Advanced Users Manual of English

The other day in class there was an exercise in the GLOBAL ENGLISH advanced course book which we would like to share with you all. Our intention is not to scare you away but to help you realise how complex speaking a language, any language, really is.

What we have noticed is that quite a few students of English have difficulties performing some of the skills mentioned in the questionnaire below, even in their mother tongue. This is especially obvious when preparing for exams. When we say this, what we have in mind are the two last descriptions on the list (i, j) and sometimes reading comprehension skills (e, f).

In order to find out how advanced your English truly is, do the following questionnaire and be as sincere as possible.

Read the characteristics of an advanced user of English and rate each one:

1-      I can do this confidently

2-      I need more work on this

3-      I need a lot more work on this

An advanced user of English can:

a)      speak confidently about complex subjects.

b)      express him/herself appropriately in social or professional contexts.

c)       use the right level of formality or informality.

d)      pronounce English clearly and intelligibly.

e)      understand the gist of written texts quickly.

f)       understand detail and implicit meaning in texts.

g)      understand most of what he/she hears in most situations, even when it’s not well structured.

h)      use English grammatical structures accurately.

i)        express his/her ideas using a wide range of vocabulary and expressions.

j)        write clearly, accurately and appropriately in a range of genres.

Reading Comprehension

Mind you, students usually feel they have better reading comprehension skills than they actually do, as there are a number of words in English and Spanish with the same root but with different or not just quite the same meanings – the so called “false friends”. Only when students are asked about details form a text does awareness of these mistakes arise. If your mother tongue is Spanish or whichever Latin based language you should always double check the meaning of a word in context to ensure its true significance and expand your notion of “false friends”.

Formal vs. Informal

At this stage of most of you think you can quite easily understand and use these two registers properly. However, there is a growing tendency of using informal Spanish in almost any situation. That aggravates further our comprehension of the formal register in English and its appropriate usage. Many students feel English is too formal or too polite, but then in informal situations they fight with phrasal verbs or informal expressions.

Real limitations

Making an effort to use your first language appropriately, understanding its grammar and structure and having a rich vocabulary will definitely mean faster foreign language acquisition. Remember, your true limitation is your first language (mother tongue). It would be foolish to expect to have a better command of English than of your own language. So while doing the test try to honestly evaluate your overall language performance. It will give you an insight into what you have to work on both in English and in your own language.

Now, to boost your confidence, check out this article from The Guardian. It is an example of laziness and sloppiness. None of us is completely immune to it no matter what our first language is!

Remember: our goal is to  help  you  become a true advanced user of English.Here’s a video on change. It takes 30 days, they say. Let English be the challenge!


Expressions to love

Today let’s be a bit less serious.

If you have followed James’ listening and understanding tips from our last post, you did quite a lot of work last week, so we will be a little less studious today and talk about most people’s favourite topic- love.

Last time we mentioned the three most common situations in which you may be expected to speak in English. Be it business or travel or working or meeting foreign friends, there just might be a chance you will FALL HEAD OVER HEELS in love or you might CHAT SOMEONE UP in a bar, or just FOOL AROUND with somebody.

“Love is the only thing that we can carry with us when we go, and it makes the end so easy. “- Louisa May Alcott Little Women

1.Let’s first start with expressions. That’s what I promised in the title, right?
Students rightly find idioms and phrasal verbs the most difficult to understand, remember and use properly.There are virtually millions of love and hate related idiomatic expressions. Here’s where you can start exploring. What you should focus on is the EXAMPLE SENTENCES. It is the guideline to using them appropriately.

2. A bit of listening. This fun video tries to explain what love is. It has a truly beautiful hip vintage animation.

And, if you still aren’t convinced, Annie Lennox has her version. Don’t forget to check out the lyrics!

3. Out there, in the streets of London, check out how people know someone likes them.

4. We just can’t forget literature lovers, can we? Her’s a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning . A classic that never goes out of fashion. Challenge yourself!

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Understanding spoken English

There are basically 3 situations in which you will find yourself having to speak in English as a non – native speaker:

  1.    A business situation
  2.   Studying/working /living abroad
  3.    Travel

In all these situations the most difficult part is being able to understand others, as well as making yourself understood. There are numerous reasons why this happens, so let’s  focus on understanding today.

Students usually complain about not being able to understand native speakers. Of course, the range of slang and idiomatic expressions they use impedes complete comprehension. So does the fact that they speak fast and connect speech.

The best way of improving this skill, as you all already know, is by listening. But HOW shoud you listen?

 We’ve found this video lesson with great tips on how to understand English. We absolutely agree with James’ opinion. He gives you step by step and easy to follow advice on WHAT to watch and HOW to do it. This lesson is more than enough for the week to come.

 After watching the lesson (13 minutes) spend the rest or the week following his tips 20 minutes at a time. I guess the majority of you out there enjoy watching movies, so his tips on how to study while watching one are most valuable.

Don’t forget: as you are at the advanced level, you should watch dramas and dark comedies, if you want to expand your vocabulary.

Here’s the link:

And here’s the trailer for a very good comic drama “Le- weekend”. It is like a teatre play- full of excellent dialogues.

Then, if you prefer to listen to music, reading the song lyrics after and while listening to it will always help you to learn new words. Just to get you started, here are lyrics of one of last years greatest hits.

Practicing English in Barcelona

For the ones who are young or young at heart and unemployed, free walks around BCN are organised by “Travel Bar” where you can meet the dreaded guiris and practice English with them. This bar is placed right in the heart of Barri Gotic and is a vibrant meeting place for backpackers and other young travellers. You will be fored to do a lot of LISTENING and UNDERSTANDING ,as you will be exposed to a variety of different accents. Here’s the link:

New Year, New Challenge

All of you out there who have been studying English for ages and have reached a certain level of fluency and self confidence or who have even taken and passed the CAE or any equivalent certificate, know how difficult it is to keep going, how challenging it is not to lose acquired language skills and how nerve – wrecking it is to realize that a language is much easier to forget than to learn.

This blog is for you. We will try to help you out with tips and practical suggestions. We’ll be looking for interesting events, language exchange groups, articles from newspapers or magazines, short stories, blogs, songs, poems, video clips virtually anything that may help you not to forget what you have learned and inspire you to improve as far as possible.

First of all, let’s focus on how often you should engage.

Ideally, every day for a while – at least 15 or 20 minutes. That seems too hard for most of us but it actually means watching an episode of your favourite sitcom or TV series in English instead of dubbed, or watching a news report in the morning while checking your emails, or reading an article from a magazine…

Then, don’t forget to choose topics that interest you most. Only in this way you will be motivated.

As this blog is aimed at all adult age groups from all wakes of life, please be patient and check out every Friday if there is something valuable for you.

  1. What motivates us? Interesting for business managers

  1. Best films of  2013 according to The Guardian

  1. Black Adder… Remember him? If not, he’s someone to be discovered…

4.           And a short story by Hanif Kureishi