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Netflix film suggestions

In my previous post, I mentioned watching films is a great way to improve your English comprehension skills and build your vocabulary. So what do I recommend? Here are just a few of my favourite films which are available to watch on Netflix

Notting Hill

Classic British movie starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. This is a romantic comedy (rom-com) based in London. The life of a simple bookshop owner changes when he meets the most famous film star in the world.

The King’s Speech

This is the story of King George VI in 1936 who had to overcome a stammer (speaking difficulty) with the help of a speech therapist.

Wallace and Gromit

An animated comedy featuring Wallace and his dog Gromit. They go on a mystery adventure to find out who is responsible for damaging gardens in their village

The Woman in Black

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe stars in this film. He is a young solicitor who travels to a remote village and discovers a vengeful ghost terrorising locals

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

A poor boy wins a golden ticket to have a tour of Willy Wonka’s mysterious chocolate factory.

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How long will it take me to become fluent in English?

Its a question I get all the time. How long will it take me to become fluent in English. The answer I give is always the same – its not a race and everybody learns at different speeds.

For some students, learning English comes naturally and they can pick up the language easily. For others, it can take time, especially if you haven’t previously studied English while at school.

There are some things you can do to help improve your English more quickly. The most obvious is regularly attending English classes, either with a private English teacher or with a reputable school. Even if you have 1 or 2 English classes per week, this will help you retain what you have already learnt and enable you to keep practising and improving your English. You’ll be amazed how quickly you will forget your English language skills if you stop using it regularly!

Watching films or television series is great for listening comprehension practice. I always notice the students who improve the fastest are the ones who regularly watch things on Netflix or TV. Youtube is a great resource for English content. Try to find things that are interesting for you. For instance, if you like cooking, try and watch some cooking tutorial videos. If you enjoy football, watch some games with English commentary. All of these things will help to improve your English and keep things interesting for you.

For those of you interested in improving your Business English skills, keep up to date with the latest news. Websites such as The Guardian, The Telegraph and the Financial Times are great resources for the latest news and a great way to build up your business vocabulary.

We have a common expression in English – “You only get out what you put in.” If you work hard, attend classes regularly, use your English outside your classes and utilise other resources, your English will improve quickly and you will become fluent in no time.

Good luck!

Grammar: Present Perfect

One of the most difficult grammar structures for language learners is present perfect. For many this structure doesn’t exist in their native language and is often confused with the past simple grammar tense. So what is present perfect and when should you use it?

Present perfect is used in the following ways:

  • to describe something that started in the past and continues up to the present – e.g.They’ve been married for nearly 20 years
  • to describe an important life experience without specifying when – e.g. I’ve been scuba diving
  • to describe something that happened in the past which has a connection or importance to the present – e.g. I can’t get into the house. I’ve lost my keys

In terms of structure, the present perfect is formed using the following rules:

(+) Subject + have/has + past participle + object

e.g. I have lived in London for 10 years

(-) Subject + haven’t/hasn’t + past participle + object

e.g. I haven’t been to Greece

(?) Have/Has + subject + past participle + object

e.g. Has she been to London?

You will notice in the above rules, have/has and haven’t/hasn’t are used to form the present perfect. If the subject is he/she/it, use has or hasn’t. For all other subjects, use have or haven’t.

Present perfect is not easy to learn and it will take some time so don’t be frustrated if you don’t understand this grammar straightaway. I teach some upper intermediate and advanced level students who still have problems using this grammar.

Here is a short video I did last year with more of an explanation. If you would like to find out more about using the present perfect tense or improving your English language skills online, please sent me an e-mail at cbrow82@gmail.com or alternatively please complete the contact form on this website.

Good luck!

IELTS exam preparation: describing people vocabulary

In preparation for the IELTS exam, I’ve included below some exercises to help develop your vocabulary related to describing people. At the end of the post, I’ve included a speaking task for you to practice and an example of a model answer. If you need help preparing for your IELTS exam, please email me at cbrow82@gmail.com or complete the ‘Contact form’ on this website.

So let’s start. Here are some very common adjectives that we can use to describe people. If you’re unsure of the meaning, check in a dictionary and think about some people you know who fit these adjectives to help you remember them.

artisticsupportiveadventuroustalkativereliablepatient
ambitioussportycreativeconsiderateconscientioushelpful

Now write down some sentences using these adjectives. For example, “My teacher is very conscientious because she works hard to prepare me for the IELTS exam.”

