Inglés. Estas son las 33 maneras de mejorar su Inglés hablado, sin ir a clase.

1. Grábese a sí mismo hablando inglés. Escucharse puede ser resultar extraño al principio, pero a la larga se acostumbrará. Escuche una grabación de alguien con Inglés fluido (un archivo de audio corto) y luego grábese a sí mismo repitiendo lo que ha escuchado. Compare la diferencia e inténtelo de nuevo. Los seres humanos somos imitadores por naturaleza por lo que cada vez lo hará mejor y mejor. Soundcloud es una excelente herramienta de grabación que le permite a usted o a su profesor anotar los errores orales cometidos.

2. Lea en voz alta, sobre todo el diálogo. Leer en voz alta no es lo mismo que hablar de forma natural. Sin embargo, es muy útil para el ejercicio de los músculos vocales. Practique 5 o 10 minutos diariamente y notará cuales son los sonidos difíciles que le cuesta más reproducir. Busque transcripciones de diálogos naturales, como los que encontrará aquí y practíquelos con un amigo. A la vez, aprenderá frases comunes que usadas al hablar.

3. Cante canciones en inglés mientras conduzca o en debajo de la ducha. Las letras de las canciones pop son a menudo conversaciones que le permitirán familiarizarse con expresiones comunes, si se escuchan. Los seres humanos también somos capaces de recordar palabras cuando se utilizan junto a la música. Por eso, se no hace difícil recordar poemas, pero fácil recordar las letras de las canciones. Estas son algunas de canciones para empezar a practicar.

4. Visione vídeos cortos, póngalos en pausa y repita lo que ha escuchado. YouTube es un recurso increíble para aprender idiomas y es probable que ya tenga sus videos favoritos. Mi consejo es que los visiones y los estudie a fondo. Es posible que con videos más largos su atención se disperse. La clave para mejorar viendo videos es escuchar con mucha atención y utilizar la pausa para la total concentración en cuanto a los sonidos y palabras. Muchos de los vídeos de YouTube están subtitulados actualmente.

5. Aprender el sonido de las vocales y consonantes en inglés. La gráfica de Fonemas es una lista de los diferentes sonidos de vocales y consonantes en Inglés. Aprenda ha reproducir estos sonidos y, posteriormente, implemente lo aprendido durante la pronunciación correcta de las palabras. Este proceso, le ayudará realmente a pronunciar el Inglés con claridad. Este es un gran recurso del British Council.

6. Aprenda e identifique schwa. ¿Se preguntará qué es el schwa?. El schwa es el sonido más común en Inglés: Haga clic aquí. Es muy utilizado en palabras como “teacher” y “around“.

7. Aprenda las formas débiles y fuertes de palabras comunes. Una vez que haya incorporado el sonido “schwa”, se dará cuenta que percibirá a los nativos de forma diferente. El Inglés es un lenguaje de tensión temporizada lo que implica que utiliza una combinación de formas fuertes y débiles en algunas palabras. Por ejemplo, ¿en qué palabras hacemos hincapié en la frase siguiente?. I want to go for a drink tonight.

¿Cómo pronuncian los nativos to / for / a en una oración?. Utilizamos el sonido schwa y entonces suena así:

I wanna go ferra drink tenigh.

Aprenda cómo y cuándo utilizar formas débiles y su comunicación mejorará diariamente un rápido. También aprenderá a concentrarse en las palabras acentuadas cuando se escucha a un nativo inglés que habla rápido. Este ejercicio le permitirá ser capaz de ¡entenderlo de forma fehaciente!

8. Aprenda acento prosódico. Cuando las palabras tienen más de una sílaba, reforzamos en una o más de ellas. Por ejemplo, la palabra “intelligent” tiene cuatro sílabas, pero qué sílaba reforzamos?. Haga clic aquí para descubrirlo. Recuerde que el acento (la pequeña marca vertical situada encima de la letra) identifica la sílaba acentuada: /ɪntel.ɪ.dʒənt/

9. Aprenda acerca de la acentuación en las frases. La acentuación se refiere a las frases o palabras que se acentúan. Cuando hacemos hincapié en una palabra, ayudamos al oyente a entender lo que es importante. Si resaltamos la palabra equivocada o no el énfasis en la palabra clave, puede confundir al oyente o no identificar lo que es importante en la frase. Hace algunos años, me inscribí en un gimnasio. Me solicitaron que asistiera a una clase de introducción a “de cinco a seis”. La recepcionista húngara hizo hincapié en la palabra «seis» por lo que llegué a las 5.55. Me miró y me dijo que había llegado tarde y la clase casi había terminado. Ella debería haber enfatizado las palabras “cinco” y “seis” y yo hubiera comprendido que la duración de la clase introductoria ¡se iniciaba a las 5 de la tarde!. Para más información sobre el énfasis frase, leer aquí.

10. Identifique frases fijas y semifijas y practíquelas. Las frases fijas contienen por lo general entre 3 y 7 palabras e incluyen palabras como:

to be honest

in a moment

on the other hand

Una conversación está compuesta por estructuras gramaticales, vocabulario y frases fijas o semifijas. De hecho y para decir la verdad, normalmente, la mayoría de las veces, mis amigos y yo, nos comunicamos con una serie de expresiones fijas y semifijas.

Aprenda las funciones comunicativas de estas frases y practique cómo se pronuncian (recuerde las formas débiles de las fuertes) y utilícelas en sus conversaciones diarias. Haga clic aquí para obtener un listado de 1.000 frases comunes.

11. Aprenda las construcciones gramaticales. A las palabras no les gusta estar solas. Prefieren pasar el rato con sus amigos y, al igual que las personas, algunas palabras son muy cercanas y otras nunca se relacionan.

Amarillo no se lleva bien con pelo. Tal vez el amarillo es celoso de rubio, porque las palabras pelo y rubio con frecuencia se asimilan a la diversión. El amarillo no entiende por que el pelo rubio prefiere el rubio si amarillo y rubio son tan similares.

Escuchar con atención las combinaciones comunes de palabras. Corto y pequeño tienen un significado similar pero la gente tiene el pelo corto y no pequeña. Largo y alto difieren mucho pero la gente con frecuencia tiene grandes esperanzas y no altas. Los zorros son astutos no sinuosos. Las horas pueden ser felices, pero nunca animadas. Los idiotas son estúpidos, pero rara vez tontos.

12. Sustituya verbos regulares por verbos compuestos. Muchos alumnos no entienden por que los nativos utilizan tantos verbos compuestos en vez de verbos normales teniendo el mismo significado (por lo general con raíces latinas). Originalmente, el Inglés era una lengua germánica que incluyó una gran cantidad de vocabulario latino después de la conquista Normanda en el siglo XI. Independientemente de los factores históricos, la realidad es que los nativos ingleses utilizan muchísimas verbos preposicionales. Si usted quiere comprendernos, utilícelos en sus conversaciones. Si comete un error, es probable que nos haga reír, pero no nos confundirá, ya que podemos percibir, desde el contexto de lo expresado, a lo que se refiere. Los verbos compuestos son espaciales y originalmente se refieren al movimiento por lo que cuando se aprende uno nuevo, haga movimientos físicos que le ayuden a recordar.

13. Aprenda respuestas cortas y automáticas. Muchas de nuestras respuestas son automáticas (Right, OK, no problem, alright, fine thanks, just a minute, you’re welcome, fine by me, let’s do it!, yup, no way! you’re joking, right?, Do I have to?, Sí, no hay manera! ¿Es una broma, ¿verdad ?, ¿tengo que? etc.). Una estas respuestas automáticas cortas y utilícelas.

