Highlights of July 2011

The month of July has come to an end, so let’s look back at the most important blog posts – in case you didn't get a chance to read them all. I started the month with a blog post about changing your perspective on the way you conduct English conversations with people. If you often experience embarrassment when speaking in English with certain people in certain situations, in this article you’ll find valuable advice on how to lower your stress levels on such occasions. Of course, I can’t make miracles happen and make you into a super-confident foreign English speaker in five minutes while you’re reading the article. You have to work with yourself but what I can do through such and similar articles is – make you realize what EXACTLY you should be focusing on in order to deal with confidence and mindset issues when speaking English. Another blog post that comes highly recommended explains why I’m highlighting bits of my blog posts in red and it’s all about idiomatic expressions and collocations. This is very important stuff so if you’ve very little time, just read this blog post because it explains the essence of natural English fluency – using word combinations spoken by native English speakers! In another blog post about speaking English with hard foreign accent I’m touching the subject of foreign accent once more, only this time from another angle. Basically this article is about how you can deal with situations when you experience drops in English fluency by putting on much harder foreign accent than you normally would. Controversial? That’s just the way I am! (more…)

Why Thursdays are My BEST English Fluency Days

We all get our good and bad days. There are some days when everything seems to be acting against us, but then on other days we’re flying and we get all tasks done easily. And you know what? It’s pretty normal! Same goes with English fluency. There are days when we can speak English with such ease it seems we were born English speakers. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite – we have to make effort to verbalize our thoughts and we also tend to make more mistakes when speaking than normally. And you know what? It’s normal, too! But today’s story isn’t about the fluctuating English fluency. Today I wanted to share with you something I noticed recently at work, and to be honest with you, it didn’t just happen overnight, it’s just that all the pieces came together just now. So to cut a long story short, I noticed that I’m best at speaking English with my work colleagues on Thursdays. If you’ve known me for a while, you’ll know that I feel comfortable enough when speaking English on any day of the week, yet for some odd reason my English fluency trend would peak on Thursdays in particular. On Thursdays I’d speak absolutely effortlessly with everyone working in the office, with manufacturing department managers and of course, those working with me in the dispatch. OK, but why Thursdays? What Thursdays have got to do with one’s English fluency levels? (more…)

Top 15 Invaluable Pieces of Advice for Foreigners Settling Down in an English Speaking Country

1. Be realistic about the level of interest in your national background by others. Be proud of your origins, but don’t be obsessed with telling every single person you meet about your country, your nationality, how “How are you” sounds in your native language, the name of your president, your favorite national soccer team… People will listen to you just to be polite, but don’t forget that for someone living in an English speaking country like the US, Australia or the UK, the name of your country might not ring any bells at all! Personally I quite like it when people don’t ask questions about my origins right off the bat and I’ve realized by now that whenever they DO ask that question “Where are you from?” right after you introduce yourself, it’s just small-talk really. So I think we foreigners should be realistic about the interest of locals in our culture and we shouldn’t be too enthusiastic! In my current job, for instance, I got two know two girls a couple of weeks ago and they didn’t seem to notice the fact that I was a foreigner. Not that they couldn’t tell it, but our conversations never went that far. Only recently they showed interest in my background, so I think it’s natural to speak about those topics when you get to know someone better rather than boasting to everyone how cool your country is! Many years ago I used to work with a bunch of Romanian lads, and believe me – there was nothing more annoying than listening to hours long stories of their home country and how great life was back there, and how miserable their situation is in Ireland… For Christ’s sake, will you get a grip on yourselves?!? Don’t take me wrong – I’m not saying there’s something wrong with being proud of your nationality, not at all! My point is – put yourself in the other person’s shoes and maybe you’ll realize the conversation is boring for your conversation partner. IMPORTANT! -> Why I'm highlighting parts of text in RED? 2. Stop spotting mistakes in native English speakers’ conversations and pointing them out to others. There is no such thing as correct English! English is spoken differently in many countries and regions so don’t be the perfectionist telling everyone how awful locals speak, and how grammatically wrong some of the most commonly used local phrases are. Oxford English and real English are hundreds of miles apart, and you’ll be more practical by learning spoken English as it’s spoken in the country you live in than spotting mistakes and pointing out that according to proper English standards this or that particular thing doesn’t sound right. I can tell you one thing I’ve heard quite often in the local Latvian community when we’ve touched the topic of English learning and improving – “Irish themselves don’t speak correct English!” I think it’s rather a handy excuse not to improve one’s English (if the locals don’t speak correctly, how they can accuse me of speaking wrong?), or just trying to show off one’s academic English knowledge which actually has much smaller practical application when going about the daily life. We, foreigners, should realize one thing – theoretical correctness has little importance in dealing with real life situations. So don’t be the perfectionist by keeping saying “Has it been done?” if you hear everyone else around you using a much simpler colloquial phrase “Is it done?” Also it’s important to understand that native English speakers don’t make mistakes because they lack spoken English skills. Their mistakes are “natural”, and we can’t use it as an excuse not to improve our English! (more…)