Next, I’ve included below some nouns. I want you to add -al, -ed, -ent, -able, -ing, -ful or -ous to the ending to form adjectives.

talentcareconfidenceknowledge
humourgenerositysociabilitypunctuality

Read for the answers? Scroll down….

talentedcarefulconfidentknowledgeable
humorousgeneroussociablepunctual

So now we have more adjectives which you can use describe people you know. I’ve included below some sentences. I want you to think about which of the above adjectives you could apply to each sentence. Again, the answers are available below.

  1. My father is always telling jokes and making a fool of himself
  2. He knows a lot about the IELTS examination, particularly the listening and reading parts
  3. My friend can sing really well. I’ve seen her perform many times in concert
  4. She rarely arrives late to class. Usually, she’s the first one there
  5. Chris is good at his job and usually takes the lead in meetings
  6. He’s got a strong attention to detail. Any mistakes at work would be costly
  7. She loves being around people and having a good time
  8. They donate a lot of money to charity

Ready for the answers? Scroll down….

  1. My father is always telling jokes and making a fool of himself Humorous
  2. He knows a lot about the IELTS examination, particularly the listening and reading parts Knowledgeable
  3. My friend can sing really well. I’ve seen her perform many times in concert Talented
  4. She rarely arrives late to class. Usually, she’s the first one there Punctual
  5. Chris is good at his job and usually takes the lead in meetings Confident
  6. He’s got a strong attention to detail. Any mistakes would be costly Careful
  7. She loves being around people and having a good time Sociable
  8. They donate a lot of money to charity Generous

So here is an example of a real-life speaking task. Think about how you can bring this vocabulary into your speaking. The examiner will give you one minute to make notes so bullet point your ideas or use a spider diagram to collect your thoughts. You should then speak for one to two minutes about this topic. The examiner will be looking at the vocabulary you use, grammar, pronunciation and general fluency

Describe a person you would like to be similar to.

You should say:

  1. Who this person is
  2. What this person does
  3. What qualities this person has
  4. Why you would like to be similar to this person

Here is a model answer. I’ve highlighted some nice vocabulary and grammar structures used by the speaker

I am a rather average person both in terms of my looks and personality. So, it is no surprise that I find many people around me to be similar to me, as far as the behaviour and personality are concerned, and today, I would like to talk about one of them here.

The person, I am talking about, is a distant cousin of mine. Although we are distant cousins, we have a very warm relationship with each other. In fact, we grew up together even though, we have an age difference of almost two years between us. But that age barrier never stopped us from playing football together in the same team or enjoying a film at the theatre.

By the way, we are not exactly considered “friends”, but we are more than friends. In fact, we are like brothers to each other with a rather strong brotherly bond where anything goes.

To introduce this distant cousin of mine, he is a university graduate and studied accounting. But, even though, he is a very bright student with distinct academic performance, he never really went for any job. Instead, he chose business as a career. He is about 6 feet tall and has a rather strong physical built like me. There is no doubt that I like my cousin a lot, but other people around him have some mixed feelings and thoughts about him, as some of them consider him friendly while the others think of him as a rather arrogant and rude person because of his “straight talks”. But, whatever he may be, all people around him consider him as a very hard working person.

Anyway, my cousin is similar to me in three aspects. First one is, of course, we both like to wear white t-shirts and jeans and have somewhat similar physical build. The second one is, we both like our coffee to be really strong and hot. Finally, the third one is that we both like to save up as much money as possible without ever wasting them.

Good luck with your IELTS exam preparation

English language common mistakes by nationality

As an English language teacher, I get the opportunity to meet students from all over the world. I often find common mistakes made by students from different nationalities. Below I’ve outlined some of the most common ones made by Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian speakers learning English. Do you find that you make the same mistakes?