14. Practique contando historias y use tiempos verbales narrativos. Los seres humanos están concebidos para contar historias. Utilizamos el pasado perfecto simple, pasado y el pluscuamperfecto para relatar, pero cuando el oyente está totalmente inmerso en el relato, siente como si en realidad estuviera viviendo la historia en primera persona. Por lo tanto, a menudo utilizamos tiempos de presente para convertir nuestras historias en ¡más espectaculares!.

15. Aprenda a pausar para hacer surgir el efecto. Hablando de forma rápida en inglés no te convierte en un orador eficaz. Sabiendo cómo introducir una pausa se obtiene como resultado el darle tiempo al oyente reflexionar sobre lo expresado, responder de manera adecuada y que prediga la continuación. Imagínese que usted es un actor en un escenario, haciendo una pausa mantiene a las personas en vilo. Esta es una gran estrategia si precisa hablar Inglés en público.

16. Aprenda a fragmentar. Chunking significa unir palabras formando una sola con significado. No es necesario que analice cada palabra a usar en una frase. Observe la frase: Nice to meet you. Es una frase corta (4 palabras) susceptible de ser recordada como un sólo elemento. También es un ejemplo de elipsis (obviando palabras), ya que las palabras “it” y “es” no están al principio de la frase. Sin embargo, no es necesario incluirlos. Más información aquí.

17. Tome conciencia de los típicos problemas de pronunciación de su lengua materna. los alumnos japoneses tienen dificultades para identificar y reproducir la “r” que convierten en “l”; en Español es imperceptible la diferencia de pronunciación entre “b” y “v”; los alemanes utilizan a menudo el sonido de la “v”, en vez del de la “w”. Averigüe qué problemas de pronunciación tienen en su lengua materna y como pueden repercutir al hablar Inglés. Con esta conciencia usted sabrá en que focalizarse.

18. Elija un acento que le guste e imítelo. A menudo tenemos una conexión emocional con ciertas nacionalidades. ¿Tiene más interés en la cultura Británica que en la cultura Americana? ¿Apoya el Manchester United o al Arsenal?. El primer paso es decidir qué tipo de Inglés desea.

19. Encuentre un actor/actriz que le gusta e identifique lo que los hace en potentes oradores. ¿Quieres sonar como Barack Obama, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) Beyonce o Steve Jobs?. Si quiere sonar como David Beckham, le aconsejo que lo reconsidere, a menos que ¡le apetezca sonar como una niña!

20. Utilice un espejo y/o una hoja de papel para identificar los sonidos aspirados y los expirados. Los sonidos aspirados son los que tienen un breve impulso, tales como “p” en “pen” mientras que los expirados no tienen o tienen poco aire, como la “b” en “Ben”. Mira este vídeo para aprender más.

21. Practique trabalenguas. Los trabalenguas son frases con sonidos particulares explícitamente diseñados para mejorar la pronunciación. Esta una lista para niños pero es muy divertida. Trate de leerla .Intente decir esta frase incrementado la rapidez:

What a terrible tongue twister. What a terrible tongue twister. What a terrible tongue twister.

22. Deletree en voz alta nombres, números y fechas. Esto les puede parecer muy básico pero si no practica, se le olvidará como se pronuncia “them. Repase los números y los nombres de aquí.

 23. Aprenda los patrones más comunes de entonación. La entonación en Inglés (cuando subir el tono de voz y cuando hacerlo descender) es compleja pero muy importante, ya que expresa el sentimiento o la emoción del comunicador. A continuación, una introducción divertida de la entonación.

24. Aprenda los puntos de articulación. Los articuladores son las partes bucales que utilizamos para convertir el sonido al pronunciarlo. Pueden ser partes fijas como (los dientes, en la parte posterior de éstos, el paladar blando ) y móviles como (la lengua, los labios, el paladar blando y la mandíbula) fijos. Haga clic aquí para obtener más información.

25. Después de observar las partes de articulación, la practique haciendo los mismos movimientos que los nativos hacen al hablar. A continuación un video y recuerde ¡abra las mandíbulas, ejercite los labios y consiga que su lengua se mueva!

26. Sepa porque el inglés es una lengua de acento cronometrado. El ritmo de la lengua se basa en sílabas acentuadas por lo que acortamos las sílabas no acentuadas para ajustar el ritmo. En los idiomas de sílaba cronometrada (como el Español) se tarda el mismo tiempo pronunciar cada sílaba. Esta es una explicación que deja en evidencia por qué usted habla Inglés como un robot o vea este divertido video.

27. Aprenda a interrumpir e interponer de manera correcta y exitosa. Haga clic aquí para obtener una lista de frases de interrupción.

28. Obtenga información acerca de la elipsis, la asimilación y los sonidos de enlace.

29. Hable bajo, no alce la voz. Los estudios han demostrado que con un tono más profundo vocal es la forma de llamar la atención y demostrar autoridad, especialmente en los hombres. Esto es especialmente importante si usted debe hablar en público. Aquí encontrará una guía rápida.

30. Escuche y lea poesía (o canciones de rap) para practicar el ritmo de inglés. Quintillas humorísticas (poemas rimados cortos y divertidos) son realmente útiles y demuestran cómo el Inglés es de acento cronometrado y la utilización de las formas débiles.

31. Aprende palabras de admiración y muletillas. Vea este video o estúdiese la lista adjunta de las 100 exclamaciones comunes.

32. Aprenda a parafrasear. Parafraseando es cuando reformulamos la frase expresada para que le quede claro que al oyente o cuando transmitimos un mensaje ajeno recibido utilizando distintas palabras. A continuación encontrará algunos para empezar.

33. Utilice más las contracciones. Las contracciones hacen su discurso más eficiente porque ahorran tiempo y energía. Diga ‘should not’ y luego diga ‘shouldn’t’: ¿cuál es más fácil de pronunciar? Muy común en el habla con fluidez.

Ahora, está es la LLAMADA A LA ACCION .

En los próximos 33 días, trabaje durante 15 minutos diarios uno de los consejos. Estoy seguro de que dará cuenta de una mejora enorme.

Y ¡tal vez un día hable inglés como Messi juega al fútbol!

Gracias por leer el post.

4 Essential Factors for Serious English Learners

There are four essential factors you need to focus on as a Serious English Learner if you want to upgrade your English.

Serious English learners don’t rely on teacher, textbooks or courses. They create their own learning program based around these four key aspects.

Take responsibility for and control of your own individual learning journey.

Find your motivation, develop a positive mindset, choose effective methods, and look for mentors who can really help you achieve your learning goals.

What you really need to improve your English

Do you have a English-speaking role model?

A few years ago, I had a Japanese student who was obsessed with David Beckham. For those of you who don’t know, David Beckham was a very good English footballer who became incredibly famous for his good looks as well as his ability to kick a ball. This student, Kazu was his name, dyed his hair so he was blond like Beckham. He styled his hair in the same way as Beckham. He even dressed like Beckham.


One day. he came into class and started talking with a high-pitched voice – like an 11 year-old girl. His natural voice, which I heard when he spoke Japanese, was quite deep and masculine. After the class, I asked him why he was speaking in this funny voice.

“Funny voice” he said, he looked disappointed, “I’m trying to talk like Beckham”.

Well, David Beckham has many positive qualities but he is not regarded as the possessor of a rich and resonant speaking voice. ‘Golden balls’ not ‘Golden Voice’.

Listen to David Beckham speaking here.

However, I don’t think Kazu was wrong to look for a vocal role-model in English. His choice may have been a mistake but his learning strategy was, I think, quite a good one.

I often ask my learners who they would like to sound like in English.

I imagine most singers start by copying other singers they like. I imagine most artists start painting pictures which are similar to paintings by more famous artists. I imagine sportsmen and women and business people have role models which inspire them.