Learn English Irregular Verbs Through Collocations, Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

4 Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell YOU!

1. First we should learn SPOKEN English and only then – to read and write Another controversy on EnglishHarmony.com? Well, so be it! I believe that if all foreign English speakers would have learnt spoken English first, nobody would have any English fluency issues. Once your brain is hard-wired with naturally occurring English speech patterns, you can learn to read and write and it won’t mess up your ability to produce coherent speech. Many of us, foreign English speakers though, have difficulties speaking fluently because we speak as if we were writing – in a slow, controlled way, with a chance to go back and correct mistakes and all the time in the world to think things through. Add a bit of stress, and there you go – you can get stuck in a middle of a sentence because real life communication is not your comfortable environment you’re so familiar with; chatting with people happens spontaneously. Remember – speaking comes first, and everything else comes after that, just like in your native language! You spoke long before you learnt to read and write, and you’re so good at speaking your language not because you spent 12 years at school. It’s because you used your language as means of communication long before your first day at school, so why should English be any different? (more…)

You Can Say Nearly Everything Using the Word “THING”!

Idiomatic Expressions: Why I’m Highlighting Some Bits of Text in Red in My Blog Posts

Here’s the short answer – they’re bits of spoken English any foreign English speaker should know to communicate effectively! They’re word combinations used by native English speakers and by using them you’re going to make your spoken English sound more natural and native-like. English collocations, phrasal verbs and sayings all fall under the broad category of these idiomatic expressions, and to put it simply – you can’t come up with these sort of sayings just by sticking the words together; you have to learn the EXACT phrase or word combination to be able to use it :!: There are also typical full English idioms among them, but I have to admit I have some reservations towards learning certain idioms like “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “pot calling the kettle black.” They are typical English idioms that you’ll find on any decent English idiom list online, yet they’re rarely heard in real life, if at all. My take on the whole English idiom thing (like it’s on spoken English in general) is the following – you don’t need to hammer loads of English idioms in your brain that you’re not going to use. You’d much better off using your potential as a foreign English speaker by learning idiomatic expressions because there’s a much bigger chance you’re going to use them in real life! How about the following ones: “for the argument’s sake”, “to jump to a conclusion”, “fit for the purpose”? These are typical idiomatic expressions that have some characteristics of full idioms, but at the same time it would be possible to derive their meaning from the words alone. Also, they don’t even need to be long phrases to fall under the category of idiomatic expressions. “On target”, “straight away”, “I’m all ears”, “big time” and similar short expressions are the ones that can make a difference between you being perceived a so-so English speaker or quite an advanced one! Not that you should care what others think of you, but still it’s nice to be capable of communicating with native English speakers like an equal, isn’t it? ;-) So to help you with learning these idiomatic expressions, I’ve been highlighting them in my blog posts in red color so that you can immediately see which bits are useful to memorize! (more…)