Japanese

  • Japanese students often get the  /r/ and /l/ sounds mixed up so for example “rice” is pronounced “lice” or they have difficulty with the pronunciation of the /r/ sound – for example “really” is often mispronounced “learly”
  • Articles (a/an/the) and prepositions are a problem for Japanese students as they are not used in the Japanese language
  • Often adjectives ending -ed and -ing are confused
  • Pronouns are not used very often in Japanese so students often forget to use them in English. For example, they will say “read book” instead of “I read a book.”
  • Countable and uncountable nouns are often mistaken. In Japanese, one word is used instead of much/many

Russian

  • Students often confuse the present perfect and past simple, often choosing the past simple tense when they should be using present perfect
  • Prepositions in sentences are often confused or forgotten
  • Students often confuse “How” and “What” when they are asking questions
  • In Russian, some nouns are countable but in English they are uncountable (e.g. advice, furniture, luggage) so this always creates confusion
  • “Say” and “told” are often mixed up. For example, a student might say “He say me I am a good student” instead of “He told me I’m a good student.”
  • The verbs “do” and “make” often get confused
  • Russian speakers often use the pronouns he or she when they should be using it. 

Portuguese

  • The pronunciation of “I” often sounds like the contraction “I’m” even though students know the difference
  • Portuguese speakers overuse the verb “arrive”. Native English speakers often use the verb “get” instead of “arrive”. For example, “I got to work at 8” rather than “I arrived to work at 8.”
  • Students often use double negatives in a sentence – for example “I didn’t learn nothing” instead of “I didn’t learn anything.”
  • Students often use “to” with shopping – for example “I went to shopping” instead of “I went shopping.” That’s because in Portuguese, “um shopping” means a place where there are a lot of shops (a shopping mall/centre in English)

Italian

  • The /h/ sound is often silent when an Italian speaks in English. For example, “I’m very appy” instead of “I’m very happy.”
  • Italians often add a vowel sound to the end of every word in a sentence
  • There is often confusion between the /ɪ/ and /i:/ sounds. For example, cheap sounds like chip or beach sounds like bitch
  • Italians often stress their words whereas English speakers do not do this
  • In Italian, words are often spelt how they are pronounced. In English this is not the case which can cause difficulty for Italians in their writing

Spanish

  • Students often confuse “How” and “What” when they are asking questions, often overusing “how”
  • There is often confusion between the /ɪ/ and /i:/ sounds. For example, cheap sounds like chip or beach sounds like bitch
  • Students confuse when to use the verb “make” and when to use the verb “do”. I often hear students say “I did a mistake” rather than “I made a mistake” or “I do a cake” rather than “I make a cake”
  • When using tenses like present perfect, students often confuse when to use “for” and “since”
  • Both countable and uncountable nouns are often confused
  • In past simple negative, I often hear students say “I didn’t went shopping” when they should be using “I didn’t go shopping.” In negative past simple, students forget they should be using the infinitive verb and not the past simple verb
  • Often adjectives ending -ed and -ing are confused

If you need any help improving your General or Business English, please contact me to arrange an online lesson

Job interviews

I don’t know many people who enjoy job interviews. Job interviews can be very daunting, especially when English is not your first language. Prior to being a teacher, I was a Customer Service Manager for a large international fashion company so I have a lot of experience interviewing people for potential roles. I wanted to share with you some of my experiences and help you get prepared for a potential new role with an English speaking company.

Prior to the interview, it is very important to research the company and find out more about them. The first question I used to ask in an interview was “What do you know about us?” This research shouldn’t be limited to the company website. Go on Google and do a news search to find out more information about the company or try and find some of their videos on Youtube or Vimeo.

“Small talk” is an expression we use to describe light conversation before the interview starts between the interviewer and the person being interviewed (the interviewee). This is a way to make everybody feel relaxed and is very common. English people as you know love to talk about the weather so this is a common topic. They might also ask you about your journey to the office (“Did you find us ok?”) or you might want to express general impressions about the building (“I love your office”)

A common question which always confuses people during an interview is “Tell me more about you?” Often the interviewee doesn’t know how to answer this question. Do you tell them personal details about yourself like hobbies, what you ate for dinner last night and what you did last weekend? My suggestion is start by telling them where you’re from, how long you have lived in England (present perfect practice!) and a summary of your education/work history. You don’t need to go into great detail as the interviewer should have a copy of your CV in front of them during the interview.

The question everybody dreads is “What are your weaknesses?” The interviewer has probably heard the same generic answers before, so avoid answering in this way. Try and be honest (without being too honest!) and make it clear this is something you are aware of and want to improve.

One part of the interview that often gets overlooked is questions at the end of the interview. Prior to the interview, prepare some questions you want to ask. This will show that you are serious about the position. For example “What are you expectations for this person within the first 90 days”, “Please can you tell me more about the training programme”, “What opportunities are there to progress” and my favourite “Please can you tell me your management style.” Remember, you are also interviewing them to make sure this is the right job for you, so don’t be afraid to ask these questions.