Find somebody with a clear and effective speaking voice and aspire to sound like them.

Having said that, we should choose realistic role models. If you are a woman with a high voice, you are unlikely to sound like James Earl Jones, the actor who voiced Darth Vader in the Star Wars film.

Your role model does not have to be a native speaker either. Most studies show that becoming fluent and proficient in a second language is possible but sounding like a native speaker is rare. Finding a fluent English speaker from your country might actually be a better – and more realistic – option for you.

But, why not do some research? Search for famous people with attractive voices and choose a vocal role model. See if you can find some audio or video recordings of them speaking English and try to copy them. Watch how they form the sounds in English and observe their body language. Record yourself speaking the same words and see how close you can come to sounding like them.

Analyse your vocal role model by focusing on the following aspects of their speech:

  • how they stress words and which words they stress
  • how they use strong and weak forms of common words (a/an/ of)
  • how they use intonation to express emotion
  • how they use intonation to finish one point, move to a new one, and ask questions
  • which phrases (fixed and semi-fixed) they like to use
  • what fillers (umm, right) they use between utterances
  • when and why they vary the speed and volume of their speech
  • how they interrupt and take turns
  • how they reformulate, repeat, paraphrase etc.
  • watch their facial expressions and how they form sounds and words

We can learn so much by observing effective speakers and discovering which techniques they use to communicate and express their thoughts, ideas and opinions. Also, make sure you watch how they interact with others and make them feel relaxed and comfortable.

Watch some TED Talks if you want to learn how to deliver speeches in English. There are some amazing public speakers you can learn from.

Who do you think has a great speaking voice that you could use as a vocal role model?

How to Give Advice

When you give advice, you position yourself as somebody with experience, knowledge or wisdom that is worth sharing.

Sometimes we offer advice and other times we are asked for advice. Remember not to always give advice unless people seek your help. Otherwise, people may think you are a know-it-all.


Many of my students ask me for advice about how to improve their English and while I have some ideas which may be useful, there is a strong argument for saying that the best people to give advice about improving your English are successful language learners and not teachers.

A few years ago, I asked a group of Advanced-level learners (successful English language learners) to give some advice to lower-level learners.

Here are some of the things they said:

I think the best way to improve your English is to find an English-speaking boyfriend or girlfriend.

What you should do is find someone who wants to learn your language and arrange regular meetings with them – they can practise your language and you can practise English.

If I were you, I would go to a small town in an English-speaking country and immerse yourself in the language and the culture. Find a job working in an English-speaking environment, join clubs, and attend courses in English. Big cities, such as London, are full of people who speak your language, so you won’t need to spend 24 hours speaking English.

I reckon you ought to pay for a private tutor. They may be expensive but they are worth investing in because you can personalised attention and individual feedback.

If I were in your shoes, I would enrol in an intensive language course in which you spend 6 or 7 hours a day using English. It’s the only way to really develop.

The way I see it, you can learn English online now by doing everything in English, surfing the web, watching YouTube, reading articles, everything.

My advice would be to study abroad if possible. It will be really difficult at first but after a while, you’ll start to think, speak and dream in English. Oh, one more thing, avoid hanging out with people from your own country.

Let’s quickly review:

I think the best way to do something is to …
What you should do is do….
If I were you, I would do
I reckon you ought to do
If I were in your shoes, I would do
The way I see it, you can do…
My advice would be to do….

So, your homework is to tell me what advice you would give to people who want to go from Intermediate to Advanced English.

How to make suggestions in English

I imagine the reason you are listening to this podcast or reading this article is because you want to improve your English, to take your English to the next level. You might be a competent user of English but I expect you do not consider yourself an expert. In fact, you might consider me to be an expert because I am a) a native speaker of English and b) I have been teaching English for a long time.

Because you consider yourself to be a learner and you consider me to be a teacher, it is normal that you ask me for help, advice, and you value my opinion (I hope).

In this episode, therefore, I’m going to talk about making suggestions.

One way to look at the wider area of advice and suggestions is to think about 3 different levels:

The first level is making suggestions. When we make suggestions, we introduce an idea which the other person might like to consider. There are not under much pressure to accept our idea and can reject it or ignore it if they wish. A simple way to say this is to use ‘Could’. For instance, you could watch TV in English if you want to improve your English.

The middle level is advice. When we give advice, we are presenting ourselves – or the other person sees us – as somebody with some knowledge or experience about the problem. They come to us because they value our opinion and think we can help them. A simple way to say this is ‘You should find an English teacher to help you improve your English’

The highest level is when we offer our idea or opinion because it is necessary and vital that the  other person listens to us. In other words, our opinion is something that they really need to know. A simple way to say this is ‘You must speak more if you want to improve your English’.

One difficulty we have is deciding what level of advice we should give. Men, in particular, have this problem. We often give the highest level of advice even when the other person doesn’t ask for our help.

So, in the next 3 podcasts, I’m going to look at the 3 levels of advice.

Let’s look at making suggestions first. This is lower-level advice when the problem somebody has isn’t so serious and they are not desperate for our help. When we brainstorm ideas, think of possible solutions to this problem, we often use these phrases.

I was having a drink with some Spanish friends on Friday and one of them mentioned that she would like to improve her listening in English. She doesn’t need to pass a listening exam and doesn’t need to understand English in her job. So, it’s not something she needs, it’s just something she’d like.

Here are some suggestions I made:

You could start listening to English-language radio while you’re doing the housework.

How about listening to the British English Coach podcast every day?

Have you thought about buying an Audio Course in English?

Have you considered watching films in English with subtitles in your language?

It might actually be a good idea to try reading subtitles in English too.

What do you think about finding a podcast in English about something that interests you?

Have you tried going to a language exchange night and meeting some English speakers to practise with?

Let’s review the phrases. I will use the verb ‘do’ but you can obviously use any verb you like.

You could start or try doing something.

How about doing something?

Have you thought about doing something?

Have you considered doing something?

It might be a good idea to do something?

What do you think about doing something?

Have you tried doing something?

The great thing about these phrases is that you do not put any pressure on the person you are speaking to. Because they are only suggestions, you are letting them decide to follow your advice or forget it. No pressure and no stress for you or your conversational partner.

As I said, these phrases are great for brainstorming because the person who receives the suggestion does not have to assess it or evaluate it. They can even say ‘Good idea’ and then forget it and you won’t be offended.

Please tune in (which means listen to) the next podcast in which I’ll discuss phrases we use to give advice (level 2 ).

How to give explanations in English

Explaining is about making somebody understand something. When we explain, we often provide details of reasons about the thing, process, situation or theory we are discussing.

Explanations usually link cause with effect. For instance, we were you late home (the effect)? Because, I had to work late in the office (the cause).

In this podcast, we are going to look at some phrases used in English to give explanations.

I live in Spain and, when I’m not speaking English, I communicate in Spanish. My Spanish isn’t perfect – far from it – but I can generally express my ideas and opinions in most situations, although I make lots of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation mistakes. In fact, sometimes I even dream in Spanish.

But, the thing is, no matter how good my Spanish might become, I doubt whether I will ever feel 100% comfortable speaking Spanish. The truth is I feel like I have a different personality when I speak Spanish.

What about you? Do you feel like you have a different personality when you speak English? Do you feel like a different person when you speak English?

Why should that be the case? Why do we feel like we have a different personality when we speak a second or foreign language?

I’m going to explain why I think we feel this way. I’m going to discuss some of the possible causes for this effect.

The reason for this effect is that we have an emotional attachment to our first language, because it is the language we used as a child. Our deepest and oldest memories, the ones we have carried with us all our lives, are recorded in that first language. As we grew older, our bodies change but the core, the foundation of our personality, is expressed in our mother tongue.

One possible explanation is that we have the chance to create a new personality for ourselves when we learn a second language. We can be like actors performing a role. If we are shy in our first language, we can choose to be more confident and extroverted in our second language. This can be quite liberating for many people as we can create a second language alter-ego.

On the other hand, many people feel less comfortable and confident when speaking a second language. What’s responsible for that is that we do not have the language resources to express ourselves in a sophisticated way and this is really frustrating for adults. We feel like we are children again, communicating in an infantile way when we speak with adults. Let me explain, when we communicate in our first language, we have mastered the ability of complex communication. We are much more successful at finding appropriate ways and phrases to clearly express our ideas and opinions. We don’t have to worry about making grammar mistakes or mispronouncing words. And when we make mistakes, we are able to self-correct. We are able to communicate as equals with other adults. When we communicate in a foreign language with native speakers of that language, we notice the difference between their sophisticated use of language and our simple childish attempts at conversation.

There’s no doubt in my mind that successful learners of a foreign language realise that they are not the same person when they communicate in a second language. It could well be that trying to express the same personality in your second language causes people to feel frustrated and uncomfortable. So, I’d say that we feel like we have a different personality in our second language because our public persona is actually different.

So, let’s quickly review some of the phrases I used:

The reason for ……

One possible explanation is that….

What’s responsible for this effect is….

Let me explain,……

There’s no doubt in my mind……..

It could well be that…………

I’d say that ………..

Well, what do you think? Do you feel that you have a different personality when you speak English? If so, what are the possible causes of this effect?


How to agree and disagree in English

In this podcast, we are going to look at some phrases for agreeing and disagreeing with people’s opinions. If you didn’t listen to the last podcast, why not listen to that now and learn or review some expressions for giving opinions.

Listen to the podcast here

If you want the easy life, then just agree with everything that people say to you. All you have to do is say ‘Yeah’ or nod your head and you won’t have any problems.

Until one day, when people start to find you boring. They think you are just a ‘Yes man or woman’ with no opinion of your own.

Most of us prefer to interact with people who add something extra to the conversation and disagreement is often preferable to complete agreement.

So, let me begin with a few statements. Listen to them and decide if you agree or disagree. Also, think about whether you completely agree, partly agree, partly disagree or completely disagree.

The only good English teachers are native speakers, teachers whose first language is English.
British English is superior (better than) American English.
Correct grammar is more important than good pronunciation.
The only way to truly learn a second language is to go to that country where it is spoken.
Adults cannot become fluent speakers of a second language.

Now, I hope some of those statements made you think. I know I would find it difficult to completely agree with any of them.

But, agreeing or disagreeing is something that you are expected to do when you speak English. If you are taking a test, an interview, or even just socialising, you will be expected to respond to opinions.

Of course, there are cultural factors we have to consider and maybe you feel uncomfortable disagreeing with certain people in specific situations in your culture. Maybe, you shouldn’t disagree with your boss or your teacher or your parents.

However, if you are communicating with most native speakers of English, disagreeing is expected but there are ways to disagree indirectly which reduce the risk of argument or confrontation.

So, let’s look at some phrases for agreeing.

When we agree strongly, we can say:

You’re absolutely right.
I couldn’t agree more.
That’s exactly what I think.

Partial agreement is a little more difficult.

Yes, OK, but perhaps..
I see what you mean but have you thought about..
I hear what you’re saying but..
I accept what you’re saying but…
I see your point but…
I agree to some extent but..
True enough but….
On the whole, I agree with you but…

As I’m sure you have noticed, we often show we are in general agreement and then say ‘but’ to introduce a reservation or a different point of view.

As well as partial agreement, we can also express doubt or weak disagreement.

Yeah, I’m not really sure about that.
Maybe, but isn’t it more a question of …
That’s not really how I see it, I’m afraid.
I’m not really with you on that one.
Mmm, but don’t you think…?

And then of course, sometimes we just have to disagree

I can’t agree. I really think…
I have to disagree there..
No, I disagree. What about….?
No way! I completely disagree with you
Come on! How can you say that….
Absolutely not!
You’re talking rubbish.
You don’t know what you’re saying.
That’s absolute nonsense.

You get the idea. If I continue with stronger phrases to express disagreement, I will have to put a parental warning on this podcast and restrict it to people over 18.

There is also a great phrase in English when we know we will never agree with somebody so there is no point continuing with the argument.

OK, let’s agree to disagree.

So, to end, I’d like to repeat the statements I read out earlier and I’d like you to try to respond using some of the phrases we’ve looked at in this podcast.

The only good English teachers are native speakers, teachers whose first language is English.
British English is superior (better than) American English.
Correct grammar is more important than good pronunciation.
The only way to truly learn a second language is to go to that country where it is spoken.
Adults cannot become fluent speakers of a second language.

How to to give your opinion in English

In this podcast, I talk about some of the different ways to give your opinion in English.

Giving opinions

When we give our opinion, we say what we think, feel or believe about something or somebody.

For example, what do you think of the new boss? What do you think is the best way to improve your English?

Some people are very opinionated, which means they are certain about what they think and believe and express their ideas and opinions strongly and frequently. They love and can’t stop themselves expressing their opinions, even when they know nothing about the topic. I’m sure you know this type of person.

Other people are more cautious and careful when asked to give their opinions. They prefer not to be so certain about their own ideas and opinions and try to keep an open mind. Or they distance themselves from the opinions they express.

And of course, we are often more confident about giving our opinions when we are with people we know well or we are discussing a topic we are familiar with.

So, when we express our opinion, we have to decide how we would like to express it. We have to think carefully before expressing our opinion because if we express our opinion too strongly or directly, we can cause offence. However, if we are too cautious about expressing our opinions in certain situations, people may think we are indecisive and even weak. For example, if you are in a position of responsibility, you will probably be expected to have a strong or firm opinion.

So, now lets look at different phrases we can use to give our opinion.

Let’s choose a topic that we are all familiar with: the best way to improve your English.

There are at least 4 ways to give an opinion.

Firstly, We can express a strong opinion.

I’m absolutely convinced that the best way to improve your English is to live in an English-speaking country such as the UK.

It’s obvious to me that the best way to improve your English is to buy a grammar book and learn all of the rules.

As far as I’m concerned, the best way to improve your English is to immerse yourself in the language and stop communicating in your first language.

Secondly, we can express a cautious or reluctant opinion when we show that we are not certain about what we think or we are reluctant to express what we believe.

I suppose that getting a private tutor would be a good way to improve.

As far as I understand it, you need to practise on a regular basis if you want to improve.

It seems to me that there is no best way to learn English. Each person has to find a strategy or method that works for them.

I must admit that I’m not sure there is a best way to improve your English. I suppose that going to an English-speaking country to study English might be a good way.

I’m no expert but if I had to say, I guess that working in an English-speaking environment would help you improve.

Thirdly, we can express an objective opinion, based on research or what we have heard or read. In this way, we distance ourselves from the opinion to show that maybe it’s not what we personally believe.

Apparently, setting a clear goal, such as passing an exam, can help you improve your English.

I’ve heard that going to an English-speaking country is the best way to improve.

The research seems to suggest that there is no best way to improve your English.

Finally, we can express a subjective opinion, based only our own personal experience.

In my experience, the best way to improve your English is to practise as much as you can and learn from your mistakes.

I don’t know about other people, but I can say that taking English classes helped me.

What I’ve found is that watching and listening to films and TV in English can really help.

Of course, there are many ways to express your opinion in spoken English but I certainly recommend that you move beyond the most basic phrases such as ‘I think’ and ‘In my opinion’ if you want to take your English to the next level.