You should be able to find a list of standard interview questions online but always be aware job interviews are never the same. Sometimes they will ask you general interview questions and other times they will ask you more technical questions so be prepared for both.

My best advice is think of examples that you can use in the interview. For example, they will want to know how you dealt with a particular situation or more information about your experience so be prepared. If you use character adjectives, think of examples where you have demonstrated these adjectives in your previous experience.

I do remember one time a candidate came to my office for a job interview wearing shorts. I asked them why they were wearing shorts for the interview. Their response was “It’s a fashion company so I wanted to be trendy.” Needless to say they didn’t get the job. So my last piece of advice – don’t wear shorts to the interview!

If you need help with job interviews or want to improve your Business English skills, please contact me to set up a free 30 minute trial lesson.

Phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs are very common in everyday English. Learning them is like learning new vocabulary. There are literally thousands of phrasal verbs in the English language (according to Google there are over 10,000) so realistically you won’t remember all of them but I do recommend learning at least some of the most common ones.

So how do you learn phrasal verbs? Here are some my tips:

  1. Set yourself a realistic target each week of how many phrasal verbs you want to learn. For example, you may want to set yourself a target of 10 new phrasal verbs a week
  2. Group the phrasal verbs you learn each week by particle (for example, think of 10 phrasal verbs using the particle “up” – e.g. “turn up”, “bring up”, “break up”, “sit up”, “drink up”, “look up”, “fill up”, “hang up”, “make up”, “open up”)
  3. Alternatively group the new phrasal verbs you learn by subject (for example, grouping them into emotions, describing friends, love and relationships etc.)
  4. Learn new phrasal verbs in context. For example, try watching a fun TV series like “Friends” with subtitles and make a note of any phrasal verbs you hear. Then check the phrasal verbs in your dictionary so you understand their meaning and make a note of them for future use
  5. Try and write down full sentences using each phrasal verb and ask your teacher to correct them for you. This will help to check you have understood their meaning
  6. Create paper flashcards with each phrasal verb to help you memorise them
  7. Think about situations that will help you remember a phrasal verb. For example, if you’ve recently eaten in a really nice restaurant (ok, so perhaps not recently!) attach that delicious meal you ate to the phrasal verb “eat out”
  8. Repetition is key. The more you use them, the easier it will be to remember them

So those are some of my tips and below I’ve included a little exercise for you. This is an imaginary story and I want you to try and identify how many phrasal verbs you can find. There are 18 in total so good luck. You will find the answers at the bottom of the page

This morning I woke up at 6:45. Unfortunately, I didn’t get up until 8:00 as I was feeling very tired. I didn’t sleep well as the night before I fell out with a friend and we had a big argument. He kept putting me down because my English is not improving. I didn’t like him banging on about this subject so we had a fight and I ended up going to bed very late. After having a shower, I put on my clothes, left my homestay and got on the tube to school. It took me 30 minutes to get to class. I wanted to get out of going to class as I was feeling very tired but I wanted to find out my level test result and pick up my certificate. Sometimes I want to give up learning English and drop out of school, but I need it to get a better job so this is important for me. I forgot to do my homework but my teacher forgot about it, so I got away with it. My teacher forgot to turn on the air conditioning, so the room was very hot. I didn’t understand some vocabulary so I needed to look up the words on my phone. After class, I met my friend and he apologised to me so we made up. We talked over everything and then ate out. Life in London is tiring but overall I’m enjoying it very much

Ready for the answers? Here is a list of the phrasal verbs in the infinitive form:

  1. wake up
  2. get up
  3. fall out
  4. put down
  5. bang on
  6. end up
  7. put on
  8. get on
  9. get out
  10. find out
  11. pick up
  12. give up
  13. drop out
  14. get away
  15. turn on
  16. look up
  17. make up
  18. eat out

Body idioms

Students love studying idioms to use in everyday English. Online and textbooks offer many expressions that we use in English but how many of them do we actually use? In this post, I’m just going to focus on the ones I use the most frequently and these ones are all linked to body parts!

Play it by ear

This is an expression I use a lot when I’m not sure what my plans are. For example, somebody will ask me “What are you doing this weekend?” and if I haven’t made any plans I’ll often reply “I’m not sure yet. I’m just going to play it by ear.”

Give a hand

We use this expression if we need or want to offer help. For example, your friend needs some help so they will ask “Can you give me hand?” Alternatively you can offer help by saying “Can I give you a hand?”

Keep your fingers crossed

We use this if we want to wish good luck. For example, a friend has a driving test so you say “I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.” If you want good luck you can also use this expression – “Keep your fingers crossed, I have a job interview tomorrow.”

Walk on eggshells

This expression means you need to be careful about what you say or do. Maybe your friend has just broken up with their partner and is very sensitive about what you say, so its like “walking on egg shells.” Another example is your partner is in a bad mood so you say to your friend “Its like walking on egg shells.”

Face to face

This is where you meet somebody in person (rather than online). For example, “I prefer teaching online than face-to-face.”

Two faced

This is somebody who is not very nice and says one thing to one person and then something different to somebody else. For example, a friend says “You look beautiful” but then says to another friend “She looks terrible.” Often we don’t trust people who are “two faced” because they are not genuine about their feelings.

See eye to eye on something

If you “see eye to eye on something” this means you agree on something. The opposite is “We don’t see eye to eye.” For example, you want to live in London but your partner wants to move to the countryside so you “don’t see eye to eye.”

Have a cheek

This is used when somebody is disrespectful. For example, “He’s got a cheek telling me I’m a bad teacher.”

Off the top of your head

This is when you give an answer when you haven’t had time to think about it. For example, somebody says “What can I do in London.” In response you could say “Off the top of my head, Sky Garden, Borough Market and Buckingham Palace are places you should visit.”

Use your head

This expression is most common when the answer should be obvious. For example, an intermediate student asks the teacher “What’s the past of go?” The teacher can reply “Use your head – you should know this.”

If you need any help using idioms in everyday English, please contact me so we can do some English lessons together.

10 hidden gems in London

In London there are many famous places and tourist attractions that I’m sure you’re familiar with – London Eye, Sky Garden, Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and Big Ben to name just a few. But what are some of the less well-known places in London that are worth visiting? I’ve included below a few of my personal recommendations. I hope when you come to London you will try and experience some of these places – enjoy!

God’s Own Junkyard, Walthamstow

This is a workshop based in East London where you can see hundreds of neon signs that are made in the workshop. Some of these neon signs were used in Hollywood films such as The Dark Knight, Superman and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There is also a small cafe which serves very nice tea and cake!

Dinosaur Park, Crystal Palace

This is a large park located in South East London which has life-size dinosaurs among the trees and plants. A great Instagram opportunity!

Leadenhall Market, Liverpool Street

A beautiful indoor market quite near to Liverpool Street station. It is worth a visit just to admire the beautiful architecture. When you go inside, you feel like you’ve just arrived in a Harry Potter film. Here you will find boutique retailers, restaurants, cafes and pubs

Highgate Cemetery, Highgate

You might think this is a strange recommendation but the cemetery and surrounding area is beautiful and you can visit the graves of famous people such as Karl Marx and Malcolm McLaren

Brick Lane, East London

This is a very trendy area with lots of shops, bars and restaurants. If you like Indian Curry, this is the best place to go as the road is filled with Indian restaurants and they are all very good. I also recommend the indoor market for second hand goods and the Bagel Shop for a cheap snack at the end of the lane.

London Aquatic Centre, Stratford

I love going for a swim here as its an Olympic sized swimming pool and the design as you can see is beautiful. In addition, its just for adults so you don’t need to contend with splashing children. The price is £5 for a swim and you don’t need to be a member.

Barbican Centre, Barbican

I love the 1960s concrete buildings that dominate this area. The Barbican Centre usually has some really good exhibitions and the cafe is good. If you visit this area, explore the walkways above road level. There are some nice seating areas where you can relax and enjoy the planting.

Upper Street, Angel

One of my favourite areas in London and great if you are looking for a restaurant – there are many here. The shopping here is also good – a mixture of chains and small boutique shops.

Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly

This department store in Central London isn’t really a hidden gem, but what people don’t know is the afternoon tea here is excellent and in my opinion one of the best in London. Although its quite expensive, they offer all you can eat cakes and tea which is great for somebody greedy like me!

Primrose Hill, Chalk Farm

This is a great place to go if you want to get a good view of the city. The surrounding area is very nice and lots of Hollywood celebrities live here so you might recognise some of them when you visit!