So, I’d love to hear what you think. Why not give me your opinion about the best way to improve your English. Express your ideas using the phrases we have looked at or maybe you know other ways to give your opinion.

How to express fear in English

Listen to the podcast first then read the article

A strange sound makes you up one morning. The sound of something tiny, moving around quickly. You wonder if it’s an insect, some kind of bug. But, where is it? On the wall? In your bed? On the floor?

Suddenly, you’re wide awake. Your eyes wide open in the darkness.

The bug isn’t on the wall, nor is it on the floor or even in your bed.

The bug is inside your ear. It’s running around inside your ear!!

Yesterday, I read a news story about singer Katie Melua. She had to go the doctor to have a spider removed from inside her ear. She seemed amazingly calm about it but I would have been petrified.

I’m scared of spiders! In fact, I’m terrified of spiders!

In this article, I’m going to give you a few common phrases to express fear in English.

FEAR is an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful or bad that is happening or might happen.

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

In English, we choose words to express the level of fear we feel about something.

I’m petrified of spiders

I’m terrified of spiders

I have a terrible fear of spiders

I’m really scared of spiders

I’m really afraid of spiders

I’m really frightened of spiders

I have a fear of spider

I’m scared of spiders

I’m afraid of spiders

I’m frightened of spiders

I am a little (bit) scared of spiders

I’m a little (bit) afraid of spiders

I’m a little (bit) frightened of spiders

We can also use this structure:

Spiders petrify me

Spiders terrify me

Spiders frighten me

Spiders really scare me

Spiders scare me

Spiders scare me a little (bit)

There are a number of colloquial (everyday language used mainly in spoken or informal communication) in British English, such as the following:

Spiders frighten the life out of me

Spiders scare the hell out of me

Spiders scare the shit out of me (this contains the word ‘shit’ which is a mild swear word, which you shouldn’t use when speaking to your grandmother).

So, it’s over to you.

What are you scared of? What frightens the life out of you?



Stop trying to be perfect

Listen to this blog post here

Here are a few questions I’d like to ask you. Just answer yes or no.

Do you avoid saying something in English if you don’t know the right word?
Do you avoid using grammar structures until you have mastered them?
Do you spend more time doing grammar or vocabulary exercises than actually communicating in English?
Do you only want to speak English with native speakers?
Do you ask your teachers to correct every mistake and then feel discouraged when they do?
Do you get upset when you don’t get top marks in your test?
Do you always ask your teacher for the best way to say or write something and get annoyed when they are not able to provide a clear answer?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, than there is a good chance that you are a perfectionist.

What is a perfectionist? According to the Cambridge dictionary, a perfectionist is a person who wants everything to be perfect and demands the highest standards possible.

A short time ago, the Iphone 6 was released and many reviewers talked about it being the perfect smartphone. Until, some person realised that they may bend out of shape when you put them in your pocket. Even Apple are not yet able to produce the perfect smartphone.

And if we cannot find a perfect smartphone, why do we think we should be able to communicate perfectly? When we decide to express ourselves, in our first, second or sixth language, we have to make choices. Sometimes, these choices are reasonably simple. If someone asks you what the time is, you could say five to six or nearly six or five minutes before six or five fifty-five. When we express ideas or opinions, we have an unlimited set of options. If I am in a job interview and the interviewer asks me why I want the job, what do I say?

I need the money
I love your company
I’m the best man for the job
I believe I can be a great asset to this company
Because I want your job in 5 years time.

See what I mean. There are no perfect responses in spoken communication. Even if I am offered the job, I cannot say my answer to the question was ‘perfect’. Maybe the interviewer chose to give me the job despite not because of my answer. Maybe he gave me the job because he liked my CV or my suit, or I reminded him of his son or best friend, or I was the only person who applied for the job.

When we use the English language to perform a function, agree, disagree, complain, make somebody laugh, how we express ourselves is based on a combination of factors such as the words we use or our facial expressions.

And what we say is affected by other factors beyond our control: the relationship we have with the other person, the mood of the person we are speaking with, the temperature of the room, the time of the day, their relationship with their husband or wife, the kind of day they are having, what they want to achieve from the interaction, what they think about you, distractions which may lead them to think about something else, how much attention they are paying to our words. The list of factors is endless.

But, we often blame ourselves for imperfect communication rather than look for other reasons why we didn’t get the response we wanted.

Which is why we need to reflect upon what happened when we spoke. Was it what we said or how we said it that was wrong? Or was it an external factor beyond our control that caused the problem?

In the end, it always difficult to be certain about why something happened. All we can do is observe the reaction we get, make an educated guess about why we got this reaction, and make changes for the next time. Only by experimenting with different approaches can we find a suitable and successful way to say something: not the perfect way but a way that works.

We learn from our mistakes and through trial and error.

And remember, it’s better to say something imperfectly than say nothing perfectly.

How to make sure you remember new words in English

Listen to the Podcast here

Read the article below

Have you heard of the Vocabulary Graveyard?

It’s the place where words go to die.

Many years ago, one of my teaching mentors told me why I should make sure my students reviewed new words and phrases.

If they don’t review these new words, they end up in the vocabulary graveyard!

When we learn something new, we are likely to forget it unless we keep on using it.

Use it or lose it

What do you do when you learn new words or phrases in English? How do you make sure this new language is stored in your long-term memory and doesn’t end up in the vocabulary graveyard?

Read on to discover a simple strategy for really learning new language

When you come across a new word, you can increase your chances of remembering it – and store it in your long-term memory – by using your mobile phone.

Step 1: Check the word in a dictionary app on your phone

Here’s what I recommend for fans of British English! This is the initial learning part. Make sure you check word type (noun, verb etc.) and make a note of the meaning. Read the example sentence which shows how the word is used in context and refer back to the text you read in which you first saw the word.

Step 2: Make it personal

We remember words much better when we relate them to our own life. Dictionary definitions and example sentences are fine, but they are not written especially for you. Adapt them using references to your own life and you are more likely to remember them.

Step 3: When you are happy with your example sentence, read it aloud a couple of times and try to remember it

Say it aloud, talk to yourself. After a couple of repetitions, you’ll remember it and won’t need to check what you wrote.  Even better, teach the word to a friend and make sure you ask them to teach it back to you!

Step 4: Then, record yourself defining the word with your example sentence on your mobile

I’ve just learnt the word ……

This is a verb / noun / adjective which means………

It has a similar meaning to

Here is an example of how it is used

Say your example sentence here

Listen back to the recording immediately. Wait a couple of minutes then write the word, the definition and the example sentence on a piece of paper or repeat it verbally.

Step 5: After an hour, listen back to the recording again (repeat to remember)

Listen again over the next 24 hours. Wait a day then listen again. Leave it for a couple of days then listen again. Wait a week before going back to it. Again, practising with a friend will maximise your chances of storing it in your long-term memory.

This is a really simple way to maximise your chance of actually learning new vocabulary in English.

There are 3 main reasons why this strategy works:

1. Personalisation of new language makes it more memorable

2. In everyday communication, we often use all 4 skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) which research suggests increases the chances of long-term memory storage.

3. Spaced repetition is a learning technique in which we learn new information by reviewing it but we extend the gaps between each review. For example, we review something after 2 hrs, then 10 hrs, then 2 days, then 10 days etc. This seems to be an extremely effective way to learn and many learning applications, such as Duolingo, use this technique.

As John Medina, author of Brain Rules puts it: Repeat to remember and Remember to Repeat.

I’d love to hear what you think. What do you do when you want to really learn new words? Let’s share our ideas.





How To Make New Language Sticky

A man goes on a business trip to a city in a small country in Europe. In the evening, he leaves his hotel room and goes to a local bar for a drink. He orders a cocktail and drinks it while he watches a sports game on TV.

He wakes up the next morning in a bath full of ice and a severe pain in his lower back. Next to the bath, there is a chair. On the chair there is a note and his mobile phone. He reads the note. It says the following:

Call this number or you will die.

For a moment, he doesn’t know what to do. He makes up his mind and calls the number. The voice tells him to stay where he is and somebody will fetch him. Minutes later, some men in white coats arrive to take him to hospital. As he is in the ambulance, he asks one of the men what is going on. The man tells him that he has been drugged and that while he was unconscious, one of his ………… was removed!

Now, even if you don’t know the word for ‘kidney’ in English, I am sure your mind created a mental image of a kidney as you were reading the end of the story.

In fact, many of you have probably heard this story, although some details may have been different in the version you know. What is amazing about the ‘kidney thieves’ story is that so many believe it but it has been proven to be an urban myth ( a story that people think is true but actually never happened).

The story, however, has all the ingredients of a story that sticks in the mind.

And, if you didn’t know the word kidney before, I’m sure you won’t forget it after hearing it in this chilling tale.

In their best-selling book Make it Sticky, Chip and Dan Heath talk about the key components of memorable ideas. While their focus is on brands and business, their model for making ideas memorable may also help you learn new language.

If you want to learn new words and phrases in English, applying these principles should help you remember them.

1) Keep it simple

When you learn an item of new language, you need to write a simple definition.If your definition for a new word is too long or complex, you are unlikely to remember it. Make sure your definition can be written in fewer than 10 words (fewer than 7 is even better). Even better, draw a picture if you can.

2) Be unexpected

After writing your definition, write a sentence using the new language in context. Make the sentence funny, strange, dramatic or even ridiculous. The important thing is that you create a surprising but vivid image that you will remember.

3) Make it credible and concrete

While unusual or unexpected sentences are likely to be more memorable, if they are too strange, you are likely to forget them. Remember that a great way to really learn new language is to teach it to another person. Sentences which make no sense are too far from reality to stick in the memory. Also, it’s a good idea to use examples which relate to your own life or experience.

4) Emotional

I remember far more from my Biology lessons at school than from my Physics lessons. The reason why is that my Biology teacher loved to shock us by asking us to dissect frogs’ hearts or he’d throw rats’ eyes at us. Disgust is a very powerful emotion, along with anger, fear, contempt, joy, sadness and surprise, and creating sentences which appeal to one or more emotional states should result in better retention of the new language. The story above works on many levels and evokes a range of emotions.

5) Make a story around the new language

The best way to make something memorable is to build a story around it, like the word ‘kidney’ in the example. You don’t need to create a script for a film but using the new item in a short anecdote will definitely increase your chances of remembering it. A short dialogue is especially effective for phrases, idioms, phrasal verbs or proverbs. Of course, creating even a short anecdote takes time and effort but I’m sure your hard work will pay off when you find yourself being able to use the new language in real-time communication.

Take Action

When you come across a new item of language:

  • Write a short definition or draw a picture. Remember to note down what type of word it is (noun, verb etc).
  • Write a sentence using the new language. Make the sentence unusual enough to remember but not too strange!
  • Think or even write a short anecdote using the new word. Make sure to personalise it and relate it to your own life and experiences.
  • Share the story by telling it to other people. If you can’t do that, record yourself telling the anecdote.

Here is a link to a video lesson by TED-ed on Make it Sticky.







How to tell anecdotes in English

“Words are how we think; stories are how we link.Christina Baldwin

The one thing that all humans share in common is our ability to learn and share experiences through stories.

Just think for a minute about your own life. How many stories could you tell people about what’s happened to you over the years? Hundreds? Thousands?

Stories are an essential part of communication. We love hearing other people tell stories. They are so much more engaging, so much more memorable than facts or theories.

Learning to tell stories in a foreign language isn’t as difficult as you might think. If you can tell a story in your own language, you should be able to use the same material and retell it in English. 

I’d like you to think of some incident that has happened to you  – or somebody you know – recently. Short stories about incidents (events that happen or occur) are known as anecdotes.  They are much easier for us to remember than stories from films or books because we have a personal attachment to them. We share anecdotes all the time. In fact, many scientists now argue that the brain is wired for stories because they enable us to make sense of the world. When we hear a story, we relate what happens to our own experiences. In other words, we make the story our own.

So, one of the most important skills you can learn in English is the ability to tell anecdotes. 

How to introduce an anecdote

We don’t plan to tell anecdotes. They emerge naturally in conversation. For example, somebody mentions a particular place, person or thing and you make a connection to something that you or somebody you know has experienced. It’s like a door opening for a few seconds, giving your anecdote just enough time to enter and make an impression on the people inside the room.

Here are some phrases you can use to introduce an anecdote:

Did I ever tell you about the time I………?

Have I ever mentioned the time when I….?

I’ll never forget the time I……?

Funny you should say that.  Have I told you about the time I……..?

Talking about / of …………, that reminds me of the time I …………..?

Using these phrases will indicate that you wish to tell an anecdote. You will get the floor (you have the right to speak) and people will listen to what you are about to say – as long as your anecdote is related to what was being discussed.

Setting the context

Once you have the floor, it’s a good idea to set the context. This basically means that you should provide a few background details so your listeners can imagine themselves in the situation. Think of it like the first scene in a film, where the director shows us where and when the story takes place, and who the principal characters are. Anecdotes should be short and sweet and too much context, especially if it is unnecessary, may bore or confuse the listeners.

It’s quite a few years ago now 

I was on my way to (place) to (verb)…. , when….

Do you know .(person or place)?  Well, we were

I’m not sure if you know ….. but it’s …….. 

I’m sure you all know about….. /I’m sure you’ve all been to……

Telling the story

After setting some context , you will provide want to create the narrative flow. In their simplest form, stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Anecdotes are generally simple stories so I’d recommend that you follow a linear or chronological narrative (arrange the events in the order of time) at first. When you have told the anecdote a couple of times, you might want to make even more interesting by telling it in a non-chronological way. To do this, you might want to use past perfect tenses.

Also, remember that you might want to switch to the present simple and present continuous when you are sure you have the listeners’ attention. Using present tenses can make the story more real and immediate. Using this technique puts the listeners inside the event and makes them feel as if they are experiencing it in real-time. This is known as the historic present.

Adding emphasis

When you are telling a story, you do not have to stick to the facts. Telling stories is a creative act and you will entertain your listeners more if you add emphasis and even exaggerate at times. When we listen to a great story told well, we remember what is was like to be a child, when everything was new and exciting. Children don’t want to hear about ‘an ordinary princess‘, they want to hear about ‘the most beautiful princess in the land’.

Here are some expressions we use to add emphasis:

You’re not going to believe this, but…..

You should have heard / seen…….!

And the strangest thing / funniest thing / best thing / worst thing was…..

I’ve never heard / seen such a ……. thing in my life…..

When you have told most of the story, you need to end it in a memorable way. We often do this by saving the best part of the story for last. Stories or anecdotes are like punch lines in a joke (the final part which makes everybody laugh) and should surprise, shock, amuse, or provide the listener with some useful insight about the experience. Good anecdotes can even change the way people think about things.

And then, to top it all,…..

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better / worse / stranger, ……..happened

And, you’ll never guess what happened at the end, well……

However, sometimes we decide to end with a kind of explanation about what had happened:

Anyway, to cut a long story short,…..

So, in the end, what happened was………

Anyway, it turns out that…………

The ending is, arguably, the most important part of an anecdote. It the listeners feel satisfied at the end, they are likely to remember the gist of the story. This means they can share your anecdote with people they know. Indeed, if you listen to your friends and family retell anecdotes, you will hear them add details to the original story. You may even find that they start telling an anecdote about your own life as if it had actually happened to them!

This week’s homework. 

Write down some notes about an anecdote based on something that happened to you. Practise telling it and try to use some of the phrases listed above. After you have told it a few times to yourself, try telling it to a friend. Then, next time you are speaking English with a group of people, try to introduce the topic related to the anecdote. For example, if you have a restaurant anecdote, move the conversation towards food. Finally, use one of the anecdote introduction phrases to get the attention of your listeners and tell your story.













Why you should study for 25 minutes at a time

Do you ever crawl into bed at the end of a hard day feeling annoyed with yourself?

You promised yourself you would stick to a learning routine. You told yourself that you would study English for 2 hours but only managed a few minutes. You make a mental promise to study extra hard tomorrow.

Do you think you’ll keep this promise to yourself?

The problem with learning a set of skills like a language is that is takes time and effort. Anybody who tells you that they learned English in 3 months is either delusional, a liar or someone who thinks being able to order a coffee and a sandwich means they are fluent.

The other problem with learning a language is that our degree of motivation rises and falls, depending on the difficulty level of the activity. If the challenge is too easy, we relax and feel bored. If it’s too difficult, we feel discouraged and lose motivation.

One way many people try to deal with these problems is by setting themselves unrealistic learning goals. Like somebody who decides to get fit by entering a marathon, they train too hard and wear themselves out.

Many studies support the view that successful learners (not just of languages) are able to focus on single tasks. They are also able to maintain that focus on a regular basis. In other words, they are consistent.

Many of my students seem to believe that time is the key factor in learning something. You may have heard of the 10,000 hour rule, which states that you need to practise something for this length of time in order to become an expert.

However, the problem with this rule is that it equates quality with quantity. Just studying something for 10,000 hours will not make you an expert unless you really focus on developing your skills. I have seen this many times with language learners. They attend an English language course for a set amount of hours and then feel disappointed when they have not achieved the results they expected.

Sitting in a lesson for 3 hours may have less effect on your English than spending half an hour on focused learning. You could:

study how to use a grammar form you have always found difficult

spend 30 minutes working on your pronunciation of vowel sounds

listen to a short podcast / watch a YouTube video and make some notes. Listen again and check the transcript (if there is one)

read a short article and identify how the writer uses past tenses to tell a story

write the first draft of an email you are planning to send

learn 7 new phrasal verbs and never forget them

When we spend a long time doing one thing, our energy levels diminish. We start off well but our energy and motivation levels drop as time goes on. This can also be seen at work. German workers seem to be more productive than British workers despite working for fewer hours so they do as much in one hour as we do in two.

Learning a language is the same and forcing yourself to continue studying when you are tired and disinterested may have a long-term negative effect on your learning development.

Learning English becomes an activity to be endured rather than enjoyed.

The Pomodoro Technique

One technique that may help you stay focused and motivated is the Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro means tomato in Italian. The inventor of the technique used a timer in the form of a tomato to develop the technique.

The technique is simple and you don’t need any special equipment  – except a timer with an alarm. You could use your mobile or an app on your computer but I’d suggest getting a physical one, for reasons I’ll explain later.

The Pomodoro Process

1. Write down something you want to study or work on.

2. Remove as many distractions as you can. Turn off your Facebook, Twitter alerts etc. Put some headphones on if you don’t want people to talk to you (this works!).

3. Set your timer for 25 minutes.

4. Start working or studying and don’t stop until you hear the alarm.

5. When the alarm rings, stop what you’re doing and walk around the room. The advantage of using a physical timer is that you can place it at a distance from where you’re working. This forces you to stop what you’re doing and physically get up to turn it off.

6. Take a 3-4 minute break and try to think or do something else, such as washing the dishes. Your mind needs to have a short rest.

7. Set the timer again for 25 minutes and do another ‘Pomodoro’.

8. If your task takes a long time (more than 4 Pomodoros), take a 20 minute break after the fourth round.

The Pomodoro technique works for several reasons:

a) It helps you focus on your goals

b) It trains you  to avoid distractions. You can even check your Facebook, Twitter feed during the 3 minute break.

c) 25 minutes is long enough to get things done and short enough so you won’t get bored or tired.

d) You can break long tasks into shorter ones. This means you feel a sense of achievement after each Pomodoro.

e) You can train your brain to focus on single tasks. If you think you can multi-task, look at the evidence.

f) The 3 minute break is long enough to give your brain time to recharge. This really helps with problem-solving because you return to your      work after the break with a fresh perspective.

g) It’s ideal if you are preparing for an exam.

Well, why not give the Pomodoro technique a try.

Here is your homework challenge.

Write down 5 English learning goals. These could be skill-based (speaking, listening, reading, writing) or related to specific language (vocabulary, grammar forms, pronunciation) and make them as specific as possible.

Set your timer and see if you can focus on your learning goals. Let me know how it goes and if you have any other ideas.









Should you use formal, neutral or informal English?

When you are introduced to somebody for the first time, what should you say?

a)  Nice to meet you

b)  How do you do?

c)  What’s up?

You may or may not be surprised to know that all three are common and appropriate in certain situations. They all perform the same function but they have different levels of formality.

a) Nice to meet you – This is neutral and can be used in most social contexts with most people.

b) How do you do? – This is a formal phrase that would only be used on formal occasions with specific people.

c) What’s up? – This is informal and would only be used on specific occasions by certain people.

This distinction between formal, neutral and informal registers (or styles) is not always so clear.

You may think that we would use a formal style in a situation such as an interview for a job.

However, I don’t think many people would use b) nowadays, because it is old-fashioned and rarely used, except in rare situations such as being invited to have a cup of tea with the Queen!

The neutral phrase (Nice to meet you) is probably the most suitable of the three for job interviews, although the informal phrase (What’s up?) might be fine if the interviewer is a young, relaxed American.

On the whole, formality in spoken English is not as common or important as it used to be. In the past, people made clear distinctions between formal language (which was often considered to be the correct form) and informal language (which was often considered inferior and incorrect). These days, we are aware that we make decisions about which style of language based on what is considered appropriate in each particular situation.

Characteristics of formal, neutral and informal spoken English

Formal language is characterised by the following features:

  • complex sentences
  • use of reported speech
  • indirect questions
  • use of modals such as could and would rather than can and will
  • full forms (should not) instead of contractions (shouldn’t)
  • frequent use of the passive voice
  • limited use of phrasal verbs
  • frequent use of long words with Latin or Greek roots

Neutral language is characterised by:

  • simpler sentences
  • active rather than passive voice
  • factual rather than emotional language
  • limited use of complex language
  • limited use of slang

Informal language is characterised by:

  • simple, often grammatically incomplete, sentences
  • active voice
  • emotional language
  • personal opinions
  • humour
  • slang, idioms and cliches
  • phrasal verbs
  • exclamations

Now, deciding which style to use can be difficult. To start with, we need to consider 2 main factors:

1. The degree of social distance between the speakers. If we know somebody well (friends, family, some colleagues) we generally use informal language. When we don’t people well or they are strangers, we generally use neutral language. When we don’t know somebody well and they have a high social status (judges, doctors, company directors, religious leaders), we may use a formal style to show deference (respect and politeness).

2. The nature of the topic. When we discuss serious or sensitive topics, we sometimes use formal language. This shows that we are thinking deeply about the topic and understand that it is serious and complex. So, when people discuss some aspects of business, intellectual conversations, official meetings, it is common to use formal language. In contrast, when we talk about everyday topics, we generally use informal language with friends and family and neutral language with strangers or people we don’t know well.

Another way of deciding which register is appropriate is to ask  these questions:

  1. Where are we?
  2. What are we talking about?
  3. Who are we talking to?
  4. How do we feel about the person and the topic of the conversation?

Let’s look at these questions in more detail:

1. Where are we?

If we are in a relaxed, social environment such as a bar or a cafe,  we probably don’t need to use formal English. In fact, using formal polite English might lead to a negative or unfriendly response.


A student of mine ordered a beer in a pub in London and made a polite request to the barman:

I wonder if you would be so kind as to serve me a glass of beer, sir.

The barman responded angrily, believing the student was making fun of him. In this environment, formal language was clearly inappropriate. As well as using an inappropriate register (formal), the student also failed to realise that we use phrases such as ‘I wonder if you would be so kind…‘ when we need somebody to do us a favour. As a barman’s job is to serve drinks to paying customers, he was perhaps offended by the choice of language used.

Formal language, however, is suitable in certain settings. If you go to an official ceremony (weddings, funeral, graduations), you will certainly notice that the people present use fixed formal phrases that are specific to the event, such as this phrase only ever heard at weddings:

Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding to the bride and groom.

In general, we don’t need to worry about learning these specific phrases, unless we are going to have an important role in these ceremonies. Just make sure you don’t use informal phrases when you speak to people you don’t know very well.

2. What are we talking about?

We tend to choose a particular register when we discuss certain topics. When we talk about everyday topics such as sports, weather, travel or TV shows, we are unlikely to use formal language. Again, using formal language may annoy the person you are talking to. Most people use informal or neutral more frequently than formal language outside of work. Therefore, if you use formal language when discussing an everyday topic, you may find that people think you are showing off or possibly being unfriendly.

On the other hand, we commonly use formal language to discuss some topics. These topics are generally of a more serious nature, such as business issues, politics, religion,personal finance and health issues. That is why even people you know may use more formal language if they talk about these serious issues with you. Serious topics often require serious language. You may joke with your boss in the office (informal language) but you are both likely to adopt formal language if you are negotiating a new contract.

3. Who are we talking to?

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, you might find you use informal and formal language with the same person. This can cause problems because you may think you have a friendly relationship with somebody (because you sometimes communicate with informal language) and then find your relationship is fundamentally a professional one. In fact, you might decide to maintain a professional relationship and use neutral language with some of your colleagues or teachers: you know them quite well but they are not necessarily your friends.

It is probably more common to use neutral language rather than formal language with strangers. When we have small talk with somebody on a bus or with a taxi driver, we are unlikely to talk about serious topics.

4. How do we feel about the person and the topic of the conversation?

Our emotional attitude towards the person and the topic often determines whether we use informal, neutral or formal language. We may even start with neutral language and then switch to a formal style as the conversation changes.

Imagine we get into a taxi and start chatting to the taxi driver about an everyday topic, such as the weather. We would probably use neutral, perhaps even informal language, with them as the topic is a familiar one. This would probably change dramatically if the taxi driver tried to overcharge us. In order to show our frustration, we might switch to formal language to show we are serious about the topic (the price) and to demonstrate that the social interaction is a professional not a personal one.

So, as you can see, choosing the right level of formality when you communicate in English is important. But remember that native or proficient speakers will not necessarily be offended if your style is not entirely appropriate. We recognise that you are learning the language.


If you are able to use formal, neutral and informal language when you speak, you should find that you are able to express yourself appropriately in most situations.

However, out of the three styles, I would suggest that the formal style may be the least important. Unless you need it for professional or academic purposes, formal spoken English is not particularly common and you can often use a neutral style instead and still communicate in a suitable way.

Informal language helps you build friendships and develop strong relationships with people. It also allows you to express your sense of humour effectively.

Neutral language helps you deal with most everyday situations in a variety of different environments. It’s the default style and will rarely be inappropriate.

Formal language helps you function effectively in certain situations and will be appropriate in many professional, academic or official contexts. It’s useful for dealing with figures of authority.

So, next time you are about to have a social interaction in English, think about this question:

Should I use formal, neutral or informal language in this situation?











5 reasons why Spanish are bad at learning English (according to some Spanish friends)

There I was, having a copa (Rum and Coke) on Sunday evening with some Spanish friends and a chap from Chile. There were a couple of smokers in the group so we huddled around a table with a heater when one of them asked me how to say ‘Bufanda‘ in English.


Before I could respond, the Chilean calmly uttered the word ‘scarf‘. His pronunciation was clear, there was no attempt to insert an ‘e’ sound before the ‘f’ and, unlike most Granadinos, he managed to form the consonant cluster ‘rf’ at the end of the word. The locals laughed and, buoyed  by the alcohol in their bloodstream, attempted to say this new word in English.

After 2 long and painful minutes of listening to repeated versions of ‘escar’, I had to stop them, write the word on a serviette and teach them how to say it. They gave up immediately and reverted to Spanish but used the incident as a launchpad for an extended conversation about the reasons why Spanish are bad at English.

According to most studies, there are fewer English speakers in Spain than in most other European countries. This survey suggests only 18% of Spanish speak 2 languages (compared to the EU average of 25% but better than us Brits with 14%)

Reason 1: Most of their English classes were taught in Spanish by Spanish speakers. A few of them had attended classes taught by native speakers and groaned about how difficult it was to be immersed in an English speaking environment. However, they all agreed being forced to communicate in English was a good thing to improve their speaking and listening skills but didn’t remember doing much, if any, unscripted conversation in class.

Reason 2: Native speaker teachers couldn’t answer their grammar questions. Learning about the finer points of English grammar was considered essential by a couple of people around the table. One was adamant that English grammar had to be explained by comparing and contrasting it with Spanish grammar. She really didn’t see how it could be learned any other way. When I mentioned (in Spanish of course) that people learn languages without formal grammar tuition, she looked at me as if I had suggested that we finish our drinks and go off and smoke some crack. Then again, I know some native speaker English teachers here who think a relative clause is Father Christmas’s aunt!

Reason 3: El miedo al ridiculo. After the next round of drinks arrived, my Spanish friends started to get a bit maudlin. They were ashamed of their poor English and didn’t want to look foolish in front of their peers. They identified this as a uniquely Spanish psychological trait. I got to thinking about the Spanish people I know who profess to have excellent English and wondered why they rarely speak to me in English. Indeed, they generally ask for tips about improving it but always speak in Spanish.

Reason 4: The ‘Oposiciones’ mentality. We were all now starting to shed our inhibitions. One of the group started to rage about oposiciones (public exams you need to pass to work for the state) and how the Spanish educational system encourages rote learning and memorisation of factual knowledge at the expense of developing critical thinking skills. She said that the main obstacle was getting Spanish people to see English as a tool for life and not just something to be used in order to increase your chances of being a funcionario (civil servants but this includes state school teachers, nurses and judges).

Reason 5: Version original (V.O). Remember the Chilean chap with the excellent English. Well, I asked him how things had changed in Chile because I went there in 2001 and don’t recall meeting any English speakers. He informed us that although Chileans studied English at kindergarten, he felt the main reason why Chileans spoke better English than Spanish was that films and TV shows were subtitled but not dubbed in Chile. He had grown up hearing English. The intonation, phonemes and stress patterns in the language were not unfamiliar to him. Unlike Spanish political leaders from Franco onwards…

All of us were fairly drunk by now, cheered by the beers and copas and the festive spirit in the air. Surprisingly, when I wished them ‘Feliz Navidad’, they were all happy to respond in English.

OK, they said ‘Merry Chrimas’ and avoided the ‘st’ consonant cluster, but at least they tried.

So, what do you think? It would be good to hear from you.

What other reasons might there be for Spanish struggling with English?

Are Spanish poor at English or is this a myth?